notes from a man who spends too much time playing video games

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This is where you stick random tidbits of information about yourself.

A Few Points Shy of the High Score
Thursday, March 24, 2005  
THE TAP WATER IN LAS VEGAS is hard. It smells sulpurous, like spoiled eggs. The minerals make it next to impossible to get soap to lather, especially cut-rate bars of hotel soap with the Caesars logo stamped on them.

My first night in Las Vegas I walked about a mile to the nearest convenience mart--it was on the far side of the Barnaby Coast casino--and bought three large bottles of spring water. No way was I drinking that rotten tap water for two days.

It was 7 p.m. Las Vegas time, but 10 p.m. in New York. I felt like I should do something, go someplace, get into some kind of trouble, have some kind of adventure. Instead I ate a lonely $12 salad at this food court in the casino while watching a man with one arm trying to smoke a cigarette and play the nickel slots at the same time. I didn't know anyone in Las Vegas, didn't really know where to go. I found my way back to the Palace Tower, back to my room--no small task considering how confusing Caesar's can be--and got into bed.

I tried to get the TV to work. The TV's interface, like everything else in the casino, was intentionally confusing. I hit the wrong button, and panicked when I realized that I was only one button press away from ordering a $6.95 PPV of that terrible cab-driving movie starring Jimmy Fallon and Queen Latifah. I managed to back my way out of the situation. I wondered how many other poor saps hadn't been as TV savvy as I was.

The TV had a special "24-hour Caesars Palace channel," which showed half-hour infomericials designed to "familiarize our guests with all that Caesars has to offer you." I found this channel strangely compelling, and would watch it more than any other channel during my time in the hotel. I recognized some of the hotel landmarks in the shows--the fountain with Posieden, the oversized statue of David, etc. (And the next day, while going to press conferences and seminars, I noticed landmarks that I'd seen on the TV.)

The TV also had a room-specific channel which was designed to keep me posted on all of the seminars I was supposed to be attending. The channel was very bare bones: just a blank blue screen with a large, old-style Commodore 64 font saying things like SONY WELCOME BREAKFAST EMPERORS COURT 7-9 AM, all with a loop of 80s pop music playing in the background. I found myself checking this channel regularly for updates.

My other favorite channel was channel 74, which also featured 80s pop music, and in big, bold letters simply featured the words THANK YOU. Nothing more. Just THANK YOU. Why I was being thanked wasn't clear...

I felt lonely and cold in the king-sized bed. I monkeyed with the thermostat. I kept the TV on for company. I called Joelle about a million times, but couldn't reach her. I looked out the window at the traffic on the strip, at the synchronized water fountain show that played every 15 outside the Bellagio. Twenty-six floors below, I could see the murky, shimmering lights underneath the water in the trio of Caesar's Palace swimming pools. This wasn't exactly how I'd pictured my "Las Vegas debut" playing out.

I woke up at 5 o'clock the next morning, pulled on some pants and a sweater, and rode the elevator down the casino, looking for coffee. The hotel was surprisingly still alive at that hour, still going. "Everybody Wang Chung Tonight" was playing on the hotel sound system. I passed a man and a woman holding hands. The man wore a baseball cap pulled low on his head. They looked like midwesterners to me. They both had wild eyes. I wondered if they were on coke maybe.

"Hey, nice glasses!" the man shouted.

Though I couldn't be certain, but I was pretty sure he was talking to me. I was the only person within a 20 yard radius of them.

Then the man shouted again. "That's right! Keep on walking, Bon Jovi!"

The couple laughed together. I tried to ignore them, just kept moving. I found a coffee place and bought a $4 cup of "Colombian Supremo." I sat down at one of the little cafe tables and puzzled over the Bon Jovi comment. Two weeks later, I'm still puzzling over it. For the life of me, I have absolutely no idea what he were talking about.

I went back to my room, showered, dressed, and went down to the SONY WELCOME BREAKFAST EMPERORS COURT. I filled my plate at the breakfast buffet with watery scrambled eggs, potatoes, and bacon. Probably too much bacon. Once my plate was full, I turned to face the room. Everyone was gathered in small groups at the tables, talking excitedly with one another. Most of them wore freshly pressed suits. I regretted my blue jeans and sneakers, cursing myself out for not dressing better. I had no idea where to sit. I couldn't deal with glad-handing anyone this early in the morning, so I found a table on the far side of the room, sat down, and ate while pretending to be fascinated with my press kit.

"Mind if I sit here?" an older man asked. He was in his 50s. Well dressed. Expensive eyeglasses. He smelled like aftershave. He introduced himself. Shook my hand. I recognized his name. He was the host of the entire event. A man who was in charge of Sony North America.

I didn't want to be having breakfast with this man. Did not want him to see my jeans, or all the bacon on my plate, or feel my sweating palms. We had a nervous conversation about steroid use. I launched into a diatribe about Barry Bonds for some inexplicable reason. He let me ramble, let me talk myself into a hole, didn't even toss me a goddamn line.

Thankfully, one of his assistants tapped him on the shoulder. "It's show time," he said, then went up to the podium to deliver his opening remarks to the room.

The rest of the morning was kind of a blur. Me, looking at electronics, bored out of my mind, trying to have conversations with tech people, hoping they wouldn't be able to see how ignorant I was, hoping they wouldn't be able to see my indifference. Feigning interest can be a very soul-sapping endeavor.

I kept trying to introduce myself to other people, kept trying to connect with someone, anyone. People were pleasant enough, but I couldn't seem to find my way to the inside of any of these cliques, couldn't participate in these conversations about megapixels and CRT vs. LCD vs. Plasma. Suddenly, I was in third grade all over again, and I couldn't figure out how the hell I'd gotten here.

Depressed, I wandered out of the line show, wandered out by the trio of swimming pools, and suddenly realized that everyone around me--including the women--especially the women--were topless. Boobs were everywhere. Each woman I saw I thought, Are those bare boobs I'm seeing? I tried not to stare. Tried not to gape. Sure enough, those were indeed bare boobs I was seeing. You don't see bare boobs every day. At least I don't. Apparently, the more upscale hotels in Vegas have secluded topless sections. Very European, I suppose.

I went back to my room. I figured out the time difference, and decuded that it was a good time to phone Galvin. He answered on the first ring. I tried to tell him what was going on, tried to explain my feelings of alienation and loneliness. "If anyone can figure out how to go to Las Vegas and not have a good time," I said, "it's me."

Galvin sighed in a tired way. He didn't sound in the least bit surprised. "Hey," he said, "you said it. Not me."

10:27 AM

Thursday, March 17, 2005  
Was in Las Vegas last week. I'd never been to Las Vegas before. Never had any desire to go to there, since I have absolutely no interest in gambling. But it was a business trip. Someone else was picking up the tab. So when I was asked to go, I said, "why not?"

Truth is, I've always secretly wanted to go on a business trip. It sounds so adult. Responsible people go on business trips; people who deal with serious matters. I hate it when friends who work for big corporations come back from conventions or retreats and complain.

The night before my trip, I drank half a case of beer. I always do this before I fly. I hate flying. And the only way I can get to sleep the night before I fly is by drinking.

On the way to the airport the next morning, I was riding in a gypsy cab on the pot-holed Grand Central Parkway when I felt a shit coming on. That's the way my hangovers seem to manifest themselves these days--in an impending shit. Like a suicide hotline counselor, I can spend hours trying to bargain with the shit, trying to keep it where it belongs, trying to talk it down from its ledge. "Don't do anything crazy," I tell the shit. "Don't do anything that will hurt the ones you love." The car unfortunately hit a series of Baghdad-sized pot-holes, and suddenly--"Don't do it!"--I lost it.

Well, I thought, this is a hell of a way to arrive in Las Vegas. With shit-filled pants. In some strange way, it seemed entirely appropriate. Instead of telling the car service driver to turn around, I decided to press on with my day.

I flew on America West out of Kennedy. It was an old plane. I noticed that it still had ashtrays in the armrests, which meant it was very old. It creaked as we climbed into the sky. As soon as the captain turned off the seatbelt sign, I went to the bathroom to check my pants. Nothing. Nothing. Hallelujah. Somehow, the shit gods must have heard my desperate prayers. The whole thing had been a false alarm. A cautionary tale. I made my usual promise to myself to never drink again...

King Arthur was the movie. I'd forgotten to bring headphones. No way was going to spend $5 to rent them. So I sat there for two hours trying to figure out what Keira Knightley was saying, reading her big lips.

I bought a cheeseburger for $5 from the stewardess. It cheered me up a little. The stewardesses were old, like grandmothers. I asked this gray-haired bespectacled one for a Pepsi and a glass of water. "Only if you show me your I.D.!" she said. Old ladies always flirt with me for some reason.

I get dehydrated on planes. I have to suck on ice cubes the whole time or else I dry out like E.T. in that part of the movie where he's sick and turns white, like an old dog turd. The ice cubes smelled like chemicals. Like disinfectant. I cracked them between my teeth anyway.

As soon as we landed, I could smell the cloud of second-hand smoke blowing out of the terminal. And I could hear slot machines going, the urgent ting-ting-ting-ting-ting, that electronic chittering sound, which sounds like squirrels burrowing. I found a man dressed in a black suit and cap holding up a sign with my name on it in the baggage claim area. "So you're from New York, eh?" he said, eyeing me suspiciously.

He led me out to an idling shuttle. It was filled with convention-goers who were debating the merits of plasma TVs versus LCD TVs. I found a seat at the back. No one said hi to me.

Almost immediately we got into an accident. The shuttle driver was making a left-hand turn, and the shuttle kissed off a taxi for a split second. "Whoa!" someone shouted. "You hit him!" "We've had an accident!" "Stop!" The shuttle driver didn't even slow down. Neither did the taxi. Apparently these sorts of accidents happen all the time in Las Vegas.

The shuttle dropped us off at Caesar's Palace. I checked in, and despite the detailed directions from the concierge, immediately got lost. I was looking for the "Palace Tower." I wandered past a massive fountain filled with plaster sea nymphs, then an oversized replica of David. Everything done in this faux Roman architecture. I passed a sandwich shop called SNACKUS MAXIMUS. A bar called NEPTUNE'S GROTTO. Another one called CLEOPATRA'S BARGE.

My room was on the 26th floor overlooking three swimming pools and all of downtown Las Vegas. The room was huge and swank. It had two bathrooms. A jacuzzi tub. A double shower. A bidet. Nothing says "class" like a bidet. This was easily the best hotel room I'd ever been in. I felt so overwhelmed by the square footage of the room, that I immediately felt small and alone. A bottle of spring water was sitting on the nightstand. I was about to open it when I read the tag on the side of the bottle that said, "OPENING THIS BOTTLE WILL RESULT IN A $3.95 ROOM CHARGE." The room was comped, but all the incidentals would go on my credit card. And bottled water was an incidental. Tap water would have to do.
(PART 1 OF 2)

9:56 AM

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