Bless me Father, for I have sinned. It’s been my entire lifetime since my last confession, and it will probably be the rest before my next. I went to Vegas this weekend for a friend’s bachelor party. It was absolutely crazy. I’ve never been around such an amoral gathering of testosterone filled, sex crazed, villainous fiends. And when the groom took 3 strippers back to the Champaign Room, well, let’s just say that there is sex in the Champaign Room. Just kidding, Susan. Steve was an absolute saint. In fact, he said on more than one occasion that he would never do anything that he wouldn’t do if you were standing right by his side. Or sitting by his side while he gets a lap dance, as it were. (See, the bride-to-be reads me blog daily, so I had to mess with her a little bit. Sorry for the inside joke, gentle reader. I pray for your forgiveness.)
Vegas is not my favorite city. In fact, it’s my least favorite city. We have what you would call a hate-hate relationship, and judging by how much lighter my wallet is, it hates me more than ever.
I just don’t get it. These fat, sad souls sit at slots, and you can see it. That last $100, the dream that everything will change, 100 chances to change their life. And the house always wins. I’m one of those addictive personalities. Anything I get involved with, whether it be music, friends, and all the rest, I’ve done to excess. And for some reason I hate the idea of a city that, as its entire purpose, prays on that.
But Vegas is also the kind of city that allows two 21-year-old women to accompany 15 guys in their late-20s and early-30s to a strip club for a bachelor party as though it were the most natural thing in the world. The kind of city where one of the 21-year-old leaves her friend at the strip club with the 15 guys to go meet her boyfriend. The kind of city where you can sit next to one of the 21-year-olds as Cara, one of the sexiest and most exotic women you have ever seen, grinds topless over the two of you. The kind of city where you kiss the 21-year-old afterwards, sitting on the nasty couch, next to each other, just touching, and somehow all of this seems like a good idea. When I say “you,” gentle reader, I mean you, the hypothetical you who could have gone to Vegas this weekend for a bachelor party and may as well have dumped cash out of the airplane on the way over as the frat party behind you hoots and hollers and the married woman sitting next to you flirts nakedly with the grimy man to your right, you, the Universal you, the you at your weakest, that little bastard who sits on your shoulder and whisper, “what happens here, stays here,” the punk who tells you to put 4 chips on your next bet even though you’ve lost your last 7 hands, because you can’t lose what you don’t risk. In other words, the you as you would be if you ever went to Vegas. For even 38 hours. If you only sleep for 5.
Steve is something of an older brother to me, someone I’ve known for over 14 years (he’s the older brother of Mike, my best friend from high school), and someone who I admire and care for and love. The Milotich’s are a second family for me, and I wanted to go, was thrilled to be able to be there. The group of guys was something of a cornucopia, friends from high school, from college, Mike, Tony (who, let us all admit, was pretty much built for Vegas), and Stu. The last four on the list went to high school together, and when he was home from college, Steve used to show us the way. Just little advice here and there.
When he first met her in his 30s, he took Susan to a see a orchestral band outdoors. His father decided to do the same thing, and they sat there, the three of them, staring at each other. “Hey, Dad. Um, what are you doing here? This is my date. Her name is Susan.” His father sat separate, and Steve got the first inkling that Susan might just be pretty damn special. That was something that all of us spoke about this weekend, off to the side. When I first met Susan, I think they had been dating for about 6 months. She was fucking brilliant. Afterwards, driving in a car with Mike, I said, “Do you think your brother realizes that he’s pretty damn lucky a woman like that is still single? She’s pretty fucking awesome, there’s no way there’s someone better out there.” Mike agreed. We all agreed. It was a story told separately, from each individual perspective, in slight variations and with different casts, throughout the weekend. At the tables, in the hotel rooms, at the bar, walking along the strip, beside the pool. Everyone had their “meeting Susan and realizing Steve would be a fool to let her go” story. It’s heartening when that happens, and not as frequent as you would hope. When a friend of yours marries, or is going to marry, someone that, literally, every significant person in their life vibes with, it’s rare. We all lie about it, we all say how much we love the person you are with, but in truth, it’s not as common as we pretend it is. I’m not going to say they are going to last forever, that’s for them, that’s their life and their effort and their decisions, but I will say that they seem like two people who will fight for each other, who will listen to each other, who will support each other, who, when things are at their worst, when one or both of them is thinking that maybe this wasn’t such a good idea, will sit down next to each other and try. Honestly try. No lip-service. No affectation. I don’t think loving someone for the rest of your life is a hard thing, I think realizing that your own innate laziness, or theirs, can lead to a rather stupid undoing is very hard. For me, Steve and Susan seem capable of not letting complacency take hold. And that gives them the best of chances.
On the last night there—the last night, I was there for 36 hours and I’m naming the last night, as though the whole thing, sans much sleep, wasn’t one big, giant night—we dined finely at one of Wolfgang Pucks restaurants, and then went out to a lounge in the Venetian. (If you ever go to Vegas, and God help you if you do, I wouldn’t recommend it, but if you do, head straight for the Venetian. One of the most remarkable hotels I have ever been in.) The manager of the place had cordoned off a little VIP area for us with beautiful, long-legged waitresses to gouge us with bottle service. One of the doormen kept leading groups of women over to our group, and for some reason headed straight for me each time. “Jarret, this group of ladies is in Vegas for the weekend, and they are out for a good time.” This is such a novel concept, a rarity really, this group of people who came to Vegas for a single weekend, and looking to have a good time to boot. Needless to say, we lucked out. But it’s awkward. What are you supposed to say? “Right, forgive the fabrication of this event. Let’s pretend that we actually know each other, or that I’ve said something incredibly smooth and charming after approaching you and your friends at the bar and just invited you over to hang out with my friends. We’re here for a bachelor party, the booze is on us, and really, we’re a decent type of guy. What do you have to lose?” That’s what I said to the second group, all of whom happened to be from New York City. This started my favorite conversation. “Really? What do you do?” I’m in Vegas. The least you could do is have the respect to not remind me of my regular life, which I will be returning to shortly. Even though it felt like an arranged marriage. I was a pimp apprentice. My mentor (the doorman) would bring me the the lasses. Testing me, it's all a test. I expected to get a lashing if I didn’t learn quick. In spite of the complete lack of realism to the scenario, the girls were great company, and game. Only in Vegas. They were fun, good conversationalists, had stories to tell, and laughed at our jokes. Just what you want to not break the illusion.
On the plane ride home I sat next to Johnny Talks A Lot. I hate conversation when I travel. I’ve said before, but it’s my time, my space, my place to let my head run free. Still, we were stranded on the ground in Chicago for over 2 ½ hours while weather cleared, so what did I have to lose? Inevitably, he asked me what I did, God bless him, not realizing that while, yes, Edward Norton was right, there are single-serving friends, that I’m not looking to make anymore. I have enough as it is.
“You’re a writer?” He said. “I used to want to be one. Went to college for it, and then I realized that writing is really hard. Still, I’ve always felt like I had something to say.” The man was nice enough, but this, to me, is the absolute worst reason to become a writer.
If you feel you have something to say, perhaps you’re better served if your heroes were Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. or Gloria Steinem instead of J.D. Salinger. If you have something to say, go pick a cause and say it, but don’t be a writer, because you’re not going to say anything that hasn’t been said before. I like telling stories. I like hearing stories. I do have things to say, but not as he meant it. He was referring to that one thing that someone might read that will save their life, change their perspective. The 12-Step approach, so to speak, which, to me, is the biggest misunderstanding that exists between those who write and those who think they can write. You are not going to put down a single story that wasn’t already thought about and recorded by someone else. What you can do, what you might do if you are lucky, is take what’s in your head and put it down in such a way that it becomes uniquely yours, your voice, so precisely that the reader can recognize something of themselves in what you’ve described. Writing is capturing by necessity and parallelism in the relationship. It’s not an osmotic, parasitic thing. Writing is words. It’s playing with words, moving them around, bending them backwards until they perfectly reflect the idea, image, or story that you had in your head. It’s not the thinking of the thing that makes you a writer, its in the rendering. You have to love words, the placement of them, their overwhelming power to, when structured just so, take someone away from themselves and return them again. Perhaps with something new, but relatively unharmed. If it stays with them, that’s for them to do, all you can do is mess around with letters. Words are flexible things, like the strippers who danced for us Friday night, 3 hours after I had landed in Vegas.
Vegas, baby. Vegas.