Something Different: Real Estate, The Las Vegas Hooker and Dignity/Kindness

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*None of us here at B&V support prostitution nor should this post be construed that way. We don’t consider it a victimless crime. If you suspect something untoward is going on contact the National Human Trafficking Hotline, 1 (888) 373-7888. 

Like almost every other February I found myself in Las Vegas, Nevada again this year. My corporate overlords send me out there annually for “training.” You would think Vegas would be a BourbonAndVinyl kinda town. And I’ll admit I have seen some great rock and roll out there… Rod Stewart and No Doubt to name but a few. But if I’m being honest, I hate Las Vegas. Hunter S. Thompson was inspired to write ‘Fear and Loathing In Las Vegas’ when he was out there and it’s not hard to figure out why that setting inspired that much madness. The NFL let the Raiders move out there… frankly I think it’s going to be like an away game each weekend as that’ll be the game every other team’s fans will travel for, but we’ll have to see. There seem to be Raiders’ fans everywhere.

I found my schedule in Vegas full of dinners with “big wigs,” or the execs I report to. I’m just a sergeant in this man’s corporate army. In the old days we all had to wear blues suits, white shirts and red ties… Now it’s hard to tell the execs from the aging hipsters attending poker tournaments. I’d sit soberly at the cafes and look out at the people walking by. There is no place like Las Vegas for people watching. You can kind of spot the small town couples who have gotten away to get crazy in Vegas… I don’t know how many couples I saw walk by where the dude was dressed like he just got off the back nine – brightly colored, almost tropical golf shirt, skinny jeans (nothing funnier than a fat man in skinny jeans) and topsiders. It was usually the wives that caught my attention. You get the idea that the wives – as part of the whole getting crazy thing – decided they were going to wear clothing that they wouldn’t be caught dead in at home… I saw a woman walk by in a micro mini – and I mean micro… if this was 25 years ago I’d have seen pubes – that looked more like a terrycloth hand towel, split up her hip. The top revealed a heaving bosom struggling to free itself from a push-up bra. Rage on ladies! You get the vibe she’d never wear that in sight of the local pastor… but what happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas. We don’t judge here at B&V. The faces of the husbands in these duos are hysterical – these dudes always vacillate between a look of defensive rage (“don’t look at my woman”) to the smile of the cat who swallowed the canary. I wanna stagger up and shake their hands… eh, maybe not.

Vegas is famous for a lot of things. Gambling, conventions, bachelor parties, big time shows and of course, prostitution. I have a friend, I’ll call him Lou, who was out in Vegas at the Rio one time. He came back and was bragging about how all the women in the bar were all over him. When I asked if they were hookers, he said, “Yes, they were.” He was somewhat taken aback when I casually commented that being hookers was probably why they were “all over him…” Apparently he doesn’t know how prostitution works. I didn’t mean to upset him by removing the illusion he was irresistible. If my job is to critique a movie, you’ll probably find me in the theater, if you follow me. Hookers gonna hook.

Around fifteen years ago, I was a newlywed. I was a late bloomer but marrying the Rock Chick was the best thing that ever happened to me. I was out at my annual training event in Las Vegas and I was hanging out at the center bar on the casino floor at the Venetian. I had been there most of the week and by day 4, I’d started drinking heavily to try and drive out all of the training I’d absorbed. You can only take so much of Vegas before you start to turn into Hunter S. Thompson. If only I could have found some ether. I’m standing at the center bar, and this thing seemed to be the main trolling spot for the local hookers. They walk around that bar like they’re in a military parade. I had earlier in the evening been menaced by one rather tall hooker when I didn’t tip her for getting the bartender to serve me a beer. I’m a lover, not a fighter so I moved to the other side of the bar to mind my own business.

I’m just standing there, innocently, when a guy who used to work for me approaches me at the bar. We’re talking some inane work subject and out of the corner of my eye I see a woman waving at us from the spot where the menacing hooker had been earlier. This was a petite, ginger young lady wearing a tube top that was barely containing what appeared to be cantaloupe sized implants. She looked like she had two kittens wrestling under her shirt. Why she had chosen to wave at this employee of mine and me is a mystery. I think perhaps I had a bit of a party vibe going. Who knows? The guy talking to me, whose wife worked for us too, notices the waving woman. I can see in his eyes, he’s confused. Apparently my friend Lou isn’t the only one who doesn’t understand how prostitution works. Before I could say, “Don’t wave at that woman,” the idiot in front of me is waving at her. She pops off her barstool and before I know it, she’s standing in front of me.

The bar was full of my fellow employees. When this woman came up to us, it was as if the entire casino fell silent. I knew everyone at the bar had stopped speaking and had turned toward me and the hooker. In my memory it seemed like someone had turned on a spotlight, but that’s probably just how I felt. The idiot who waved her over was now standing behind a slot machine, hunched down to hide so he wouldn’t be associated with this untoward business. Gee, thanks pal. At the time I was working for a rather intensely God-fearing man who would have frowned on this whole prostitution thing. I once said “Jesus-Fucking-Christ” in front of him and you’d have thought I punched him in his bulbous stomach. All I could think about was how I was going to get this woman to go away. At the same time, I didn’t want to be rude – I really am a lover not a fighter – I wanted to treat this person with dignity. I’m the guy who in my youth, if I went to a strip bar for a bachelor party, would ask the girl, “Who hurt you?” It all feels uncomfortable to me. So I’m trying to shun this woman, but in a nice way. Karma, baby.

I bought her a drink because I didn’t know what else to do. She starts prattling on about whatever is on her mind. She seemed bright and I almost said, how’d you end up doing this? At one point she sticks out her tongue to show me her piercing. I’m with Robin Williams who once said, “who would take something as elegant as a blow job and introduce a nail?” When she stuck her tongue out the entire bar gasped… I figured I was being filmed for HR training purposes. Every second she stood there the feeling of mounting peril increased exponentially.

Finally, in an effort to drive the conversation to the point, I said, “So what do you do here in Vegas?” “Oh, I like to go out to eat, I love to go dancing, stuff like that.” Clearly she wasn’t picking up on the fact that I was trying to rid myself of her presence. Either that or she just wanted to torture me which I would have thought I would have to pay for. I quickly redirected the conversation, “No, no, I mean what do you do for a living?” And I don’t know why, but I gave an example, “Like, you know, are you in Real Estate?” I could see in her eyes, that she’d realized I was driving the conversation in a certain direction. She smiled and got a witty grin in her eyes, “Well,” she said thoughtfully, “I guess you could say that…I rent really small spaces for short periods of time.”

I don’t know why, but to me that was a mic drop moment.

I did laugh, it was the first relaxed moment I’d had since being approached. I smiled and held up my left hand with my newly minted wedding ring. “I’m sorry, honey, I already own and I’m not interested in any additional property.” At last, she walked away, but she did so with her dignity in tact. The lemmings at the bar, who actually looked disappointed that I didn’t engage the woman’s services, went back to their drinks and the conversation became audible again.

I don’t know whatever happened to that witty woman. I hope she’s ok and I hope nobody hurt her. But mostly I hope she got out of that life. I can’t imagine what circumstances would drive someone that direction. I’m lucky that way.

It’s a dark ride out there folks. Treat everybody you come across with dignity and kindness. As Pete Townshend once sang, “For the sea refuses no river, remember that when a beggar buys a round.” I’m not sure I even know what that means, but its seems relevant somehow.

Cheers!

 

 

 

Don’t Pay the Ransom: Vegas, Vacation and a Gambling Playlist

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I was always a big fan of the actor Richard Harris. Not only was the man a talented actor, portraying everyone from King Arthur to Dumbledore in his storied career, Harris was also a prodigious drinker. Toward the end of his life he’d quit drinking but he never lost the ability to tell a great drinking story. He truly embodies the BourbonAndVinyl ethos in much the same as Keith Richards.

I can still remember seeing Richard Harris tell the following story on the David Letterman show one late night, long ago. Richard was at home in England and his favorite football team (soccer team for the Americans) was playing a rival team. He told his wife he was going down to the pub to watch the game. It was a contentious game but fortunately for Harris, his team won. Some people he’d just met at the pub suggested they abscond off to Ireland for the weekend, as that’s where their team was playing next. Harris readily agreed and was gone for over five days, drinking with strangers and attending the football game. When he returned home, he paused at the door, unsure what to tell his wife, he hadn’t called her during his entire absence. When the door flew open and he saw his understandably enraged wife, before she could get a word in, he threw up his hands and smiled, “Don’t pay the ransom, I’ve escaped!” To this day, both the Rock Chick and I use that line if we’re “on the late side…”

So to all of you faithful B&V readers who have noticed I haven’t posted anything in a while, Don’t Pay the Ransom, I escaped… Some of you may have suspected my lack of posting was due to our slow music news this year so far but no, I just took the wife for a long overdue holiday to points way out west. I had never spent any time tooling around the great American Southwest and now that I have, I can’t wait to return. It was a great Kerouac drive through big skies, deserts and mountains. We got back late last night. The vacation was great, but unfortunately it was preceded, for me at least, by five days at a work conference in Las Vegas that I was forced to attend by my corporate overlords…Work, what are you gonna do?

When I was young, work travel seemed so exotic. Conferences in Vegas for a week sounded cool. As usual, my young mind was misguided. First and foremost, I’m just not a gambler. Getting out of bed every morning is enough of a gamble for me. Heaven knows what risks I unwittingly take each day. Most of my work travel ends up being the same no matter what city I’m in. I spend most my time sitting in a conference room or in Vegas, a ballroom converted into a classroom. I never see the sun… I find it very difficult to sit in a room all day and listen to presenters… it makes me wonder how I got through high school. I wear uncomfortable shoes all day and trudge through the labyrinth of a giant casino back and forth from my room to the class room for nine hours. I usually never leave the casino… I start referring to it as “Biosphere.” If someone suggests an “off-campus” exploration, my usual response is, in a shocked and somewhat fearful tone, “What, and leave Biosphere? How will we survive?”

Of course, other than gambling, Vegas holds additional charms for people, I guess. The food and the drinking there, which are two of my favorite things, are amazingly expensive. I remember my Sainted Grandmother, who loved to gamble, telling me stories of cheap food and free drinks in Vegas. She used to make my aunt sit in the room and watch TV while she and Granddad gambled into the night… I’m glad no one called Social Services. I took the Rock Chick out to dinner while we were in Sin City and the bill looked like a mortgage payment. I had one Blanton’s, neat, and it was 25 bucks. Too rich for me. Also, it’s such a dry climate out there, I find myself consuming inhuman amounts of water and requiring vast quantities of hand lotion.

Beyond that, Vegas, of course, also holds the more…physical pleasures. But that’s never been my thing. I was always the one in the strip joint who said to the stripper, “Who hurt you? Are you ok? When was the last time you spoke to your parents.” It was just never my scene. In Vegas, they’ve turned that vibe up to 11. Many years ago, right after marrying the Rock Chick, when I had first become a manager, I was in the Venetian. I was merely having a beer at one of the central bars. I noticed a woman dressed in a tube top waving at me from across the bar and the guy I was talking to, who worked for me at the time, inexplicably waved back. The next thing I knew this woman was standing in front of me, demanding a gin and tonic. The idiot who’d waved her over had disappeared into a bank of slot machines, I could only see his eyes peeking over one of the neon, one-armed bandits. The bar was full of my coworkers… a hush fell over the bar and all heads turned… I felt like a bright spotlight was on me. My boss was a really committed religious guy and I knew this would not go over well.

At the same time, I wanted to treat this woman with all the dignity I’d treat anybody with. I compliantly bought the drink and made stilted small talk. The longer the conversation went on, the more I was gripped with what Hunter S Thompson called, The Fear. I realized I had to bring this conversation to an end. I asked, in a breezy manner, trying not to reveal how unnerved I was by all of this, “So, what do you do in here in Vegas, Destiny?” Jeez, Destiny? She started to respond with a long answer about going out to dinner and dancing. “No, Destiny, I mean, what do you do for a living?” And to make my point clear, I added, “Like, are you in Real Estate?” Again, I was trying to maintain everybody’s dignity… well except for the moron hiding behind the slot machine who I was considering firing. Destiny smiled and gave me perhaps the wittiest come back I’d ever heard…”Well, you could say I’m in real estate. I rent small spaces for really short periods of time.” She smiled seductively. I smiled despite myself. I’ve always respected wit. I held up my left hand, with my wedding ring, and smiled back, “Sorry, I don’t rent, I own.” Thankfully Destiny flitted off to her own destiny after that… Vegas…I hope that woman is ok.

So as I schlepped around Vegas all last week, to take my mind off my suffering, I started to compile a play list to listen to while I walked through the maze of the casino. This is my Gambling/Vegas playlist that helped me get through the long harrowing week of noise, presentations and Vegas.

  1. Frank Sinatra, “Luck Be a Lady” – Bugsy Siegel gets all the credit for building Vegas… B&V knows that it was really Sinatra who built Vegas… no matter how nefarious his connections were.
  2. Elvis Presley, “Viva Las Vegas” – Sinatra built Vegas, but the King painted it gold.
  3. AC/DC, “Sin City” – AC/DC bring the darker aspects of Vegas to life in this overlooked gem.
  4. Bob Seger, “Ramblin’ Gamblin’ Man” – I prefer the live version. I also prefer the rambling to the gambling… but that’s me.
  5. The Clash, “The Card Cheat” – I’m sure there was a lot of this going on out there…
  6. Bruce Springsteen, “Roll of the Dice” – The Rock Chick and I stood by a craps table for forty-give minutes and I still don’t get it.
  7. Rod Stewart, “Lady Luck” – Great gambling tune… catch Rod at Caesar’s if you can.
  8. Motley Crue, “Girls Girls Girls” – This one goes out to Destiny, wherever life took her.
  9. April Wine, “Roller” – “She’s a high roller baby…” Plenty of those in Vegas last week… mostly Chinese these days.
  10. The Rolling Stones, “Tumbling Dice” – “Low down gamblers, cheating like I don’t know how…”
  11. Airbourne, “Blackjack” – Still the only game in Vegas I understand.
  12. Social Distortion, “Winners and Losers” – Judging by the size of the casinos, I think I know whose winning.
  13. Santana, “Winning” – I needed a positive vibe, and this sunny little song helped.
  14. Mick Jagger, “Lucky In Love” – I may not win at the tables, but the Rock Chick is proof I’m a lucky guy.
  15. Gram Parsons, “Ooh Las Vegas” – Great song. If you’ve never heard this one, I implore you, check out Gram’s solo work.
  16. The Rolling Stones, “Casino Boogie” – I merely wanted to boogie out of the casino, but again, that’s me.
  17. Scorpions, “Passion Rules the Game” – Another great gambler’s tune. These guys are pirates at heart…
  18. Sheryl Crow, “Leaving Las Vegas” – I was never happier to be leaving… what a good idea.

Thanks for reading and hanging with me in my absence. Cheers!

 

 

Vegas, Old Friends, Britain and Rod Stewart at Caesar’s Palace 3/22/17

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*photo taken by your intrepid blogger

Despite the ethos of BourbonAndVinyl celebrating fine, strong drink and rock and roll, and my general sympathies to all seven of the deadly sins, I’ve never been a fan of Las Vegas, aka Sin City. I do love the song “Sin City” by AC/DC, but that’s another matter. However, my Corporate Overlords require me to travel to LV twice a year for “conferences.” It’s like being trapped in Biosphere… I enter the casino/hotel I’m staying at and I usually never see the sun or sky again for a week. Thus was my fate last week. Even inside the casino, the air is so dry in the desert the skin on my hands makes it feels like I’m wearing tiny gloves the entire time I’m there…

There are few things that get me motivated to actually leave my conference hotel and walk up and down the strip to another casino or to a bar or restaurant on the main drag. The one thing that can get me out of my barricaded hotel room is the presence of an old friend. In this case, it was the intrepid Arkansas Joel who lured me out of my room. I met Joel during my exile years, right after graduating college, when I lived in Ft Smith, Arkansas and later Fayetteville. Ah, those heady Arkansas days. Joel was married with an infant child and I was an enfant terrible, something that hasn’t really changed. We were full of youth, piss and vinegar, the young lions come to conquer the world.

I still remember the first time I met Joel, when I was staying at a Ft Smith hotel, the Five Seasons, which is an odd name if you think about it, where they had a free breakfast buffet for anybody who was staying there. They also had a Happy Hour with free beer at end of the day. Joel had dropped by the Five Seasons at the orders of our nefarious manager to, “meet the new guy.” Joel was wearing the same corporate uniform I was: dark suit, white shirt, red tie. With his thin frame and my then beer bloated body, we looked like Joliet Jake and Elwood Blues. Joel, who has been a breakfast enthusiast since I met him (“may I have some more plain, white toast please”), enthused, “this is a great little happy hour buffet thing.” All I heard was “happy hour” and responded, “Yeah man, free beer for two hours tonight!” Joel smiled knowingly and just nodded his head. He’s been taking care of me, pretty much ever since. Our friendship, which has lasted 30 years, is the only good thing that ever came out of my Arkansas days.

Joel happened to be attending the same conference that I was in Vegas last week. We grabbed a burger and talked about the old times, while we drank a few beers. It’s fun to get together and think that we’re still the young lions we once were. Although the reminiscing quickly turned to more current concerns. As usual with Joel, the conversation turned philosophical and utterly fascinating. We talked about how our perspectives have changed over the years since we met each other. Joel was always a solid family man, I was always a gypsy. It was truly a great conversation but after one post-dinner drink, I knew I was done. I had to go barricade myself in my room. Joel headed off into the night to meet some other folks. So much for being the young lion any more, at least on my end. But it’s weird, just seeing Joel, my old friend, and hanging out for as briefly as I did, made me feel that way. There will always be a positive buzz I get when I see him. I just sort of feel better spending the evening with him.

Unfortunately, the gears of work caught hold and I was off and running with customers and employees the rest of my time in Vegas and I didn’t see Joel again. I was running around the casino, from customer lunch or dinner to internal meeting and back again. I was pretty fried by Wednesday night. At the conference, Wednesday night is typically concert night. Last week’s show was the Zac Brown Band. I don’t know a lot about the Zac Brown Band, they’ve got some descent tunes. Although, I have to say, what little I’ve heard, they seem to combine “new country” with a jam band/Dave Matthews ethos, which to me is combining all the worst elements of music in one sound experience. After a dinner with customers, where I begged off on the show, I decided to get some fresh air and walk back from New York New York to the Bellagio, where I was staying.

It was out on the streets, amongst the meandering crowd (you never walk anywhere quickly in Vegas) when I saw the giant Caesar’s Palace sign up in the distance. And, under that sign, I saw the bright neon advert for none other than Rod Stewart. When I was in college there were 5 of us who lived in a tiny house just off campus. Rod’s ‘Never A Dull Moment’ and all of the Faces LPs were in high rotation in that tiny house. Talk about the young lions…those were some of the greatest days of my life and Rod’s music was the soundtrack. I thought… why not… I only had an hour til showtime, and I couldn’t get a cab. If I could make the walk in time, I’d give ol’ Rod a shot. I got to the box office with 3 minutes to spare. When you walk up that late, they’ll cut you a deal on tickets so instead of nosebleeds, I was right up near the front, where I took the pic above. The place was packed to the rafters.

When the curtain came up, after the warm up music, Rod comes out and sings “Love Train” the old O’Jays tune and I thought, “Fuck, Rod has gone all Vegas, this sucks.” I was justified in thinking this, as he had a baker’s dozen of backing musicians on stage with him. There were three ladies singing back up and three other whose reason for being on stage was unclear at first. I thought, well I won’t stick around… but then suddenly the band launched into “Some Guys Have All the Luck” and I realized, Rod is really singing the shit out of this tune. He was all over the stage. This was no Elvis, roll you out on a dolly after the buffet to sing the same set every night, Rod was fully invested. When they launched into “Young Turks” from Rod’s New Wave period, I was thrilled. The three gals on my end of the stage ended up each being multi instrumentalists – violins, harps, banjos, mandolins… talented women indeed. By “Forever Young,” where Rod walked out through the crowd and right by yours truly, the crowd was going bonkers.

Rod announced that he plays the hits but he also likes to mix up the set list every night and slip in a few tunes that are more obscure. He then launched into “Love Is” a great mid tempo, gaelic flavored tune from his last LP, ‘Another Country,’ and said, “It was a fantastic album by the way…” I found myself smiling. He dedicated the song, “Rhythm of My Heart” to all the policemen and military out in the world and acknowledged the horrendous attacks in Britain, which had only just reached me in Biosphere, I’d been that cut off. It was a nice moment. My heart, like Rod’s goes out to my British brethren.

A true highlight for me was when he brought the band to the lip of the stage for an acoustic set. They did, “Downtown Train,” “You’re in My Heart” and two real highlights for me – “Oo La La” from the Faces which he dedicated to Ronnie Lane, a “beautiful spirit,” and “The Killing of Georgie Pt 1 and 2,” which was pretty amazing. He said “Georgie” was banned by the BBC, “but they play it now…” He had promised that he would play songs that were particularly popular in Britain to honor the fallen in his home town, London. It was a special evening. The only moment I wished the Rock Chick was with me was during “Have I Told You Lately,” our song for the first dance from the wedding reception.

The last part of the set started with “Maggie May,” with Rod saying, “Now the party starts…” He then did his second Faces track, “Stay With Me.” I was in heaven. Rod then said, “We never play this song in America, because nobody fucking knows it, but this is for Britain,” and launched into the beautiful ballad, “Sailing.” I think “Sailing” was actually the official song of the Royal Navy for a time. It was a moving moment. The show ended with “Do Ya Think I’m Sexy” and the encore was some Guy Lombardo cover that I scooted out during…

As I walked away, I couldn’t help but think what a great evening it had been. Yes, there are aspects of the show that were very Vegas, especially the costume changes and the encore. But over all, Rod was very engaged and still rocks. He certainly has a lot of infectious fun during the show, laughing and racing around the stage. He still kicks soccer balls into the crowd and can still reach the upper balcony. His band was competent if not stunning. Rod, like myself, may not be the young lion he used to be, but I couldn’t help think as I escaped into the night… I just sort of felt better spending the evening with him, like I felt when I left my old friend Joel. I’ll never know Rod Stewart, but he feels like one of my old drinking mates from the old days. God knows, his music was always present when I was partying in those days… There will always be a positive buzz I feel when I see Rod Stewart…

If you’re stuck in Vegas and want to kill a great rocking hour and 45 minutes… you could do worse…