Saturday, August 25, 2007


If you have talked to me at all over the last 6 months, then you have no doubt heard me speak endlessly about my job with the restaurant/jazz club LOLA. This also means you have heard my frustration and my spirit-crushing stories about broken pipes, gas hookups, faulty inspections, hired and fired executive celebrity chefs, bribery, bounced checks, intimidation tactics, racism and the evil empire of NYC, the SOHO Alliance.

All that horror since March, and I have stood by that place out of the intuition that it was just the "right" damn thing to do... a feeling that has put just a little financial strain on me. And by just a little, I of course mean that I actually have stooped to drinking Jim Beam and eating canned peas.

All that being said... last night I worked my first night at LOLA, and I have been smiling ever since!

Famous musicians, drop-dead gorgeous models, movie people, reporters, etc etc etc... were all in attendence for a party that was held at LOLA, paid for by Madison Square Garden, and celebrating the film release of a documentary about New Orleans. We had killer food (most of which was from our upcoming menu), awesome open-bar booze and amazing drunk and beautiful people... and afterwards WE celebrated. A lot. Lots of celebration... Too much. And I had to work a double today (at my other temporary job) following it... which, uh, really sucked. But hell, at least I had a good reason to be tired.

I just had to yap about it...

Point being... it was an invigorating night. The kitchen is up and running and training their asses off to get the menu right. The back of house staff is fantastic, and the front of house proved themselves last night without a doubt. And we are opening to the public within the next two weeks. For real this time. So ya'll better find your appetites for Cajun/Creole French food quickly... or just liquor. We have lots of that too.

And on a personal note, I feel it is my duty as an honest person to admit that yes, I was the first dumbass to break a glass while serving on the floor. I shattered a lovely glass of our Pinot Gris. In my fuckin defense though, I was carrying a tray full of filled top-heavy glasses of wine down some stairs, and a lady was trying to grab a glass off the tray as I was stepping down. NOT ENTIRELY MY DAMN FAULT! Still though, it was kinda like deflowering a nun... no matter how you try to pass the blame, ya just feel guilty for being the first one there.

Doubt I'll burn in hell for this one though.

Monday, July 17, 2006

Day 6 - "The Voyage That Made Slightly Disturbed Men Of Us."

After a long hiatus from blog posting (I have been pretty damn preoccupied lately... and thus have rarely been in front of this damn machine, well, less so than usual) I have returned for the long-anticipated (by me, at least) Day 6. This, for the record, will hopefully be as detail oriented as the others, but since it occurred well over a month ago... who can say? Needless to say, if I don't get around to 7, 8, or 9, it may just be because I can't remember what happened on those days. Truth be told, I don't know if I could remember most of what happened on those days hours after they ended. That's another story, I guess.

So... here goes.

I wake up in a hotel bed, which isn't too different from the majority of my days over the last week, except this time there is a view of a beautiful pool instead of an ocean, and lots of drunk and desperate people are already roaming around the city looking for some place to throw their money down the toilet and then thank the toilet for the fun experience. I can't wait to be one of them! No, honestly, I really cannot wait to waste money on this day... I have been ready to blow cash in Vegas since I knew my roommate was gonna be here at the same time as myself, and nothing, I repeat, nothing is gonna stop me from being irresponsible this one time. Damnit, I've been to Vegas multiple times this year, and have been well-behaved and... lets face it... a bit housebroken, every single time. Now, instead of a girl, I have my brother side-by-side, we have extra money from the night before, and neither of us have ever been to a strip club. See where this might be going? Damnit, I am walking out of this city with one shady damn story if I have to bankrupt myself to do it.

A clarification to the statement that Mark and I have never attended a strip club. In Virginia Beach... stripping isn't really stripping. When we turned 21, and could legally drink, we went to a club expecting to see something scandalous, but instead saw a bunch of underfed girls with seriously coked out eye sockets drag-assing around the stage like fat kids in candy stores. Not excited chubby kids, but depressingly fat children who refuse to leave the store because the blue gummy sharks are so pretty that they just stare and drool for hours. Yeah, you know what I am talking about. I've seen dead walruses more animated than these gals on stage. Plus, they were sporting bathing suits that weren't nearly as exciting as the ones you would see if you were actually on the beach. Honestly, it was the most de-sexualizing thing I'd seen in a while... the weather channel was more stimulating. At least there you believe it when they say wetness is on the way.

That was kinda gross. Sorry.

My point being... it sucked, and the highlight of that sorry sight of an adventure at 21 was that I was actually bought drinks at this "go go" bar by the bartender, which was sorta cool. It isn't often you get free beer in a place like that, and it was the first and last time a strange (if by strange, you mean unknown) woman ever bought me a beer,. I have been bought beer by odd women I already knew, but that's a different sort of strange. This is a long digression.

So, here in Vegas I awake... ready to waste cash and have some scandal. I'd feel bad about this lushlike attitude, but I am on vacation damnit... and if I'm going into debt, I'm doing it with a smile. So I shower, and decide that I have a few hours to kill before Mark can join me... so I wander the pool area, and scope out the water. Its nice enough, and were I in the mood to char my flesh again, I'd probably have gone swimming.... but I am not ready to risk those delicate knees of mine just yet.... they may not hurt, but they still look more red than Tara Reid's thighs after a night of hard drinkin. So I wander for a spell, and then head upstairs to write on this thing for a while. And Mark calls, and I invite him to hang out for a few minutes while I change in the other room, and we decide to head out for our night.

It isn't even 7:30 yet... way to early to go look at naked strangers. We talk for a few about the night's plan, and decide there is no way we can enter a damn strip club sober. Scurrilous though we may be, the sight of a naked stranger still makes us blush, and we both understand that to get through this incredibly odd experience we are going to need to be good and liquored up. I have trouble enough looking into the eyes of a total stranger, but looking into other things is gonna be trouble to the n'th degree. Fortunately for us, the Monte Carlo has a lovely casino that is quick on the drinks! Back to gambling we go!

And this time, I'm no longer scared of the craps table. I'm ready! Bring it on, muthafucka!

First we try blackjack though... actual table blackjack. And that... for lack of a better word... sucks. Losing 40 bucks blows, but losing 40 bucks in about 10 minutes, REALLY blows. It was in that moment that Mark and I learned an important lesson about gambling. Blackjack is a shitty game. We move on...

Craps! And the night begins...

So we head to the nearest table, which is pretty full, and find a space towards the end where we can bet side-by-side, as friends should. Our intention at this point is to gamble for about an hour, which is just about the perfect amount of time to get 3 or 4 drinks in us. We figure we get a nice buzz going, then head to get some food and drink where we can continue into a full-blown happy-drunk, then we go look at odd naked women. In this plan we will hit the holy triumvirate of sordidness... gambling, booze, and women. Add to that the fact that we are chain-smoking (which ain't easy to do when you aren't really a smoker) simply because we can, and you start to get the picture on what our aim truly was. We, as we have done for years, are collecting experiences for future reflection. Purely from a scientific standpoint, of course. Its a sociological study. Nothing more. Ahem... yeah.

For the first 20 minutes or so, all is going according to plan. The drinks are free-flowing (and also just free... which is fantastic) and we have managed to turn 20 bucks into about 35 bucks, which isn't much, but is better than losing money, that's for damn sure. Makes up a bit for that fucking blackjack game.

Now, if you know the rules of craps, the following description will probably make a bit more sense to you, but if you don't, bear with me, I'll try to dumb it down (no offense) for ya.

Finally the dice come around to our side of the table, and pass first to Mark, who makes a respectable first roll. It doesn't last long, but makes us all a few bucks, and then passes to me. This is my first craps roll ever, and I am pumped. So pumped in fact that I make a huge faux pas and take the dice off the table with two hands, and then pull them off the edge of the table as I reach for my beer. This is, shall we say, not exactly kosher with... well.... anyone, and the resounding cries of "Hey!" "Dice on the table!" and "What are you doing?!" cause me to look around to see what all the hubbub is about. I honestly thought that they were yelling at someone else, and when the dealer's angry eyes are affixed on me, I begin to stammer like a christian in a porn store. About 6 people are loudly chastising me for an affront that I was unaware I was committing. Thank god Mark was there, and he informs me to hand the dice back to the head dealer, which I confusedly do:

... then Mark explains "Bill, you can only touch the dice with one hand and have to keep them over the table at all times."

"Well fuck... how the hell was I supposed to know that?"

"Its kinda common sense. They don't want you to switch out the dice." Skillfully, he refrained from adding "dumbass" at the end of the sentence.

Great, so I have gotten off to a great start. I reach for my beer to take a consoling swig (while they inspect the dice to make sure I haven't fucked with them), and manage, for the second time in 3 minutes to piss the entire table off.

"Hey!" "Drinks off the table!" "What are you doing?"

Huh? What?! Fuck, they're all yelling at me again! What did I do? Oh great, apparently I am resting my beer on the edge of the table, which again, is a huge craps faux pas.

Mark again: "Bill, you can't rest your beer on the table, in case it spills."

"Oh for fuck's sake..."

The stickman passes me back the dice to roll, with a look that plainly says "What are you, fucking retarded?" which I respond to with a strong look of "Yeah, I apparently am fucking retarded. My bad." and I take the dice. Looking up for encouragement from the table, I am greeted by blank stares that barely hid the obvious hostility flowing towards me in waves. I feel like a black man in Mississippi.

That is not a slight on the lovely state of Missis.... actually, it is. I hate Mississippi. Deal with it.

Great... the dealers think I am an idiot, the other players have no faith in me, Mark is embarrassed to be standing with me, and I have the dice in my hand. I'm off to a great start. Well, I'll show them all, they'll like me a whole lot more when I win them some money. I bet on myself to win, Mark bets on me too to show a little faith in me, and everyone else holds onto their money, which is kinda rude, to be honest.

Fine... I'll show them. I shake my arm, toss the dice with a flick of the wrist, andddddd.... 4. Okay... that kinda sucks, but as long as I roll a 4 before I roll a 7, I'll be alright. A few people put money on the table now, and I roll again.... come on 4..... anddddddd..... 7. Fuck. Crapped out immediately, and everyones' money is now gone. As are a few people from the table who now believe me to be bad luck. I'm the douchebag of the Monte Carlo. Great.

About 30 minutes of gambling later Mark and I have made back the money I lost us on my roll, and the dice come back around. Mark does okay, and I swear to redeem myself the second time. I grab the dice (one-handed, no beer, and confidence rolling off me in... okay, that's a lie, I was nervous I'd suck again) and roll. Long story short... I lose yet again, and more people leave the table... and Mark and I are down to our original 20 bucks again. You'd think I'd quit here... I've had my free beer, and am still breaking fairly even.... but no no no, we stay. This was when we were joined at the table by two of the kindest old men I've ever met in my life.

Enter Ray and Don (I forget their real names.... we were drinking), who over the next 30 minutes as the dice move around, begin to tell us all about their lives. Turns out they are best friends, and have been since high school (these guys are easily in their late 60s), who after high school joined the fire department together and worked in the same firehouse for over 40 years until they retired. Ever since the 1960's they have been coming to Vegas at least once a year to gamble and hang out together... and they take a liking to seeing two other young best friends doing the same thing. They begin to tutor us in the better odds to play in craps (including bets we didn't even know we could make) and by the time the dice are back, we're up about 30 bucks thanks to our new best friends. Mark has a decent roll and then I am up for what I have decided is my third and final roll. I advise Ray and Don to hold onto their money, but they, like Mark beside me, put their faith in me and place money on the table. As I get ready to roll, Mark leans over and whispers in my ear... and I quote... "fuck that cunt."

I roll an immediate 7... which means we double our money, because I won on the first roll. Oh yes, I have my luck back. It could be the positive influence of Ray and Don (remember? Always bet on asians and men over 50...), it could be the "three times a charm" phenomenon, it could be the "fuck that cunt" comment that makes me laugh so hard I can hardly roll, hell, it could just be that the good lord wants to bless me for my long-standing righteous hatred of the state of Mississippi, but whatever it is, I am on a roll. And lo and behold, 20 minutes later I still am still rolling without having crapped out once. By this point, the table has reached its limit, I have a group of people actually cheering me on by name, and we are all winning money like crazy. Mark and I are up over a hundred bucks each, Ray and Don are up about 500 each, and I am no longer the douchebag. When I finally do crap out, after the longest table run of the night, everyone is so happy that I actually have people clap for me. For me! Little old me!

It should be noted that Mark continues to whisper that phrase in my ear before every roll... a phrase that we discover weeks later does not make me a better bowler, but the luck may have been gone from it as soon as I stopped caring about what it originally tapped into. Also, it would take a drastic change in the rules of god and man to make me a decent bowler. I'd bet there are double amputees that can bowl better than me.

To summarize what happens next... the dice pass to Ray, and he runs the table even longer than me. By the end of his roll, Mark is up nearly 300 bucks, and I am up about 220 dollars, which coupled with all the money from the night before puts him near 500, and me near 400. We have officially made Vegas our bitch... as have Ray and Don (about 2 grand each), who try to get Mark and I laid by telling some girls how we are the luckiest guys they have ever met in Vegas. It didn't work, but we appreciated the effort. And, get this, they slip us a couple twenties to thank us for all the money we made them, saying "just some fun money... go try another game."

One fantastic burger later, and some more beer... and we are ready to finally hit the strip club. Hell, it won't even really cost us anything. My plan to lose money is Vegas has been thwarted at every corner! HA!

We arrive drunk, and pay our cover... and walk into one of the most surreal experiences of my life.

Vegas strip clubs go one of two ways... topless and fully nude. Each has its own set of rules, but the main difference (aside from the obvious) is that topless clubs serve alcohol, while fully nude ones only serves sodas and juices. I have been trying to figure out why this is, and the only idea I can come up with is that it is to discourage the drunken temptation of trying to fist a complete stranger as they gyrate in front of you nude. God knows I have to fight the urge every time I see a naked lady and I've been drinking.... but whatever, stupid rule or not, it is the way it is, and we have decided to drink beforehand so as to have the full experience. As we enter, I am pretty sure we are both re-evaluating this decision, but we've already paid a cover charge. Argh... the cheapskate in us wins out and we grab a seat in the general seating area away from the stage thinking it'd be safer there. Less embarrassing, you know?


Turns out that strip clubs work like this... if ya sit at the stage and fling bucks at the dancers, you are pretty much left alone (note this: only if you have a wing man, which is a point that will come up soon) by all the strippers who are making their way around the club looking to give lap dances. However, if you sit away from the stage in the comfy chairs all around the place, it is only a matter of minutes before some semi-sweaty, husky voiced broad comes up and sits on your lap and starts saying some very deviant shit to you that I won't write here simply out of respect for any younger readers this might reach. Its odd though, and very very very unnerving. So, after fighting off 2 or 3 of these women who are trying to drag us into back rooms for private dances (and a nervous "naw, not interested" is not a very effective way of making them leave.... you have to really look them in the eye and say "no"... or as I would say "sorry... I'm just kinda absorbing right now" to make them go away) we decide the safer route is to actually sit by the stage, which is truly the lesser of two evils here.

Now I don't mean to villainize this place.... truth be told it was pretty fun, and definitely educational from an anatomical standpoint, but you have to understand that seeing this stuff on a total stranger is kinda like being given a wad of money from a random person on the street, who then promptly runs away screaming. You look at the money, enjoy the money, and know that you like money... but when all is said and done, you mistrust the money and the person who gave it to you. Shit like this just doesn't feel entirely balanced. That's what these naked women are like.... crazy, urban tooth-fairies. Maybe that's hard to envision... but were you there, you'd dig what I'm sayin.

For what its worth though, they do up my appreciation of balance and flexibility.

I was asked later on, by a dear friend of mine, "So what happens? Do you just sit there with a hard-on for the entire time?"

Actually, no. But that may be because I am sitting right next to my best friend, which (no offense Mark) isn't ideal for sexual arousal. Plus, the music in this place is lame as all hell, and I'd find it difficult to perform with even the glorious Kidman to techno music. Call me old-fashioned, but techno renditions of "While My Guitar Gently Weeps" will kill a mood pretty damn fast. And I love that song.

Then again, I once had "relations" to Insane Clown Posse... and I'd imagine I'll never stop apologizing to that girl for the rest of my life. For extra billy-trivia points, this happened to be the same person who asked me about the hard-ons in the first place. Life is a beautiful beautiful circle.

Back to the club...

So we're on the edge of the stage, and for the first time in our lives, Mark and I experience a right of passage that all men must experience at one time or another. We each get a little crush on a stripper.

For me, her name was Sabrina, but we'll always know her as "Badger." Why Badger, you ask? Well, quite simply, the gal had a big old tattoo of a fuckin badger on her lower back. This raven-haired lass, at some point in her life entered a tattoo parlor, got on the table, and chose this as her permanent skin mark.

"Chinese symbol for hope?"


"A crescent moon with stars around it?"

"Uh uh."

"Huh. Fuck, I'm out of ideas then. The only other thing I can do is a badger."

"That's it! Put a badger on me!"

Fucked if I know.... but whatever the case, Sabrina looks quite nice with her badger. And we tip her well.

For Mark, her name is Melanie... and she is an attractive, thin blonde gal. We tip her well too. This is not the end of Melanie's story in our evening.

So, we sit there drinking soda for a while, and chain smoking like crazy to alleviate the nervousness that a situation like this inspires in two, fairly gentlemanly southern boys, when suddenly Mark speaks...

"Aw fuck man. I'll be back in a bit, I gotta go take a shit."

And he leaves. He fucking leaves me alone at a strip club, by the damn stage, unprotected. I have just gone from the relatively unobtrusive boy in the baseball cap to the number one target in the entire club. And he knows it! The fucker knows it! I swear I hear him laughing over the god-awful techno music as he meanders off to the bathroom.

Fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck. Be cool. Have another cigarette... they taste like shit, but maybe you can smokescreen yourself away from these damn jackals of women that are prowling around old people in a cafeteria, looking for the lime jello. Smoke! Drink! Fuckin diet coke! Oh shit, I can hear them behind me... ignore ignore ignore. Maybe if I pretend to be deaf... damnit, there's a hand on my thigh. Can't ignore that.

And now begins the game of deflection... where I have to find the best combination of words to keep this endless stream of people away from me and my delicate wallet. Fortunately, I discover that the old adage of "honesty is the best policy" works best here.... because when I start saying "i'm just waiting on my roommate who is taking a shit right now" they start to back away right quickly. Woo hoo! I have my new shield. And I wait and wait and wait, and finally Mark emerges, after stopping by the bartender briefly.

We sit and hang for a bit longer, when suddenly Mark is tapped on the shoulder by none other than Melanie herself, who then leads him away as he flashes me a smile and disappears into the back. Turns out when he spoke to the bartender, he was asking her to contact Melanie for a lapdance, and now he is gone once again, and this time my "taking a shit" defense is for nothing... they all see where he's gone. I, once again alone at the stage, wait for the inevitable onslaught of lapdance offers, and have my new defense all planned out. If Mark is gonna keep leaving me alone, I am using him as my reason for staying planted at this stage... so when I hear the words:

"Your friend is having fun, you should too...."

I respond with:

"Yeah, but my friend is slightly mentally retarded, and if he comes out and doesn't see me here he might have a bit of a breakdown."

This also works wonders. I'm actually not sure if I ever told him I said that, but he'll find out soon enough when he reads this. Sorry man, but you left me alone in a strip club twice.

When he returns, looking a bit flushed, but grinning nonetheless... the first things he says to me is...

"I think I did it wrong."

"What? How'd you fuck up a lapdance?"

And then he tells me, and where I was afraid he was gonna say he accidentally punched her or something, it turns out he was worried he wasn't inappropriate enough for the lady. It goes like this, Melanie (who was Russian) gave Mark permission to touch her, but Mark, who is a gentleman, didn't know exactly what she meant. So after touching her elbows, he got nervous about the whole touching her thing and stopped entirely. So far, so good, right?

"That's not so bad."

But then, in a fit of flattery, Mark utters the words...

"God you're beautiful" (to her, not to me...)

To which she replies:

"All men say I am beautiful when I take my clothes off."

Hm. Well shit, if I were a stripper, I'd have probably been flattered by the compliment, but Mel here has decided to take offense. This kinda confused me, but a few days later I stumbled across this...

Be Complimentary
Every woman likes to be told that she is attractive and dancers are no exception. But try to be original, or at least creative. Telling her she is beautiful or has pretty eyes wont get it; she hears that every day. Instead, take the time to figure out what makes her special and compliment that. Try telling her that you think she has great hair or nice skin, or even that she has a nice voice or that she smells really good. Tell her that the outfit shes wearing, (the one she probably spent a good deal of time backstage deciding to wear) looks great on her. The key here is to make the compliment unique and thereby both memorable and believable. One final note, refrain from comments of a sexually frank nature. Remarks like Youve got a great butt and Nice rack, do not qualify as either original or creative. Once, in conversation with a dancer I had just met, I told her, You have a great look, you should try modeling. You could be in Playboy. She shook her head no, I dont have any boobs she replied. Doesnt matter, I laughed, you have the face of an angel. I was rewarded with a hug and a kiss on the cheek.

The full article on strip club etiquette can be found at:

Heh heh. Could be worse Mark, could be worse...

So when all is said and done, he didn't touch her inappropriately and was kind to her. When he relays all this to me, I say that "doing it wrong" probably isn't such a bad thing, and he replies that:

"I think I could smell her."

Now for those of you who don't know Mark all that well, you probably think he meant something foul by this, but the truth is that Mark has absolutely no sense of smell, and can only sense changes in the air. So he can tell when he's near the ocean, or when he's passing near a hot subway grate, but nothing else... except now for strippers. He can smell strippers. Some people go to crazy preachers for faith healing, all Mark needed was a Russian stripper covered in baby powder gyrating near him and his sense of smell returns. God bless Deja Vu.

We finish our cokes and hit the road... the hour is 4, he has work the next day, and I have check out in the morning to head back to Los Angeles. On the way back, we laugh about the night, enjoy how heavy our wallets feel, and have a momentary heart-to-heart about how I expected Vegas to be a painful horrible experience on this trip, but how it actually turned out to be easily the most ridiculous and crazy-fun trip I had made all year. Wouldn't have traded it. I drop him off, head back to the hotel, shower the smoke off me and head to sleep... but only after making a call to the front desk to make my check-out time later.... no way in hell I am getting up early the next day.

And here ends Day 6. If youve read all this, you deserve a cookie. Go get one and pretend I gave it to you.

Friday, June 16, 2006

Day 5 - "The Sabbatical That Made Two Friends A Bit More Wealthy"

So I wake up, with a dog licking my toes in a way that made me wake up a bit happier than I probably should have. We've all been there... right?

Someone agree with me quickly...

And as I awake I hear a lighter striking up and smell the sweet funk of smoke bring me to life in a way that bacon or coffee affects your average commercial character. Yes, another day has began in Los Angeles, and though I will be leaving this city in a few hours to begin another drive across the desert, I will enjoy these few hours as if I were sticking around for the rest of the day. Why not? L.A. has, in just a few days, become my favorite city in the US... might as well love it up while I can.

A shower later, we all head out to brunch for the best breakfast burrito I am ever likely to enjoy.

Breakfast burritos, as I have known them (which is mainly a 7-11 or McDonald's set of experiences) are a pile of crap. A few chunks of crappy meat, mixed in with an overcooked egg or two and a freeze-dried pepper of indistinguishable color, rarely satiate even the smallest appetite, but the burrito I am enjoying this morning is thick and full of fresh vegetables. I am a happy man. NYC has great brunch places, but Mexican food here is depressing on a level that nearly requires Zoloft for the stomach. We need to be closer to the border.... and by that I mean Mexico's.... not Canada's, which brings us no good food of any sort.

For that matter, what does Canada bring us other than jealosy for better health care and a few good comedians from time to time? Well, that and the occasional conversation that usually sounds like...

"Yeah, I had a friend who lived in Toronto and she loved it."

"I've heard that."

"She says Canada is great."

"I've heard that too."

People speak of Canada like I would imagine Ethiopians speak of buffets, yet most people I meet never leave buffets in a better mood than they did upon arrival. So, the question is, do visitors to Canada really love it, or leave feeling bloated and gassy? Food for thought.

Mark my words.... Canada is the Golden Corral of the western hemisphere.

The burrito is lovely however, and following a few directions after I finish eating (left, right, right, highway, highway, highway, highway) I am on the road back to Las Vegas.

I am kinda in a rush this time, since I hope to get there before my roommate gets off work. Mark, my NYC roommate, is in Vegas now on a conference for the jewelry industry (his company represents pearls) and we are scheduled to spend the next few nights in reckless pursuit of good stories to tell people when we are old men reliving our glory days. In this we do not fail. But for that to ever happen, I must get there in five hours, and traffic is as fun as ever on the way out of town.

My saddest knowledge as I make my way out of town listening to KROQ (WORLD FAMOUS ROCK!) is that there is no way I'm gonna have the time to stop in Peggy Sues 50s Diner on this trip, which Id been looking forward to since the last time I was there. What if Hank is there desperately trying to forget about Iraq, and I miss him. Fuck it, Hanks survived this long, he doesn't need me. Maybe I just needed him. Maybe the knowledge of impending days in Vegas required a bit of confidence that only this diner could afford me. Maybe I need to concentrate on driving now and not hit the stupid asshole in front of me who I swear to god is both driving and smoking pot at the exact same time. And now KROQ is playing She Wants Revenge again.

A side note, do you know this band? She Wants Revenge? Recently, on a lovely outing to a fantastic Depeche Mode concert with Mark, Casey and Sherri, we were forced to sit through an opening band of which none of us had ever heard. As it turns out, this band was getting quite a bit of radio play outside of NYC (because no one listens to the radio in New York), and is famous for some song about "fucking tearing you apart". Long story short, other than hearing Four Non-Blondes play live many years ago, I have never heard anything so awful in my entire life. Honestly, I would rather listen to the sounds of horses humping for 2 hours than ever sit through a live song from this band again. And here they are now on the radio, as I am in traffic, behind a drug-addled driver, heading to the town where my ex-girlfriend lives, and I am running late. I should have been drinking during brunch, damn my conscience.

For what its worth though, after many a radio change, I do make it to Vegas on time and the drive isn't so bad once I get into the desert. All ends well on that front.

And then I arrive, and after a mild confusion on how to navigate the parking lot of the Monte Carlo, I am checking in to the nicest hotel room I have stayed in for many years. This place is not only dirt cheap (because you can find endless cheap rooms in Vegas, they want everyone to stay there and gamble at their casino), but has two huge beds, a hot-tub, a beautiful wooden desk, tv, high-speed internet, view of the strip, etc etc etc. Its awesome, and I celebrate my room with a hot shower and fresh change of clothes before going to pick Mark up for our night of gambling.

I hop in my car, speed out onto the strip, and again find myself horribly confused as to where the car pick-up area is at the Flamingo. For lack of a better comparison, driving in Vegas is like trying to bang a eunuch... you can search for hours and never find what you're looking for. Or so I've heard. Whatever. It can be that frustrating, but when all is said and done, at least the traffic isn't too tough to manage, which is a blessing of sorts. And tonight eventually pans out. Mark finds the car, we briefly try to come up with a respectable plan of what to do, but if you know Mark and I, you know that is pretty much an impossibility. Our entire friendship (11 years and change) we have tried to make plans for things, seen them fall through brutally, and decided just to drive around and see where we end up. This is exactly what we do, and after a drive up and down the Vegas strip, we decide why not try the Stratosphere, which is a huge frickin tower at the north end of the Strip that towers above most of Vegas. In this place are many restaurants, rides, games, shows, etc. and at this point we are all about just going somewhere and blowing some money.

We park (in typical eunuch-sex style) and enter the main floor of the casino. After circling the floor to see what is offered, we start thirstin' for free casino drinks, and plant ourselves on some blackjack machines in the hope that we can play for a few minutes and get a beer or two. And we are ignored... but that's alright, because I manage to go on a blackjack roll and keep "letting it ride" until I make 80 bucks and cash out. And now I am 80 bucks up in my first hour in Vegas. Lady Luck is nibbling my earlobes tonight!

Mark's down a few bucks, not much though, and we decide on a new strategy. One that is perfect for the two of us. We are now going to circle the casino until we find a natural redhead, and sit near them for our next game, for surely that is something that can bring us luck. Those who know my recent situation probably see this as faulty logic, but Mark and I entered into this fascination together a long time ago, and we are counting on this common bond to bring us luck tonight. Separate we are weak, but together we are the fuckin McFaddyns (the names for the Scottish personalities that erupt when we drink), and we are co-opting red-headed luck damnit. And find one we do... not a busty lass, but rather a geeky red-headed guy, but since there seem to be no redheaded women there, we settle on this dude, a craps boxman.

Since I have no idea how this game works, I opt to watch this night, and procede to give Mark my ideas on the luck of the other players at the table while he plays the odds on the game. All in all we make a great team, and an hour and a half later, Mark is up about 150 dollars, half due to his wisdom on the game and half on my wisdom of the players ("always bet on men over 50 and Asians"). Old men understand gambling, and Asians are good luck. Its science.

And now we both have money... what to do? Roulette! Why not! We take our winnings, put them on Red (like I said, the McFaddyns trust red and are both quite a few beers into the night now) and win! So we take half of that, put it on Red again and win! Pocket half, bet the rest again and win! Pocket half again, bet, and lose! Fuck. Well, we still came out of that about another hundred bucks up, which puts us both in an awesome mood. A couple hundred bucks up, we haven't spent a dime, have been drinking free all night, and have found that Vegas is a pretty damn fun city for two best friends to roam around. Life's good, and tomorrow night is the big night of craziness, so I drop him off (after taking a picture of us drinking and winning in the Stratosphere parking lot... see my pics for that one) and head home, where I fall asleep exhausted from the long long long long long, but pretty wonderful day. Fortunately, this sleep lasts a long time, because the next day goes on much longer than this one did. But that's a story for the next entry.

Thought of the Day : What is it about seeing two hotel beds side by side that gets a person so excited? Why, when the first bed would be just about as clean and crisp on the second night, am I so excited about sleeping in the other one on day two in the hotel? Am I this easily amused? And if so, they why do I think that Everybody Loves Raymond was such a crappy show?

Saturday, June 10, 2006

Day 4 - "The Adventure That Led Me To The "Blood Hound" ummm.. Gang."

My legs feel much better thank you very fuckin much! While still burnt, I can walk with relative ease... So yeah, never again need that be mentioned. Besides (as a relative preview...) it is safe to say that Vegas, on Sunday/Monday/Tuesday... was frickin awesome to Mark and I, and I just can't complain on this thing right now while exalting in my burst of good fortune. Ah.... sweet lovely Lady Luck, welcome to our table.

Okay.... back to Day 4.

Hee hee.

Day 4... okay.

I wake up feeling able to move freely, which is a good thing since I need to check out of my hotel today and move on to staying with some of the friendliest people I have met in a long time. But on to that later.

Check out is relatively simple (god forbid I ever utter the words "check out is sooooo hard" because that will be the day that I have obviously become retarded) and I toss my shit into the car, which leaves me with a good few hours before I am expected to move out of my glory-hole of a parking spot. So, with an inward sigh, I decide to brave the Santa Monica Pier one last time (for now.... because I fucking love L.A.). I walk out there, snap some pictures, and walk down to the Muscle Cafe, a little bar/restaurant near Muscle Beach. This little place, which doesn't look that impressive, still has a nice little atmosphere.... so I order a beer and some chips'n'salsa, plus a few fish tacos.

Interesting side note, no matter how hard I try, I can't think the words "fish tacos" without giggling a little bit.

So yeah.... good cold beer. Nice. Then comes the chips'n'salsa, and jesus h. christ on roller skates, these are the most amazing chips'n'salsa I have ever had in my entire life. Ever. No comparison. I practically live on chips'n'salsa up here in NYC. I have actually made the drive out to Staten Island and paid an 8 dollar toll just to get the type of salsa I love so much. When home in Virginia Beach, I will often buy upwards of 6 jars of the stuff just to stockpile back here... but then again, I have been known to put salsa on eggrolls, so no wonder I always need some on hand. Honestly, I will know I have found my soulmate when I hear the words "Smother my body in salsa." I'll propose on the spot. After the salsa-frottage.

Point being.... the salsa is homemade at this place, which isn't too special, but when you combine it with handmade thick and hot chips.... I honestly nearly began to cry. This may also be because, aside from Hank on Day 1, the amount of human-to-human contact I have had has been pretty minimal for the last 4 days. Communing with chips is not too different from peacocks... right? RIGHT?

They're amazing, to say the least. Then, as I eat, once again, two guys come up to my table and ask if they can have a seat. This place is pretty small, filled up, and I have 2 seats available, so its a pretty reasonable request... and as I have been talking to my food for the last few minutes, I long for the human interaction. I am also hoping they don't hear me making "yummy noises" while I eat, which I have a tendency to do when really enjoying my food. Its kinda embarrassing sometimes when I am eating and growling happily in the back of my throat, only to be looked at quizzically and asked "good?" I appreciate food damnit. Its a wonder I am not 300 pounds.

These dudes sit down... both of them obviously muscle-beachers. One, who we shall call Jeff (because I forget his name, but he could be a Jeff) is probably in his mid-40's, and probably spends upwards of 6 days at the beach a week playing volleyball and hanging with "his hombres". I like him immediately. The other, whose name I do remember but am probably gonna spell wrong, is called Kree. He is probably in his late-20s, and is a native east-coaster.... which leads to conversation about east-coast beaches and is also immediately likeable. So by the time my fish tacos (heh heh) arrive, the three of us are talking like old friends. They tell me all about L.A. and their views on the entertainment culture... "As a guy, if you just hang out by yourself at some of the clubs and bars, you're gold. Just go alone and you can get in anywhere if you play it cool. That's how you meet people in this business."

Well, I got the alone thing down pat.

Then they tell me I haven't lived till I've walked Venice Beach... so after they invite me to a barbeque (which was damn nice of them) I head out that direction. And yeah... its pretty fuckin funny.

Everywhere you look there is some damn strange person eating fire, doing flips off trashcans, making sculptures out of pennies, or even disco dancing with a moving sound system. That was probably my favorite. I walk along the boardwalk for a long time, then turn around and walk the beach back, where I get a chance to catch up with my dad on the phone who gives me a lot of advice.... but unfortunately I am walking too close to the ocean and spend half the conversation saying "what? I'm sorry. Can you repeat that?" It is entirely possible that years later I will get struck with some horrible disease and my dad will say "weren't you listening when I was talking to you that day you were in LA? I was telling you salsa causes leprosy." He talks a lot and sometimes I space out... something I definitely inherited from him.

So yeah, Venice is awesome, and my god are there some beautiful women in California. Jeff and Kree tried to warn me, but I thought surely they can't be that beautiful... but no, I was wrong. You can't look around any corner in L.A. without seeing someone that makes your eyes bug out a bit.

Then again, I nearly got hard staring at the chips earlier, so who knows how useful my opinion is.

Finally, I move on to the social part of this vacation and receive a call from Molly, the younger sister of my dear friend Kate, who is being so kind as to put me up for the night, and then a few night the next week. I met Molly when her sister and I were dating as freshmen in college... and have seen her only once or twice since then. So for her to put me up is a very kind gesture. She and Joe (her boyfriend), let me know that I'll be crashing at his place... and then give me directions to a pool party in the valley.

I've spent all day at the beach and there is a pool party to go to now.... do you understand how fucking sweet this is? My inner-pisces is swimming in boundless pools of joy.

This drive, like all drives in LA, sucks ass.

Perhaps I should rant for a second. For the last few years I have heard New Yorkers tear this city to pieces, only to find upon arriving here that almost everything I have heard is kinda crap. Though there are some shallow people, most of the people I have met have been so friendly and outgoing that I have openly commented that LA folk are just as friendly as southerners. As a southern guy, this is a tough comment to make.... it comes with a lot of weight. I hear about the smog, which exists sure, but doesn't really hinder much. The weather is flawless, even when drizzly you want to leave the windows down. Plus, wherever you look, you see palm trees and flowers growing all over. Even the crappy areas have palm trees.

But... and this is the big but... driving in this city is a pain in the ass. The traffic is everywhere, at almost all times... every time you need to go anywhere you have to traverse a minimum (I swear to god... its the cosmic price of living here) of three major highways, all of which have strange numbers like 134, and 2, and 405. So a series of directions to get to the... I dunno... movie theatre, will sound like this.

"Okay.... take a left at Franklin. Then right on Vermont. Then go up a bit and take a right on Los Feliz. Then hit the 101 N, take that briefly, its a quick merge to the 110 N, then head to the 134 E. That'll turn into the 210, which you can then take to the 10E. Or if you want, you can take the 405 to the 5 to the 10. Or you can just keep crying while you try to remember these directions."

"... take a left at what?"

And of course, on all those roads, the traffic is backed up harder than a constipated camel.
So I get to the pool party, bring in the beer, and meet a ton of new people. All of whom treat me like they've known me for a while. Its awesome. We all drink beer, swim in the pool, eat hotdogs and chips (lots of chips... ), and proceed to watch the Mavs play, which is exciting for all of them because most of them are from Texas. I just enjoy watching the tall white german guy kick everyones ass.

On the drive back to Joe's place we stop for gas, and get more chips. Chips chips chips. Then we arrive and head out into the backyard.

The enormous 4-tiered back yard that has a firepit, a hammock, a deck, a hottub, a big old patio table with chairs and a huge umbrella, a flowered trellis, and the best view of downtown LA that I have yet seen. The house is big enough for three guys to live comfortably... with a gigantic blood hound named Humphries. And they pay less in rent than we do in our little apartment in Sunset Park (aka, bumfuck), Brooklyn. I want to cry, and perhaps I would have, had it not been for Humphries, who I believe I heard is well over 100 pounds, and just around 2 years old.
If you think about this for a second, you'll realize that this means there is a wrecking ball of a dog that thinks its still a puppy. I have never been nearly knocked on my ass so many times in my life... and over the days that I stay here, often when feeling a bit too contemplative while standing outside, Humphries will run right into me, slobber on me, and then convince me to chase him around the backyard. This game never gets old, even when he is just running from the same place in the place yard to the same other place in the backyard.... with no variation. Its hysterical.

In the process of this night, Molly, Joe, Rusty (Joe's roommate) and I talk well into the night... and drink well into it as well. Molly and Rusty crash first, which leaves Joe and I talking tv and movies. In the course of this conversation I learn that he is a Buffy fan, which earns the highest of respect in my world, and he leaves to grab a movie to show me that he thinks I will appreciate.

Enter... Dawson's Creek.

This is a testament to how drunk everyone was that when Dawson's Creek Season 1 comes out, no eyes bat. And yes, I see my first episode ever of "the Creek." Poor Joey.... little did she know that just being spurned by Dawson was the least of her worries. Later on she'd have to marry a bouncy gay midget scientologist. All things considered, that still might be better than Dawson.... he's kinda a little bitch.

Here's the catch.... and maybe it was the alcohol talking.... but I kinda enjoyed it. For the first time ever, I didn't hate Katie Holmes. And I had no idea the chick from Brokeback Mountain was on this! Not sure if I'll ever see any more of it.... but now I feel like I have some inside knowledge of this old show. Now, if only some day someone will show me an episode of Saved By The Bell, I'll be ready for pop-culture Trivial Pursuit.

And I fall asleep on the futon... happy to have finally found social interaction, with a wonderful group of people who were happy to tell me everything about Los Angeles. And music. And beer. And Dawson's Creek. Fuckin A right.

Tuesday, June 6, 2006

Day 3 - "The Sojourn Where For One Day I Did Absolutely Nothing"

When I awake on Day 3, I am still in almost the exact same position I was in when I fell asleep. My knees are slightly bent, and I awake (quite late) feeling completely refreshed. Completely. So much so, in fact, that I forget entirely that I am burnt in the first place. This leads me to get out of bed as if I were a young, spry pole-vaulter...

I prep, stretch my arms above my head and swing my legs out of the bed in one fluid motion. I maintain that it would have been a very graceful maneuver, had it not been for the fact that as soon as I had my legs planted on the ground, I yelped and promptly fell back on the bed.

Guess I don't heal from burns as fast as I had hoped. I should have remembered that from last fall when I burnt the crap out of my left arm and spent weeks agonizing over it.

Needless to say, Day 3 is gonna be an indoor day from the looks of things, which is fine, I have a few things that I can do around the area that don't require being under the radius of that huge ball of flame.

Now when I had showered the night before, the burn hadn't set in yet, so the pain was minimal.... but this shower was destined to be quite possibly the most painful part of this trip. So I mentally prepare myself to face this beast (because I can't leave my house in the morning without showering... its a given fact that anyone who knows me must accept) and step into the mouth of hell. Which sucks. Really really sucks.... but I come out clean, and a bit proud of myself for not bawling like a child, and I prepare to go for a stumble around the block to the promenade again for some food, and my favorite activity, a movie!

I eat... fairly good mexican food... walk around for a bit while trying to decide what movie to see. Right now its up between the Davinci Code (which I have heard nothing but godawful things about but still kinda want to see) and The Break Up (which, as my friend Sherri put it, might be a bit "too topical" for me right now). Hm.... "bad" or a "different type of bad"? There's always MI-3, but Tom Cruise scares the fuck out of me right now and I don't know if I want to add "scary bad" to the mix. Everything else is even worse... if given free tickets to that stupid gymnastics movie, I'd wipe my ass with them. Guess I'll do Davinci... bring on the wooden acting and over-simple plot devices.

And yes... I am the only person in the entire theatre.

Its bad enough going to movies alone when newly single, they remind you that holding someone's sweaty popcorn-grease smelling hand can kinda be romantic. More so than suntan lotion at least (see Day 2). But going to a movie alone, when newly single, and there is nobody else in the entire theatre? That, dear friends, is a new kind of torture that is only lessoned by the constant throbbing of engorged knee-backs. Now I suddenly know why I am burnt.... it is to distract my mind from feeling stupid in a theatre by myself. Then again, without the burn I wouldn't have even been there. Chicken - egg: egg - chicken. Whatever. Least I got to see the movie that has been billed by some sites as "ludicrous," "a terrible movie," "crushingly dull," and my personal favorite "a movie thats too stupid to appreciate its own stupid origins, and so it takes itself completely seriously. The stupider things get, the more seriously the movie takes itself, and the more seriously it takes itself, the funnier it is. The movie isnt content with its own stupidity it actively assumes that the audience is operating on a simian mental level." Can't wait to see this one! Bring it on!

So yeah, I see it.... and yeah, at points it is pretty bad, but at other points its okay. When asked by my aforementioned friend how it was, I believe my exact text message states "Movie was alright. Not amazing but worth seeing. Sorta. I dunno." That about sums it up.

Home I hobble... to a pack of raw almonds, a six pack of beer (to cope with burn pain, of course) and a fresh desire to write. And write I do... hence the blogs begins. When done, and slightly tipsy, I hobble back out to a restaurant called the Beanery and have a great meal, a pretty crappy beer, and a cute waitress who tries to be nice to me and help me figure out the menu which is 9 million pages long (I sweat to you they had at least 50 different types of burgers alone). Annnnnddddd I'm done, annnnnddddd I'm tired, annnnnnndddd I wander home.... where after a bit of email stuff, I crash.

But I crash happy, because although I accomplished absolutely nothing today, I am still on the other side of the country, talking with interesting people, in a great city, and I have done this on my terms. So yeah. Word.

Coming Soon.... debauchery, significant monetary gain, temperatures that can roast your brain juices, huge blood hounds, Dawson's Creek (yes, I said it, Dawson's Creek), the inevitable strip club, and what might be the biggest news yet.... no more bitching about the sunburn.

Monday, June 5, 2006

Day 2 - "The Trip That Got Sand Everywhere It Should Not Be."

Day 2 begins, as so many days do, with the loud fucking sound of a huge-ass truck driving underneath my window. This very-unexpected sound pops my eyes wide open at 10 am (early for a vacation damnit) wondering if I am still in Brooklyn... all I need now is the never-ending sound of an ice-cream truck and I'll be right back where I started. Peering out the window... and.... ah yes, stupid bus. Well, looks like I am up... its beach time.

So, those of you who know me well know that I am about as white as white can get. I am referring to skin tone, not personality, so fuck you if you were thinking of how I dance. I maintain that my dance moves are a few years ahead of their time, and will inevitably lead me to stardom. Erase all negative smirks.

Anyway.... I'm pale. Pale enough to be fairly painful to stare directly at in sunlight. Pale enough to have actually caused people to look at me and say "goddamn you're pale." You get the point. What most of you don't know is that in my childhood I had no problem getting a tan. I didn't even have to try... I'd hang outside a little bit and look like I had been sunbathing for weeks. Puberty, fuckin puberty, ruined this for me. I went from being a tan, straight-haired, athletic little kid... to a tall and lanky, curly-haired, pale-white glasses-wearing awkward.... well, lets face it.... nerd.

Other guys got broad shoulders and muscle mass. Whatever. Water under the bridge. Ugh...

My point is this... I cannot tan anymore. Not without extreme effort. But what I can do is manage to burn the hell out of myself, which I thought I was immune to, but found out painfully that I am still quite susceptible to. This means, that prior to going outside, the sunscreen I bought the day before must be applied to everything that can possibly be hit by the sun.
I hate this process. Rubbing slimy cold cream all over is not nearly as enticing as sunscreen ads would have you believe... nor is rubbing it onto someone else's back, no matter how busty and long-legged they may be. All you end up doing is relishing the fact that you are rubbing some hot blonde down, then get all damn frustrated when you have no good place to wipe your hands afterwards, and have slippery slimy palms for the rest of the damn day, which isn't attractive to the busty long-legged woman in the first place. She likes her men with dry palms and good tans. And you try to explain you did this to benefit her, but all she can do is see you "like a brother" now, because a real man's palms are never slimy. Great. Thanks a lot Banana Boat.

Whatever, screw that. I'm in the bathroom of my lovely hotel room, rubbing palmful after palmful of glop on me as best I can considering that putting this crap on your back is more challenging that qualifying for a position in the 2008 Olympics. They honestly should make this a sport. Or at least film it and show it to people... I've never tried to contort my body so hard in my life... to no avail. As a result, I have random of patches of red on my back. I look like a damn checkerboard. Then I prop my leg up on the side of the tub to get my legs... take a moment.... see if you can guess where this is going... have a guess.... now wait for the payoff. I prop my legs up, get them lathered up, grab a towel off the rack, flip-flop my feet, and I am off. Beachbound.

I cross the street, get to the sand, unflip-flop myself and walk straight towards the water.
Which is a lot colder than I expected... but what can ya do? A little cold water never hurt anyone. I walk for about 40 minutes up the beach, find a little spot I like, lay down, and promptly fall asleep. Wake up later... flip over.... promptly fall asleep again.... wake up thirsty, and decide to start walking back along the beach. At some point I drop my stuff and run into the water, swim for a bit... then I figure it is time to get headed back to the hotel. I have plans for this day.

I get inside, shower all the uncomfortable sand off the odd areas it finds its way towards (which is really uncanny), and notice that there are some strange heat signatures coming off my body. Sunburn. Knew it had to happen... time to see where it got me. I stand in front of the mirror and see nothing has burned on the front. This is a positive beginning... I managed to even get a little sun from the looks of things, then I turn around. Checkerboarding back... fuck all, probably could have guessed that one. Scroll down and oh holy hell... remember when I had propped my legs up on the tub to get them? As a beach veteran I should have remembered that that usually means that you forget to put the shit on the backs of your kneecaps (which are folded closed because your knees are bent up on the tub edge). Groan. Amateur mistake, and the backs of my knees are turning the color of an irishman's face after a bottle of Jameson's. This is going to be bad... I can already tell. I have about an hour before the skin starts swelling and tightening and then I'll be waddling around L.A. grimacing with every step. I order my ticket for the show I am seeing that night, and make my way out the door to go get some sushi, which I have been craving.

I enter the third street promenade, bypass the first sushi place I come to for personal reasons, and decide to walk the entire strip first so I can see everything there. The first time I was here I only got to see one block of the place because there was a need to rush out of town, but this time (much like the drive the day before) there is no need to hurry and I get to take everything in. Its cute. Lots of fancy little shops and restaurants, plus about 8 million odd little street performers... and as I walk, I actually hear a guy playing the Eagles on his guitar and singing "Best of My Love" pretty damn well, so I drop a few bucks in his case and continue on in a stellar mood. The beach, the ocean, the Eagles, and a sunburn that won't make its presence really known for another 45 minutes or so. Life is superb.

I finally come across the restaurant called Monsoon that has happy hour food and drink specials, plus sushi... so I am sold from the get go. When all is said and done, and I have eaten some of the best raw fish and calamari I have ever had (not sure if it was really the best or just that I was in such a great mood that it tasted better for it), I pay my unexpectedly cheap tab, and go to stand up...

Oh fuck.

Oh fuck oh fuck oh fuck....

And I sit back down. Yep, sunburn's finally set it, and I am having a hell of a time straightening out my legs. Looks like I'll be walking slightly hunched and bowlegged for the rest of the night because I am NOT going through that feeling again if I can help it (which I couldn't... that was the first of about 10 times that night I nearly amputated my own legs with a butter knife). I wander out of the restaurant looking like the latest victim of prison rape, which I would imagine may have discouraged a few of the people waiting outside. A shame, the food really was quite good.

Hobbling back to my hotel, I struggle into some nice going out clothes because I will be damned if some charred skin is keeping Billy Robison from seeing some live rock music at one L.A.'s best known clubs. Billy is going out, drinking whiskey and beer, and hearing some fucking awesome music surrounded by young and hip L.A. party people. Right? That's what Billy is doing tonight. Isn't he? Isn't that what he just bought a ticket to when he was surfing the web? Goddamnit....

Not knowing what I am headed towards, I jump (a.k.a. fall painfully into, suppressing a sob) the car and race into Hollywood. I am going to the Viper Room, which is most famously known for being the club where River Phoenix died. The fact that this is the first thing anyone says about this place when you mention it could be considered Bad Omen #1... quickly followed by Bad Omen #2 "Johnny Depp used to own it. But he sold it a few years ago."

So the Viper Room's claims to fame are a dead actor and another actor who didn't like it enough to hold onto it. In its defense, it has had some amazing people play there, and my hope would be that tonight was going to be a follow up to that.

My first impression is how it looks kinda small but pretty cool from the outside... all black exterior, no windows, and bouncers who look like they could easily beat me into a sticky mess (which ain't sayin much as I am walking like a penguin, pivoting my legs so I never have to bend my knees as I walk). As I wait outside and make a few "catch up" phone calls, I begin to notice that the "young and hip" crown around me isn't so "young" at all. In fact, I am surrounded by what appears to be an entire line of 40-somethings waiting to be let in by a woman at the rope who looks to be about 50, and I'm pretty sure dines on nothing but rat heads and used drug needles. What the hell am I walking into?

I bypass the terrifying woman who could give you Syphilis with just a look, and find myself inside getting a beer as quickly as I can get there (which again... isn't too fast.... there were fucking stairs.... quite a few.... and I am suppressing sobs again). Stella in hand, I secure my place at the bar (as one must when not out with friends) and wait for the show to begin. As I wait I begin to notice that people keep coming up and talking to the guy beside me at the bar, and they seem to be treating him as a pretty important person. I look at him, think he might be vaguely familiar, and he looks over and says "Hi."

"Hey man. How's it goin'?"

"Good. Just waiting for this thing to start up."

"Any idea who is playing tonight?" I ask him.

He smiles, gives me an odd look and says "You don't know who's playing?"

"Naw... just got the ticket and decided to come take my chances. I wanted to check this place out."

"Well, there are a few bands playing. Its for the launch of a 80's cd compilation. You should stick around, you'll probably recognize some of them."

And with that, and a handshake where I gave my name and he introduces himself as Tommy, he departs and I go back to my Stella. It isn't until the opening chords of the eternal hit "867-5309/Jenny" begin and he walks onto the stage to loud cheers from the aging crowd of 80's fans, that I realized Tommy was Tommy Tutone, one of the headliners of the evening. By the end of the night Tommy Tutone (who is still pretty damn good with that song), Men At Work (who are fucking great actually, and played "Down Under"), The Motels ("Only the Lonely"), Jane Wieldin of the GoGos (no idea) and the dude who sings "Always Something There to Remind Me" have played a who bunch of tunes to get this group of old farts dancing around like they were 26 again... jamming out. This... this on the night that I could not have danced if the famous Kidman herself were to come up and try to pull me onto the floor.

Despite that it was not exactly what I had thought it was going to be, it's still kinda cool to hear a few of these old tunes from the original people who did them. And the guitarist from Weezer plays with the Motels woman, which I am pretty sure that I am the only one around who cares, but what can ya do?

The night ends at this edgy famous club by 11 pm... because I guess it was past everyone's bedtime, and now I still have a lot of time to kill before going back to the hotel. So on the one night that I should never have gone for a walk, I decide to walk along Sunset Strip for a few hours and see all the famous places I have heard about. Skybar, Whiskey a Go-Go, The Roxy, The Rainbow, Mel's Diner, etc etc etc.... I see them all. And then I come across the Hustler superstore, which, get this.... has a fucking coffee bar and cafe' in it.

"Honey, I was thinking this coming Sunday we could go get some brunch before the church picnic."

"Why don't we just eat there?"

"I'm tired of the same potluck foods... kinda wanted to do something different this Sunday."

"We could go to Hustler."

"Yeah... that sounds good. We can get some muffins and... I dunno.... dildos."

"And coffee."

"Yeah, and coffee."

Fuckin weird.

After grabbing a cup of coffee... sans dildo, I'm sad to say... I hop (fall painfully into) in my car and start driving back to the beach. And yes, on the way I stop and grab some Cup O'Noodles... because a 99 cent meal sounded nice to the guy who just paid 25 bucks to see the "867-5309/Jenny" guy.

A few noodles and a little tv later, I'm asleep... knees slightly bent.

Friday, June 2, 2006

Day 1 - "The Vacation I Was Advised Not To Take"

So begins my first turn at blogging... something I have universally been annoyed by since the first time I heard the term and thought it sounded like something you would do at the end of a porn scene. Thanks to Mark for coining the phrase "I blogged on your mom last night"... we love him for such sentiments.

I shouldn't pretend that this is something I am doing as a random, spur-of-the-moment kinda thing... no no no, this has specific purpose. You see, for the first time in my life, I have packed up a suitcase and traveled all the way across the country without an understanding of why I am doing so in the first place. I have vacationed before, but always under the knowledge that I was going to see someone, or going with someone to see something. Not so this time. I am on vacation alone, and as the lovely lady in the MGM Casino said as I bought sunscreen (which didn't work for shit... look for Day 2's post), a pack of raw almonds (which I am consuming now... see Day 3), and a Diet Berries and Cream Dr. Pepper (which was kinda like drinking 3 day old hot syrup) "Is there a story behind that?"

Oh yeah, there is.... but not one that I will relate online. I prefer to keep such things off my myspace page, so as to not draw unnecessary embarrassment to anyone involved. So let us jump ahead.

My ticket is meant to depart at 8 am'ish Wed. morning, and as of Tuesday night at 11pm, I am unsure of the majority of the specifics for my trip. I know I have a place to crash half the time (which is gonna be interesting, I've no doubt), but no transportation and nothing figured for the rest of the time I am there. All I know is that I'll be arriving in Vegas Wed. afternoon, and have no concrete plans beyond that until Sat.

Cue up and a new credit card and suddenly I am booked in a Santa Monica beachfront hotel (which isn't as nice as a previous place visited, but is still pretty darn nice) with a rental car, and plans to spend 2 nights in Vegas with my best friend, who will be there on business. My hand hovers over the confirm button for about 5 minutes as i contemplate whether or not this is something I really want to do (and for those who are in on the history, you can probably guess why this was not an easy decision) and then I audibly say "fuck it" and hit send. BAM! I have a trip planned.... bring on the financial instability! I'm in it for the haul now... and to those of you who warned me against this, I now say "thpt!!!" Dramatic gesture or not, I am gonna be on the beach the next night, and my stomach is swirling around in a pleasant little nausea.

Great... past midnight now.... no bags packed, no loose ends tied up, no proof that I am not losing my mind.... and no, I hadn't been drinking. What the fuck did I just do? Besides put myself in debt? What am I gonna do there? Do I even have enough clean underwear for the trip?

Fuck it, I don't have time to be logical about such minor questions.... I have to pack. Pack for a trip I haven't even planned out beyond a "get there and see what happens" mentality... Have you ever tried to pack for an adventure that has no clear focus or plan? Think about days when you are headed to school, then maybe the gym, then work, then out with friends... and who knows if you might end up going home with some weird russian girl at the end of the night who eats all the lunchmeat in the fridge and then tells you about her drug habit. You pack a bunch of shit.... and still aren't sure if you've got it all covered. So I start trying to plan.... bathing suit (check), mishmash of clothing (yep), computer for random blogging (why the fuck not), toiletries (starting to get tired...), sunglasses (packe.... fuck, I am asleep).

Alarm! Up, out the door, and if I forgot anything, I'll just buy it in L.A.
In the cab... "damnit, forgot to bring deodorant... and sunscreen."

Whatever, buy em later.

And finally I am at La Guardia, checked in, holding my frazzled and confused suitcase... which is when the breakdown finally occurs. I've been avoiding this for days.... and now, here it is. At 7 something am, by the damn Frontier ticket counter. This is where Hollywood goes wrong... watch every damn movie where someone has a huge falling-to-pieces, and they are always alone, listening to sappy music, and in the rain. If its a woman, they have chocolate nearby, or ice cream... if its a man, its a beer. This is how it should be. This is not how it is.

What really happens is that your background music is a chubby middle-aged woman announcing "Flight 505 to Denver will begin boarding shortly," your mood-expanding food/drink is actually a handful of dry cereal tossed haphazardly into a baggie, and instead of being alone, you are surrounded by a whole room full of very tired and grumpy new yorkers who are looking at you with a nervous "please don't be schizophrenic and sitting next to me" look. Fortunately, this strange triad of factors eventually amuses you enough to pull it together and get onto the plane... where you immediately fall asleep and wake up in Denver.

This should make me happy... I just slept through a 4 and a half hour flight.... and at first I am thrilled.... then, suddenly, the old couple next to me begins to speak.

That was pretty good for airplane food. It sure was. We'll have to fly with them again. Word up Grandpa.

I am paraphrasing. But that was the essence of their conversation. I groggily look over to see that they have a snack basket in their laps filled with fun little treats, and some pimply-faced kid across the aisle is eating donuts. Suddenly my dry Grape Nuts from before is looking pretty crappy in comparison (which isn't saying much since eating dry Grape Nuts is like munching on food-flavored gravel)... which must have been apparent on my face because Grandpa Buck actually looks at me and says "we thought about waking you."

Great. Thanks. Dicknose. There should be a rule... no one wakes you for peanuts, pretzels, or those little ginger-cookie things which always crumble to pieces before you can eat them anyway.... but if you are getting snack-baskets and donuts, fuck, poke me - shake me - kick me in the groin. Whatever. I want my snack basket.

I'm past it. I make my transfer, get on my next flight, and vow to stay awake for the food this time. But once again.... I fall asleep and wake up in Vegas, which is okay this time since they didn't give out the baskets on this flight. I asked. Twice.

Now comes the second big hurdle. Can I get my car, get on the road, and be out of the city before reality starts kicking in. I make it as far as the rental car (which is a cute burgundy sporty lookin thing) and suddenly realize that I am having trouble actually leaving my parking spot. Not that the car is a problem, but I am having another mental schism, this time I would like to believe as a result of the hunger that has been running through my brain since Grandpa Buck.

Oh fuck... here we go. Just breathe and think positively. After a much appreciated phone call with my friend Haseena, I am on the road to the MGM Casino to get myself a sandwich from 'Wichcraft (one of the things I promised I would do this time). It was lovely. I pick up my stuff (sunscreen, almonds, and hot syrup) from the gift shop, and I am on the road. W-15 to L.A. here I come.

Something changes during this drive. Its hard to explain, even when talking face to face with someone, but I'll try. Once I hit California (and have received "are you alive" phone calls from my mother and my friend Kate) I start to feel very calm. Not calm, like I've been force-fed Prosac, but just calm. Have you ever ate so much on Thanksgiving that you just have to go sit down in front of the TV and turn your brain off for a bit? You are full, satisfied, and unable to be bothered by anything other than the thought of eating another slice of pumpkin pie that was better the year before but god forbid you say that to your mother or she might cut your ears off when you fall asleep. Yeah, that kinda calm.

I've made this drive across the Mojave before. Twice. And believe me when I say that the difference between this time and the two times prior was completely night and day. Before, I was traveling with someone who was in a huge rush to get there the entire time, so there was no time to look around and just absorb something as incredible as this huge expanse of nothingness. Before, the drive was stressful and frustrating. This time, there was nothing to worry about... and the trip ended up taking almost 7 hours, because I refused to let myself miss anything. Something changed out there... I can't define it... but it was pretty awesome. Maybe a little trite to say that I found illumination alone in the desert, cue bad country-rock music, but perhaps its trite because others have found similar truth. I dunno. Better make a snide comment quick.... ummmm.... just insert your own.

To begin with, I decided to visit a Ghost Town called Calico that was off the interstate. Now, I get the feeling that if you visit this place during the afternoon, then you see a whole different side of it. There were gift shops, snack stands, and little specialty stores (glass blowers, etc.) that obviously were in use, but I arrived after the place closed down.... and as I walked into town there was one man leaving. After I told him I was just there to look around, he told be he was the head cook at the nearby restaurant, and that everything had shut down about 2 hours prior. I asked if I should leave, and he told me not to, but to just walk up the cliff and I was welcome to look around as long as I liked. "Yeah, sometimes people just like to go see it for themselves in the evening when everyone is gone. No one is up there, so you should be fine... just make sure you are careful coming back down the hill." I thanked him, we shook hands, and away he walked. Up the hill I went, the sun still up and hot, but on its way out.
You'd think a ghost town would be eerie and more westernish, but almost immediately there was a flurry of animals everywhere. Among the obvious circling of what I can only assume were vultures, there were some of the prettiest animals I had ever seen, just walking around as if they owned the place, which I guess they kinda did. Desert rabbits, quail, and then... out of nowhere.... peacocks. Peacocks all over the damn place, Fucking Peacocks.... and not the least bit afraid of a human wandering around them. Before I got out of the touristy area, there was one that walked right past me, forcing me to move so that its feathers wouldn't smack me in the face... and I swear to you that I could almost hear it whispering "get the fuck up outta my hood... squawk." Beautiful thing, no regard for me or anything around except itself, and right past me it went. Definitely got a chuckle out of that, on a few levels. And up I walked, to the lookout area. Needless to say, I had a view of the entire desert and this small little deserted town... and just sat down and appreciated it for a few minutes. It was pretty damn incredible. Then I got hot... time to move on and get some dinner.

God this is getting long.... I am mostly writing this for my own benefit, so keep reading if ya want, but if ya stop... then.... I dunno.... up yours. I like this story.

I drive back to the highway and decide to stop in Peggy Sue's 50's Diner... another place I wanted to visit in the past but couldn't because of the rush. In I walk... into a frickin time warp. This place is hysterical.... one of the tackiest places I have ever seen, but so charming. The music is a nonstop series of hits from the 50's, the waitresses were definitely not spring chickens (but still wore old 50's waitress outfits), Elvis and old Hollywood memorabilia were everywhere, and, most importantly, they carried about 15 different types of homemade pie. I was in heaven. Or at least what heaven would have looked like if run by Frenchie from Grease. I ordered a sweet tea (which got me a prompt "this ain't the south sugar") and changed to lemonade (which was hand-squeezed... very good). When the lady (who I shall refer to as Shirley) came to take my order, she sat down right at my table and proceeded to ask me who I was and where I came from.

"Ummm.... Brooklyn.... and Virginia, kinda. But I am traveling from Vegas to L.A."


"Uh. Yep."

And I shit you not... "There must be some story there, isn't there?" Thus confirming that no one ever travels alone anymore. I say yes, and give her a 10 sec. version. She nods, asks me what I want, and pats me on the back as she walks off. I think we'd be fired off the Cruise Ship if we sat down or touched the passengers, but I tell ya, it made me tip more to have someone be so laid back with me.

That also might be because not 15 minutes before I had been talking to a peacock in the middle of the desert.

As I eat my patty melt I look up and see a sign on the wall that says "Have you ever been happier than you are right now!" It probably should have ended in a question mark, but the point still came across, and I smiled and took another bite. Somewhere in the middle of my cherry pie (best I have ever had) a trucker (who I have named Hank... he looks like a Hank) comes up and sits down right at my table. As I mumble "uh... hello" which sounds more like " uff... hflo" through my cherry pie... Hank begins to speak (which isn't easy for him either, as he has only one tooth in his head)... and this is what he says, almost word for word.

"There's somethin special about this place. You can come here and forget anything that's bothering you... Iraq... anything. I come here to get away from everything and just be happy." He looks at me.

"No, yeah. I can see that. Its like the sign says..." and I gesture awkwardly to the sign on the wall.

"The sign's right. I've been coming here since I was a boy."

"I can understand why. Its a great place."

"It sure is. You make sure they take care of you, buddy." And Hank gets up, shakes my hand, comments that the song playing is from the movie Picnic, and walks out.

I'm not sure what is going on anymore except that Hank has just come over and told me that everything is alright, especially since I am in Peggy Sue's, and I am sure that somewhere Hank has a grandson who recognizes that his grandfather is pretty damn cool... maybe a little off-putting, but all together a pretty interesting guy. I pay my bill, promise the ladies I'll stop in again when I am passing through on Sun. I am pretty sure I hear that Hank is one of their father's as I leave. Of course he is...

On the road again... stop to take a few pics of random things... and roll into Santa Monica around 9 pm. Park the car, and check into my room which has a stove, microwave, and fridge.... so looks like Cup O'Noodles is on the menu this week! Woo hoo! After making myself a drink and taking a shower, I set out on my first mission. I walk the path of the places I was the last time that I was here and take the time to reflect appropriately, then stop in a nearby hotel to ask where the fun places were around here on a Wed. night. The clerk, a pretty gal with braces, smiles at me and draws me a map to some nearby clubs. Off I go... what's a little more traveling after the day I have had?

Getting there takes a really long time.... while Braces may have a charming disposition and friendly manner, a good cartographer she isn't. Ah well, when I finally arrive I realize the clubs aren't exactly looking for a disheveled guy in jeans and a Depeche Mode t-shirt to join their ranks, so I look across the street and see a bar that immediately interests me. Loud and raucous, with tvs blaring a baseball game, and about 20 people standing out front smoking... the beer advertises a wide selection of beer and a "come on in and get drunk and loud" motto. I enter, secure a place at the bar, order a beer, and look around. Almost immediately I am struck by seeing 2 Yankees pendants on the wall, and a Yankees ballcap front and center.

I wave the bartender over. "Hey, who's the Yankees fan?"
"Everyone in here is."
"Yeah, this is pretty much the only Yankee's bar in L.A. There are like three Red Sox bars, but this is the Yankee's bar. Sometimes they line up on the street and yell at us."

I look around and see there are at least 3 other people inside wearing NY hats, and begin to laugh.

"What's so funny?"
"I just managed to wander into the only NY bar in all of L.A. I just left there this morning, and here I am again. Its just ironic."

Like 10000 spoons, when all you need is a knife. God I hate Alanis for that song.

At the end of the night, the entire bar begins to chant the name Charlie, and the bartender turns off the music where he begins to thank everyone in the room for all their help. Apparently, his son had been really sick, and he was able to help raise the money to get him better through the help of a lot of the people in the bar. He began to cry, pulls out about 40 glasses and begins to fill them all with Jagermeister shots for everyone in the bar. On the house. We all toast Charlie, he shakes everyones hand (me included) and says how much he loves everyone (probably not me included) and how the bar had brought them all together. The owner stands up and toasts Charlie again, saying the best thing that had ever happened to that place was the day Charlie had gotten fired from PF Changs and had to come work for them. This moment, like so many more of this day, was tinged with so much emotion and truth that I begin to feel like there realize is a reason that I hit that "confirm" button the night before.

I don't understand many things that have gone on in the last few weeks.... maybe I'm not meant to. But who cares... be it in an airport, a gift shop, a ghost town, a desert diner, or a NY bar in the heart of Santa Monica... there are (as my friend Haseena said) little moments of magic that occur for a reason.

I'll be interested to see how this whole thing plays out.