Honest Conversation Is Overrated
Actual Human Interactions Witnessed Or Overheard
In Twentieth And Twenty-First Century America
In Twentieth And Twenty-First Century America
I was too mad and confused to post about this last week, but here is why you should NEVER order groceries via Doordash, even if it seems like it would be much faster and more convenient than using your grocery store's app.
At 6:00 AM, I started putting an order together. We needed some basic things: juice, bagels, not butter, cereal, yogurt, nothing terribly exciting. I also put in some chips because you shouldn't even grocery shop online when you're hungry. I finished the order around 6:30, and DoorDash let me know that it should arrive around 8:30/9:00, which is totally reasonable.
As soon as your order is given to a dasher, DoorDash shows you a map that includes your location, the location of the store/restaurant you ordered from, and the location of the car that is supposed to bring you your groceries/meal. I was assigned a dasher within a minute. But for an hour and a half, their car did not move. And it was not anywhere near the grocery store. I sighed loudly, and clicked on the "get help" button on the Doordash dashboard.
DD: Hello, my name is <notabot>. We are sorry that your are currently being inconvenienced and will do everything in our power to help solve your problems this morning. How may I help you?
Me: Hello. I put in a grocery store order an hour and a half ago, and the dasher's car has not moved since they confirmed the order. I don't know if there is a problem with the app or the driver, but I wanted to check in make sure my groceries are on the way.
DD: I can see how that would be frustrating Mr. Stone. We are sorry you are currently being inconvenienced, and I will do everything in my power to help you solve your problems this morning.
DD: Would you like me to contact the driver?
DD: Thank you Mr. Stone, I have contacted the driver and there is currently no problem. Your order may arrive a few minute late. Is there anything else I can help you with this morning.
Me: Thank you. Could you tell me if the problem is with the app?
DD: I can understand how that would be frustrating Mr. Stone. Is there anything else I can help you with this morning.
Me: That didn't answer my question. Is the problem with the app? Has the dasher already started the order?
DD: I have contacted the driver. We are sorry for any inconvenience this may have caused. Is there anything else I can help you with this morning.
Me: Your answers aren't matching my questions at all. Are you a bot?
I reopen the chat.
DD: Hello, this is <alsonotabot> how can I help you this morning?
Me: Is this a bot? The last "live operator" I chatted with turned out to be a bot and they closed my chat.
DD: I'm sorry. That sounds really frustrating. May I ask what the problem is this morning?
Me: I put in an order at 6:30, which is supposed to arrive between 8:30 and 9:00. It's almost 8:30 and the dasher is nowhere near the grocery store where I put the order in. Is there a problem with the app or is the driver just not doing the order?
DD: That sounds really frustrating. I will do everything in my power to help you this morning.
Me: That's what the bot said.
DD: I'm not a bot.
Me: Oh good.
DD: I have contacted the driver. It looks like they accepted the order, changed their mind, and couldn't figure out how to remove the order from their queue. I'm sorry. Would you like me to find you a new dasher?
DD: Ok, Mr. Stone. I've reassigned your order. It should now be arriving by 10:30. Is there anything else I can do for you?
Me: What's the difference between a snow tire and a radial tire?
DD: I'm sorry?
Me: Just checking that you aren't a bot.
DD: I promise that I'm not a bot. But I also don't know anything about tires.
Me: Me, neither. Thanks for all your help.
At 10:15, I receive a text from the dasher, a real human being. "The store is out of strawberry yogurt. Would you like a substitution?"
Me: No, thank you.
At 10:24: "The store is out of banana yogurt. Would you like a substitution?"
How is this person STILL in the yogurt section?
Me: No, thank you.
At 10:35: "The store is out of strawberry yogurt. Would you like a substitution?"
Me: No. If the store is completely out of yogurt, that's ok. I don't need any substitutions.
At 10:41: "The store is out of banana yogurt. Would you like a substitution?"
At 11:00, my phone rings.
Dasher: "Hi, is this Insafemode?"
Dasher: "Can you please tell the app that you do not want any strawberry yogurt? It keeps telling me you want strawberry yogurt."
Me: "Um. I've said no a few times now."
Dasher: "The app doesn't like how you said it."
Me: "I don't know how else to say 'no' other than 'no'."
Dasher: "Ok. I am going to be checking out soon, is there anything else you need?"
I debate asking the tire question, but this guy sounds frazzled. "No, thank you."
At 11:15. "The store is out of banana yogurt. Would you like a substitution?"
At 11:21. "The store is out of strawberry yogurt. Would you like a substitution?"
Comrade wanders into the room, and I explain the Doordash frustration, and the yogurt issue.
Comrade: "Next time is asks if you would like a substitution, tell it cake?"
At noon, there is a knock on the door. It is the dasher, he hands me two plastic bags and says "I'm sorry, they didn't have the bags I liked." and he walks back to the car.
I carry the bags into the kitchen. Both grocery bags are filled with ice and water. One of them is ice, water, and a loaf of bread. One of them is ice, water, and a bag of Doritos.
Comrade: What the fuck?
Me: I don't know what's happening right now.
I go back to the front door.
Dasher: I tell them I need cold bags for your groceries. You have tipped very well, and I want to make sure you have great service, but they do not have cold bags, so I had them put ice and water in all of the bags so they did not melt while I drove them to your house.
I live a three minute drive from the grocery store. Also, I didn't order anything that needed to be frozen.
Me, grabbing a plastic bag filled with ice, water, and a jar of peanut butter, "Ok. Thanks."
The cat litter is, luckily, neither in a plastic bag, nor a bath of ice and water.
"I think this is all." the dasher says, handing me more soggy bags of groceries. "If I knew they did not have the bags I like, I would not have grocery shopped. But you are very nice."
As soon he drives away, I click the "Get Help" feature again.
It goes pretty much the same way as before, including a bot terminating the chat when I ask if it is a bot. But I do eventually reach a live person who has the appropriate response to:
Me: "and then the dasher showed up with plastic bags filled with ice and water. Each bag had one type of item floating in ice and water. Whether it was a carton of juice, a loaf of bread, or a jar of peanut butter."
DD: I'm sorry. What? That sounds really frustrating.
Me: Every plastic bag was filled with ice, water, and one type of grocery item. It was very strange. He was really nice. I want to make sure he gets his tip since it took him two hours to buy $100 worth of groceries, but I wouldn't match him with a grocery store order ever again.
DD: I'm sorry. That is an unusual situation. I am refunding your money for this order, and adding fifty dollars in credit. Is there anything else I can do.
Me: Are those credits going to arrive in a plastic bag filled with ice and water?
DD: No. Your credits will be dry and room temperature. I'm very sorry for the inconvenience. I have done everything in my power to help you today. Is there anything else I can do?
Me: Those last three sentences are exactly what the bot said.
12:35: "The store is out of banana yogurt. Would you like a substitution?"
I'm on my way home and the radio is playing a remix of Phil Collins's "In The Air Tonite", and it doesn't have the drum fill. Like, why even listen to the song without that fill? They had the opportunity to make it just three minutes of drum fill, and they decided to keep the lyrics and synths?
Fire. The. DJ.
Comrade and I have known, almost since we first met, that we are going to get married. I think, at this point, both his parents and mine also know that we are certainly getting married eventually. And, since we somewhat quickly decided we were going to Vegas, neither set of parents stopped asking us all week if we were married yet.
We are not married yet, and have made it out of Vegas unmarried. That was never the plan. And this vacation was meticulously planned (aside from Thursday, but that entire day didn't exist, remember).
The problem with planning is that there are things you can never take into account (but, no, this post does not involve marriage of us or anyone else). For instance, we never got to see the fucken flamingos. Not a single pink feather showed itself despite Comrade dressing head to toe (and I mean Head To Toe ... he bought a flapping flamingo hat on our first night in town, and I designed him flamingo shoes before the pandemic started) in flamingo wear. We never got to see the flamingos. The only feathers were the razors in the horrid pillows that I will happily never sleep on again.
Our plan was to meet some poet friends on Thursday. Unfortunately, Thursday, remember, Never Existed. So we decided Monday would be a real day, and we'd shoot for that. In the untilwhile was The Weekend. (Also, The Weeknd, and Everybody's Working For The.) I know there were adventures. I was there. But what did we ---
I love pools (yea, yea, yea, hot tubs). Whenever I vacation, I go somewhere with a pool. Last October, the pool in the house we rented was Infested with colonies of ants on strike. They floated in massive islands of floating corpses. It was impossible to rid the pool of them. So we didn't swim as much as I'd hoped.
I'd wanted to swim at the Adults Only pool at our casino on Thursday. It's not an ADULTS pool. You have to wear a bathing suit. But no one under 21 is allowed. I'm not sure why. The pool is less than four feet deep, and filled mainly with White People drinking White Claw and bopping their heads to songs with lyrics they should never sing along to. I find a good rule of thumb to see if there is Institutional Racism afoot at your party is Are There More N Words In Your Music Than There Are People Of Color At Your Party? If the answer is yes, maybe your party is not very inclusive.
We'd spent a great deal of time in line for the pool behind a gay couple in love with Comrade's flamingo outfit (he did not wear the hat to the pool, but the shirt, the shorts, the socks, and the shoes were present), but were angry when they were told they could not bring their "expensive" new vape into the pool grounds.
We snuck past them while they griped, grabbed some towels, and found the only two empty chaise lounges in the whole pool area. Comrade did his crossword puzzle while I, UNHOLY GODFUCKERS, dipped into the pool.
Apparently, when you don't have children to pee in your pools, they are Very Cold.
I took Pool Duck out of my pocket, and attempted to take a picture of him but he does Not Float Well. He does squirt well, though, so when Comrade entered the SHITBALLS OF BEN & JERRY pool, I squirted him with Pool Duck, and swam away.
Because the scene was Not Ours, we did a minimal amount of dancing (To The Windows....To The Walls) in the pool, decided to stay there at least as long as we'd been in line to get in, and then grabbed our towels and headed back to our room.
Other things happened. I'm sure of it. We had pizza for dinner, and I spent the night writing.
On Monday, we got up Comrade Late, which is impressively afternoon. We were too late for Der Nasty Egg (aka EggSlut), so we ended up getting really mediocre sandwiches at a sandwich place which I won't name, since part of the problem is I ordered the sandwich a way they wouldn't normally have prepared it, so it's mediocrity was My Fault.
Then we grabbed a Lyft back downtown.
You've noticed a distinct lack of gambling. I don't do it. Comrade wanted to it once. Start with somewhere between $20 and $100 and stop at Zero or Millionnaire Status.
No slot machines, though. Poker or Blackjack. Something that requires work and skill. Instead, we played Vending Machine Slots, and we Won. For $5, I bought a random Sock Pack that turned out to be Flamingo Socks. So we Won At Gambling. I took some pictures of Jackpot Duck in an art garden, and then my poet friends showed up.
Dinner was a blast. Poets are Great Poets and Great People, still. Our service was, um, well, Comrade and I are cursed, remember. But we had a decent meal at the bar where the Great Poets met, and talked for a couple of hours. It was glorious. You really should have been there.
Then, the other gamble. As I've mentioned Several Times, I don't like burlesque, but acknowledge that much of that is I haven't been exposed (ha, ha) to professionals, but some experimental amateur stuff that varied from Probably Promising Somewhere Down The Line to Vision Is Overrated.
One of my friends, who serves as a sort of Las Vegas Entertainment Ambassador, as well as a few other friends, suggested that we see a show called Absinthe. I balked. We'd done a lot of touristy things and while the museums were fun, the shows we'd chosen weren't for us. Comrade continues to be amused by how much I fucken hated that Beatles Cirque Du Soleil show, even though the acrobatics were astounding. I just enjoy either a story or No Story and their idea of narrative storytelling was middle school pageant garbage. But with beautiful acrobatics.
Still, The Ambassador was adamant we'd like it, and arranged for us to get comp tickets. It was only a 90 minute show, and it was in a tent across the street from The Flamingo. I figured it couldn't be As Bad as The Beatles.
Thank you, Ambassador. Absinthe was, along with the Neon Museum Main Tour, and Omega Mart, one of the absolute highlights of the trip for me. For Comrade, it was tied for first with the random woman who put her hand in front of his face and yelled "FUCK OFF, SKANK!" because she was either on or off a necessary medication. I don't know why that brought him such pleasure.
I'm pretty sure the emcee for Absinthe was not the usual person. His was not the face on any of the press I saw, but Hell's Jello Salad he was amazing. He was dressed and talked like the carnival barker who used to co-own a comic book store I used to work at. Only instead of being exhaustin....actually, he was The Same Exhausting, but in the context of the show, it was great. His assistant, Wanda Wheels was like a filthy Psychic Tanya from the Amazing Johnathan show. They were perfect.
The acrobatics were really on par with Cirque Du Soleil, except they were 1-3 performers at a time, instead of a dizzying and unwatchable amount of people distracting you. The narrative was spare but perfect. Yea, there was burlesque dancing. There was a couple who performed amazing roller skate acrobatics, there were three jugglers who were better than most juggling acts I've seen, there was a perfect pole dance artist who didn't even bother to set up a character because she had such presence that she didn't need to speak or have a complicated intro, she just dazzled, there was a chair stunt at the beginning of the show, and a fair amount of people contorting themselves while hanging in the air. The highlights for me were the German hula hoop guy who had no lines but exuded joy and hulaed the hell out of dozens of hoops, the Polish balancing act who morphed from a very different role to a homoerotic contortionist pair where the focus was contortion not humor. I also enjoyed the host and Wanda's banter. In particular, Wanda went on a long rant about the filthy things she was going to do the mother of someone in the audience, only to be interrupted by the host who asked the audience member about his mother who, of course, was dead. "It was sweet to think of her, though." Wanda deapanned. "Happy Mother's Day."
There were also many audience interaction bits that bordered on or widely stepped over Offensiveness. Some things I would have crafted differently, but it mostly punched up, and the character being misogynist and homophobic at points fit with the rest of his personality. And most of it made me laugh, as it was intended. So it was easily the best Show we saw. We got back to our room, talked about it for a bit, and then packed for our Tuesday night flight.
We got up Tuesday earlyish, stored our luggage for the day, and wandered back to Der Nasty E...EggSlut. Still as good the second time. We caught some Pokemon. Then we hit The Saddest Capitalist Portion Of The Trip. The M&M Store, where you can spend too much money making your own assortment of mediocre chocolate that all tastes the same no matter what color it is, anyway. We didn't buy anything.
Then, the Coca Cola store.
Long time readers might remember that Twice, I've gone to the Coca Cola in Disney Springs. Once downed the alcoholic flight of Coke drinks, and once downed the non-alcoholic. I ordered the non-alcoholic one (I'm not sure they sell the alcoholic one in Vegas) to split with Comrade, and we sat by the window and did Everything Wrong.
A Coca Cola Flight is two trays, each containing twelve quadruple shots of various International Coca Cola flavors. If you do it (don't do it), start with Tray #2, which is mostly terrible, and end on Tray #1, which is at worst bland, but often good.
Tray 1 starts with I Don't Remember, and winds its way to That Was Pretty Good. Tray 2 starts with Beverly (actually, its name) which tastes like someone juiced a Christmas Tree Air Freshener, stopping occasionally to spit in it. It's followed by something that tastes like cherry mouthwash, which is actually a Welcome Change despite it being otherwise awful. The third drink is a cucumber soda that really does wash away the terrible taste of the first two. It's not good, it's just cleansing. Then there are various okay to mediocre flavors until you hit the end.
Sour Plum Cola tastes like someone is peeing barbecue sauce into your mouth. I can not, for the life of me, understand why they'd inflict this on people who Gave Them Money To Enjoy Themselves. If you have to drink it because you're at gunpoint or you need to atone for accidentally tossing someone's grandmother into an angry nest of Murder Hornets , do it all in one gulp. DO NOT SIP SOUR PLUM COLA, you will vomit.
We stumbled our way to The Venetian, which we'd been meaning to get to. Along the way, people tried to sell us their CDs (who stil has a CD player in 2022?), complimented our shirts, and that one aforementioned woman called Comrade a skank for some reason.
Our plan had been to do the gondolas. I expected it to be Disney ride cheesy, but it actually just looked sad. Want to ride a gondola down a fake canal in the middle of a strip mall designed to look like a generic town in Europe (seriously, if you can tell the difference between Las Vegas's Venice, and their Paris you deserve some sort of degree). We decided to just go to a food court, put something in our bodies that wasn't carbonated garbage water, and then go back to the Flamingo and charge our phones.
Instead, we headed to the airport early, charged our phones there. And then grabbed something to eat. We went to a nothing bar place with eight food items, somewhat akin to the terrible place in JFK. But they had lobster bisque on the menu. I'm a sucker for it. Most place serve you a cream and sherry concoction, whisper the word "lobster" over the top, and send it out of the kitchen. There were Huge Chunks of lobster in my bisque. I was shocked. My salad was just a salad, and Comrade's pizza was just a pizza, but that bisque, while not some five star dazzling bowl was the second biggest positive surprise of the trip, after Absinthe.
We paid our check just in time to board our flight, and y'all there was no third person in our row. We put Comrade's bag on the empty seat, and my bag under the empty seat, and we both have legroom, and neck pillows (seriously, these stupid neck pillows are more comfortable than seagull feather pillows at The Flamingo), and the wifi is free, which is why I prefer JetBlue to American, whom we had to fly on the way to Vegas for some reason.
All in all this was a fun vacation, and the first one I've taken without poet friends in this millenium. While I would have enjoyed their company, and I still believe that renting a house is cheaper and more fun than staying at a hotel or casino, I'm glad we did this. And that we Did Not get married while we were there.
You know how much I hate cliches.
I spent my thirties distrustful of Open Relationships. Mainly because the people I knew who had them never seemed happy. Most of them either divorced or separated. People freaked out when unexpected pregnancies occured where the paternity was questionable. People got mad because an Open But Don't Tell Me Partner would violate that rule. Things like that.
The worst, of course, was Zuzu and her husband. Twenty-something years of an open marriage fell apart when he had unprotected sex in a Jacuzzi (has anything good Ever Happened in a hot tub?) and got a stranger pregnant. His solution was that they would be some sort of Sister Wives thing and all live in the same house and raise kids together. He was kicked out of the house almost immediately and they never reconciled. But he was the one who called me and let me know Zuzu had been found dead in her house. Nothing more violent than cancer. But I hadn't know she had cancer, as she'd received her diagnosis while I was in a coma. And we hadn't spoken for three or four years before that. Our open friendship had deteriorated as she grew more and more venemous towards the people I cared about.
As this played out, another friend broke up with his primary partner when she got pregnant from another man. Only to find out a few years later, it Was his child but his partner wanted to raise the baby with someone else.
Shit is messy, y'all.
But I'm in my mid-forties now. I have been with more than my and your, and all our mutual friends' fair share of guys ranging from homophobically straight to offensively stereotypically gay, and everywhere inbetween.
I am Comrade's first boyfriend.
Fear not, this isn't a sad breakup story. Or a happy one. Calm down. OUR open relationship works great for us. We've lived together almost since we met. Every few months, Comrade goes on walkabout. It's pretty much building his own Insafemode Journals. I have never feared he was going to leave me for any of the men he's met. I know gay men. Most of us are garbage. We are Very Lucky together.
I also have permission to walkabout. But my legs are So Tired.
In Florida, last fall, we tried to set up some sort of threesome situation but we aren't interested in the same type of guy, which is obvious to anyone who's ever seen a picture of us. So nothing happened.
We each talked to some potential partners. As you might imagine, the skinny, effervescent, twenty something year old gets more messages than the exhausted, overweight middle aged guy who hates everyone. But the percentage of messages that we receive that we are interested in are very similar.
While Comrade anded up meeting some photographer who was nice and respectful until he was creepy (his story to tell, not mine), I met someone I'd been talking with for a few days. A chill guy in his thirties who was on vacation at Disney with his partner. They had a similar open relationship. He'd been skittish about us meeting at the house Comrade and I had rented but eventually relented.
It was a tired trope when I was writing the Insafemode journals: His picture was ten or fifteen years old. For me, it doesn't matter how attractive you are. If you are so terrified of what you look like that you have to send fake or antique pictures, I don't feel comfortable even spending time with you, nevermind pursuing any sort of emotional or physical relationship. I let him have a sandwich (we had too many groceries) and then told him he had to go.
That was in October. Since then, I haven't had the urge to meet anyone outside of our relationship.
Grindr is hilarious to me. I keep thinking back to when Ben invited me over for dinner one night in Allston, and showed me his OK Cupid matches. There were none.
"I've blocked EVERY gay guy in Boston." He bragged, fluffing his hair. "No one is good enough for me."
This was patently untrue. But funny.
I haven't blocked Everyone on Grindr but it is the thing I do The Most. Does a person's profile mention they wouldn't be interested in someone my age or size? Blocked. Why should I bother them? Does someone send me an unrpovoked naked picture or demand one from me? Blocked. Is someone just not my type? Blocked. Is someone aggressive or problematic? Blocked. Does someone have an incompatible kink? Blocked. There are so many great reasons not to waste my time trying to get laid. #1 is ... Comrade.
I had no plans to do any sexual adventuring in Vegas, but we did decide to check for possible threesomes in Vegas, as there's a wider age spectrum here than in, say, Orlando. (We are not going to try it out close to home.)
Nobody that was interested in us particularly sparked mutuality. But.
It's been, what, a decade since I regularly updated The Insafemode Journals? But there are people out there who read them regularly and remember them. People who saw pictures of me that I posted for Coming Out Day or other events. Maybe once or twice a year, I get a message from someone who recognizes me. And such a thing happened in Vegas.
Their opening message was unspectacular. Inoffensive. Fully clothed. Just a mention that I looked familiar. Which was funny to me because they looked familiar to me, too. But I knew why. They were in porn. Not a porn star. But someone who was in a couple of videos that were from a studio that amused me. Not aroused me. Amused me. The acting was terrible. The storylines were Awful. The camera angles were weird. His accent was spectacular. He could have been from the Midwest, Florida, Boston, England. His speech pattern needed a passport wherever he was.
So I told him that I used to have a sex blog, and he admitted to having some videos and asked if I wanted a link. I declined. But we decided to meet up. I wasn't quite sure sex was going to happen. I had seen his porn many years to a decade ago, and his pictures look freakishly similar. I just expected him to look as different from his 2012 self as I do.
We agreed to meet at the resort he was staying at at 9pm, while Comrade was going to have dinner with someone else. The thing was, this porn guy, Carter, was staying at Harrah's. I fucken hate Harrah's. Their signage is terrible. None of their employees know where anything is. And it was just as shut down as our casino because of the stupid the NFL Draft. But it was where he was staying, so I headed over there at 8:30, even though it was a 5-10 minute stroll.
I texted him that I was on my way, and was unsurprised when he wrote back that he'd be late. I wondered if he was having second thoughts. My shitty sense of self kept thinking "I'm not his type at all. I'm way too old, fat, boring, etc. for this kinky porn star." But, like, many of his partners in those videos were Older Then than me Now. And he is also ten years older than he was in those videos, so Shut Up Self.
I sat down at a bar near where we were supposed to meet. I ordered a soda but tipped like I bought a real drink, which caught the attention of the bartender.
"Do you work around here?" He asked.
"No. Boston. But I'm industry."
He nodded. "Ok. Well, thanks." and then he turned his attention to a Very Drunk woman who wanted to find the "valley", which I'm pretty sure meant "valet".
"Oh, it's..." he waved in a direction.
"NO NONO NO NO NO." Drunk Lady scolded. "None of you know where Anything is. Just walk me there."
"But I---" he looked around the bar, there were four customers and two bartenders. "Sure. I'll help you."
I put down another couple of bucks. Because fuck that particular casino. He was too nice to work there.
"Adam?" I heard.
"Oh, hey Carter." I said, getting up. "Good to see you."
"Likewise." he said. His voice was the same as in the videos. I had assumed that was a fake accent. Whoof.
He was wearing a cast on his right arm.
"What happened?" I asked, pointing to it.
"Oh, I just had surgery. Glass." As though that explained anything.
"Oh? Car accident? Walk into a sliding glass door?" I asked.
"I forgot." He sighed. "You're a writer. It's just glass."
Long, awkward pause of doom.
"What have you done so far in Vegas?"
"Oh." I said. "We went to the neon museum, Area 15 and Omega Mart, we saw The Beatlles Cirque Du Soleil show.--"
"Was that any good?" He asked. "I saw the Michael Jackson show last night, and I had No Idea what was happening. The plot was, I don't know. Maybe I'm just too stupid for theater."
"Noooooo." I said. "The Beatles show had some connecting scenes but it made No Sense most of the time."
"Did your partner like it?"
"He thought it was okay." I said. "But he didn't love it, either."
"How old is he?" I was not expecting to be asked.
"So you're sugar daddying."
I frowned. "No. We each have our own jobs and share of the finances. I can't afford to be anyone's sugar daddy."
"But you're in Vegas." he said.
"So are you. And you're on a floor so high you have to have a special card and elevator access to get there."
He almost smiled. "The view is pretty nice. Oh, don't judge the room. I'm usually military clean but--" he wagged his cast.
"Of course." I said.
He flashed his key at the door. A red light turned on. He flashed his key again. Same red light.
"Fuck. Again?" he said. "I've got to call security again."
"Ok." I said.
I was assuming, at this point, that he wasn't into me, and was using his key on the wrong door. His way of politely getting me to leave. So I started texing Comrade.
Comrade's Meanwhile Story is that the person he'd been texting decided to go to bed but wanted to talk later because .... he is from Boston.
"Hi. This is Carter in room ... Yes. Yea. I got the new key but it doesn't work, either. Could you send someone up? Five to ten minutes? Would it be faster for me to go down there? Yea. Yea. Would I have to wait in line? I don't want to wait in line again. Ok. Five to ten minutes? Ok." He turned to me. "We've got to wait a bit. You're from Boston, right?"
"What happened to your acccent?"
"I broke it." I said "I moved around for a while and it disappeared."
I have never had a Boston accent. I'm from Connecticut and grew up on Cape Cod.
"People always make fun of my accent."
"Where are you from?" I asked.
"Iowa." he said.
"You were going to guess Florida weren't you?"
I shrugged. "Gainesville, specifically."
"That's where my mom's from." he said. "God, what is taking them So Long?"
"It's only been about two minutes." I said. "Didn't they say it would be five to ten?"
He sulked. "I wish they'd stop giving me broken keys."
"Yea." I said. "This place is a steady shitshow."
"I'm going to call them again."
My turn to shrug. "Ok."
"Hi, this is Carter from Room...yes. Do you know when you're going to be able to send someone up? We've been waiting a long time. Do you know how much longer? Should I just go down there? I just don't want to wait in no lines again. It takes so long. No. No. No, don't send a medical team. No, jesus, I'm fine. Ok. Ok. I'll go down. No lines, though, right?"
Every flag in the building was red. His shirt was a red flag. His pants. His shoes. His accent. His impatience. Everything red. Everything flag.
"We've got to go downstairs so I can get a new key."
"Ok." I said, following him into the elevator.
I don't remember what we talked about because I was thinking I should probably just leave. I was beginning to think the accent included some slurring as the effect of a substance. Couldn't place which one, though.
It took less than a minute for him to get the key, and for us to get back in the elevator.
"I don't know why they keep doing this to me? I paid good money, you know? Hotels are expensive here. In Iowa, I can get a room for thirty a night. Nobody visits me but at least nobody's breaking my keys all the time."
We got out of the elevator and walked further down the hallway than we were before. It was 100% a completely different room than he'd tried to get into earlier. "Don't forget." He said. "My arm hurts, so it's a little messy."
I am, at my best, a little messy. Clothes piled in one place, a nightstand covered in chapstick, breath mints, change, and books. A little messy.
This was an addict's room.
Three whiskey bottles that I could see. Clothes everywhere. The TV on some random channel about Las Vegas culture. Both beds absolutely destroyed. Condom wrappers (but not condoms) on the desk. I didn't see any paraphenalia, but I also studiously avoided the bathroom because I was pretty sure that's where it was.
He took off his clothes. "Do you have any condoms?"
This was not quite what I had expected. "No." I said.
"I'll just go back downstairs." and shake my head a bit. "They must have condoms in the little convenience store by the front desk. Should I get lube?"
"I'm allergic to lube." he lied.
"Ok. Can I have your room key? Otherwise, I won't be able to get back up in the elevator."
"Oh. I don't remember where I put my key. Did you see me put it down somewhere? I have this problem where I always lose things."
I shut my eyes. Red flags. "In your pocket?"
He produced two keys. "I don't know which one works."
I plucked them both from his hands. Opened the door, and waved each of them by the door. They both worked, of course. There was never anything wrong with the keys. There was something wrong with the keyholder.
I took the elevator down to the lobby, walked to the convenience store and took a picture of the condom display. "These are all lubricated." I texted. "Is that a problem?"
"Nope." He texted back. "Whatever."
I bought condoms and a soda, took the elevator back up.
He was ass in the air.
"Ohhhhhhhhhhhhh. Fuck me dadddddddddddddddddddddddddddddeeeeeee. Daaaaaaaaaaaaaaaadeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee."
I Hate Age Play Sex. There is no faster way to kill the mood for me.
"Please don't say that." I said.
"You want to be my coach?"
He turned around and looked at me. "Why are you still wearing clothes? What's the matter, I'm not young enough for you?"
"What?" I asked.
"I get it. I don't look like I'm twelve anymore so none of the fifty year old guys want to fuck me anymore. I should just kill myself."
I threw the condoms on the bed. "You can keep these."
"What, are you just going to go? Can't get it up because I'm so old, Mr. Writer?"
"Here are your keys." I threw them on the bed with the condoms. "Don't lose them."
"Oh, you're going to take care of me now? Don't want to fuck me, you just want to be my daddy?"
I walked out his door. He did not follow.
I texted Comrade. "Well, this went to super shit at the speed of drug addict. Can I come back?"
"Yea." he texted back. "My guy bailed. Guess we'll have to debauch with each other."
"I'm going to need a few minutes."
"Should we meet for ice cream?"
"Yes. That sounds great." I replied.
"Can you at least come back and eat my ass?" Carter texted. "I'm horny and my arms no good."
I blocked his number.
I unblocked his number. I didn't want to be named in a porn not star's suicide note, even if it was just as Insafemode.
Comrade was waiting for me in front of the ice cream/cupcake place. He kissed me Hello. "Waffle cones?"
"Waffle cones." I said.
The most I've ever noticed our cultural age gap is when, in a conversation about bands and artists from Australia, Comrade asked me who "Eenks" was.
It's pronounced "In Excess".
Thursdays have always just been rumors. I've never seen one happen in real life.
Since our kayaking was cancelled on account of wind, we didn't have any concrete plans, so we attempted to wander around the strip but the NFL Draft Weekend had started. And the center of it was behind the casino we stayed at. It was difficult to get anywhere without getting crunched by a bunch of couch-assed, jersey wearing drunks who varied from crying by the elevators because they couldn't remember where they were staying to randomly shouting the names of their favorite twenty-something who ended up on their team to drunkenly falling down flgiths of stairs.
Thursday never happened. We shan't discuss it.
Friday was our downtown day. We had to walk through three casinos to get picked up because the NFL Draft had physically shut down our area so that no cars were allowed to pick people up or drop them off. This meant walking to Harrah's which is the only casino that I would love to see burned down, its earth salted so it can't be rebuilt. Their signage is deplorable, none of their employees knew how to get anywhere. An employee who, it turned out, was Within Sight of the Uber pickup, pointed us in the wrong direction. Salt. The. Earth. (The rumor that on Thursday we had a similar problem when two employees couldn't tell us where a restaurant inside the casino was can't be verified because Thursday never happened. I will just say that we twice walked by the restaurant on Friday when we just wanted to get a Lyft.)
We grabbed brunch at a restaurant where we were mostly ignored by the staff. I already posted about it. Then we walked to Writer's Block Bookstore and Imaginary Bird Sanctuary. A well-decorated (literally, not militarily) store that had a thorough and impressive stock of poetry, horror, fantasy, sci fi, screenwriting books, scripts, cookbooks, YA books, Young Reader books, marionettes, blank books, birdhouses, fake birds, partial animal skeleton reproductions, and other things one must have when buying books. If you're ever in LV, you should go there and spend money. They also had a coffeehouse but we didn't partake.
From there we walked to Container Park. It was a little lackluster compared to the last time I was there. Not bad, but very quiet. Apart from having a delicious slushy that completely froze my throat, it was uneventful. Friday is seeming uneventful.
A quick jaunt to Fremont Street was disappointing. Like emotionally crushing disappointing. I had been warned that much of the cool stuff around Femont Street had moved down to Main Street but seeing it was just said. I don't even want to write about it. It's someone else's place to eulogize.
We took a long walk to the Neon Museum at a slow pace, as we were way early. Like way way early. Very early. But we had budgeted an hour and a half for Fremont Street, and seven minutes was six and a half minutes too long.
I had booked us for a the supposedly fancy newish tour at 7, and the usual tour at 8. (I'd never been on either but Comrade's Sister had recommended it before the pandemic when the secondary tour was Tim Burton themed.)
We were there at 5:30. At 6:15ish, after I'd read all of the poetry books I'd bought at Writer's Block, a very nice employee asked if we wanted to take an earlier tour. I didn't really want to, as I wanted to take the regular tour when it was dark. It's a neon museum. So he looked at my ticket, and Freaked Out. Apparently, they'd booked some private show for the 7:00 secondary tour, and we wouldn't be able to join in. He got on his radio, called over another employee. Soon, there were four people passing my phone around, trying to figure out how I'd managed to book the tickets that way. In the end, they offered a chance to go sit in The Boneyard (I'll explain later) until 8, take the regular tour, and then do the secondary show at 9.
We had been there since 5:30. There are only so many Pokemon to catch, and the staff very honestly let us know that the only things to do within walking distance were the Mob Museum and Fremont Street, everything else either being closed for the night or far away. So we hung out.
The regular tour of the Neon Museum is totally worth that wait. Our guide (who was moving to New Mexico the next day because ... "the fucking economy" ... according to her boss who had been chief Freaker Outer about our tickets) was excellent. The tour is beautiful because of the art and the lights but also woke in a way that will upset your shitty Uncle Donald but impress you. There was a huge focus on the women and people of color who helped shape Vegas's sign history, and a talk about how the first integrated casino was built and the shitty reasons it closed within five months. There was also some discussion about the queer clubs, the bootleggers who struggled through Prohibition, and other cool things. I loved it. One old man huffed and scoffed a few times, but he was also the guy who was getting visibly and audibly upset when one of the other dozen people on the tour walked in front of him as he tried to take shots of every sign from every possible angle. We were just supposed to wait for his private photo shoot, I guess?
Take the regular tour.
If Brilliance is the secondary show when you go. Skip it.
Brilliance is about a cool technology where someone has traced all the bulbs on dead neon signs, and programmed a computer to create a show where it looks like they're lighting up again. It was super interesting and about three minutes worth of impressive. It was a 45 minute show. First, we walked by a mural filled with some historical figures involved in the history of Vegas neon signs. Again, the focus was people of color, women, and queer men. This time, no one scoffed. But the guide was either very tired or very bad at his job. He just gave a very Over It vibe. When the show started it was .... Comrade described it as "A pretty competent middle school power point presentation." I thought it felt like watching a screensaver from 1996. The same eight signs lit up in similar ways for 45 minutes while songs about Vegas that you've heard in Every Movie About Vegas Ever Made played. Liberace, Elvis, Tony Bennet, Frank Sinatra, two modernish songs that weren't but could have been The Killers. It was super boring, and a waste of the technology.
We ordered a Lyft back, forgetting about the NFL Draft. Our poor Lyft driver was stuck slowly orbiting the basic area of the Flamingo/The Linq/Harrah's before we just got out behind the promenade and walked back to our room.
We hadn't eaten. We were so hungry. But the promenade and the casino were so packed with the kind of pathetic fandom that makes poetry slam groupies seem reasonable that we didn't want to go back out. I logged into DoorDash to order a pizza. FOUR HOUR WAIT. Cancelled the order. Ordered from a much closer Italian place. FOUR HOUR WAIT. We cancelled the order. I walked down to the food court. Each place had a pretty massive line of team jerseyed fucks*. I looked to my left and to my right, saw a drunk guy hesitating at a sub place, and I just walked up to the counter like I'd been in line, definitively ordered two subs and some drinks, and paid in about a minute and a half. Nobody in line noticed. The staff did not care at all.
Then we ate our mediocre food and crashed.
* - None of the football fans were ever rude in my presence. They were just drunk, clumsy, vomity, and taking up more space than was available. They were much better behaved and better smelling than the average Comic Con attendees.
How did I forget the smell of vanilla? The women on our floor all smell like they were dipped in cupcake frosting. Dressed like they are playing a cupcake fairy in a high school play. So much vanilla. So many sequins.
Also, on the Thursday that never happened, security hit every room in the casino looking for explosives. So that was fun. Oh, and the security guards that hit our room were racist (not against us, obviously, but their commentary on the people next door was the kind of dog whistly bullshit that would never get them in trouble but is racist all the same).
Sometimes Comrade appreciates it when I point out that it's ironic that his favorite food is waffles. Sometimes he isn't sure if it's funny. Regardless, we knew we had to have at least one day of delicious waffles. So we started out our Wednesday at Maxine's, which was just outside our hotel.
I took a picture of brunch duck in front of our food. This was the highlight of our meal. The second highlight was that we conquered a Pokemon gym, and each put a shiny green monster in, and then four other people joined in, also putting in shiny green monsters. The third highlight was that, eventually, a server came over to take our order, while the tables around us loudly cackled at nothing, and had incredibly loud phone conversations where they played the "I love you. Ok, you hang up. No, you hang up." game until a vortex appeared and swallowed each of their phones, spitting them out into the surprised hands of their children who were then forced to say "I love you. No, you hang up first." to themselves until they died of starvation, having no hands free to feed themselves.
I thought I ordered a stack of waffles, eggs, and some bacon, but I'd actually ordered waffles stacked with eggs and bacon between them. The waffles envied Eggos. The high fructose corn syrup had never even seen a maple tree. The eggs were from seagulls. The bacon was actually faux wooden paneling pulled off a 1970s station wagon.
Comrade ordered the berry waffles, everything else seeming too rich. I would not have been surprised if the waffles had come out with crunch berries and boo berries. But they were real shaped berries, each of them named after one of the chef's exes. A puff of smoke rose out of each one as soon as the forks touched them. His waffles were decisively stale. But also wet. His syrup was made from the racist briars from Disney's Song Of The South. Our server apologized for nearly forgetting our drinks. A glass of crushed Cheetos in dirty dish water, masquerading as orange juice. I had a ginger ale made from onions and the carbonated sweat of an Edward Sheeran impersonator. I can not recommend Maxine's. Though neither of us had the Cotton Candy Pancakes or the Cocoa Puffs French Toast, so maybe it was our fault for not ordering the proper items.
We caught a Lyft to Area 15. A metal garden. Four laughing old ladies who cawed "You'll love this Betty," of course Betty, "it's almost like art." A dragon of gears, an embracing trophy couple, a fallen robot with a riddle decoded with an A-Z code that took too much time to be interesting. Tickets on my phone. A security guard loved my shirt: two kaiju kissing. He showed me his keychain, three kaiju fighting. I asked him where he got it, his answer was TV static.
We enter Area 15 proper. A gigantic doom mask. A generic bar. A generic bar. We bypass the central store. An ice cream stand. Two places to sit and partake in food or drink. I buy a ticket for Omega Mart. An hour wait. Avoid the gift store. Find a toy store that happens to be the aforementioned TV static. We do not find any kaiju keychains. Up the stairs. An ovoid zip line. Wink World. We enter.
Wink World is a hallway of Magic Eye art that fails to dazzle without hallucinogens or 3-D glasses. Not boring. Just just. At the end of the hallway, a door closes behind you. Lights go off. Bulbs. Voice over about infinity. A door opens. Another room. More bulbs? Different shapes? Something about letting go? Another door opens. Slinky corpses and pop music. Beats. Beats. Beats. Another door. Another voice over. More shiny. A journey from pot to opium to acid to being sober and listening to someone on boring drugs to general exhaustion. A perfect journey. Never a sleep moment. Time to blink and laugh and still be impressed. I would do it again.
We are out just in time for Omega Mart. Backpacks not allowed. Magic wand securitied. Bag check. The vegetable aisle of aspirational carrots, ducklings, a stack of apples with questionable holes to other dimensions. A hedge of flowers with mouths and eyes leads us into the secret back room. Basic illusions. A student film with a budget about missing siblings, aliens? a cult of groceries. We walk out dubious. A small cabin with books, a computer where someone is trying to solve riddles. Serious Twin Peak vibes.
Another cabin. More books. Another computer. A small hole. Comrade crawls through first. I follow. A cliff wall with a rope ladder. At the top, a place to sit. View of the area you came from. A hallway of lights. The break room. Safety video musical. A file cabinet to another room. A robot who doesn't want to be replaced. A recording about rebranding Omega Mart. Another hallway. Doors. Some say Nope. Spoilers, some have things in them. The Internet. Infinity. Music.
Up some stairs to a slide down to a doorway that leads through the soda coolers in the grocery store. Vegan goat pus. Who told you this was butter? I think a lot of this is out of order. A spiral staircase to a different file cabinet. A room full of computers. Choose Your Own Phone Adventure. An employee likes my shirt. Takes what I'm working on to another desk. Cat pictures. Hostile takeover. A cult leader ascends. A sister suffers. A graph of rumors ranked by believablity.
A path leads back towards the slide. I frighten an employee who was trying to frighten me. Yelp reviews mention that the employees aren't very helpful. I guess it depends on what you need, Betty. Down another corridor back into the grocery store. We buy some sodas that aren't very good.
It's fine. Back in Area 51 an all soda store. Two different delicious varieties of Heteronormative Teeny Bopper Bullshit. Another circuit of the building. An overpriced clothing store. A mannequin flipping the bird. Prismed swimming goggles. More sequins than Liberace could palsy a fist at.
At Meow Wolf, we buy a magnet, some postcards, a hat.
We ordered a Lyft back to the casino. Got dressed for a show. Prepared to get dinner at Fulton Street. But Vegas. Vegas you improperly signed fucko. A giant sign for Fulton Street outside a McDonald's and a Panda Express. Neither of which are Fulton Street. Inside the casino, Harrah's, signs for everything but what we were looking for. Fine, Outback Steakhouse. Not the one I helped open for a few hours in 2003. A different one. Dinner was fine. We watched the Volcano show from a safe distance. Headed into The Mirage.
We were early. Comrade kept making the same jokes about his favorite Beatles songs, always actually talking about ACDC songs. He conjured two unrelated people wearing ACDC shirts. I did not think of the story Tony told me a billion times about how he once tried to bust a shoplifter who turned out to be Angus Young, who could buy and sell the entire inventory of that store fifty times without his bank account being appreciably dented. I didn't think of it at all. A billion times. I did notice that there were virtually no records, CDs or other physical copies of Beatles music in the Beatles store, just generic Beatles junk and forgettable t-shirts. Hrm.
There were a lot of jokes you don't need to hear that we told during our hour wait before seeing Cirque Du Soleil's Beatles show. But I did use the bathroom, and walked through two halls of urinals. There is no way all of those urinals were neccesary. When I was done, I washed my hands, walked back and every urinal was occupied. The previous Beatles show had just let out. I see.
Dozens of people were having their pictures taken in front of a frankly boring mural, so Comrade and I pretended that we were waiting for someone to take our picture. We posed. We looked hesitant. We shrugged. We looked around. No one noticed our pantomime routine. We got in line for the show.
Look, the acrobatics in the Cirque Du Soleil Beatles show were fantastic. The performers were excellent. But, Paul's not dead yet, what a boring show. There's neither a narrative nor a lack of narrative. There's a weird Did You Know World War II Ended So That Beatlemania Could Exist moment. There is a guy who searches for love the entire show by handing out flowers. At the very end, for no discernable reason, he has a huge boquet of flowers. A performer we've just met is hit by a car, and a child actor raises his arms in the air in despair, and I said, out loud, Please Don't Let This Be The Beginning Of Hey Jude. It was.
We were the only people in our row. Calling the performance sparsely attended is being polite. There was a couple a few rows in front of us, wearing matching straw hats, who either had a relative in the cast, were on A LOT of uppers, or else were genuinely touched by the show. I'm glad they were there, as the rest of us were a dead fucken audience. I began to question if I'd ever liked theater.
The lowpoint: there are very few people of color in the show. The dance scene the two main poc acrobats have together? (They each have several numbers with other acrobats) It's to "Blackbirds". While they dance, civil rights scenes are superimposed on screens around them. That would just be mildly heavy handed but fine. But then, out of nowhere, a fucken tramp black bird splats to the ground and does a goddamned pseudo-minstral routine before ascending as the song says "Blackbird fly." It's the only part of the show I remember that was played for comedy. And it interrupted the civil rights scene.
What the actual fuck?
I also think, maybe, this year they could have cut the Back In The USSR number, it made no interesting statement.
It wasn't all bad, but very little of the good parts were as excellent as the bad parts were terrible. It certainly didn't make me want to watch any more Cirque Du Soleil shows.
We went back to the hotel where an ominous group of men in NFL jerseys were checking in. We slept. Cautiously.
There were still no flamingos out in the flamingo habitat.