From the book
The thing I liked best about working at Komol was Jowtee, the invisible spirit who controlled the restaurant's destiny. I had never actually seen Jowtee but the kitchen staff swore he existed. They said he was a seven-foot-tall Native American Chief, a ghost from the Indian burial ground beneath the strip mall. If I didn't feed him, pray to him, and bring him presents, something disastrous would befall the restaurant. As the only non-Thai, I had to believe them. So in between seating, waiting, and busing tables I found time to keep Jowtee happy. At the booth that was reserved for him, I'd serve Jowtee imported bottled beer in a frosty mug, whole fish fried in hot sauce, and coconut ice cream for dessert. I'd bring him daily horoscopes and decks of cards from neighboring casinos. After lighting his candle, I'd close my eyes and telepathically beg him to help turn my life around and get me that cocktail waitress job at the Bellagio.
Jowtee heard my plea. At least part of it.
During a particularly slow dinner shift, one of the regulars offered to help get me a better job. Her name was Amy and she was a massage therapist. Every Saturday evening she came in by herself and ordered vegetable green curry, extra spicy, and took her time eating it, her oversized black sunglasses never leaving her face. One night, on her way out, she slid into the front booth next to me and watched as I filled out my Stardust and Four Queens cocktail waitress applications.
"These jobs are shit," she said, flipping through the papers. "I have this one client I give massages to. A professional gambler. Want me to see if he'll hire you?"
I was twenty-four and had moved to Las Vegas to be with a guy I had been dating for a few months. We broke up soon after I arrived. I didn't know a single person in town. But no one else seemed to, either. It was 2001 and Vegas was the fastest-growing metropolitan area in America. Fifteen hundred people were moving into the city each week. Everyone I met was very much like me and had just ended up there.
After the breakup, I rented a room in a motel just north of the Strip in a neighborhood known as Naked City. In the fifties, it had been home to strippers who sunbathed in the nude to avoid tan lines. Now, bail bondsmen, hookers, Vietnam vets, and irritable motel clerks added color to the place. My motel was three blocks from the Little White Wedding Chapel and Johnny Tocco's Boxing Gym and four blocks from the downtown casinos: Binion's Horseshoe, the El Cortez, and the Aztec--home of the fifty-nine-cent strawberry shortcake. The cigarette burns in the motel's bedspreads were big enough to fit a leg through and the staccato of stilettos across the floor upstairs made it hard to get a good night's sleep. But at seventeen dollars a night, it was affordable, and it allowed dogs. So Otis, my sixty-pound Chow Chow, and I moved in. The wooden nightstand showcased the room's only décor: a Rand McNally road atlas and a Magic 8 Ball.
Before moving to Vegas, I was living in Tallahassee, Florida, and working at a residential home for troubled teenage girls. During one Sunday morning shift, the girls kept asking me if I would let them run away. I could get their shoes out of the locked closet, open the back door, wait fifteen minutes to give them a head start, and then call the cops. I could tell the psychologists that they threatened me. That one of them held a knife to my back--no; my face--then stole the keys from my pocket. Come on, they begged, we just want to see our boyfriends and smoke. Please?
All three of them were seventeen-year-old white girls who got into a lot of...