By Dan, Matt and Stinky

Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4 | Part 5 | Part 6 | Part 7

Part 1 - The Concern of True Friends

Matt's Prologue:

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.

"What's that?"

"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 things worse.

The Gold Spike is so concerned with safety, they don't have time to spell things correctly.
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.

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."

Dan's Prologue

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?

Stinky may be a gambling addict, but at least he doesn't pose nude like Phil.
"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?"

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 sober enough.


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.

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