Sunday, December 22, 2013

The Liquid Las Vegas Vacation

Las Vegas is an awful lot like that crazy ex-girlfriend that we’ve all had. You know the one. When you first met her, you thought she was out of your league. “Why is she into me?” you asked yourself. But you didn’t want to ruin it because she was smokin’ hot and funny and gives a great blowjob. Things go well for a while and the two of you start getting pretty serious. Then, she starts showing her dark side. She starts weird arguments.

You: Hey baby, how was work?
Her: Why are you home so early?
You: I didn't feel like being there any longer so I left.
Her: I’m thinking about heating up some leftovers for dinner.
You: You go ahead. I had a sandwich when I got home, so I’m not very hungry.
Her: What? Really? Why would you do that?
You: I didn’t have lunch and I was hungry. That's all.
Her: Is there something wrong? Why didn't you want to wait for me? Are you mad? I don't understand!
You: Calm down. It was just a sandwich.
Her: Is there someone else?

The next thing you know, she’s throwing a shoe at your head. And this isn’t an isolated incident; it starts happening more and more frequently. So you break it off. You tell her you’re done. You call her “crazy”.

And then, a short time later, she calls you up and apologizes and invites you over to talk. She sounds sincere, so you go. And when you get there, she shows up at the door naked. And remember, she’s smokin’ hot.

This whole scenario happens over and over again until she sneaks into your apartment and breaks all your shit.

Yet, after a while, you start thinking about her…



My good friend Snyder and I had been planning this trip for several months. You see, he was unable to attend our annual drinking trip, Booza-Palooza, back in June. So we decided to take the long Labor Day weekend and turn it into a liquid holiday in Las Vegas.

Las Vegas is exactly 400 miles from my house in California’s Central Valley, but they’re 400 very hard miles south through the agricultural heartland of California and then east through the desert. Those who are gifted at math can easily figure out that it’s a six hour trip by car. Of course, there are discount airlines that will fly us there in less than an hour, but when you book a flight during a holiday weekend, the discount disappears.

So we drove.

There were no real set plans for the weekend except that we were going to stay downtown at the Plaza Hotel, drink, and possibly visit the Mob Museum. I also wanted to cash in $300 in chips that I forgot to collect on when I was in town back in April. I had won the chips at the Imperial Palace, which is down on the strip. No big deal, we would just make a quick stop when we got to town - and before we started drinking like the professionals that we are.

If you are unfamiliar with Las Vegas, it’s important to understand how the city is laid out. As you come into town from the south, you will find yourself in the neon shadows of huge resort-style casinos and hotels. Places like Caesar’s Palace, Paris, New York New York, The Mirage, Treasure Island, The Venetian, and Bellagio. All of these monoliths and many more are located within the four-mile strip of Las Vegas Boulevard. Three-miles further north on Las Vegas Boulevard, visitors will find Downtown Las Vegas, also known as the Old Strip. That’s where the big neon cowboy greets you to an area filled with smaller and outdated casinos and hotels. Places like the Golden Nugget, Las Vegas Club, Binion’s Horseshoe and the Plaza.

We arrived on Friday night at about 9:00 PM. I’ve driven over the gentle hill that separates California from Nevada dozens of times and I never get tired of the view. There is nothing more spectacular than making this journey at night. You can see the glow of the magical city for miles and miles. Since there is no other place like it on the planet, it seems unreal and otherworldly. It is truly magical. This trip was no different. We made record time through the heavy holiday weekend traffic, yet we were a little beat by the long drive. We were certainly ready to drink.

But when we arrived, we found that the Imperial Palace’s Parking Garage was under construction and could not be accessed. Again, no big deal. It’s located right next to the Flamingo. So I parked in the Flamingo’s parking garage and we walked down, through the Flamingo’s Casino out the front door, down the sidewalk and into the Imperial Palace. There was a bar located just inside the front door, so Snyder ordered us a couple of drinks while I went to the Cashier’s Cage to collect my $300. There was a slight issue with the exchange of chips because the Imperial Palace had changed its name to The Quad during the past few months, but it was only a slight hiccup and I was back at the bar with Snyder and a 16-ounce Captain Morgan & Coke within ten minutes.

We stayed there and had a few more drinks before deciding it was time to start heading toward Downtown. But on the way back through the Flamingo, we decided to stop at Sammy’s Bar in the Casino. We’ve spent plenty of time at that bar over the years and couldn’t just walk by without stopping. Our plan was to have one quick drink and then head out, but we ended up having about five each. We were getting a little loopy and probably needed to find some food at some point in the not-so-distant-future.

We checked into our hotel without issue and decided to go out and find some cocktails. Within minutes, we were in a cab asking the cab driver to take us to Frankie’s Tiki Room.

Frankie’s is a unique combination of South Seas exotica and Las Vegas kitsch. It’s open twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week and it decorated in an elaborate tiki hut motif. They serve a variety of Polynesian drinks and have a terrific selection of rums. Of course, they have a full bar with every other type of liquor too. Generally speaking, I would normally hate this sort of place. But I have been there many times and each time is a new novelty and I keep going back. For example, the first time I went there, it was pitch dark and dead silent. There were people there but not a soul was speaking. Seriously, it was like that coffin where Uma Thurman gets trapped in Kill Bill II. It was also so dark that I had to feel my way around to find the fucking restroom. It was because of this that I broke the soap dispenser off the wall and stole it. I later gave it to a bum that was panhandling down the street…

But that was a couple of years ago. Now I was trying to get the cab driver to take Snyder and me back there so he could experience the place first hand. The problem was, the cab driver didn’t know where it was and had never heard of it.

“It’s on Charleston, on the other side of the Freeway,” I kept telling him. “Just head west on Charleston.”

“What the address?”

“I don’t know. Just head west on Charleston!”

I guess he didn’t believe me because he called his dispatcher for directions.

Cabbie: “These guy want to go to Frank”

The cabbie was talking to his dispatcher with the speaker on his phone turned up loud enough for us to hear the whole conversation.
Me: “FRANKIE’S TIKI ROOM… ON CHARLESTON, WEST OF THE FREEWAY!”

Dispatcher: “I don’t know where that is. Take them to Cheetah’s.”

Cabbie: “I take you Cheetah’s”

Cheetah’s is a popular Las Vegas gentlemen’s club. Cab drivers receive kick-backs from the owner of the club for bringing drunk business men and other male tourists to their front door

Me: “No, we don’t want to go to Cheetah’s. Take us to Frankies. I’ll tell you how to get there… here, I’ll look up the address on my phone.” Of course, I was too drunk to operate my phone.

Cabbie: “I taking you Cheetah’s”

Snyder: “No let us out here.”

We were at the Stratosphere, a landmark hotel and casino with an enormous tower. As a matter of fact, it’s the tallest structure in Las Vegas and the second tallest freestanding observation tower in the Western Hemisphere. I’ve been there several times and I’ve never liked the place. This time was no different.

For some reason, as soon as we entered the lobby, the place seemed extremely small. We found a bar and set down. Most bars in Las Vegas have video poker games built into them. You certainly don’t have to play the games, but if you do, the bartender will comp your drinks. So Snyder and I usually each stick a twenty dollar bill into the machines and start playing. If all goes well, we will cash out at the end of our stay and walk away without losing money. And, we’ll have several free drinks coursing through our systems.

This bar was no different. We inserted our money and ordered some drinks. And then Snyder disappeared.

While he was gone, I stopped being able to focus on anything. Everything I looked at started throbbing. Getting bigger and smaller, coming closer and moving farther away. The video poker game turned into liquid and splashed back and forth in front of my eyes. I needed a smoke. That usually acts as a great equalizer for my nerves. I grabbed my pack and pulled one out. Oh fuck, all of them fell out and were rolling all over the filthy screen of the video poker machine. Who cares, I thought to myself. Alcohol kills these kinds of germs. I picked each and every cigarette up and placed it carefully back in the pack. It was hard. I had lost some of my motor skills. Finally, I placed one between my lips and lit it. It tasted like shit. I lit the wrong end.

Where the fuck is Snyder?

I looked to my left. There was someone else drinking Snyder’s Gin & Tonic. “Hey, there’s someone sitting there and that’s his drink.” I turned to my right and saw Snyder returning from the restroom.

“That guy just tried to drink your drink,” I told him as I pointed to the left with my thumb, like a hitch hiker. I turned back and realized that the guy standing to my left was actually about 15 feet away and had his own drink; Snyder’s drink was exactly where he left it.

Snyder sat down and started looking on the floor for something. “I had twenty fucking dollars sitting here before I left for the bathroom,” he grumbled. “This place is full of communists and thieves. Let’s finish these fucking watered-down abortions of drinks and get the fuck out of here.” He then took twenty dollars from his wallet and inserted it into the video poker machine in front of him. “Oh fuck. There it is.” His original $20 bucks wasn’t missing. He had already stuck it in the machine.

He cashed out his $40, we downed our drinks and headed toward the front door.

We went outside and quickly found a cab. This one knew exactly where Frankie’s Tiki Room was located and within minutes he was pulling into the parking lot. Before getting out of the car I noticed a rack of maps, coupon books, and travel guides located on the back of the driver’s seat. Never know, I thought to myself. We may need these. I took one of each.

As expected, upon entering the Tiki Room, it took a bit for our eyes to focus. It is very dark. Soon, we spotted two seats at the bar and headed straight for them. Just as soon as I sat down, the bartender came over and took our order and I accidentally dropped all of my maps, coupon books, and travel guides on the floor. Embarrassed, I jumped down and scooped them all up and crammed them into my hip pocket.

We had a few more cocktails and a couple of shooters and then headed out again.

Luckily, there was a cab sitting right outside the front door. It clearly belonged to someone else - or, at least, was dispatched for someone else. But, fuck it, it was ours now.

We headed to Binions to play a little Craps but could not focus on the game. So we sat at the bar until daylight appeared over the desert.

There's nothing quite like it. The sun comes up and you feel dirty and ashamed. There are only two choices at that point. Either draw the blinds and hide from the light like a vampire, or embrace it and find a dark building with plenty of booze and drink through it.





I woke up by 8:30 A.M. I was still dressed, but in my own room. I felt very refreshed, but still a little drunk at the same time. Snyder was sound asleep. I figured I’d head downstairs and find some breakfast and maybe some coffee. But I never made it past the Three Card Poker table. I figured the cocktail waitress could bring me some coffee there just as easy as me asking a bartender for a cup.

So I sat down and started playing. And drinking. I started with a couple of Irish Coffees and soon switched to Rum & Coke. I was having a great time.

Not long after that, Snyder showed up and told me that he was going to go over to the Sports Book to make some bets on a few college football games.

By the time he came back, I had cashed in my winnings and was waiting at the bar. He told me later about the conversation we had upon his return.

Me: “Did you find any good games to bet?”

Snyder: “No, I looked but there was nothing I was interested in.”

-Three Minutes Later-

Me: “Did you find any good games to bet?”

Snyder: “No. There was nothing good.”

-Three Minutes Later-

Me: “Did you find any good games to bet?”

Snyder: “Nope.”

We decided to leave the Plaza and visit a few of the other Downtown bars.

Back in the late 1980s, as the Strip continued to grow with newer and shinier resort properties, Downtown Las Vegas had fallen out of favor with a majority of gambling tourists. So, the City of Las Vegas’ Redevelopment Agency started making plans to reinvent the area.

They closed Freemont Street to vehicles and created a pedestrian mall that connects all of the old casinos. It worked. People started coming back. Then, about ten years ago, the City of Las Vegas started offering incentives for restaurants, bars and nightclubs to start opening in Downtown. I’m not sure how successful this was, but there are now a shitload of bars in the area. We decided to visit as many as we could. Most of them are pretty anemic, but they had liquor so we kept drinking through the evening and into the next day.

It was while we were at an Irish bar called Jameson’s that Snyder told me what really happened when we were at Frankie’s Tiki Lounge on Friday night. I was too drunk to realize what was happening, but I didn’t drop my maps, coupon books, and travel guides on the floor. “The bartender was a dick,” explained Snyder. “He looked like that comic book geek from the Simpsons. He walked over to us pushed your shit on the ground and said ‘Get that shit off my bar!’ Then, he was an asshole every time we tried to order a drink.” I guess I was drunker that I thought, because I have absolutely no memory of that at all.

“Fuck that guy!” I was pissed off. “Let’s go back there and beat his ass!”

“Let’s go.”

We found the first cab we could and headed back to Frankie’s. But the comic book geek wasn’t working. Instead, we met a great bartender, Tawnya, who served us drinks and entertained us with amusing stories for several hours.

Our next stop was The Double Down Saloon, a punk rock dive bar known as “The Happiest Place On Earth” that’s been around for over 20 years. There are always a few lunatics that wonder in and this time was no different. Within just a few moments of sitting down at the filthy bar, an older lady who had clearly been there for hours struck up a conversation with me.

“I have been reincarnated,” she said.

“What? Really? That’s cool.”

“Many times. I even met Abraham Lincoln.”

If she was really reincarnated, how and why did she meet him? Was it because the world was a much smaller place back then? Did everyone know Abraham Lincoln? That’s a pretty famous president. I’ve met plenty of weirdos and plenty of people who claim to have been reincarnated and I wondered why it is that they all claim to have been someone cool. Like Genghis Khan, or Napoleon, or Joan of Arc, or Cleopatra? Why did this lady think she met Abraham Lincoln and not some other president like John Tyler, or Millard Fillmore. Or just a congressman or a governor?

With this place, you can always expect the unexpected.

The next morning, Sunday, I woke up at about 9:00 and felt totally refreshed. It was my moment of total clarity. Snyder was still sleeping and I decided to grab a cab and head back down to the Flamingo’s parking structure to retrieve my car from where we left it on Friday night.

But when I arrived, my car was nowhere to be found. Fuck. I remembered exactly where I left it. I even remember parking next to a shitty orange Mustang. And the shitty orange Mustang was still there. One of two things must have happened. Either my car was stolen, or security had it towed because we were no guests of the hotel. But how the fuck would they know which car belongs to whom? Fuck. It was probably stolen.

I called Snyder and told him about the missing car and he replied “Do you think we may have driven it to the Plaza?” Good question. “I’ll go look in the parking lot and give you a call back,” he said.

I was still standing in the Flamingo parking structure when Snyder called back. “I don’t need to look in the garage,” he said, “I remember you driving on Friday night. “

I hurried back to the Plaza and met up with Snyder and started piecing together the details of the previous 72-hours.

There were at least four bars that I cannot recall visiting and one that Snyder has no memory of whatsoever. There is also some vague details about a conversation that we had with a tweeker that we met at a Downtown bar called the Griffin. Somehow, the guy struck up a conversation with me and let us know that he is a civilian employee doing maintenance work for the local Air National Guard base. He talked long and fast about how he works while loaded “all the time”. So, I seized the opportunity to start making up shit to scare the guy. I leaned in close, and in a low and slow voice, I told him “My friend here is Major Snyder. Don’t you recognize him? You are being extremely disrespectful and are about ready to lose your job…” He straightened up pretty quick, made several apologies to Snyder and me, and then made an exit.

We also remember eating a meal at the buffet in the Paris Hotel, which is down on the strip, but have no idea when that could have possibly happened.

The only thing we don’t know is whether or not we went to the Mob Museum.

My Friend Freddy

A couple of weeks ago, I received the same phone call that most of us have received at some point in our lives. My father called to tell me that my grandfather had passed away.

It’s kind of funny – in an odd kind of way, I’ve never been close to my paternal grandparents. My father is an only child and I can’t remember him ever being noticeably close to them either. For my entire life, they lived about three hours from where I grew up, but we never really spent much time together. The phone call got me thinking about this.

A lot.

I do remember that my grandparents would usually come and visit during the holidays and I remember going to visit them a few times. They were my grandparents and I always looked forward to seeing them and enjoyed being with them and loved them and had all the normal thoughts and feelings that kids have towards their grandparents. But as I became an adult, my contact grew less and less frequent. Maybe I was supposed to initiate the contact? Perhaps that is the responsibility of adult grandkids?

Who knows?

Several years ago, my grandmother passed away after a long illness that my family didn’t know anything about. She didn’t want to worry my father or mother or sister or me. So they decided that they would just not tell us.

Odd.

Since then, my father made a pretty good effort to keep in touch with his dad. He would even retrieve him for a short stay during the holidays each year. It was great to see him but I realized that I knew nothing about the man and we didn’t have much to talk about.

Then, two weeks ago, I received the phone call from my dad. I guess my grandfather died in his sleep. But it took less than eight hours for someone to find him, call an ambulance, or 911, or the Coroner’s office, or whoever the fuck you call when you find a dead body.

Strange.

Now, my grandfather lived alone and had no housekeeper. So I thought it was odd that someone discovered his body as quickly as they did. I imagine that my dad was a little shocked by the news because he didn’t think to ask whoever it was that called him about who found the corpse. He was 88-years-old.

Understandable.

A few days later, I accompanied my father on the three-hour trek to help make all necessary arrangements and to meet with various administrators, bankers, attorneys, and representatives of various plans, programs, accounts and assets. And then we headed to his house to start sorting through papers and other various things.

The first thing I did when entering the house was hit “play” on his answering machine. There were two messages. I listened to each of them several times, and will surly remember them for a very long time.

The first was from a buddy of his:

“Hey Freddy, where you at? Let’s go get some lunch at that place over on Pacific Boulevard. The bartender with the nice tits is working today. How about if we meet there at eleven thirty…. Oh, I saw that one girl the other day and I’m pretty sure you can fuck her. I told her you were rich. Don’t fuck this up. (laughter) You can’t fuck this up. See you there.”

The second was from a woman who sounded like she smoked too many cigarettes

“Hey Freddy. It’s Cookie. You want some? I got some for ya. Get over here and get a little, sweetie. I’m waitin’.”

This was the exact moment that I met my grandfather.

On the day of his funeral, I met some of his friends. They were all old men and women who lived hard-drinking lives and who never passed up an opportunity to have fun. They told stories about poker games and benders and road trips and bar fights and broads and booze. Plenty of booze.

I learned about his favorite bars and his favorite drink: Checkers Lounge and Manhattan. Rocks.

I learned about the time back in the early 1980s when he got a DUI and my grandmother didn’t talk to him for several weeks.

I learned about the annual “fishing trip” to Lake Tahoe.

I learned about a bar in which he was part owner from 1987 through 1992. He didn’t like to drink there because, as he used to say, “If I come in here and start fucking around, then people will think they can fuck around too. Then everyone starts fucking around. Pretty soon, this place will be known as the ‘fuck around lounge’.”

I also learned that one of his girlfriends was there the night he died. Now I understand why they "discovered" the body so quickly.

So, maybe I never got to know my grandfather. But during the past couple of weeks, I have gotten to know Freddy. I wish I would have met him years ago.

Tonight, I’ll order a Manhattan. Rocks.

Here's to Freddy. Cheers.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

The Fake ID


ser·en·dip·i·tous
n. pl. ser·en·dip·i·tus
1. The faculty of making fortunate discoveries by accident.
2. The fact or occurrence of such discoveries.
3. An instance of making such a discovery.

“Perhaps it seems odd that a casual meeting on the street could have brought about such change. But sometimes life is like that isn't it” ― Arthur Golden, Memoirs of a Geisha

There were only a few times in my life when I felt truly free. I think I can count them on one hand: learning to ride a bike without training wheels, going to summer camp for the first time, getting a driver’s license, moving out of my parent’s house and into my first apartment. The memories of each of those moments are so clear to me that I can easily play them back in my mind and relive them, recalling every detail as if it was yesterday. Each of those events had a profound impact on my life, but none quite as grand as the day I received the fake I.D…

When I was in high school, I was envious of many of my friends with older siblings who would let them use their I.D.s for a night of drinking. In some cases, we even had older friends who looked similar to my underage classmates who would share their I.D.s from time to time. I only had an older sister, and couldn’t seem to find anyone who either looked like me or was willing to hand over their ID. I was stuck with having to wait outside the liquor store playing “hey mister”, while my more fortunate friends enjoyed the inner sanctum of a bar. Drinking, playing pool and eating free pretzels. Not being able to gain admittance made me believe that a bar is the most sacred of all temples.

The summer between high school graduation and my freshman year at college, a couple of buddies and I spent a week in Santa Cruz for one last adventure before we headed off to college. We spent our time wandering around the boardwalk, hanging out on the beach, and listening to street musicians.

That was when my life changed. Forever.

One afternoon, my friends and I were sitting on a bench on Pacific Avenue listening to a fairly good guitar player when a stranger approached us. He had an open wallet in his hand that he kept looking at. Then he would look at me, then back at the wallet. I really didn’t pay any mind to the guy. This was after all, Santa Cruz.  Weirdo capital of the world. Finally, he finally spoke to me. “James?” was the only word he said.

Being a little curious, I answered him. “Yes, but it’s pronounced Jaahms.”

“Err.. okay, Jaahms, I found your wallet.” He held it out and I took it.

I swear to God, the clouds parted, I heard angels sing and a golden glow appeared as I opened the wallet to take a peek inside. The first thing I saw was a brand new one hundred dollar bill, a concert ticket… and then, the Holy Grail: a valid California Driver’s License.

Looking at the photo, I could understand why the stranger thought it belonged to me. I strongly resembled the true owner, one James Darren Lascot from Felton, California.

James was of drinking age. This will work, I thought. Fuck yes, this will work.

From that very moment, nothing was the same again.

My friends and I headed straight to the nearest grocery store to see what it felt like to buy $100 worth of booze, beer and wine coolers without having to ask someone to buy it for us.

I remember feeling a little scared when the clerk asked to see my ID. What if she doesn’t believe that it’s me? What if she calls the cops? What if she knows the real James Darren Lascot? But she casually glanced at it and continued placing the bottles in a paper bag. No questions asked.

Over the course of the next two and a half years, only one person questioned the validity of the ID. It happened very late at night at a 7-Eleven in Van Nuys, California. The clerk said loudly “THIS ISN’T YOU!” But the store manager quickly intervened, snatching the id from her hand, looking at it, then at me, and saying: “It’s him,” as he handed it back to me.

I quickly became a valuable friend to many people. I was the guy who could supply a party with a case of cheap beer. I was the guy who could buy Absolut Vodka to replace the bottle from Jenny Smitcamp’s father’s liquor cabinet after she and her friends took it to the drive-in movie theater. I was the guy who could purchase a bottle of Rootbeer Schnapps for Robbie Greenwood, so he could take it with him to his older sister’s wedding; and I was the guy who could buy a four-pack of wine coolers for Danny Adams so he could impress his date as he lured her to the 16th fairway of a local country club at 3:00 AM. I was the guy to know.

Within a couple of months, however, I felt as though I wasn’t using my new ID to its fullest potential. I had grown bored with my peers and knew it was time to move on. That little card was more than James Darren Lascot’s California Driver’s license. It was a passport to a different world. A beautifully dark and dank underworld with distinct, almost edible smells. That’s when I became a student of bars. I began to learn about drinks, studied the dusty bottles sitting on the dimly-lit back bar, and discovered people with colorful nicknames like “Lefty”, “Slick”, “Big Rick” and “Bird”.

I stayed away from popular nightclubs because of the bouncers. I always felt that they were better trained to examine an ID. I favored dive bars and neighborhood pubs. Sure, the salty old bartenders would look at my ID, but these places were always dark and smoky, so I felt I stood a better chance. Plus, I doubted if they truly gave a shit as long as I behaved myself and tipped well.

I selected a quiet, unassuming neighborhood bar as my home base. This would become the place where I could start the night, end the night, or even spend the afternoon. The Stardust Room was a logical choice for several reasons. First, it opened at 6:00 AM and closed at 2:00 AM, so I could show up at ANY time the law allowed bars to be open in California. Second, it wasn’t anything but a neighborhood dive bar. This meant that there were never any bouncers, door men, or cover charges, which meant that as soon as the bartenders remembered my face, I wouldn’t have to show my ID again. This greatly reduced the chance that somebody would figure out my game.

I began to spend most of my free time playing a variety of dice games with a group of old codgers as I listened to their stories. Their words were poetic and prophetic. I felt as though I was gaining an education every time they spoke, imbibing their wisdom.  In print, their words would be red.

At first, I answered only to the name Jimmy. But a few months after becoming a regular at The Stardust Room, some friends from one of my college classes showed up and called me by my real name. After that, the other regulars and the bartenders started calling me by my real name too. I was a little disappointed because I always wanted one of those cool nicknames but never got one.

I studied for midterms and finals at that bar, forged long-term friendships with other customers, impressed girls by taking them there and introducing them to the seedy side of life, solved all my problems and created many more. All at the Stardust Room.

Then, I turned 21-years-old. I became of legal drinking age. And I celebrated at the Stardust Room.

The bartender, Kingfish, even gave me a special shot glass to commemorate the milestone. As I had long suspected, he knew my true (approximate) age all along.

It’s been many years since that afternoon in Santa Cruz, but I can still remember every detail as if it was yesterday. I’m still a faithful drinker. I drink for fun. I drink to old friends, and always drink to James Darren Lascot.

A Perfect Day to be Day Drunk

It is July 1, 2013 and it’s going to be 108° by mid-afternoon. What a great day to get out of bed, get dressed and then wait around to sweat.

Fuck the heat!

I guess there are some things that you can only learn one way - much like catching bees with your bare hands. Surviving the summer heat of California’s great Central Valley is one of those things. I’m one of the lucky few who get the entire week surrounding Independence Day off from work. A whole week! I used to make plans to “get things done around the house” or play a few rounds of golf or even have people over for a barbeque. But now, when I think about doing anything at all during this annual observance of hell, I just climb out of bed in the morning and laugh inside, remembering exactly how 108 fucking degrees feels.

What a great day to be Day Drunk.

An afternoon of drinking in the quiet, cool comfort of a smoky neighborhood bar is the supreme remedy during the sweltering season.

I’m drawn, preternaturally, to Mick’s Traditional Irish Pub.

There is no Mick and the place is far from being a traditional Irish pub. Apparently Mick sold the
place back in the late 1960s and it has changed hands several times since then. It’s more like a road house now and caters to young hipsters on Thursday thru Sunday nights. But this is Monday afternoon, and there is only me, the bartender and two old men in the entire place.

We watch ESPN highlights, play Liars Dice, argue about anything, and we drink.

It’s not quite one o’clock and I’m on my fifth rum & coke, which followed about six Guinness. The air conditioning is running at optimum performance and I’m starting to get that peaceful-easy-packed-in-cotton feeling that I was searching for. As a matter of fact, I’m dressed in a tee-shirt, shorts and flip-flops and am starting to get a little chilly.

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Booza-Palooza 2013

Reno is a benjo ditch filled with drunken cabbies, ugly prostitutes and ignorant bartenders. It’s a shallow grave dug especially by, and for, two-bit pimps, wanna-be players and degenerate gamblers. It’s a last stop for drop-outs, quitters and the outcast. What the fuck happened to these people? They’ve given up trying to get it on with the American Dream. Hell, most of these fuckers never even made it to first base. Now they’re barely content to masturbate to it as they watch it from an abandoned doorway. They’re all desperate and doomed and I can’t help wonder what sliver of hope they still possessed when they decided to make Reno their home instead of swallowing the black metal end of a really long shotgun and pulling the trigger with their toes.

On Friday morning, Allen, Khan, Angel and I piled into Allen’s Subaru Outback and pointed the Pleiades Star Cluster hood emblem north toward Sacramento, and then east on the road paved with good intentions toward Reno.

Sure, we’ve all been to Reno, Las Vegas, or Tahoe for one reason or another. But this trip is different. It’s a pilgrimage, an open proclamation of reckless fun. It is a chance to play a giant game of Fuckaroo with the Reno locals. Oh, imagine the fantastic possibilities...

We were on our way to Booza-Palooza. It's an annual drinking festival that a group of friends and I started 14 years ago.

For some forgotten reason, we decided to go in search of the best Irish pub in Reno. The internet gave two-thumbs-up to Foley’s, Ole Bridge Pub, and others that have already slipped my mind.

So, we took a cab several miles south on Virginia Street to Foley’s, but were immediately disappointed. Fuck. We let the cab driver take off; we should have asked him to wait a few minutes while we checked the place out. We won’t make that mistake again.

The place is a fairly decent looking cookie-cutter chain-restaurant-looking place. We found out later that it used to be a Hooters. The staff was courteous and responsive and the place was clean. But they didn’t allow smoking and there was a family with little kids celebrating a birthday party for one of the children. Bad sign. What kind of savage actively plans to get drunk around a bunch of kids? We all knew what would happen and it would not end well. So we downed our Guinness and immediately walked outside to hail another cab.

Our next stop was to be the Ole Bridge Pub, but the cab driver couldn’t find it. So, he dropped us off about a block away and made us walk around until we found it. Once inside, we found a really stupid bartender who was not interested in bartending at all. There were a total of six customers in the place, but even that volume pushed her past the limits of her abilities as a bartender. To top it off, they didn’t allow smoking either.

Still, we stayed for a couple of hours drinking pint after pint and several cocktails and a few shots. We even played a dice game where, by rolling, it was determined who would choose a drink, who would pay for the drink and who would drink the drink.

A poorly constructed Long Island Iced Tea put me over the top.

“Fuck you! Hey bartender, fuck off! You fucking cunt!” Jesus! Did I SAY that? Or just think it? Was I talking? Did they hear me? I glanced over at my buddies, who seemed oblivious. Time to move on.

Again, we hailed a cab and asked the drunken cabbie to take us to an Irish bar with the following characteristics:

•Must allow smoking
•Must have a pool table
•Must have darts
•Must have dice
•Must be dirty

This cab driver knew just the spot. A few minutes later, we were deposited into the small parking lot of

Corrigan’s Irish Pub. We walking into a cloud of smoke and stale beer with surly-looking locals who were clearly trying decide what to make of us. Pool table. Check. Smoking. Check. Darts. Check. Dice. Check. Dirty. Double check.

We even noticed that there was a large hook hanging down from the center of the ceiling with what appeared to be splattered blood on the ceiling itself. We resolved that the hook must be there to hold a Chinese Fuck Basket and that the blood stains were an accepted consequence of its use.

We started off with a round of reasonably cold Guinness and quickly recognized that undrunk people drink good beer and drunk people don’t give a shit. So we switched to cocktails.

In what seemed like only a few moments (but it could have been several hours), one of the regulars came over and struck up a conversation with us. We talked about golf… Actually, we may have talked about other things too, but I was so drunk that I only recall a hazy conversation about golf.

The golf conversation guy was there with his brother, 80-year-old mother and maybe some of the other people at the bar. I have no fucking idea. But I do recall that his mother sent us a round of drinks. It was sweet of her, so we bought her a round and challenged her to a spirited game of dice. Same game that we played earlier. She happily accepted our provocation and the game was on. Several other regulars joined in as well.

We must have played for hours. I seem to have lost a little time.

I do recall that we came up with the greatest idea for a television show in the history of broadcasting. Relatively Famous would feature semi-famous relatives of real famous people. Frank Stallone, Don Swayze and Roger Clinton were a few names that we tossed around. We’d get about a dozen of them and make them live in a house together for a few weeks and film the entire thing. Kind of like the old VH1 show The Surreal Life. For some reason, this was the funniest thing in the world for about a half hour. Maybe longer.

We eventually left Corrigan’s and may have visited other bars. This is part of the timeline that none of us can confirm. We do, however remember that one of our cab drivers told us about a defunct S&M club that had been located in Douglas Alley, an area just across the street from Cal-Neva Hotel and Casino. Even while undrunk, I have no idea why he felt compelled to tell us about the “buy-one-ass-whoopin’-get-one-free” specials that the place used to run.

Somewhere during the night, there was another cab driver who tried talking us into letting him take us to an oriental massage parlour. He kept stressing the point that "these girls will do anything!"

Khan decided to challenge him "Anything?"

"Anything," the cabbie confirmed.

"Anything at all?" Khan pushed.

"Yes, ANYTHING!"

"Like a rub and tug?"

"Anything."

"What about a plug and tug?"

"Anything."

Even while plowed, I knew what Khan was doing. I've seen it a million times and it never gets old. He was going to push this poor guy until he found something that even he would find out of the question. He continued. "Can we hit them?"

"Anything."

"Can we murder them?"

"Anything."

Clearly the cabbie wasn't going to back down.

At some point, we made it back to our hotel, but I have no idea what time it was. I also know that we continued to drink and went down the street to Harrah’s to play cards, but I can’t recall any details except for a conversation with one of the dealers. She was a young blond who was very nice and had absolutely no idea what to make of us. For some reason, the subject of Gingers came up and she informed us that she had siblings who were Gingers. We informed her that Gingers are the result of anal sex, are sub-human and cannot be trusted. She may have agreed. I have no fucking idea and I didn’t give a shit what she thought. The only thing I knew for sure was that we were not physically ejected from the casino. And for that, I am still disappointed.

I don't recall going back to my room, what time I got there, or if I even went on my own power. What I do know is that I was rooming with Allen and he came in at some time after me. Maybe five minutes? Maybe five hours? But I remember hearing him fumble and stumble into the room.

“Ignore that nightmare in the bathroom,” I yelled into the darkness, referring to the collateral damage from a full day of heavy Guinness and Rum intake mixed with a pinch of greasy food. “The human system was not designed to handle that sort of pressure.”

Allen didn’t seem to notice or care one way or another. He’s never been able to accept the notion - often espoused by members of AA - that you can have just as much fun undrunk as you can drunk. And, clearly, neither have I. The bathroom was the accepted result of a job well done.


For those poor sons-of-bitches who show up with any dignity at all, Reno has a way of stealing it. But, it’s not like Las Vegas, with its Disneylandification of a life without morals. Reno is the real deal. If the entire City of Las Vegas is a theme park based on a real city, Reno is that city. What happens in Reno not only stays in Reno, it probably gets murdered in Reno as well. It’s a place where anything goes, but without the phony glitz and glamour that Las Vegas slaps on it. It’s a city without direction, and the folks who live there are a part of that culture. They have no direction. There are no hopes or dreams left. If they have anything resembling a soul, they need to get out while they can.

But don’t get overly worked up. Reno has its downside too.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Drinking Sacramento


Without reading Amtrak for Dummies, you will have no idea about my original failed attempt to reach Sacramento by train to meet up with some friends for a long weekend of drinking; but that doesn’t matter. This is the rest of the story:

I left Hanford at 8:30 AM for a four-hour train ride on Amtrak to Sacramento. Just the night before, I had a true “glass is half full” experience and I intended to ride that wave of up-beat optimism. But honestly, I was pretty fucking hung-over and just wanted to get a little sleep on the train. But that was impossible. This was the first official day of a long weekend and the train was full of families – all with noisy little kids - heading north, up the valley for a bunch of individual-sized mini-vacations. Sleep was not an option.

Thank God for the bar car. I was able to relax with a decent Bloody Mary and three Captain Morgan & Cokes as we passed through towns like Fresno, Madera, Merced, Modesto, Manteca and Stockton. We reached Sacramento at 12:30 PM. Not too bad, I thought to myself. Plenty of time to salvage my plans for a full-on drinking weekend.

Somewhere around Modesto, I had called Khan to tell him that my train was on schedule and that I’d be there in about an hour and a half. I’m pretty certain that I woke him up. The loose plan was to start at his house, which would be the meeting point for a small group of friends who all planned to experience California’s Capitol City from the bottom of a glass.


Khan lives in a small house just a couple of blocks from the Sacramento Amtrak station on “I” Street, just a few blocks from Downtown, Old Town, and the thirty or forty bars that are located there.

When I arrived at his house, I found him mixing up a cocktail. He had only been awake for ninety minutes but he was obviously hammered. I’m not sure who he thought he was racing, but the drink he was making was number eight in a series of Gin & Tonics.

“It’ll go bad,” he claimed as he finished stirring the cocktail with his index finger, “gotta finish it.”

Apparently, Khan had started drinking right after I called him from Modesto, and within an hour and a half, he was in no shape to get dressed, drive, walk a straight line, or speak English.

Oh fuck. This will not end well. There is nothing more recklessly impulsive than Khan in the throws of a Gin and Tonic bender. No sir, this will not end well.

I had to make a choice right then and there. Was I going to turn the day into an unbuckler – an opportunity to totally let loose, to stop holding back, stop worrying about anything and start drinking until someone makes you stop or you pass out. Or, was I going to babysit Khan?

It was, after all, Sacramento. One of the greatest drinking cities in California. There is a rich history of drinking that was born there back in the summer of 1849, after gold was discovered a few miles up the American River. Prospectors began to arrive in droves and a large number of saloons, gambling houses and brothels opened as entertainment venues. To this day, Sacramento’s citizens and visitors have no problem locating and consuming liquor.

Part of me said “fuck it all! I’ll get just as drunk as Khan and do it just as fast. We’ll work out the logistics later on.” The other part of me said “Goddammit! There are too many moving parts here. Khan needs to stay close to home, closer to a bed, further from the danger that we could create.”

But throughout all of this mad desperation, I failed to formulate a real plan. Somehow, I managed to forget that we were waiting for a small group of friends… and I began to drink.

At some point between 1:30 PM and 2:00 PM, Steve arrived. He was sober. A few minutes later, Larry called. He and Jeff were going to meet us at the Pre-Flight lounge. I think they were still sober too.

I’ve known Steve for several years. We were roommates for a short time in college and I actually met Khan through him. I knew Jeff pretty well too. But I had only met Larry once before, at a Christmas party back in December. I liked all of these guys and appreciated their bullshit. They were all sarcastic fuckers who could be trusted to turn on you at any moment.

By the time we were ready to head downtown, Kahn had finished off two more Gin & Tonics and it was clear that he was, in fact, going to be a problem. He was giggling like a lunatic and speaking in tongues. He had refused to ease into our drunkenness and, instead, faced it head on. Maybe he thought this was his best offensive move. Maybe he thought he could win a game of “Chicken” with the Gin. And then again, maybe he only intended on having one crisp and cold Gin & Tonic but was quickly put under the spell of the spirit and whisked away to the path of no return. Either way, I was not going to be held responsible for anything he said or did. I also knew that, at some point in the near future, Larry, Steve and Jeff would all try to saddle each other or me with the responsibility of keeping Khan safe and sane. So, I decided that my best defense against this would be to stay a few drinks ahead the three currently sober guys.

I believe there are two types of people in this world. Those who are drunk and those who are not drunk; alcohol is the great equalizer. I was somewhere in-between, and still sober enough to talk Steve out of driving to the Pre-Flight. Our destination was only a few blocks away but I convinced him that this would be better, “just in case we had to get Kahn’s drunk ass home… We certainly don’t want to walk him home and become human crutches for him, do we? This will force Larry into having to drive. We don’t need that kind of responsibility.” I guess I made a pretty good case, because he agreed to the plan. But the real fact of the matter was that as long as Larry was the only one driving, he would have to be less drunk than me. Therefore, I could begin my unbuckler. I was proud of myself for being the owner of this plan.

About a half-hour later, we all met up at the Pre-Flight Lounge. It’s a strange little dive set in an almost secret location. I’m not sure that I would have been able to find it with a map, but it was very cool. The owner, Jason, knew all four of my Sacramento buddies and greeted them with delight. Clearly, my friends were regulars there and have spent enough money to put his kids through college and buy him a boat. The drinks were strong and cheap and the regulars were friendly. I could have stayed there all day, but we knew we had to move on. So after about 45 minutes, we were out the door.

We walked around the corner to Chambers Room, another dive. This place was dark and dank and right up my alley. Again, the drinks were cheap and stiff. After two beers and two cocktails, I started to feel the drunk coming on. I always know when this is taking place because there’s this thing that happens to me. I excuse myself to use the restroom and while in there, I think of a few really important things I want to tell the other guys about. Ideas, observations, theories, solutions… all sorts of things. But by the time I get back to the bar, I get sidetracked and all of those things slip my mind. Even with a clear head, I still can’t recall what any of those thoughts were ever about. But they were, at that moment, the most important and most brilliant thoughts of all time.

The one big issue with Chambers Room was that while we were there, it started filling up with hipsters.  I often think about taking out a full page advertisement in any major newspaper that would be an open letter to all of the hipster sissies and their ugly, clueless hipster girlfriends

Dear Hipsters: I hate you. You make the world worse by being around me. Every time I see all of you Pabst swilling posers sitting there at the bar with your shitty attitudes and stupid clothes I really want just want to beat the fuck out of you. But it’s cool. At least you can blog about it later.

But then again, they’re too cool to read newspapers.

So there we were. The five of us swimming in a sea of dickheads. Converse Chuck Taylor sneakers; vintage dresses with rain boots even though the sky has been clear for days; skinny jeans; stupid hats; shitty haircuts; scarves; and ironic facial hair. Those motherfuckers have ruined mustaches for everybody. I used to think a mustache was cool and something I’d wear when I was a badass 50-year old, like Burt Reynolds or Billy Dee Williams, but those unemployable twenty-something-year-olds ruined it for me with their waxed handlebar mustaches like they just walked off the set of some Coen Brothers set.

At that point, Khan had ceased communication except to interrupt other customers’ conversations with absurd and insane remarks. Through the darkness, he spied a young couple making out in the far corner of the room. He staggered across the room and sat down next to them and initiated a conversation. They were polite, but the rest of us could tell the couple was annoyed. Still, we didn’t stop Khan because it was too fucking funny to watch. We couldn’t hear anything Khan was saying except for “Sorry for fucking up your shit,” which he must have said ten times before shaking the guy’s hand and walking away. When he got back to our side of the room, he told us that he had palmed a five dollar bill and passed it too the guy when they shook hands… You know, for fucking up their shit.

We visited a few more places and Khan seemed to get a second wind and started perking up a little.

By this time, we all agreed that we really needed to find a place with some food. Otherwise, the night was going to end too soon for all of us.

Our next stop was the Three Fires Inn, located at the Residence Inn Hotel. Supposedly the bar is great and the food is delicious. I didn’t get to sample either one. The bartender was an immediate dickhead – probably because we forgot to throw out our lit cigarettes before we walked in. But even after that, he was a true fucker. He recognized Khan’s condition and informed us that he couldn’t serve us. Any of us. WHAT. THE. FUCK?

We were there to drink. The way I see it is that this was our right. We all work hard. We all pay taxes and we all contribute to society. The long weekend provided us an opportunity to let loose, to relax and to have a little fun. Who in the fuck would want to prevent us from having a little fun? Who in the fuck thinks they have the right to stand in the way of five guys spending their hard-earned money on legal drinks at legal businesses? This is, after all, the United States, not some god-damned communist country. America, for God sakes. We were going to drink and we were going to have fun. And all this bullshit only served to make me want to drink more.

The bartender wouldn’t back down. “Nope, you’ve had too much,” the little fucker told me.

I’m not sure what his problem was. Maybe it was me. But I’m pretty sure it was him. After only thirty seconds, I wanted to kill him. Well, maybe not kill. That’s a strong word. But I didn’t like him one bit and wouldn’t stand in line to piss down his throat if his stomach was on fire. I was ready to leave.

This is about the time that our whole Sacramento drinking experience began to break down. There are probably too many moving parts in the rest of this story, so please try to stay with me…

Jeff wanted to walk over to Old Town to a place called Fanny Ann’s; Larry and Steve wanted to stop at a Mexican restaurant for some quick tacos and beer; Khan was starting to fade into idiocracy again; and I didn’t give a shit. In the end, we split up. Larry, Steve and Khan would go to the Mexican place and meet Jeff and me at Fanny Ann’s in about an hour.

Fanny Ann’s is an interesting place. It’s only about fifteen feet wide, but it’s three stories tall. Basically, it’s a staircase that you get drunk on. We managed to find a couple of stools at the bar and began to drink like professionals. There was a large wagon wheel located above the bar. Each of its wooden spokes had the name of a drink written on it. At the beginning of every hour, the bartender would give the wheel a spin and the drink which landed at the top of the wheel would become the $1 special for five minutes. When 7 PM rolled around, the special drink was Hot Shot Shooters. I purchased ten. Five for me and five for Jeff.

The shot wheel should probably be outlawed due to its ability to drive a man into a sudden fit of lunacy. I had fallen under its spell before and I was quickly falling again.

Things start to get hazy at that point and I’m not sure how long we were in the bar. I’m not even sure if Khan, Larry and Steve ever made it to Fanny Ann’s… The next thing I remember is sitting on the curb and puking into the gutter. Then, a cop on horseback came by and started talking to me. I can’t remember exactly what we talked about, but he ended up taking me to a drunk tank that was located just across the street from where I was sitting, which I thought was convenient.

I’m not sure if it was because I had vomited everything out of my system, or if it was because I was being arrested, but I sobered up pretty quick. So, I can pretty much remember everything during my time in the slammer.

It wasn’t a real jail. It was more of a holding cell. And as long as you weren’t an asshole, the Old Town cops just held you there until you sobered up. It wasn’t punishment as much as it was them trying to make sure you didn’t hurt yourself.

But they did take my wallet, phone and wristwatch and held it in a big yellow envelope until I got out. While I was sitting and waiting to be let loose, there was an old Mexican man who woke up and started screaming “SOMEONE STOLE MY WALLET! SOMEONE STOLE MY WALLET! SOMEONE STOLE MY WALLET!”

He went on and on until the cops told him to shut up or they were going to take him to the real jail. He quieted down for about thirty seconds and then jumped up and started punching another poor son-of-a-bitch who was just trying to sleep off a little too much hooch. “YOU STOLE MY WALLET! YOU STOLE MY WALLET!” he kept screaming while landing punch after punch on that poor drunk fucker’s face.
 
The cops dragged him out and took him to real jail.

After about two hours, they came by, gave me a bottle of water and a chocolate chip cookie, talked to me about nothing in particular, gave me my stuff back and let me go.

This was the second time in 24-hours that cops treated me really nice while I should have been arrested for public intoxication. It was only Midnight and I felt great.

None of my friends were at Fanny Ann’s, so I tried calling Khan. No answer. I tried calling Jeff. No answer…. Steve and Larry. No answer. So I started walking back through the tunnel towards Downtown and ran into Steve. He explained that while I was locked up, my friends had inquired about me and were told that I should be out by midnight, “unless he acts stupid.” So Steve figured he’d come pick me up. He also explained that all of us had met up at Fanny Ann’s and drank together until Khan passed out in the restroom. Security was going to have him arrested until Steve, Larry and Jeff agreed to take him outside, call a cab and get him home.

This all happened at around 10:00 PM. It was now approaching 12:30.

Steve was elected to pick me up from the holding cell and to retrieve Larry’s car from where he left it when we started this drinking adventure in the early afternoon of the previous day.

“Twelve thirty?... Twelve thirty?” Steve kept asking. “Twelve thirty? We still have over an hour to legally purchase AND consume alcohol.”

“Come on,” I told him, “I know just the place.”

We double-timed it around the corner and down an alley to a little shit-hole of a place that I had been to on my last visit to Sacramento. It’s the kind of place you go to if you want to get stabbed. But they stay open right up until 2:00 AM and if you tip well enough, the bartender will let you stick around while he closes up. And that’s exactly what we did. We stayed and drank and played dice with some young Armenian guys until about 3:00 AM.

So Steve and I were both feeling pretty good. A lot like we were packed in cotton. Not overly stupid drunk, but definitely not sober. I remember that we tried to decide if we should head back to Khan’s house or go find something to eat.  And, I remember leaning towards going back to Khan’s when Steve said something about Chicken Fried Steak & Eggs. Change of plans. We’re going to Denny’s for some breakfast.

But Denny’s couldn’t be reached by foot, we needed to pick up Larry’s car. The problem was, neither one of us had actually seen Larry’s car. Ever. We only knew that it was a dark green Saab, and that it was parked around the corner from the Pre-Flight Lounge.

So we walked around for a few minutes until we found the Saab. “Wow,” Steve pointed out, “Larry drives a real piece of shit.” When he tried to fit the key into the door, it didn’t fit easily. So he jammed it in and turned it. And the door opened. Same thing with the ignition. But with equally dramatic motions of filigree and flash, the key turned and the car started.

After a delicious late night breakfast, we were ready to call it a night.

 

At about 11:00 AM on Saturday, I awoke to Larry yelling at Steve. We picked up the wrong car. Yes, there was a Saab parked in front of Khan’s house, but it wasn’t dark green – it was black, and it was about 20 years older than Larry’s car.

We debated whether or not to take it back but finally decided to leave it alone until later in the day. And we all went back to sleep.

We still had another day of drinking ahead of us.