Sunday, March 23, 2008

The St. Patrick's Day Massacre

Where do I begin?

Given the title to my last entry, my subsequent absence may have led some of you to fear the worst. But rest assured, I’m okay. I’ve had some interesting happenings over the course of the past week, though. The day after the St. Patty’s celebrations, I hopped—make that crawled—onto a plane for a business trip to Tampa. Yes, “TJ’s-stomping-grounds” Tampa. Why the Heavens didn’t take advantage of the rare opportunity to open up and destroy us both at once with one massive thunderbolt is beyond me.

Last Saturday began with my alarm blaring at 7:30 a.m. Grumbling, I shut it off and was about to go back to bed, when I remembered why I had set it in the first place. As you’ve gotten older, have you slowly forgotten what it feels like to be a kid waking up on Christmas morning? Wake up early on St. Patty’s morning, and I promise that you’ll get the same nirvana-like anticipation. I danced while I showered. I danced while I shaved. I danced while I stopped at Wendy’s for fortitude. And then I set off for Shannon’s like a kid running for the tree.

Her place was already jumping by the time I walked in around 9:30. I made my way through her apartment, saying the prerequisite greetings, and then headed straight for the keg, which sat on the deck—iced down and glimmering. I drank a bottle of water during the car ride over, and as I stood with it at the keg, I realized that it could hold more beer than the party-provided green plastic cups. God bless my friends; when I walked back into the party with a plastic bottle full of golden nectar, not one of them blinked.

I walked into the kitchen to see what Shannon was up to; when I saw her with two cans of Guinness in her hands, filling up cups, and shot glasses full of beige liquid lined up nearby, I knew what was about to happen. I slowly started backing out, but it was too late; I had been spotted. “Get back here! You’re doing one!” My first Irish Car Bomb of the morning blasted a hole in my innocence. Okay, my perceived innocence. While I was reeling, someone handed me their Irish cap to wear. It sort of looked, like a Kangol, but for the life of me I know nothing about its Irish heritage. It looked kind of cool, and I looked damn good rocking it, so there you go.

Shan’s sister, Dr. Kelly, was on hand for the day’s festivities. She had also brought a crew of friends from where she currently lives and works. I’m sure each of them is a capable partier/drinker in his or her own right, but they were lambs being led to slaughter that day. I don’t think any of them fully expected everyone to be drinking as early and as heavily as we all were. Earlier in the week, Dr. Kelly had told me she would be bringing her new beau with her to the party; but as I was introduced to all of the new faces, none were referred to as “Dr. Kelly’s boyfriend.” Maybe I was expected to read into some subtle clues, but St. Patty’s Day ain’t for subtleties. At one point, I was following Dr. Kelly down the basement stairs, on the way to play beer pong with her and her new friends. I said to her, “I thought you were bringing your new boytoy?” She gleefully responded, “I did—he’s right behind you!” I turned around and he waved. D’oh.

The rest of the day is one big blur: games of beer pong, where I established myself as the most dominant player at the party; my friends and I eventually made it down to Station Square around 2 p.m., where we met up with others such as Chief, Haze, and Tony; I remember being given beads (or did I earn them?), but eventually losing them; I remember being given a plastic half yard with rapidly varying levels of green beer in it (I lost that, too, at some point); and various intelligent and engrossing conversations, most of which probably sounded about as eloquent as a whoopee cushion.

I ended up breaking away from the rest of my assorted crew around 8, and headed for home base. I was of the mind that I could pass out, or at least relax, at Shannon’s for awhile, and then head back out. But no one was at her place, and the door was locked. And that’s where my 2008 St. Patty’s Day ended. I’m disappointed that I didn’t make it later into the night; but after last year’s letdown, I’m just glad I made into the night.

Oh well, there’s always next year.

Friday, March 14, 2008

Pray for Me

And, keep in mind, that I say this while not being a religious person. But some higher power will have to take pity on me this weekend if I’m going to make it to the next one. Tomorrow is St. Patrick’s Day—well, not the official St. Patty’s Day. It’s the day of Pittsburgh’s St. Patty’s Day Parade, which is held on the Saturday of or before March 17th. Tens of thousands take to the streets, bars, pubs, clubs, and gutters to celebrate Irish…stuff. Does it matter? There are green beads, green beer, and green body paint. And gallons of whiskey and Guinness. Viva la Ireland!

Shannon is having a party, and it kicks off at 8 a.m.--yes, that’s right; with an “a,” not a “p.” I normally have a predisposition to getting out of bed before 8 a.m. on a Saturday, but the aforementioned payoff makes it a fair trade. Last year I showed up at about 9 a.m.; the first round of Irish Car Bombs went off around 10. [Note: The picture seen to the right is an actual photograph of the shots being prepared that morning.] We made our way to the first bar of the day around 11. By roughly 1 p.m. I was passed out in a booth at a Station Square nightclub—or so I’m told. The only thing I honestly remember after the first bar is stumbling up the road to Shannon’s apartment in Mt. Washington at approximately 3 p.m. By myself.

I know some of you are not overly familiar with Pittsburgh and its landscape, so let me help paint this picture for you: Station Square is a large section of riverside real estate that is home to various bars, restaurants, nightclubs, stores, etc. It’s also where the city’s riverboats dock. It sits at the base of a cliff; Mt. Washington is the area of the city that sits on top of the cliff. When you see a scenic picture of the Pittsburgh skyline, chances are the picture was taken from Mt. Washington.

So that was the pitiful ending to my 2007 St. Patty’s Day: Passed out at the club at 1 p.m., retreating on foot up a long, steep hill at 3 p.m. I don’t know if it was my head or my pride that hurt more the next morning (at least the pain in my head was temporary). On St. Patty 2006, I had gone from about 8:30 a.m. to 2 a.m. that night; one year later, I completely erased any credibility that I had earned with that performance. For the past few weeks, conversation between my friends and I has been giddy with talk about this year’s St. Patty’s festivities. Yet each and every one of them has made a point of asking me if I’ll make it past 1 this time. I can hear the disappointment in their voices when they say it, and it makes me feel like the star quarterback who chokes at the end of the big game. You let the squad down. And now your cheerleader girlfriend is going home with the captain of the wrestling team. And you’re adopted.

This year is about redemption. Come hell or high water—mixed with Jameson—I will regain the title, not to mention the respect of my peers. I will fight like a champion. Line up the car bombs!

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

A Little Bit of Right

Ah hangovers. God’s little way of saying, “Job well-done.” It’s been a while since I’ve achieved “the drinker’s afterparty” twice in one weekend—yeah, I’ve been slacking. As per usual, this past weekend consisted of several small stories/events that painted an overall picture; a “What the f**k” photographic mosaic, if you will.

Friday night Tony and I headed to a house party out near McKeesport (did someone just say “Here we go again”?). Along the way, we stopped at Wendy’s so that I would have something in me other than my bloodstream to absorb alcohol. While standing in line, I noticed that the gentleman at the front was having some trouble placing his order. He was a middle-aged white man (MAWM), dressed in a suit and long overcoat. Standing in line at a Wendy’s in a predominantly black neighborhood…let’s just say, he was noticeable. After he had finally sorted out just what he wanted to order, MAWM looked at the cashier in bewilderment when two cups were placed in front of him.

MAWM: “Ummm…*pointing at cups* What are these?”
Cashier: “For your drinks.”
MAWM: “I…I didn’t order drinks.”
Cashier: “They come with your combo meals.”
MAWM: “Oh. Even for ‘to go?’”
Cashier: “Yes.”
MAWM: “I didn’t know…*pointing at cups again* I have no use for these.”

At this point, a brother in line in front of me turned and gave me a wide-eyed “Are you f***in for real?” look, which I returned (and paired with a “THIS motherf***er…” headshake). The cashier was speechless. He was about to take the cups back, when MAWM decided to throw caution to the wind and indulge in a couple of cold beverages after all. He left at the wheel of a Jag after getting his food, which confirmed my suspicions that I had probably witnessed his first ever foray into fast food nation. His personal servant must have had the night off.

Once we arrived at the party, we quickly established ourselves as one of the top beer pong teams, although we had frequent run-ins with another W&J alum, who combined with his boy to take 2 of 3 matches from us. We drank until 5 a.m., when I reached my saturation point. I was in the middle of a cup of beer when a voice from the bottom of my esophagus yelled out “OK JOEY, SHUT ’ER DOWN!!” I don’t know who Joey is (or why my inner workings have a heavy Brooklynite accent), but he’s good at his job. My throat closed off, and I put the cup down obediently. Joey’s compatriots must have been at work in everyone else’s digestive systems; the 10 or so of us still awake seemed to stop drinking at once, and began moving in unison towards resting spots. Most of us literally fell down on the softest thing we could find. For me, it was a couch in the living room (I had something softer in line early in the night, but she left around 10). The next morning I found Tony curled up on the floor of the computer room, using the top half of a Chewbacca costume as a blanket.

We left for home around 9:30 a.m. I was half-dead; Tony was still drunk enough that, just last night, we had to rehash that car ride’s rehashing. And he was driving. (*sigh*) I got home and slept until about 3:30, and then hit my fridge for one of my “morning after pills”—a 32 oz. bottle of Gatorade.

That night I went to my friend Shannon’s apartment. Her sister, who is also a good friend of mine, was in town and sent out the Bat Signal—she was going to be fighting the evil forces of sobriety, and needed as much help as she could get. She's a very interesting person: for those of you who have seen “Lost in Translation,” she is a living incarnation of Anna Faris’ character, “Kelly.” She has the same look, the same personality, the same non-stop motor. The only difference is that “Kelly” was a Hollywood actress; Shannon’s sister is a doctor. (I’m not sure how it happened, either; but she will heretofore be known in this blog as “Doctor Kelly”.)

The apartment's front door opens into a long hallway, which leads past a bedroom, bathroom, and kitchen, and into the livingroom. As I walked in, Shannon raced ahead of me down the hall and into the kitchen, and emerged to hand me a can of beer as I came past. I remembered why she’s such a dear friend. Ten minutes later, when she realized that I was near the bottom of that can, she instinctively went to the kitchen again, and this time came back with two cans. She ordered me to finish the first, and then shoved the second and third into my hands. My feelings of friendship transformed into love. Later, when she saw me crack open the third can, she called into the kitchen and instructed her boyfriend, Tom, to get another can out of the fridge for me. I considered proposing to her; I also considered the distinct possibility that she was trying to kill me.

We headed to Buckhead Saloon, a club that is equal parts sports bar, nightclub, and ski lodge (despite being across the river from downtown Pittsburgh). The result is a tug-of-war for your attention between hot girls, college basketball games (UNC vs. Duke on this particular night) on big screen HDTVs, and an in-house band rocking out at barely-safe decibel levels. Not to mention female bartenders who occasionally jump up on the bar to pour tequila into the open mouths of patrons below, like alcoholic momma birds feeding their chirping, drunken offspring.

I took advantage of the free tequila, and soon I was feeling no pain. Dr. Kelly and her friends usually attract a lot of male attention at bars—strange how young, vivacious, drunk girls can do that. Quite often I’m the only single guy hanging out with them, and therefore I get drafted into being the designated “boyfriend” whenever the aforementioned male attention is unwanted. If I happen to be sober (thank god that’s rare), this tactic is mildly annoying—you’re being used as an involuntary c**kblocker. When I’m drunk, though, it’s rather amusing to watch a poor shmuck’s face as his look of determination reverses field into an “oh sh*t” when his target runs over to a 6’6” 250lb guy for “protection.” This game played out 4 or 5 times throughout the night; and the drunker I got, the harder I glared in mock anger at the retreating Romeo. I’m such an a**hole sometimes.

Sunday morning I woke up on Shan’s couch, buried in blankets, with a strategic bombing offensive taking place somewhere in my frontal lobes.

And I beamed with pride. Daddy’s back.

Monday, March 10, 2008

Don't Call It A Comeback

I'm sorry I haven't posted here in forever x 1000.

There, that should do it for the niceties. On to the story, and this one's lovely.

As has been mentioned elsewhere at Crooked Straight, I flew out to L.A. on March 1st for a business conference at the Westin Bonaventure on Figueroa. However, the contest didn't start until Sunday, March 2, so I had some time to parlay with my boys the Hero and Franchise.

You all know the Hero, aka Kev, aka the proprietor of this site. He and I go back eight or nine years, although we've only ever kicked it a few times. Same timeline and description goes for Franchise, except for one major distinction: he's paid.

No, let me correct that. He's PAID. He makes a modest six figures at the day gig, but is the Rain Man of gambling. He puts money on women's basketball, for God's sake. At least, he used to. Due to his getting engaged on New Year's, he had to end the beautiful relationship he'd forged with his bookie. To give you an idea of how well he does, he tells me that he thinks he'll close the book on 2007 with about $8 million worth of action. And he's not kidding.

To the story. Franch and his lady pick me up at LAX just after lunch Saturday. We stop off at a Mexican joint in Santa Monica to eat, where I give Kev a call to see if he's still down to kick it that night. Surprise of surprises, he's at Hollywood Park. But he says he's still in.

We continue on to the recently built Franchise estate in Valencia. I get a house and neighborhood tour and we start formulating plans for the evening. Franch's stepsister says she knows the doorman at every club in Hollywood so we can get in anywhere. However, she's a world-class flake, according to Franch, so we also develop a backup plan.

He has a buddy who has a buddy who's doing promotion for Opera that night. Opera was THE place to be last fall - you probably saw pics of celebrity X walking out of there at some point. It's since cooled a bit, but it's still a tough ticket. Franch gets on the phone with the promoter and starts negotiations to get the crew in.

(Quick aside for my non-LA peoples: The contradiction of LA clubs for guys is that, generally speaking, you need to have a 3:1 girl-to-guy ratio to get in the door cold, which is kind of silly cuz most guys go to the club to MEET girls. If I had three club-level chicks in my entourage, we wouldn't be going to the club, we'd be going to a hot tub. But I digress.)

We couldn't guarantee the ratio in our crew, so Franch says "F**k it" and gets a table. Price tag: $800. Tack on taxes, mandatory tip, etc., and you can just call it a clean G. Your boy TJ doesn't have this kind of cake in pocket to pick up his share, but Franch doesn't care; that's how he rolls. That's why he's one of the five coolest people I know on this planet, and I'm not even exaggerating.

So we get the eight-person crew lined up - me, Franch, his lady, Kev, Stepsis, Stepsis' man and Stepsis' friend and a variable in case one of Franch's boys makes it. We roll six-deep to the club and meet Kev there. This will be an important fact to remember later.

Franch drops the promoter's name at the door and in we go. We had a great table: in the back but facing the front right off a well-trafficked area, with only one other table next to us. But that wasn't what made it great. It was the bottle of Grey Goose and the bottle of Belvedere sitting on it that did the trick. The waitress starts pouring drinks - I went with a screwdriver - and away we go.

(Kev, who isn't as much of a drinker as a smoker, initially demurred, opting to go with a Rockstar energy drink. After I pestered the hell out of him for it, he admitted he was afraid of the "Asian glow." Said his face gets bright red when he gets drunk. I pointed out we were in a club and the lighting was so low I couldn't even tell he WAS Asian. So he got a vodka/cran. I'm such a good friend.)

The club starts filling as the bottles start emptying. The DJ was playing Top 40 and easy hip hop, but every once in a while threw a curveball. At one point I looked at Kev and said, "Is he playing 'Pistolgrip Pump'?" I decided then that I liked the DJ.

The night in the club, all in all, wasn't terribly out of whack. Kev quickly got into the alcoholic steez; less than an hour after the first drink he was proposing tequila shots. So much for the Asian glow fear. Meanwhile, Franch is ordering rounds of purple hooters and putting them on his tab.

Women-watching was pretty good. Definitely some bangers. Stepsis had a couple of fly homegirls show up with some tagalong boyfriends who looked like early cuts from the Abercrombie & Fitch catalog tryouts. (Franch and Kev were pulling the blazer with a T-shirt and jeans look while I rocked a Sean John buttondown. Always keeping it real.)

Franch was anchored to the table with his lady - which wasn't a bad thing, as he started getting lap dances from her at some point - so Kev and I decided to peruse our options. This meant wandering the floor for a bit and not seeing anything tremendously exciting and then ending up at a bar for shots. I wanted to take it easy because I had the conference in the morning and we were already guzzling vodka. So we did stuff like Washington apples and kamizazes. Nothing insane.

But the rounds of shots kept coming and in no time we was feelin' alright. Pretty soon we were clowning other patrons, wondering if boobs were fake or real and staring at the waitress' bodacious ass whenever she came on a refilling mission. Kev even made friends with the busboy. If memory serves, he tipped him a $20.

During one foray, a chick walked by Kev and bumped into him, spilling his drink all over his hand. He was like, "WTF," turned and stared at her with the same face Charlie Murphy had after Rick James slapped him. I didn't know if I should laugh or hold him back. Luckily, he didn't go Jet Li on her and the night continued.

Fast forward to the end of the night. About 15 minutes before close, Franch rounds up the troops to roll. Kev demands to stay for ... I don't know why. But he wouldn't leave, and he wanted me to stay with him. I'm like, "Yo, I gotta go to Franch's crib, man."

"I'LL DRIVE YOU!" he says, punctuating his declaration with a swaying motion as he tried to recover his balance. When I tell him he doesn't know how to get there, he thunders back, "YES I DO!" Keep in mind Franch has only been living there like three months. Hell, Franch doesn't know where he lives.

So we leave Kev and roll out. Pretty soon, it's just me, Franch and his lady. The ride home was marked by a quick stopoff in a dark portion of the highway so me and Franch could take what we both agreed was the best piss of our lives. She mocked us from the car and said we were disgusting ... but 30 seconds later was squatting on the side of the road herself. This is why men are superior in the gender dynamic.

We stop at a Del Taco, the only thing open, for grub. This is when my phone buzzes with a text message from Kev that I will copy verbatim here, so pardon the language:

"Fycjinf agggot bitch honmo hoe ass cab driver"

So we figured he was OK.

Fast forward again to the next day. Franch drops me off at the hotel, I go to my room to start getting ready for the opening luncheon, and my phone buzzes again. This time it's Franchise. He's laughing and telling me Kev is on the TMZ Web site. I don't quite understand what he's saying, but see for yourself (he's the spectator on the cell phone in the black blazer in the first 15 seconds or so):

When I text Kev about it, he responds, "Ha ha very funny." After 10 minutes, he hits me back: "You weren't serious right".

Apparently he doesn't remember the fight, the cab ride home or much of anything at the end of the night. He'd even texted me about 11 am Sunday saying he was still drunk.

Final tally for the night: two empty bottles of top-shelf vodka, at least eight rounds of shots, no chicks and one extremely intoxicated half-Asian man caught by the paparazzi.

Only in L.A., y'all.

Saturday, March 1, 2008

Casino Drinks

Everyone can calm down. Please stop rioting in the streets. Please put the pitchforks and torches down. We’re still here. "On the Rocks" has gathered a few cobwebs during a brief hiatus over the past week or two. TJ’s been busy taking care of strippers (hint: there's a double meaning here), and I’ve been busy between work and family commitments. It’s affected my opportunities to drink, too. This, in turn, affects my ability to post stories about getting penises drawn on my face. It’s a domino effect, really.

And now TJ’s out in L.A. for a few days. And Kev (a.k.a. The Hero) lives in L.A. And I’m stuck in Pittsburgh, with snow, ice, and slush. A few minutes ago I received a text message:

From: TJ
Subject: I’m in LA, and you’re not.

I hate him.

Last Friday, my friend Zach and I made the trip to Mountaineer Casino, in West Virginia. We left Pittsburgh (and civilization) around 7 pm, and after a short stop in Weirton for a delicious home-cooked meal (gracias, Erica), we trekked through more snow and ice and got to the casino around 11 pm.

I was there for business—poker is money, and money ain’t fun and games—so my drinking was going to be limited. Typically at casinos in the United States, if you’re gambling, you’re drinking for free. West Virginia, however, is another world. I went to Wheeling Island in Wheeling, WV last year, and my friend Chad warned me before I got there that you had to pay for drinks. So when the cocktail waitress walked up to my table at Mountaineer, I expected more of the same. I ordered a plain Coke [let me stop here and say (1.) I was playing poker, (2.) I was the driver that night, and (3.) I had drank a couple of beers with dinner—in other words, don’t judge me], and when she returned with it I asked, "How much?" She looked at me like I was speaking Romanian and said, “There’s no charge.” No charge? Could it be, that I was in a real casino? The next time a waitress came past, I ordered a Jack & Coke. I was still playing poker, I was still the driver, but…it was free, right?

No. “That’ll be $4.” West Virginia. Normally, I would be enthusiastic about a Jack & Coke only costing $4. Instead I was mildly annoyed. They had gotten my hopes up, however briefly. My annoyance changed into puzzlement an hour or so later, when Zach (who had busted out and was touring the building instead of buying back in) told me that he stopped at the bar, and they charged him $3.50 for a bottle of Miller Lite.

Are you kidding me? A bottle of light domestic beer costs only $0.50 less than a drink made with semi-top shelf bourbon? On the drive home we talked about this incredulously, until a thought suddenly dawned on me: The casino is trying to tempt players into buying mixed drinks. They want you to get drunker, and therein more likely to blow your hard-earned money at their tables. Tricky bastards. I’m sure this thinking has a lot to do with real casinos providing your booze for free.

So I warn you, fellow inebriation enthusiasts: don’t fall for the trap. Try your best to show restraint in the face of free or low-priced liquor at casinos. Look at it this way: the less you drink at the tables, the better your chances of winning big money. And that big money can buy a lot of booze and fun.

Or plane tickets to L.A.