The Depends Undergarment Trashcan Police

I don’t know if I ever loved Las Vegas, but I used to like it quite a bit. The place is a smidgeon sickening now whenever I think about it, but not because I have a new found sense of morality or something. Everything is shiny when you go for the first few times; it’s all bright lights and boobs and distracting noises. However, a short attention span isn’t only catered to in the city of sin, it’s a prerequisite. After eight or nine visits to the place, the chrome starts to tarnish around the edges. You begin to notice the dead eyes that go along with the boobs and the broken bulbs among the bright lights and that constant cacophony that radiates from all those damn slot machines becomes inescapable. It’s an odd sort of white noise that assails you the instant you get off the plane and chases you as you’re leaving. I was amused by the banks of slot machines in the airport on my first trip but I find them a bit depressing now (almost as much as those odd little glass-enclosed smoking rooms throughout the airport that look like cancerous fishbowls).

I’m sure you could find culture if you looked for it, but it’d be just as ephemeral as the ever changing architecture; even the Guggenheim exhibit at the Venetian was packed up for a better venue in ’08. It’s all superficial, which is fine for a three day weekend, but even that becomes a stretch once you realize that the only thing subdermal in Vegas is silicone. My point is that the town is a dirty place best suited for the young and belligerent, and that’s where my story starts.

I went about eight years ago for my brother-in-law’s bachelor party. I was young with a shiny new credit card and a lack of self control which go together like vinyl and bad taste. We did all the things you’re supposed to do for such a trip. It was like living a cliché but I had one hell of a time. We rented limos and grass huts complete with wet bars and cabana girls. We had beer for breakfast and lobster for dinner and punctuated our time with piano bars and burlesque shows. I don’t know, maybe the place really isn’t that bad because I’m smiling with fond memories as I type this.

I’m not sure if it was the first or second night that we were there, but we ended up at the Luxor. They say that you can see the light coming off the top of that gaudy glass pyramid from space, which I think is more of a folly than an accomplishment because if anyone is looking down from outer space, Las Vegas is about the last place humanity should highlight. There was an enormous flock of retirees blocking the exit and I wanted out really bad so I got a running start, jumped over a handrail, bounced off the wall parkour style, knocked over a trashcan by mistake, and then landed in the street like a ninja. That’s how I remember it anyway; I suppose that in reality I might’ve looked more like an intoxicated idiot than a highly trained martial arts assassin out of legend.

Anyway, as soon as I landed, however it might’ve looked, one of the aforementioned retirees yelled “fucking pick that up!” He was at least sixty-five and pissed. The last five hours he had probably spent feeding a penny machine weren’t as rewarding as he had expected and he was looking for someone to berate. The guy had one of those scrooge like frowns covered with old man spittle and he was actually shaking a finger at me. He was playing the part of the old asshole so I slipped into the role of the young arrogant drunkard and said “Why should I pick it up? Are you an officer in the Depends Undergarment Trashcan Police? You know, the D.U.T.P.?” That’s when he got really pissed and actually came for me flailing his arthritic fists. A few of his friends got in his way to hold him back, obviously aware of the axiomatic fact that a hip was about to be broken, and he gave up after a few more grunts and poorly aimed punches. I just stood there with a dumbfounded look (and a smirk) on my face and then the dude dusted off a truly old chestnut and said “you need to respect your elders!”

Wow. That has to be one of the most antiquated sentiments ever. I can see how “respecting your elders” was a good idea back in the Stone Age, because if someone was old, they had obviously found a way to outsmart saber-tooth tigers and shit so you should’ve probably listened to what they had to say. Nowadays, not so much. From televangelists to terrorists, there are plenty of people older than me that don’t deserve my respect. It’s easy for the elderly to hold on to a paradigm that’s rooted in the ignorance of their heyday, and it’s my belief that respect is something earned; it’s not something you get from me simply because you’ve had a bunch of birthdays.

The image of a geriatric caveman fighting a saber-tooth tiger flashed in my head and I started laughing hysterically and the dude took it personally. He ran (slowly) out into the street and flagged down a cop. Unfortunately, this one had L.V.P.D. on his coat instead of D.U.T.P. He asked me how many I drinks I’d had and I wanted to impress him with my honesty so I answered “twenty-seven.” The cop started laughing, actually patted my back, politely asked me to pick up the trash can (which I did), and then told me to go back to my hotel.  I left quickly but I looked back once to see the old guy shaking a finger at the cop and yelling something about “respect.”

I don’t think my friends and I made it back to the hotel for another few hours because there were plenty of distractions on the way that snared us like flies to a humming blue light. I woke up at noon the next day when someone threw a cold Coors Light at my head, and as the previous night came flooding back, I started to laugh again. We walked to breakfast past all those lines of immigrants passing out flyers for “escort” services and then gorged on French toast and mimosas. Our attention spans took reign and we went back to bouncing around Vegas like pin balls.

Hope, AK

Somewhere between Anchorage and Kenai there’s a sign pointing off to the right if you’re driving north that simply says “Hope”. Most people would turn this into a tawdry metaphor or something but I refuse to. The sign isn’t always there, and I think that’s because the locals (all 88 of them) cut it down occasionally in an attempt to hide paradise from tourists. I can only hope that I’m not doing them a disservice by typing this.

Anyway, Hope Alaska is the best place on earth. I feel so strongly about this sentiment that I honestly label it as an objective one. The road to Hope twists and turns along the coast as if it’s following music. The trees hide the sun at times and frame it at others which dapples the faded dotted line with a light that would be more at home in a fairytale. If the road to Oz was punctuated by potholes and paved with shitty asphalt instead of yellow brick, this would be that road.

There are three restaurants and two bars, one of which serves beer in Mason jars a stone’s throw from the ocean, and all the locals walk around with bemused looks on their faces and flannel on their chests. Once you make it perfectly clear that you’re an Alaskan instead of a Californian looking for a vacation property, they take you in to the fold like flour into dough. On the other hand, it’s easy to catch them giving the stink eye to outsiders and grumbling (most probably about that “damn sign”).

My favorite camping spot is somewhere along six-mile creek, which is a raging river by lower forty-eight standards. The seclusion is absolute; you can shoot across the water at the mountain side and cause mini-avalanches if you come during the right season. Later in the fall the red and dying salmon cover the river bottom like a pall. The thought that palm trees are necessary for paradise is a fallacy.

It’s been years since I was last lucky enough to visit Hope, but the last time I was there, I ate at Tito’s Diner and asked my waitress two questions after tipping her. As it turns out, yes, a guy named “Tito” really owned the place, and there was only one place in Hope to buy beer. The gas station/liquor store didn’t look like either when I found it. The lone pump was fed by an above ground tank and it had those old-school dials on it. Anything digital would be out of place. The “liquor store” was a little log cabin with a sign on the door that read “go knock on the blue trailer door if you want beer”. I did, so I found it and knocked. The woman that answered was at least ninety and barefoot. And I don’t mean that she simply wasn’t wearing shoes, but rather that “barefoot” is an adjective that probably describes her more times than not. I’m usually impatient, but her age had a calming quality to it. I suppose it’s the same way I would feel standing in the shade of a large oak tree that had seen the many follies of our kind. Anyway, I followed her and her alder staff to the log cabin and waited while she pulled a key from the front pocket of her faded nightgown. And I’m not taking any artistic license in my descriptions nor am I trying to make you think she was a wizard in disguise or something. She really was barefoot and old as hell in a night gown with a bad-ass walking staff.

We went inside, and as I was perusing her oddly eclectic assortment of beer, I looked over at her and said “I love Hope”. I don’t know why I said it, but I regretted it as soon as I did. She looked at me with a smile that was both understanding and somewhat condescending and said “so do I”. Her words were slow and full of portent and she spoke like a… well like a wizard in disguise. I felt like a dumbass. This woman truly loved Hope while my feelings towards the place were nothing more than infatuation in comparison. Hell, she was probably one of the people that named the city; maybe she named it after her cat or something. I grabbed some Guinness and put it on the counter and started looking around in embarrassment. One of the Miller mirrors on the wall actually had Ty Cobb on it and I remember thinking that the last thing that brought change to the room was the advent of refrigeration.  I gave her thirty bucks even though my beer was only $9.50, told her to keep the change, and made a hasty retreat to cover my faux pas.

I thought about how weird it was to tip her, and how awesome it would be to own that mirror as I sat by six-mile later than night on a stump of drift wood. The beer was stale but as cold as the river could make it and I had my nickel plated shotgun on my knees. My wife was there and so was my daughter who was so young at the time that she still thinks I’m at least partially making up how perfect Hope is.  Of my good nights, that was one of the greatest.

That was years ago, and now I’m legally considered to be a New Mexican rather than an Alaskan (even though I lie about it when talking to strangers). The ironic thing is that the next time I go back to Hope, I’ll be looking for a vacation property, and when the locals give me that look, I totally plan on telling them that I saw the sign, and couldn’t resist a visit to Hope.

Wal-Mart

It’ll be a while before I link this blog to my website and use it for posts related to my attempt at becoming an author, but I suppose I should post something in the meantime.  I’m in a mood, and what follows will most probably be tasteless at best, but I’ll likely delete it once my site is up and running so I can maintain some semblance of professionalism. Here it is:

I walked into Wal-Mart, and as soon as those lights hit me, those damn mind numbing fluorescents that sap your will to live, my stomach staged a coup. The sensation was paralyzing; it felt more like cancer than your average indigestion. I’m no more of a fan of public facilities than anyone else, but I had one choice.

I found the restroom sign anchored to the dingy acoustic tiles in the ceiling and went straight for it, and that’s when shit got strange. Passing by the in-store nail place, I noticed that every seat in the pedicure station was occupied by a man. There were four or five of them, of differing ages and races, all sitting shoulder to shoulder and trying really hard to pretend that their Wranglers weren’t rolled up to the knee while their feet soaked in suds. I was reminded of the uncomfortable feeling one gets at the urinal when someone occupies the porcelain right next to you. But the embarrassment these gentlemen were sharing was blatantly public and lit by neon signs. I had to laugh out-loud between stomach cramps.

I made it to the bathroom but all the stalls were occupied. The large and preferable handicapped stall had someone in it that was puking quite vocally. I waited a few minutes and played poker on my Blackberry before saying “fuck it”. My wife was probably almost done with the shopping and with luck, my intestinal revolt would subside until I made it home. She wasn’t. She was stuck at the deli stand behind a woman who insisted on trying some of that “fancy Swiss stuff” before buying it. I groaned and went back to play more poker and wait.

This time, of the three stalls, the only occupied one was the handicapped stall housing the still puking man (all I could see of him were some dirty work boots).  I swallowed my reservations and went into the first one. This is where this essay gets crass. The toilet seat was completely smeared with something that should’ve made it to the water. And I mean completely; it was like a disturbed finger painting. I walked out and chose door number two. This toilet seat was covered in blood. And that’s not exaggeration; it looked like someone had skinned a raccoon or some other small woodland creature right above the toilet. I knew I had at least an hour before my wife was done so I did the only thing I could. I went back to poker and patiently waiting for the puking man to make more room for Bud Light.

It took him five minutes or so, but once he was done, I shuffled past him in the bathroom fastidiously avoiding eye contact and into the handicapped stall. I felt a little guilty for taking the only stall designed to accommodate the disabled, but that passed quickly once I looked around. Everything was spotless. It was as if Martha Stewart was just in there as opposed to an older day-laborer with a monkey on his back. The dude had even put the seat up before purging.  Bear with me; this is almost over.

About half way through doing my business, I realized someone was waiting for me to finish (he was wearing New Balance shoes and tapping one of them to no particular rhythm). I figured he had seen what was behind doors number 1 and 2 and made the same choice I had. When I finished and opened the door, I was confronted by a very angry man with Down’s syndrome. He gave me a comically angry frown with fists on hips and then pushed past me into the handicapped stall. I wanted to explain to him why I had no other choice. I wanted to explain that he had the wrong type of disability to lay a claim on that particular stall; it was designed for people with wheel chairs, not for people with extra chromosomes, and I had just as much right as he did, but I didn’t say anything. I simply walked over to the sinks and washed my hands like a doctor with OCD and then left Wal-Mart for good. I haven’t been back since.

I’m a wanna-be author that has only published one book, Trailer Park Juggernauts, and I’ll eventually use this platform for related discussions, or maybe not, but until then, I’ll just write things like the above ill-conceived diatribe. I’ll probably switch to parenthood next time, so stop back by.

Cheers,

JJ