Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Las Vegas: It's Like a Spa.... With Cocktails, Gambling and Lots of Neon

It was Andrey's birthday this past weekend, and, as is tradition, about 30 of us gathered in Sin City to celebrate. And celebrate we did. To some of us, that meant staying out until 6 a.m. dancing at nightclubs or watching others... uh... dance on a pole or two. But to me, celebrating meant cocktails, a little dancing and then an early, by Vegas standards, bedtime of about 1 a.m. so I could be up by 9:00 every morning to work out at the Mirage gym and lounge in their spa facilities. Then we'd all spend several hours at the Mirage pool, as evidenced in the above photograph. Add in the fact that the July desert heat turns Las Vegas into a serious sauna, and you have a giant spa.

I did gamble a bit, too. I like the slot machines but really just regard them as expensive video games, as opposed to truly trying to win any money. To that end, I only play the penny slots, so I can minimize my expense. At one point during the weekend, I was up about $21 in my "video gaming," but when all was said and done, I had lost about $14. Ah, well.

One the highlights for me this year was definitely Friday night when Frances, Katya and I went to see The Beatles LOVE. It was amazing, to say the least. I was in tears throughout most of the show, which would be embarrassing, but I discovered that one of my fellow Andrey celebrants saw it last year, and he cried, too. So no shame necessary.

Saturday night was Mafia Night, and we all dressed as gangsters and their molls, representing mob culture from about the 20's to the present day. Here, Irina, birthday boy Andrey and I are decked out in our mobster finest. (To be honest, my costume looked a lot like my normal clothing, and that's because it was. Not that I'm any sort of a gangster in real life, but I have a couple of dresses that look 40's/50's-ish, and I figured one of them would suffice.)

On Sunday night we celebrated Andrey's birthday officially with a delicious dinner at the Palms Casino. A bunch of us went dancing after that, but Tom, Irina, Bill and I decided to hit the Imperial Palace for more gaming (lots of penny slots at the IP, my friends). And then Monday arrived, and I flew home in the late afternoon. But not before a last visit to the gym/spa, more pool time and a few more spins at the penny slot machines.

I could get used to a life of exercise, poolside cocktails and fabulous food and shows. However, since I don't gamble for real, I'm going to have to work a few more years before I can even dream of being able to afford such a life.

(Photos courtesy of David Piechowski. I brought my camera with me but really didn't use it, opting instead to take a few pictures with my mobile phone and upload them onto Facebook immediately. You can see them there, if you happen to be my "friend.")

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Real Rock Star, Fake Rock Star

What I should be doing right now: working on my newspaper column, which is due on Sunday. What I am doing: playing on the Internet and updating this little chronicle. After rambling here, I probably will hop onto Hulu and watch an episode of "Chuck." (Why does NBC not rerun that show? Do people really want to see endless airings of "Deal Or No Deal"?)

Anyway, the tale I tell you this evening is that of a real rock star and a fake rock star. The real rock star in question is my friend Bray. He had a CD release party at the Independent this weekend, and it was super fun. After a few glasses of champagne across town at Project One, I arrived just in time to see Bray take the stage as well as command of his pitch perfect set. Bray is one of the most dynamic performers I've ever seen, and he was awesome.

The fake rock star would be me. Between the bronchitis, my mini L.A. vacation two and a half weeks ago and just generally being busy, I hadn't been singing much for the past month. But a few days ago, Jackie and I got together for rehearsal (Ho, our bass player, is traveling in Mongolia), and I was handily reminded why I love singing songs. I'd been in a dour mood beforehand, but after our two-hour practice, I was happy as a clam. We also treated my friend and neighbor Alison, who is about to move to India, to a little mini concert in my living room.

Just an aside: I certainly have some globe-trotting friends, don't I? The furthest I've ever traveled is to Great Britain, and in general, I don't stray further from home than Hawaii. Okay, back to our tale.

With a good rehearsal under our belts, Jackie and I decided to perform a few tunes at the McGrath's open mic in Alameda last night. I sang three songs and then left the stage to Jackie to play some of her original numbers. There were only about 15 people in the joint, which I believe is rare for that particular open mic, and to be totally honest, most of them didn't pay attention. But such is the life of a fake rock star. Jackie has much more rock star cred than me, and her original songs are really good. One guy liked them so much, he bought drinks for me and Jackie once she was done. Jackie's solo work has nothing whatsoever to do with me, but I took the free cocktail, anyway.

I'm going to guess that getting a complimentary beverage when your guitarist writes and performs some good songs also is part of the fake rock star life. And frankly, that suits me just fine.

Sunday, July 05, 2009

Independence Day, Bay Area Style

Happy America's birthday, gentle readers! I trust you had a lovely 4th of July. My holiday festivities began a day early this year, as did many others' celebrating, I imagine. I actually didn't have Friday off, but I worked early and was on the patio at Zeitgeist with a Downtown Brown ale in my hand by 3:00 that afternoon. Given that most everyone else had the day free, as well, it was far more crowded than a regular Friday at 3 p.m., but I didn't mind. Nor did Kevin, Kurt, Paul, Denise, Tom or Chris, all of whom joined me. At about 6:00 I left with Paul and Denise to indulge in gourmet deep dish pizza at Little Star, and then I headed home and went to bed early.

That early bedtime, you soon will see, was necessary, as I had a jam-packed Independence Day ahead of me. After a lazy morning followed by a nice workout at the gym, I cleaned up and was ready for action.

The first stop on my 4th of July Tour of Fun was Berkeley, where my friend Christina was hosting a barbecue. There was good food, excellent company, live chickens in a coop (don't worry we ate none of them) and a couple of women in tank tops and shorts or skirts who didn't shave their legs or underarms. I must say, it's been years since I've seen that very stereotypically Berkeley phenomenon. On an intellectual level, I'm appalled by the way women in this country are expected to be virtually devoid of body hair. However, I also am a product of my culture and keep myself well shorn and waxed. Within reason, anyway. (Perhaps this is too much information, but I've never traveled to Brazil and have no intention of doing so.)

After a delicious meal, I had to leave the barbecue and BART back into the City for a Margarita Club meeting at Cava 22 in the Mission. While there, Berto and I spied a gentleman roaming the street wearing just a top hat, spats and a barrel while waving an American flag. I assume he also was wearing underpants, but I really don't know for certain. What a San Francisco way to celebrate the nation's birthday, no?

An hour later I was off again and headed to North Beach for Helen's 40th birthday party. I got to see the City's fireworks display on the way there, which was a lovely surprise, since I had been certain the display would be eaten by the fog this year. 4th of July fireworks are always hit and miss in San Francisco. Anyway, Helen's party was much fun. We chatted, drank a couple of cocktails, and I learned that her neighbor apparently works in pornography. The very nice gentleman in question says he's neither an actor nor a fluffer, but he wouldn't say just what it is that he does do. And it is just his day job; he's actually a musician and would like to compose and produce film soundtracks someday. Anyway, that also seems very stereotypically San Francisco. While I believe the San Fernando Valley to be the heart of the adult film industry, I've never met anyone who works in porn in L.A., and Helen's neighbor is not the first person I've met here who works in some form of adult entertainment. I didn't even bat an eye while talking to him last night. Well, I didn't bat an eye once I was convinced he wasn't lying about his job, and the mild shock wore off.

All in all, I'd call it a very successful Independence Day. I hope the rest of America had as fun a birthday as I did.