February 03, 2004

Recess Is Over. Okay, so we all saw a boob for half a second. I think we can all move on with our lives now.

Oh, and I know that I'm supposed to disguise my posted e-mail address with an -at- instead of the @ so that Spam-scoopers or whatever they're called can't pick it up, but if I did that there's a good chance I would never have received the following request from the webmaster of "a spiritual web directory:"
Hello, I am creating a web directory and would like to include your website Bleak.blogspot.com under the "health/massage therapy and bodywork" category.
I mean, it's about time that somebody's recognized what I'm really trying to do with this site!
Just When You Thought It Was Over. The recap has been posted, the worst bar in New York has shut down, so what else can be left to say about the Big Apple Blogger Bash?

Well, Belle has just one more thing to say about it: ASS! Or actually: ASS ASS ASS!
I wonder where I'll be in five years.
One part of the other night's class that I forgot to mention was experiencing the ultimate reward of comedic performing: getting back at somebody in my life by ridiculing him/her while strangers laugh viciously. One of the exercises was to perform a suggested scene as a character who we knew personally (as opposed to an earlier exercise where we did scenes as a famous real-life or fictional character). After considering a few family members and friends, the obvious choice sprung to mind. I'm not going to get specific about who this person is and why their every utterance and mannerism makes me cringe and gnash my teeth and pray for a just deity to crack open the ground beneath this person's feet so that they fall down to the fiery pits of the earth's core, but I can say that it felt incredibly fulfilling to stand up in front of the class and recreate those cringe-worthy traits, and the laughter assured me that everybody else would feel exactly the same way were they ever unfortunate enough to have to spend time with this particular person whose name I am still not mentioning. So that felt good.

February 01, 2004

Thank God I Don't Bet on Sports. Because of the unfortunate and unswitchable meeting time of my improv class (which again went fairly well after an extremely rocky beginning; I obviously need to start doing something to prepare for class earlier, so that I'm not completely off-kilter and blank-minded for the first hour), I was only able to catch the last eight or so minutes of the game (we got into the bar right after the Brady interception deep in Carolina territory), but all I can possibly say is Sweet Holy Mother of Pearl! Touchdown after touchdown after touchdown, with a half-dozen great catches and non-stop excitement.

Of course, I had been telling everybody around me that it would be a rather low-scoring, low-key game, with New England taking an early lead and shutting down the Panthers the rest of the way. And while I guess it was low- (actually, no-) scoring for about 25 minutes, after that both offenses just went completely ape-shit and reminded me why I should never, never, never bet sports, including maybe even grid pools. I just apparently don't know nothing, not that I could beat the vig even if I did. Which I don't.

And can somebody tell me just what the heck happened at halftime that the NFL had a statement out within minutes?
Statement by NFL Executive Vice President Joe Browne regarding the Super Bowl halftime show:

"We were extremely disappointed by elements of the MTV-produced halftime show. They were totally inconsistent with assurances our office was given about the show. It's unlikely that MTV will produce another Super Bowl halftime."
An all-star musical recreation of the Paris Hilton video? Folk music? Cannibalism? Now I'm sorry I missed it.

Update: I shoulda known...the Gigglechick has the straight dope on the disturbance, complete with close-ups! Oh dear.
Wouldn't it be great if the military had all the money it needed and schools had to hold a bake sale to buy a textbook? Maybe some day that dream will be a reality, but for now, they have to rely on ArmyBakeSale.com: Exporting Democracy and Delicious Baked Goods since 2003. And remember, a new Patriot Anti-Missile Battery is only 300,000 cookies away!

January 31, 2004

terror alert bananaterror alert bananaterror alert bananaterror alert bananaterror alert bananaterror alert bananaterror alert bananaterror alert bananaterror alert bananaterror alert bananaterror alert bananaterror alert bananaterror alert bananaterror alert banana

Courtesy of the obviously brilliant Luna, The Terror Alert Banana, featuring the current Department of Homeland Security color-coded threat level in handy and convenient Dancing Banana form.

Yeah, this is more like it: short posts mostly consisting of stuff other people wrote or did. That is so much easier than long posts I write myself! It's not like I'm getting paid for this or anything!

January 29, 2004

Announcing an Incredible New Contest!

Have you always wanted to attend New York's own legendary Black Hearts Party but you're either not acquainted with any of the organizers or don't want to pretend to be going out with me? Well, for the first time ever, the hosts are holding a contest to give a few lucky (or not-so-lucky) strangers the chance to attend.

The Black Hearts Party Essay Writing Contest lets you vent your frustration in 250-750 words in any of three categories: My Worst Breakup, Why I Hate Valentine's Day, and Why I Deserve to Attend. An indeterminate number of winners will be selected on a completely arbitrary basis and given a ticket for BHP XIV. The deadline is February 7, so get on it!

January 28, 2004

I received my 1000th comment today, on the Big Apple Blogger Bash post below. I was going to give a prize to whoever left the 1000th comment, without announcing that in advance to avoid lots of pointless comments, but the person who left comment #1000 did so anonymously. So I bet that person feels pretty dumb now, huh?
To: Ashley Charleston
From: Guy Sterling IV, EVP Marketing
Re: Marketing/Distribution Plan for Independent Feature: "AshleyHotSex.wmv"


Ashley: Received the final cut of "AshleyHotSex" and we're all incredibly thrilled with it. It definitely avoids the grainy, disjointed quality that we were worried about, and it's a terrific showcase for a breakthrough performance. I'm sure we won't be hearing any more talk about any "wooden performances" or "lack of emotion" after they see the bit with the nightstand and the candles. And be sure to pass along to Jake how much I liked his cinematography/co-starring, and mention that bananas can help prevent leg cramps.

Now, there is a legitimate worry that the whole category may be growing too crowded — I mean, Dr. J for crissakes — so I suggest we move quickly. I've already taken the liberty of initiating several lawsuits and pre-issuing our angry denials. In addition, we set up four press meetings for next week and then immediately canceled them citing your emotional precariousness and a refusal to discuss "AshleyHotSex," which prompted a new round of interviews and at least two calls from the major networks. We'll discuss on a case-by-case basis on Friday morning.

Now, w/r/t your short-term actions, we've found that a three-day no-comment/denial cycle usually works the best: two days and you seem a little eager, four and you look a little delusional. In fact, we might even cut that denial time since Jake was good enough to mention your website address twice (though in the future, while the framed posters from your last film may have seemed like a good idea — and of course I loved you as Dancer's Friend in "Talk to the Hand" — we should probably avoid giving free publicity to past projects that you don't get points from, though I imagine that won't be an ongoing concern.

As for the distribution strategy, I've just sent the file to my 15-year-old nephew with the Subject Line "I CAN'T BELIEVE ITS REALLY HER!!!!!!" It should be forwarded to everybody else in the world's Inbox in about 45 minutes. Watch for it. We'll see you on Friday.

Best,

Guy
This Week's Political Note: Vote Early, Vote Often, Vote for Vermin Supreme! During my regular perusal of Ryan Lizza's excellent Campaign Journal Blog on The New Republic Online, I immediately noticed the headline "Howard Dean is face to face with Vermin..." and quickly clicked to check the story out. What I saw:
REVOLUTION POSTPONED: Howard Dean is face to face with Vermin. [...] Dean is scrounging for some last minute independent votes on a talk radio show, but Vermin, a presidential candidate wearing a rubber boot on his head and an enormous goat belt buckle--"a goat cod piece with chaps I would call it," he says--is waiting for him. The two candidates have a short exchange. "I asked him if he supported mandatory tooth-brushing and he claimed never to have heard of the issue, if you can believe that," says Vermin.
led me to believe that it could only be one person: perennial Mayoral/Emperorial/Presidential candidate Vermin Supreme.

A quick search helped me discover this recent profile of Mr. Supreme which confirmed my hope that he was still stalking the campaign trail, with a boot on his head and brandishing a megaphone with "THIS MACHINE ANNOYS FASCISTS" printed on it, and throwing a monkey wrench into even the slickest political machines. Vermin is a man who is willing to do anything to get his message across, and if he doesn't happen to have a message at any particular time, he's not above biting his opponent.

You see, Vermin Supreme and I have a bit of a history. Way way way back in the dark days of the early 1990's, Vermin Supreme was briefly running for the office of Mayor of New Brunswick. Now, it turns out that there was no Mayoral race in New Brunswick that particular year, but he was hoping to start gathering votes well in advance so he'd have plenty by the time November 1994 rolled around. Keith and I, who were writing a weekly section for the Rutgers Review at the time, admired that kind of forward thinking and immediately arranged plans to interview him.

Now, unfortunately, we never got the opportunity to meet Vermin. The time for the interview came and went, and he simply never showed up in our offices. We assumed that he was off on official campaign business, but it turns out that the Student Center security simply refused to either let him upstairs or call us. By the time it was all cleared up he had left town and we never got to meet him, not that it stopped us from writing the article as if we had.

In any event, since I completely dropped the ball regarding yesterday's primary, annoying the man who designed that fancy Donk-Cision 2004 logo up there, I figured I'd dig out that old issue and reprint some of Vermin Supreme's most trenchant political positions.
Vermin Supreme Promises:
  • To do something about the weather. "Too damn hot" in the summer, "Too damn cold" in the winter. Possibilities under study include a) a weather dome over the entire city for climate control; b) physical relocation of the entire city to a more hospitable climate; or c) simply throwing out anybody who complains.
  • To pave over everything that hasn't been paved over yet.
  • To make the homeless disappear. Poof! As if by magic, presto chango. Out of sight, out of mind. Where did they go? Oh, well, you don't really want to know now, do you? Didn't think so.
  • To achieve nuclear capability for little towns, taking no more gruff from neighboring municipalities over contaminating "their" groundwater and other such "sour grapes."
  • To tax the bejeezus out of everything.
  • To make crime against the law! Combat illiterates! Fight the unemployed! And stop pregnant teenagers! These statistics can easily be lowered by manipulating the figures on which they're based.
  • To appoint lots of committees to look into all sorts of things.
  • And, of course, no comment on disarmament through deployment.

January 27, 2004

Yep. More snow. Let's see what else is going on...Oscar nominations? Don't really care. Super Bowl? Care about as much as Paul Katcher. New Hampshire primary? I was playing tennis and missed pretty much everything; hopefully I'll have something next Tuesday to justify Whybark's fancy logo.

But wait! Here's something that piques my interest! Following up on my Big Apple Blogger Bash report on Saturday, we are oh so sorry about having to take you down...deeks!
AZ, the elaborate multilevel Asian restaurant at 21 West 17th Street, has closed. The original chef, PATRICIA YEO, left last summer, and the owner, JIMMY HABER, plans to renovate the place and reopen it with a different focus.
I guess now it's only the former worst bar in New York, huh? And here's an idea for a new focus, Jimmy: maybe you and your staff can not act like douchebags! Focus on that! (Thanks to Josh of the Food Section, a very cool site about local culinary goings-on, for spreading this fine news.)

January 26, 2004

Sometimes when I write a long piece that I'm not very sure about I immediately follow it up with a short link-post so that the long piece isn't right there on top like King Kong attacking the Empire State Building.

Um...well...let's see what we have cluttering up Donk HQ...oh, yeah! It's been far too long! Once again...IT'S PEANUT BUTTER JELLY TIME!!!
Thoughts Following Week Three of My Improv Class. (And no, I never wrote anything about Weeks One or Two just in case the whole thing turned out to be a horrible mistake and I abandoned the whole project like an unwanted Christmas-present-kitten left by the side of the road.)

I left class last night definitely feeling a little better than I did after the first two. There were a moments in front of the group when I felt like I had some control over the scene I was helping to create, rather than just floundering about desperately trying to think of something, anything to say or do. It wasn't a great work of theater for the ages or anything, but it was a logical scene with characters and a relationship and even one or two laughs, a scene where I wasn't praying for someone to end it, and it felt like something I could build on. Of course, there were several less successful moments, but the class ended on the high note and overall I'm beginning to feel a little less lost.

Now, as for why I'm doing this: I've been thinking about taking this class or something similar for a few years now. First off, I have practically zero experience in any sort of performing art. In fact, since my supporting role as Sohovik in the Jonas Salk Middle School Production of Damn Yankees, my lifetime performing resume consists of: 1) being called onto a Seattle stage during a performance of Fool Moon for some audience-participating clownery, and 2) dressing up as a cat down in Wildwood, NJ and performing some cat-themed observational humor for 60 seconds. Basically, two spur-of-the-moment events, although I guess we can also count officiating my friends' wedding.

Anyway, despite this lack of experience, or more likely because of it, I have always just assumed that my writing style would translate really well and I would be naturally good at whatever comedic performing art I attempted. One of my 2003 resolutions was to try stand-up comedy, and while the aforementioned Meow Mix thing probably would technically qualify, late in the year I decided that I'd rather not regret never having done it, amended that resolution to include a more group-oriented activity, and signed up for the class.

Of course, so far it's turned out to be a bit tougher than my idealizations. I'm pretty well trained in choosing words carefully and rearranging and editing extensively, and an on-the-fly form of performance such as long-form improv has much less, if not no, use for those skills (not that after three classes I can claim to be an expert on what sorts of skills it would have use for). Once an idea or movement is expressed, well, there at is, out there in the world, and there's no going back. A few times so far I've said or done something and immediately wanted to take it back, but that just isn't an option. You have to move forward and try to make it work; it's like driving too fast and getting off the wrong exit: you can try driving in reverse back onto the highway, but more likely than not it's gonna get ugly real quick.

In any event, I'm finding the whole experience to be fascinating, if a bit scary, with lots of unexpected insights and lessons about humor and what makes a piece work. I hadn't even planned to write about it on this site, but It's a great subject worth exploring, and I'll hopefully be able to convey a bit more about the class and the theory behind it as I go along.

January 24, 2004

In other exciting news, Mike Whybark sometimes takes the transcripts of our IM exchanges and posts them, yet when I try to do the same he sics a team of big-buck white-collar lawyers on me. Anyway, he's stolen my idea again and posted a little role-playing game of ours called "Has Anybody Talked to Spirit Lately?" on his site. We like it.

Meanwhile, the occasionally intriguing Aaron Haspel was nice enough to throw me a bone and list The Donk among other fine sites which "are sometimes funny." This slightly makes up for his previous comparison of me to Herbert Leonard "Wing-Ding" Weisenheimer of the National Lampoon 1964 High School Yearbook, though if he thinks it's gonna keep me from check-raising him every single hand next time we play hold `em, well, he's sadly mistaken.

By the way, if you have any 1976 Bicentennial calendars up in your attic, feel free to put them on your wall, since 1976 and 2004 have the same day/date pattern! It's another money-saving hint from The Donk!
Sorry, Everybody. False Alarm. It turns out that what I was doing wasn't actually a felony in Hudson County, the three personal checks I wrote did clear (thanks, Mom!), the particular witness in question did not wish to give a statement to the controlling authorities at that point in time, and Jahna D'Lish is willing to say that I was actually in Point Pleasant with her at the time.

And since that's out of the way, let's get to the big goings-on around town! As some of you may already know (given that 98% of the readers of this here blog were in attendance), there was yet another Big Apple Blogger Bash last night, organized by the always-helpful Z-list bloggers P-Frank and M-Dub. The event was scheduled for some fancy-pants Chelsea joint, and I had planned to arrive fashionably late after dinner, with the smokin'-and-Fun-Dip-snackin' Jahna D'Lish on one arm and the exactly-equally-smokin'-yet-slightly-more-health-conscious Juliette Aiyana on the other.

Well, by the time the three of us showed up it turns out that the bar had thrown the party out! Yes, this fine bunch of bloggers were made to feel as welcome as a gang of Harley-riding lepers at a Shreveport quilting bee, with proprietor Richie Von Richierich and head bartender Snooty McShunnyshun essentially saying "Dozens of heavy drinkers throwing their money around like shore-leave sailors the day before the invasion? For heaven's sake, why would we want that?" "We'll see you in hell...deeks!" was collectively bellowed by us as we headed 25 or so blocks north for a return trip to the far-more inviting Siberia Bar, which we cannot recommend highly enough. And let us never speak of the (let the Googlebomb commence!) worst bar in New York again!

Unfortunately I wasn't able to get the names of everybody I met last night as there was trouble with the nametag technology, if by "nametag technology" I mean "lots of people, including myself, refusing to wear them." Anyway, among the people whose personalities broke through my whiskey-fueled haze were the lovely Caren Lissner, who it turns out not only puts on clothes pretty much every day but also actually attended the other, rival high school in my hometown at the same time, and who went to college with several friends from my youth. Unfortunately, Caren left the party before I had a chance to say goodbye or she was able to hear Duran Duran's "Rio," both minor tragedies. I didn't really talk too long with HipHop Libertarian Cal Ullmann, since I was pretty busy with Mike Wolf talking shit about the other attendees, but he seemed really nice and I'm sure we would have had a fine conversation if I wasn't an asshole. It's always a little thrill to stand near Belle of No Apologies, who I think was making her BABB-debut. I will say that if you're not familiar with Maker's Mark I wouldn't necessarily recommend ordering a shot just because you don't want to hang with Belle looking like a wuss. That is some throat-scraping harshness, lemme tell you. Fortunately, I then tricked Mike Wolf into drinking a shot as well, and boy, did we all have a good laugh over that one! I helped Stephanie Klein remember Tim Teufel's name, which I certainly wasn't expecting to do. And...um...the other nice people whose names I didn't get. I could describe them physically, but I don't see how that would really help anybody. They were all nice.

As for the BABB regulars, the orbital center of the party was, of course, Brian the 646 Guy, who, just to get the quote right, is dancing even when he's standing still, and when he's actually dancing, it's like he's dancing twice. His cock-blocking tendencies aside, Brian is about as fine a guy as you'd ever hope to meet. I was glad to spend some time with Paul Katcher, if only to have the chance to explain that I wasn't a Mets fan. I mean, for Pete's sake, a Mets fan? Sheesh. Meanwhile, there's no better hat/grin combination in all of blogging than the still-angry Nick Marsala and if there's a better hugger in the NYC area than Ravenwolf, please send her over to Jersey City. It's great to hear that Allan Baruz was able to pay off his gambling debts and that his thumbs have healed. Zeebah is always a bright ray of sunshine in the middle of a dive bar, and it's always a delight to see the woman behind this fine new blog.

And speaking of two of the finest people on the planet, Jim and Jane Galt, the evening ended as it usually does, with my being accused by a woman at the bar of staring at her cleavage. She wasn't particularly angry about it, just curious, and I explained that I wasn't actually staring at her cleavage but was rather struck by the odd stance she had taken, it turns out to get a better view of Jane Galt. And to me, that's what the BABB is all about, since honestly who among us hasn't at one point been in one of those three situations: either being a woman standing in an awkward position while staring at Jane Galt, being accused of staring at a woman's cleavage when you're actually just struck by her awkward stance, or actually being Jane Galt?

See you all next time.

January 23, 2004

I am so very, very sorry. Listen. Over the next few days you're going to be hearing a lot of different things about me, and some of those are going to be true and some of them probably aren't. I wish that I had the chance right now to discuss them in detail, but understand that I'm not proud of what I did, but sometimes there are things a person simply has to do. But please don't judge me until I have the time to explain. And I pray with all my soul that the time comes soon.

January 21, 2004

Speaking of the Long Hard Lonely Slog of Winter...
LOVE SUCKS!

BLACKHEARTSPARTY.COM SERVES UP 'TODAY IN BLACK HEARTS HISTORY' AND ONLINE STORE, JUST IN TIME FOR VALENTINE'S DAY

January 20, 2004 — NEW YORK CITY — The romantically challenged will find relief this Valentine's Day with two new features on the Website designed for casualties of Cupid's arrow. The site is BlackHeartsParty.com, the online lifestyle zine that celebrates the dark side of love and wages war on candy hearts, fluffy teddy bears, sappy love songs and sugarcoated greeting cards.

The first of the two new features is "Today in Black Hearts History," a morbid look at broken-hearted events in history from the worlds of entertainment, politics, sports, and culture. "Why wait for the anniversary of your break-up to celebrate your misery?" said BlackHeartsParty.com co-founder Marc Y. Leonard. "We now offer great moments in Black Hearts History 365 days a year; and that's 366 days this year."

The second new feature is the online store, titled "Black Hearts Crapeteria." Here victims of Cupid can purchase insult gifts for exes, sympathy gifts for dumped friends, or items from "All About You," which includes t-shirts that read "Fragile" and "Emotionally unavailable."

Regular features of the site include original essays, poetry, and fiction on the Tree of Despondency; advice from relationship "expert" dog columnist Ethel; restaurant reviews in categories such as "Places to Take Someone to Dump," "Places to Cheat on Someone," and "Places to Make A Scene."

BlackHeartsParty.com was inspired by The Black Hearts Party, New York's longest-running anti-Valentine's Day event. The first annual Black Hearts Party was thrown in 1990 in New Brunswick, New Jersey. Last year's Black Hearts Party took place in Manhattan and was attended by over 400 unloved people.
Just in case you needed a little more Ken Goldstein in your life, you can find plenty of it and lots-lots more over at the aforementioned Black Hearts Party site, and since I remain single as February 14 approaches, all of the bitterness still stands. I spent a lot of time working on the Today in Black Hearts History part of the site, along with many other fine people, and I'm pretty darn proud of it. Please go and enjoy our pain.
Caucus Follow-Up. I'm pretty surprised that no major political pundits have discussed my theory that Dean's poor showing in Iowa was due in large part to the "American Idol" premier keeping a lot of his young supporters at home rather than slogging it out in the caucuses. The scheduling conflict may not have cost Dean the win, but it almost certainly cost him a delegate or two plus a level of momentum.

It all becomes a little more interesting when we take into account the fact that the new "American Idol" season was originally scheduled to air last night as a two-hour special. However, Fox split the show in half and bumped the debut back a night to Monday when the Bush administration scheduled the State of the Union address to also air last night.

With this information in hand, it seems blaringly obvious that the evil mastermind Karl Rove — privately frightened of the prospect of Bush having to campaign against the volatile Dean — scheduled the SOTU speech for last night fully expecting the domino effect that has ultimately led to the sudden slowdown of the previously seemingly unstoppable Dean Express.

If the major news organizations don't follow up on this they're a bunch of pussies.
It's Wednesday evening all across this wonderful country of ours more or less, and that can mean only one thing: it's time for another startling edition of Nancy Goldstein's Monkeys, Donkeys, and Junkies: a regular foray into the latest headlines concerning three of our favorite things!

If you thought that you smelled a little monkey in the air, you're probably right!
All Set in Chinatown for Countdown to Lunar New Year of the Monkey.

SINGAPORE: It's the eve of the Lunar New Year and all the action is at Chinatown. Thousands of Singaporeans have been gathering there all evening to witness a countdown to the Year of the Monkey. And for the first time in some 30 years, firecrackers will be set off at the stroke of midnight.
Monkeys and fireworks? This sounds like the best prom ever! And simply by turning that little "m" to a "d" we're off to explore the world of donkeys, taking special care to focus on those beasts of burden with extra-special skills!
Sleep Well, All's Well: 'Watchdonkey' Is Guarding the Sheep.

Her assignment? To defend and protect a flock of 21 sheep.

Her skills? A powerful jaw capable of picking up anything that weighs 60 pounds or less, an on target forceful kick and a ferocious-sounding bray. A general distaste for canines and coyotes also helped Bonnie, a 7-year-old donkey specifically trained to ward off predators, land the new guardian post. [...]

In the event of an attack, Bonnie will point her ears forward and bray. She will kick with her hooves or bite the dog or coyote with enough force that could maim or kill it. (Under state law, it is legal to kill an animal that is attacking livestock.)
And for the final stop on the MD&J tour we head to the streets of Manhattan to check in with one of our favorite actors, Mr. Rip Torn, who's found himself in a spot of trouble:
Rip Torn Arrested for Drunk Driving.

Men In Black actor Rip Torn has been charged with drunk driving after he crashed into the rear of a New York taxicab in the early hours of Tuesday morning.

According to a police report posted on the Smoking Gun website, the 72-year-old veteran star was "incoherent" when approached by a police officer following the 12:40 AM crash in Greenwich Village, and was found to have "watery and bloodshot eyes, had slurred speech, had the odor of alcohol on his breath, was unsteady on his feet and had a flushed face."

Torn - real name Elmore Rual Torn - also reportedly answered the officer's questions by repeatedly saying, "What. Huh."
I'm guessing that "What. Huh." was not the correct answer to the officer's questions.

Be sure to check back soon for another globe-spanning edition of Nancy Goldstein's Monkeys, Donkeys, and Junkies!
You know we're really into the long hard slog of winter when the calendar kiosk in the mall is blowing out everything for $3. That's like saying "Hell, we thought 2004 was gonna be sweet, but now it just looks like another 12-month crapfest."

January 19, 2004

Raucous Caucus: Liveish Coverage. I've been watching CSpan2 for the last hour, and this Iowa caucus might be the most messed-up thing I've ever seen. You've got dozens of white people crammed into somebody's house, not a single one of them under 60, it looks like bridge night at my grandmother's development's clubhouse. You've got people out on the porch, in the kitchen, up on the roof, they go around asking who's for Dean, for Edwards, for everybody else (not a whole lot of Sharpton or Lieberman supporters in that crowd), some guy raised his hand for Gephardt and then his wife shot him a look and then he quickly took it down. If their guy doesn't have enough support they run across the room to hang out with the more popular kids, and on it continues until the music stops.

For one month or so every four years these folks are the most important people in America, and they're all looking into the camera like they know it. Seriously, any night this month, any person in that state can get any of the candidates on the phone in five minutes. "Hey, Lieberman, I've got six people in my apartment and we were all wondering about the prospects for single-payer health care reform. Oh, and we're kinda hungry." Ten minutes later Joe's at the door with a stack of pamphlets and a bag of Chinese food, looking for babies to kiss. Me, I'm heating up yet another can of soup. It's just not fair.

Okay, I just switched over to coverage of the larger Dubuque caucus (well, one of the Dubuque districts), where they're focusing on the supporters of the non-viable candidates running around trying to get the other supporters of the different NVC's to join them for a while. I was really enjoying watching some old coot reminisce about selling sweetcorn as a boy, until I realized that he had about 1000 times more say in the democratic process than me. Then there's this one young woman with a Gephardt shirt though apparently no knowledge of the man or his policies who is desperately cajoling folks with no interest whatsoever in joining her. She's all like "No, you come over here so Gephardt will be viable" and they're all like "well...no...maybe you should come over here instead." Really, the question "Why should I support Gephardt?" shouldn't flummox her like it appears to be doing.

It doesn't seem to be occurring to the Gephardt Gal that if these people wanted to make Gephardt a viable candidate they would have maybe gone over there in the first place. (My favorite is the one lonely Lieberman supporter who told her "Um...I think I'll just stand here by myself instead.") And, of course, there's the age-old political debate: could I pretend to be a Kucinich supporter for one night in order to stand next to that really adorable woman holding his sign? Not to mention whether the intense-looking guy in the Edwards shirt can really be counted on to do an unbiased headcount of the Edwards supporters. At one point I think I saw him counting chairs and a coatrack.

I'm just guessing that the caucus chairman shouldn't necessarily be announcing over the airwaves the 800-number used for calling in the results. In case you were curious, the recording asks you to enter your access code (which the chairman also announced, but I figured we were heading into voter fraud felony territory). Anyway, Dubuque District 20 went six delegates for Kerry, three for Edwards, and two for Dean; none of the other candidates were viable. That appears to be how the evening is going, with Edwards running closely behind Kerry, Dean pretty far behind (though that might be because apparently less than 1% of Iowans are under 50 years old; seriously, it's like that Soviet town they used to show in the yogurt commercials), and Gephardt in his hotel room crafting his withdrawal speech. From this point on, you should probably check in with more respected news organizations.
You know how you can tell things haven't gone well during your dental checkup? When your next appointment is solely a "Consultation Meeting" in order to give the dentist time to organize the info and explain in detail all of the procedures he thinks you need to have done. Can you say "multiple root canals," folks? In other exciting news, in case anybody was wondering whether there are still rats in the subway the answer is yes, and you can all stop wondering because I've finally found the perfect woman for me.

January 18, 2004

Holy crap, there's like eleventy-jillion people coming to this thing! I hope it doesn't turn into another Bear Mountain Picnic Massacre.

Big Apple Blogger Bash 2004

Somebody there should buy me a drink, doncha think?

Some Notes on an Afternoon with D'Lish.

First of all, I need to make a late, completely unexpected addition to my list of My Favorite Films of 2003. I'm not a particularly big fan of Tim Burton, though I did love "Ed Wood" and "Beetlejuice," and almost definitely wouldn't have gone to see "Big Fish" unless D'Lish wanted to (and unless my brother could get us in for free). Which means that I never would have even known that I missed one of the most wonderful, magical films of the year.

It does drag a touch in spots and there is a little too much Billy "Spoilsport" Crudup (though he eventually makes up for it), keeping it from true greatness, but I can't remember the last film that I enjoyed so much, and I'm not ashamed to admit that I even got a little misty-eyed towards the end (though maybe it helps if you grew up with a father who constantly told stories that you assumed to be b.s. but which turned out, in an even more disturbing way, to be true). A great performance by Ewan McGregor, owner of the brightest smile in the business. Obviously highly recommended.

And then things started to get a little weird... After the movie, Jahna and I were hoping for a nice relaxing dinner involving huge piles of meat, so we headed across the parking lot to Famous Dave's BBQ. Little did we know that our meals would be in the hands of Fernando, the world's neediest waiter.

Now, do get me wrong: he was a really nice guy and a good waiter. It's just that having him serve us was like going back in time to spend an hour with my most-clingy girlfriend, but with upsell. Jahna later surmised that the fault was entirely mine, as I shattered the barriers of our waiter/waited-upon relationship when I let him sit down next to me in the booth while taking our appetizer order (hey, he said he was tired!). This was some sort of signal to him, as he seriously must have made anywhere in the range of 15-20 visits during the course of our meal.

Which is all well and good, and he was trying to be helpful, but there was actually a point where I was unable to eat because of the endless visits. There was a problem with the appetizer and the entree; no big deal, and it was quickly straightened out (and the app cost taken off the bill), but the way Fernando and his manager kept coming over and carrying on about it, you'd have thought they ran over my baby with a truck. I mean, it's okay, just let me eat my frigging ribs! And if you are coming over to apologize, it would be a lot more sincere-sounding if you didn't end every sentence with an upsell exhorting me to try the Long Island Ice Tea or some Kickin Chicken Fritters. Between the apologies and the serialized version of his life story, I thought we had gone to some crappy dinner theater. Normally I feel bad about stiffing a waiter as nice as Fernando on the tip, but this time was different.

And finally from the conversation: three extremely odd yet effective vocal decisions: Prince singing "Kiss" in a super-falsetto; Mick Jagger's strange off-the-beat timing in "Shattered;" Roger Daltrey's "My G-G-Generation" stutter.
How can it be snowing again? Dammit.

January 16, 2004

Things I Learned This Week.

January 15, 2004

Well, I'm about to have soup for my fifth consecutive meal.

January 13, 2004

Johnnie Walker: the Official Alcoholic Beverage of Despots and Their Offspring Worldwide! References are presented in declining order of Johnnie Walker swankiness.

This concludes our presentation of Johnny Walker: the Official Alcoholic Beverage of Despots and Their Offspring Worldwide!
Tuesdays are almost never a good idea.

January 12, 2004

SHAME. Sure, the greatest city in New Jersey has an online presence with worse, less frequently updated content than a Baha Men fan site, but who really cares? Rocker and blogger Tris McCall, that's who!
We start with the official city site. Hope you like Mayor Cunningham's face. Yes, that's right; that's all of it. Go on, click around in disbelief. There is no content, there are no links, there is no there there. You do get a tacky-looking animation on the words "under construction", and a statement at the bottom of the page that reads that items on the page can't be duplicated without the consent of the City of Jersey City. Are you kidding me?? What items? The picture of the mayor? Hell, I am stealing it right now:

Honorable Mayor Glenn D. Cunningham


There. I hope they come and put me in irons for my heinous infraction. No, seriously, I do hope they come after me, just so that I can tell them to their faces that the most prominent city in New Jersey ought to have some goddamned content on its website. Is that too much to ask? Teterboro has about sixteen residents; they've got a website. Okay, it's not the most smashing piece of web design in the galaxy, but at least it exists.
Tris goes on to point out recreation schedules for the summer of 2002 (though unfortunately misses the page header: "Are you Hot and want to have some fun ? want to swim aor jump in a sprinkl"), Bruce Springsteen tour schedules, uncompleted restaurant/shopping grids, and much, much less.

Tris McCall is a man who loves his city, who hates to see it put to shame by such lesser places as Egg Harbor and Old Bridge. And while linking to Tris's well-justified rant means that at some point I'm probably going to have to help him by doing...well, something, it's a risk I'm willing to take to help rescue our city from broken-link purgatory.

And just to give the man a plug, Tris McCall will be performing in Hoboken at Maxwell's this Friday night at 10, with the show preceded by a 7:45 panel discussion regarding New Jersey music and culture. Keith and I are currently planning to be there for the show.

January 11, 2004

Yinka Dare: 1972-2004. Friday was a sad day for longtime Nets fans as their 1994 first-round draft pick Yinka Dare passed away at the age of 32, the result of a heart attack. Keith and I have fond memories of watching Yinka play Rutgers in the Atlantic 10 tournament back when he was at George Washington University. He was the 1993 tournament rookie of the year, and the 7-foot Yinka was a man among boys.

He would soon become a bust among busts, as he left school early and was drafted #14 in the first round by the Nets, perhaps the worst draft pick of a team which has had quite a few bad ones. He would play four seasons with the Nets, averaging a miniscule 2.1 points and 2.6 rebounds over the course of 110 games. He perhaps became best known outside of New Jersey for his complete inability to get an assist, going the entire 1995-96 season without one. It's not that centers are supposed to be big assist guys, but usually they grab a few rebounds and kick the ball out to the perimeter, picking some up almost by accident; Dikembe Mutombo, for example, has 22 so far this season. By comparison, when Dare finally registered an assist it was a Sportscenter highlight.

But it was hard to get too angry with Yinka. First of all, there was that name, so fun to say (the last name is pronounced "dah-ray"), even when talking about how dumb the Nets were for drafting him. Hell, this was the mid-90's Nets; if it wasn't Yinka they'd have just taken some other bust project. Plus, Yinka always seemed pretty happy to be out there, smiling as though any actual points he scored were just a bonus, and I guess they might have been for a guy discovered sitting on a bench in Nigeria, then was brought to America and given millions of dollars for being tall. Following his NBA career he did return to play for the Nigerian team in the 1998 World Championships, picking up 24 rebounds and 21 points in three games. He also had five assists in those three games, surpassing his career NBA total, so perhaps he had not yet reached his full potential when he was bounced from the league.

While I never really bought the occasional Yogi-like quote attributed to him (like him being asked about Beirut and responding with comments about the great home-run hitter, or believing Jayson Williams that the "C" on Christian Laettner's jersey stood for "Caucasian" instead of "Captain"), I was very happy to have had Yinka on my team. Hundreds of players have passed through the NBA unnoticed over my lifetime, pretty much all better than Yinka, but how many were still able to bring a smile to my face years after their careers ended? He will be missed.
An Unlucky Day in Vegas. Binion's Horseshoe, the legendary downtown Vegas casino that was the home to both the World Series of Poker and my personal Best Ever Hour of Poker has been shut down by federal agents in an attempt to recover about $3 million in pension and health insurance benefits unpaid since last summer. Sources believe that owner Becky Binion Behnen will not be able to reopen the casino, throwing into question the logistics of the WSOP in 2004 and beyond. (The Bellagio might step in and pick up the tournament.)

In answer to the two main questions I had when I heard the news: yes, the federal marshalls did allow the customers to cash in their chips, and the adult film industry was negatively impacted:
"It's the end of an era," said Jim DiGiorgio, an adult film director who was among the guests told to find a new hotel Saturday.
It is truly a sad day in Las Vegas.
Aaron Haspel is going down. Down, I tell you. To quote my dad: when you least expect it, expect it. He'd also call me "Sports Fan" like Robert Duvall in The Great Santini, but that's starting to take us down a fairly disturbing tangent.

January 08, 2004

Yep, I'm feeling pretty happy these days.
MSNBC News: January 8, 2004

A Donkey Divided: Can the long partnership between IllDonk Industries and Whybarkco's Ken Goldstein Project be Unraveling?


The Internet, Broadway, endorsement, and licensing industries all remain in limbo tonight as word spreads that the years-long agreement between two of the entertainment world's biggest and most powerful entities might be in jeopardy. Though neither organization has released any official learned, we have learned that IllDonk Industries is at present seeking to exercise a loophole in the ongoing agreement that would free IDI star client Ken Goldstein to participate in independent projects. Information on this ongoing saga is still sketchy, but will be available as it is made known.

Update: this may or may not mean anything.

January 07, 2004

Is there anything better than having a bunch of free drinks in Manhattan on a Wednesday night and then riding home on a PATH train where some remarkably-self-assured-in-the-face-of-being-completely-wrong guy sends a lost family out into the Pavonia/Newport station hopelessly wrong directions, refuses to admit either his error or even the possibility of one in the face of an entrie train car calmly, then increasingly heatedly, explaining his error to him, and then watching as he is forced to hurry out of the train car and up the escalator after some tough-yet-lovely-yet-still-tough young women threatens to kick his ass? I submit that there is not!
But before I go, it seems that Jahna D'Lish is back from her USO tour of overseas naval bases! And she's made us an offer that nobody can possibly refuse! Dusting and snacks!
Well, I'm off to meet my sister for soyburgers and then get all liquored up, with the help of Kambri Crews!
Join us Wednesday, January 7th at brite bar for our FLIRT with a Texan night featuring the men and women of Tex in the City. There's an Open Stoli Bar from 9-10. Whether you're FLIRTing with cowboys, cowgirls or just anybody who will FLIRT back, it will be a fun-filled evening. Special Guest DJ Randy Alexander returns to spin his groovy lounge beat with a hint of country-fusion. There is no cover charge and the party is sponsored by Stoli.
Don't wait up! Or wait up; what the hell do I care?
Today's Theme: Two Extremely Odd Things that My Co-Worker Jaime Came Across While She Was Doing Research on Her New, Sick Puppy, Named Diesel.
  1. From the insurance policy she's purchasing for her new puppy, the following clause in the "Conditions Applicable to Plan" section:
    This policy will not provide payment for accidental injury or illness caused directly or indirectly by: a) enemy attack by armed forces, with or without a state of war, including actions taken in resisting that attack; b) insurrection; c) rebellion; d) revolution; e) invasion; f) civil war; g) illegal acts; h) usurped power; i) nuclear radioactive contamination.
    Boy, you can just imagine that phone call to claims adjustment: "Well, it was really more of a failed coup than usurped power, per se, so you should definitely cover Mr. Squeaky's rabies shots."

  2. From the "Ask the Vet" section of PetService.com, the following not-for-the-squeamish question:
    Question: My dog got an erection that would not go down and was unusually large. I heard if you sprinkle sugar on the dog's penis, the dog will lick off the sugar and the erection would go away. It seemed to work and the erection went away but the dog seems like he is lethargic. Was this a good idea and why did this happen to my dog? In other words, is this normal?
    I'm not going to show the response, but my understanding is that applying lotion and rubbing vigorously for 3-5 minutes might also work.

January 04, 2004

Part One of Two of the Huge Honking Trip Report: Ken and Keith...Westward Ho!
Please scroll down for Part Two.

PROLOGUE. 10:00 a.m., January 3, 2004. Jersey City, NJ.

About 24 much-needed hours of sleep later, I woke up in my own bed, in a room containing only myself and my own stuff, for the first time in ten days. A long shower, a cup of coffee, and a laundry-load later I was pretty fully decompressed, but there was definitely something missing from what I had previously assumed was my satisfactory life. Where were the 99-cent shrimp cocktails? Where were the amusement parks, buck-fifty huge-ass margaritas, desert drives, lovely beaches, or spiffy strangers offering me piles of Mexican food? I had gained a good night's (and day's, and then another night's) sleep, but just what had I lost? What had I left back there in the Mojave desert, buried like a local who went heavy on credit for Michigan and then couldn't come up with the scratch...

Day One. December 24, 2003. New Jersey, Philadelphia, and Los Angeles.

If you're going on vacation, you ideally want to make the days leading up to it as horrific and soul-crushing as possible, so that the vacation itself will seem that much sweeter in comparison.

Or at least that's what I must have been thinking, as not only did I plan the short-notice vacation during my company's busiest time of the year, guaranteeing two weeks of hellish overtime crazy-making work, but Keith and I decided to fly a cheaper route out of Philadelphia, a city about 100 miles away from either of our homes, though theoretically reachable by mass transit. So it took us a cold, rainy walk and several hours of PATH, NJ Transit, and SEPTA train travel for us to even reach the start of our travels.

The long, one-stop trip out to Los Angeles was fairly uneventful, except for two food-related notes: 1) I had no idea that chili over spaghetti was a local Cincinnati delicacy until Keith informed me of the fact, inspiring us to enjoy two heaping bowls at the Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky Airport (review: beanless chili over spaghetti is pretty much meat sauce); and 2) Delta offers absolutely no food on their four-hour flight from CNK to LA, but instead has a menu of meals and snacks available for purchase. Just out of principle, I would sooner gnaw off my left arm and eat it rather than purchase food on an airplane.

But enough about that. Carry-on snacks eaten, book (William Langwiesche's Sahara Unveiled, which I picked up with the mistaken impression that one of my favorite journalists had written about our hotel in Vegas) finished, and plane landed, Keith and I made our way towards the baggage claim to be met by our lovely and delightful host for the trip, a dear friend and roommate of mine from my Seattle days, Emily Simon.

[Note: despite our repeated and completely sincere entreaties that she was a wonderful host without which our trip would have been infinitely less fun, Emily still labors under the false impression that she could have done a far better job. Again, she is wrong about this. Therefore, I will highlight with an asterisk all points during this narrative where Emily went above and beyond in order to make our trip more enjoyable.]

*Emily picked us up at LAX and drove us all back to her cozy Atwater Village home, where *Keith and I would be staying for five nights. We unloaded our bags, cleaned ourselves up a bit, and scouted out the sleeping arrangements ("cozy" being another word for "not really meant for three people to sleep in without any snuggling"). Keith and I were ready to face Los Angeles...but not before *Emily presented each of us with a Christmas stocking filled with goodies from the 99-cent store! Sure, all three of us are Jewish, but who gives a hoot when you're given delightful swag like Popeye chewable vitamin C tablets, a Spice Girls figure, a Spanish-English dictionary, and much more! And what did Keith and I have for Emily? That's right, nothing! Not thing one! We totally suck!

[Note: Both Emily and Keith have their own comments on the trip, which I will be inserting into the text when appropriate.]

[Emily: "Neither Ken nor Keith even remotely suck. You give presents on Christmas, for Christ's sake — I'm still half shiksa, and it's in the handbook. The boys had no attendant obligation. Besides, I was all punchy with joy about seeing Ken, adored Keith immediately, and had to show my love for them somehow. It was down to interpretive dance, iambic pentameter, or 99-cent-store stockings."]

But if Emily was pissed off *she had the good grace not to show it, and instead *drove us over to the home of her friend Richie, where folks were gathering to exchange gifts and enjoy a traditional meal of tamales. Now, Keith and I had never heard of this apparently well-known tradition, but we have never been one to argue with any tradition wherein a complete stranger piles us with excellent Mexican food. [Emily: "At this point, I would add that Keith immediately developed a full-blown non-sexual man-crush on Richie Rodriguez, and preceding each of the rest of the trip's social events, could be heard to ask plaintively: "Will Richie be there?" Apparently, Keith is a sucker for big Mexican punk rock drummers who feed him tamales. Ken, as usual, played hard to get."]

Suffice it to say that Richie is an excellent host with an extremely cool place (he has a full diner booth and a swanky bar with a brass footrest and a great fish tank!), and all of Emily's friends were kickass, and we all went back to Emily's place that night sated and happy right up until the point where I apparently woke everybody up with my snoring which would have been a continuing theme of this report if Keith or Emily were writing it but they're not so that's all you're gonna get on that.

Day Two. Christmas 2003. Anaheim.

If there's one thing that decades of dedicated television viewing had taught me, it's that Los Angeles is invariably sunny and 80 degrees, except for one or two rainy days a year for when they need to film Dylan breaking up with Kelly or something.

So it was quite the face-slap to set out Christmas morning into a gray, dreary Los Angeles, with an increasing cold rainfall that not even my customary reason-proof optimism could ignore. And just where were the three of us headed to on such a day? Why, only to the Happiest Place on Earth (and no, D'Lish, I don't mean Tijuana): Disneyland! And while the rain would let up on our way to Anaheim (causing us to reach the only possible conclusion: the Baby Jesus loves him his Disney), it was only a temporary reprieve before it would later return, colder and harsher. [Emily: "Apparently, the Baby Jesus is not so happy about Jersey Jews showing up for his birthday party. I swear on my life, it was like they brought El Nino with them."]

But that was till hours off in the future, and I was as giddy as a 32-year-old with lingering strains of immaturity. We passed by the entrance to the new Disney's California Adventure (like apparently everybody else), bought our admission tickets, and headed inside. And I immediately felt very, very happy. Yes, fine, I know I should have moved on to better things, but I was raised on the movies and theme parks, with my family visiting Disney World practically every year of my childhood, and I have always been fascinated by the spectacle and architecture and layout and everything else.

So we rushed off to grab some Indiana Jones FastPasses for later, and took a ride on every child's introduction to Borscht Belt comedy, the Jungle Cruise (still one of my favorite jokes: "I'd like to point out some of the exotic plants here. [pointing] There's one.... and there's one.... there's another one......"), then the Matterhorn, Pirates of the Caribbean and all the rest. I happily rode the now-defunct-in-Florida Mr. Toad's Wild Ride and devoured a giant turkey leg after being driven to craven hunger by repeatedly passing a family eating them on the zigzagging Peter Pan line.

There were a few disappointments. Both Big Thunder Mountain Railroad and Space Mountain were out of operation, with the latter undergoing an inexplicable two-year-long renovation. The aforementioned freezing rainstorm in the late afternoon pretty much sucked (and even forced me to buy one of those lame ripoff panchos), but it did ultimately clear out a lot of the crowds, letting us enjoy some line-free rides afterwards (two rides on the very cool Splash Mountain and one on the too-lame-to-believe Autopia). Definitely my biggest disappointment was the Nightmare-Before-Christmas-themed revamping of the Haunted Mansion ride for the holiday season. Basically, they took one of my two or three favorite rides in the park and replaced all the cool stuff with characters from a movie I don't particularly like. They do a similar thing with Small World, but that pretty much involves putting some red hats on the dolls and adding some Christmas songs (except in the Mideast sections, of course). It's probably a pretty cool change-of-pace if you go to the park all the time, but since I go about every five-to-ten years, I really wanted the classic.

Anyway, even though Emily was soaking wet and freezing, *she let Keith and I ride a few more rides before heading home [Emily: “Imagine yourself soaking wet and freezing. You've had a lot of fun, ridden a lot of rides, been outdoors for about eight hours. You're then asked: ‘you wanna go on SPLASH MOUNTAIN?!?!’ Ken and Keith's deranged ‘but we're already wet!’ argument did not, shall we say, hold water with me. I would never deny the boys fun or food, but I stop short at cosigning faulty logic."], then *tried to find Keith an In-N-Out Burger (the one place in LA he really wanted to visit) and *even stopped at a La Pizza Loca (he didn't have a turkey leg) for what seemed like hours before we finally made it back to her place for a much-needed collapsing.

Days Three and Four. December 26/27, 2003. Los Angeles.

Ever since I was fortunate enough to make the trip to Spain to view the breathtaking Guggenheim Bilbao, I have considered Frank Gehry to be perhaps the foremost artist of our time. So with our trip to Los Angeles fortunately taking place so soon after the opening of the Walt Disney Concert Hall, the new home of the L.A. Philharmonic, a trip there was practically mandatory. So after waking up, heading off to work, and having a fine breakfast with Emily (part of our Emily Fantasy Camp, which features a tour of her sweet office with a great view and a rundown on her pretty cool job), Keith and I *borrowed her car and headed downtown.

And the Music Hall in no way disappointed. Since Herbert Muschamp, the architecture critic for The New York Times, is slightly better at this sort of thing than me, I figure that I'll let him describe it.
On the outside it is a moon palace, a buoyant composition of silvery reflected light. Inside, the light shifts to gold. [...]The light playing off its surface is uncanny, though we have often been in its presence. It is the light of the silver screen and of the round reflectors used on photo and video locations: the light of the Hollywood dream.

Now imagine a moon apple: a hollow sphere of lunar light. Somebody hands you a knife and says, "Cut!" How many shapes can you make? Peel a ribbon. Carve out squares of curving surfaces, concave and convex. Change the dimensions. Turn some slices inside out. Tweak. Stretch. When you're done, compose the pieces into a flowering cabbage. Then into a cabbage rose. Rearrange. Magnify. Reproduce the contours with large panels of stainless steel etched to a soft matte finish. Jump in and soar.
I don't think anything will compare to what I felt when in Bilbao, if only because of the shock and the setting, but the WDCH is a wonderful, incredible building, absolutely stunning both inside (easily more inviting and effective than Bilbao) and out , and I say all that without having been able to see the centerpiece of the building, the performance space itself, which is not open as part of the tour. It is supposed to be equally incredible, and when I next visit L.A. I plan to see a performance of some sort there. [Keith: "Not to quibble, since the WDCH really is quite spectacular, but for a state-of-the-art, multi-million dollar facility, it would have been nice if they could have built a men's room with more than one urinal. I mean, we were there in the middle of the afternoon with no performances going on, and I still had to wait in line for 10 minutes. And the line for the ladies room was much longer. I guess they spent so much money on the fourth-floor garden that they couldn't afford to install an extra couple of toilets."]

[An amusing side note: Keith and I both enjoyed part of the audio tour, read by John Lithgow, where he informs us, while we are looking at the wooden support columns, that while "the columns before us support the weight of the building, they also serve a practical purpose."]

After the Concert Hall, Keith and I grabbed lunch at the Original Pantry Cafe, open since 1924: "Never closed. Never without a customer." The waitstaff seems to have been there since 1924 as well, and they bring you huge honking piles of food, including pretty much a loaf of bread with everything. Full, we picked up Emily at her office and headed out to Malibu for a few Shirley Temples and fish tacos.

That night, after dropping Emily off at her house, Keith and I took a little trip out to cruise the Sunset Strip, because that's just the swanky kind of guys we are! Of course, we didn't really have any plans or desire to pay the covers to get into the really swanky joints, so we ended up walking around for a while and grabbed a few beers at Dublin's Irish Whiskey Pub.

On the way home, Keith was finally able to have his much-anticipated In-N-Out Burger, though perhaps the saddest thing I saw the whole trip was the look of disappointment on his face when he took a bite and realized that, well, it's just a burger. A pretty good burger, sure, but still a burger. Oh well, we were still able to introduce Keith to the culinary joys of El Pollo Loco later in the trip. [Keith: "For my money, the best burgers can be found at the White Rose System in Highland Park, NJ. They're similar to full-sized White Castles (but with better quality meat) and they seem to have perfected the delicate pickles-to-onions-to-ketchup ratio. And the service is so fast they practically hand you your food before you're done ordering, then give you angry looks when you don't have your wallet out in time."]

The next day was probably the calmest of the trip, as the three of us took a ride out to Venice Beach and enjoyed an excellent brunch, then had a lovely walk along the surf up until the point where I got us all distracted by a nearby plane taking off and we ended up soaked up to our ankles. But until then it was great. I also got to see another notable Frank Gehry building, the Chiat/Day Office Building on Main Street in Venice. Yep, those are giant binoculars.

The Chiat/Day Office Building on Main Street in Venice.


The rest of the day was spent trying to arrange a rental car for our trip to Vegas, a seemingly simple task that ended up taking hours, and a fine Italian dinner at a local restaurant with even more of Emily's find friends. And that brings us right to...

Day Five. December 28, 2003. Still in Los Angeles.

I must admit that I was a bit concerned over the first meeting of the day. A fortunate coincidence had both the Whybarks and myself in L.A. around Christmas, so a meeting was obviously in order. Now, neither Keith nor Emily had ever met Mike, but they were very family with his work on the now-defunct Ken Goldstein Project, as well as the Ken Goldstein of the Week, and had numerous questions they wished to ask, many of which involved the words "creepy" and "bizarre." [Keith: "The word ‘obsession’ was also used a lot."] Well, as it turns out, I had nothing to worry about. Both Mike and his lovely wife Vivian were charming, with Mike answering my friends' rather pointed questions with friendly grace and sharing many amusing stories about our former workplace. [Emily: “Vivian Whybark is, in fact, lovely & charming. Mike Whybark is a dangerous man who is very clearly, and very patiently, stalking Ken."] Emily's choice of establishment was top-notch and Jewy good, and I delighted in my bagel-with-lox and matzoh brei. We all left fully satisfied, except for the poor bastards who were in that massive car accident out front.

From there, Keith and I headed on to Manhattan Beach, where Keith visited with a former co-worker of his, as well as her dog, who he once took care of for a week. They talked a lot of business while Keith played with the dog, and if this were Keith's report, the next five paragraphs would be about the dog and how cute and great it is, but since it's not I figure that I'll mention just how impressive some of the beach houses are. I guess I'm used to the beach houses at places like Seaside Heights, which are inhabited only a few months of the year and are designed to hold huge numbers of college kids without collapsing, the homes lining Manhattan Beach are thoughtful, attractive structures actually meant for real people, usually with a pile of cash, to live in year-round, and had the desired effect and making me wonder, like many of the people, places, and things we saw in L.A., just why the hell I lived in Jersey City. Well, I'm sure I must have a reason.

And then the trip turned a little strange. Everything seemed fine at first, as the three of us headed out a West Hollywood club to see the Moore Brothers, friends of a friend of Emily's. We arrived at the club about 15 minutes before the show was set to begin, then headed inside to find...well, at first it wasn't clear just what was inside, except that it very loud and largely...well, actually, 100% male, and definitely not a place where a quiet acoustic performance was about to take place. We headed back outside to regroup, at which point we met up with Emily's friend and went back inside to try again. This time we were met by a group of three shirtless men, each pushing about 350, dancing/hugging in a tight circle. At this point it was fairly obvious: we had stumbled across the bi-monthly gathering of the Parlour Club's Club Chub: the Spot for Bears, Chubs, Cubs, and Admirers.

Yes, that Club Chub.


We were certainly no closer to figuring out what was going on, and frankly, I was beginning to get a few looks [Emily: “Imagine Ken Goldstein, shirtless & oiled, gyrating to "Groove is in the Heart." I promise you, they were."], so we headed back outside to try and figure this out...maybe the stage was downstairs, or in a back room? Nope, that wasn't it. Maybe we're supposed to be at a different Parlour Club? Well, here comes the band, also with no idea of what's supposed to be happening. Plans began to be drawn up for a makeshift performance at the Starbucks down the street, or perhaps at the local house of one of the attendees, when we noticed that the guests leaving Club Chub were beginning to outnumber those entering.

Well, it turned out that CC was scheduled to end at 9, the same time that the Listening Room musical performance was scheduled to begin. If the Parlour Room's schedulers are reading this for some reason, might I suggest a half-hour period between your events? Emily was particularly interested in how the stark difference between the population for the two events created a rapidly shifting dynamic, so that at 8:45 we were the tiny minority being given strange looks, and then about a half-hour later the few remaining shirtless gents were the ones that were out of place. Anyway, the Moore Brothers eventually performed and were pretty enjoyable, but frankly it was a bit of an anticlimax.

Well, somewhere in the middle of that whole last bit Keith and I were met by Alicia, a friend from our college days (well, Keith had actually seen her a few times since then, but it had been many years since I had) who took over from Emily and escorted us to a few local swanky joints we would never had found in 1000 years, including Star Shoes on Hollywood Boulevard, where I enjoyed a drink and watched several breakdancers practicing their craft. For those of you not fortunate enough to have met Alicia, she's kind of a western version of Kambri Crews; if you have not met either Alicia or Kambri, we completely pity you. The night ended up with a tour of her and her fiance's quite amazing house up in the old Hollywoodland Hills, which now rivals the mythical penthouse overlooking Central Park East as my future home once my numerous ships come in. In any case it was great to see her doing so well, and I will definitely be taking her up on her offer of a place to crash should I make my way out there again.

Then it was back to Emily's for a few hours of anxious sleep, since in the morning Emily would be dropping us off at the airport Hertz office so that Keith and I could pick up our car and finally, triumphantly, gloriously, wonderfully make our way across the Mojave to that city of dreams...Las Vega$. Ahhhh....

Keep reading below for Part Two of Ken and Keith...Westward Ho!: Vega$ 2004 Baby!
Part Two of Two of the Huge Honking Trip Report: Ken and Keith...Westward Ho!

PROLOGUE. 2:00 p.m., December 29, 2003. I-15 Somewhere Between Los Angeles and Las Vegas.
You work so hard just to get to a place
Wonderin’ if the catch is worth the chase
When I get to where I’m goin’, you know I’ll be stayin’
40 miles to Vegas and we all started prayin’

40 miles to Vegas and we all started prayin’
40 miles to Vegas and we all started prayin’
I been givin’ what the road’s been takin’
40 miles to Vegas and we all started prayin’
You've been thinking of the ride from Los Angeles to Las Vegas, but it takes forever just to drive through L.A., and the outskirts of the city just go on and on and on. Finally the strip malls and construction sites begin to fall away and you're left with miles and miles of nothing, broken up by the occasional rest stop and tourist trap, and sure it might be ridiculous to wait in line for ten minutes to use a lonely urinal in the middle of countless acres of sand or stop by the Mad Greek's Diner and Alien Fresh Jerky shack in Baker, but you do because the billboards tell you to, and out there on I-15 the billboards are all you have. Past Barstow, past Zzyzx Road, past Baker...the road so flat and empty that when Primm finally appears up in the distance you guess how far away it is, and the answer is 15 miles, and even when it's three miles away it feels like you can just reach out and touch it. Finally the road starts to clutter again with signs and stores, and as the traffic thickens you can definitely start to make out pyramids and towers, and if you listen closely you can hear the sound of clanging coins and warming buffet chafing racks, and you start to wonder just how small a man's dreams can be yet still be crushed.

Day Six. December 29, 2003. Las Vegas.

Our rental car crawled its way up to the northern-most tip of the Strip towards the Sahara, the "Jewel of the Desert," home to Elvis Presley, Frank Sinatra, Buddy Hackett, and now the two of us. We checked in and headed upstairs, where Keith had some silly idea about relaxing after the long trip and maybe ironing a few of his nicer shirts. At least that's what I thought he said, since I had thrown my suitcase on the bed and was already out the door before the suitcase stopped bouncing, mouthing vague promises to be back in about an hour.

So I headed downstairs towards the casino to scope out the joint. The Sahara is a pretty nice, old-school kinda place, lacking the super-glitz of the mid- or lower-Strip places, but pretty good for the buck. Besides, Keith and I had the rental car, so we weren't exactly stuck there. I grabbed some coffee, played a few hands of $5 blackjack, checked out the lay of the land, then headed over to the poker room, where I had a Corona and a good time talking with the other folks at the table, but might not have actually won any hands. Ah, well, it was early yet. I went back upstairs, waited impatiently for Keith to get ready, enjoyed our view (of the Stratosphere and downtown), and then finally headed out to get our first official Vegas meal.

Now, when I got back to civilization, I read something about a recent outbreak of mad-cow disease, but I didn't hear anything the entire time I was in Vegas, and I'm sure if it was serious they'd have let us know about it. Anyway, in the Time Out Las Vegas guidebook I had picked up at the Strand before the trip, I came across the following entry in the "Vegas on the Cheap" section, and had been reading it to Keith repeatedly as a kind of mantra:
Gold Coast: The Monterey Room serves a 24-hour Texas T-bone special for $7.95 that includes a 16oz steak, mixed green salad, cowboy beans, onion rings, potato wedges, garlic, Texas toast, and a frosty 12oz draught beer.
Admit it: you want to head out there right now for that, doncha? So off we drove towards the Gold Coast, which is located off-Strip next to the Rio, and rushed in to hunker down on some steak. Now, the first thing we noticed is that the price of the special had actually gone up a buck since the book was printed, which was a bit disappointing. And we only ended up with about two each of the onion rings and potato wedges. But you know what? We were in Vegas, and I was eating steak and playing keno (for no good reason, except that the keno runner was kinda cute) and had a big smile on my face. And perhaps the extra dollar went for entertainment, as Keith will explain below:
Keith's Interesting People I Met in Vegas #1 of 4: Couple in the Coffee Shop.

Ken and I were having dinner in the coffee shop at the Gold Coast. We had gone there for the T-bone special, which was all we talked about on the drive from LA. So sitting at the table across from us is a middle-aged guy with this really hot girl at least 30 years younger than him. Naturally, Ken and I started quietly debating what their relationship was. I thought they might be father/daughter, mainly because the guy wasn’t very well dressed (he was wearing a t-shirt, jeans, and docksiders with white socks) and if you’re going to go through the trouble of taking a hooker out to dinner, the least you can do is put on a nice shirt, dark socks, and maybe go somewhere a little nicer than the Gold Coast coffee shop. To not do so is just poor hooker etiquette. Ken, on the other hand, thought they had a “professional” relationship. While eavesdropping on their conversation (he was closer, though with his back to them, while I had the better view), he heard the man telling her something about his flight, meaning they didn’t travel to Vegas together. Also, Ken felt that she was much too hot to be his offspring. I wanted to just go and ask them what their deal was, but all of a sudden Ken got all self-righteous and decided it was “none of our business,” so we never did find out.

My former co-worker Rob would have known. He has a gift for spotting hookers. We were in Vegas for the NASCAR race a few years ago and he walked around the casino pointing out hookers, then he’d go up to them and pretend to flirt until they would ask to come up to the room. One time he pointed out a hooker sitting at a bar in the Luxor, and not a minute later she took a vial of cocaine out of her purse and started snorting it. I wish Rob had been with us.
As do I, Keith...as do I. After the meal we went for a little walk around the casino, checked out their massive bowling alley, played a little craps and did not do well (by the way, I won't mention every time this happened, so periodically throughout the report insert the phrase "we played a little craps and did not do well"), then headed next door to the Rio, where I had never been.

Nothing too exciting happened at the Rio. We watched the free, elaborate, cheesy Masquerade Village show, which was definitely free. The only notable part came when I snagged one of the many bead necklaces that were thrown from the floats, and within literally milliseconds Keith demanded that I give it to a small child. Now, keep in mind that I actually wanted one of these necklaces, since the beads were little tiny dice, and that Keith has never given anything at all to a small child (dogs, sure, tons of stuff to dogs), but once I get anything he demands that I give it away. Which I did. To a kid who probably threw it out the car window the second he left the place. We were going to check out the nightclub, but we thought it was too early for anything to be happening, so we headed across town to the Hard Rock.

Now, I had been to the Hard Rock a couple of times, and while I always loved the design and layout and crowd, I don't think I had ever won a single bet there. Still, it seemed like a fine place to hang out for a few hours, and that it certainly was. Keith and I grabbed a few beers, played a few games, and watched dozens upon dozens of replicas of the exact same blonde L.A. woman walk past. We enjoyed our stay there so much that we ended up hanging out there the following night as well, which is a shame, since we could have headed over to the Palms in order to watch Britney Spears plan a spur-of-the-moment wedding to Jason Alexander. Maybe next time.

And how did we end up such a delightful day? Why, by heading downtown to the Golden Gate's San Francisco Shrimp Bar and Deli, where we happily downed their celebrated 99-cent shrimp cocktails and watched the snow fall gently across Las Vegas. Um, yeah...snow. First snow in Vegas since 1997...have I mentioned that we had the best weather luck this trip?

Day Seven. December 30, 2003. Las Vegas.

Sure, you can go through a trip to Vegas and do nothing but drink and gamble and eat huge amounts of food and hit the stripclubs and pass out and wake up and start all over again, and in fact, I've done that many many times. But I think I read somewhere that it might enhance the whole living experience to go and check out some of God's natural beauty. So with that in mind, Keith and I headed west, past large groups of stunned families playing in the freaking snow, towards Red Rock Canyon. And it certainly did not disappoint, as both Keith and I were quite amazed by the open vistas and beautiful blood-red mountains and canyons. Had it been a bit warmer and drier (and if the canyons featured a buffet) Keith and I certainly would have checked out one of the many hiking trails, but instead we finished the long driving tour and started to head back towards the Strip.

And that's when we saw...

BURROS!!!


Yes! Actual live wild donkeys! (Or maybe burros, though the woman at the gift shop said that there was no difference between the two.) As we reached the main road three wild donkeys wandered up onto the highway, causing quite the ruckus, as you could imagine. The picture above isn't of the donkeys we saw (though I guess it could be), but keep watching and I'll include the photo of me with the donkeys when Keith gets his photos back. I know I can't wait.

So we headed back to the Strip and enjoyed an excellent Japanese seafood buffet, which included huge amounts of sushi and freshly made crepes. It wasn't an "official" Vegas buffet, since they have branches in numerous cities, but it still ruled and was the best meal we had (except for maybe my three pancakes for $1.99 feast back at the Golden Gate later that night). We spent the rest of the day visiting various casinos, losing a few bucks here, winning it back there, losing a few more in the other place, and even meeting a few new friends...take it, Keith!
Keith's Interesting People I Met in Vegas #2 of 4: Drunk Guy at the Boardwalk Bar.

Tuesday afternoon Ken and I stopped in at the Boardwalk bar. The Boardwalk is the biggest dump on the south end of the Strip, but we were drawn inside by the 99-cent margaritas. So we sat down next to some guy who, in very slurred speech, started to tell us his life story. Apparently he was a construction worker from California who was in Vegas working on the building across the street from the Boardwalk. His big plan for New Years was that he and his buddies had a lot of beads and they were going to use them to “get girls to show us their titties.” He then gave us a detailed review of the Boardwalk’s cuisine. He thought the buffet was pretty good but if he didn’t have the $8, he would just go to the coffee shop to eat. Then he started talking about the NFL playoffs, and how he thought the Cincinnati Bengals were a great bet (which I’m sure they would have been, only they didn’t qualify for the playoffs).

By this point Ken and I are practically running away from the bar, and over to the nearest craps table. After playing a few rolls, we went to the bar at the other end of the casino for more margaritas, and there was the same guy talking to a woman who looked like she desperately wanted to get away. My natural instinct was to rescue her, but instead we took advantage of the fact that the guy was distracted to order another round and go shoot more craps.
Which we would have continued doing, except that the Boardwalk craps tables have all sorts of dumb rules about how high or hard you can throw the dice. Screw them, we'll take our five bucks elsewhere! As mentioned above, we closed out the day with pancakes and more Hard Rock, and fell asleep satisfied.

Day Eight and Beyond. New Year's Eve and New Year's Day. Las Vegas, Los Angeles, and Parts East.

A much-deserved lazy morning, down to Harrah's to return the rental car, a stroll around the Venetian, over to the Mirage for a very long line to eat a not-that-great lunch buffet, and then it was back out onto the Strip. Keith had to head down to the Aladdin to cash in a few winning sports bets (sports was definitely Keith's moneymaker in Vegas), so he left me at the Bellagio to play a little poker. Unfortunately, as you could probably guess, the room was pretty packed, so I only got to play losing, hurry-up poker for about 45 minutes and again, no hands of note took place. I did have my one celebrity sighting of the entire trip, though frankly it's so obvious that I hesitate to mention it: yes, Ben Affleck was up in the high-limit area, if you can believe such a thing.

After that little non-adventure Keith and I began to make our way up the Strip towards the Sahara, where our guests for the New Year's were waiting. Emily had driven in from L.A. that morning with two of her friends: Dasha, who we had met back in L.A., and Helen, who Emily had unfortunately been hiding from us. It was looking to be a fine New Year's Eve, but Keith and I still had many miles to walk before the Sahara, miles filled with cheap beers and buck-fifty twenty-seven-ounce Jose Cuervo margaritas and Circus Circus games and prizes and worried glances at the signs promoting three-quarter-pound hot dogs for disturbingly cheap prices.

But eventually we did make our way back to the Sahara and up to room 654, where we met up with old friends and new, put together a complicated set of plans for the evening that we never even came close to following and which I'm not even going to bring up again, performed our various three-to-five-part moisturizing procedures, and headed out to Emily's Honda Hybrid to ring in 2000-Freaking-4! [Emily: "Ken: would it be too much to ask that you mention how HOT everyone, including you, looked? I mean, come on — in the name of good journalism."] Excellent point, Emily. It should definitely be said that all five of us looked extremely damn good. I was wearing a festive but not overbearing reddish shirt and Keith was decked out in some sleek black duds. Emily looked great, as always; Dasha had that tall blonde thing working to perfection, and Helen was quite fetching in a stylish ensemble and a devilish gleam in her eyes. In short: we were quintaswanky.

Now, Keith had the theoretically good idea for us East Coasters, current and transplanted, to head over to New York New York by 9:00 to ring in the New York New Year (for the record, our two guests for the night were from the Midwest and West Coast, which we celebrated in turn). Now, had we been able to get there by 9, it probably would have been a great idea, but as you can imagine, traffic was a little heavy on the streets surrounding the closed-to-vehicles Strip, so we have no idea if they did anything special. Still, we wandered around the place and had some fun and frosty drinks, and Emily met up with an old friend of hers, so it was all good as we decided to try our luck further down the road.

We walked down to the Luxor to regroup but nothing too thrilling was going on, so after a few minutes we took the tram down to Mandalay Bay where, if I remember correctly, somebody had heard from somebody else that something interesting might be happening. And it sure as heck was! [Emily: "Two-and-one-half words: go-go dancers."] We hit the main lounge to sit and watch the band, enjoy a beverage, and maybe dance a little (and yes, folks, I danced). We went to look for seats, and...well, take it, Keith!
Keith's Interesting People I Met in Vegas #3 of 4: Brent from Staten Island and His [we think] Wife.

One of our several stops on New Years Eve was at Mandalay Bay. We had been walking around for a few hours and thought it would be nice to sit down in their lounge/sushi restaurant and have a drink. Emily, Dasha, Helen and I found a table in the back corner of the lounge, but when we turned around we saw that we had lost Ken. A few minutes later I heard him calling my name from a few tables away, from a different level of the lounge. He yelled that he had met some people who were going to share their sushi with us. I wasn’t sure how to process such a strange sentence, so I ignored him and went back to my drink. Let me just say that most people, when offered free sushi by complete strangers, will say thank you very much, but politely decline. Ken Goldstein is not such a person. He returned to our table a short time later carrying a full tray of sushi, including tuna, shrimp, California rolls, and one of the best spicy tuna rolls I’ve ever had. Apparently, Ken had seen a few empty seats next to where Brent from Staten Island and his wife were sitting, and not realizing that we had already found a table, asked if we could sit with them. Brent from Staten Island and his [we think] wife, who were finishing their sushi dinner, said yes. Details of what happened next are a little sketchy, but what we know for sure is that they had some leftover sushi, and Ken ended up with it. While Ken denies ever uttering the phrase “Hey, you gonna finish that?” those who have known him a long time remain skeptical.
Keith pretty much has the story right, at least as I remember it, except that the woman might have been Brent's girlfriend, and I had only asked if we could have the chairs to use at the next table, and then jokingly sat down with them (at least I thought I was joking; Brent seemed momentarily horrified). [Emily: "When I arrived to police the area, I was forced to ask, "He's not bothering you, is he?" They were quite gracious, and had curiously un-horrible accents for Staten Islanders."] I didn't actually get to have much sushi as I was busy dancing and tracking down chopsticks and taking part in a strange conversation with a group of extremely well-dressed Europeans.

Anyway, the sushi was finished, the dancing was danced, and the hour was growing close to midnight, so we all went out towards the Strip to see the fireworks. Now, one part of the evening that is particularly hard to convey is the sheer entertainment provided by the large numbers of roaming drunk folks. For example, the wait at the tram stop between the Luxor and Mandalay Bay was made particularly enjoyable by the three drunk gals who were dressed up, out to party, and apparently determined to have at least one of them throw up in every casino on the Strip, but in a fun sort of way, ya know? As for another group that brightened the last moments of 2003...take it, Keith!
Keith's Interesting People I Met in Vegas #4 of 4: Drunk Girls in Mandalay Bay.

At around 11:30 we left the sushi lounge to head over to the Strip for the midnight fireworks. Emily, Dasha and Helen stopped off to use the ladies room [Emily: "FYI: the amount of projectile hurling taking place in a Vegas casino ladies room on New Years Eve is truly unimaginable. 'Nuff said."], and while Ken and I were waiting, we were approached by a group of three women. In the funniest exchange I heard all week, one of them asked, “Hey, can you tell us how to get outside? We’re not from around here.” Not missing a beat, Ken responded, “You mean you’re not from Mandalay Bay?” Before she could answer, her friend started telling us how she had broken up with her boyfriend only an hour earlier. Ms. Sensitivity had apparently also broken up with the same guy on Valentine’s Day and Christmas Eve. By the time she finished with her story, the rest of our posse had returned, and we joined the mob of people headed toward the Strip. We were walking in the general vicinity of these girls, so we got to enjoy their witty banter along the way. At one point, the girl who had just broken up with her boyfriend asked, “Where are we going?” and her friend, the one not from Mandalay Bay, answered, “We’re going to the fucking Strip, Julie! Just shut the fuck up!” We lost sight of them a short time later, and didn’t run into them the rest of the night. I’ll probably never see Julie’s friend again, but I think I love her. If you’re reading this, please contact me care of The Donk.
I should point out to Keith that they were walking along with us out to the Strip, and at one point I think the little lost one said that she'd kick my ass if I touched her boyfriend, but then they ran ahead and were truly lost to us as the clock wound down to 12:00:00. Ah, those last few minutes before midnight were truly delightful, with friendly strangers screaming random things like "I love your dad!" to the cheers of the crowd (Dasha especially loved this cheer). Getting into the spirit I would periodically scream out the time, and occasionally the weather, to the joy of the crowd.

And then 11:59 came, and we counted down the last few seconds of the year, followed by numerous firework displays and the joyous singing of the parts of Auld Lang Syne we could remember. The evening went a bit downhill after that, as we all became trapped in a dead-end gated area of the Strip/Trop intersection, then we couldn't get out of the packed MGM parking deck and had to go leave the car and go back inside for a late dinner. I was doing okay, but some of the group had grown a bit punchy. [Emily: "To my eternal shame, it was at this point that I decided that the lovely, affable-to-a-fault Keith Fernbach was in fact the anti-Christ. Suddenly, blame for all the evening's foibles seemed clearly to land at Keith's feet, and if the finger-pointing got a little out of hand, well, all I can say is...you should have heard the name-calling. Keith is clearly the nicest guy in two shoes, but...in an exhaustion-fueled flash it seemed that his quiet cheerfulness was in fact a shabby front for the pure evil in his soul. Before I disintegrated into hysterical giggling, I think Keith was beginning to feel about as paranoid as a Jew at Disneyland."] In any case, we somehow made our way back to the Sahara where we all collapsed within seconds.

The next morning, Emily and Dasha took off for a luxurious spa and massage at the Venetian, and I woke up before Keith and Helen and decided to head downstairs to the casino. As you might have noticed, this wasn't a particularly heavy gambling trip for me, as Keith and I rarely spent more than 10-15 minutes at a table. But if my calculations were correct, I now had about an hour to win back my food, drink, and gambling cash money for the trip.

I headed over to an empty blackjack table and pulled out a hundred-dollar bill, getting some reds and greens. I think I lost the first hand but then won a few in a row, giving me a chance to increase my bets. On the next hand I was dealt a ten against the dealer's eight, and when I doubled down and hit a nine against the dealer's 17, I had made back $100 in about five minutes. There was a seat open at the $4/$8 Hold `Em table, so I handed over that $100 and hoped for the best. On my first hand (I wasn't involved) a guy in a cowboy hat had played a 2-3 and watched the flop come A-4-5 to pull down a sizable pot. "I'm feeling lucky!" he screamed as I looked down at my next hand to see pocket Jacks. I raised, got two callers, and was then three-bet by Cowboy Lucky at the end. There were about five of us in for the flop...J-8-3. Perfect. I did my best Olivier pained look and checked to the Cowboy, who bet the flop and the turn (I check-raised), and then raised me on the river when he hit an Ace and proudly showed his Ace-King. Um...thanks, Sir. I was still stacking those chips a little while later when I was dealt pocket Kings, and though somebody else had called me with J5 and flopped two pair, running Queens counterfeited him and gave me another monster pot (which was a shame because he was a pretty good guy who had a lousy 2003, but them's the breaks when you call my raise with J5, not to mention when you scream at the dealer "Great, another river that screws me!" after you're counterfeited). A little while later I raised with Ace-King and folded when I hit nothing on the flop, but I had miraculously managed to get myself back up to the break-even point in about 45 minutes. And sometimes, breaking even can be sweeter than winning.

Following that, there was just one more bet left to make...the official Come Crap with Ken: An Illuminated Donkey Travel Buddy Contest! And just like my last big contest, it was a huge disappointment. My come-out roll was a tiny little five, meaning that I would be playing for...beautiful Jahna D'Lish of New Jersey! Would she win the cash or the cheesy prizes...yeah, you guessed it: cheesy prizes. I rolled a four and then sevened out, meaning that Jahna gets some fabulous Vega$ prizes, which was especially disappointing considering that I was going to give her Vega$ stuff anyway. Oh well. Her gift's in the mail. If anybody else wants some matchbooks or other little things just e-mail me your address and I'll send it out.

And from there it was just counting down the minutes and miles until home. We moseyed around the north Strip until Emily and Dasha came to pick us up, then made that long (slightly more crowded) ride back across I-15. Some beautiful mountain scenery to be sure, but mountain scenery with only an airport at the other end, not a wonderland of fireworks and shrimp cocktails. There were a few ugly moments on the way home — like Keith's difficulty with the Wendy's service staff and Helen snapping at one too many of mine and Emily's Gift of the Magi analogies — but it had been a tiring few days and it all soon passed. [Emily: "Two points of interest: 1) the world most kickass, belly-hurling roller coaster ever, at the Nevada State line, which I apparently asked us to stop at; and 2) A surrealistically unsuccessful fast-food experience in a truckstop Wendy's, somewhere deep in the bowels of San Bernadino County (Leading the Nation in Garage Meth Lab Explosions, Since 1990!) Keith's order took about 15 to 20 minutes to complete, and while watching various things twitch and throb across the vast expanse of his neck and forehead, I had a revelation: Keith's not evil, just diagnosable — I was ready to tell the cops that he'd been a loner, kind of a rebel. But his food finally arrived, and we left without reportable incident."] Emily dropped off Helen and Dasha and then headed over to LAX, and from there it was all a blur until we were spit out in LaGuardia. Ah, New York and New Jersey...cold, gray, overcast...and home.

And in closing, one final word from our amazing host for the week, Emily Simon: "I miss Ken Goldstein. I miss being able to follow one of his constant Catskills-style wisecracks with 'Ken Goldstein — he's here all week!' And mean it! I miss having him look at me, shout 'Emily Simon!' and wrap an arm around me. I miss his tender flesh glimmering in the twinkling disco light, brightening the darkness of Club Chub. I miss arguing about who's going to sleep where in my tiny bungalow house and Vegas hotel rooms. Most of all, I miss the constant driving, eating, and renditions of 'It's Hard to Be a Jew on Christmas.' Honestly, I can do without that Fernbach kid, but Ken Goldstein...there's a friend for the ages. Come back soon, baby. I'll leave the air mattress blown up for ya."

The End.

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