Lee S. Hart skipping down The Strip 

“The one unchangeable certainty is that nothing is certain or unchangeable.” – John F. Kennedy.

“I am coming to realize that one should complete 80% of total lifetime drinking in the first quarter century.” – CJS Regular Keithage.

As your faithful CJS authors continue their march toward 30 years old, we’re increasingly surrounded by change. We’ve come to embrace change, although that often doesn’t come easily or without a brutal hangover.

Change is also a constant motif in Las Vegas. Casinos come and go in the blink of an eye. Despite our so-called recession, development seems to be booming all along The Strip and one gaudy monstrosity now obstructs another as you navigate temporary sidewalks littered with hooker cards and discarded cigarettes.

You never visit the same Las Vegas twice, and this time I visited there for the first (and hopefully only) time as an engaged man. Hart, Limon, and five friends joined me to celebrate my bachelor party. Two things we learned: 1) We can’t drink like we used to; and 2) Some things never change. Here’s how the Dagger Bachelor Party went down…

Denver, 9:00 a.m. Friday

The day you leave for Las Vegas is the day you feel like you live inside a Walt Disney cartoon. The sun is brighter. The air smells much sweeter. You load up the car ready for the airport unable to hold a thought in your head. Your pockets bulge with cash (not yet depleted from the beating each casino will inflict upon you). In the words of Chevy Chase, you might as well be whistling Zippity-Do-Dah out of your asshole. And why shouldn’t you feel this way? You’re about to spend two days with friends you haven’t seen in months. In a couple cases, you haven’t seen these friends in over a year.

As Bill Simmons said about his latest trip to Vegas, “That’s what happens when you get old[er]. People move, people have kids, and it’s not uncommon to go 18 months without seeing one of your best friends. If somebody told you this would happen when you were 25 or younger, you would punch them in the face. You would refuse to believe it. But it happens to everyone. It just does.”

Simmons is 40. We’re in our mid-to-late 20s. Yeah, it happens. And it happens even faster than you think.

Which is why this Vegas trip was so exciting. Yeah, Vegas is great and will always sit there like a perfect beacon of debauchery waiting for you to abandon your normal grind-it-out routine, but after 10 or so trips, you’ve got it basically figured out. Drinks, gambling, late nights, etc.

What makes Vegas so great is what it stands for. It’s the great equalizer of long distance friendship. Getting a buddy to fly across three time zones is tougher if you’re inviting them to a bachelor party in, say, Scottsdale, AZ or Albuquerque, NM. But tell them it’s in Vegas, and watch their wheels immediately start turning deciding how much money they have to spare and what they can say to their woman without her getting too pissed off. Your best friends + Your city of residence = Good time. Your best friends + Las Vegas = Duuuuude!

So it was with great pride and tremendous relief that I woke up without a catastrophic nosebleed like last time, got my shit together like I was marching cadets through West Point, and drove to meet Hart for our beautiful drive to Loveland, CO for another stress-free flight on Allegiant Air.

And for the occasion? What else but triple gin rickeys (the official CJS drink of summer, you know) as our road sodas. I called Hart to tell him what I had for him, and asked him to pick me up some Burger King breakfast, which by the way, has to be one of the best trades of all-time. That one benefits both clubs. Hart spends $4, I’ve already made the drinks, and we’re headed to Vegas in an hour and a half. That’s a trade you’ve gotta make every time, isn’t it?

And as I am wont to do, I made a Mix Tape just for the drive up I-25 to the airport. Nothing but road songs and from-the-gut singalongs like “Tall Cans” by The Transplants and “Manthem” by the Bouncing Souls. We bombed up the highway lords of all creation and met the third member of our journey, E-Dogg, at the airport. In truly adorable fashion, his wife and two big ol’ dogs dropped him off at the airport where Hart and I tailgated outside. To my list which includes football game, baseball game, hockey game, basketball game, WWF pay-per-view, rock concert, outdoor wedding, new teacher orientation, church service, funeral, graduate level speech colloquium and college finals week, I can now add “airport” to the list of places I’ve tailgated. Big day for me.

We then went inside and polished off a pitcher of beer before the flight amidst a flurry of dirty jokes, ball-busting, and man hugs.

The lesson? Some things never change.

And it’s good to see E-Dogg again.

Somewhere over Utah, 12:15 p.m. Friday

Hart and I look over the emergency card in our seatbacks and hope for the 150th time in the last 10 years that the lifeless, antiseptic pictures have been replaced by the Fight Club ones, but alas, disappointed yet again. We then debate the merits of ordering a cocktail on the plane and after quite a bit of back-and-forth (and an alarmingly increasing buzz as we ascend altitude), we decide that what the fuck? We never order a drink on the plane and it’s high time we check that off the to-do list. Before we can, however, we forgot about the Spicy Bitch?

Who is this? A Latin ex-girlfriend aboard? The nickname for Hart’s ulcerative colitis? A flask of booze we somehow smuggled aboard?

Nope. It’s E-Dogg, whom I called “The Spicy Bitch” for some reason back in high school, several rows back arming the flight attendant with two Bud Lights and the question, “Who loves E-Dogg?” I look at her and wanted to use his last name like she might be talking about someone else whom we don’t know, but Hart and I just look at each other and say flatly, “Um, us I guess.” So she hands us the beer and despite it being god-awful Bud Light, we thank her anyway. We gave E-Dogg shit about it being Bud Light later to which he responded, “What the fuck did you want me to get? It was all they had! Did you want me to come up there and piss out some Fat Tire into your mouth because I think the other passengers may not have liked that.” Ahh, not traveling with women. It’s fun.

Since we can’t leave our compadre high and dry, when the flight attendants come to us, we order three vodka tonics and tell her to deliver it to “The Spicy Bitch.” Her response was priceless.

“I don’t think I can say that. [to the other flight attendant] Can I say ‘Spicy Bitch’ out loud without getting in trouble?”

“Well, you just did.”

“You’re right. Shit. [to us] Here, write whatever you want on this and I’ll deliver it to him.”

Shouldn’t have said that, lady. Both Hart’s and my head swirled with some of the dirtiest, most juvenile, most insanely offensive shit you could ever concoct. I think in the spirit of good taste, and the fact this woman was such a good sport with our shenanigans, we just wrote, “Enjoy this, you Spicy Bitch. Love, Hart & Dagger. P.S. This flight attendant wants you.”

So here we are with our tiny bottle of vodka and an entire fucking can of tonic water to drink it with. Jesus! Who the balls needs an entire can of tonic water to go with their vodka? Hart and I split one can and then put the other in the bag in case we needed it later. We didn’t, but it was sure fun whenever anyone came over and said, “What the hell is this tonic water doing here?”

And before we get any further, let’s recap what we’ve drank so far:

1 triple gin rickey

1 bottle Amstel Light

1 pitcher of Fat Tire split 3 ways

1 Bud Light

1 vodka tonic

If you’re 22, that’s excellent. If you’re 28, that’s trouble.

The lesson? Some things never change (although maybe they should to avoid looming cirrhosis and/or death).

Las Vegas Airport, 1:20 p.m. Friday

Want to have the worst fucking sandwich in the history of existence? Then go to whatever wretched NASCAR-themed hellhole is on the main concourse and order one of theirs. From their tiny little menu, you can get yourself gas station quality sandwich for $7 pulled straight from the freezer served to you by some unfuckable hag who huffs when you ask for a glass of water along side your Amstel Light. Hey, sorry to pull you away from the rerun of a bunch chaw-sucking rednecks driving in circles, you ugly bitch. Now how’s about some chips to go with the ham and cheese-sicle? What? Extra for chips too! What the fuck is this place? I was so put off by this place, it’s 6 days later and I still haven’t felt like eating a sandwich.

Sadly the three of us were already brutally drunk and needed nourishment, so we pounded those sandwiches like Phil Margera and Don Vito running the Fatboy Challenge. But we weren’t happy about it, and at least they had beer we could drink while we waited for Salwon.

The lesson? We can’t drink like used to.

Tropicana Lobby, 2:30 p.m. Friday

Not as bad as you think. Or as you pay.

With Salwon safely in our clutches and wide-eyed at the ridiculousness that is Las Vegas, we took our traditional ride of pain down Tropicana Blvd. Five years ago, this drive was a breeze, but I suspect the cab drivers successfully lobbied the State Legislature to put permanent construction on Tropicana Blvd. to increase revenues because there hasn’t not been a cone zone there in my last four trips.

Although last time I was there with Hart, I was worried that our massive cab driver was going to turn around and snap my neck just by jerking on the scruff of my shirt when I asked him not to take the airport tunnel. Turned out, he was just joking with me in that terrifying Eastern European way that makes you think you’re gonna die and had burning hatred for gypsies. Seriously, he spent 10 minutes or so berating gypsies and making fun of “how fucking gypsy filthy” the next guy over’s cab was and how it probably smells like “dog wet from rain.” Only in Vegas.

And who’s waiting for us drinking cans of Coors Light right by the check-in desk? None other than Senor Limon and CJS Regulars Tron and Keithage. Damn it was good to see them! We were only missing CJS Regular Dzayson who was driving in from L.A., but damn if this didn’t feel like a complete group.

So now that the vast majority of us were together, here’s a pop quiz: After you check-in and dump your bags, what’s the first thing you do?

a) Hit the tables.
b) Go to the pool to check out your hotel’s talent
c) Find ½ price show tickets
d) None of the above

The answer is d) None of the above. The first thing you do after dumping your bags is head to the nearest convenience store and stock up on beers, Gatorade, and stuff to much on in your room while you’re still sober. Unfortunately, since Hart and I were already plastered, all we remembered was the beer, but such is life. I’ve been hungover before, I suppose I can weather that storm again.

With arms full of beer we headed back to the hotel and proceeded with an hour of the filthiest material I’ve heard in at least a year dating back to Hart and I’s first trip to Tucson to hang out with Senor Limon and found CJS. This would set the tone for the rest of the trip as when I returned I could get nary a sentence out without dropping a “fuck” a “shit” or a “goddamn.” I know this is how the majority of college was spent, and I’m amazed we ever had girls around given the almost shocking level of depravity with which we speak. I’m not offended by any of it, but as you get older, work 50 hours a week, and see your friends less and less, your ears and brain go through detox to the point when you re-engage with your best pals, you have to shock your system back into hitting its all hilariously offensive high points. Thankfully, this process only takes about 15 minutes with old friends.

We fall into our old routines like clockwork and even though Salwon has only hung out with the majority of these guys one or zero times, he flawlessly falls into the group’s rhythm and we’re all bouncing filthy jokes and f-bombs off each other like a truly great jazz ensemble. Each guy takes his turn in the spotlight offering a hideous theory about sex (more on that in a bit), a ribald tale of some swamp donkey he fought off in college, or just getting another guy’s attention and farting passing it off to the next. See? Just like great jazz…

Salwon hitting the Flabongo

We hit the Flabongo a couple times and decided we were nice and lubricated for some gambling. Always good to head to the tables when you’ve taken a few belts because you’re less likely to be pissed off when you lose. Which you probably will.

The lesson? Some things never change.

Tropicana Blackjack Tables, 4:30 p.m. Friday

Normally I’m pretty good at remembering the names of my dealers and the people sitting around me. I’m very in tune with the vibe at the table and often play general coaxing people into ignoring their instincts and hitting when they’re supposed to. I’m keeping my eye open for the cocktails lady so I don’t get caught with my pants down and have to swashbuckle a drink while she stands there awkwardly waiting to put the next one down. But on this night, I’m all tunnel vision. It’s me, the cards, and occasionally the most glorious word in Vegas, “Cocktails?”

I couldn’t tell you my dealer’s name. I couldn’t have told you what he/she looked like. It could have been a 400 lb. Samoan man, or a 75 year-old Korean lady. It could have been Red fucking Buttons himself dealing me blackjack, and I wouldn’t have known the difference. And why?

Because for the first time in three years, I’m on an honest-to-goodness huge blackjack run. Living in the real world has its benefits – namely not playing blackjack scared. And while I’m not rocking a huge bankroll, I’m better prepared to weather the swings than I have been at any point in my gambling life previous to this point, so it’s much more loosey-goosey, baby. And yet all I can see is the cards.

And they’re falling my way. Every 16 is answered with a 4 or 5. Every 20 of mine finds a dealer’s 19. The dealer is peeling off bust card after bust card after bust card. My stacks are multiplying like the Duggars. I quickly (and by quickly I mean who the hell knows how much time elapsed, but in my brain montage this happened early) pull my break even point off the table and put it back in my pocket.

20, 21, 20, dealer bust, double down winner, bust, bust, bust… I am literally blowing the fucking roof off the place. My bet’s out there at $30 a hand – a feeling I haven’t had since that awesome run at the Imperial Palace 3 years ago. I double my break even point and put that in my pocket too. Nothing can stop me.

Except the Spicy Bitch.

He taps me on the shoulder and says, “Wow, you look like you’re doing awesome!”

“Yeah, now get the fuck away from me. Table karma!” I bark back at him. He left apologizing effusively as he scurried away from the table, retreated into his room, ended up passing out and we didn’t see him until morning. Poor bastard.

But my gesture to the gambling gods is too late. I’m no longer in tunnel vision and suddenly I can hear the world around me again. I become painfully aware of how much I’m betting and begin to rein it in when I notice how much it is. The cold cards start coming and I’m halving my bet each hand. Five losses in a row and I pick up the remainder of my chips and exit.

Fuck! I wonder to myself how long that could have lasted had E-Dogg not innocently wished me good luck. No matter. I now wonder to myself just what the hell time it is and where everyone went? With the chips in my pocket and the ones in my hands, I’m already up $200 on the trip. A nice start I hope to build on. But first, my friends. Let’s see what time it is…

Son of a bitch! It’s only 7:00!

The lesson? We can’t drink like we used to.

MGM Grand, Studio Café, 7:45 p.m. Friday

We decided to refuel and get some moderately priced food at this little gem. Considering not one of us drinks for more than probably 4 hours at a time anymore, we looked like holy hell too. Tron and Limon are probably in the best shape (which isn’t saying a hell of a lot), and Salwon and myself probably the worst. Hart’s looking like he’s ready to re-enact his drunken performance at Perkins from college when he asked the waitress for “French Toast in the Age of Enlightenment” 47 times before she finally got so fed up with our table, she shoved a basket of free bread in front of us just to shut us up.

I’m feeling worse by the minute. I’m so hungry I feel like I could take my burger Aurora Snow-style in one giant bite, but my stomach is so full of beer, I’m a threat to pull a Stand By Me and ralph all over the table with too much jostling. Ain’t nothing getting down there right now. Jokes are still flying, but I’m concentrating so hard on not vomiting, I can’t hear any of it. Whereas my tunnel vision before netted me $200, this tunnel vision is making me feel like I’m on the teacups at Disneyland, which as we all know, were designed by Satan.

Once we settle up, I decide a little light nicotine stimulation might help me digest, but oh the irony, I somehow feel even worse. I am now perilously close to booting all over the casino floor in a move that will certainly ruin with a single splat whatever gambling karma I’ve built up so far. Miraculously I make it back to the room, but I’m fucking cooked. I’m done. I should have thrown up right then and there. I would have likely just felt better, eaten the burger Tron graciously put in a to-go box for me, and been able to gamble all night. But, 20/20 hindsight and all that…

Thankfully I’m not the only one on death’s door. Hart is passed out on the couch in our own room. Salwon’s down for the count, and everyone else has disappeared. My iPod player has been set to my birthday mix for some reason and as I lay there vacillating between sleep and consciousness during Tom Petty’s “American Girl,” I become inspired.

“Oh yeah! All right! Take it easy, baby… Make it last all night!”

Tom Petty’s right. I don’t care how shitty I feel. This is Las Vegas, goddammit. Time to nut up. It doesn’t matter if everyone else is down for the count too. This is your bachelor party. Time to get the fuck out of the room and make it at least until morning. You OWE it to Vegas!

The lesson? We definitely can’t drink like we used to, but dammit, some things never change.

Hooters Hotel & Casino, 9:30 p.m. Friday

dis-karl-malone.jpg

And reflecting now, this was the point I think I put on my Karl Malone jersey, but who the hell knows? I needed an additional little mental spark, so I called upon The Mailman for help. True, he never won a championship and sucked ass in the playoffs, but dammit, you go with what you have. So with my new found determination, I called up Senor Limon, the one person guaranteed to be awake and always like Cube (Down for Whatever) and we trudged off to the Hooters Casino.

On that brief walk he says to me, “You looked fucking terrible back there. I’m proud of you for rallying.” It’s not often your friends tell you they’re proud of you, so that definitely meant something to me. Sure, I’m pushing my body beyond the reasonable limits of health and that’s what I’m receiving praise for, but fuck yes, thanks buddy.

After only an hour, Keithage and Tron have joined us, and we’re getting semi-back in to things. The last member of our crew has finally rolled into town and wants to know where he can meet us. I head back over to the Tropicana and find a completely empty 6 deck, $5 table. What the shit?

As I sit treading water against only the dealer, I’m snapped awake by Dzayson doing his best Randy Quaid impression and plopping two cans of Budweiser on the table easing out a guttural drawl introducing himself to me. He then buys in for $5 with five singles in true Dzayson fashion and proceeds to lose it and get up. I miss this goofy bastard.

I basically give away the rest of my money at the table and find the rest of the guys. We are whole! We are the fucking crew! We’re gonna conquer Vegas!

But first, we better wake up the rest of the guys. E-Dogg’s down for the count. Salwon awakes briefly, but can’t summon the will to get up. Hart’s still asleep in the couch of his own hotel room and doesn’t realize what the hell happened until Limon explains it to him. Limon then has the best exchange in the history of male friendship with him as Hart gives birth to one of the most priceless faces I’ve ever seen.

Wait, why the fuck am I asleep on the couch in my own hotel room?

“Now, we’re old enough to where I’m not going to physically force you off this couch and make you come with us. We’ve all rallied, and I’d like you to be there with us. And while I’m not going to make you do anything, if you don’t get up, I’m probably going to sit here and lay a long and pretty horrendous guilt trip on you.”

“Alright, I’m up.”

We’re rocking again and singing along to “Tall Cans” by The Transplants, my second time today. The Flabongo’s flowing, the stereo’s up, and we’re fucking ready to party. Salwon’s still down for the count, so I straddle him and threaten him with gay pictures until he awakes, but not even the prospect of public shaming can shake him. Alright buddy, you asked for it. Click on images for full sizes.

Salwon’s punishment 1Salwon’s punishment 2Salwon’s punishment 3

We mob over to the Excalibur where my rally is short-lived. I still can’t force feed myself much beer, my cigarettes make me wish I was fucking dead, and I’m bleeding money at the blackjack table. I call Keithage over to help me tag team a single deck blackjack game, but it’s for shit. I donate $50 to the Excalibur and decide to finally invoke the Roberto Duran rule. I tell the guys “No mas” and head back to my hotel. No one even puts up a fight as I apparently look like Vincent Vega after he had to stab Mia Wallace in the heart.

But I check my clock again – 11:46 p.m.

Didn’t quite make it to midnight, but damn close, and something to be proud of considering I started drinking at 9:00 a.m. I managed to lose that $200 back to Vegas plus $30 more. I suppose I could blame the law of averages. Or I could blame trying to play while too intoxicated and pissing off the Gambling Gods. But I choose to blame The Spicy Bitch.

I’m down and headed to bed at midnight in Las Vegas on a Friday, but I’m not out. And every good Vegas story needs a comeback. And there’s always tomorrow. The sun always rises in Las Vegas, so don’t count out E Dagger yet. Can I come back?

You’ll have to wait until Tuesday. See you then.

To read part II, please click here.

edagger@crujonessociety.com

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