Part 1 - The Concern of True Friends
We aren't kids anymore. When we were
younger we could leave a trail of strippers and showgirls behind
like entrails and bones in the slaughterhouses of our hearts. We
could, but we never got around to it. We were too busy giving each
other wedgies. Now we're older, with slower reflexes. We don't plan
to seduce showgirls. At least, not as often.
Dan, Stinky and I have been friends
a long time; long enough to see each other's cute quirks become
serious problems. For example, my passion for going to karaoke bars
just to make farting noises into the microphone during "Proud Mary."
Or how Dan can't resist turning "ools" into "pools." Worst of all,
though, has been the way Stinky's gambling habit has gone from a
dollar's worth of pennies in the Gold Spike Copper Mine to late
night phone calls from Manhattan Western Union offices begging his
friends to wire him a loan before a hoodlum pulls his arm from its
socket. And we're not talking chicken scratch; we're talking $20,
sometimes $40, a pop. Big time money, like what a shoemaker for
Nike earns in his entire lifetime, or what I can steal from my wife's
purse on a good day.
Stinky's cash needs are easy to ignore,
but his screams of agony aren't. I've endured too many late night
calls that end with the wails and the crunch of his shoulder blade
tearing free from connective tissues. They've been enough to keep
me awake for a good fifteen minutes. Our friend needed help or else
he would keep waking me and ruining perfectly good nights of sleep.
I called Dan and suggested we do something. Dan agreed. "But how?"
"An intervention," I said.
"I don't know exactly, but Oprah
talks about them all the time."
Dan hesitated, so I added, "We get to
beat the crap out of him and-"
That was all Dan needed to hear and
he interrupted "-I'm in. Where, when and can I bring my brass knuckles?"
I have no problem going off half-cocked;
what bugs me are people who go off no-cocked. I went on line and
did a thorough and comprehensive job of getting half-assed informed.
In a half hour I learned just enough about interventions to be dangerous,
which is what I really wanted, anyway: to be dangerous. An intervention
is when you confront a friend about a problem, like drinking, sex
addiction, watching "Yes, Dear", or even gambling. Usually, the
friend is caught unawares by the confrontation. You do everything
you can to make him bawl his eyes out and swear he won't ever do
it again. From the few articles and blogs I skimmed, the best part
comes next; when the addict can't resist temptation you punch, kick,
and--my favorite--bite him into submission. That is, unless you're
intervening a friend's addiction to masochism. Then you'd just make
I didn't know where to intervene. We
couldn't just show up in New York or Stinky would know something
was up, like the night Dan and I got really drunk and wanted to
get tattoos, but not on ourselves, so we bought 21-day advance tickets
to fly to New York, waited, flew there and showed up on Stinky's
doorstep just about the same time we sobered up and realized what
a stupid plan it was. We couldn't make him come to Dan's hometown
of San Francisco because of an outstanding warrant. And both of
my friends are too big of snobs to come to Denver, the Queen City
of the Plains. We were, however, planning our annual Soiree in Las
Vegas. The Soiree is when our friends gather at the Gold Spike for
a weekend, and we invite readers of the Big Empire to join us. It's
a way for us to make jackasses out of ourselves in front of a large
audience, rather than the mirrors at home.
The Gold Spike is so concerned with safety, they don't have time to spell things correctly.
Was it a good idea? With all that temptation
around, I wondered. Las Vegas is good at making addicts, but is
it any good at curing them? Dan's impeccable logic settled it for
me: "What do you do when a dog craps in your house? You rub his
nose in it. All that temptation will only make him stronger. Besides,
we can play craps and get so drunk we shit our pants."
The last time I saw the Stinkmeister,
he was visiting my neck of the woods, Northern California, to see
his folks. We got a chance to spend a morning together and had breakfast
at Royal Flush café, one of my favorite morning spots. Stinky ordered
the Silver Dollar pancakes, one of my favorite items on the menu,
but commented, "How much you wanna bet they're actually bigger than
silver dollars? I'll bet you a silver dollar!"
"No because you'll win," I said. After
breakfast, we had to truck down to San Mateo, where Stinky was going
to pick up a cheap rental car to drive to Monterey. But the mellow,
sunny morning held the whiff of tragedy. As we passed over the Bay
Bridge, Stinky started complaining of a bad feeling in his tum-tum,
and just as we got to Treasure Island, he unrolled my window and
bellowed a pink ribbon of chyme across the exterior of my car.
And that wasn't nearly the end of it.
I asked him if he wanted to stop, but he said, no, he felt better
now. Which turned out to be a lie because as the hills of South
San Francisco rolled by, he unrolled the window again and applied
a fresh stripe of barf to my Volkswagen. Then he said, "I'm feeling
better now." That made one of us.
Pac Bell Park fell by to starboard and
Stinky opened the window again, not for fresh air, but this time
only some thin mucus came from the birth-like contractions of his
stomach. He dry-heaved the rest of the way to San Mateo, and, as
we got off the freeway, he was curled into the passenger bucket,
sweaty, spent, and vulnerable.
"You pig!" I commented.
Stinky requested that I stop at a filling
station so that he could "freshen up." He again insisted that whatever
it was had passed, and he seemed to be correct this time. Taking
the water hose from its holster at the edge of the gas station,
he proceeded to rinse off my VW with a hasty care. There was no
explanation for his illness: the Royal Flush cafÈ is excellent and
always fresh. Even if his pancakes had been tainted by some fluke,
I had sampled three silver-dollar's worth and felt fit as a flapjack
on the griddle, which is to say, okay. I wondered if Stinky had
been partying the night before and if this afternoon vomit was the
result. How well did I really know Stinky? Might he have been out
at Casino San Pablo the night before, carousing, gambling, and drinking
himself into a stupor?
"How much you wanna bet that by the
time we get to the car rental place, they'll be closed?" Mark's
mood was sour after soiling my hoopty and during the clean-up phase.
But we arrived at the cheap-o rental place in plenty of time, though
their computer was having some difficulty and it took a long time
to process Mark's order. He said under his breath, but loud enough
for the clerk to hear, "How much you wanna bet they tell me I'm
not in their system?"
Stinky may be a gambling addict, but at least he doesn't pose nude like Phil.
This "How much you wanna bet" thing
was starting to worry me. Three times in one morning seemed like
a lot to me. As fate would have it, Matt called me that very evening
with his plan to stage an intervention. As Matt talked, it all started
coming back to me. I recalled Mark at the craps table, his eyes
wild with a fire that said, "Geez, I want to win!" Whenever we played
blackjack, Mark would often double his bet on a ten or eleven! That's
nuts! Sure, I'd do the same thing, but for me it was basic strategy.
For Mark, it was obvious that a sinister addiction was at work.
He'd been bit by a gambling bug, hard, right on the butt.
"Are you in?" asked Matt.
"I'll beat that gambling bug out of
him even if I have to destroy the host body to do it," I replied.
I landed in Las Vegas in the afternoon,
an hour before Stinky. I waited in a bank of chairs outside baggage
claim. A lanky elderly man sat down next to me and struck up a conversation.
He was stranded at McCarran Airport because the Veterans Administration
screwed up his flight arrangements to Walter Read Military Hospital
where he was having a brain tumor removed. American Airlines was
too bureaucratic and greedy to help him. And he was pissed. This
old man had already told an unhelpful ticket agent to "kiss his
ass." He asked if I were in town to chase young ladies and I told
him I was there for the intervention.
"A what? What the fuck is that?"
I explained about beating up Stinky.
He snorted, "Doesn't mean you can't chase the ladies, too. Hell.
Ladies would like to kick your friend's ass too. He sounds like
a pussy." I told him I was married and he practically spit on me.
"So what? She's not here. Live a little. A stiff prick has no conscience.
You sound like a pussy."
He left to go kick some more American
Airlines' ass. While I waited for Stinky I practiced Texas Hold
'Em on my Handspring Visor in anticipation of our Solar System Series
of Poker at the Horseshoe on Saturday. I thought about the intervention
and how much I hated to see a friend beholden to a demon like gambling.
It has always been my belief that one must be free of such vices
to live a full and productive life. I was now more committed than
ever to help Stinky, provided I could keep myself sober, or at least
Some people have problems. The world's
a tough place, and not everyone can handle the trials of life. In
college, I had a roommate who drank so much that it took two and
half 40-ounce bottles of malt liquor before he started to feel a
buzz. The poor sap would be out six bucks, and only as drunk as
the rest of us, sitting around complaining about how no girls ever
came over to our place, but we'd left the liquor store with change
left over from $2.
A co-worker at a job I had was fired
for pleasuring himself in his office. When they searched his computer
after he left, they found enough porn to corrupt the entire student
body of all of the city's Catholic schools.
These are problems. Me? I just like
to place a wager now and again. Some people think I bet more than
I can afford to lose, but that's because they don't know that I'm
generally a pretty happy person. I don't need a lot of "material"
things, like blankets on my bed and a faucet for my bathroom sink.
I prefer the simpler pleasures in life; the brisk jog home on a
cool evening after the illegal poker game's been broken up by the
cops, the sage advice I get from the toothless old men at the local
off-track betting outpost -- the sorts of things you can't measure
with dollars and cents.
So it was with some excitement that
I took off from Newark airport for the Big Empire Cocktail Soiree.
These yearly trips have become ever more joyous for me as my betting
prowess has grown through the years. I used to think of the trip
as an ice cream cone's worth of seeing friends from college and
meeting readers of our Vegas web sites, but it's become more like
a great big, sweet, sticky sundae that leaves me slightly sickened
-- but happy! always very happy! -- after the last trace of whipped
cream has been licked off the now-grimy spoon.
I met Matt at the airport and we waited
for what seemed like seven hours in the line at the car rental counter.
I thought about hitting a couple slot machines to get my betting
juices flowing, but figured I better not. I love a gamble, but those
things are just stupid. It's like giving spare change to homeless
people. You never get a damn thing back.
On to Part 2