Saturday, March 30, 2013


Happy Easter weekend to you all.  Not being a churchgoer myself, I won't really be celebrating with the masses (unless you count this ham biscuit I'm eating a day early), so I'll wait until the Kentucky Derby to get my fix of women wearing ridiculous hats in public. 

However, if I were attending services, I hear there's a really good minister down in South Texas who puts on a helluva sermon, and well, that would be my choice.

Anyhow, I'm glad the weekend is here.  I'm going to try to do some more writing and such, along with the usual housekeeping chores, instead of being outside having fun.  I've felt a little under the weather this week, drained really, so I'm ok with the pouring rain that we've had for the past couple of days.  I was going to go on a night hike last night at Beaman Park (my favorite place to hike in all of Nashville), but 1) the weather was totally crappy, and 2) I couldn't find my headlamp.  The place I was going was DEEP in the woods, and while the moon is almost full, it's completely overcast, so there would be no light at all--I would've been stumbling around in the woods, tripping over roots, splashing through unseen puddles, basically having a miserable time.  So I opted out. 

Speaking of housekeeping, one hint for the five of you who still leave comments.  You only need to submit them once.  They go into a moderation queue, and stay there until I can get to a computer and approve them.  Loading them three and four times doesn't help or speed up the process.  Say it once, with feeling, of course, but then you'll be good to go.  Midweek, I can't really get to them till late at night, since Blogger is blocked at work, and so is the local wi-fi network (they change the passwords like the entry codes at Fort Knox, so only the higher-ups have access.  On my desk, most sites that are unapproved are blocked.  And the mobile Blogger app on my iPhone doesn't allow me to approve comments (yet), so while it may seem that I have forsaken thee, I have not.

As far as my weekend goes, tonight I'm hanging out with the hippies down in Cool Springs, seeing some sort of Battle of the Bands or American Idol wannabe show (but they're using real musicians with guitars, not pitch-shifters, sequencers, and drum machines, so it should be a hundred percent more watchable than all that crap on prime time TV).  Probably gonna spend the night at their place, sleeping at the bottom of a pug pile, then I think we're having a family brunch tomorrow.

Other than that, it's all up in the air.  I have no plans, no commitments, and no meetups to go to.  But I do have that whole book thing hanging over me, and I'd really like it to be finished by Labor Day.  That's the goal, but knowing what I don't know, that might be a little optimistic.  So I'll have to put some time in at the keyboard, even if it ends up where I write twenty pages and can only use six paragraphs, which is likely. 

Peace out until sometime next week--


Friday, March 29, 2013

Sounds Easy, But It's Not

Taking a sabbatical away from the keyboard for the past year or more was exactly what I needed.  Not only did I need a break, but life's ups and downs weren't nearly as interesting as times past.  I mean, seriously, who wants to read about me sitting in a cube all day, fixing co-worker's screw-ups, doing busy work, and trying to bring some sense of order to my corner of a company that is built on chaos?

I don't even like talking about my job, much less writing about it, and since I have to spend so much time there, I've truly been at a loss for things to write about.

But even though I can't help but think of it as a jail sentence--the penalty I must do for spending over five years living it up in Sin City--I've reached a sort of detente with the sorry realization that I'm kind of stuck there for the time being.  The economy is still in the shitter and the benefits are just too good to give up.  And as much as I bitch about the money, it's actually been pretty good so far this year. But I know I'm going before figurative parole board next March, if not sooner, and I will get my walking papers.

In the meantime, I'm trying to make the most of my time here in Nashville.  I moved here because it's where the family is, and I appreciate that, but I'm thinking that I may move on once again.  Of course it's a LONG ways away--my plans are pretty much set in stone through October of 2014.  Having the health issues I've had these past couple of years, coupled with living way the eff out in the woods--a geographical oddity, forty miles from everywhere--my social outlets have been somewhat lacking. 

So, and I may have mentioned this before, I signed up with the Nashville Meetup groups.  I think I'm actually a member of about five or six sub-groups, but I spend most of my spare time with the Writer's Group.  Oh, there's a bunch of other ones I meet with on occasion (I know I've ranted about the hiking group and the full moon hike), and I joined a new one recently called Fit Journey, which is basically me and about a dozen women, all of us kind of chubby, huffing and puffing our way around the Couchville Lake greenway trail.  Basically, it's kind of like Weight Watchers without the fees and weigh-ins, and it's great to hike with a group when I'm nowhere close to being the most out-of-shape person in attendance.  I think that next weekend we're having a healthy-recipe potluck dinner, too, which I'm looking forward to. 

I've also joined a Nashville 40+ Singles meetup, and although I don't really have much as far as expectations are concerned, it would be nice to meet some new people outside of work and family.  I think the first thing I've signed up to attend is a Sunday afternoon jazz concert in a few weeks, followed by a group dinner at a restaurant in Germantown.  I'll let y'all know if I come away with some digits...

But my favorite thing has been the writers group.  I've attended meetings all over town, ranging from general writers chat to memoirs and personal non-fiction essays, to my favorite, a group called 'The Craft of Writing'. They are all helpful, and it's a real eye-opener to attend some of these gatherings.  First of all, there are some really talented people out there.  Of course, there are some real head-shakers in the groups too, but that comes with the territory.  Luckily, for the most part, the sub-genres are pretty well defined, so I don't have to sit through too many people sharing their own version of Twilight or a running re-telling of their World of Warcraft experiences. 

While I love to share my material and get feedback from people more talented than I, it's hard to sit though some of the stories that just make me scratch my head.  I try not to be to harsh, but at heart I'm still kind of a misanthrope that bears the cross of impatience at all times.  These past couple of weeks have been especially trying. 

The other day I went to my Memoirs group at an East Nashville coffee shop, for the second time, and while there were a couple of people there I could truly learn from, there were a couple of others that made the whole experience about as enjoyable as a trip to the dentist.

One lesbian couple had, at some point in the past, gone to some sort of new-agey writers workshop that had absolutely nothing to do with writing memoirs, and insisted on sharing their elementary-level exercises on how to figure out exactly what the writer is talking about. 

No thanks, if I want you to figure out what I'm talking about, you can read my whole essay, not fold each page into quarters, draw a circle around the middle where the lines come together and look for key words inside the circle.  If you can't understand what I'm trying to say, that's fine.  I'm ok with some people 'not' getting it.  The cool kids do.

I believe I even got called out for rolling my eyes and shaking my head.

Then there was yet another couple there who really didn't have anything to contribute, the husband making a point of saying he wrote 'on a higher level than this group', yet kept interrupting as other people were doing their reading, while the wife just wanted to market herself as a ghostwriter for old people.  She told us that she writes memoirs for the elderly, but it seemed to me that what she was doing was following a fill-in-the-blank formula found in dozens of workbooks readily available on Amazon. Hey, I say god bless you if you can carve out a niche and make some money doing what you love, but since I wasn't getting anything from it, my attention completely shut down after about thirty seconds.  Thankfully the group organizer had the stones to say "Hey, that's not what this group is about, we're not here to share already-published works or try to generate business".  They were a bit miffed, but it was wonderful that somebody put the brakes on that nonsense before it got out of hand.

While I was a little disappointed with the distractions of people wasting a good chunk of my afternoon, I still came away with some good feedback and I chopped my Foreword back to just a few paragraphs and the rest of it became the kernel of Chapter One. So the day wasn't a total bust.  I've also spent the better portion of the past two days writing yet another chapter, and even though it drove me crazy, two thousand words and four pages later, I was done.  I sent it to our group organizer, and she promised to look it over this weekend. 

So I'm finally on my way.  All those Vegas stories are going to become a book.  And even though a good chunk of them are already written, the hard part is coming up with the thread that ties them all together so that it's not just a series of copied-and-pasted blog posts.  Of course they need to be edited, clarified, and tightened up, so I've got my work cut out for me.

In the meantime, I've been squeezing in as many of those Great Courses lectures that I can fit into my already-packed schedule.  The first one I tackled, Building Great Sentences, is amazing in it's complexity.  I've got the first 12 lectures done, and I will admit that they're a little tough--not that they're boring, far from it.  But they are technical, and even though I know most of the material intrinsically (I've been doing it for years), there is still a lot to think about. I may have to watch 'em twice.

I'm also really enjoying the Writing Creative Nonfiction series, too.  I'm about five or six lectures in on that one, and like that guy in Depeche Mode said, I just can't get enough.  After each half-hour lecture I feel inspired to sit down at the keyboard and let it rip.  Of course, some of the stuff that makes it to the screen is trite, lame, and downright embarrassing, but I figure that it's like anything else--it's a numbers game.  You throw enough spaghetti at the refrigerator, eventually some is gonna stick.

So that's what I've got going on in my life these days.  I work, I take walks, I watch lectures, I attend meetings, and I sit at my keyboard trying to write a book that doesn't come off as being too snarky, which sadly, is my default setting.

It's a hard thing, trying to tap the well of creativity.  Anybody can write a laundry list of experiences, but it takes an artist to tell a good story.



Sunday, March 24, 2013

Looking For Inspiration

It's a cold, foggy, and dreary Sunday afternoon, and I'm sitting in an East Nashville coffee shop, sipping the strongest hazelnut latte one could possibly imagine while getting my money's worth with the free broadband.  Usually, the background noise works wonders for generating content at the keyboard, but today I'm drawing a blank.

I woke up early this morning, having fallen asleep a couple of hours earlier than usual last night.  I put on a pot of coffee and cranked out about three or four pages of what I hope is the Foreword of my first book. 

Having taken a break for a few hours and then looking at it again in the cold light of day, I'm just not satisfied.  But I'm down here at the Portland Brew East, getting ready to attend a Memoirs meetup with the Nashville Writers Group, and I'm hoping somebody with more experience and talent will not only give some welcome critique, but maybe point me in the right direction, too. It's not that I'm lost, but I don't want to waste my time writing junk.  I know where I want to go, I'm just not sure how to get there. 

Writing is hard.

Don't let anyone tell you differently.  I admire the hell out of these people that can crank out novel after novel, you know, the guys like Grisham and Baldacci who make millions selling paperbacks at Hudson News in airport terminals around the world.  While I have no aspirations to take a shot at writing the Great American Novel, I'd really like to get a couple of memoirs done.  And while everyone talks about how awesome it is to take that first step in journey of a thousand miles by deciding to actually write a book, nobody says shiat about that second step where you have to actually, you know, get something done and create something worth reading.  Deciding to do something is easy.   Actually doing it can be a real pain in the ass.

So here I sit, drinking my overpriced hazelnut-flavored motor oil, hoping that somebody I haven't met yet can steer me in the right direction.

More in a bit...


Thursday, March 21, 2013

It's Been Far Too Long...

March is always a great month to get away to Vegas.  Well, I've always believed it to be.  The weather is usually nice, and coming off of a crappy winter anywhere else in the country, what could be better than escaping to America's Playground for a few days to shake the winter blues, indulge in some long-overdue buffoonery, and maybe drop a bet or two?

Sadly for me, once I left Vegas back in August of 2010, I never really looked back.  I'd pretty much had my fill by then--the shine was off the diamond and having lived and worked there for six years, that chapter of my life was in the rear-view mirror.

Sometimes I missed it.  Well, I didn't miss the traffic, the ever-present payday loan joints and massage parlors on every corner, or being regularly hit up for a ride, money, or anything else every time I got out of my car while running my daily errands. But sometimes I missed the casino environment--the sights, sounds, and even smells of people cutting loose and having a good time, not worrying about the next day or the next week, only concerned with the next turn of a card or the next roll of the dice. It's an experience like no other, and even though one can get used to it--and maybe even a little tired of it--the thrill of it never really goes away completely.

Even though the thrill might've been missing in action for me, I always figured I'd get back to Vegas 'sometime'.  My buddies keep suggesting get-togethers, but I've always had excuses to avoid going back--health issues, work, not enough bankroll, and my long-range goal of quitting my job next year and hitting the Appalachian Trail kind of trumps everything else.

But they are a persistent lot.  A few weeks ago, around midnight, I was lying in bed and my phone started blowing up. I let it go to voicemail the first time, but then it started buzzing letting me know that I had text messages, too.  So I relented, picked it up, and looked to see what all the ruckus was about.  Then it rang again.  It was my old buddy Cool Pacific, somewhere on a business trip, sitting in a hotel bar, a few cocktails in him, when he decided that I'd been away from Vegas for far too long.

After a brief conversation, the plan was that I'd bring my ass to Vegas without argument, and he'd cover the trip.  All I needed was a bankroll and swimming trunks. He had tons of miles and comps on the books, so room, food, and flights were all taken care of, all I had to do was show up.

So I crawled out of bed, found a flight that would work, and a few minutes later there was a confirmation in my inbox.  Of course, after that it was impossible to sleep, so the next day at work was kind of a pain in the ass.  Well, except for that part where I scheduled a few days off a couple weeks away.

Once I knew I was going, I had mixed emotions.  Part of me wanted to call everyone and tell them, and part of me wanted to keep it a secret and just show up unannounced.  I decided to keep it under wraps, if only to be able to enjoy the trip and not have to schedule out blocks of time to see everyone.  I did, however, call my old Schwab buddies in Phoenix to let them know I'd be there, but only Eddie W was able to make the trip up that weekend.

The next couple of weeks were quite different than trips past.  I wasn't bouncing off the walls with anticipation, I wasn't visualizing everything we'd be doing that first night, and I wasn't going crazy staring at the clock and the calendar wishing that they'd move faster. It was more like, "man, I'm so busy for the next ten days, but at the end of that I'll be going to Vegas, so I got that going for me, which is nice..."

In a nod to planning, however, I decided to get a rental car while we were there instead of having CoolP pay for cabs everywhere.  First of all, I was getting into town several hours before him, and wanted to drive out to my old stomping grounds for the evening, and also, I don't drink nearly as much as I used to, so cabs wouldn't be needed.  I certainly knew my way around town, and if I were sober, we could save that expense.  So I booked a car at Thrifty for four days, getting a pretty good deal in the process.

As the trip got closer, the anticipation grew, but nothing like previous jaunts to Vegas.  Yes, I was excited to go, but more excited to see old friends than to 'do Vegas'.  I could've been going to Bakersfield for all the excitement I showed, but that would've been fine if that's where all my old friends were going to be.

Thursday morning dawned bright and early, and I awoke with no help from the alarm clock.  I was packed and ready to go for the most part, just needed to unplug the laptop and put the phone charger in my backpack.  I showered, shaved, threw the luggage in the trunk, and headed down to the airport.  I made a quick stop at the bank to take out $500 in cash, then swung by Bass Pro Shop to pick up some new cargo shorts (all of my summer clothes were much too big, and although it was only 25 degrees in Nashville that morning, it was going to be 84 degrees in Vegas when I landed).  I found my way to the economy parking lot, and just as I found a spot, the shuttle bus showed up.  Instead of making me lug my bags to the proper bus stop, he waited for me there at the trunk of my car while I ditched the sweatpants I was wearing for the new cargo shorts, giving everyone else a show while I changed pants in the parking lot.  Heck, when I finally got on the bus and stowed my luggage, the lady in the seat across from me was kind enough to help me remove the tags, too.

I checked the bags, got my boarding pass, and was on my way to the gate in no time at all.  I had almost two full hours to kill, so I wandered over to the Blue Burrito Grille to nibble on some chips and salsa while starting on the latest paperback offering from David Baldacci, The Innocent.

The flight to Vegas was non-stop, luckily, and I scored an aisle seat with nobody sitting next to me.  The guy sitting by the window slept the entire time, so I got a good solid three hours of reading in with no interruptions except for the flight attendant and her snack basket.

Not having a window seat, I really didn't see anything upon arrival except for Hoover Dam and the new bridge, and that's when the realization struck that I was finally 'home'.  The flight landed about fifteen minutes early, and the luggage carousel was already circling by the time I got downstairs.  I only had to wait a couple of minutes for my bags to arrive and barely had time to snap a picture to let everyone know that I'd arrived safely.

I got the last seat on the bus to the rental car pick-up, but the line at Thrifty was ridiculous.  I'll never understand why it takes so many people ten or fifteen minutes to make a two-minute transaction, whether it be at the rental car counter or the front desk at the hotel.  So far, that was my only gripe of the trip.

Once I got to the counter, I was done in record time, turned around to the still-waiting crowd and said "See--it didn't even take as long as having sex!" which got a chuckle from the ladies in line behind me...  I got upstairs, showed my credentials, and was presented with the biggest POS Mitsubishi on the lot. No upgrade for me--no Dodge Charger, no Chrysler 300, hell, not even a Ford Fusion. I mean, it ran, but it was definitely a candidate for the rental car hospice.  It already had 30,000 miles on it and sounded like a box of angry bees when I started it up.  And compared to my bad ass Challenger sitting back home in Nashville in the economy lot, it was a gutless turd, too.  But it was transportation, and it had air-conditioning, so I was on my way.

I jumped on the 215, and instead of heading towards the Strip, I went east towards Hendertucky, my old neighborhood.  My phone was blowing up again, this time my old buddies from Sunset Station wondering where I was. I told them I'd be there by 4:00, and I rolled in about two minutes early.

I parked on the roof of the parking garage, like I used to do, and I'd be lying if I said I didn't check to see if Kimmy's car was there.

It wasn't.

But I hit the elevator and retraced my steps to the poker room, just like I'd done hundreds of times in the past.  Of course on the way I passed one of the biggest pieces-of-shit annoying players that I used to hate.  She didn't recognize me, but confirming my misanthrope status, the first thought in my mind was "Gee, I thought she'd be dead by now"

But I rolled in and surprised most of the folks there--they had no idea that I'd be back in town.  Two and a half years was far too long, and although I wanted to play some poker for a bit while waiting for my friends to show up, I had to visit with all the old players and such and catch up on the latest gossip.  Since there wasn't an open seat at any of the games, they put me on the waiting list, and I wandered out to the pit to play some Pai Gow and maybe see some of my old co-workers.

It was still day-shift, so I only knew a few of the folks working, but I sat down at a Pai Gow table where one of my friends was dealing, and for the next half-hour or so we caught up on all the latest gossip and whereabouts of the old gang, and I think I made about $14 playing.

I colored up when they paged me back to the poker room, and I got into a 4-8 game while waiting for the rest of my buddies to show up.  I think I made another $16 or so before James arrived, not really anything interesting to speak of, but happy to take the money and head to the bar with him.

We ordered a few drinks at the Gaudi Bar in the middle of the casino, and I found a 9-6 Jacks or Better machine to put a twenty in to get the drinks comped. We chatted for a bit, and while I slowly played video poker, I managed to double my money to $40.  I cashed out, and by then the plans were to meet some other friends across the street at Sierra Gold, just like old times.

So we headed over there for dinner, getting a table for four, and pretty soon my old poker buddy Dave showed up, as did another former Sunset poker dealer, Lorna.  So the four of us ordered dinner, trading old stories and gossip, catching up on each others past couple of years.  I had some sort of crazy-good Asian BBQ'd shrimp, and made the mistake of ordering a beer.  They brought me a HUGE stein full of Newcastle, and although it was good, it would've taken me a week to drink.  I think I got about a third of it down before waving the white flag.

After finishing our meal, we changed tables and went out to the patio, and it was such a perfect evening outside--the smokers smoked, and we told more stories, and time flew buy.  Eventually, it was about 9:00 pm and CoolP texted me saying he was making his way to the Tropicana right then.  I texted back saying I'd be there in less than a half an hour.  I said goodbye to my old poker crew, telling them I'd be back in the neighborhood on Sunday, then headed for the Strip.

Luckily, the Tropicana is probably the closest Strip casino to Sunset Station, and there wasn't much traffic that night, so I got there pretty quickly.  I gave the car to the valet, the luggage to the bellman, and found CoolP about a minute later wandering the casino.

We grabbed a couple of seats at a $10 Pai Gow table, and the weekend was officially underway!

I think we played for about an hour or so, laughing our asses off just like old times, hitting on the sixty-year old waitress who, once she got that green chip, came back every two or three minutes to make sure we were properly refilled.  I told CoolP that I'd need to get up to my room and have my bags sent up before we got too stupid to remember, so I took the room keys he'd procured for me, and hit the elevator.  I got to my room, but something was amiss.  It looked like I'd already been robbed, but none of my stuff had been there yet.

Clearly the maid had never gotten around to cleaning the room after the last guy checked out.  I went back downstairs, told CoolP what happened, and he headed back to the front desk.  A few minutes later, he came back telling me that I'd be staying in a Bungalow room instead.  Score!

A few words of background about the Trop may be in order.  First of all, I will freely admit that the place has been a dump forever.  Well, about the time I was going all Nick Cage and Elisabeth Shue, the new owners decided not to implode the place and start over, but just rope it off sections at a time and just take it down to the studs and rebuild.  So now they've got a Havana-in-the-50s, Miami-in-the-60s vibe going on that they pull off extremely well.  Anyone familiar with that show on Starz, Magic City, will know exactly what I'm talking about.  Kinda like if the Rat Pack hung out in Miami instead of Las Vegas. 

Anyhow, the Bungalow rooms are in the old three-story 'motel' wing that lines the parking lot.  From the outside, it doesn't look like much, but the room was over-the-top awesome.  Maybe I had no expectations, but when I got there I was blown away how not only nice my room was, but how big, too.  And of course it had a small balcony.  Unfortunately, since it was a last-minute fix, I got one facing the Excalibur, overlooking the parking lot, instead of the much cooler ones overlooking the pool.  Didn't matter--I loved the room and wouldn't hesitate to stay there again.  The bed was every bit as comfy and big as the ones at MGM and Caesars, but for the price, it can't be beat. And it decor kind of reminded me of the rooms at Red Rock, although more retro-cool and less Euro-trash.

The funny thing is, when we set this up, CoolP had offered me a room at either Caesars Palace, Planet Hollywood, or the Trop, and since I didn't want to be that guy, I told him to keep the nicer hotel for himself and I'd slum it at the Tropicana.  So when he saw the room, he said he got jacked--my room was far nicer than his place at the P-Hol.  I believe that right then and there he decided that the next dudes trip we take, we'll set up HQ there at the Trop.

Anyhow, I got the bags dropped off, and we decided to walk over to the MGM to play a little Spot the Hooker and smoke some cigars.  I unpacked a couple of Partagas, grabbed a cutter and torch lighter, and we were on our way.  I had a spring in my step because by then it was after midnight and after my first day in Vegas, I was already up over a hundred bucks.  Woot!

We didn't gamble there at MGM, we just headed straight for the same lounge we always go to.  I can't remember if it was called 'Misu' or 'Suri', but we made the obvious Mizzou joke.  We found a couple of seats on the lower level and ordered a round of cocktails.  We slowly enjoyed a couple of fine stogies and had several rounds of drinks while I filled CoolP in on all of the details of the trials and tribulations of the past couple of years.

Yeah, I'm lucky to be here, and my lack of blogging has left a lot of holes and questions for my long-term readers, I realized.  But we had a great time catching up, and even though we weren't gambling and acting stupid--like we've been known to do--we had a great time catching up.  Had my trip ended right then and there, I would've called it a success.

Around 3:30 or so, CoolP was fading fast--he'd been working his ass off all week in order to make the side trip to Vegas, so we finally called it a night.  He wandered back down to the P-Hol and walked back to the Trop, declining the two propositions I got in the half-mile walk from the lounge to my room.

I slept like a rock for a good two-and-a-half hours, but like a dumbass, I'd forgotten to turn the alarm off on my iPhone.  So at 6:30 in the morning, I was wide awake again.  Although my body told me I needed the sleep, my brain was screaming DUDE--IT'S YOUR SECOND DAY IN VEGAS!!!! GET THE HELL OUT OF BED!!!

So I got up and took a shower.

That reminds me of another reason to sing the praises of the Tropicana.  First of all, they have combination alarm clock/iphone charger/stereo speakers on the nightstand.  I love that.  That alone will get me to come back.  And also, in the Bungalow rooms, they ripped out the old tub-shower combination and put in huge tile-covered showers, big enough for you and a couple of friends.  But not only that, while they may have rebuilt from the walls out, the plumbing remains the same, so there's none of that low-flow shower crap so prevalent in the new joints.  It was like showering under a fire hose.  A hot, luxurious fire hose.  I really dug the shower there.  Basically, I really liked everything about the room, and next time I'm back in Vegas, I'm booking a Bungalow room at the Trop.  Done deal.

I got dressed, grabbed a few more cigars, and headed down to the casino.  As I was heading down the elevator, I realized that I was experiencing a typical Vegas moment--I was much too tired, but I was still freshly scrubbed and ready to squeeze as much as I could out of the coming day.  I should've stayed in bed and slept for a few more hours, but the siren song of the Strip was calling my name, and I had to answer.

I stopped at the new Starbucks that they'd put between my room and the casino, overpaid for a hazelnut latte, and took a lap around the pit.  The Pai Gow table wasn't open yet, but the $5 dice table seemed to be calling my name.  I bought in for a hundy, and after almost an hour, I'd more than doubled up.

I cashed out after a quick point-seven-out, and decided that even though it was only 8:30, I'd call up CoolP and see when and where he wanted to meet.  He said he'd been down in the Heart Bar drinking Bloody Marys and playing video poker for the last hour, waiting for my lazy ass to get up out of bed.

Only in Vegas.

So I told him I'd be down there in a jiffy.  I cashed out and made my way over to Planet Hollywood--I said I'd walk, but he did it the night before and said it was a lot further than we remember, just to take the car instead, so I drove.  No traffic on the Strip at that hour, so I got there in no time.

We met up, briefly, and while he still had action going on the video poker machine, that didn't interest me, so I found an empty $15 Pai Gow table and played for about an hour, earning about $50 in the process.  I then went on a string of increasingly frustrating pushes, so I said the hell with it and headed to the bar for coffee and Baileys while CoolP played video poker.  I think we hung out there till around 11:00 or so, then decided that we'd spend the day with a cabana at the Tropicana pool.   Of course, it was like pulling teeth to cash in my chips when we left.  There it was, a Friday on the Strip, and the geniuses at Planet Hollywood only had one person working in the cage while the line was at least fifty people deep.

Eventually I got my cash and we headed back to the Trop.  While I went upstairs to grab some swim trunks, he went out to the pool to secure proper accommodations for gentlemen of leisure such as ourselves. I called Eddie and told him where to meet us, as he was driving up from Phoenix that morning and was on the road somewhere in the middle of the desert at the time.

As I left the room, I met my attractive across-the-hall neighbor, who was leaving at the same time.  It turned out that she wanted to go to the pool too, but had forgotten to pack a swimsuit.  I told her of our cabana and where to find us, and that if she wanted to come on by, she wouldn't have to pay for drinks.  She said that she absolutely would, if she were able to procure proper attire in the next couple of hours.

I got down to the pool and was glad to see that we had a smaller private cabana off in the corner, but it was already fully stocked with buckets of ice, water bottles, energy drinks, citrus, mixers, and a bottle of rum.  And of course a young hottie at our beck-and-call to keep our glasses full and our ice unmelted.

Another nice surprise was the rows and rows of bikini-clad talent surrounding us for us to gaze upon. We honestly had no expectations for the Trop pool, but like everything else, it was much better than we could've imagined.  CoolP's only complaint is that they seemed to all be in their mid-20s instead of the much-easier-to-close-the-deal-with uber-milfs.  But none of that really mattered, we were just there to enjoy the great weather (and it was PERFECT), cool off in the pool, empty a bottle of rum, smoke some cigars, and avoid taking a beating at the tables. Oh, and maybe appreciate the scenery, too.

Mission accomplished.

 At the Tropa, Tropa-Cabana.  The hottest spot north of Havana...

At some point, after a few rounds of rum-and-diets with lime, CoolP decided it would be a good idea to order some grub.  I concurred, and while I wandered off to the men's room, he told our waitress to bring both the shrimp and cracked crab, just like Winthorpe  and Billy Ray did.  Unfortunately, they don't offer cracked crab at the Tropicana pool, so we went with shrimp cocktails and cheese sticks instead.

They hit the spot, and we spent the next several hours slowly getting drunk and sunburned while we went back and forth between the pool and cabana, waiting for either Eddie or my new friend from across the hall to show up.  The wise guys put the money on Eddie, because the neighbor lady never showed.  Ah well, two ships and all that...

I think it was around 5:00 pm or so that we finally called it a day.  We were both pretty sunburned, and although Eddie was only there for the last hour-and-a-half or so, he got some sun, too. When we cashed out, we were shocked at the tab.  But in a good way. For all the food, booze, and extra mixers we ordered, plus the automatic 18% gratuity, the total for the afternoon at the cabana was only $325.  Holy shit--had we been at Caesars Venus pool, which was the original plan, the afternoon would've set us back around $1500.  CoolP was so excited that he tipped the waitress an extra $75 and called it his biggest win of the trip.

We decided to part ways, go back to the rooms and clean up and change, then meet up for the evening's buffoonery a couple of hours later.  CoolP, however, wasn't feeling too well.  After a bottle of rum and all that sun, he said he had to go take a shower and lie down.

He headed back to the P-Hol and Eddie and I went back up to my room so I could take a quick shower and change, then we'd head over to Bally's so he could do the same.

Traffic on the Strip that night was absolutely ridiculous, and what I didn't know was that the northbound lanes were restricted due to the construction in front of the old O'Shea's and Imperial Palace.  Only two lanes open when they're usually gridlocked with three or four lanes.  So it took us almost an hour to get to Bally's.

We finally got the car parked and I hung out in the casino while Eddie went upstairs to shower and such.  I found a seat at a $15 Pai Gow table, but for the 45 minutes that Eddie was upstairs, I didn't win a single hand.  It was ridiculous.  I had two Full Houses in a row at one point, and lost 'em both. It sucked.

Eddie wanted to get some dinner, and we were going to meet up with CoolP again, but he called and said that he couldn't do it--he'd gotten sunstroke and had been throwing up since he got back and couldn't cool off--I guess the sun really got to him.  But to be fair, the dude is whiter than a Canadian porn star, and spends most of his winters up in the oil fields near the Arctic circle, so the sun was a whole new experience for him.  He said he'd be ok, just needed some rest, and that he'd catch up to us in the morning.

So we just bounced around in Bally's for the evening, hitting a blackjack table or two, playing some Pai Gow, but basically just lost the entire time we were there.  It wasn't much fun at all.  I went down to check out their new poker room, and it was nice and BIG, but I didn't get into any of the games.  As much as I loved working there a couple of summers ago, the $5 tourist rake is just a bit much to pay.

Eventually, we decided to get dinner, and the plan was to hit the Cafe at Paris because of their awesome French onion soup, and that baked scallop dish that I loved so much.  So we took a break from getting our asses kicked at the Bally's tables, cashed in our shrapnel at the cage, and took the walking Chunnel to Paris.

We got a seat at the Cafe pretty quickly, but we sat there for over twenty minutes and not a single acknowledgment from a waiter or waitress.  There was a very angry couple at the table behind us too who'd obviously been there longer than we had, and Eddie was telling me how bad the service was at Paris every time they've come there. He and his wife had actually walked out of the Eiffel Tower restaurant the previous September because the service was so bad, and she vowed not to come back.  After just under a half and hour, we said Fuck this and left also.  Nobody ever came to the table, and even the hostess who sat us ignored us when she saw us leaving and obviously pissed.

Paris, you suck.

On the other hand, we wandered back to the Le Burger Bar, home of the former Ortanique, site of the absolute best meal I've ever had in Vegas, and we were seated immediately and the service was outstanding (especially when compared to what we just experienced).  We both ordered Paris Burgers, a third-pound hunk-o-meat topped with Brie, caramelized onions, and bacon, on a Parmesan bun.  Eddie ordered a tower of onion rings, too.

All I can say is that it was damn near the best burger I'd ever tasted.  I wanted to eat it all, but five bites and two onion rings was all I could handle.  But it was seriously good.  It may have been a little pricey, but still, for a gourmet burger on the Strip, you could do a lot worse.  I have to give Le Burger Bar mad props for both service and the quality of food.

I think it was after 1:00 am by then, still early by Vegas standards, but Eddie had been driving all day and I'd been out at the pool, and we were both pretty much wiped out.  I headed back to the Trop, while he stuck around the casino at Bally's for awhile.  Of course, once I got back, I got hammered again, this time by the $10 dice game at the Trop, house money long gone and getting deeper into my bankroll before I called it a night.

The next morning, the plan was to eat at the Central Cafe (I think that's the name of it) just off the lobby at Caesars Palace.  I believe the plan was to meet at 10:30, in the main lobby. CoolP had lots of comps to burn up from the beating he took at Caesars a few weeks before, so he told us to take 'em down.  Unfortunately, the line was out the door and there was a 45 minute wait for a table.  Even with all the stars and diamonds that CoolP flashed with his players card, we still had to wait in line with the unwashed masses.

Instead, we decided to head over to the new (?) Gordon Ramsey restaurant there in the far-flung bowels of the casino.  We made our way back there, but they didn't open for another half hour we were told.  No biggie, we'd just go next door to the food court and have a drink at the bar.  Even the damn bar was closed.  By this time we were good and irritated that apparently the only thing opened in the whole damn place was one over-crowded Cafe.  And the casino, of course.  So we went to the bar behind the sports book to wait 'em out and at least score a free drink.  Eddie and CoolP got machines, but the video poker machine at my seat was out of order.  CoolP was playing dollars, and although we were obviously together, the bartender insisted that I pay $7.50 for my 'tall' screwdriver that wouldn't fill a communion cup at Mass.

I was used to such treatment from the Evil Empire, but I'm pretty sure CoolP had had enough of their gouging. We didn't order another drink while we waited the half hour until the restaurant opened, but we did enjoy a colorful rant about Harrah's fucking up everything they touched.

Gordon Ramsey's place looked good, but oh dear god, what a gouger.  Eddie had three half-dollar-sized sliders and a side of fries, and I think it cost $29.  I had a bowl of 'British' onion soup and some Black Truffle mac-and-cheese, and it was upwards of $35, I believe.  CoolP had the same, and, although the food was good, it wasn't so over-the-top wonderful to justify the ridiculous prices.  Trading on the name?  You bet.  Gotta pay the lease for floor space at Caesars?  Certainly.

Basically, we all felt like we'd gotten bent over at Caesars.  I don't mind paying a little premium for a premium experience, but this the whole morning just felt like gouging every dime they could get.  Luckily CoolP had comps to cover it, but even free, we all agreed that it was overpriced.

We got out of the Palace as soon as we could, and headed back to the much friendlier confines of the Tropicana.  Of course we took a beating at the dice table there, again, so less than an hour later we headed back to our favorite spot, the MGM Grand.

I don't know why I like that place so much--it too is a little pricey, but they certainly don't skin the players like Harrah's properties do, and I've always had a good time there.  It just feels like my 'home' casino, kinda like New York New York used to be.  Besides, the drink service is fast, and they always have open tables, with plenty of Pai Gow and even $10 blackjack on weekends.

Anyhow, we sat down at a $25 Pai Gow table and proceeded to lose our asses.  Slowly, but still losing.  It was a slow killing, kinda like the proverbial frog in the pot of water who doesn't get out and slowly boils to death as the heat is turned up.  On top of that, CoolP's phone started to blow up, and he had to hop on a plane back to Calgary.  He apologized for an early departure, but work was calling, and the deal he's working on was much more important than a weekend bender in Vegas.  Besides, he told us, if the deal goes through, our next trip will be 'done right'.  Hey, I'm ok with that, but now I can't wait for this fall when we do it again...

So I thanked him for the awesome trip, we said goodbye, and he headed off to grab his bag and get to the airport.  Eddie and I stayed behind to take our beating.

After not getting anything going at the Pai Gow table, we found a $10 shoe blackjack game to try.  Figuring our luck had to turn, we sat down.  The only thing that turned was the rate at which we lost.  Blackjack is a much faster game, and we burned through hundreds like a couple of Kardashian gold diggers on a shopping spree.

At one point, Eddie went to hit the ATM, and by the time he got back, I was down another $200, so we gave up.  As much as we like the MGM, we just couldn't get any traction there.  He wanted to find a good $25 double deck game, but all of the games there on the Strip were 6-deck shoes.  I suggested that we head over to my old stomping grounds, Sunset Station, and give them a try.  I told him of the decent Blackjack games they had, but the $5 dice with 10x odds was the deal closer.

Instead of going straight over, we stopped back at that same cigar lounge that CoolP and I visited on Thursday night, and we smoked a couple of Black Labels and had a few rounds of cocktails while we nursed our wounds.  We had a great afternoon re-telling stories from old Vegas trips and a few of our sailing trips out to Catalina from years past, and making plans hang out more than once every couple of years.

Once the cigars were reduced to piles of ash, we tabbed out and walked back over to the Trop to fetch the car, neither of us needing to go to the cage before we left, and headed out to Henderson.

When we got there Eddie was especially excited to see the China Panda sign, so after hitting the head and the ATM, we got some lunch.  Well, I just had a veggie spring roll, he had the full-on meal.  While sitting there grubbing out to absorb all of the fine Scotch he drank at the MGM, I saw a fetching brunette walk by.  No, it wasn't Kimmie, but one of my other favorites, probably the nicest gal to ever sling drinks at Sunset.  Her name was Suzie, and of course she did a double take when she saw me.  She ran to deliver the tray she was carrying, then came back to visit.  Of course she was impressed with the new me, and we had a nice visit for a bit before she had to get to work.  She told me that she works the poker room on day shift now, and to come by the next day.  That was my plan anyways, and when she left, Eddie was asking why I never mentioned her before because it seemed that she was all into me.

I told him that might be the case, but back when I worked there she certainly wasn't all into me, and everyone in the casino knew I was hot for Kim anyways.  But that drama is so far in the past that it doesn't even matter anymore.

We finished lunch and before we even made it to the blackjack pit I heard a familiar voice behind me and I turned around to see Kim walking behind us offering drinks to anyone who wanted them.

She did a double-take, too, not recognizing me at first, but then after a second she was like Holy shit--Mikey!  How've you been?

We caught up for a minute, but it was like talking to a wall--she'd obviously not given me a second thought after I left, and well, even though I figured that was the case, it still kinda sucks to find out for sure.  It was nice to see her, but man, there was just nothing there anymore.  The thrill was definitely gone.

After that little reunion, we decided to give the dice tables a try, and not even an hour later, I was down another $250 and Eddie around $400.  We gave up and moved on. He found the $25 double-deck pitch game and planted his flag.  I moved on to Chinatown and grabbed a seat at a $10 Pai Gow table.  It was a great night because there was a new rule on that particular table.  It was a no-commission game, but the only thing they took away was that whenever the dealer turned over a Queen-high Pai Gow, the whole table pushed, win or lose.  Of course there were three sucker/side bets which most everyone played, but I just put a dollar or two on the regular bonus each time, and slowly chipped up.  Without a commission and all of the sucker bets, I turned $50 into almost $500 over the next six hours or so, only betting between $15 and $25 a hand.

It's a great game for the player, if you don't play the sucker bets (I think I only ran into four Queen-high pai gows all night, and on two of them I had junk hands I fully expected to lose before I saw the dealer's cards, so I was totally cool with the new rule).  Anyhow, once people wise up and enough stop playing the sucker bets, that game will disappear into the archives.  But that's probably not going to happen anytime soon, because the players I saw were all bouncing from there to 3-Card Poker and Let It Ride all night, and everyone was putting the same wagers on their base and all the sucker bets.  I even got a few comments people saw my stacks and were saying Man, that guy's got the lucky seat, he hasn't lost all night!

No, I just wasn't playing the sucker tax, that's all.

It was also nice because as I sat there that night, all of my old co-workers cycled through the table, and it was nice to catch up with everyone.  Of course a lot of the people I used to deal to were there, so there was plenty of good conversation to make the evening more enjoyable.  

Anyhow, we both camped out for hours at our particular tables, slowly making a comeback.  I think Eddie was down about $1500 when we got there that day, and by the time we'd left, he had $800 or so back in the win column to offset some of his losses.  I was still behind, but only down about three or four hundred by the time we finally called it a night and headed back to the Strip.

It was a long day at Sunset, because we got there during day shift, played all the way through swing, and I even got to catch up with my friends on graveyard before we left, too.

I dropped Eddie back at Bally's around 3:30 or 4:00 in the morning, drove up to the Trop, gave the valet the car and a $5 chip, and collapsed into my huge comfy bed with the Dean Martin station on Pandora providing the ambient noise.

The Sunday plan was the old reliable Peppermill.  It had been such a long night that we said we'd just meet there at 11:30 for breakfast.  That gave me plenty of time to sleep in, but of course I couldn't.  I was up earlier than I wanted to be, so I showered, put on clean clothes, and hit the tables at the Trop for an hour or so. In retrospect, that was a mistake because I took a $200 beating before breakfast.

I gave up and headed down to the Peppermill, and just as I was pulling in, Eddie texted me and said that he was in the lounge and there was a 45 minute wait for a table.  No problem there--I'm never hungry anymore, but that would provide an opportunity to smoke a couple of cigars and have a couple of their famous Bloody Marys.

So we took seats at the bar, put a couple of twenties in the VP machines, lit up a couple of cigars, and did our Sunday morning in Vegas ritual.  Bloody Marys at the Peppermill--a tradition like no other, except for maybe that little golf tournament down in Georgia they do every spring...

We didn't think to take the picture until after the goodies on top got eaten and had a couple of sips.  But you get the idea...

The Peppermill was pretty busy that morning, it seemed like everyone else in Las Vegas for the weekend had the same idea to do breakfast there at the same time.  But eventually they called our names and we gathered up our smokables and such and headed for the restaurant.

Now, I can't eat nearly as much as I used to, so I figured there wouldn't be much on the menu I could handle.  Eddie was in hangover-recovery mode, so everything sounded good to him. Me, on the other hand, had subsisted on coffee-Bailey's-Kahlua for most of the weekend, and knew that I needed to get some protein in me.  I was thinking ham-and-cheese omelet, or maybe even the eggs Benedict, but when the smoking hot Bulgarian waitress asked me what I wanted, I heard my self ordering my usual chicken friend steak and eggs. For years, that was my favorite breakfast in all of Vegas, and I firmly believe that it's the best thing in the world after a long night of drunken buffoonery.  And although we were a little light on both the drunkenness and buffoonery, it just sounded so good that I had to have it.

This is the 'before' picture.  I should've taken an 'after' picture, but it doesn't look much different.  The waitress was pretty worried that I didn't like it, but she was wrong.  I loved it.  All five bites that I had.

Breakfast was wonderful, as expected, but I could hardly put a dent in it.  I felt bad for wasting it, but the Peppermill doesn't have a kids menu to order off of.  And of course Eddie couldn't finish his either, or else I would've offered him my leftovers. 

Since Eddie covered the bar tab, I picked up breakfast.  I think it was close to 1:30 in the afternoon by the time we got out of there, and Eddie had to get on the road back to Phoenix before too long.  He said that he wanted to play a little more blackjack before he left, and since he liked Sunset Station so much, we decided to drive back out there.  And since it was right next to the highway out of town, and I was headed out there to play poker anyways, it worked out perfectly.

He followed me out to the east side, and while he went back to the same $25 double-deck game, I went back to my seat at the no-commission Pai Gow table.  I wasn't there a half hour before Eddie walked up and said that he was out.  He was down another $400 and wanted to leave town with only a $1700 bite taken out of his ass, and he'd just reached it.  A little bummed that he'd left on a downer but he said he had a great time anyways.  We've all taken beating much worse than that, so it didn't hurt too badly.  

We talked about plans for a football-season get together a few months down the road, and said our goodbyes.  He drove off to Phoenix and I headed over to the poker room to spend the balance of my time playing 4-8.  I probably sat there for about ten hours or so, grinding away, but clearly my game was a little off.  I mean, it wasn't bad, but I caught myself making a few questionable moves, and I think I pissed away about $120 that evening.  Eventually I just got tired of sitting there telling the story of my whereabouts for the past two years over and over again, that I cashed in sometime after midnight. 

I played Pai Gow again, won a little back, but then the table went dead and since it was a Sunday night, they wanted to close down the Chinatown pit early.  I visited with Kimmie some more (having never saw Suzie again), and ended up at the dice table.  I got lucky there and won about $250 back before I went point-seven-out on my second roll.  So I colored up and called it a trip.  

I had an absolute blast seeing Eddie and CoolP again, and even though we were a little more mellow this time around than in times past, it was just what I needed.  I felt like I got a little closure with my favorite city, and even though I knew in my head I made the right choice to leave, my heart wasn't convinced.  It is now.  I love Vegas, and yeah, I may even go back someday, but right now, I'm in the right place for me. 

I got back to the Trop late that night, told the valet I'd be back down in a couple of hours to pick up the car again in a couple hours to head to the airport, and he gave me a knowing smile like That kinda night, huh?, and I went inside. Of course I planned on going straight to bed, but there was an open Pai Gow table in my way so I sat down and tried to take one more shot at that 8000-1 payoff on the 7-Card Straight Flush.

$200 later I realized that I probably should've just gone straight to bed and gotten the extra 45 minutes worth of sleep.  It would've been better all around.  Instead I packed, showered, and got dressed, lying down for a quick two-hour catnap before heading back to the airport.  I set my alarm and called down for a wake-up call, paranoid that I'd finally sleep eight hours on the one night I didn't want to.

Like a zombie seeking brains, two hours later I would've given a green chip for a cup of coffee, but the line at Starbucks was way too long and I had to get out of town.  I hit the road, heading south past the Welcome to Vegas sign, and a few minutes later I had the rental car turned in and I was back on the shuttle bus to the airport.  While the skycap line at Southwest was a complete clusterfuck, I made an obvious production of fumbling for tip money and one enterprising fellow parted the rope and brought me up to the front of the line, getting me checked in and printed my boarding pass for me.  He earned his five bucks.  And when I got to the security check-in area, they opened a new line right as I got there. So from curb to gate was less than ten minutes total.  That has never happened to me before.

Since I had two hours to kill before my flight, I sat down in one of the terminal restaurants, ordered a diet Coke and a breakfast burrito, and raised a silent toast to my favorite city and all of my friends.  Saying goodbye is tough, but this time I know I'll be back.


Tuesday, March 19, 2013

So Tired...

Yeah, I snuck off to my favorite city for the weekend, and got home last night.

Today was tough...

I'll share the details soon, but right now I have to grab a bite to eat and answer about a hundred emails.

But as you can imagine, I had a good time.


Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Off The Rack

This one was a little harder to write than my usual drivel, but I'm working on improving my ability to convey emotion rather than sarcasm.  I hope it worked.

I went shopping for clothes the other day, and although I didn’t buy anything, it was an enjoyable experience nonetheless.  You see, for the past twenty-plus years, my wardrobe has come from the Big & Tall store. 

For those who are unfamiliar with that type of retail experience, a little background explanation may be necessary.  At first glance, being overweight not only requires larger clothing—the one thing the normal-sized world sees—but one of the other side effects of the social stigma is disdain for doing some many things in public, and shopping is one of those many things.  I suppose that’s why it’s thought to be easier for gentlemen of stature to have their own place to shop, away from the prying and judgmental eyes of strangers, rather than dedicating a portion of valuable floor space in ‘normal’ stores for larger-than-life customers.

While a lot of heavier folks may be gregarious, outgoing, and the center of attention, there are many times where drawing attention isn’t desired.  Having body issues is tough, and nothing draws attention to the body more than the clothes we choose to wear.  So clothes shopping for the heavy set has a few more degrees of difficulty than most people would ever consider.

The internet has alleviated most of the anxiety that goes with shopping for clothes when one does it out of need instead of for pleasure, but it only goes so far.  Yes, it’s private, and nobody can see you doing it, and there’s no judgmental sales clerk unconsciously looking at the size on the tag and then looking up at you, and then back at the tag, but buying clothes without being able to try them on first presents its own set of obstacles.

Aside from the mental and emotional hurdles one faces when shopping for plus-sized clothes, there is an unfortunate financial component to consider, also.  A pair of Dockers that would cost a skinny guy $34.99 would cost me about $55.00, plus another $5.99 if I want them hemmed, because when your inseam is only half the distance of your waist size, your pants generally have to be custom-made.  Even then, you’re not actually getting a name-brand pair of pants, like the afore-mentioned Dockers.  It’s usually some sort of Indonesian knock-off that fall apart after eight washes—or if you sneeze, whichever comes first. 

Shirts are a little easier to find, but if you want one with buttons, there’s an upcharge for that, too, kind of like getting power windows in an economy car. A few extra ounces of material tend to run upwards of $15 by the time it becomes a finished product, but then you’re faced with trying to find something to wear that’s not hideously ugly.

That brings us to the other problem with shopping at the Big & Tall. Besides being expensive and generally of low quality, most of the selection available is just too god-awful to consider wearing in public.  Someone once said that life is too short to wear ugly clothes, and I’m firmly convinced that whoever said that was a skinny person.

It’s not enough that the universe punishes you for being fat, but part of your sentence is being forced to wear clothes that are already on the trailing edge of fashion, if not downright ugly.

Ask yourself this:  Have you ever seen an overweight person and said “Man, they really dress nice—I love their wardrobe!”  Not likely. It’s because when you’re fat, in addition to all of the hundreds of other daily reminders that you’re different—and not in a good way—you are condemned to less-than-ideal wardrobe choices. And you’d think that expensive clothes should at least be stylish, but you’d be wrong. 
I supposed it may be just a matter of perception.  It seems to me that most of the clothes to choose from would be just fine if I were an extra in a hip-hop video, but since I have to go to the office every day in order to pay for the wardrobe, it’s tough to separate the business casual wheat from the urban casual chaff. 

But all of that is behind me now.

In the past year, in addition to losing over 160 lbs, I’ve lost an entire hard-core porn’s worth of X’s from my shirt size. And because of that, I can now get my clothes ‘off the rack’. 

It may seem like an insignificant thing to those who’ve never given a second thought to the clothes-buying experience, but for someone who’s been on the outside looking in for the past two decades, it is, in the words of our esteemed Vice President, a Big Effin’ Deal!  

The realization came one morning when I had to punch another hole in the belt that’s slowly making its way around me twice.  It was an expensive piece of leather, and I’m determined to get as much use out of it as possible, so every month or so I take out the cordless drill and create a visible measure of success, every bit as significant as the hash marks on the kitchen wall of a growing family. So while my pants may be baggy like all of the cooler, younger fat kids, I realized that it’s probably getting to be time to clean out the closet, donate to Goodwill, and think about improving my wardrobe.

So one day last week I took the afternoon off of work, telling my boss a little white lie about going to the doctor, when all I really had planned was a bit of retail therapy. I drove over to the mall, a little nervous, wondering if I’d really crossed that magical Rubicon into the world of skinny people—at least ‘skinny’ as defined by me—the only evidence I had was a belt that was too long, pants that were too baggy, and shirts that now hung to my knees when I kept them untucked.

Not knowing what to expect, I left my wallet in the car, unprepared to deal with either disappointment or buyer’s remorse, regardless of which way the afternoon went.  Like the first Apollo astronauts to circle the far side the moon, I was on a mission of discovery, not colonization—I just wanted to see what would happen if I went there, I had no intention of planting my flag and collecting a bunch of rocks.

I would be lying if I said I wasn’t a little bit nervous in the first store I visited, and I’m sure I was a little too quick with the ‘No!’ to the first salesclerk who asked if they could help me.  I figured that if I got pinned down, I could always say I was shopping for a gift, that way if they didn’t have anything that would fit me, I could move along and pretend that their selection just wasn’t up to my standards.  At least that’s what I told myself.

I pretended to be casually browsing, but in truth I was desperately searching for a certain size that I estimated would fit the new me.  Nobody bothered me while I dug through the racks of shirts, hoping to find something, anything, I could wear. Still a long way from the textbook definition of ‘average’, I figured anything that would fit me would still be at the far end of the size spectrum, but persistence paid off.  I found a decent looking shirt in a size that interested me, and in a fit of optimism, grabbed another one just like it, only one size smaller. 

I may have been even more nervous walking to the fitting room than I was walking into the store a few minutes before, and I had the passing thought that the sales staff must’ve thought the only guy sweating on a 40-degree day had to have been a shoplifter, but I wasn’t sure if it was that or the old me thinking that they were just worried that the fat guy heading to the fitting room was going to ruin the merchandise by trying to force ten pounds of sausage into a five pound shirt.

I closed the fitting room door, looked in the mirror, and tried to reassure myself that things were different now and that even if these clothes didn’t fit, there was always next month. I said a quick non-religious prayer that I wasn’t embarrassing myself, and chose the bigger of the two shirts.

It fit.

It wasn’t tight, it wasn’t binding, and I didn’t look ridiculous in it.  In fact I looked pretty good in it.  But just as my definition of ‘skinny’ is somewhat skewed, so is my definition of ‘well-fitting’, so I tried on the smaller shirt, just to see.  It fit also, but it wasn’t quite as comfortable as the first one, so I changed back, anxious to see myself wearing normal clothes comfortably. 

Like the pounds that I’d lost in the past year, the burden of self-doubt and self-consciousness disappeared and were replaced by the newly discovered weightlessness of self-confidence. It was an amazing transformation, but one that nobody could see but me. 

Armed with a new attitude about life in general, and clothes shopping in particular, I bounced between several stores that afternoon, hauling piles of clothes with me into the dressing rooms with absolutely no intention of buying, finally understanding what women feel like when they shop for shoes.  I must have tried on a dozens of things in several stores, sometimes striking out, but other times pleasantly surprised. And while it may not be the most masculine thought I’ve ever had, while carrying an armload of hangers to the fitting room, I couldn’t help but liken myself to Julia Roberts on her Rodeo Drive shopping spree with Richard Gere, but the opportunity to say “BIG mistake” to a salesperson never really presented itself.

After a couple of hours the novelty wore off, and I was disciplined enough to go back to the car, not to fetch my wallet, but to drive away, knowing that the next time I get some extra cash, I won’t have to spend it all on clothes because I have to, but because I want to.  Those jackals at Casual Male and King Size Men have a pretty good racket going, and sadly, they are a necessary evil, but I’ve moved on.  I don’t have to shop at the Big & Tall anymore.  It may be a small step in the grand scheme of things, but to me, it was a giant leap.