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It’s been a while I know…but life happens. Since the last time I wrote I’ve made my way from Taos, New Mexico, up to Vail, Colorado, then to Underwood, North Dakota, a few days in South Dakota, and then a bit of time back in Atlanta and now back again in Vail. If I missed you along the way, I’ll catch you next time. All in all I’m a bit exhausted.
At the moment I’m house sitting for a friend of a friend. Life seems to shine its luck on me often these days, and I’m accepting of everything it’ll give me. Vail is nice this time of year, quiet, somewhat reclusive, mixed in transition between the seasonal what was and what will soon be. I can feel the winter coming closer every day. But opposite that I can feel the protest from the not so long ago summer and the still present but ever fleeting with the passing of each moment fall. Fall is an interesting time in the Vail Valley. There’s not much in the way of tourists. Nothing really much in the way of the constant winter parade of people from everywhere and anywhere who come to surround themselves with the majesty of snow capped mountains, clean air and copious and abridged bouts of après ski alcoholism and unchecked appetizer gluttonies.
But people are still here. It’s not dead. It’s not abandoned. Not even close. There’s a buzz. The twenty-somethings moving in from all over the country to try their hand at a season of ski bumming. Some of them will escape the Valley after a season, but many, many of them will fall victim to the pull of the mountains and High Rockies lifestyle. Plans for grad school will never materialize. Professional jobs, jobs in offices with secretaries and vaulting buildings of steel and glass, cities with untold masses of people and all kinds of tawdriness…all that will escape them. Boyfriends and girlfriends will be left behind from this snowy quasi-nirvanistic place. Lives will be interrupted. Paths will fork. All because of the fact that gravity favors and smiles widely upon anyone willing to strap a slick stick or two to their feet and point ’em in a downward direction on a crystal cold carpet of soft, white frozen water. I get it. It has captured my every winter for the past four or five years. And now it has captured my fall, this fall, at least a part of it. I wonder what season it will take from me next. Maybe one day all of them.
And beyond the “freshies” to the Valley there are long-time and hardened locals, most enjoying the respite from the regular busyness of the Valley in full winter swing, but fantasizing incessantly and not so secretly for a foot or two of fresh and fine powder…or as it’s referred to out here “pow-pow.” I don’t know that I’ll ever be able to say “pow-pow” with a straight face, or any other kind of face for that matter. And beyond them, all those seasonal stradlers, there is the oddity that is me. Not quite full-time, not quite part-time. Not a ridiculously wealthy second homer or third homer. Not Shaun White. I don’t know how exactly I fit in out here…but somehow I do.
In any event it’s good to be back. The days are short now and getting ever shorter. The mountains just intensify that effect, make it more severe. Ten to fourteen thousand foot peaks have a way of doing that. And it’s brisk too, but not yet cold. It snows here and there, but nothing significant, at least not since I’ve been here. Although as I write this the snow is going and blowing pretty good. I always feel a certain amount of melancholy creep into my bones, and perhaps my soul too, this time of year, as the span of the days relents to the expanding darkness of the nights. The colder climate, I think, exacerbates this feeling. But beyond the darkness and the cold, there is always a flickering of hope and promise. There’s always the promise of the white winterland that is coming, time on the mountain and in the mountains, skiing, snowboarding and all kinds of what not. And beyond that there’s another promise, one of return and rebirth…one of the spring.
But that’s still in the future. So for now I sit in the darkness and the cold. I like it, it’s like an old friend that was once close, but is now only a passing acquaintance that still holds a place in my heart, but no longer captures it. I haven’t even unpacked my jacket yet. I probably should. Perhaps I like the cold a little more than I care to admit. Maybe the darkness too. Who knows.
Coming soon….Breast Milk, Bacon and Blackjack (Part II). Till next time.
There are certain times when the Universe conspires to create a confluence of events and circumstances so bizarrely and extraordinarily perfect that the idea that this life and all its experiences are merely unrelated intersections of randomness seems a ridiculous (if not impossible) notion at best. Such was the case with my trip to Las Vegas.
I arrived in town sometime around three in the morning after a 13 hour train ride. The train was great – sure as hell beats taking a plane if you have the time. There’s plenty of leg room, plenty of places to walk about, nice big spacious seats that recline back, a whole lot of countryside to watch and a dining car with food and drinks galore. That and no security line to wade through. But unlike most people who arrive in Las Vegas in the later hours of the night I didn’t hit the strip off the bat. Instead I went to my mother’s house. She’s lived in Vegas for the past 17 years. So almost every time I come out to Sin City, whether for a bachelor party, a birthday party or the annual porn convention (just kidding but wish I wasn’t) I usually arrive in town a day or two early and leave a day or two later than everyone else so I can spend some quality time with moms. It’s a win-win for everyone involved, especially me – and hopefully for mom.
So after getting a good night’s and early afternoon’s sleep and spending about fifteen semi-wakeful and bleary-eyed minutes of quality time with my mother before she headed off to work (showgirls have to get up early too), I head down to the Strip sometime around six o’clock Friday evening. Now if you’ve never been to Vegas before, Friday evening is when Vegas proper starts to hit its stride in full. And for the next thirty-six to forty hours thereafter it doesn’t stop. It’s just continues on and on like the Energizer Bunny on meth…a lot of meth.
I meet up with the birthday boy, Lance Williams, in front of a blackjack table at the New York, New York Casino. I’ve stayed at a lot of other places in Vegas but never this place. Lance is there with his younger brother Sean who I’ve always known as “Seanny.” There are a few other guys, maybe four or five tops, sitting with Lance and Sean at or around the blackjack table that are also a part of this middle-aged birthday celebration. I haven’t met any of them before so Lance does a round of quick introductions. And any time I get introduced to more than say two or three people, I feel like I’m acting and living out the “doctor” scene from the movie Spies Like Us.
You’d think I would have outgrown such a response by now at my ripe old age of 38 – but I haven’t. And as soon as the introductions are over I, like clock work, forget everyone’s name. Except for Sean and Lance of course. Like my talent for the obvious this is another gift that has been bestowed upon me – forgetting people’s names. It’s not a great talent to have. Some people actually get upset if you don’t or can’t remember their name. Somehow I guess they feel slighted. Not me. I don’t really give a rat’s ass if someone remembers my name. I’m more of a facial recognition type of person than a name recognition type of person. Years ago, while attending some type of work function, cocktail party kind of thing, I forgot my then girlfriend’s name while trying to introduce her to a co-worker. Never mind the fact that we had been dating each other for three years and had been living together for almost a year. As you may have guessed, she is now, and has been for some time, an ex-girlfriend. But I don’t think my untimely forgetfulness as to her name was the reason for our relationship’s ultimate demise – at least that’s the story I am sticking to.
In any event, there’s supposed to be a total of seventeen dudes here, including the birthday boy, for this weekend party. So I’ll be presented with plenty of opportunities to forget even more names.
Now I’ve been coming to Vegas off and on since I was about four years old. And I’ve lived here twice, both times for a stretch of just a couple of month. So this town is kind of in my blood. And despite the craziness, the excess and the dysfunction of this town, it always kind of feels like home to me. In the early days when I was a kid I remember going to the Circus Circus Hotel & Casino with my grandparents. If you were a kid in Vegas in those days, the Circus Circus was the place you wanted to be. And the reason for that was despite having a full-fledged casino, the Circus Circus also had a full-fledged trapeze act going on right in the middle of the place, along with other circus and performance acts. Not to mention a midway with all kinds of carnival-style games. If you were between the ages of four to probably fourteen the Circus Circus was the bomb – or at least it’s late seventies equivalent.
Most of the other kids I knew went to places like Disneyworld or Yellow Stone National Park or summer camp. Me, I went to Vegas. And you can thank my grandfather for that, bless his now almost ten years deceased crazy-assed soul. You see my grandpops was a bit of a gambler. Actually to call him a gambler might be an understatement. He was more like an addict, a junkie – a gambling junkie. Now don’t get me wrong, my grandfather was a good guy (most of the time), especially when it came to me, but he had a problem with gambling and as a result pissed away a small fortune in Vegas and anywhere else in the world that would take a wager from him.
I think gramps was just hard-wired with the gambling gene. He came over to the States from Greece when he was about four. His family lived in a pretty rough area of New York called Hell’s Kitchen. And from what I heard through family stories and accounts of my grandpops, this is where he developed his penchant for gambling among other things. By the age of ten or so he was spending a fair amount of his time on the streets and gambling was apparently a large part of that time. By seventeen World War II was in full swing and he enlisted in the Navy. I’m sure that didn’t help with the whole gambling thing – it probably just exacerbated it. After the war, he came back with some shrapnel in him and did a stint as a professional boxer – a profession that thrives on betting. According to my grandmother, she made him quit because he took a lot more punches than he landed. Thereafter he became an electrician and resettled from New York to the sun and fun of Miami, Florida, where he worked as an electrician for the Local 349 until a heart attack caused his retirement many years later.
The heart attack didn’t kill him. Neither did the booze he loved. Neither did the gambling which he also loved just as equally as the booze, maybe more. Neither did my grandmother – which is a surprise to all of us. Nope, my grandfather beat the odds when it came to life, dying at the age of 78, some 20 to 25 years longer than the doctors had expected. I guess that’s one bet he truly won.
So a lot of the memories I have of my grandfather, from the earliest to the some of the last had to do with gambling and casinos. If he wasn’t in Vegas, it was the horses. Or the dogs. Or a little game called Jai Alai which is unique (I think) to Florida in the United States. And then there were the card games and the football games. There was always gambling in some form or fashion as long as I could remember. My grandmother must have been a gambler too, because she took a huge chance on the piece-of-work that was my grandfather. The verdict is still out as to whether that bet paid off for her. I like to think it did.
Now the thing about gambling is that it’s not all bad. Nothing really is except the following song and dance:
and this one really sucks too
I’ve spent plenty of Christmases and New Years in Las Vegas – most of them comped to the hilt thanks to my grandfather’s gambling. So there’s some upside to gambling – as long as someone else is spending the bucks. I remember one year in particular, while I was still in college, I flew out to Las Vegas with a girlfriend of mine and gramps got the whole trip comped. Food, hotels, drinks – everything. A year or so later, after a breakup with said girlfriend, gramps tried to get me a hooker to ease my heart ache – I’m not sure if she was comped. I didn’t take him up on the offer, but I always wonder if maybe I should have. Yeah, I probably should have. And after the hooker episode, there was the time when a new 27” television showed up at my apartment in college from good ol’ gramps for no reason – well no reason other than grandpa must have had a few good runs at the tables. That was a pretty big television back then, in the early nineties, especially for a poor college student.
And there was always food, lot’s of food, all comped by the casinos. And there was booze too. My grandfather thought it was the greatest thing in the world that they would give him “free” food and drink. Sometimes he would order food or bottles of wine that he had no intention of consuming, at least not in Vegas. On more than one occasion he “smuggled” his comped food and drink back to Florida with him in his suitcase. But beyond all the comps, I think the thing my grandfather really loved was the attention he got from the casinos. He knew all the pit bosses and all the “hosts.” And they knew him, and most of them probably knew me. After all, that was their job, knowing people and what they liked – well that and getting them to the tables so they could gamble away their money. They gave him a lot of personal attention. Made him feel like a big shot I’d guess. Who wouldn’t like that? Who doesn’t like that? I guess my grandfather just took it to extremes at times.
But to me, there was nothing “free” about all the food, the drinks, the rooms and the personal attention. No, gramps was paying for it through his gambling. I wasn’t stupid about the whole arrangement. Neither was my grandfather. I think it just made it easier for him to justify all the money he left at the tables in Vegas. And pretty much right up until the time he died, my grandfather kept at it with the drinking and gambling. Six months before he passed away he was kicked out of a small gaming establishment in a little town outside Las Vegas called Pahrump for being drunk and belligerent. My grandfather, drunk and belligerent? Never! And as awful as that may sound, recalling that story about grandpa always brings a smile to my face. Good, bad or otherwise, he lived his life on his terms, the way he wanted. He lived it hard, but he lived it, and apparently drank and gambled it, right till the end. And I respect that to this day. Always will.
So being here in Vegas, brings back lots of memories. But unlike my grandfather, I never became a gambler of any sort or kind. I’ve played a few hands of blackjack over the years, but I really don’t like the idea of losing money. I don’t handle it well. Not well at all. It pisses me off something awful. So I pretty much stick to what I like to call the “Price is Right” type of games. Stuff like the six-foot tall slot machine. And the huge money-wheel with the varying denominations of U.S. currency pinned all over it. Kiddie games as far as Vegas is concerned. If they had games like Pin the Tail on the Donkey, I’d probably play that. I guess those early days at the Circus Circus had a lingering and lasting effect on me. And maybe it’s a reflection of the fact that despite the years that have passed I feel more like a kid than ever. I’ve never really understood the fun in “growing up.”
So the way I figure it, when it comes to gambling, I’m better off not ever learning how to play any of the adult games like blackjack, or craps or Texas hold ‘em poker. In the long run it’ll keep more money in my pocket. In the long run it’ll probably keep me from getting kicked out of a casino at the age of 78 – or any other age for that matter. But tonight, here in my home away from home town of Las Vegas, getting drunk and getting kicked out of the casino, any casino really, well it doesn’t sound so bad. Actually it sounds pretty good, pretty damn good. So tonight I’m redirecting myself. Changing the usual script. Tonight I’m gambling. Tonight I’m drinking and doing whatever hell else comes my way as a result.
And even though gramps has been dead now almost ten years, tonight it feels like he never left. Tonight it feels like he’s alive and well, somewhere inside me, stirring about, hoping to cause a little trouble, wreak a little havoc. Perhaps the dead truly never die. Perhaps they live on forever in your heart – or in my grandfather’s case, the casino. Perhaps.
I’m going to depart from the storyline of Flagstaff and camping and all that other stuff for a moment and bring this blog current to the present day. I won’t tell you where I am at (you’ll find that out soon enough), but I will tell you where I am heading – Las Vegas. Back to the place where this whole story about Flagstaff and everything thereafter first got started, well sort of.
I’m heading for a weekend, an extended weekend actually, for the 40th birthday of friend of mine, a guy that goes by the name of Lance Williams. I’ve known Lance since college, which is starting to seem like a hell of a long time ago – probably because it is. We knew each other in those days, but I wouldn’t say we were great or close friends.
But over the years, a lot of Florida Gator football games and probably even more drunken nights (and days) I’d say we’ve become pretty good friends. Lance lives in an area of Orlando, Florida (the town I went to high school in – for the most part) called Windermere, Florida . This is the same place that is home to Shaquille O’Neal and Tiger Woods (or maybe just his ex-wife now), so I’m not sure what the hell the good people of Windermere are doing letting Lance in.
Last time I saw Lance it was September of 2010 at our mutual friend Sam’s bachelor party in Clearwater, Florida and his three weeks later subsequent wedding in Winter Park, Florida. So it’ll be good to catch up and perhaps dabble in a bit of debauchery and whatever else Vegas holds.
Now this isn’t the first time I’ve been out to Vegas with Lance. I count at least one, maybe two or three, other trips out there with him – all of them bachelor parties I think. Not mine. Certainly not his. Of all of our common friends I think we may be the two last hold-outs to the whole idea of marriage. To be honest, I’d be surprised if either of us ever got married. I think we both like our freedom way too much. That and we both probably have some objections with the idea of long-term monogamy – but hey, so do a lot of my married friends. But that’s a whole other story, or rather, stories.
One of my favorite memories of Lance (and there are quite a few) is from, you guessed it, a trip to Vegas that took place somewhere in the neighborhood of ten years or so ago. A bunch of us were out in Vegas for someone’s bachelor party. Who the actual bachelor was I can’t for the life of me remember. Back in those days (my twenties) it seemed like I would go to at least two or three bachelor parties a year. Most in Vegas. And in those good old bachelor parties in Vegas days, we would usually end up at the Hard Rock Hotel and Casino. The Hard Rock is off the strip, but never off from the action. I always liked the Hard Rock because it felt primarily like a bar with a casino that just happened to be built around it, rather than a casino with a bar built into it. That and they had a pretty cool pool area complete with a poolside bar and even poolside, play cards in your swim trunks, blackjack tables. I haven’t been there in years, but I suspect nothing has really changed, except that it’s probably become more decadent and excessive. You can always count on that with Vegas. For a little about the decadence and excessiveness of the Hard Rock pool, as well as some great examples of modern-day breast augmentation, take a clicksy here. Or take a loosky below:
In any event, getting back to that bachelor party now some ten years passed, a few of us had arrived early on a Thursday night. Now for Vegas, you never really want to get there earlier than everyone else because odds are you’re going to shoot your whole wad the first night there and spend the rest of your trip recovering from a nasty hangover and a sizable depletion of funds from your savings account. But I, along with Lance and a few other buddies, never really took too well to pacing ourselves, especially when it came to drinking and partying, even more especially when it came to doing so in Sin City. Not more than two to three hours after our planes touched down on the tarmac of McCarran International Airport, all of us were well on our way to excessive intoxication. As I think about it, we were all probably bombed, or at least buzzed, the moment we left the plane. That’s the thing about flying from the East Coast into Vegas – you have plenty of time to drink. Whether that’s a good or bad thing, well, I’ll leave that to you.
I remember that Lance had hit the tables pretty hard and pretty early that night. By about 10 p.m. local Las Vegas time he had run out of money, having spent everything he came out with and also maxing out his daily ATM withdrawal limit. Not bad work for just a couple of hours. Impressive actually. I could tell he was a bit bummed that he wouldn’t have a chance to “win his money back.” And that’s when the bright idea popped in my head. ATM limits are calculated on a daily basis. And if you max out your daily limit you don’t actually have to wait till the start of the new day with the sun rising and the roosters crowing and all kinds of crack-of-dawn stuff like that. A new day technically starts at 12:00 a.m. Everyone knows this, but when you’re boozing it up, and when you’re in a time zone (Pacific Standard Time) that’s three hours earlier in the “day” from the time zone you live in and just flew in from, this concept is not always altogether obvious. But for some reason it was for me. Problem was it was only about nine-thirty, maybe ten at night, at the latest. That meant there was some time, a couple of hours or so, that Lance had to let expire before he could take another hit from the ATM.
Now when you’re drunk and have a craving to gamble, as Lance did that night, and as he probably will this weekend, two hours can seem like an eternity squared. There’s a good chance, that without the gambling you’ll drink yourself into oblivion before the stroke of midnight. Hell, there’s a good chance that even with gambling you’ll drink yourself into oblivion. But the odds go up significantly and quickly when you don’t have the distraction of a deck of cards, a roulette wheel or a shiny, noisy slot machine. All of which means it’s game over for you while the rest of the Sin City continues to roar on into the depths of the night and the early morning and maybe even beyond, like into the next afternoon.
So the only reasonable fix I saw for Lance’s dilemma was getting more cash into his hands and quickly. Not my cash mind you. No way – that would be insane. His own cash, or someone else’s, just not mine. Now if you have a credit card, which I’m sure Lance did, you can always take out a cash advance. But I don’t recommend this. If you’re going to lose money, go ahead and lose it like a man, with cash not credit. Lose it to the casino, not MasterCard, Visa or American Express After all, at least with the casino, you have a shot (albeit a small shot) at winning something. With credit cards the only thing that you are going to “win” is a bunch of interest charges, some exorbitant cash advance fees and a nice bill that will arrive at your home about thirty days later.
So how did we I fix Lance’s lack of fundage? Well, I reasoned that because he lived in Florida that his daily ATM limit was pegged on East Coast time rather than Las Vegas’s West Coast time. I wasn’t absolutely sure on this, but figured it was much more likely than not. So I suggested it. After all, what the hell did Lance have to lose – except more money. And off he went, quickly, with a fresh enthusiasm in his face and a new pop in his step, to one of the Hard Rock’s many and strategically placed in-house ATMs. A few minutes later he was back with a satisfied smile and five hundred new dollars in his hands. And for a few brief moments there, I was probably the smartest, most clever person in the universe – at least Lance’s universe. For a funny little snippet about an alternative means of “fixing” the problem of the daily ATM withdrawal limit click here.
I don’t remember much of what happened after that. I don’t know if Lance won or lost that night. I don’t know if he ran out of funds again that night. All I know was that in that moment he was happy, like a little kid when you tell them you’re going to take them to McDonald’s to get a Happy Meal. That’s the kind of happy he was. That’s a good, no a great, kind of happy to see on someone’s face, for whatever the reason.
And here I am, years later, going back out to Vegas to meet Lance and a bunch of other knuckleheads, some I know, some I don’t. He’ll be forty in a few days. I’m only a year and half behind him. A lot of time has passed since that trip to Vegas. A lot of life has happened too. He’s gotten older, I’ve gotten older. People have been born, others have died. Certainly neither of us has gotten any prettier. But as I make my way out to Vegas, on a train this time, instead of a plane, sober as a nun during prohibition, and finding myself intermittently discussing Venezuelan politics with a professor of Latin American studies at Cal State traveling with her two children, the older of the two who keeps asking me if his mother is boring me with her social sciences speak (which she is not), I can’t help but wonder what this trip to Las Vegas will bring. Perhaps Lance will bust the bank and his ATM limit again. Perhaps not. Either way, I’ll be there to remind him that at the clock stroke of midnight, Eastern Standard Time, you can always get a fresh lease on a night in Las Vegas and lots of fresh dollars from your checking account. And who knows, maybe this time around we’ll even meet someone like Mr. Papagiorgio.
So happy birthday Lando. Welcome to your fourth decade of life you old fuck! May your daily ATM limit keep increasing.
Now one of the first and most obvious drawbacks to living life out of a tent is the very noticeable absence of the shower. The lack of a toilet with working plumbing is really no big deal, after all I’m a guy and was blessed with one the greatest gifts given by God to men – the ability to stand up and pee. I know you ladies can do this too if you really want, but it’s not the same – and really dribbly I’d guess. It may sound crazy, but the ability to pee while standing up is without a doubt one of the best things about being a guy. But there’s no built-in, gender-specific advantage to a shower, or the lack thereof. So the fact I’m male doesn’t help much, really at all, when it comes to being sans shower. And I don’t know about you, but I’m a shower person. Just about every day starts for me with a nice, long hot shower. It’s my daily get up and face the world ritual. And a lot of times too, my day also ends with a nice, long hot shower. Thankfully, here at the KOA there are plenty of showers with plenty of hot water. Public showers, mind you, but still showers nonetheless.
So after I finally wake and rouse myself up and out of my tent I head for the showers. It kind of reminds me of being back in the college dorms. The setup is pretty much the same. A pair of flip-flops on the feet – because you never know who or what went down in the shower before you. A towel thrown over my shoulder. A bar of soap in my hand. And mostly importantly a fresh change of clothes – a clean pair of underwear being the most important of all.
I remember as a freshman living in the college dorms we all carried buckets with us to the showers. Plastic buckets with a handle. We’d put soap, a toothbrush and toothpaste, deodorant and what have you into those things. I don’t know what the hell they do in the dorms these days or what they carry with them into the showers – probably an iPhone – but that bucket worked pretty damn well. Kind of wishing I had one right now. But a good old toiletry bag, the same one I’ve had for almost ten years now that was a groomsman wedding gift from my friends Derek and Alison’s wedding, will just have to do.
And just like the college dorms, the showers have the girls on one side, guys on the other. In college I would have loved it if we had co-ed showers, but here at the Flagstaff KOA, where the average age looks to be somewhere north of 50, maybe even 60, the whole co-ed shower concept doesn’t hold the same appeal and allure to me. Not even close. It’s best they keep the showers here at the KOA separated where never to the two shall meet.
Even though I’ve only been here for a few days I’ve already figured out a system for showering. Here at the Flagstaff KOA there are actually two sets of showers. One towards the back of the campground where most of the campers like myself are situated and one towards the front office and entrance. I’ve noticed that the showers towards the back of the campground get pretty busy between 8:30 to 10 in the morning. The showers towards the front office, however, remain for the most part unoccupied during this time. I’m not really sure why this is the case other than the fact that the showers towards the front office require walking another 50, maybe 75 yards tops. That’s a cost I’m willing to pay for some solitary shower time. No one else apparently finds much, or any, benefit in traversing those extra steps except for me. It’s America after all – why should anyone walk when there are perfectly good cars and trucks and sport utility vehicles to drive all over the place? Someone has to fund the Arab nation states of the Middle East after all. Might as well be us good ol’ Americans, eh?
So I get to my front of the KOA showers and sure enough they’re empty. And even if they were not, it wouldn’t be a big deal. The showers themselves are individually enclosed, each shower having it’s own door and stall. That’s kind of nice, the crème de la crème of public showering. So it’s not like a locker room shower where everyone and everything is exposed in the open. Like the kind they have in high schools and prisons – I always thought schools and prions weren’t that far apart. But even that wouldn’t bother me – showering and freeballing it with my bar of soap in the wide open. I’ve got no problem showering in the open next to complete strangers. But what I do have a problem with is what I call the “old naked guy in the locker room shower syndrome,” or ONGILRSS for short. Don’t look it up, ‘cause I just made it up – the term and acronym at least. It just seemed appropriate to give it an acronymic title. I know it’s not a very sexy or even cool-sounding acronym, but everything else seems to have an acronym assigned to it these days. There’s “RLS,” otherwise known as “restless leg syndrome.” I don’t know when this actually became a “syndrome” but apparently it did. And no offense to anyone out there that has a case of RLS, but honestly, this seems like something cooked up by pharmaceutical companies to sell some pills. But, hell, what do I know? Reminds me of an old song by ZZ Top (check out the guitars at 54 seconds in, and again at 1:49, 3:05, and 3:35 minutes in):
And for a little parody about Restless Leg Syndrome (no offense intended but I’m sure some will be achieved) check out the following:
Then there’s “LOL” which stands for “laughing out loud”, which although it’s an acronym, might actually be more of a texting term. But either way, I still don’t like it. I mean who the hell was actually using the phrase “laughing out loud” before the arrival of the damn cell phone. No one, that’s who. Certainly not me. And when you say “LOL” or write it or text it, are you actually laughing out loud? I doubt it, I seriously doubt it. So as you can tell not a big fan of “LOL.” The only thing I can think of that is worse than “LOL” is “ROTFL” – I’ll let you figure that one out on your own. For some history on LOL and its bastard cousin, ROTFL, click here.
And from middle school I remember “TTFN” which stood for “ta ta for now.” I remember that girls mostly used this one, never really guys, unless they were gay, which was fine, then it was okay. I never liked “TTFN” either. Which is surprising because usually I’m a big fan of any part of the English language that has the words “ta ta” in it. But when it came to “TTFN” even the “ta tas” were not enough – so I came to despise it. And then as I got older, especially after I started working as a lawyer, I started to hear “ASAP” quite a bit, which as we all know means “as soon as possible.” But in a law firm they abuse ASAP. Everything is ASAP. Which eventually makes you question whether it truly is something that is needed ASAP or just the arrogant demandings of someone who wants something ASAP as opposed to needs something ASAP. End result is that I developed a strong dislike for ASAP in all its uses. So if you need something “as soon as possible” from me just tell me you need it right away. Otherwise, if I hear the words ASAP you might just get smacked across the mouth before you get a chance to utter the second “A” in this insipid, and often overused and abused acronym.
So I may be digressing here, but that’s nothing new. My life in many ways is simply one large and continuing digression. Still, getting back to acronyms and all, I like my speech fully spoken and my words completely written – I must be getting old. And that’s not to say I don’t find myself at times filling my own words and sentences with acronyms (because I certainly do), but I’m really not a big fan of them, unless they’re the likes of NASA or NORAD or something military or governmental sounding. I’m convinced that one day in the not so far future, the English language will be reduced to a pile of acronyms. Hell, it may even become illegal to speak more than 140 characters at a time. Sounds ridiculous, and it may be, but you never know. But today’s ridiculous and unimaginable has a way of turning into tomorrow’s reality. For a creat comedic example of this check out a trailer (and hopefully and eventually the movie itself) from one of my favorite movies, Idiocracy, and you’ll see what I mean.
So back to old naked guy in the locker room shower syndrome. I know you’re probably wondering – what the hell is it? Well let me tell you. It’s that guy, the one probably somewhere in his sixties to seventies, the one at the gym, who walks around completely, butt-ass naked. And it’s not because he doesn’t have a towel, because he does, it’s usually flung across his shoulder – and only across his shoulder. For some reason this guy sees no reason to use a towel except as a shoulder ornament. I’ve got not problem with people on the older side of life – I’ll be there soon enough God willing. And look, I’m not against people being naked in a locker room or changing room. I mean that’s part of the deal. You’re there to strip down. Change into or out of some type of clothing. Shower. Towel off. I get all of that. But this guy, the old naked guy, he has no shame. He’ll watch an entire episode of ESPN SportsCenter naked with nothing but his pasty-white butt cheeks planted to a couch or other form of locker room seating. Yeah, I know, a couch in a locker room? I hang out in some nice locker rooms from time to time.
And he’ll carry on a twenty-minute conversation about the stock market naked as a jaybird while his schlong swings to and fro. He’ll stretch out his hammys and do deep leg lunges in the nude until I see part of him that I’ve never even seen on myself. All the while, I and every other person present in the locker room receive a continuing and uninvited full frame picture of a swinging, sixty-to-seventy year old, wrinkly and shriveled-up ball sack seared into our skulls for time eternal. Ball sacks are wrinkly and shriveled up enough for guys in their twenties – I don’t need to seem them at such advanced ages, or any age really.
And I call this a syndrome, because it seems to be pervasive in men’s locker rooms throughout this great nation, and perhaps, world, of ours. It must be something about the age, being somewhere in your sixties or seventies. Maybe there’s an attitude, an “I just don’t give a fuck if someone has to see my junk for twenty minutes while I discourse about world politics in the nude” attitude that is prevalent at this age. But I’m thirty-eight and I have a “just don’t give a fuck” attitude about many things in life. My scrotum swinging visibly about for extended periods of time is just not one of those things I guess. Perhaps it will develop in time – but I doubt it. And I don’t refrain from these naked ball-swinging activities because I’m embarrassed or prudish or even insecure. No, I refrain from all of this just out of common decency for my fellow man. There’s a rule, unspoken and unsaid with men (gay men perhaps being the exception – but probably not even with them unless they find a guy “hot”) … keep your junk to yourself. Or if you’ve got to reveal it, then do so within reason – just don’t subject me to a full-on ball shot while you read the entire Wall Street Journal from start to finish, classified ads included. Especially if I don’t know you. Even if I know you.
Apparently I’m not the only person whose taken notice of this “old naked guy in the locker room shower syndrome.” Check out the following who’ve also taken notice (and offense) – apparently this “syndrome” has reached epidemic proportions:
Oh, and of course, a video too:
And I don’t know for certain, but I suspect the women’s locker rooms may have the equivalent of the old naked guy in the locker room shower syndrome. It’s probably something like “old naked woman with breasts down to her waist syndrome” or something to that effect. But whatever the reason, and whatever the form, and whatever the gender this insidious syndrome takes, I know that by putting in the effort of walking the extra 50 to 75 yards to the showers in the front of the KOA I significantly cut down the risk and potential of being exposed to and encountering naked old guy in the locker room shower syndrome. Granted, I’m not exactly in a locker room, but here, at the KOA public showers, it’s effectively the same thing.
So I get to the showers and find that my extra steps have paid off. No old naked guys. No naked guys at all. Well, except for a soon to be me. So I get naked. Well all except for a pair of flip-flops. I find that being naked helps for more effective showering. And the hot water feels good in contrast to the dry and arid airs of the high desert of Arizona. Water… warm, hot water, mixed with soap and suds, is a good thing. I take my time, if for no other reasons than I can and that it delays my inevitable return to the dry dustiness that seems to come with tent living out here in the West.
Once showered and reasonably towel-dried, I segue into the other simple pleasure that I have come to highly appreciate since my relatively nascent tent-residing existence – a set of fresh, clean clothes. Nothing feels better than a nice warm shower followed by some clean-feeling and clean-smelling clothes after spending a few days in a tent. It’s funny how quick one comes to appreciate such small, little things. Makes me wonder what would happen if everyone had to live out of a tent for a week, maybe two, perhaps even a month? Perhaps the world would lose a bit of its over-complications, chill for a bit, and just relax and enjoy the simple things in life. Perhaps even a cure for old naked guy in the locker room shower syndrome would be found. My what a wonderful world that might be.
Ah, the morning arrives and for the first time in a while, I feel refreshed. I slept like a damn baby. A big, fat overfed and doesn’t care if he makes a mess in his pants baby. I get up sometime around 9:30 in the morning. Well no, let me correct that, it’s 8:30. Still getting used to the fact that Arizona, I’m not sure if it is part or all, doesn’t recognize Daylight Savings Time. Which effectively means the great state of Arizona is presently on Pacific Standard Time – West Coast time. In any event I am happy to be up, whatever time it is. Which is unusual. The morning is something I am not usually fond of unless I’ve been out the entire night before. Or unless I’m going snowboarding – I never have any trouble getting up if I’m going snowboarding.
I lay in my sleeping bag for a bit, daylight diffusing itself through the fabric of my tent, providing me a warm, indirect form of light to wake to. “A guy could used to this,” I hear myself thinking as I just lay there on a leisurely for me Tuesday morning, while the rest of the world outside, not just outside the KOA, but outside in terms of just about everywhere else, is doing something, engaged in something, occupying themselves with something. Most are probably at work, or heading to work, or wishing they were anywhere but work. But not me. I’m laying in a sleeping bag, in a tent, with a nice cool breeze wafting fresh mountain air in and out my lungs. And I’m not missing that nine-to-five (probably more like eight-to-six or seven these days) life these days – not missing it at all. Reminds me of one of my favorite movies.
I’m feeling pretty lucky in this moment. But I’ve had a lot of moments in my life where I’ve felt lucky. Incredibly lucky. Like the first time I ever had sex – I mean, what are the odds of that happening? Surely luck had to intervene and smile upon me for that to occur – or really a bottle of Jack Daniels, some beach and a balcony – but that’s a whole other story for a whole other time. And then there was the time when I was home for the summer in college, driving to the beach in my mom’s car, a somewhat new and shiny red BMW, at close to 100 miles per hour, passing a bottle of Boone’s Farm back and forth between mom’s car and another friend’s car. Stupid as hell I know. And I dropped that bottle of Boone’s, but I, and everyone in my car and the other car were lucky as hell that night. Lucky we didn’t get arrested, lucky we didn’t kill ourselves or anyone else, lucky my mom’s car returned home with her none the wiser (hopefully she doesn’t read this, but if so – sorry mom). That was a “we were are all too young and stupid to know better” kind of lucky that night. But as I think about it, I’m sure we all knew better, but we either didn’t care or didn’t want to care. Still, we were lucky, very lucky that night, and probably far too many other nights than I care to remember.
But over the past three to four years I’ve had too many lucky moments – way too many – to count. No, they’re not drunk driving survival moments these days, they’re more the kind of lucky moments like getting to spend my winters in Vail, Colorado and snowboarding just about any day I want. Waking up next to a woman who looks better without makeup than with it. Being able to spend weeks and months at a time with friends and family across the country. Taking naps during the early afternoon – or any other time for that matter. Traveling across the country. Spending a summer in Taos, New Mexico. So somewhere along the way I started to change how I thought about those moments. I started to think that perhaps it was not about luck at all. Because if it was about luck, then I’ve been crushing the odds, and crushing them heavily, in my favor. I should be flat-out of luck now. But perhaps there was something more than luck going on. Perhaps there was something more than chance and probability occuring. Perhaps. And for those of you who have a bit of brains about you and like to think and ponder on the odds and probabilities of things like monkeys typing Shakespeare and the whole possibility of the existence of the Universe, give a click here. And for those of you not so intellectually inclined, just check out the Video of the Week to the right, Summer Girls, by LFO – you’re definitely not going to use any brains cells watching that piece of work.
So what is it? How did I get here? Reminds me of the song Once in a Lifetime by the Talking Heads. I’ve always liked David Byrne for some reason – perhaps it’s because he’s one weird-assed dude. Like they say, birds of a feather flock together – or at least buy the other’s music.
In any event, the question still lingers. How exactly did I get here? It just can’t be all luck. I mean this wasn’t the plan. It certainly wasn’t the short-term plan – at least to be here in Flagstaff. Nor was is the long-term plan. The short-term plan was to head from Las Vegas to Taos and camp out maybe one night tops in between. But here I am three days into Flagstaff, a place I never intended to stop or be, and now finding myself not wanting to leave here or be anywhere else. This feels like the place I’m supposed to be in this moment. And as to the long-term plan, well, Flagstaff and everything else was certainly not in that plan either. The long-term plan, as I remember it, was something altogether different from the life I’ve been leading and continue to lead as of late.
I can remember sometime back in law school (1995 – 1998) thinking that I would graduate, go to work in a law firm for a few years, maybe five to six years tops, make a few bucks and then go into business for myself or with someone else and make even more bucks. And that’s the way it pretty much worked out without a lot of effort or additional thought on my part beyond that. But somewhere along the way my life was diverted, like a train switching from one track to another. An abrupt switching of tracks. For a time I tried to keep my life on the track that I thought was best for me, rather than the track that was actually best for me. Eventually, however, I realized that was a futile and exhausting endeavor – so I simply stopped. I stopped it all. I stopped the business I had created. I stopped drinking alcohol. I stopped a lot of the relationships that had been a constant my life. I stopped doing everything I had assumed I had to do and only began to only do what I wanted to do, only what I had passion for. Essentially, over the course of 3 to 4 years, I broke up with my life and everyone and everything in it. Not everyone was happy about this, especially my creditors.
It wasn’t always easy, I suspect breaking up with your life never is. No different from breaking up with a boyfriend or girlfriend. And for a few tips and a little half-assed comedy on break-ups check out the following:
But every day that I wake into this world, walk through this world and experience everyone and everything in it, I am grateful beyond belief that someone or something had the foresight and wisdom to interrupt my life. I’m also grateful and proud that I had the courage to follow and listen to that wisdom. So as I sit here, confined in the 5′ x 8′ space of my tent situated here at the Flagstaff KOA campground, I guess I have the answer to my question of how it is that I got here. And by “got here” I just don’t mean to Flagstaff and the KOA. I mean to this point and station in life as a whole. The answer – I simply listened. I listened to that voice inside, that guidance within – whatever you want to call it, gut instinct, intuition, psychosis or just plain old idiocy – and I went with it. No, actually, I ran with it. I ran with it as fast and as far as my legs would take me until it hurt and until it burned. Until my lungs and every part of my life felt like they were on fire. And then I collapsed, and my whole life and my whole world as I knew it, well, it collapsed too.
Now most people have the sense to get out of a house or building as it is falling apart. Not me. I was fascinated with the destruction of the “house” of my life. Watching its roof come apart. Feeling it shake and shudder. Experiencing every piece of it being ripped apart. I stood there, in the house that was my life, and simply watched it, felt it, heard it, fall apart all around me. All the while I just stood still – at least for the most part. If you have the courage, I highly recommend that you give this a try at least once, more often if you can, in life. Nothing is so freeing, liberating, terrifying, financially upending and exhilarating as letting your life crumble around you. Every single last piece of it.
I suspect the feeling is akin to that of someone whose house (and probably life) is taken apart by a tornado. Afterwards, there’s a great sense and feeling of calm, along with a hell of a lot of debris – emotional and otherwise. But with that destruction comes a clearing, and an opportunity, a chance to write a new page, or even pages, in your life. To let the past go and all the limitations it may have held. To let your ideas about the future go as well. But mostly, to let your ideas of who you are and why you are here on this planet go too. It’s a powerful process, destruction. And usually it’s fast and quick. But it can be a good process too, a god-send in some cases – if you let it and if you allow it.
So being here in Flagstaff is no accident. It’s no coincidence. I was always meant to be here, to arrive here, and stay here for some time. I know that. I can feel that. I am here as a result of the choices I have made. The destruction of my life I let pass. And if I were to look at where I am at and the way things are in my life, none of it really makes any real sense to the outside world. Sometimes it doesn’t always make sense to me either. There were and have been days when I would find myself thinking and feeling, “what the fuck have you done?” I scorched the soil of my life just like the Russians did in World War I (for a little bit about the Russkies scorched earth policy click here). After all, this isn’t the way it is supposed to be, me here, 38 years old, in a tent, while the rest of the world works away. I’m supposed to be in an office somewhere, somewhere high up. A law firm or some other type of business where they’re things like secretaries, and fax machines and access cards to get in the door to some overpriced and lavishly built-out office. I’m supposed to have a house somewhere – a real live physical address. A place you can find on a map and a place where you can send mail to. I’m supposed to probably also be married, maybe once or twice by now, with at least a kid or two – probably one of them, at least, with ADHD. I’m supposed to care about all those things, I’m supposed to want them.
But I don’t. I don’t care the least about them. I don’t want them – at least not that way. I suspect I never have truly wanted them even though there was a time in my life when I thought I did. That life I was “supposed” to have would never have been a life I would have, or could have, been in love with. Sure, I probably would’ve liked it a lot, even lied to myself and all of you, all without knowing so, telling everyone that cared to listen, the whole damn world if I was left to it, that I loved that life. But knowing the life I have now, and more importantly, having lived and continuing to live the life I have now, there is no way I could’ve ever been “in love” with that life. I’m so glad that somehow, someway, I broke up with that life. I would have never truly known what it means to “love” life, or perhaps, even love at all.
I can live with and accept many things in life but one thing I know I can neither live with nor accept is regret. It’s like marrying the guy or girl you really like and have convinced yourself that you actually “love” only to meet the person of your dreams, someone you feel an unexplained and inexplicable longing and pull for and towards the moment after you say those fateful words “I do.” That’s gotta’ really suck. It kind of reminds me of song by Alanis Morissette – you know the one.
And the great thing, I guess, about life and marriage and relationships is that you’re allowed to make mistakes. You’re allowed to fuck it up. It’s okay to make mistakes. You’re supposed to make mistakes. How the hell else do you learn anything in this life? Hell, to each and every one of you out there, I’d encourage you to go make a mess of your life. Screw it all the hell up. See what stays around. See what doesn’t. See who stays around and who doesn’t. You’ll learn a lot. You may hurt a lot. You may fear a lot. But you’ll become a lot – a lot different, perhaps too, a lot more of who you truly are, who you’ve always longed to be. Perhaps, who you’ve been afraid to be. Who you’ve been afraid to show the world you are. But a word of caution, a disclaimer of sorts (you can take the lawyer out of the law firm, but not the law out of the lawyer I guess). Be careful if you go down this path. It’s not for the weak of heart. It’s not for those who like consistency and predictability. But it will, I promise you, satisfy your heart’s desires in ways and by means you would or could never have imagined – or perhaps were just too afraid and scared to imagine. And at least for me, I’d rather satiate my heart’s desires and live with a little (or a lot) of fear, anxiety and/or uncertainty, than leave those desires unfulfilled, unrequited – wondering for the rest of my life “what would have,” or “what could have,” knowing in my heart that the answers to those questions would simply be “something great, something extraordinary, something simple and wonderful.” But that’s just me. What works, or at least what I think works, for me may not work for everyone. But certainly passion and zest and excitement for and with and in life – well, I tend to think that is what everyone wants at some level.
And lying here still, I am thankful, for the uncertainty and the inconsistency. I no longer fear the unexpected, I look forward to it. I expect it. Without it, I would not be here, writing to you. Without it I would not be holed up in a tent in Flagstaff. Without it I would have never met Charlie Brown or Dubba. Without it, I would not have found my path in life, a path more humorously traveled.
I head back to camp site number 194 with thoughts of oil tankers, inter-breeding aliens and, mostly, that big ol’ bottle of Dubba’s King Cobra still in my head. Notwithstanding the intrigue and appeal of my newly found KOA friends Charlie Brown and Dubba, my mind and stomach are starting to wander to a new topic – food. I’m hungry. Really hungry. And despite all the cool patios restaurants and cheap eats dives I saw on my excursion into downtown Flagstaff earlier in the day, it’s another kind of place altogether that caught the attention of my appetite. The kind of place I’ve been to probably hundreds of times in the past. The kind of place that somehow sucks me in despite my mind’s warnings and my past experiences which advise me to the contrary. The kind of place that is none other than the Chinese super buffet.
Yeah, I know – why a Chinese super buffet? Especially in Flagstaff of all places. That’s a great question, the answer for which has always seemed to elude me. The place actually looks kind of crappy. Probably tastes kind of crappy too I’d guess. But I’ve got this weird fixation with Chinese buffets – crappy or not. Super buffet or not. It’s kind of like the relationship Charlie Brown (the cartoon character, not my KOA camping buddy a few tents down) and Lucy had. Charlie Brown knew Lucy was going to pull that damned football away from him at the last minute. But despite this, he always found a way to talk himself into trusting Lucy, trying to kick that football, but failing (again), and landing on his ass.
Such is my relationship with the Chinese super buffets. I know they’re pretty much going to suck, but still, I can’t keep myself away from them. I hear them calling to me “C’mon Kory, I promise not to suck this time. I promise the food will be delicious and tasty – and fresh. Just come in and taste me – you’ll see.” But it isn’t tasty and fresh, not usually, really not ever. Especially when the Chinese super buffet is in a place like Flagstaff, Arizona, or even worse, some place like Macon, Georgia. The more rural, the less metropolitan, the higher the odds of super buffet disaster, as a general rule of thumb. The higher the odds of me landing on my back just like Charlie Brown – but as the result of post-buffet knot in my gut rather than the salacious taunting and unfulfilled promises of one Lucy Van Pelt. No doubt the Chinese buffet, super or otherwise, is one of my Lucys in life.
So I hop in the Tahoe with my crack-like addiction for mediocre Chinese buffet food calling out to me like Chris Rock’s character “Pookie” from the movie New Jack City and head the two miles or so from the KOA campground to the aptly named China Star Super Buffet.
I saw this place earlier in the day on my way into downtown Flagstaff and it’s stuck in my head ever since. And I don’t know why it is the case, but Chinese buffets always garner my attention for some reason. There’s something about them. Maybe it’s the broken English names themselves – monikers like China Best Buffet (Cleveland, OH) and Top China Buffet (Columbia, SC). I mean, really, what’s with all the competitiveness in the world of Chinese buffets? This one’s the “best,” that one’s “top.” There can only be one best, right? So someone out there in the world of the Chinese buffets is definitely lying. And I aim to find out who the liars are one overcooked buffet-style egg roll at a time.
And besides the competitively named Chinese buffets, there are also the all-you-can eat establishments that tag a number at the end of their names such as “Super Buffet No. 3.” It gets me to think that if they have three of these places all up and running, then hell, the food must be somewhat decent. Maybe even great. After all, they must be doing something right if they have enough business to not only keep one super buffet going, but three. Right? But I wonder sometimes – just because there is a “Super Buffet No. 3” does that necessarily mean that there is a “Super Buffet No. 1” as well as a “Super Buffet No. 2.” I’d like to think so, but I’m not so sure. Perhaps it’s just some slick Chinese buffet marketing, all designed to coax me in under the guise that there is safety, and food quality, in numbers – Chinese buffet numbers.
Whatever the hell is the cause of my inexplicable predilections for the Chinese buffets, whatever is the source of that unseen but powerful gravity that pulls and sucks me into to these places of heat-lamped, supposedly Far East food stuffs, I seem for the most part, powerless to escape their clutches. They always get me, somehow someway. And such it the case tonight as I roll into the China Star Super Buffet. You gotta’ love a place that has the audacity to call itself “Super.” Not many things, places or people – even fewer restaurants – can get away with that. Superman could, but we’ll see if the China Star Super Buffet lives up to its name.
Now I’ve lived a good part of my life in the South so I’m used to humidity. And humidity is usually a good thing for your hair and your skin and stuff like that. But humidity, especially excessive humidity, even more especially here in the high-country of Flagstaff, Arizona, is usually never a good thing when it comes to a restaurant. Certainly not a Chinese super buffet. Walking into the China Star I feel a wave of humid air hit me. It reminds me of being in Florida, or perhaps Dubba’s home state of Louisiana. And it feels like it too. I think to myself as I walk in “Perhaps this place doubles as a steam room?” I doubt it, but you never know. Wouldn’t be such a bad idea with the Arizona dryness and all. Gross and disgusting, yes, but still not a bad idea. So if you’re ever in Flagstaff and find yourself with a hankering for Chinese cuisine and a simultaneous, no extra charge steam, then this is the place for you.
The tone is set with the China Star the moment I walk through the door. This place is definitely going to be exceptional – probably not a good type of exceptional though. I roll up to the front counter, through the thick humid air, where the cash register is positioned. All the Chinese super buffet’s have the cash register in the front. This way they get you to pay first before you realize that the food sucks and run for the door. They’re smart that way – real smart. Perhaps a Chinese super buffet exists where the cash register isn’t in the front of the restaurant and where you don’t pay first. I’m sure they exist somewhere – kind of like a white unicorn. I just haven’t seen or experienced one. Maybe one day. Maybe.
So I’m there are the cash register, waiting to pay my $7.99 for unlimited trips to the super buffet and one beverage, unlimited refills of course, included. Problem is there is someone already there at the register, an older lady, a bit heavy set, perhaps bordering on rotund, and probably in her later forties to early fifties. I can’t really tell what is going on, other than the fact there is some type of conflict. Turns out as I eavesdrop further, the lady wants her money back. Not a good sign anywhere, especially at a Chinese super buffet. Nobody gets their money back at these places, because everyone knows, or at least should know, that for $7.99 you take what they give you – “super” or otherwise. I mean, where else can you get unlimited quantities of food for, at, or about this price. Well, as I think about it, a lot of places actually:
- Cici’s Pizza
- Ryan’s Family Steak House
- Golden Corral
- Sweet Tomatoes (this place is actually decent)
- Old Country Buffet
So those are just a few. But if you want a more detailed listing and guide, as well as strategy and etiquette, to all things buffet, check out Heesa Phadie’s, extremely comprehensive 2010 All-Inclusive All-You-Can-Eat Buffet Guide or if you’re Twitter inclined you can follow Heesa by clicking here. And for one of the funniest comedy bits on Chinese buffets, check out John Pinette below:
So back to China Star and the brewing front register conflict. Well, to my surprise, the Asian lady behind the register, most likely the owner because she isn’t in black pants and a white shirt like everyone else working the restaurant, readily gives the other woman her money back. I’m a bit surprised by this. I was kind of expecting a full beef and broccoli brawl. Actually, I’m disappointed too. Food, drink and a cat fight for $7.99 is quite a value, regardless of whether the food is crap or not. I think of leaving at this point, but I’m in it too far, too deep. That and I’m too lazy to leave and find another place to chow down at this point. To read an entertaing account about one China Star Super Buffet patron’s much more conflict strewn refund experience, complete with a visit to the China Star by local law enforcement, give a click here.
So the lady gets her money back without any type of altercation (unfortunately) and I pay my $7.99 plus tax and a $1.50 prepaid tip (voluntary on my part of course) and I am then led to a nice booth, the perfect place for me, myself and I to consume copious amounts of Chinese super buffet cuisine. The waiter quickly comes over to the table and asks me what I want to drink. I tell him I want water but then quickly change my mind to iced tea. I might as well get my money’s worth since the drink is included, right? After all, isn’t that what the buffet is really about – getting “your money’s worth”?
The waiter leaves my vinyl-backed seating accommodations to fetch my drink order and then I’m left free to forage about in the world of Chinese super buffet cuisine. That’s one of the great things about the world of Chinese super buffets, after the drink order, you’re free. Free to not have to sit through an endless rendition of some memorized list of “today’s specials” which is so long and convoluted that it leaves me, at the end of the table-side soliloquy, with no earthly idea what the hell was actually said, no less what the hell is actually being served. Free from some suggestive selling, trying to run up the check so his/her tip is larger waiter, asking you “would you like to start off with an appetizer? Or perhaps one of our signature, premium liquor margaritas?” No, actually I wouldn’t. You see, the beauty of the Chinese super buffet is the freedom – after the drinks are ordered you can do whatever the fuck you want – cuisinely speaking of course. All with the security and comfort of a fixed price that you already paid.
So I leave my table. I’m very familiar with this step in buffet-style eating. This is the point where you pick up your little white plate and survey the rows of seemingly endless, prepared-for-the-masses fodder. It kind of reminds me of riding the chair lift at the ski resort. On the way up you get to take a look at all the runs and terrains, filled with expectation, saying to yourself “that runs looks good – maybe I should take that, or that one over there, or that other one there.” And then you get off the lift, point your board (or skis) down slope and swallow up the runs you saw on the way up. And if you don’t like the run you took, then all you have to do is get back on the lift and try a different run next time. But here, instead of fresh powder runs you’re swallowing up what are usually seemingly endless runnings and pilings of foodstuffs all warming themselves in metal, water-heated bins. And if you don’t like something you picked out, you just head back with another one of those little white plates until you find something, anything, that piques your interest.
There’s only one problem, though, with the China Star – the supply of food is anything but endless. Not even close to endless, three, or maybe four, somewhat short rows of foodstuffs. Relatively paltry for an all-you-can-eat buffet. Especially paltry for one that touts itself as “Super.” I feel misled by the whole “super” thing. At best, based on what I see, it should be called the “China Star Average to Small Chinese Buffet.” But definitely not “Super.” Someone should go outside and change the sign. I’d do it, but it’s up really high and I’d probably get arrested. I’ve seen a decent amount of Flagstaff so far, but I have no desire to see the county jail.
Regardless, I go forward with my disappointment, feeling once again like Charlie Brown after Lucy pulled that football from him, taking my white buffet plate and walking about this supposed “super” buffet. “Perhaps,” I think to myself “the quality will make up for the lack of quantity.” I always seem to err on the side of optimism, even when such optimism is a bit misplaced. But it’s hard to see any of the food because the clear glass divider meant to keep people from coughing and doing God only knows what else on the slop below is all fogged up. My view of the super buffet foods is pretty much obscured, but at least I now know why it’s so damn humid in this place. The steam from the warming bins in which all that still-yet-to-taste-my-first-bite of food sits in is causing some type of atmospheric aberration in the China Star restaurant. It’s causing fogginess, and precipitation, almost like rain, as I see drops of water fall from the glass dividers onto the counter surfaces and food below. Like I said before, there are places where humidity is good and expected – the beach or the jungle for instance. But a Chinese buffet is not one of those places.
But to the China Star’s credit, this appears to be a not altogether unexpected occurrence – this issue with humidity and precipitation and condensation. I see an employee, a probably early twenty-something girl of Asian persuasion, somewhat tall, a wet-looking dish rag in hand, whose job it seems is to do nothing but walk around the buffet and wipe the condensation off the glass divider panels. Well I guess that’s one way to handle it. Perhaps not the way I would handle it, but at least I can see the food now before I begin loading it onto my plate.
So now that I can actually see the food, I’m not sure that things actually got better. The food looks kind of aged, like it’s been sitting around for quite some time. I think I liked it better when I couldn’t see the food. Maybe the girl with the dish rag can take a break for a bit and let the condensation rebuild until it gets to the point where I can’t see the food again. But the girl with the dish rag keeps circling about the buffet, wiping away all the moisture, so that every little morsel of Chinese buffet delight is now clearly visible. She’s a good worker, diligent too, quickly wiping away all the errant drops of indoor precipitation.
I take a look at the food again. “Not good,” I think to myself. I’m actually kind of grossed out here. Which is a rarity. It usually takes a lot, a whole hell of a lot for that to happen. I take a deep, humidity-laden breath, and decide to go forward notwithstanding. After all, what’s the worst that can happen – food poisoning, death? But if for some reason I do find myself with a bout of food poisoning, apparently the good folks over at the law firm at Marler Clark – a firm that touts themselves as the “nation’s foremost law firm with a practice dedicated to representing victims of food poisoning” – are the people to call. Who woulda’ thunk that a law firm could be the “foremost law firm” in something like food poisoning. Certainly not me – and I went to law school. Never ceases to amaze me how people can earn a buck in this world of ours.
So after a brief flickering of images and thoughts in my head of my post-China Star food poisoning funeral, my mother sobbing off in the distance, the whole food poisoning specialist law firm of Maller Clark there, and all my friends and family in attendance shaking their heads and whispering to themselves, “he never should have eaten there – he should have known better, everyone knows the Chinese super buffet will kill you sooner or later” I begin to pile a bit of this and some dollops of that onto my white plastic plate. All of it, at least I think, being vegetables. Vegetables make up the bulk of what I eat these day, unless I have a craving for some meat, which doesn’t happen very much as of late. But there really aren’t any “vegetable only” dishes here at the China Star, so I just take vegetables from the dishes that have meat mixed in with them. And it’s really hard to distinguish the meat from the vegetables in some cases. Perhaps that’s because everything – meat, vegetables and all – is swimming in dark Chinese sauces.
Now I’m not really a guy that calls himself a “vegetarian.” No, I’m more like a guy that just doesn’t eat much or really any meat. And it doesn’t bother me if my vegetables are touching meat or swimming in an oily, meat and vegetable and who knows what else is in it sauce. And I’m okay too if I accidently consume a piece of twice-cooked pork with a helping of my vegetables. I’m not going to die. The world is not going to end. I’m not going to be forever tainted and suddenly fall into some type of unrecoverable illness. That kind of stuff doesn’t trouble me at all like it would a lot of people who subscribe to an all or mostly all vegetable diet. Vegetarains and Vegans I think they call themselves. The way I see it, life’s too short to get too worked up on stuff like that. I’ve got other stuff to focus my time and energy on in this life – like seeing how much of the China Star I can put in my stomach. And besides that, we are all just kind of big, walking and talking meat suits anyways. So meat-eater or not, you can’t hate meat or dislike meat too much, because we’re all made up of a bunch of meat. Regardless of whether you eat meat, don’t eat meat or do something altogether else, you’ll probably enjoy the ranting of the comedian below:
So I keep strolling about. Plucking out the vegetables that look interesting and tasty, leaving the meat for someone to follow. And hopefully I haven’t screwed up what I am sure is the precisely calculated meat-to-vegetable ratio cooked up and exactingly crafted by the folks at China Star. So I keep a bit of a low profile as I do this so as not to draw any unwanted China Star attention my way.
Just a few minutes later I arrive back at my spacious booth for one. My iced tea is now sitting there, light on the ice and heavy in dark color. I take a sip. It’s bad iced tea. Really bad. Heavily and overly, bordering on and close to putridly, brewed. I don’t know how you fuck up iced tea. To do so almost requires a deliberate and well-thought out intention to mess it up. In other words you have to try real hard to screw up iced tea. But at this point, nothing is going to deter me from getting the full-on China Star experience. Not even the oh-so-bitter swill they’re trying to pass off as iced tea. Hopefully the tea is not a foreshadowing of what to expect with the food.
Still undeterred by all the obstacles China Star has places in front of me – the “get her money back lady,” the “foggier than San Francisco glass dividers” the “not so super in size buffet” and now the “more bitter than a winter in Chicago iced tea” – I take my first bite of actual food. China Star Super Buffet food. And it’s greasy, but not overly so. And the vegetables, well surprisingly, they taste fresh and crisp. Not overcooked as I would have expected. I’m astonished. Perhaps this super buffet is a bit more “super” than I gave it credit for. Maybe they don’t need to change the sign out front after all. Maybe – but it’s still just the first bite.
Three, or was it four (hell I can’t remember) plates of grilled onions, mushrooms, cauliflower, broccoli and other semi-identifiable vegetables all soaked in a variety of oily and dark, supposedly Chinese sauces, and I’m finished. My stomach is full, my craving for Chinese super buffet food is satiated. I probably plucked out all the vegetables from General Tso’s chicken and whatever other dishes he may lay claim to. Which brings me to a question I’ve always wondered but never taken the time to find an answer to – who in the hell is General Tso anyways? Some fictionalized Chinese buffet mythological figure crafted up by restaurant owning and operating Asians to sell sweet and spicy chicken to the unsuspecting masses? I don’t know for sure, but I did take a few moment to do a little research on the matter of General Tso and his chicken. So for a bit of speculation about General Tso’s chicken and its origins click here. And for a bit about General Tso himself (a/k/a Zuǒ Zōngtáng) click here.
I get my fortune cookie delivered to the table by my wide-grinning waiter. I wonder what he’ so happy about. The cookie tastes okay at best, the fortune is something crappy which I don’t even remember now. I never remember the bad ones, only the good ones. I kind of wish my memory worked that way with ex-girlfriends too, but that’s a whole other discussion. So all in all the China Star was fair to decent. The iced tea really sucked – I took a total of two sips, the first just for taste, the second to actually make sure it did indeed suck. The food, at least the vegetables, was pretty good, or really, good enough. The overall ambience left much to be desired. The relative humidity was excessive. but probably good for my skin. And the selections were scant in comparison with other Chinese buffets.
I don’t know if I’ll ever be back (after all there are about four other Chinese super buffets I noticed in Flagstaff), but all in all China Star was a fairly decent experience as far as super buffets go. It was worth the $7.99 for the experience of it alone. All in all today was a good day, China Star and all.
Later that afternoon/early evening I make my way down the fifty yards or so from my new camp site, number 194, to my old camp site, number 128. And there again I find Bob and N’awlins Man. Bob is as chatty as ever and during our discussions of all things under the fleeting sun and already rising moon I come to learn that his name is not Bob at all, it’s Charlie. “Charlie Brown” actually. I’m not sure if he’s serious or not, but I like “Charlie” better than “Bob” so I’ll just stick with that. Turns out that my N’awlins friend has a real name too, which I think sounds like “Dubba” or at least something phonetically close to that. It’s hard to tell through Dubba’s thick Cajun accent. And Dubba looks a bit sauced this evening. This is confirmed a few minutes later after his middle-of-our-conversation departure to his small, blue, one-man tent, and his shit-eating grin re-arrival a few minutes later with a forty ounce bottle of King Cobra in hand.
So our tri-party conversation begins again – me, Charlie Brown and Dubba. There’s always conversation with these two, and to be honest, I found myself looking forward to it today. I’ve come to like these guys. If nothing else they keep things interesting and entertaining. And tonight’s conversation is no exception. It’s all over the place in terms of topics and content. Ranging from Charlie’s belief in something called Paleo-Seti theory (for an additional link on Paleo-Seti theory click here), which Charlie explains to me is the belief that man originated from some DNA tinkering or perhaps interbreeding with ancient aliens (or maybe both, because isn’t sex and the corresponding act of conception really just some old-fashioned tinkering about and combining of DNA vis-à-vis a penis and a vagina?). Charlie prefaces his broaching of this topic with a “I’m not sure if you believe in this kind of stuff, but…” before he dives into a more detailed discourse about the whole paleo-seti thing. It’s interesting stuff, the whole Paleo-Seti theory. For a bit of video from the man who is supposedly the leading expert in the field of Paleo-Seti theory click on the video below:
And this idea of ancient aliens being directly responsible, whether in whole or part, for the origins of humanity – well it seems no more plausible or implausible to me than the idea of a god that lives in heaven with pearly gates and streets of gold and angels all around or the idea that when I die that there may be 72 virgins waiting for me in the afterlife. Personally, I like my women with a bit more experience to them, so I’d probably prefer it to be 72 sluts rather than 72 virgins. 72 virgins seems like it could be a lot of work and a huge pain in the ass. So yeah, I’m thinking the 72 sluts would actually be the way to go. But beggars can’t be choosers I suppose – even in the afterlife – so I guess I’ll just take whatever I get once I get to the other side.
And at the end of the day, whether you believe in aliens, or angels or 72 virgins, they are all just beliefs. And like many things in life, as we change, as our experiences change, our beliefs tend to change as well. I’ve yet to meet a person who has had the same beliefs from the start to the end of their life. So regardless of my opinions on Charlie Brown’s beliefs, Paleo-Seti theory or otherwise, his beliefs deserve my respect. Just the same as yours, mine or anyone else’s beliefs.
And if you’d like to see a little more about 72 virgins and National Lampoon’s take on the Allah-promised, virginally-infested afterlife click on the video below:
From ancient aliens, interbreeding and the origins of the human race, the conversation dives into a variety of conspiracy theory discussions. Talk about aliens always seems to have a way of leading to conspiracy theories. Dubba voices a strong opinion that he believes the oil crisis of the 1970s was purposefully created by the U.S. Government. His proof is short, but his words long. The bulk of his conclusions springing from his first-hand account and witnessing, some time during the early 1970s, of a flotilla of oil tankers parked off the coast of some state, either Louisiana or Georgia, I believe. But I really can’t understand which state he is referring to as a result of that still-thick Cajun accent of his being continuously mixed with regular and healthy sips of his now half empty bottle of King Cobra.
And the best I can tell, the fact that Dubba spotted all of these oil tankers off the coast during a time when there were mass shortages of oil and long lines and rationing at the gas stations was evidence enough to him that there was a government conspiracy. That the government was purposefully holding back the oil and gas from the American public. According to Dubba there was plenty of oil and gas, it was just that the government was conspiring to keep the truth from the American people and the world in general. I’m not sure as to why the government decided to do this to all of us. I’m not really offended if the government did indeed conspire. I was not even one year old at the time. I tend not to get too offended by things that happened right around or prior to the moment of my conception. Regardless, Dubba doesn’t offer an explanation for why the government, our U.S. government, would do such a dastardly thing to all of us. And I don’t bother to ask him for one. In hindsight, maybe I should have asked. But really, I don’t care much for the reasons, I just care about the conversation and its ability to entertain me, regardless of how much of it is couched in conjecture and speculation – or even, maybe, some truth.
And as I think about it. I honestly don’t know why the government, assuming Dubba’s assertions are actually correct and with merit, would do such a thing then or now. I could understand some energy or commodity traders doing some stuff like that, but not the government. The government doesn’t like shortages and rationing. Because when that kind of stuff happens people get panicked and pissed. And when people get panicked and pissed they want someone to blame – and what better person, or group of persons, to blame than the government. And the government doesn’t like getting blamed for things, and doesn’t like a lot of pissed and panicked people, because that means the status quo and political re-elections and re-appointments are likely to get disrupted if not completely displaced. Pissed and panicked people tend to not re-elect politicians. Pissed and panicked people are hard to control. No government, not even our own U.S. government, likes people who are hard to, or can’t be, controlled. Uncontrollable people are hard to govern, perhaps don’t want or actually need governing. And a bunch of people like that puts the government out of a job, or maybe just in prison. Which might not be a bad thing.
But enough of that. Opinions are like assholes – everyone’s got one. And Dubba’s certainly got one about the whole 1970s oil crisis thing. Regardless, next time I’m at the ocean, or any other semi-large body of water for that matter, I’m going to keep an eye out and see if I notice any governmentally conspired tankers floating about. You never know.
As the night continues to proceed it is obvious that Dubba is in rare form – a least compared to the forms I’ve seen him in previously. The conversation shifts again, this time to an account of Dubba’s family. I learn he has a kid, a son actually, who works in robotic designs for Lockheed Martin. And a wife, well actually an ex-wife he tells me, that works for the same gargantuan defense contractor. Doing what I’m not exactly sure, but from the way Dubba talks about it, it seems important and requiring some smarts. Maybe all that is true, maybe not. Regardless, I allow myself to believe it and suspend any disbelief I may have – kind of like when you read a fiction book or go to the movies and are just along for the fantastical, sensational ride. But Dubba is actually well-spoken and quite intelligent. So this may all very well be true. When he’s not talking about government-created oil shortages or his family ties to Lockheed Martin, I’ve seen him reading whatever books he can get his hands on from the KOA Flagstaff’s small library in the laundry room. Yes, that’s right, they actually have a library at the KOA. So again, why not? Why not a government conspiracy with oil tankers? Why not a son and an ex-wife at Lockheed Martin? And here at the KOA what does it really matter if it’s true or not? To me, it doesn’t. I’m not sure I want to know the actual truth. It might not be as entertaining and interesting as all that I’m hearing tonight. And for a little bit more discussion about the possibility of a conspiracy with respect to the oil and gas shortages of the 1970s click here.
But working against Dubba’s well-spokenness this evening is that big ol’ bottle of King Cobra in his hand. His smarts are starting to slowly erode away with every sip of the famed malt-liquor beverage. Dubba’s earlier, obvious intelligence being displaced by a creeping drunkenness which is not missed on me. After all, I’ve been around a lot of drunk people in my day. How could you not with four years at the University of Florida followed by sixteen years in Atlanta, Georgia? But still, he’s funny, continually dropping, as more time and more conversation passes, a constant and consistent barrage of one-liners and other sarcastic barbs. At one point I find myself thinking, “Dubba should try some stand up comedy.” After all, he’s kept me laughing off and on throughout all of this bizarre and inane, but somehow appealing to me, discourse. No doubt Dubba’s a sharp guy. How he got here, with the Flagstaff KOA as his residence, I don’t know. Perhaps the forties of King Cobra have something to do with it. Perhaps it’s something other. Who knows? Perhaps King Cobra, however many ounces of it’s once majestic forty ounce beginnings are left, has that answer. Next time I sit down with that big ol’ forty ounce bottle of King Cobra I’ll have to ask it and see what it says. King Cobra always leads to interesting conversation and introspections – that and a nasty hangover.
The dialogue eventually winds down. I wind down too. And then I excuse myself. But before I leave Dubba asks me if he can have a buck. Just a single dollar. I was hoping he wouldn’t ask this question, perhaps restoring some modicum of faith and belief, that Dubba was here, living life free and unencumbered, by his choice, by his deliberate and purposefully intention, rather than as a result, in whole or part, of the bottle of King Cobra’s influences or economically restricted realities. But alas, it seems that King Cobra is in charge right now, not Dubba. King Cobra’s got it’s hooks in Dubba. And I don’t mind, King Cobra’s been pretty damn funny and interesting to listen to tonight. But right now King Cobra wants Dubba to shake up some fundage so Dubba can bring more of King Cobra’s forty ounce, malt liquor brethren back to the Flagstaff KOA.
To experience a bit more of all that is King Cobra check out the video below:
But I don’t have a buck. Not a single scratch of paper currency on me. Or even coined currency for that matter. The world of debit cards and credit cards and PayPal probably makes bumming money a bit more challenging in the modern era. So I tell Dubba, “I don’t have any money on me.” And that’s the truth. Someone should really invent a credit card terminal or a stored value card for panhandlers because a lot of people don’t carry cash these days. It would certainly make it easier for the likes of me and Dubba, and folks everywhere, to exchange funds in such situations. Not that I would necessarily give Dubba a buck if I had one. Not that I wouldn’t either. After all, a single dollar for all the entertainment and laughs he provided me this evening is surely a bargain. King Cobra has always been affordable if nothing else.
So maybe I need to talk with the good people over at Visa and MasterCard. Perhaps we could come up with something like the Platinum Pandhandler Card, accepted at campgrounds and highway on-ramps worldwide. Maybe they could throw in a free, weathered and tattered cardboard sign that reads “Visa and MasterCard Accepted Here” as a promotional tie in. I’d use that card. I’d take that sign. Hell, I may need it one day very soon here. And I’m sure all the execs at Visa and MasterCard would be hot on that idea. Hot as the South Pole. But if there’s money to be made and profits to be had, someone in this world will eventually find a way to bring it to market. Money always seems to talk, and talk loudly in this world of ours. Even louder than Dubba after a forty ounce or two of King Cobra. And that’s pretty damn loud.