Shhhhhh . . .

To Tiffany with many heartfelt apologies . . .

Don’t tell my sister-in-law, Tiff, about any of this.  Seriously, say nothing.  My brother Pat and I have just arrived home from Vegas and well . . . need I admit more?  Sin City offers a never-ending supply of mischief for two young men and being efficient travelers, we had to catch them all.  When we had finished, Pat even invented a few new ones (he IS an engineer).  But let’s keep that to ourselves.  Silence is particularly important when Tiff is nearby, say within several miles from your vocal chords, which she might snatch from your still-living body if she ever heard a syllable of the truth.  For the health of you, me, Pat, my larynx, and 6 billions of the world’s population, let’s keep this between ourselves.

If you happen to be walking down the road and perchance run into her, deny the whole incident with a laugh and a dirty joke.  That punch line might earn you a slap in the face, causing your cheeks to swell and puff like an allergic reaction to bees or peanut butter, but it’s better than inadvertently revealing the truth, the horrible despicable truth.  You might lose a lung then or a heart – if you happen to be an octopus and possess more than one – but it’s far preferable to giving Tiff any clues that might allow her to uncover this horrible insidious puzzle.  You can always grow more organs or borrow your neighbor’s, but these grotesque secrets, once revealed, will not disappear again from her memory much like the stains of crushed lung on a white dress shirt.

Thus, try not talk at all.  Simply divert her attention by pointing over her shoulder, shout “Hey, is that Shia LaBeouf?” and then run like hell . . . but not in a serpentine pattern.  That only works with alligators, not with Tiffany, who is a doctor and thus above such reptile chicanery.

Running isn’t a good idea either though.  Tiff will track you down and lay your soul bare.  It’s best to hide, quivering in a dumpster when she mounts her horse, Bloodmane, and races through the streets summoning the legion of the undead.  The ground will shake and the earth will tremble.  Your only gambit is to whimper and cry: it won’t stop her from razing the secrets of your soul but the mass of accumulated tears might block her from sight for three additional seconds.

Never mention the turtle.  EVER.

You shouldn’t mention anything about money either, especially the large sums Pat lost at the slots.  Kindly do not mention the roulette wheel at all, an incident which may actually be worse than the turtles, those delicious . . . delicious turtles.

Don’t attempt to lie either.  My sister-in-law’s gaze can piece stone, steel and even flesh just like a magic eight ball.  I once saw her immobilize a T-rex with a single glace and decapitate a 40-year-old man in California (posing online as a ten-year old Asian girl) for revealing the season finale to Gray’s Anatomy.  The papers reported something about shark attack, but I know the truth, which by the way Tiff must never know about.

If you enjoy the idea of barbells flying across the room, feel free to mention the amount of money we spent on the buffet or the cost of the ‘clothing-optional’ party in Suite 3.  Just wait until I’ve left the room and/or border first please.   Thank you.

Cheating doesn’t help us in this conspiracy either.  So don’t try it.  I know you’re thinking about covering it all up with cement shoes and crop circles, but trust me it won’t work.  Last week, I stole an extra vowel in Scrabble and that night her scowling bloodshot eyes haunted my dreams and tormented my nightmares, like Freddy Kruger or that scene from The Ring (You know the one . . . When the girl with black hair climbs from the well and . . . Ahhhhhhh!)  Only Tiff’s eyes are like a million times worse.  My imaginary friends won’t allow me to cheat at Scrabble anymore for fear of reprisal.

Yeah, just go ahead and reveal our little dirty secret.  Go ahead.  I won’t stop you.  And when she explodes in rage and consumes all life on this planet in her most unholy fury, I won’t even say ‘I told you so.’  Indeed no one will be left on the planet to say much of anything.  Except cockroaches, and really, who understands them?

Sure, you might think those special ‘trading-cards’ they give out on Vegas streets hilarious, but if Tiff unearths our complete set of autographed cards, she’ll trade our entire collection for fracture and contusion, the names of her left and right fists.

And Tiff . . . if you somehow read this, it was Pat’s idea.  Every sordid bit, bet, and midnight whisper was devised in your husband’s corrupt mind.  I acted merely as an innocent bystander, a simple puppet to his puppet-controlling evil.  So don’t blame me or even think of me.  Let’s think of puppies instead, beautiful loveable puppies who never keep secrets from us about their vacation in Las Vegas.

Double Down

Pat and I just returned from Vegas with Mom and Dad, where we attended the International Home Builder’s Convention, losing ourselves in several warehouses of collected wood, tools, and chalk-stained jeans.  The weather was less than ideal for a vacation.  For our first day, Sin City drowned in rain and yet emerged all the dirtier the next morning to abscond with our money and weakened consciences.  With twenty-five bucks a pop, Dad consulted his stock broker before sitting down to eat at the buffet each morning and to lose fifty bucks at the tables later in the evening.

Luckily the rain stopped the following morning, providing clear skies for an afternoon on the fairways.   I gracefully threw in the towel after the first hole, gradually relearning the game for the remaining seventeen while Dad and Pat battled for longest straightest drive.  Still, the course was beautiful and fun, offering a fantastic view of the entire valley which stretched out like the bowl of an immense crater. White-capped peaks newly blanketed by the week-long snow storms rose behind the Strip like a scene from a fantasy novel.

The scenery inspired me.

Texting Shannon on the golf course:  “The peaks remind me of LotR [Lord of the Rings] and the peaks of Middle Earth.”

His response:  “Gay.  Nerd.”

The following story details Dad’s success and frustrations at the blackjack tables for those three days, proving that distraction can ruin even the best strategies.

The girl began talking before she sat down at the blackjack table, her mouth a sewage pump of vulgar chatter and cigarette smoke.  My father sighed at this new distraction and promptly lost two more hands as the girl removed her coat and nearly fell out of her dress, allowing her chest to hover over the table.  Card-counting was not an exact science, and Dad never claimed the proficiency of an MIT grad or Dustin Hoffman.  He simply kept track of the face cards and played accordingly.  Still focus was the key, and the presence of Vegas Strip Barbie and her plastic chest bouncing off the green felt like soccer balls did not help.  Moreover the girl could not simply talk; she expected a conversation, hurling questions between hands, which he politely dismissed with a grunt.

“At that table over there, they wouldn’t talk to me, just hit on me hand after hand after hand after hand like I was some cheap whore down at the Rio, where Clyde and Eddy always take me Saturday and Thursdays.  One guy grabbed my leg too after complimenting me on my dress like I was going to give him the time of day.  Men are always hitting on me at the blackjack tables, never poker or craps, just blackjack.  Guess these card-counters don’t get any back home, eh?  Are you going to hit on me?”

“No ma’am,” he sighed.

“Well, why not?  Not a queer, are ya?  Guys are usually jumping all over me.  One grabbed my ass near the roulette wheel.  Bold but I was flattered nonetheless.  We had a wild night then . . .”

He should be accustomed to distractions by now.  This town wielded every advantage to cheat and rob you from the one cent slots through the boutique shops — forty bucks for a cup of gelato.  The casino boss at the Bellagio warned him of that earlier.  Three hundred dollars on the table, in fifteen minutes he had tripled his bets.  The cards looked favorable too when the pit boss sidled over and began making introductions:  How are you doing, sir?  Where you from?  Do you play golf?  What’s your handicap?  Lousy weather, isn’t it?  What’s Maryland like?

Two, three, four hands lost.  The dealer scooped away sixty bucks before the pit boss waddled off to the poker tables, careening other players from the money train with a handshake and a smile.  In such a position, I imagine that a more anti-social player might have fared better, eschewing all courtesy and polite conversation, never lifting his eyes from the table, delving into habits forged from long hours in solitude (reading comics or writing blogs for example).  Still few can count cards or possess the courage to toss to the table  hard earned wages, funds I might spent investing at the local Borders or Best Buy.

The girl continued to prattle, her voice disappearing into the ambient noise of the casino: the clang of the one-armed bandits, shouts from the roulette wheel, the dull monotony of Sinatra songs echoing over the loudspeakers.  The dealer had at least a nine.  Dad absently fingered his jack and seven.

“Hit me.”

Four of spades.  Twenty-one.  Dealer flipped over an ace.  The rest of the table grumbled.

“Why’d you do that?”  The guy at the other end of the table growled, sucking on a fat cigar like a mob boss.  His comb-over and long pale fingers suggested computer programmer.

“Huh?”  Dad turned.

“You stole my card.  I needed that four.”

“Look buddy,” Dad asserted.  “I had a soft hand.  You had to assume the dealer had a ten and then nineteen.  My seven wasn’t going to cut it.  I’m not playing you, buddy.  I’m playing him.”

The guy twirled his cigar in his mouth, scowling as he sipped at his drink.

“So what are you a card-counter now?”

“All blackjack players count cards,” the girl whined.  “Except me, never done it.  Can’t really keep track of anything after a few drinks.  Anyone want to buy me a whiskey sour?”

Dad picks up his chips and leaves, flicking a ten to the dealer who nods with a sympathetic wink that says: “Wish I could do what you’re doing now, sir.”

The girl shifted over beside the angry would-be-mob-boss, who leaned back further in his seat, gratified by the added attention.  His right arm fluttered behind his chair, uncertain whether his new admirer might react to a grab.  His left hand confidently tossed a blue chip into the ring, costing him a hundred dollars and subsequently his arm-candy as the dealer flipped the hidden king.

A Weekend in Sin City

Leap year arriving only once every four years I wanted to post this email before midnight as Spring Break draws near my mind flies across the country even while my body remains stranded, still frozen amid a snow-less winter. This particular tale is several years old and follows the adventures of Desad and I while we trek cross-country through Arizona and Nevada on route to Sin City . . .

On Thursday, we left Williams and the Grand Canyon for Nevada and Vegas.  The trip north was relatively uneventful as we once again descending into the desert, which despite the short respite in the hills of Arizona still filled me with awe at how wide the world could be.  We planned on visiting Hoover Dam before making our way to Vegas, but approached the border with a not a small amount of apprehension considering the beefed-up security and a sign warning “construction ahead.”  I’m not an impatient person but prefer avoiding lines if possible.  Luckily only a few cars had stopped at the checkpoint and state trooper did not think much of the two East Coast boys in their travel-laden SUV.  He waved us through with no more than a cursory glance inside the Yukon, now swollen with coolers, groceries, and souvenirs.  We drove off feeling fortunate and yet a little indignant too.  Mostly harmless, indeed!

Now the road to the dam winds down into this beautiful ravine walled on either side by large red-brown boulders so smooth they almost appear artificial.  The blue waters of Lake Mead, which met our eyes as we emerged initially from the cliffs, were a welcome sight. Accustomed to living near water, I think the trip through the mesas and cliffs those last few days made me realize how much I missed the oceans, reservoirs, and bays of the East Coast.  It’s strange, I know, but it relaxes me to know I live so close to water.  A sea of grass or sand just isn’t the same.

The road into Nevada crosses atop the dam itself so even if you do not plan on stopping you can glimpse much of the lake and dam structure at least until tourists begin to swarm around you.  On the western side of the dam, a huge wall of solid concrete rises over 700 ft from the silken-blue ribbon of the Colorado tailing harmlessly through the ravine far below.   I’m told that the dam wall is actually taller than the Eiffel Tower, but staring at it reminded me more of that great gate in King Kong — it amuses me to think some great serpent or Krackon dwells on the other side.  Very impressive, all in all, this mixture of red rocks, white concrete, and blue water, yet subtlety does not exist here.  Dam propaganda saturates all the presentations and tours, trying to reinforce how magnificent and awe-inspiring the dam truly is — as if we were walking around blind; in the end it just made the visit a little ridiculous.  “America depends on the power, water, and agriculture provided by Hoover Dam.  We cannot exist without it.”  “Herbert Hoover: president, humanitarian, and super-genius.”  “Without Hoover Dam, it is doubtful whether America would have risen to meet the country’s needs during WWII.  Fascism would have consumed the world without this modern marvel.”

However, looking back, I think that Hoover Dam in many ways prepared us for Vegas.  Only I wonder if there exists any true seed of magnificence in Vegas or is it all just fabrication?  Ah, but I’m getting ahead of myself.  We arrived in Vegas sometime around 4PM, I think; still far too sunny to consider the town “alive.”   The smell that met us as we entered Mandalay Bay was unusual and not entirely pleasant like they had cleaned the floors with some combination of bleach mixed with menthol.  The people too were equally distinguished.  We saw an old woman dressed in a black one-piece swimsuit complete with matching high-heels, sunglasses, and feathered (crow?) hat.  I had thought such creatures existed only in movies really.  Other guests greeted us on the elevator with bloodshot winks and practiced jumping up and down as the elevator fell reeking of alcohol.  Girls dressed scantily in Catholic school uniforms waited impatiently outside a private elevator in the lobby, while families speaking in various dialects and languages crowded in the lobby.  If the hotel was populated by the characters dreamed up by Todd McFarlane or American McGee, I doubt it could be stranger.

After losing about $100 at the casino (myself individually; Dasad won $30), we decided to walk the strip.  One thing I will say about Vegas the architecture of some of these casinos is quite impressive.  New York, New York for instance features a miniature version of New York complete with bridges, fountains, and inside amid the slots a makeshift replica of Central Park complete with autumn leaves and a blue domed sky so while you may be gambling at least you don’t feel like your gambling.  The Paris casino adopts a similarly impressive structure and an “outdoor” gambling arcade as well, and sits directly across from the Bellagio fountains, which are perhaps one of the only truly elegant shows in town. No admission, beautiful scores, and a fantastic piece of artistry.  The buffets there were likewise worth the trip.  Expensive (~$20 a head), the food is nevertheless exquisite and delicious (particularly the desserts) — the Alladin is the reputed king of buffets, but I recommend the Bellagio; superb fish!

Walking on the Strip in the sun was a bit of a chore though.  Every few feet or so, you are accosted by Mexicans handing out “trading cards” of hookers and strippers, which most tourists grab, laugh at, and discard on the street.  The effect of such is that the sidewalks — which apparently are not cleaned all that often — are littered with porn.  Yet even if you avoid staring at the ground, the Vegas hotels routinely flash clips of thong-ed dancers on their color marquees so it really is impossible to avoid it all.

On Sat after gambling a little bit more (I lost another $100; Dasad won $60), we decided to visit a few more exhibits around the city.  On Friday, we saw an exhibit of Ansel Adams (I attached a few of my favorites photos) and so on our last day, we saw an exhibit on Ruben at the Venetian.  Afterwards we went to the Star Trek ride.  Now we had this powerpass credit card, which allowed us free admission onto a number of attractions.  LD (my second travel-mate) saw that the Star Trek Experience was included and so we traversed to the Vegas Hilton and whatever awaited us there.  Now I’m no Star Trek geek.  If you asked me my favorite series, I would have to say the one where Scottie cuts off Vader’s hand with the Borg saber.  I don’t do space. Yet I must admit, the Hilton’s exhibit was pretty cool.  They transformed part of the casino to look like the docking bay of a space ship and had compiled a complete star history timeline thing accompanied with a large supply of Star Trek memorabilia.  I was clueless to what everything was, but it was pretty awesome that someone had put so much work into it.  LD enjoyed it at any rate.

I won’t speak of the 3-D rides.  Let’s just say that I was probed and prodded in my chair by Borg aliens, and leave it at that.  It was unpleasant and Dasad had a good laugh at my expense.  The seriousness of some of the actors though really surprised me though.  I mean if I had to shout “The quantum computer indicated that the photon canons are clogged!  Reverse phase and fire the intergalactic fusion missiles at those space scum!” while pushing imaginary buttons several times a day without laughing I’d be fired within an hour.  One poor guy had to pick out a tourist and yell at him during the ride.  “You think this is a joke?!  One more snigger and I’ll toss you in the brig with the other space trash.  It’s that kind of attitude that separates the space commanders from the Klingon carrion.” (try saying that five times fast without laughing; I dare you).