The phrase “sometimes life is a bizarre mess of opposites” popped into my head recently as I toured Las Vegas with an 8 and an 11 year old in tow. Perhaps Vegas was an odd destination for spring break, perhaps it was brilliant. Either way I can’t take credit because my wife picked it. Maybe the phrase should be “sometimes life is a bizarre MESH of opposites.” Because that’s what it feels like day after day. Especially when you go on vacation the day after Will Smith slapped a guy on national television. Many of us argued back and forth on Twitter or otherwise about “the slap” and it seemed like an incredibly “important” thing to get worked up about. In all honesty it was probably the least important thing going on in the world. Just another case of us ridiculous humans using celebrity humans as avatars to bash each other over the head with.
The surreal vibes of this Will Smith situation made me think of a dream I had a few months ago. It was one of those weird dreams where you are at work or school and you have a total meltdown. Then you either quit, get fired, sent to detention or thrown out on your ear. In this scenario I was at work and got very angry. Then I threw a pie at someone. In an awful twist, I think I broke this person’s nose. I did this for no other reason than being frustrated by a normal work occurrence. Further compounding the dream’s peculiar nature was the fact that the person I hit with the pie was probably the kindest person I work with… a person that would never have a bad word to say about anybody. Therefore my “dream self” was in agony and filled with crushing regret. After getting thrown out on my ear, I begged for a phone so I could call this person and apologize. After much cajoling I was given one of those gigantic 1980’s cell phones (like the kind Michael Douglas calls people from the beach with in the movie Wall Street) by some secret service men dressed in black. The person whose face I desecrated with a bakery projectile graciously accepted my apology and ended the call saying “I hope you find singularity.” Then I woke up.
The last time I was in Vegas was my 40th birthday. Since my birthday is on December 19th, when I got home I continued the party all the way through New Year’s. Then I got sick as a dog and promptly quite drinking for 6 long months. I fell off the wagon when two of my best friends got married on back to back days on the same weekend. After that it was three more years in a hops fog with vodka Red Bull chasers, while simultaneously enduring chronic hangovers that were worse than climbing into Satan’s butthole. I will never know how some people can continue to drink and drug like Lemmy Kilmister deep into their 40s and 50s. I was hungover for 3.5 days after a binge vs. the normal 12-24 hours of my 20s. We are all built differently I guess. Singular sentient beings in search of amusement.
In a bizarre coincidence, I found out my neighbor was in Vegas with his wife and kids at the same time as we were. We texted back and forth a bit and exchanged pleasantries about pool temperatures, dust storms, and the sights we saw on and around The Strip. “I couldn’t do Vegas sober” he said. I think this is the general consensus from most of America, and yet I still contemplated it for a few hours after he said it. Was it really that different when you stripped the booze out of it? The gambling sure, but the booze? Maybe I am so far into sobriety that it barely registers anymore? This is the ultimate goal when you quit isn’t it, to feel “normal” in these situations again? Yet I was still able to experience many of the things I did on my 40th birthday – and to be honest they were pretty much the same. All the same caricatures of humanity played out in front of me. I still ran in to piss in the exact same bathroom at Binion’s. Heck, we went to Fremont Street twice this time instead of once (at my sons behest!). The only real difference is we were there at 10am instead of 10pm. Guess what, the exact same people were still there…the homeless vets, the flamingo girls, the grifters, the pot peddlers, the people recently freed from the chains of their “normal lives” who randomly scream “VEGAS BABY!” at the top of their lungs. I bought a purple Las Vegas headband and wore it around all day. This is most likely exactly what I would have done had I been blackout drunk. Who doesn’t love a drunk (or sober) guy in a headband?
We stayed a few miles off the strip in a kid friendly resort with a lazy river and a Denny’s. The backside of Vegas is like sobriety. There is nothing there. It’s bone dry and it looks like Tucson. There is no “here we are now entertain us” cab hopping from casino to casino, only panic attacks from trying to drive your wife and screaming kids around thrill-seeking drunks in Ubers. So I’d be lying if I told you there weren’t a few times when I thought… “I should have a beer now by the pool” …just one won’t mean anything. But those thoughts were fleeting, I mostly just wanted a pack of cigarettes. More than anything I wanted just one delicious heater. Furthermore, there are signs everywhere on The Strip and The Fremont Street Experience that tell people that publicly consuming marijuana is severely frowned upon. However, that is most definitely not the case as literally everywhere you go it not only reeks of weed, but someone is usually smoking it right out in the open. The smell was glorious at first, but eventually became so annoying that any cravings I had became “anti-cravings” very quickly. I mean how many times can you endure your 8 year old son complain out loud that it “smells like poop in here” and then your daughter tells him “That’s tobacco!”…or listen to your daughter and wife complain that their hair smells like smoke. I mean I might as well be in Wisconsin Dells at that point. There’s very little difference.
So my wife thinks I’m using this post as a vent sesh about how awful it was not to drink in Vegas. I also told this pot story to one of my good friends and he said “What’s there to do in Vegas with kids anyway?” It turns out there is plenty. I had a much better time than when we went to Disney World a few months before the pandemic hit. The kids said they loved seeing the Blue Man Group at the Luxor. For the seven other people besides me who don’t know what this is, it’s basically a bizarre mash up of the movie Tron, a bunch of self help positivity memes, and Gallagher smashing a watermelon. There’s also the Neon Boneyard, the World’s Largest Chocolate store in New York New York, running on the field of the new Raiders stadium, and finding out that the Hard Rock Cafe has the exact same menu as the local Applebee’s! How could I not find the humor and awesomeness in each of these things?
For the better part of the 90’s and early 00s Leaving Las Vegas was one of my favorite films, now it may not even crack the top 75. Nic Cage has always been my spirit animal though, and what was a more perfect 90s dream than meeting a beautifully flawed woman played by Elisabeth Shue from Karate Kid and then Cobaining yourself in Vegas. BUT instead of a shotgun you get to use your favorite alcohol-laced elixir – a whiskey sour was usually my weapon of choice. My college buddies and I used to laugh and cheer when a woman tells Cage “Maybe you shouldn’t drink so much” and he replies “Maybe I shouldn’t breathe so much!” in the sing-songy sarcastic way only Nic Cage can. Nowadays though, I’m much more the Raising Arizona Cage than the Leaving Las Vegas Cage. Just a frazzled ex-cretin running the streets looking for diapers while a kind old man tells me “Son, there’s a panty on your head.”
The Drunken Cage I once knew and loved was still with me this time in Vegas. He was in his usual spot in the backseat of my mind calling me a pussy and telling me to get drunk and burn all my earthly possessions for sport. I’ve learned to live with that guy somehow (and all the other iterations of “self” – anxious Andy, envious Andy, dopey Andy, sleepy Andy, bozo Andy, hangry Andy…he’s super fun at parties). The key is to not let him sidle his way up to the passenger seat. Then he turns into the sweet salesman Andy not unlike Nic Cage as Ben Sanderson in Leaving Las Vegas when he says to the bartender “I appreciate your concern. It’s not my intention to make you uncomfortable. Please, serve me today, and I’ll never come in here again. If I do, you can 86 me.” That’s when I have to slap him Big Willie style and tell him I can 86 him anytime I want to, but here, take this Key Lime LaCroix and STFU. It’s not easy to do though, not even after 1,279 days. He’s a charismatic leading man playing the part of an extra.
I’m still hoping to find “singularity” – honestly I wasn’t even sure that phrase from my dream was an actual sentence, so naturally I fell deep down an internet rabbit hole trying to figure out what it’s “big meaning” was. It turns out there are like 19 different meanings of singularity spanning Mathematical, Social, and various Technological designations. Since the Penrose-Hawking singularity theorems are a ways above my paygrade and actually somewhat frightening (A gravitational singularity, spacetime singularity or simply singularity is a condition in which gravity is so intense that spacetime itself breaks down catastrophically. As such, a singularity is by definition no longer part of the regular spacetime and cannot be determined by “where” or “when”) YIKES…I’ll go with the more basic “in dynamical and social systems, a context in which a small change can cause a large effect.” Or like the Boss says “From small things mama, big things one day come.”