I was awakened at 4am by a text from Greg proclaiming that the crowd waiting to board his plane might possibly be the single ugliest group of people ever assembled in one place. I selflessly urged him to divert his plane by any means possible, as it seemed absolutely vital that the 39th annual World of Concrete convention (currently unfolding in town) not be marred by a sudden influx of very unattractive people. Incidentally, that convention was weirdly responsible for this whole trip, as Greg’s dad was attending it. It’s kind of a big deal. However, I think a lot of people were also in town to bet on “The Super Bowl” (based upon the many conversations I overheard), but I have absolutely no idea what that even is. Something to do with sports, I suspect.
Since I was weirdly awake (it would have been 7am on the East Coast), the text exchange continued for an irrationally long time. Naturally, Greg asked if the people of Las Vegas seemed visibly excited about the convention, so I told him that I had heard an advertisement for it on the monorail that proclaimed that there would be exciting indoor(!) and outdoor(!) contests, which coincidentally are my two favorite types of exciting contest. Greg then pondered whether or not he should enter some random heavy equipment operating contest, as he suspected he might be “a natural.” I replied that his dad has probably been secretly hoping for that for years. Then I fell back asleep and presumably dreamed some more about bed bugs.
When I woke up again, I set off in search of pancakes, but decided to take a stroll through the casino beforehand. I was morbidly curious to see how many sad, red-eyed bastards were still slumped over slot machines at 8am on a Saturday morning. It turned out to be “not many,” which is probably the sole argument for the continued existence of humanity that I witnessed on my trip. However, I was a bit amazed that most of the slot machines that were being used were ones that weren’t in the actual casino and instead were just in a random cluster in a hallway or something. That seemed utterly baffling to me, as I personally have no trouble at all walking down hallways without feeling compelled to put money into loud glowing things. It just seems so foolish and arbitrary. I wonder if people would be equally likely to throw money into garbage cans if they were totally tricked-out with video screens and music. Probably.
As I ate my (blueberry) pancakes, I marveled at both the number of grown men in the restaurant wearing cowboy hats and the fact that they always seem to travel in packs. Also, there was a strange interlude in which an MMA fighter swaggered slowly & theatrically into the breakfast area with a championship belt slung over his shoulder. I had absolutely no idea who the fuck he was, so I eavesdropped on the conversations that he had with the many curious breakfast-eaters surrounding him. As it turns out, there was actually an event at my very hotel the night before (unbeknownst to me) and he won the NV lightweight title. Notably, I had absolutely no idea that there even was a NV lightweight title to be won or that states had their own MMA leagues. I am guessing there must have been like five people there to witness his incredible triumph. Still, pretty cool way to arrive at breakfast.
After gorging myself senseless, I planned to go back to my room and write and I failed spectacularly at that. Instead, I went back to sleep for several hours. When I woke up, I had absolutely no idea what time it was (no clocks in the rooms here) and felt completely disconnected from the world. When I opened the curtains and gazed out over the city, it struck me that I also had no idea what the temperature was like outside. And that- while I could see little cars moving around on expressways- I couldn’t hear any outside noise nor could I see a single human. And that there was absolutely nothing natural in my field of vision at all except for a mountain in the distance: just endless concrete, buildings, and an occasional strip of carefully manicured palm trees. It was a pretty neat moment of fleeting existential horror, as it felt simultaneously like I was cut-off from the actual world by glass and that the “actual world” was little more than a sad parking lot.
At some point, I picked up a phone book to try to see if there might be any cool record stores in town that I should check out. None jumped out at me, but I was deeply amused to discover that there was a “Wax Trax Records” specializing in Elvis and “Dowhop.” Based upon Yelp reviews, it seems like it might possibly be the worst record store in America, so I did not make the trek. Instead, I fantasized about how funny it would be to call them all day with very specific questions about Revolting Cocks and 1000 Homo DJs. I’m way funnier in my head than I am in real life, sadly.
As I sluggishly prepared myself for the day ahead, I got an excited text from Greg informing me that he had arrived and was currently eating lunch at the Hard Rock Cafe right underneath Mark Slaughter’s guitar(!). I replied that he should probably try to kill himself with a fork, as he’d probably never again be as happy as he was right then. Needless to say, the fact that Mark Slaughter’s guitar could be considered some kind of important rock artifact by anyone (even a faceless corporation) utterly bewildered me. Does anyone fondly remember “Up All Night?” Is there anyone who has made a less significant contribution to music in my lifetime? Also, it made me wonder if there is a Hard Rock Cafe somewhere containing a hermetically sealed Hawaiian shirt from the dude in Smashmouth. I’d be willing to bet that there is.
In other meaningless hair metal news, I chose to eat my own lunch at Vince Neil’s Tatuado Cantina (“Where Vince Calls the Shots!”), conveniently located in my totally rockin’ hotel. Not many people know this about me, but I used to be a total Motley Crue superfan and I still actually love their first two albums (and absolutely loathe everything else they’ve ever recorded). Consequently, the idea of eating at a “Mexican cantina” run by the single lamest guy in the entire band seemed like a pretty fun way to spend an hour. Unsurprisingly, I was wrong about that. However, the experience was at least compellingly puzzling and absurd (and not just because I was mere feet away from a glass case containing a pair of Neil’s studded leather pants).
For one, why would anyone want Vince Neil to “call the shots” anywhere near alcohol (he killed Razzle from Hanoi Rocks in a drunk driving accident!)? Secondly, all of the foods were clumsily named after Motley Crue songs. A few were wince-inducing attempts at raunchy double entendres (“Dancing On Glass Fish Tacos,” for example), but most were just fucking baffling (I ordered the “Girls, Girls, Girls Southwest Egg Roll”). Also, the bar featured several video screens playing Crue videos, including ones from the period following Neil’s exit from the band. When I mentioned Vince’s graciousness in this matter to Greg, he pointed out that he is probably contractually obligated to play those videos, as nearly all of the band’s songs were written by, and presumably owned by, the infinitely cooler Nikki Sixx. That, of course, made the stupid meal names even more puzzling, as Vince had named all of his sad, Applebee’s-quality Mexican dishes after songs written by someone else.
Also, at some point during my meal, I had the sudden realization that I was quite possibly experiencing the single most inauthentic moment of my life. That particular epiphany hit me as I watched a video of the Crue performing “Anarchy in the UK” (cleverly changed to “USA” in this case) at some giant outdoor rock fest:
For one, I was eating an egg roll (not a Mexican food) at a “Mexican cantina” that is not in Mexico, not particularly Mexican-themed, not populated by a single Mexican, nor much at all like a cantina. And I was watching a video of a well-past-their-prime stadium rock band covering a “punk” song that was originally recorded by a completely fabricated group of idiots assembled by Malcolm McLaren. Therefore, literally everything around me was an empty, soulless, bastardized illusion of something that should be cool. Which I think is a great metaphor for Las Vegas in general. Also, I think that if Vince Neil was really “calling the shots,” his cantina would be staffed with heavily tattooed former strippers rather than apathetic Hilton employees. Then again, maybe I was just grumpy because I arrived too early to get a “free airbrushed tattoo” at happy hour with my $1 shooters. I can be very petty about things like that.
Following my lurid trip south of the border, I hot-footed it across town to meet Greg at Mandalay Bay, where he was placing bets on several fights just like a real person (a step I was not yet prepared to take). As I strolled down The Strip towards my exciting sport event, I paused for a moment to survey the scene around me and bask in the gnawing horror of my insignificance. All around me were dozens of giant resorts that were all essentially their own ecosystems- I was but one white middle-class American tourist emerging from one resort (which probably contained a thousand rooms filled with other people from my very demographic). And all the people milling all around me were presumably just a small fraction of the people that actually populated those buildings, as I repeatedly heard people saying stuff like “you don’t even have to leave your hotel here! They have everything!” Incidentally, I found that to be completely true, unless you need, say, toothpaste. However, I would probably amend that to “it just isn’t worth leaving your fucking hotel here because everything is annoying to get to and is horrible. Also, nearly every person you encounter outside of your room will be a colossal douchebag that you will fleetingly contemplate murdering.”
Once we located each other in cavernous, well-scrubbed, and presumably minotaur-free maze of commerce that is Mandalay Bay, we entered the arena to discover that we arguably had the worst seats possible (second to last row). Surprisingly, we still had a pretty decent view of the cage…ahem…I mean “the world famous octagon,” but the giant video screen above us was amusingly the only one in the room that was not working. Also, nearly everyone around us was an utter fucking cretin. I know you’re all thinking “well, of course- it’s a fucking MMA event, man,” but my previous experiences have been greatly enlivened by the presence of extremely knowledgeable and hilarious hecklers in my vicinity. No such luck this time.
Naturally, since I had traveled 2,500 miles, nearly all of the fights were either totally unexceptional or outright boring. Greg held me personally responsible for this, pointedly reminding me that that I was promised at the weigh-in that the fights would be totally “buck wild” if I cheered loud enough. I still maintain that I cheered my little heart out, but I can understand his suspicion.
Thankfully, there was a lot of comedy to be found if you knew where to look. I chose to look at the beer counter and I was not disappointed. Also, I wanted beer. Given that I lead a fairly reclusive and insulated life, I was quite surprised to discover that all the guys ahead of me in line were buying retarded Red Bull-centric cocktails rather than beer. One dude in particular was especially awesome, as he ordered a whiskey & Red Bull ($20), then answered the question “single or double?” with “fuck, make it a double, man- get her fucked up!” Then he proceeded to proudly pound the can of excess Red Bull at the counter before walking away triumphantly. It was somewhat disturbing to find myself in an environment where this was considered perfectly normal behavior, but also pretty fucking funny.
When I got back to my seat, I had the good fortune of eavesdropping on some people behind me who were discussing their friend Arnold’s career as a stuntman while studying his filmography on their iPhones. One dude in particular was totally starstruck and kept exclaiming things like “Holy shit- Arnold was in Surf Ninjas? That is so fucking tight, bro.” He continued to earnestly and excitedly respond to each new title like that for quite some time, which made me want to turn around and say “Sorry, I hate to interrupt, but I couldn’t help it- it was just too fucking tight that your bro was in Surf Ninjas. I couldn’t hold my tongue another second! I just wanted to tell you that.” Of course, I did not actually do that. God, I am such a pussy.
At some point, my free-floating misanthropy was temporarily disrupted by a nice, amiable couple from Minnesota who sat next to me. This was their first time away from their new baby and they had flown out just to see their friend Jacob Volkmann fight. They cunningly moved to better seats before that fight though, so I did not get to experience their reaction when their hapless friend submitted to a rear-naked choke to unanimous applause.
Do you guys have any interest in the fights at all? I bet you don’t. The main event (Jose Aldo vs. Frankie Edgar) was pretty great, but it is probably far more entertaining to tell you that Greg lost all three of his bets and that most of the incredibly stupid and lame dudes sitting around us missed every single major fight because they spent the entire event either waiting in line for the bathroom or endlessly buying Bud Light.
In other news, the heckling throughout the event was subpar at best, but it occurred to me that it would be extremely funny to replace one of the UFC’s commentators with a composite of all the drunk idiots sitting around me. I imagine the commentary would go something like this:
Joe Rogan: “Edgar is getting frustrated, as Aldo wisely refuses to stay in the pocket with…”
Composite Drunk Guy: “QUIT RUNNING, YOU LITTLE FUCKING FAGGOT. I BET TEN DOLLARS ON YOU, YOU MOTHERFUCKER. WIN ME MY FUCKING MONEY, YOU GODDAMN COCKGOBBLER! THIS IS A FIGHT! THIS IS A FUCKING FIGHT!” (these sentiments would endlessly repeat in various configurations for quite some time, incidentally, as I discovered that drunk guys at sporting events tend to resemble a skipping record if they misguidedly believe that they have said something funny or smart-sounding.)
There was one fight worth recounting though and it was the one that I was most excited about beforehand: Alistair Overeem vs. Antonio “Bigfoot” Silva. Overeem was the huge favorite, as he is a world kickboxing champion who is widely regarded to be one of the best strikers in MMA. Also, he completely dismantled Brock Lesnar, who many very stupid people thought was the best heavyweight in the world. Silva, on the other hand, is best known for being a perpetual underdog, being weirdly misshapen-looking, and for being the guy that beat my beloved Fedor “The Last Emperor” Emelianko at a fight I attended in NJ a few years back.
What made the fight especially interesting is that: 1.) Overeem was coming back from being suspended for nine months after testing positive for elevated levels of testosterone, 2.) Overeem was training at Silva’s former training camp with all Silva’s former friends, and 3.) Overeem was very outspoken in his contempt for Silva and publicly called him “stupid.” Consequently, I really wanted Silva to kill him, which he ended up doing in extremely sudden and spectacular fashion in the final round. More awesomely, he had to be dragged off of his unconscious opponent by the referee while shouting “Get up! I want to fight more!” in Overeem’s face. Hilarious.
There is nothing quite like the excitement of experiencing a surprise upset with thousands of other people around you reacting at once. It gave me a weird surge of joy and a fleeting feeling of brotherhood with my fellow MMA fans. Fortunately, that quickly dissipated, as I absolutely could not wait to get away from the throngs of fools around me when the event finally concluded. As Greg and I shuffled wearily back to our respective hotels, we lamented the fact that we had not had time to fire machine guns with a bachelorette party, then said goodbye.
Weirdly, my stay in Las Vegas concluded on a unexpectedly genuine note, as I had a very pleasant conversation with my shuttle bus driver at 5am the next morning. I was the only person on the bus, so she chatted amiably about how awful most of the tourists are and how shocked elderly white women from the Midwest are by the dance music she plays on her radio (there’s a Britney Spears song where she says “bitch!”). Unfortunately, she then proceeded to tell me all about what a crazy(!) bunch of guys she works with following a totally unfunny and sadly predictable Super Bowl joke over her dispatch radio. I had absolutely no idea how to react to that and conversation temporarily lulled while I tried to adjust to the fact that I seemed to have suddenly entered a Dilbert strip. Eventually I recovered, however, and I made it safely to the airport without exposing myself as the crank/sociopath that I actually am.
Twelve hours later, I was back in my comfortable little nest in dark, freezing, provincial Albany, NY and all was once again right with the world.