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Thursday, June 21, 2007

Sick Boy

(Las Vegas, NV) She's an Asian woman who doesn't speak a ton of English, but I imagine her conversation in the housekeeping room of my floor goes like this.

Housekeeper #1: The boy in 012, he sick boy. He have problem.
Housekeeper #2: It's Vegas, everybody has problems.
Housekeeper #1: No, he sick boy! He masturbates! He cokehead! All day long!

I couldn't blame her for making the assumption that I'm a chronic masturbator and hooked on coke. On days when I can't clean up my room before I run out to work, I leave behind at least one empty bottle of lotion and a Kleenex that may or may not contain evidence of a nosebleed. There are days I should just keep the "Do Not Disturb" sign on the door.

The simple fact is, the evidence is confusing. I'm too tired to pleasure myself, and I don't use cocaine (the one thing I don't need in my life is another addiction). In truth, no matter how much water I drink, I can't stay hydrated. No matter if I drink no booze for 48 hours, I can't stay hydrated. The result is lizard-like skin and frequent nosebleeds. Nothing I can do.

This is not for a great effort to remain healthy in an environment that caters to being as unhealthy as possible. I'm even betting on how healthy I can be.

The main source of food during the 16-hour workdays here is something they call The Poker Kitchen. Cold food involves wraps and salads. Hot food ranges from burgers to stromboli. Last year, I pretty much ate one piece of over-cooked pizza a day. This year, my first day on the ground, I accepted a bet from Pauly that I couldn't last the full seven weeks without eating a slice. To this moment, I'm good. However, this is the first day I have been tempted.

I'm $30 to the good in what Pauly calls "Throwing Things" prop bets, in which one or the other of us tosses something (water bottles, matchbooks, a Milwaukee's Best show girl) into a container. Also so far this year, I have accepted no prop bets that require me eating or drinking anything. Last year, I made hundreds of dollars on those (note: crayons are easier than daiquiris and crackers).

In a dream world, I could set up a staged scenario in which the housekeeper walks in on me, Pauly, and six of our friends from South America. The room would be a snowstorm of cocaine and an oil slick of Jergens.

My first question to the maid would be, "Would you eat two Keno crayons for $400?"

"You sick boy! Sick boy!"'

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Sunday, June 17, 2007

Father's Day Blues

10:50-GSP runway posting via blackberry.Weather hold in Dallas means I will miss connecting flight to Vegas. My son's advice to me on our parting: "Be smart, Daddy.Don't hit anybody." Thirty minutes on the runway and thirty days in the desert? It will be advice I need methinks.

12:25 CT--Tarmac at DFW. Made it in time for connection, but now we're without a gate to pull into. At some random moment this week, my son said, apropos of nothing, "Don't be afraid, Daddy." Trying, buddy.

1:10 CT -- It's like these people have never seen a grown man eating noodles in the middle of the floor. The bad news for everybody here is good news for me. The flight to Vegas is delayed, so I don't have to deal with switching flights. I am passing the time with Manchu Wok and a renewed sense of optimism. And given the time, maybe a frozen yogurt.

1:46 CT -- What mother allows her well-endowed 15-yr-old daughter to wear a T-shirt that reads: "Hooters of all hooters?". Expected departure time: 10-15 minutes. I think I dislike DFW. Nonetheless, I remain optimistic, hooters be damned.

2:15 CT -- One thing I have noticed...flights to Vegas are almost always full. Flights out of Vegas, that's not always true. Seat 24A will carry me on this final leg for my 30 days in the desert. The lady in 23A already has her seat leaned back. I am considering taking advantage of the bottle service on American airlines. Sure, it's a mini bottle, but I am from SC

3:20 PDT-- touchdown Las Vegas. Flying in, I was again greeted by the desolation of the desert. It is either symbolic of emptiness or opportunity. I choose, for better or worse, to believe the latter.

3:50 PDT-- Baggage claim. Everyone coming in looks like winners. Everyone going out looks like a loser -- hungover, bloodshot, spent. It is 98 degrees outside. This, I think, is the only place in America where Father's Day doesn't exist. So be it. At least my bags are almost here.

Thursday, June 14, 2007


It's a whirlwind trip from Vegas to home and back. I've done almost as much work from home as I would've done on the road. On the plus side, I've taken my kid to the park, to the movies, out to eat, and for ice cream. I've tucked him in for two consecutive nights and read him a book about pirates. All of these things are better than eating a half-cooked panini while I watch people play poker.

Rather than wax and wane, I figure I'll get back to what I'm doing and pimp Pauly's 'zine Truckin. He was kind enough to ask me to submit something for his fifth anniversary edition. At first, I didn't think I had anything for him. Then I happened across three seemingly unrelated things I've written here over the years. I tweaked them a little bit and realized they sort of fit together. I ended up calling the short collection: Three Men Leaving.

Now, back to the pirates.

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Friday, June 08, 2007

Summer winds

(Las Vegas, Nevada) When my plane landed here, a crosswind threatened to send my American Airlines jet sliding into the dessert. I chalked it up to the odd gust and didn't think a thing about it. That was until a windstorm unlike any I've seen whipped up and threatened to destroy the World Series of Poker's overflow tent. I knew it had gotten bad when paramedics were brought it to see to a guy who was clipped by a piece of steel the size of a phone book.

That night, or morning as it was, I stood at my window looking out over the Nevada desert. The wind was blowing so hard, a constant whistle squeaked through the glass. It was unnerving enough to use it as the excuse for my sleeplessness.

Dr. Jeff was pretty straight forward in his prescription for my health at the World Series.

Less caffeine. NO RED BULL. NO SOBE. Less booze. More water. More fiber. 3 days a week on the treadmill for just 20 minutes.

I've been following his advice. I've cut my caffeine intake in half. I swore off Red Bull a while back. I'm not drinking like a fish. I'm consuming about 120 ounces of water a day. Fiber? Well, I'm eating, but not much. Treadmill? I'm on my feet for most of a 14 hour workday.

And so, why can't I sleep? Falling asleep is easy. Staying asleep is not. If I get three uninterrupted hours, I'm happy. In fact, until last night, I was getting about three hours of sleep a night. Last night, I pulled six hours and I feel, as you might expect, like a champ.

This work is not ideal for a family man. I've spent many a word lamenting the time I spend away from the family. I probably need to reflect more on that subject, but the environment here doesn't really allow for it. I learned last year, if I loosen the armor during the middle of the battle, I fall pretty quick. Today, I loosened it a bit and I'm quickly working to steel myself. It's too early to be going crazy. Enough on that for now.

The oddest thing so far this trip is what I can only assume is an acute case of dehydration. It's no fault of my own. I drink water in 24 ounce gulps. If I drank any more, I'd worry the health implications of drinking too much water. Still, even though I haven't been outside in the wind, my skin and lips are dry. Like a lizard...which is probably pretty fitting for the desert.

Recently, my wife and I have enjoyed a running joke about how too much work and writing actually hurts my vocabulary. "I'm out of words," I've been heard to say regularly. And that's sort of where I am right now.

I'm out of words.


Tuesday, June 05, 2007

Working man

(Las Vegas, Nevada)--I'd just accepted the fact that I wasn't going to eat for another ten hours when the pilot said Las Vegas temperatures were registering at 100 degrees. I was already steaming because the frail young steward wanted to charge me $3 for a bag of chips. What I didn't say--but wanted to--was "You know, I paid $25 for a cheeseburger in Monte Carlo. But, I'm not about to give you $3 for a bag of Lay's."

It didn't make sense to me, either. I'd been up for too long after sleeping too little.

One hundred degrees feels different in a 25 mph wind. It dries out your eyes and nostrils in about 30 seconds. By the time you make it into the cab with the Ukrainian taxi driver, the smell of air conditioned body odor is almost welcome.

"Rio," I said.

"How are you?" the driver said, his accent as thick as his moustache.

"Good. You?"

"Working," he said, like he was Atlas and the world had just borne another billion.

"I'm here to work, too," I said, hoping my empathy would ease whatever pressure he was feeling.

"There is a difference," he said. And then, almost to himself, "Pussies come out for a meeting..."

The Rio is purple, garnet, and blue, set against the Nevada mountains. The haze of scorched air and smog makes it look like a desert mirage. From the back seat of a 90 mph cab, it looks like the only thing on the horizon. And for me, it really is.

This place is the same as it ever was. The waitresses still know what we want to drink. The food in the diner is still the same. The view of the Gold Coast next door is only slightly lower, a product of ending up on the fourth floor instead of somewhere higher.

I didn't bother explaining to the cabbie that, regardless of whether I was a pussy, that I wasn't here for a meeting. I was here for the World Series of Poker.

And that's how things being here...a Ukrainian guy calling me a pussy and me trying to find a way to prove him wrong. I've been awake for 21 hours now, after sleeping for just a few.

I feel, oddly, at peace with my assignment and the prospects of the next few months.

That, friends, is how I jinx myself.

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Sunday, June 03, 2007

Seven years

My friend, T, took that picture in the very first minute of this year. I look at it a lot, because I see pure love in it. When I get scared that I'm not the perfect husband, I look at the picture and see that, even after being together for ten-plus years and being married for seven, my wife and I are still like twenty-somethings with no need for anything but each other.

I have a recurring dream that reminds me how fragile love can be. It shakes me awake and leaves me staring at the ceiling and afraid to go back to sleep. It's only after I am awake for a few minutes that I feel better. That's because my wife is always there. If I'm home, she's there making a good life for our kid. If I'm on the road, she's on the other end of the phone with a good story or a pep talk.

She is going to wake up soon. The kid--now sleeping in his first Big Boy Bed--will call out and my wife will get up like she does most every morning. This day, the seventh anniversary of our marriage, will be full of stress, preparation, and packing for a very tough time.

Regardless, I know at the end of this day, the end of this summer, and from there on out, we'll still be able to kiss each other like we did in the picture.

Happy anniversary, baby.

Friday, June 01, 2007


Last night, after an anniversary dinner with my wife (I really need to see the rest of the lobster that had a one pound tail), I took a walk through the downtown arts district of G-Vegas. Despite the underhanded and often dirty way the area developed, it's quite nice and the perfect place for a walk on a warm Thursday night.

My wife held my arm as we walked. I let my hands hang to my sides. After about a a half hour of walking, I felt the familiar tingle in my hands. It's a combination of swelling and repetitive motion issues that make my hands feel like arthritic sausages.

It was a quick reminder that The Sickness is about to begin.

I realized that my marathon Vegas summer is about to begin and I will be sausage hands for the next two months. I usually begin these trips with a long lament about leaving my family, the romantic dread about spending a summer in Sin City, and an anecdote or two about one of my past trips.

Instead, I'm just going to clear my head of a few niggling little things and try to go into the summer fresh. I've made a decision to treat this summer like a test of will, ability, talent, and discipline. That likely means I'll be a shivering mass of flesh, writing nothing, and sodden with booze by mid-June. But I hope not.

So, let's go into this one clean, eh?

* I'm a bad judge of depth. Evidence of this can be found in most areas of my life. This week, I bought a new washer and dryer. I judged the width and height of my utility closet very well. Not accounting for depth, I'm now waiting for the delivery guy to bring something new that can fit in the space. I have only moderate faith that--even with the use of a tape measure--I got it right this time. I think there is probably a greater life metaphor somewhere in here.

* I bought a new cell phone that was probably more than I need. The Blackberry Pearl is a fabulous little device. However, I think I bought it to compensate for other depth issues I have.

* I have had a small halo of concern hovering over my head for the past couple months regarding a professional issue. While not entirely to my satisfaction, the issue has been resolved and I'm glad it's over.

* I wanted to go to Bonnaroo this year. I couldn't pull the trigger on it because I wasn't sure if I was going to be working. Now, I'm sure I'm going to be working and I'm disappointed I can't go to the 'Roo.

* Last Friday night, I almost had myself convinced to drop out, sell my house, buy an RV, and travel the country writing a book based on a silly but intriguing premise. My wife, noting my relative insobriety, remarked, "We'll see what you think about this idea in the morning." Remarkably, I still think she would've been up for it.

* Until last Friday, I had never played Washers. Thirty-three years is too long to live without having played this game.

* To anyone thinking of visiting my wife while I'm gone: The house is fully alarmed, I have a dog with sharp teeth, and my wife is skilled in various martial arts and the use of a handgun. Oh, and she has a scorching case of herpes. Oh, sure, maybe I'm kidding about that last part, but do you really want to find out?

* I think it's pretentious to consider myself the J.J. Cale of my chosen line of work, but sometimes I do.

* I also think it's pretentious that I've been drinking premium vodkas on a regular basis. Given a taste test, I could probably tell you the difference between premium and crap. However, it would take a lot of work to work up a palate that could distinguishing between the good stuff. And working up that palate is probably not the best idea.

* An old guy spilled an entire cup of hot coffee on me last week and I didn't get mad.

(Note: As I type, the real test of my tape measure skills is taking place. A muttering, gangly delivery man is shoulder deep in my utility closet. In just a few minutes, he will either say nothing and all will be well. Or he'll poke his head out, call me mister, and say, "I don't think this is gonna fit." At which point, I will likely use the words "mother fucker."

* I so suck at home repair, woodworking, and anything that requires physical skill that I sometimes wonder if I'm just an exceptionally gifted monkey. Then again, a monkey could use tools better than me. Probably play pingpong better, too. My brother recently installed...well, everything in his new house. As he gave me a tour, he was talking about remodeling his master bath. "I just need to cut out half of this wall," he began. I stopped listening to measure my penis and realize that I have more than depth problems.

* Fill in the blank: "I never thought there would be a day--like today--when someone would hand me ___________ and I would be disappointed."

* I forgot to write Skip back.

(I couldn't resist and peeked in on the delivery guy. I'm worried I may have to use, as my Grandma Ruby used to say, curses and bad words.)

* My dog is a real bitch when she comes home from the doggie country club (aka kennel). Her breath stinks, she refuses to eat any of her own food or treats, and she can't stop nervously moving around. I, like the sap I am, have been feeding her chicken breasts. My wife gave me the stinkeye for that.

* I just finished Carl Hiassen's "Sick Puppy." Those books make me smile.

(Okay, we may be alright on the delivery front. Just a couple more steps and I can claim second-try-success).

* I don't care what anybody says. The final season of the "Sopranos" is the best since the first season.

* I can't dance.

(Motherfucker. Wait, that's a good motherfucker. All systems go.)

And that's it. My next dispatch will be from the road. And if it's not, then you know I'm not coming back.

When the road I travel starts to unravel
Every which way it goes
The beat starts to press on my bullet proof vest
And my high turns out to be low
Give me my guitar I'm going to go far
Let me see it let me hold it in my hand
I'm the devil in disguise I tell you no lies
I'm playing in a rock 'n roll band

--J.J. Cale

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Rapid Eye Reality is the personal blog of writer Brad Willis, aka Otis.
All poker stories, travelogues, food writing, parenting and marriage advice, crime stories, and other writing should be taken with a grain of salt. It is also all protected under a Creative Commons license