It’s Saturday night in the city of sin and a phalanx of nocturnal revelers shuffles impatiently in front of a pair of gilded doors. The doors open allowing successive entourages to push past the expectant crowd gathered outside. Eyes lock, coy smiles exchanged, and open-ended invitations are extended as the crush of people is reversed. Inside there is barely room to move and no place to move to anyway. Whispers can be heard above the music pumped in from overhead speakers. We’re packed in tight like perfume-scented veal. This is one of the best and most random of Las Vegas’ many playgrounds…the elevator of your favorite casino.
The elevator banks in Las Vegas casinos serve in many ways as a microcosm. They’re unavoidable and essential to your stay in Vegas. Yet, they rarely receive the attention I believe they deserve. They have an almost tidal quality. Early in the morning they’re a mix of families making their way to the pool, the buffet bound, and bleary-eyed remnants of the previous night’s odysseys. This time of day the elevators assume a more familiar atmosphere. Eye contact is either avoided or limited to polite recognition. Children shift excitedly from foot to foot, waiting for the doors to open on the day’s adventure. While others can’t wait for them to close the chapter on a story best left unwritten.
As the desert sun continues its rise, so to does the flurry of activity in the elevator banks. Like molecules when heated, trips to and from hotel rooms seem to have a reactive association to the outside temperature. One can only surmise the nature of these hotel room missions. Their soundtrack is the sound of flip-flops reverberating off marble floors to accompany the march to the elevator banks. Women shielded behind over-sized eyewear stand confidently in swimsuits. They pretend not to notice the men checking them out. It’s in these moments that small talk morphs into proposals for future rendezvous.
The end of the day means the elevator banks once again become clogged with families returning from the pool. Parents clutch their children, refraining them from the overwhelming urge to push all the buttons on the elevator panel. Married men sneak peripheral glances at the girls who are busy recanting pool encounters. An impatient pall has overtaken the elevator. People want to get back to their rooms to recharge for the night ahead.
The night really starts when you load into that first elevator of the evening. For the well-lubed hotel guests, fresh from pre-partying in their rooms, this is their first encounter in the “wild” for that night. You stand waiting, perhaps there’s a wager on which elevator door will open first. The ding, signaling the arrival of your vertical chariot, marks the first moment of anticipation of the night. Who will greet you when the doors disunite?
It’s important to try and match the energy of the elevator upon entering. They are like hyper-accelerated ecosystems, each with its own evolutionary trajectory. You can exist in complete silence from floors 35 to 23, and then suddenly, one comment can unleash a torrent of conversation - the ebb and flow of riders creating an atmosphere of chance that rivals the gaming floor.
There are a few different types of “elevator playas”, that are worth mentioning. The “Host” acts as if you’ve been invited to his personal party. They might pepper you with a few questions about your day or plans for the evening. The “Host” usually keeps the conversation light and innocuous.
Next we have the “Inquisitor”, who usually is very curious as to, “What your deal is?” They like to push the envelope, by asking provocative questions and making any manner of allusions. When handled properly the “Inquisitor” can be a valuable asset to the elevator party.
Lastly, there’s the “Comedian”. They like to take advantage of the tight confines and lack of exits to work on material. The elevator usually represents the acme of their comedy career. The best you can do is pray they’re funny or that you don’t have far to go before reaching the lobby.
So the next time you are in Las Vegas pay attention to your time in the elevators. Often it’s the time spent en route to our destinations that goes unnoticed. Las Vegas elevators are every bit as sportive as the places they are depositing you. Remember, you can’t have “what happens in Vegas” if you don’t leave your room…usually.
Well, now time passed and now it seems everybody's having them dreams.
Everybody sees themselves walkin' around with no one else.
Half of the people can be part right all of the time,
Some of the people can be all right part of the time.
But all of the people cannot be right all of the time. I think Abraham
Lincoln said that.
"I'll let you be in my dreams if I can be in yours, "I said that.
Bob Dylan "Talkin World War III Blues"
Alright, ENOUGH ALREADY! Duvet can no longer sit in silence in an effort to remain unbiased. I can only suffer so much non speak, ridiculousness, and denial. Sarah Palin is no more equipped to potentially run the United States, let alone a hockey franchise, than Duvet is to win a beauty pageant.
I was reading through my daily list of blogs when I came across this excerpt from Palin's much anticipated interview with CBS's Katie Couric on the Huffington Post. Couric is seeking clarification for a previous remark made by Palin in her interview with ABC's Charlie Gibson, regarding her foreign policy experience. She remarked to Gibson that her state of Alaska's proximity to Russian gives her insight into the minds of the Russians and uniquely qualifies her to deal with them.
I defy someone to decipher this non-answer and articulate just what the f@#k this puppet is talking about? This is no joke and the stakes are way too high to succumb to likability and politicizing gender as a means to scare up votes! "You've come a long way, Baby", to quote the advertising world, to devolve the legacy of women in politics to Sarah Palin.
COURIC: You've cited Alaska's proximity to Russia as part of your foreign policy experience. What did you mean by that?
PALIN: That Alaska has a very narrow maritime border between a foreign country, Russia, and on our other side, the land-- boundary that we have with-- Canada. It-- it's funny that a comment like that was-- kind of made to-- cari-- I don't know, you know? Reporters--
PALIN: Yeah, mocked, I guess that's the word, yeah.
COURIC: Explain to me why that enhances your foreign policy credentials.
PALIN: Well, it certainly does because our-- our next door neighbors are foreign countries. They're in the state that I am the executive of. And there in Russia--
COURIC: Have you ever been involved with any negotiations, for example, with the Russians?
PALIN: We have trade missions back and forth. We-- we do-- it's very important when you consider even national security issues with Russia as Putin rears his head and comes into the air space of the United States of America, where-- where do they go? It's Alaska. It's just right over the border. It is-- from Alaska that we send those out to make sure that an eye is being kept on this very powerful nation, Russia, because they are right there. They are right next to-- to our state.
The fact is no amount of briefing and media quarantining will qualify this tyro to be next in line to run the "Free" world. WAKE UP!! LISTEN!! PAY ATTENTION!! to what she says, not how good she looks saying it. Vladimir Putin is a REAL pit bull and Sarah Palin is really a "hockey mom". Do not confuse the two because we will regret it...
Sunday night the New York Yankees played their final game in Yankee Stadium. The house that Ruth built and George Steinbrenner renovated has seen its last pitch. As I watched the game I found myself shedding real, heartfelt tears. I sat there watching Mariano Rivera close out the final home game of this season, a season that for the first time in 14 years will leave Yankee Stadium dark in October, and bawled like a baby. My wife commented on how cute she thought it was that I was so emotional but I was troubled. Where were these tears coming from? And, why a building made of concrete, steel, plastic and whatever else buildings are made of, was having such a profoundly emotional effect on me?
You see as much as this will annoy and inspire the derisive quips of many of my friends, I love the New York Yankees. I grew up in the Bay Area raised on National League baseball and the San Francisco Giants. I spent many a night shivering under a blanket with my family at Candlestick Park, watching the fog appear like some gray monster over the left field wall, intent on swallowing the stadium whole. The 70's and 80's were not kind to those Giant teams of my youth. They lost way more than they won and always seemed to be yielding to the dreaded Dodgers of Los Angeles come playoff time. The playoffs required that I choose another team to fill my October baseball void. It allowed me to extend my season and deposit the reservoir of pent up emotion into someone else's franchise.
The logical choice would have been to embrace the Oakland A's just across the Bay. But I went cold at the sight of the green and yellow jerseys they wore. Even though the A's were World Series champs in the early 70's, I still felt nothing, no allegiance bubbled up to the surface. I guess even as a little boy I knew nothing good could ever truly come out of the East Bay for me. My provincial SF-ness taking root, I ditched "my" American League franchise in search of another.
It wasn't much of a leap to take an interest in the New York Yankees. If you followed baseball even casually, you knew of the storied franchise and its players. Growing up in San Francisco you were taught two things: 1. The best crab in the world came from right outside the Bay and 2. Joe DiMaggio was the greatest baseball player to ever play the game.
I can remember my grandfather sitting in his backyard, within shouting distance of Candlestick Park, listening to the Yankees simulcast on the radio. He talked about the Yankees as if he had grown up in the Bronx all his life. You see the Giants only had existed for him recently, but the Yankees were the team he grew up with. Having immigrated from Italy to San Francisco via Ellis Island, New York City represented something to his generation of immigrants. It was that beacon of possibility, freedom, and liberty. New York City was the exporter of traditions for a vast, young nation that needed to establish a national identity. The Yankees were winners and America began to internalize this belief as well.
Those Yankee teams of lore would carry us through challenges and inspire us in the worst of times. In the thirties, during the Great Depression, when we became a nation of losers, the Yankees were winners. Reminding us of what we could accomplish with hard work, community, and belief in something bigger.
When our country was attacked and plunged into a World War in 1941, the Yankees won. We would win too. After the war, as our nation's prosperity swelled, the Yankees reflected this return to glory on the baseball field. The 50's and early 60's belonged to the New York Yankees. They wrote history on the baseball diamond as America was writing history as a nation.
But it was in the late 70's that I began my personal journey with the franchise. And perhaps more to the point, my intense desire to be one of those lucky ones sitting in the stands at Yankee Stadium.
The mid/late 60's and most of the 70's saw the historic franchise in a state of upheaval and turmoil. The cultural shift and chaotic change sweeping across the nation was being mirrored by the play of the Yankee teams of this era. Pennants were being flown above other city’s stadiums as flags and bras were being burned on the streets. By the late 70’s the city of New York had fallen into a complete state of disrepair and crime.
I was 8 years old in 1977 and baseball had become a major passion of mine. I still loved the Giants but found myself drawn to the shaggy players in pinstripes with each pack of baseball cards I opened. The uniform, with the big NY emblem above the heart, was both familiar and exotic. This team of scruffy renegades from a distant place beckoned to me.
Yankee Stadium itself seemed massive, a field bathed in light from light stands reaching high into the sky. The surrounding tenements and the subway cars appearing through the right field wall, seemed scary to me as I watched games from the comfort of my suburban home. Yankee Stadium might as well have been on the other side of the world, let alone on the others side of the continent.
It was in 1977 that the Yankees improbably won the pennant to face the hated Dodgers in the World Series. I had been following the Yankees all season long via the newspapers and “This Week in Baseball”. I couldn’t wait to watch my adopted team take on my enemy - I would learn that they were just as hated by generations of Bronx loyalists before me, when they played at Brooklyn’s Ebbets Field before moving to sunny, Southern California – on television every night for the next two weeks.
I can still hear Howard Cosell’s grandiose and incendiary voice calling the call. What was even more fascinating to me was the chaos and mayhem he detailed that was occurring outside the ballpark. There were blackouts, serial killers, and fires, “THE BRONX WAS BURNING!” I was captivated. The city sounded like a zoo and the stadium looked like one big cage. When the Yankees did the impossible and all the “caged animals” streamed onto the field, the catharsis reached my living room 3,000 miles away. I was hooked from that day on.
The 80’s were not as kind to the Bronx Bombers and my meddle was tested. Luckily years of being a Giants fan taught me how to deal with losing. Yankee Stadium would become my baseball Mecca, even if I went there only in my dreams. Over the years the building and all it represented, would fuel my desire to someday live in New York City. I would be one of those lucky ones to sitting in the blue plastic chairs.
The mid/late 90’s saw the Yankees return to glory with a run of four championships. When people asked why a guy from San Francisco was a Yankee fan? I parried their examination by stating simply, “I like to win.” But it was much deeper, much more personal than that.
My wife and I moved to New York City shortly after September 11th in 2002. I had been to New York City a few times prior and I was resolute in one day counting myself among its citizenry. I internalized the words Frank Sinatra sung in “New York, New York” after Yankee victories at the stadium. I was convinced, like many before me, that my destiny was tied to this great, American city.
The first time my wife and I went to the stadium, shortly after moving to the city, I was so excited I couldn’t sleep the night before. You See, I was fresh meat in a city of devout carnivores. I wasn’t sure what I had gotten myself into moving out East and was questioning if I could in fact, as the song said, “Make it there…” Taking the 4 train to the stadium my palms began to sweat with each stop going uptown.
The train filled up with the familiar black and white colors of the team. Hats proudly worn with the NY logo known worldwide. They call it Yankee pride and mine was beginning to swell and grow inside of me. We were all here for one reason, the New York Yankees.
Upon entering the stadium I felt a wave of history wash over me. It was breathtaking. The field that was etched into my mind came alive. The colors were sharper and the sound of the fans taking their seats was almost musical. I felt a strange calm beneath my excitement. For the first time since arriving in New York I felt like I was welcome, that I belonged, at least here, for next three or four hours.
I would go to many more games over the next four years. I would take the train that seemed so mysterious and foreboding to me in 1977. I sat in box seats just rows from the field. I would go to day games by myself and sit in the left field bleachers. I sat in the final row of the upper deck, high above home plate. Taking in the Bronx skyline in the near distance.
Once my wife and I sat behind the actor Philip Seymour Hoffman. We high-fived and screamed at the opposing team from seats that were worth more than I made all of that year. Every game was a dream realized. I never forgot how lucky I was to be sitting in that stadium.
Sometimes I’d go up to the stadium to try and get tickets from scalpers. I would walk around the entire stadium, just taking it all in and calling friends on the West Coast to make them jealous. If I couldn’t land tickets I’d sit across the street in a bar and watch the game on TV. The cheers would flood in the door as the subway rumbled outside above our heads.
Now that I’m back in San Francisco I get the Major League Ticket on digital cable. I watch as many Yankee games as I did when I lived back there. My friends still question the sincerity of my devotion. They are quick to remind me that I grew up in San Francisco and to, “Give it up already!” But what they don’t understand is that you don’t have to be from New York to be a New Yorker. You just have to live there. The city is made up of people who were born somewhere else but destined to live there. And if you no longer live there, just having lived there changes you. It becomes part of who you are, how you think, what you think about. The provincial thinking that leads to the diatribes I face during baseball season no longer affects me.
As I watched the final moments of Sunday’s game on my television, I was overcome with emotion. The team had gathered on the pitchers mound and their captain Derek Jeter was thanking the fans. The camera cut to saddened fans, some crying, and most looking kind of numb. That look you often see when someone has been told a loved one has passed. Jeter asked the fans to go next door with them and help build new memories. I look forward to the future and being able to do just that.
The team began circling the perimeter of the field, waving to the fans and doffing their caps. The end was here after 85 glorious and some not so glorious years. The camera fixed on a boy of about 8 years old wiping tears from his eyes. I sat in my kitchen doing the same. I thought about how lucky that little boy was to be there, and, how lucky I was to have been there.
I think the reason I was so upset was that Yankee Stadium represented a direct line to my youth, my hopes, and my dreams. As anyone living in an uncertain time can attest, change is a scary but necessary proposition. It made me think of all the things that have changed in New York in the short time since I’ve moved away. Yankee Stadium felt like a constant that connected the lives of anyone who had walked through its gates. It bridged the gap of generations and connected the dots of history. Yankee Stadium was more than a place where baseball was played; it was a home to big dreams.
I hope this will help explain my love for my adopted team and city.
This past Labor Day I went to Las Vegas for a good friend's bachelor party. First off I should say that my friends and I are entirely too old to be engaging in this sort of "tradition". I mean we are just too old to be acting like hormonally challenged alcoholics, with our every perversion proudly on display. That said we soldiered on, and on, and on...
We stayed at the Mandalay Bay Resort & Casino on the "Strip". A property that the majority of our contingent was strangely compelled to never exit. You would have thought the desert sands had been transformed into ocean water. Our shipwrecked crew of hapless, middle-aged manboys stranded on this remote island, at least it was in keeping with the hotel's theme.
Mandalay Bay is known for its enormous wave pool and the Moorea Beach Club, a 21 and over "European Style" beach experience. At $50 to enter Moorea Beach Club, the value is predicated on how "European" the female patrons are feeling. Our view from the 25th floor provided an aerial vantage of a "sausage fest" of the highest order. $50 dollars saved we opted to stick with good, old-fashioned, American-style sunbathing. The familiar repressed, Victorian ethos we had grown accustomed to would have to suffice.
While at the pool, I noticed the hegemonic trappings of a generation raised on the cultural exports of MTV's "The Real World". The pools were populated with tattooed twenty-something's, peacocking for imagined fans. Men with their chests jutting forward, the strain of looking cool taking its toll under the hot desert sun, patrolled the rim of the pools. Flat-billed baseball caps proudly displaying cities most probably live no closer than a hundred miles of, were pivoted on their heads by the slightest of degrees. It's easy to spot the guys from Long Island and New Jersey. Their skin is Halloween orange and their hair gelled up, forming an inverted mote designed to keep the "cool" from escaping.
Over sized, mirrored sunglasses, a la Paris Hilton, were the accessory du jour for both men and women at the pool. Another quick note, piercings and tattoos no longer signify otherness when everyone in attendance has them. The majority of the women prefer to opt for the "slut stamp" on the small of the back. Most display Chinese characters and tribal art, the significance of which will gradually fade as their their forties approach. Men seem to favor the nipple piercing; on most it draws attention to sagging pecs. Meanwhile, flashes of light reflected off tongue piercings, punctuating innuendo-laden conversations.
For all of Vegas' wild poolside reputation, I found the crowd subdued. Maybe most were sweating out the previous night's debauchery. Or, maybe, $12 Pina Coladas and $7 Budwiesers will work to mute even the most frivolous of vacationers. Whatever the reason, nary a chicken fight was witnessed. I felt sorry for those that paid $1,500 for a cabana rental. At least they should get some aquatic theatre for that price. I couldn't help but think that this was a far cry from the Vegas pool scenes of Entourage. I guess all the action is at the Hard Rock pool.
The attitude permeating the pool grounds was Entourage worthy however. Even the homeliest of ladies, squeezed into ill-fitting swimwear, had attitude. When did our culture propagate the notion that everyone is a "star"? And as self-fashioned celebrities, staring vacantly through whomever cross their line of vision, they further delude themselves. I know this sounds like bitterness and perhaps it is. I'm bitter that being bitchy is celebrated and engaging one another is an infringement on one's cool. I watched whole groups engaged in the ultimate community building exercise, texting! It sends the message that wherever you're at and whoever you're with just isn't cutting it. There is a better party out there, with way cooler people. What happened to, "It's Vegas Baby!" I guess it's not this part of Vegas or these "Babies"...
THREE PART SERIES ON THE BEST WHISKY DRINKING MOVIES
By David Becerra
PART ONE, “DRUNKEN ANGEL”
A whisky-drinking movie is pretty self-explanatory. It is a movie in which, when you sit down to watch it, you are compelled to drink whisky. What makes a movie a great whisky-drinking movie? There are a few key components, but mostly it’s a kind-of “I know it when I see it” thing.
First, they are black and white. Second, they are old. Third they are fun to watch. Whisky drinking movies take their time. They linger around and are not in much of a hurry or plot driven. They usually take place at night and focus on lowlife and amoral characters. These “anti-heroes” make fun of people with appointment books. Oh yah, and the people in them drink whisky, sometimes a lot, sometimes a little. They drink whisky, they talk about whisky; they hold their glasses up to the light and look at the beautiful whisky. Most importantly, they really enjoy drinking whisky.
One of the best whisky drinking movies is Akira Kurosawa’s “Drunken Angel” from 1948. Starring Toshiro Mifune and Takashi Shimura this film takes place in a run-down post war Japan. It’s about an alcoholic doctor who tries to get a gangster to get his shit together and take care of his tuberculosis. Really, that’s what its about.
So, here’s what you do. Go and order the movie. Netfilx I know has it in stock. When it arrives wait for a night when you will be home alone. For the people who spend most nights alone this won’t be a problem, but if you have a spouse, encourage her or him to go out sometime without you. It’s important to watch a whisky-drinking movie alone. This is true for several reasons, but mostly you want the freedom to feel lonely, drink a lot and get a little ugly. Once you have the place all to yourself, wait until it gets dark out, then go to your favorite all night liquor store and pick up a bottle. For Drunken Angel, I suggest lower end bourbon. Three good ones are Jim Beam, Old Crow or Old Grand Dad. For me Old Crow works best for Drunken Angel. It’s nice, drinkable bourbon, with an old WWII taste to it. When you get home, grab a glass, turn out all the lights and put the movie on. When the “Toho Studios” logo comes on, pour yourself a glass and start sipping.
Drunken Angel has a fantastic opening. The first shot is of a patch of swamp, bubbling and running over with scum. Ominous low music scales in and you know instantly nothing good will ever happen here. This is a good point to take a large swig. The shot hangs around long enough for the credits to roll over, then heavy score gives way to the soft sweet sounds of a distant acoustic guitar. Cut to a few prostitutes trying to stay awake. Next, we see the guitarist far off in the distance, playing under a low streetlight. The camera rolls back over the swamp, where we see some upside-down houses reflected in the muck. Then it pans up to some street thugs. It’s a hot summer night. They toss rocks into the swamp, light up some cigarettes and do their best to fend off the mosquitoes.
Man, what an opening! What a set up! Wouldn’t you love to hang out here, lounge around by the swamp, listen to that guitar and drink whisky! Let yourself feel the summer heat, the pacing and the stillness of the night. Take some more sips and let yourself be transported.
Our first interior shot is of a ramshackle doctor’s office. The Doc comes in, unshaven and scruffy. He is shirtless under his white smock, which is casually half open with the sleeves rolled up. He is followed by a young man, his patient who’s hand is bleeding and who turns out to be a local gangster. The Doc pulls out a bullet from the gangster’s hand. Then he patches him back up, no Novocain, -nothing. The gangster rolls around in pain and the Doc tells him he makes it policy to overprice hoodlums. The two exchange words and the gangster starts to cough. The Doc checks him out and it turns out our gangster has TB, bad. The gangster is in denial and fights with the Doc. This is where the shit starts between the two of them and the main narrative question of the movie is asked. Will the Doc be able to save this gangster from himself and his TB? The Doc hates what the gangster does but has a soft spot for him because he thinks he sees a glimmer of a heart way underneath. But he has to fight with the gangster to get him to take the TB seriously. Sometimes the gangster does. More than likely he only takes the Doc seriously because he is the town drunk, a fellow outsider like the gangster himself. (Thirsty?)
Often the two characters fight each other. The gangster throws the Doc against walls and down on the floor. The Doc throws a bunch of shit at the gangster and yells at him. But the two share some good moments too. At one point the gangster treats the Doc to some really good whisky and in one lovely, lovely shot with the camera behind the bar, the Doc slowly leans in, hands free and sips some whisky from a shot glass. He smacks his lips and savers the beautiful flavor of the prize whisky he rarely tastes. Pure whisky enjoyment! Make sure you taste some from your own glass when the Doc has his.
At this point you should be fully enjoying a great whisky-drinking movie. You should be knee deep into your bottle and deeply absorbed by the story, characters and personality of the film. You are experiencing all the sensations of a small corner of life in post war Japan. The whisky has taken you there, and for about another hour there is no place else you’d rather be.