break fast, break hard

I ran through all the things I might say to Shelly that could either account for or contribute to the reason I left Los Angeles. I speak of LA the way a man might speak of a beautiful woman he loved once in his past. It is that tenderness and longing that cut through any attempts I make to mask the fact that I am a fish out of water.

I looked down and noticed I was unconsciously playing with my glass, spinning it slowly with my fingers. My gaze brought Shelly’s down to the glass as well and then she looked up at me again with her explosively mischievous smile.

“Oh my god! You’re really uncomfortable discussing how you got here! Now I am really intrigued.”

Fantastic. I have managed to pique her curiosity on a topic I wasn’t even yet comfortable discussing with myself. How do I talk to an extremely sexy stranger about the misgivings, the wildness, the desperation and the Caligula style overindulgences that drove me away from my home? I obviously didn’t fully have my own head around it.

I took a deep breath and laughed to myself. “Look, leaving LA was really hard to do but I was drowning under a sea of shit of my own making. I had surrounded myself with drama and gotten involved with a bunch of people and a bunch of things that really mired me in a gray world of blah. I sometimes choose my friends poorly and…”

I was about to expound upon the idea of choosing poorly when a different server, not Heidi, came over to refill our water glasses. Out of a habit bred from my tendency to have salacious and surreptitious conversations, I often pause when wait staff approaches the table. I looked up this time to see the girl I had been talking to last night when I decided to bail and leave her and her friend with Ike. She smiled at Shelly as she refilled her glass and then looked at me. I had my eyes on lockdown, hoping she wouldn’t recognize me. Hope is a shitty thing.

“Holy fuckers, it’s you – Mr. Houdini! Where did you go last night?”

I had to look up now. “I went home. I just hit that wall.”

“Well, good for you. I hope your friend Ike hits a wall too, hard. Tell him to go fuck himself for me, ok? Do you guys need anything else.”

It was actually slightly bone chilling to hear the vitriol brewing inside her when she talked about Ike and then have it tabled completely when she asked if we needed anything else.

“I will, uh, I’ll let him know.”

I locked my eyes back on my glass but could feel both Shelly’s gaze and her smile burning into my forehead. We were locked into a mortal game of chicken, each waiting for the other to flinch or give. I decided to own up.

“Yeah, so that was weird and awkward. I left her at the bar last night with my buddy Ike. I tried to leave Ike in LA but he’s sort of like herpes and tends to pop up all the time.”

“Are you telling me you have herpes, Jackson?”

I looked up and she was on the verge of convulsing with laughter.

“No, but I do have a disease called Ike that I cannot seem to cure.”

Right as I said that my phone, which was in my front shirt pocket, began to vibrate. I had received a flurry of text messages. I pulled out my phone and looked at the screen. It was Alex. He had been laid off from his job and had four months of severance. He had already packed his car and was heading my way to crash for a while.

Two of the reasons for which I left LA in search of respite were now going to be living with me. I put my phone down, face down, on the table and breathed a giant sigh, slouching back in my seat and closing my eyes. I could hear the worry in Shelly’s voice the moment she opened her lips.

“Is everything okay?”

“Yeah, everything has come complete fucking full circle. That was another friend. He is on his way to my place from LA right now. I have baggage – big baggage.”

Shelly’s eyes twinkled at me slightly. “I have a thing for guys with baggage. You could be trouble, Mister.”

“Shelly, how do you feel about getting completely shit-faced during the day with a strange man you just met?”

“As long as you promise not to be too strange, I think it is a great fucking idea.”

I raised a hand in the air to get Heidi’s attention and made the circle motion that often translates into another round. I then picked up my whiskey, gave Shelly a quick clink on her glass and tipped the bottom of my glass to the sky, letting it all slide down my gullet.

“Whatever twisted thing is wrong with you, Jackson Panic, I think I like it. However, if we’re getting drunk then I’m not doing it on wine. I’ll be right back.”

With that, she walked over to Heidi who was already at the bar register, ringing us in another round. They had a quick exchange and Shelly began to walk back to me. I studied the elegant grace with which she carried herself and then marveled at the fact that I always tend to drown my troubles in women. Ironic then that most of my troubles start with women. It’s my own vicious cycle.

Shelly sat down and took another sip of her wine. “What will we be drinking to today?”

I thought about it for a nanosecond and then replied, “Today we drink to forgetting yesterday.”

Heidi then arrived with our drinks and we toasted to forgetting and then began day drinking, like a couple of professionals.

easy writer

I put away my laptop and gathered up my power cord. Shelly walked outside and was wrapping herself in a scarf and gloves while I got all my shit together. The power cord, of course, was not being cooperative and so I ended up jamming it into a pocket and hurriedly grabbing my jacket, throwing on a one sleeve while leaving the rest of the coat dangling as I walked to the door.

What was my rush? Why was I hurrying? In a more honest moment I would say that my heart had been broken for the first time in any sort of recent memory and I perhaps was hoping for some respite from my own thoughts. I found memories of the girl everywhere I looked, like ghosts haunting me as I walked around town, and maybe Shelly was a means to exorcise some of them. In my more typical bravo-laden moments I would merely dismiss such questions as self-explanatory given the way Shelly had approached me.

They say the best liars actually convince themselves of their own prevarications. The physiological process of the brain would function identically if one were recalling an entirely contrived story as if one were tapping into an actual memory. Moreover, the more one told a particular lie, the more solid the synaptic connection would be, thus cementing a memory out of a fabrication. Despite all of this, I couldn’t convince myself of any truth other than the actual one. Shelly offered the potential of a momentary lapse of pain in what had been dark days.

And there is a dark days arc coming in which I will gladly recount for you the ways in which a man tries to pry himself from the grim clamps of melancholy, but once again, I defer to a later time.

For now, I happily joined in step with Shelly on the short walk to Easy Street. We chatted a bit about the town and where she lived and I pointed out to her where I lived and then we descended the steps to bar area below the restaurant. They had a fire blazing inside and there were a few scattered families, mostly looking like people in town on holiday for the snow and the ski.

Once the season starts to kick in crowds grow and change. The laid back local vibe is supplanted with a boisterous gathering of people in town to hit the slopes. They ski and snowboard all day and then imbibe heavily at local watering holes. Easy Street isn’t as bad in terms of the noisy post-ski crowd, but it certainly had become louder over the last few weeks.

We found a place along the window that looked out to the patio. Snow storms had shut down any outdoor dining in most places but it was still nice to look out onto the patio and watch the fat snowflakes fall.

The waitress came around, a cute girl I had chatted up in the past, to take our order. She somehow remembered my name and I remembered her’s was Heidi, although we’d spoken only twice before. She commented on not seeing me for a while and I asked if she were still crashing with friends or had found a place. It’s odd how some details wedge themselves in folds of gray matter.

Shelly ordered a glass of red wine and I almost fell in line with her before succumbing to my desire for a stiff whiskey with one ice-cube. Cold days with snow and nothing really to do lend themselves to whiskey more than wine.

Right before Heidi returned with our drinks, Shelly gave me a mischievous look with a Cheshire cat grin blossoming across her lovely face. It evolved into smirk of sorts before she said anything.

“So why is Jackson Panic here in Park City?”

I paused and studied her visage before attempting to answer but right as my lips parted to speak, she expounded upon her initial inquiry.

“Allow me to rephrase – most people come to a town like this to get to the slopes but you don’t appear to me a man too concerned with snow sports. So, if you didn’t arrive here because you wanted to come to a ski town, what was it you were trying to get away from?”

It was a pointed question from someone who barely knew me. I had been kicking around a lot of different things when I decided to move from LA to Park City but hadn’t really considered whether any one of them were something I was running from. Was I trying to get away from something? Or someone?

the end of dallas the beginning of…

Our drinks arrived and Stephanie continued to flash me the same sweet and slightly shy smile. She was beautiful but in a “I have been put away in an unhappy marriage and preserved” kind of way. She was definitely a stunner in her day and was easily one of the most beautiful women in the bar but she was full of self-doubt and dressed a bit like a hot mom of three who had been out of the game for a while.

Her eyes didn’t break from mine when she sipped her drink. I was holding mine, not even nursing it a this point. It merely gave my right hand something to do as I smiled and looked into Stephanie’s eyes.

Her gaze burned into mine for a bit in a fashion that tipped her hand as to what she thought she needed or at least what the barrage of drinks and her drunken friend had been telling her. There are lots of suggested quick fixes to the end of an unhappy life and she already seemed determined down a path of saluting it’s departures with an apparent unending succession of drinks leading to some kind of naked attention on her previously neglected body.

It amazes me the kind of women some men will choose to ignore. It amazes me the kind of willing body that blossoms in what another idiot of a man deemed infertile soil, where a beautiful woman springs forward with renewed vitality into a world in which she might have previously dismissed herself as a walking corpse with a perfunctory agenda, waiting to merely complete the steps and get off the ride.

Then at some point this woman has an epiphany in which she sees that she has more to offer the remaining years of her life and a vigor she had forgotten she possessed. These women are phases, or rather – you’re a phase to them. You’re a moment in passing in which they are freeing themselves from a cocoon of their former self and trying to reconcile their identity to a new reality. You are the moment, the merry-go-round. Just keep spinning until the music stops.

Alex walked over and chatted with me and the newly reintroduced into society Stephanie. Alex was a decent enough wingman to give the late-night situation its proper gravitas and allowed she and I enough distance to get to know one another. When the time came, Alex went back to the hotel without either Ike or myself, which I knew troubled him but Ike was engaged with an 8-ball and I was tending to Stephanie.

I walked Alex outside and shook his hand, promising I would check in the next day at some point. I had to since my things were in the hotel but nevertheless, he looked as if he wanted assurances. I told him to punch Ike when he saw him and we both turned away laughing.

My turn was a somewhat clumsy pirouette into a tall red-head with the most beautiful smile I had ever seen.

“Watch where you’re going clumsy boy!”

I apologized profusely, one might even say inordinately. She seemed amused with my embarrassment and sincerity and gave me another couple of heart stopping smiles. She then interrupted my antics.

“Why are you headed back inside if your friend is leaving? What’s waiting for you in there?”

There was something in her voice, all too knowing and too full of mischief. I was speechless for a moment but then gathered up my thoughts quickly.

“The only thing in there is an open tab and my phone, both of which I am not necessarily opposed to walking away from.”

She smiled again and I swear I fucking melted. Completely.

“So close your tab and get your phone and then take me to get coffee.”

I am not even entirely certain I acknowledged her, what with the speed I launched into the bar. I flagged down the bartender and gave him the sign for my check and then walked over to Stephanie. I grabbed her by the shoulders and kissed her deeply on the lips. I told her she was absolutely beautiful and I was sure to regret this decision, but I wasn’t in the mood for a mad fling this particular night. I told her I was tired and had an early flight back to LA the next day and I had to be going. I mentioned my living in LA and her being here and in essence added another tiny little break-up to the pile of heartache she was carrying around but I couldn’t worry about that at this time.

I tried to smile at her as I walked off but she was already angry and ignoring me. I bolted out the door and couldn’t see the redhead anywhere. Once again, I felt my pulse stop – but this time for all the wrong reasons.

a drink, a phone and a divorcee

I looked around the table quickly and pondered telling the story but opted instead to say they would join us soon. We then discussed the game and the plans for the night. Our agenda consisted of a few more pitchers and then a bar later on that boasted giant fishbowl cocktails.

After about an hour of drinking and swapping stories, my mobile rang and it was Alex.

“Yo, Ike came out of the bathroom and passed out.”

“Wow – is he still alive?”

“He seems fine but he is sleeping now. Text me the address you guys are at and I will join you.”

How Ike could manage to sleep after snorting an entire eight-ball was completely lost on me but as long as he was still alive and breathing, I didn’t really care. About twenty minutes later Alex arrived in a cab and the conversation at the table resorted back to the game, the day and what the plans for the rest of the evening were. We ordered another pitcher of margaritas and put on our big boy pants. This party was going to be one of those we wouldn’t remember.

It did occur to me to ask whether Alex had left Ike instructions as to where we were going to be and what the plan was. Alex said he had left a note and included each of our mobile numbers. This wasn’t the first time we had left Ike somewhere alone. In fact, each of us had been left behind for one reason or another and so this wasn’t necessarily something outside the bounds of normalcy for us. We each had a bit of the cockroach in us. Some people, with a more teleo-functional concept of the world, might say that kismet had brought us together but as you age it becomes easier to find the people who share an affinity for everlasting nights. This wasn’t really a matter of fate or even chance in our group; it was merely the product of social behavior that’s easily identifiable by others with similar interests.

So went boldly forth with the remainder of our night. We stayed on the makeshift patio, ordering pitcher after pitcher of margaritas until the night was a soft moving blur of stars and crisp night air – where jokes passed with hearty laughs and toasts and cheers were made on behalf of everything. We entered the slippery world of smiles given freely and people who had just met, talking like old friends. Our universe was exploding into a tequila infused, nighttime magical realm and everyone at the table was along for the ride.

We eventually closed our tab and walked down the street to the place famous for its fishbowl cocktails. We still had not heard a peep from Ike. I assumed things were fine but Alex felt compelled to call and check on him repeatedly and each time bore a look of slight concern on his face. Again, I was sure he was fine. We were all fine.

We found the place with the fishbowls and immediately ordered three for our group. Each bowl arrived decorated with plastic fish sitting around the rim and a grouping of long straws in the middle. Ours were blue and red in color and everyone took a straw and began to sip. The rest of the evening would be fueled by Kool-aid looking cocktails and we would all have slightly blue tongues.

The night was quickly sliding into an oblivious fast forward of party antics.  Conversations became bogged down with the staccato of drunken attention spans and lapses of memory and then blurred together in a soggy mess. We made a critical decision to hit up one more nearby bar. Alex texted Ike the new location and we walked off down the street.

We actually had a few blocks walk and it gave some time to breathe fresh air and clear the head slightly. I was nearly at that tipping point where the inexorable blackness of a Mr. Hyde formation would start creeping upon me but the break in the flow of drinks and the cool night air exorcised those demons and I began to feel somewhat in control again by the time we reached the new spot.

It was nothing more than a trendy restaurant with a long bar that turned into a hotspot at night, but the scene looked good. I stayed outside the doors with Alex for a few more minutes while the rest of our party walked in. Alex wanted to give Ike another ring just to make sure he was ok. Ike still wasn’t answering. We shrugged at one another after Alex left yet another voice mail and I opened the door for him. I could see a mild haze in his eyes, indicating that the night was wearing on both of us.

Bird and his crew had saddled up to the bar about midway up. As I walked in, I felt my phone vibrate and pulled it from my pocket expecting to see Ike’s name on the ID but it was from a name I had changed at some point to ‘Do Not Answer,’ which meant it was likely an ex-girlfriend of some sort and I had made the sagacious decision at some previous point to rename her, and nameless others, with a moniker that was more instruction than identifier.

As I was putting my phone back into my pocket, I felt a soft hand on mine and very sexy voice purr at me, “Ooh, nice phone. May I see it?”

I looked up toward the body and face attached to the hand that was gently placed on mine. The hand belonged to a savagely beautiful brunette with long hair and a bright-colored, low-cut blouse that accentuated her chest. She had small pursed lips that were already locked into a smile and brownish green eyes that were fixed on mine. I gladly relented my phone into her delicate palm.

“Is that the best you can do?”

She was looking at my phone but then broke back to my eyes and grinned a little wider. “I’m sorry – how do you mean?”

“I mean, if you want to hit on me, asking to see my phone seems a little odd – don’t you think? I feel like you could have done better.”

She was about to reply when another girl, with shorter light brown hair and a square mannish jaw leaned in front of her and interrupted.

“Dude, she just got a divorce. She needs to get laid but has been out of the game for a long time.”

The intruding girl said the last part with the unmistakable closed-eyed clumsiness of a very drunk woman. I could see the brunette feverishly blushing behind her and decided to do away with the intruder and end the blushing. I placed my hand lightly on the shoulder of the intruder and softly pushed her back to her original spot to the brunette’s right. I then smiled at the girl holding my phone.

“Well, then – you simply should have said that. That would have been more than enough to stop me in my tracks.”

She still looked embarrassed and was sheepishly handing me back my phone, seemingly resigned to letting me go on my way when I decided to change the topic.

“Ok, this wasn’t really fair – I showed you mine. Now you should show me yours. Go ahead, where’s your phone?”

The brunette laughed and began to dig through her purse. As she did I caught the eye of the bartender and ordered her another martini and placed an order for a Grey Goose up martini myself, with two olives.

She smiled at me appreciatively when I placed the order and then thrust her iPhone into my hand. I gave it a cursory once over and handed it right back.

She looked surprised, “I thought you wanted to see my phone.”

“Not really, I just wanted to talk to you. I’m Jackson.”

I extended my hand to her once again and she placed her delicate hand inside my grip.

“Hi, I’m Stephanie.”

“Pleased to meet you Stephanie. So what should we talk about now?”

She began to laugh and blushed again. Over her shoulder I could see Alex looking my way and raising his eyebrows. I was going to be detained for a while – that was clear to everyone around.

sailors do it wetter

There was a moment, standing there on Captain Alvaro’s boat, The Melmoth, in which Biondetta and I locked eyes. She was defiantly glaring at me, perhaps trying to ward me off by letting me know I was not welcome, but at the same time, deep within the dark brown of her eyes, there was a pleading. Was she telling me to leave or was she asking me? I didn’t have time to think about it for very long as the Captain, with his hand still on my shoulder, started pulling me along with him to the front of the boat where Ikemael and the two girls were talking.

“And here is where the party is at!”

The Captain’s bellowing voice had the tone of a circus ringleader or a pitchman for an ‘As seen on TV’ product. He definitely resembled John Waters but he had the feel of some kind of shuckster, a smooth talking gentlemen with a great offer that will only be available for a limited time. He was almost too polite and spoke with a casual formality that seemed more like a presentation and less like conversation.

Ikemael and the two girls, both of whom were now dancing to Kanye’s Gold Digger, looked over at us and smiled. Ikemael raised a flute of champagne to greet us and I saw the girls were holding similar flutes and there was a bottle of Dom Perignon off to the side. Obviously our new friends had more refined palates than the Tecate tainted ones we were sporting. Ikemael raised his right hand and the Captain gave him an enthusiastic high-five. During their exchange the other girl, not Ikemael’s new love, walked over to me and handed me a flute of champagne brimming over with bubbly.

“You look thirsty, Starbuck.”

While I gladly accepted the champagne I cringed slightly at the ‘Starbuck.’ This Moby Dick routine was getting old. As you may expect, there is another Jackson Panic law dealing with attractive women in bikinis who offer you a flute of Dom Perignon. You graciously accept while allowing her to call you whatever the hell she wants.

This new beauty, wearing only the slightest red and white striped bikini, then took my Tecate from my hand and threw it overboard. We then clinked glasses and took a deep drink of the cold champagne. It clashed momentarily with the residual Tecate lingering in my mouth but the fizzy sweetness then came through and it seemed like the perfect drink for this very moment. The bearer of my champagne was playfully smiling at me from behind the glass she held pressed against her lips.

“Thanks for the drink, but my name is not really Starbuck. It’s -”

“It is today, Starbuck. I rather like that name.”

There were strong tones of Italian in her accent. The kind that made you think you could listen to her read the dictionary and find it pretty hot. Of course, it helped that she was standing in front of me in a bikini holding a bottle of Dom Perignon and looked damn fine doing it. Fuck it – if she wanted to call me Starbuck then who was I to argue any differently?

“Okay, Starbuck it is, but I didn’t catch your name.”

“That’s because I didn’t offer it.”

With this she broke into a girlish giggle and took a pull directly from the bottle of Dom and then handed me the bottle, indicating I should do the same. I raised my glass to tell her I had enough of my own but she pushed the bottle playfully into my chest, giving me a look that told me to just do it.

“Forgive Desdemona, young Starbuck, she’s lacking a certain sense of refinement. She loves to drink fine champagne but does so like an eighteen year-old girl at a keg party.”

The Captain was flashing me his incissor-heavy smile once again, with his cigarette firmly clenched and still dangling an extraordinary amount of ash. I looked back at my new lady-friend.

“Desdemona eh? That’s not really one I come across very often.”

I then proceeded to drink directly from the bottle myself, a much bigger drink than Desdemona had.

“Well, now you’ve come across me. Or at least you will if you’re lucky.”

I admit it – I choked, literally. I coughed up champagne onto the back of my left hand that was holding my flute. My eyes watered up and I felt the champagne seeping down the wrong pipe. My current predicament wasn’t eliciting any sympathy from Desdemona though, as I heard her peals of laughter coming from beyond my now blurry vision.

“Careful Desi – you don’t want to kill our new friend with champagne.”

There was something about the way the Captain said it that I didn’t like.

“Are you okay baby?”

Desdemona, or Desi, walked over to me, still giggling, and began rubbing my face.

“Yeah, I just choked a little.”

“Here, I’m sorry for making you choke.”

With that she gave me a quick kiss on the lips. I would have been more grateful had I not still felt the need to cough and were my eyes not still watering, but the kiss was a nice gesture. She remained close to me as I blinked and sniffled a few times.

“I guess I’m not good at holding my liquor.”

“So what are you good at holding?”

It seemed like everything she said was purred forward bursting with double entendre.

“Ah, well, certainly not my own since you definitely got the better of me just then.”

“I’ll let you in on a little secret, Starbuck. I’m going to get the better of you every time. I always end up on top.”

So there I am, a foot away from an attractive woman in a bikini who is feeding me champagne and throwing me lines that carry naughty little promises of promiscuity and the whole thing is playing out next to a group of people who have stopped their conversation and are clearly eavesdropping on ours. I looked past Desi and saw Ikemael, the Captain and the other girl staring at us.

“Do you guys need to be alone? I can take the Captain and Cindy back to our boat if you’d like.”

I couldn’t do anything but blush. The happy threesome was over there laughing and Desi was amused as well and I felt like an awkward asshole unsure of what to say, which doesn’t happen all that often. Desi broke up the stilted moment on my behalf by bending over and picking up a bowl that was sitting off to the side.

“Would you like some pomegranate seeds to go with your champagne? They’re the perfect complement.”

I am not a huge fan of pomegranate seeds but I was just fucking thankful that we might direct the attention to something else besides my choking on Desi’s flirtations. As I was reaching for the bowl, a hand reached past me from behind, grabbing the bowl. I turned around to see Biondetta throwing the bowl overboard. What is it with these people just throwing things into the water?

Biondetta icily glared at me again, “Those things are nasty.”

“Biondetta! What on earth are you doing?”

The Captain’s voice sounded shrill this time and tinged with an unexpected anger. Biondetta wasn’t looking at anyone other than me.

“Believe me, you didn’t want any.”

“I guess I will take your word on that.”

She then turned and walked back to where she had been sunning herself. I pivoted back towards the group and gave them the universal ‘what the fuck’ look. Our three new friends looked very agitated but Ikemael was his usual self, bordering on cackling.

“What the hell was that?”

The Captain looked at Ikemael and smiled a close-lipped smile, excused himself and walked back to Biondetta, leaving me and Ikemael alone with the girls. Cindy, the one person I had not yet met, then extended her hand.

“Hi, I’m Cindy.”

Whereas Desi was clearly from another country and Biondetta and the Captain also seemed foreign, Cindy was without a doubt an American girl. She was tanned, blonde and lacking the subtle beauty of the other two – less mystery but more breasts. I shook her hand and introduced myself.

“So where you girls from?”

Ikemael then slapped me on the back and laughed.

“Good luck with that one brother. I’ve been trying to get that out of them for ten minutes!”

I felt Desi’s arm slink its way around my waist. Quite frankly I didn’t care where they were from at this point, though in hindsight I probably should have. Regardless, when you’re standing on a gorgeous sailboat drinking Dom Perignon and an attractive woman in a bikini has her arm around you – you don’t ask too many questions. That’s a Jackson Panic law.

So how did I get from that point, a virtually perfect one, to hovering over a toilet, sweating bullets and hoping I didn’t die?

if i’m not charlie sheen, am i losing?

I realize I was in the middle of a story about being lost at sea with a couple of drug infused rodents and I will return to that tomorrow. As you probably know, I survived the odyssey and you’ve also probably surmised there are going to be beautiful women in bikinis, an unexpected cargo and the occasional Moby Dick reference to amuse those of you who read something other than this blog.

However, much like the rest of the world and despite my aversion to celebrity media, I have kept up with the shitshow that is Charlie Sheen. You can call it schadenfreude but it is nearly impossible to avoid seeing Charlie’s odd mug beaming back from the television nor is it easy to read the paper without seeing his name. The fucker is everywhere right now and he’s coining phrases.

Charlie Sheen is winning. He drives a better car than you, he has more money in the bank than you and he’s sleeping with porn stars and actresses half his age and two at a time no less. Charlie Sheen is winning – his words not mine. Soon, someone will create a bot on Twitter that will ejaculate Sheenisms and there will be apps for your iPad and phone that will let you set your own status to winning. Until then, you are not Charlie Sheen and you are not winning because Charlie Sheen is winning with his tiger blood and Adonis DNA.

I’m in Las Vegas earlier this week, the scene of mine and many other wayward traveler’s personal debauchery. I already have plans to regale you with stories about hookers, thousand dollar naps and a brush with Lucifer himself during my stints there but I’m saving those for a later date. I was there for other reasons this week, although the continuum of reasons for being in Vegas are always tilted toward the lusty and the decadent.

I had finished the business at hand and wrapped up the day with the Michelin-rated, gastronomic orgy that is Joel Robuchon and his sixteen course menu that starts with caviar with fennel cream, foie gras with black truffles and a crispy truffle tart and then continues moving through a selection that will dazzle the palate and empty the wallet. It was the kind of dinner Caligula would order for Nero while they watched Rome burn and got blowjobs from slave girls and boys. It was decadence so disturbingly pristine, you wondered whether it would end with the clubbing of a baby seal.

The dinner was long and the drinks flowed from cocktail to aperitif to white wines and then to reds before sliding into ports and cognacs. Our hearty crew eased out of the MGM with bellies full of food and wine and our wrist watches suggesting it might be time to consider sleeping. Wiser men than us had made the decision to forgo sleep while in Las Vegas, so the late hour meant we would continue the indulgence at Drai’s.

Drai’s is the place where, if I believed in a maker, we would have shook hands and exchanged business cards a few years back. That was the night that would have been fatal for lesser constitutions but somehow my liver, my heart and my sheer will to live carried me through the valley of the shadow of death. I marched back into the joint like Shakespeare’s Caesar, with Cassius and Brutus in tow. I had once left humbled but returned the victor.

So what does any of this have to do with Charlie Sheen and being a winner, you ask. I’m just now getting to that. Cassius, Brutus and I take our seats in the VIP lounge, in a booth just to left as you enter. There was a dj already spinning near us but the ambient noise levels permitted our dinner conversation to continue over bottle service and a parade of the young and beautiful passing by our table. Some people will tell you that nothing good ever happens after midnight, but these are the whispers of superstitious peasants who avoid the number thirteen and throw salt over their shoulders. What happens after midnight is the next day and what better way to welcome in a new day than conversation and a bottle of Glenfiddich 18?

After a little rabble rousing with the VIP manager to allow two attractive ladies to enter the VIP lounge and sit with us, Brutus turns his sights on me and my recent literary efforts.

“So Jack, has Charlie Sheen sucked all the air out of the room in terms of outrageous stories of hookers, strippers, benders and overall unseemly behavior?”

Brutus has always been jealous of my ability to both write and speak in complete sentences. He’s a great guy but his emails read as if they were written by a seven year old. I shrug at his suggestion and am content to let it pass. He, however, is not.

“I mean sure – you did find a way to judge a bullriding contest for strippers and you did get yourself fired for trying to get Olivia Wilde’s phone number but as funny as those might be to us – don’t you think Charlie Sheen pretty much now owns the entire world of mandom’s bad behavior? What can you really add to the conversation?”

Brutus has a smug and very self-satisfied look on his face. He put one of his arms around the slightly drunk blond girl seated next to him, who was obviously taken with him. Brutus knows me well enough to feel comfortable that I am pretty laid back and generally let the inane diatribes of assholes bounce off of me like water off a duck’s back, but he seemed particularly pointed in his rant this evening. Perhaps it was his need to tear me down since, in his myopic view of the world at this point, I was a competition for the girl he was attempting to charm.

I smile a slightly coerced smile to ease the tension and respond quite diplomatically, “I write the stuff I write because I enjoy writing. Based on what I’m seeing, people are reading it of their own accord. I don’t think the existence of Charlie Sheen precludes me from writing.”

Brutus pounces, granted its the lumbering pounce of a man filled with drink, but it is a pounce nevertheless.

“Yes Jack, that’s true but Charlie Sheen is winning! Charlie’s stories are being acted out on television and in the news and they are stories of him as a winner. Somehow your tales are always from the opposite vantage point. You are Charlie Sheen without the winning. You are another also ran with a blog who has a few adventures but who isn’t a winner. So that kind of makes you a loser.”

Et tu Brute?

Cassius decides to join in the criticism. Brutus is pretty obtuse but Cassius is a reader and fancies himself a writer as well.

“Dude, he has a point. You’re not Kerouac and Ike is not Dean Moriarty. You’re not as depraved as Thompson’s Raoul Duke and Dr. Gonzo. Man, you’re not even Tucker Max. This whole genre of puerile antics has been explored and exhausted and now the final throes are up for grabs every night on TMZ with Charlie Sheen destroying his career. Maybe you should write about other things?”

Ok, I can live with falling short of Kerouac and Hunter S. Thompson but the suggestion that Tucker Max might in some conceivable universe write better than me hurt. That’s like the manager at Starbucks telling you that you don’t really have the qualifications for the kind of candidate they’re looking to hire.

Et tu Cassius?

I set down my scotch and took a deep breath. The table seems to be expanding with me, in a communal inhalation, waiting to see how I will respond. I point to Brutus but don’t break eye contact with Cassius. This is where I cross the Rubicon.

“Charlie Sheen is winning? Really? Tell that to the ex-wife whose throat he held a knife to. While you’re at it, set a lunch with Jon Cryer and tell him Charlie Sheen is winning. Invite Denise Richards.”

Cassius starts to interrupt but I cut him off.

“I’m not fucking finished. In fact, I’m just getting warmed up. Charlie Sheen is winning is the last gasps of a career on life support with an obituary in the making. His only friend right now appears to be hubris. He’s on a drug called Charlie Sheen but that’s the kind of shit that someone says right after they’ve gone over the edge. That’s Thelma looking at Louise and saying ‘this was a good idea, right’ just as the fucking car goes air born. Charlie Sheen is winning is the equivalent of putting your last dollar on red and when it comes up black, looking around the table and telling people at least you have your pride.”

I take a breath.

“But really, fuck Charlie Sheen. I’m sitting down and I’m jotting down laughs. Some of it happened and some of it didn’t and some of it is a little of both. That’s why, Cassius, I don’t use the real pansy-ass name your mother gave you. The world is full of stories and most days I take a few moments to add one of my own to the pile. The drinks flow in my stories and the nights drag on ad infinitum, but if it’s amusing it’s because of the way I tell it. I flirt with the cliff but never drive off of it and so you get to enjoy stinky cheese tales and stories about me passing out at work. You might be concerned about my well being or my liver but I never profess to have tiger’s blood and am aware of the perils.

Winning isn’t being Kerouac or Thompson. I write for myself the same way I live for myself and I do both with zero apologies. You don’t like my stuff – don’t read it, but just because there are a trillion other stories already out there doesn’t mean we should stop writing new ones down. In fact, the stuff I’m working on right now will make that tiny pinhead of yours spin like a dradle, Cass.”

Everyone looks at Cassius. He does have a pinhead. He’s now uncomfortable and I’m winning.

“Cowards die many times before their deaths, but I’m going to keep braving the tempests, drinking the wine and writing the stories so that only one death comes my way – a good solid one. Before then though, I will live and write to the hilt. Winning isn’t the car and winning isn’t a book deal. Winning is doing what you do with an understanding of how you fit in the world around you and the peace that comes with understanding that place. I’m winning because I’m still in the game and I’m still trying to be a little better than I was yesterday. I’m winning for the very reason you started this conversation Brutus – because I’m putting it out there.”

With that I stood up, kissed the hands of both the girls at the table and nodded to the boys.

“Hail fucking Caesar.”

I win.

hooters and bulls!

I don’t know what it is about me and mechanical bulls but we seem to be drawn to one another. That magnetism becomes a little stronger when it includes a bull riding contest between Hooter’s waitresses and a local strip club to raise money for breast cancer awareness. Yes, you read that correctly – it was a buckoff between the ‘delightfully tacky, yet unrefined‘ girls of America’s favorite wing restaurant and the girls who get paid to take off their clothes – all in the name of a good cause. Who says charity events are stuffy?

I get why some of my married friends are hesitant to hit the town with me on a Saturday night. Even before Ike brought hookers into my kitchen, I had plenty of success finding mischief on my own. There was a time when I believed in the devil but even back then I realized he couldn’t make someone do something. All he could do was present the opportunity. Thus, by the same reasoning, I could be the devil in my married friends’ details. I wasn’t trying to get anyone in trouble but events like sexy bullriding competitions have a way of falling into my lap and sometimes those turn into late-night wet t-shirt contests – but I’m getting ahead of myself.

Ike actually sent me the invite to the event via email. I was sitting at my desk, sipping a hot cup of java when the email lands in my inbox. It takes me all of three seconds to open the email, read it and respond in the affirmative. I didn’t even take note of the day or time because I knew I could make it. I was going to this event.

I might have to change some plans around but I would be there.

“Hey, sorry but I can’t be in your wedding this weekend after all.”

“What do you mean?”

“I forgot I have this rodeo thing I have to attend.”

That conversation never gets easier no matter how many times you have it.

Ike said he sent the invite out to eight guys and all eight responded ‘yes’ within five minutes. That is the beauty of technology; it can bring people together.

It turns out the event is on Saturday so I don’t have to back out of any weddings or cancel on a Groupon, which makes the day all the more enjoyable. The rodeo events start later in the evening so we decide to meet up for dinner and drinks somewhere before heading over to Union Cattle in Manhattan Beach.

I have no idea whether this was an officially sponsored event of Union Cattle or whether it was something informally arranged by the other two establishments, but the invite and the details seemed a little hush hush. When we get there the place is crawling with dudes, all of whom are hovering around the mechanical bull arena. We’re in pretty high spirits as we arrive ready for whatever kind of hijinks await.

Despite what I said earlier about some of our married friends showing discretion as to when they hang out with us, every one of them Ike invited showed up. If I had a wife, I’m not certain how I would go about asking her if I could sneak away for a little while on Saturday to watch strippers ride a mechanical bull. I’m sure there is some kind of domestic etiquette one uses when broaching such a subject, but the finer points of that kind of negotiation are completely foreign to me. Regardless, they all seemed to navigate that precarious discussion with relative ease so I’m certain there is something I am missing.

We find a place among the rabble that will accommodate the ten of us and give us all a good view along the railing. We have large steins of beer at our disposal and are giddy like five-year olds at the circus by the time the emcee of the event gets things going.

The emcee hands a megaphone to a group of guys next to us who look like they just got back from a Robot Battles competition. Some people might refer to these kinds of guys as the Chess Club or the crowd from Comi-Con but both of those groups hold a warm place in my rotten little heart and so I will just pick on the hobbyists who design robots for gladitorial jollies. Needless to say, these guys don’t appear the kind who will add any extra spice to the event.

Things get started and it’s just ok. If you’re reading this, then you’re probably like me and when you hear there is going to be a Hooters girls vs Strippers contest on top of a mechanical bull, your imagination runs to the wilder side. Then it gets started and it’s sort of – lame.

Here’s the deal, if I invite you to come to an event that will have free food and drink all night and you show up and realize the free drink is Kool-Aid and the free food is Fritos, then you may be a little disappointed. There was nothing dishonest in how I advertised it to you. There is indeed free food and drink when you arrive and we will be serving it all night but it’s not quite what you expected. You wanted wine, champagne and caviar – or at the very least those little mini-quiches you can hold in one hand that are slightly upscale and conveniently tasty. You simply expected more.

So it was with the event. We were hoping for champagne and being served Kool-Aid. The bullriding was so-so and the girls must have been instructed to dress conservatively as there wasn’t a sight of either a Hooters outfit or a pasty. The robot club next to us was doing nothing to urge on the competitors as they just handed the megaphone back and forth to one another and occasionally mumbled something inaudible into it.

I’m not the kind of guy to just stand around and watch the Titanic sink. I am a man of action and so if the ship can be saved, I will do everything in my power to save it. I ask the robot boys for the megaphone and they look relieved to be done with it. I step back over to my circle of friends and lean into the arena and start my own emceeing.

I was born with a loud voice – I mean from the getgo. Growing up, I would be in trouble all the time for talking in class because my voice would carry and the teacher would overhear me. It turned into more of a blessing as I got older and had the chance to do a public speaking event here or there but where it really comes in handy is in a crowded place where I want to be heard. If you add a megaphone to it then it becomes a weapon I can wield at my discretion. It was time to get this event on track.

After the third rider completed her less than memorable ride, my voice came bellowing from the megaphone:

“It’s time to put the sexy back into bullriding! Make some noise if you want to see real entertainment.”

Finally, the place starts to come alive. Guys start cheering and the cowboy operating the bull looks up at me and smiles. Even the staff seemed a little disappointed up to this point. The emcee pointed to me as the new rider approached the bull and so I complied with a hearty, “Let’s give a hand to our next lovely rider!”

Now people are cheering. Now it’s starting to resemble a party.

All of the bull rides so far have been slow, which should give the ladies an opportunity to show off their skills for dance or just being hot. Let’s be clear here – this is a contest and as far as I can tell the scoring metrics should be hotness charted against sexy moves with a standard deviation factored in. Take that robot boys!

So far, we have seen some pretty ladies atop the bull but nothing that ventured into hot territory and most looked slightly embarrassed, which brings the sexy portion of the scoring down to zero. The next rider is a Hooters girl and once she’s on top of the bull it starts its slow pacing again.

She seems to have a little more life than the rest but is still holding back. I step in to let her know.

“Ladies, this is a contest. Let’s see what you got. This isn’t bull sitting, it’s bullriding!”

The rider looks to me and laughs and the crowd reinforces my suggestion with a few solid ‘fuck yeahs!’ She starts to feed off the vibe and her ride instantly becomes a little more enticing. Now there is promise for the event to resemble what I first pictured when Ike sent the invite. She completes a respectable ride and dismounts. There are more cheers this time and the audience is once again engaged.

The next rider is from team dancer. She has platinum blond hair, a wasp-like tiny waist and breasts the size of which go beyond questions of human intervention. She is marvel of bipedal locomotion as there really isn’t any way she should be able to move without falling over. She’s wearing a pink cowboy hat, painted on jeans and t-shirt with the club’s name on it. I think she is the perfect candidate for Stage 2 of saving the Titanic.

She starts her ride and is miles ahead of the competition already. She is leaning into the bull and obviously is an artisan of her craft. Once she gets into the rhythm I decide to give her a little extra incentive through the megaphone. In my loudest voice, I rattle the walls with the phrase:

“Skin to win! Skin to win! Skin to win!”

I don’t want to toot my own horn but that was something I thought up on the fly. It works because it’s short, it’s easily repeatable and it rhymes. Chants are so much more effective when they rhyme.

The chant spreads like wildfire. The emcee looks at me a little nervously but the cowboy operating the bull is nodding his head and chanting along. Now you can’t even hear the music in the arena because the whole place is reverberating with one communal chant.

The wonder of bipedal movement atop the bull gets our drift immediately and the pink cowboy hat is flung seductively out into the crowd. She’s holding the bull with her left hand while her right arm swings languorously off to her side. Then she grabs her shirt and in one fluid motion it comes off and joins her pink cowboy hat. The arena transforms into the exact scene we thought we were going to find when we first came in. There is a gorgeous, if not entirely anatomically believable, woman astride a slowly gyrating bull in the middle of the room who is clad only in a red bra and painted on jeans. She has a tattoo of what looks to be a pin-up girl on her shoulder and someone in the crowd has the good sense to toss her the pink cowboy hat so her outfit would be complete.

If you took all the previous scores combined they couldn’t match the show bipedal girl just put on. The emcee is still smiling at me nervously as she dismounts to thunderous applause. A Hooters girl is next, a drop-dead sexy black girl who is wearing a black cowboy hat.

As she’s getting ready to mount the bull, the emcee walks over to me and asks me to keep it down. I tell him of course and as soon as he turns his back to me, I start the ‘skin to win’ chant again. He whirls around and rips the megaphone from my hands but just like on the streets of Egypt and Tunisia, the people’s voice would be heard. And hear in Manhattan Beach that voice was telling the establishment: Skin to Win!

The new cowgirl knows what to do and before the ride even starts she has removed her sexy little western shirt and begins her ride in short-shorts, a pink bra and a black cowboy hat. Her ride trumps the last, despite the protestations of the emcee demanding she put her shirt back on. The walls continue to rattle with my chant and there is great joy amongst the patrons and the competitors.

The bipedal wonder rider is now going around the room taking donations for the cause in her pink cowboy hat and the money is flowing. I lean into the arena again and even without the megaphone am able to bellow out above the noise: Gentlemen, empty your wallets for breast cancer awareness!

Another hearty cheer rocks the room and the bipedal wonder walks over to me and extends her hat. I give her the entire $287 I have in my wallet. She smiles at me and asks if we would like to come to an after-charity event hosted at a late-night spot.

I tell her we would be honored. She smiles at me, kisses me on the cheek and says, “Great, you guys can judge the wet t-shirt contest!”

I turn to my friends and immediately ask, “Ok, what is everyone’s curfew and who feels like judging a wet t-shirt contest?”

The devil can’t make you do anything; he can only present you the opportunity, a fantastic and wonderful opportunity.