On March 12 I turned 30, the same age as my dad when my parents had me. This might give another man pause, but I hate children, so I don't have to worry about feeling left behind. However, the unexamined life isn't worth living, and hitting this milestone meant it was time to stop and think. So I thought, Holy shit, I'm 30. I have to go to Vegas.
And now, back home Monday morning, haggard and unclean, I think: God, I wish I were still in Vegas. In fact, I'm thinking of scouting around for a book deal wherein the publishers fund an extraordinary number of trips to Vegas, in return for which I produce a slim volume of mostly useless information about the town. Because that's the real lesson, I think. No matter how honestly you write about these breathless moments -- like hitting a hardway at the craps table, or watching Cirque du Soleil's "O" for the first time or turning around to a tap on your shoulder at Cheetahs and hearing a dancer say, "How about a cocktail? You have the cock, I have the tail" -- you can never quite capture them fully for the reader. So why even bother?
On the other hand, it was my "magical birthday weekend," so I have to try:
Last week, I was working for Nancy, one of the "South Park" writers, on Comedy Central's "Win Ben Stein's Money." She had taken over co-hosting duties from Jimmy Kimmel. They were shooting roughly three shows a day for five weeks, which meant Nancy had to churn out fresh jokes at a very unfunny rate. Having watched the process firsthand, I am surprised she didn't bury a pencil in someone's eye, especially since she had three other projects running at the same time: She is in the revision stage on a screenplay she sold for $1 million, she has done something else really great writing-wise that I am not sure has been made public so I can't talk about specifically and she recently turned in a "South Park" script. Oh, and she's hot.
So if you ever want to feel you are doing nothing with your life, going nowhere fast and an ugly loser on top of it, hang out with Nancy. It's fun!
That's just how I'm feeling Friday afternoon, sitting in Nancy's dressing room, when I get a call from Trey suggesting we rent a van and drive out that night instead of flying to Vegas the next morning. "We think it will be fun," he says. "We" are Trey, Eric (aka Butters), Jun and our friends Tracie and Samantha. As to "fun," while I love my friends, I don't think driving will be fun. But I don't want to abuse my meager ration of birthday power (I'll need it at 4 on Sunday morning when Butters wants to leave the Spearmint Rhino and I want him to stay), so I agree.
One long, boring minivan ride later we're dropping anchor at Buffalo Bill's Hotel and Casino, just over the border in Nevada. The cheese factor is high. It's like Diet Vegas. The wood panel interior is actually wallpaper. The place is filled with teenagers who are hiding from their parents, smoking cigarettes by the pay phones. The pool is shaped like a buffalo head. I am in hell. To make things worse, Trey has warned Jun that if he snores there will be repercussions, which come in the form of Trey screaming "Jun!" at the top of his lungs at sporadic intervals throughout the night. Super!
We haven't pressed on into Vegas because we're heading up to Lake Mead first thing in the morning to launch Trey's new boat. This will make vessel No. 3 for Capt. Parker, who is actually something of a salt now, having survived his 16-foot Zodiac running out of gas in 20-foot swells along the Na Pali coast.
But Trey is also rich, which means while he'll work tirelessly to be a seaworthy and responsible boat captain, he doesn't want to work hard at loading, hauling, unloading and storing his boats if he doesn't have to. He's all about ease before and after the actual event of boating. And who can blame him? Part of what convinced him to buy the boat was the boat company's promise: They would haul the boat from L.A. to Lake Mead, their driver would guide us to the launch site, drop the boat in, then put us in contact with a certain local storage facility so we could arrange a time for them to pick up the boat.
Then, whenever Trey was returning to the lake, he could simply call and say, I am on such and such a flight into Vegas tomorrow. The company would then send a car for us to the airport, drive us to the lake and the boat would be ready to go.
What a picture-perfect magical birthday world! Here's what really happened: The driver not only hadn't been to Lake Mead, he didn't know anything about a storage company. After we found our way to the marina, they informed us they had a year and a half wait for storage there and that none of the companies they knew of even offered the service that Trey had been promised. A call to the boat company got us an answering machine.
Several local calls later and Trey thinks he might have found someone who will store the boat, but we have to haul it ourselves, which means throwing the driver two Ben Franklins to hang out. I suggest that launching now might spell doom if we have nowhere to store the boat. Part of Trey wants to call the whole thing off, part of him wants to say, "Fuck it, I'll just tie it off when we're done and sue the boat company." He's furious.
"Fuck it, I'll just tie it off when we're done and sue the boat company," he says.
Trey drives the boat over to a small loading dock and goes inside to try the storage company again. Butters and Samantha go to buy beer and food. Jun heads to the van for the rest of our gear. That leaves me and Tracie in the boat. I am looking for life vests, as it seems an appropriate precaution considering the way things are going.
Then I hear Tracie say, "David, why is the boat filling with water?"
I turn around. The floor is damp. I step on the bilge cover and water splooshes out. Super. I yell to Trey that the boat is sinking and drive it over to the launch. He gets on a cell phone and tries the boat company. Luckily, they are there.
Turns out they forgot to install two of the plugs, although they accuse the driver of removing them. We find the plugs in the glove box, Trey installs them. After that everything goes OK. Except there is no gas. And the wakeboard doesn't have any fins. And Jun has diarrhea.
On the upside, according to Vegas rationale, we're in a pretty good karmic position when we roll into the Mandalay Bay. This makes dinner at the hotel's Shanghai Lilly exceptionally succulent. It also makes Trey rolling himself a hard 6 for $2,250 seem almost natural. And we barely blink when Tracie hits the hard 6 again and makes Trey another $1,800.
The only one not enjoying the streak is Jun, whose diarrhea has become so bad he has to leave Little Darlings. In the back of the cab, hot-faced and anxious, Jun considers stopping at a closer hotel. But the cabbie is talk-talk-talking away and Jun cannot spare any energy to break into the seemingly casual conversation necessary to mask the fact that his ass might unleash disaster -- he's using it all to keep things clamped shut.
Jun is very proud of this story when he relates it the next afternoon. As a visual demonstration, he puts his fists together to represent a certain orifice. "No, Jun!" I say. "I don't want to hear about it!" I cover my eyes. But he grabs me, insists on telling me. "I am holding together. But strong! Open up and feel hot on my ass! Almost die! Then, in bathroom: bthhbhhthbthbthtb!"
At about 8:30 the next morning, Trey and I are the only ones left standing. It is the walk of shame to the taxi in the bright morning light. We sleep until 2. Then, we have a decision to make. Do we get in the van right now, before the traffic, and drive home, do we wait until all the traffic is gone and leave at midnight or do we ditch the van and fly home?
When we were younger men, partying two nights in a row was fairly easy. Now, at 30, both Trey and I have to stop and think. Older and wiser, we agree there is only one thing to do: Kick 30 in the fucking face!
Trey calls United, Butters call Budget, I call home and check my messages. My parents have left me a happy-birthday message. Dad says, "I guess you're probably off in Vegas with Trey ..."
See, I say to myself, even your parents expect you to be rocking in Vegas on your birthday. I'm fired up. Trey and Butters agree to be by my side until the bitter end. Jun still has diarrhea.
It is another great night, and I meet lady luck head on at the Rio. Eight is the point, and I have $25 on the pass line with $125 behind. The dealer and I are side by side, and he leans over and suggests I bet the hard 8 as well. I let another green fly to the stickman: "$25 on the hard 8."
What pleases me most when the hard 8 hits a few rolls later is not the $400 the dealer pushes my way, although that feels nice; it is the Nabokovian moment I have when, turning to place a $25 tip in front of the dealer, I finally see his name tag: David.