I jolted awake in my bed around 12:30 p.m., though I’ll never really know why. Maybe my subconscious had tricked me into thinking I was going to roll over and see Raw Deal. Thankfully, my bed was a party of one. I did a quick scan of the rest of the room. First I checked the rollaway bed; T.C. was slumbering purposefully. Then I looked over to the other twin bed. It was empty. No light or sound was coming from the bathroom. Dupa, it seemed, was unaccounted for. T.C. stirred and looked over at me, most likely performing the same status check of the room.
Me: “You see [Dupa] this morning?”
T.C.: “Nope. Not since O’Shea’s last night.”
Me: *chuckles* “Awesome…”
I found my phone on the night stand and checked my messages and calls. None were from our missing soldier. Likewise, T.C.’s phone was absent of clues. I decided to text him.
Me: “You ok, buddy?”
Me: “Where are you?”
Dupa: “Ummm yeah…”
Me: “Should I repeat the question?”
Dupa: “LAS VEGAS!!!!!!!”
Satisfied to know he was still alive and had access to his phone (which meant he wasn’t in jail), T.C. and I set our sights on finding some lunch. We dressed and then dragged ourselves to the elevators, as I told T.C. about my difficulties in finding these elusive transportation devices the night before. We hit Earl of Sandwich, conveniently located just off the casino floor.
The two of us sat at our table tearing at sandwiches like starved dogs and recapping some of the previous night’s highlights. We were gradually coming back to life, but it was a slow process. And staring at a Sugar Factory in the mall with a Kim Kardashian ad prominently displayed was oddly therapeutic. T.C. asked if I’d gotten anything new from Dupa. I hadn’t, so I checked in on him again.
Me: “Eating at Earl of Sandwich. Care to join us?”
Me: “Kim loves Sugar.”
T.C. and I returned to the room around 3. While I made a quick trip to the bathroom, I heard our room door open, followed by someone lurching through the doorway. The birthday boy had returned. He walked in with his phone clutched in his mouth. T.C. asked if he was still drunk; Dupa mustered a head nod. He had never left O’Shea’s, logging a healthy 14 straight hours at their blackjack tables. And he was a couple of hundred up. Within three minutes of returning to home base, our blathering Polish comrade was slumbering in his bed, naked and barely kept decent by his strewn bed covers. As for me, I felt it was time to make myself a Red Bull vodka. When I cracked open the Red Bull can it was like a starter’s pistol going off.
We snapped pictures of Dupa’s debauched state, sent a few of them to our friends back in Pittsburgh, and then headed out. Our plan was to walk around the town a little, maybe find ourselves some trouble. The sidewalk was clogged with Occupy Vegas protesters, though, and the weather was still only in the mid 60s. We turned around after a block or so, and headed back towards PH. Along the way, we were confronted by a female protester; her anti-banks message was wasted on T.C., though. When she explained that she was protesting because she had lost her house in the mortgage crisis, he countered with a smirk, “The bank didn’t put a gun to your head to make you sign a mortgage that you couldn’t afford.”
We found our way back to The Heart Bar. After positioning ourselves in front of two video blackjack machines again, we repeated our prior day’s agenda of pounding drinks. My Red Bull vodkas were strong—at least, I’m guessing they were, based on the fact that my memory of the rest of the afternoon has some serious holes in it. A receipt and a later text message indicate that T.C. and I ate at Earl of Sandwich again. (Right about that time, I got a text from Dupa: “Who’s Kim? I’m so fucking hungry”.) I do remember walking to PBR Rock Bar with T.C. I also remember drinks and shots. …Well, I at least remember a sense of doom after putting an empty shot glass back on the bar. I don’t remember the following text convo with Dupa (though I do remember him eventually joining us):
Dupa: “Yeah, just showered, gonna eat at Earl’s, where’s Rock Bar?”
Me: “Across the mall from Earl’s.”
Dupa: “Ok you’re in the mall not PH?”
Me: “Across the hall, homie.”
Dupa: “Ohh, ok, I died a little last night”
The brownout took hold of me. The next thing I remember clearly is sitting on my bed in the room, probably two hours later, in different clothes than I’d been wearing earlier. Dupa and T.C. were also changed, and had drinks in their hands. It was dark outside our window, though I remembered there being daylight outside the mall doors when we were at Rock Bar. My primary concern, then, became whether or not I had showered. I certainly couldn’t remember showering. “You came upstairs before we did; when we came back, you were in a towel,” T.C. offered. “I hope that means you took a shower.” But I wasn’t convinced. As we walked out to the Strip and headed towards Ellis Island, I sniffed the skin on my arms a few times, trying to pick up the scent of Axe body wash.
Since he was unencumbered by the same weight of uncertainty that was resting on my shoulders, T.C. was free to take in his surroundings during the walk down Flamingo Road. He soaked in the camaraderie of a Vegas trip with his boys, and the moment was clearly overcoming him. As I took a break from once again trying to remember the feeling of shower water on my skin, I rejoined his and Dupa’s conversation to hear T.C. say, “You know… Not to gay it up, but tomorrow night we should all go to the rooftop bar at the Rio to watch the sunset.”
A good laugh at your buddy’s expense can make you forget all about your own issues.
To be fair, T.C. drank at the Rio while watching the sunset with his wife, sister, and brother-in-law during his previous visit to Las Vegas. Apparently, pregaming with Black Label had clouded his understanding of the inherent differences between proposing such an idea to his loved ones and proposing it to his boys.
We supped at Ellis, drinking 22 oz draughts of the Hefe Weis and Amber beers that they brew onsite. With a solid base of beer and food laid down, we began the night in earnest. We caught a cab to the Bellagio; after that one mile drive, the cab’s meter read about $4. T.C. handed the driver a 5 dollar bill, to which she contested, “No, its $11.” We laughed mockingly as we got out of the cab and walked through the Bellagio doors, her yelling and cursing slowly being drowned out by the sounds of people and slot machines.
During that previous trip to Vegas, T.C. had also enjoyed the famous Bellagio fountain show from the terrace of a small, modest lounge at the luxurious casino. As he led us through the maze of table games, he suggested we do the same this time. There was only one problem: that quiet, unpretentious lounge was now a trendy, velvet-roped nightclub. T.C. was now 0-for-2. Yet another fond memory of his prior Vegas visit had been drinking something called a “Cable Car”. We walked to a bar just off the main gaming floor, and T.C. ordered three of these concoctions, determined to save some face. That determination turned to surrender when the bartender brought back $40 worth of drinks that looked more like appletinis than the drinks from T.C.’s memories. We walked off sipping from our glasses, Dupa and I blowing up our homie yet again.
Me: “I feel just like ‘Carrie’ in ‘Sex and the City’!”
Dupa: “I’m more of a ‘Samantha’ than a ‘Carrie’.”
We toured the casino while drinking daintily from our glasses. We made jokes about Danny Ocean and Terry Benedict. We looked around in the Botanical Gardens, knowing full well that it was the most cultured thing we would be doing that week. And, while we were appreciating the ornate floral art, Dupa spotted a man with a huge face tattoo, becoming momentarily entranced by it. These were easily twenty of the more surreal minutes of my life.
Once we were done with our foofoo drinks, the three of us sought out a bartender’s advice on finding a “locals” place where we could refresh our buzzes without killing our credit scores. He suggested Tommy Rocker's, adding that it’s “behind Caesars Palace.” Given that Caesars is one of the biggest properties (in terms of acreage) in the Western Hemisphere, I replied, “Utah is behind Caesars Palace.”
A cab—this time appropriately-priced—took us to Tommy Rocker's, a sports bar far enough off the Strip that we were probably the only tourists to walk through their doors all day. It was now after midnight, but the place was far from jumping. Ten other people, at the most, were on hand. Some, like the hot chick sitting near us at the bar, were off-duty casino workers. Thankfully, she was seated nearest to T.C., who fell right into our standard three-man act of letting the married, “harmless” guy disarm the girl with his charm, while Dupa and I remain a hidden threat, lurking in the bushes. If you’ve ever seen the velociraptors work their predatory strategy in “Jurassic Park”…
Dupa drank Jack, and T.C. and I worked on draughts of beer. We listened to war stories that the pretty Paris Hotel blackjack dealer and her friends all shared, as they competed to top each other with tales, each stupid tourist even more idiotic than the previous one. Very quickly, though, I realized I was in trouble. For some reason, I was suddenly circling the drain. That familiar lightheadedness knocked me to the canvas, like a stiff left from Manny Paquiao. Apparently the gods of the Cable Car ancestors were striking me down for my derisive jokes and defiant laughter. When the bartender came back by, I ordered a glass of ice water, knowing it was my only road out of this situation. I sucked it straight down via the straw and ordered another. Manliness be damned: This velociraptor was declawed, but—mercifully—still alive.
We had the bartender call us another cab; this time we got dropped off at Caesars, at around a quarter to 2. We walked in through the art gallery wing of the sprawling landmark, and paused to window-shop some of the works on sale. Okay, so they were sports-themed pieces…fight me. Once we found a bar (which only took rounding a couple of bends), I ordered us three beers. Dupa, between sips of his beer, downed the better part of a bottle of Maalox. Apparently the ancestors of whatever he had drank during his O’Shea’s stint were now putting in work on him. We tried to find the birthday boy a table that suited him, but he soon resigned to all of us just going back to the Planet Hollywood. As we found our way to the Strip and strolled back to home base, I believe there was a joke or two about me breaking off to find Raw Deal. And I’m sure the language I used in responding to said jokes was nothing family-friendly.
Back at PH, T.C. and I grabbed beers from Heart Bar while Dupa fed his blackcrack addiction. It was now 5 a.m. All of the sitting around watching other people win money was starting to eat at me, and I finally buckled. I went to an ATM and took out $100, intending to lose it to some fellow night owl poker players at a low stakes table. I shuffled/stumbled back to where T.C. was sitting, intent on bidding him farewell, at the risk of becoming the one sitting at a table gambling for 14 straight hours. When I got to him, though, Dupa was standing there. Having taken a hit at blackjack, he was ready to pocket the rest of his bankroll and call it a night. I read the tea leaves that the gambling gods had provided, and packed it in myself.
Besides, I wasn’t going to pass up an opportunity to have someone else find the elevators for me.