Sam had been one of the founding members of Speakeasy, so while I had heard his name often over the years, we didn't actually meet in person until Blasé died. At the memorial service, we were introduced to each other by mutual friends, and the group of us decided to head to Sam's condo in West Seattle afterwards ... to reminisce and reconnect.
Blasé had been a veritable force of nature -- a rabble rouser and a dilettante, an artist and a commercial photographer, a cynic and a philosopher -- and he had touched all of our lives in very different ways. For me, his somewhat objectionable behavior had resulted in my actually having the opportunity to join Speakeasy -- an experience that has had an immeasurably positive impact on nearly every facet of my life -- and his keen, artistic eye, and cool professionalism enabled me to learn how to love my portly little bod.
The latter might not mean that much to you if you didn't grow up as a fat girl in a society obsessed with lithe beauty. These days, body positivity is an actual political movement, but in the years of 90s waifdom, fatness wasn't something anyone wanted to cosign. There was no social acceptance platform with which I could use to soften the blows, and so I turned inward and focused on internal interests, eventually developing a sense of myself squarely rooted in my curiosity with the world around me and my creativity for interacting with it.
In fact, I had so completely disassociated myself from my physical form, I was often quite stunned by anyone expressing either positive or negative sentiments about it -- as if, in doing so, they confirmed my greatest fear: I had been seen. I was infinitely more comfortable as the observer, merging into the background. In fact, even though I am far more connected to my physical self now than I ever have been in my life, I'm still more comfortable watching and absorbing from a distance.
Either that or getting right into the thick of it: No one is watching you when you're writhing on a crowded dance floor, because they're all too busy dancing, too.
By the time I met Blasé and was posing for him in varying levels of undress for a series of Speakeasy's advertising campaigns, I had started to get a little bit more comfortable with my physical form. His humorous, respectful and open way of working completely disarmed me, and it enabled me to start the journey of recognizing -- and learning to love -- my own, unique beauty. His photos captured my curiosity, my playfulness, my creativity, my intellect, my mischievous nature; all the qualities with which I had aligned myself as a way of alleviating the demands of inhabiting a physical form that was regularly demeaned and degraded. It was a revelation to see those very qualities reflected in the physicality I had been taught to despise. That process enabled me to come home to myself in the most visceral way possible, and so while I doubt Blasé was ever aware of the measure and tenor of his impact on my life, losing him was incredibly bittersweet.
The evening of Blasé's memorial, we headed up to the rooftop deck of Sam's condo. He had picked up paper lanterns for us to light and send out to the Seattle skies in effigy. And we sat on the rooftop, smoking pot, sipping wine, sharing stories, laughing, learning. Our mutual friend Adrienne noted that Sam and I both loved live music, and that initiated our all-too-brief friendship, bolstered by some rather joyous musical discoveries and experiences.
When I learned that Sam had passed away quite suddenly in his sleep after only a year of actually spending time with him, it at first seemed like a poorly delivered joke -- or a dramatic twist to a tale you're crafting, but then think better of almost immediately and rewrite. It was just over a year from when we met at Blasé's memorial service, and now this profoundly unique soul had moved along, too.
Sam inspired me; while some people might look to those that are almost saccharine in their positive spirituality, Sam was someone who had battled -- and continued to battle -- some serious demons. He had fucked up, he'd made some shitty mistakes, he'd hurt people that he'd loved deeply. And throughout all of that, he persevered: He remained an unassailable optimist, curious about the world around him, dreaming of big ideas, and sharing the joy that he found.
And even though he's gone, he will continue to inspire me -- to live life as fully as I know how, to keep dreaming, to keep creating, to keep exploring. The shock of his loss is still reverberating throughout my life, and I am certain to feel it for years to come. Someone as phenomenal and irreverent as Sam doesn't come into or leave one's life lightly. They do so with a glorious clamor, hitting all of the wind chimes and channeling all of the birdsong. They make such a large space for themselves that, when they are gone, the hollowness is bittersweet, for you must simultaneously celebrate the gorgeousness they imparted while also keening mightily for their return.
From Blasé to Sam, Autumn to Autumn bookended by reverberating losses. But I'm fairly sure that both of them would be quick to remind me that while we'll all die, someday, on all of the other days, we will not. So we'd better fucking live.
The first thing that you notice is the stillness. There’s a kind of easy commingling between the vast Amazonian jungle and the film’s hero, Karamakate; their integration is so complete, it’s difficult to determine where one ends and the other begins.
In those first few moments, we’re introduced to a method of interacting with the world that is marked by both nurturing and respect, knowledge and mythology. In fact, it’s a way of connecting with nature that has shaped cultures throughout history: Before we had the means to aggressively change the world around us in order to support our fragility, we had to learn how to survive in it; and to survive in it, we developed rules and mechanisms which ultimately evolved into deeply-held beliefs about the nature of our reality, and our place within it.
Throughout Embrace of the Serpent, we’re reminded of this seemingly essential element of humanity: Our core desire to define how and why we’re here. As Karamakate travels with the first of two Western explorers that influence his own personal journey, we’re exposed to two particularly savage methods for establishing the how and why of it all — capital and psychological colonialism. From desperate and broken rubber plantation slaves, to spiritually bereft religious missions bent on beating the civility into indigenous children, we see two very different approaches for affirming our reason for being.
And as he makes the same journey with a second explorer decades later, we see how the soul-crushing methods used to validate our existence, for legitimizing our right to colonization, can result in psychological scars so deep, they transform a culture’s perspective of their unique place within the realm of existence. Their own stories, rules and mechanisms are perverted so viscerally by the colonizer’s manifest perceptions, they develop a somewhat disturbing amalgam that serves to reveal the ultimate emptiness of “meaning.”
While it’s true that our search for and attempts to establish meaning within our discrete cultures serves a crucial purpose — and is the basis on which the very structure of our societies are built, for better or for worse — when our cultures blend, and our different methods for defining the why and how diverge, we clash and struggle; we shift our focus to proving that our methods are based in veracity, and rather than continue to question, we fight for what little psychological consolation we’ve managed to carve out of the vastness of space.
But enveloping all of this humanity and its petty foibles is the vastness of the natural world; specifically within this film, the Amazon jungle. It’s like the strong arms of a parent gently holding their toddler as they cry and wail, fighting against sleep or eating or putting on pants or whatever. Our kicks bruise its shins, our flails scratch its cheek, our screams ring in its eardrums; and nonetheless it holds strong. It doesn’t give up on us, even as we’re rebelling against its needs — even its very existence — and abusing it with our wanton attitude and amorphous beliefs.
At some point in many of our world’s cultures, our collective ego emboldened us to explain the why and how by holding us above nature; a kind of clumsy divorce wherein the visitation rights have never been truly determined and we’re still living in the same house. And our practices in pursuit of this divisive why and how have served only to deepen and widen the separation between us, fooling us into believing that it’s the way of things.
While Embrace of the Serpent is equal parts road trip movie, classical hero’s journey and historical snapshot of a disappearing world, it is also a testament to the loss of our connection, on a global scale, with the planet which has shaped and nurtured us. The movie depicts historical events from the perspective of the indigenous Amazonian tribes at the turn of the 20th century, but it would be folly for us not to recognize that the spirit of these practices are alive and well today.
Until we’re able to see the structures we’ve built for exactly what they are — mechanisms for defining our world, in an attempt to survive it — we’ll continue to be divisive and disconnected. And while we’ll still be embraced by the natural world, there will be no ease in it, there will be no stillness, there will be no peace.
Mr. Tale’s current adventures in middle-management-stooge-dom have him stationed in Detroit. In early February, I joined him there for a couple of days, but it was far too cold and blanketed in snow to really get out and about. In fact, all I could really do was chitter chatter down the Riverwalk a few feet, and then make snow angels on top of the Renaissance Center. I wanted to explore the joint more, though, so we arranged a visit in early September to do so. And, also, to play Mario Party. (Priorities, etc.)
Now, much has been made of Detroit recently; it’s bankrupt and struggling, and it’s fighting a war on two fronts: Gentrification and criminalization. On the one hand, you have new recruits digging up empty lots to plant pea patches, and on the other you have gangland generals digging up moats around their neighborhood to keep the police out. You can see how the two might disagree with each other, but, in the middle, you have a grip of perfectly normal, brilliant, intuitive and creative individuals who love their city.
Historically, Detroit was arguably a one shop town, and while it hasn’t suffered as much as some other rust belt cities (I’m looking at you, Flint) it was largely built on property taxes. When the jobs to pay those taxes left, so did the people who owned that property, ultimately resulting in Detroit’s meager coffers. But if the same thing had happened in, say, Tampa, I don’t think we’d care as much; no offense to Tampa, but Detroit is a hallmark city — it represents some of the best elements of American ingenuity and intellect. There was a time when it was what we as a nation wanted to see reflected back at us when we looked in the mirror — economic strength, innovative might, intense creativity, progressive social values. And its fall reminds us that we are fallible, that we can make mistakes that reverberate across generations, that our own best intentions absolutely can pave the road to hell … and, in Detroit’s case, sometimes quite literally. How people act about Detroit also says a lot about us: Some of us are more than ready to dismiss it as a lost cause, while others are putting on the hip waders, rolling up our sleeves and digging in.
In many ways, it reminded me of pre-Katrina New Orleans, with a blend of immense wealth and abject poverty from neighborhood to neighborhood, street to street. It happened to be terrifically humid and warm while I was there, too, so I’m sure that lent something to the comparison … but there were also pervasive cicadas, lush tropical grass lawns, crumbling brick and freshly painted clapboard, endless crops of flowering hostas, gritty streets. And always a welcoming, warm smile from everyone I met.
The DIA’s collection is pretty awesome, and I spent a few hours strolling through their different selections. In addition to the usual Euro suspects (Van Gogh, Renoir, Degas, Picasso) they also have pieces from all over Africa, the Middle East, Asia and Central & South America. Particularly of note in these more regional collections were the Arabic calligraphy collection and video installation, and the variety and in depth analysis of African tribal masks. They also had some lovely Islamic art, and an interesting presentation on how the Silk Road trade influenced the art and crafts along the route.
Their contemporary art selection was pretty kick ass, too, with both pop and abstract examples, and their African American collection was particularly gorgeous. One of my favorite pieces was To Disembark: Billie Holiday, which visually doesn’t look like much, but which contains an audio player within the crate that quietly — hauntingly — plays Billie Holiday’s catalogue. Can you imagine having that piece squirreled away in your own home, for guests to discover as they stumble to the bathroom? It resonated with me deeply, but maybe only because I’m predisposed to having Billie Holiday playing in the background all the time, anyway.
Because it’s Detroit, they of course had an epic mural painted along the walls on either side of an atrium, detailing the history of the auto industry and labor movement. It was so expansive, I couldn’t really do it justice with my snapshot, but you get the idea.
One area of their collection that was particularly broad and deep was American art spanning the early 1600s through WWII. I haven’t seen as expansive of a collection of this style and era before, and it was easy to get sucked in. While I think, ultimately, I prefer more pop / modern / experimental art, I do tend to become rather engrossed in the basic technique employed in photo realistic paintings of aristocracy and landscapes. The brush work is always fascinating to me, and I was even chastised in Dallas once for standing far too close to a painting — I needed to get up in its grill to decode the artist’s masterwork! The content and historical cultural commentary isn’t as interesting to me, but examining how an artist rendered a perfect nose or leaf is quite riveting.
All in all, a wonderful collection, and even after spending the whole morning there, I felt like I only scratched the surface. I will definitely return on my next visit.
Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History
When I asked my brother’s coworker if I’d be able to visit both the DIA and the Wright in one day, she answered with an unequivocal, “absolutely!” But I’m assuming that she isn’t someone who really spends time in museums, examining each exhibit, reading every element. I am the type of lady who does.
So after spending the morning in the DIA, I walked a few blocks over to the Wright, prepared for a couple hours of adventure. Before entering, there was a large plaza with a wonderful lion sculpture, and while I had walked into the DIA under overcast, steely gray skies and 149% humidity, I was now under blindingly bright, silvery overcast skies and 275% humidity. I sat in the plaza for awhile, soaking it all in: The sounds of the construction along Woodward Ave, the smell of the moist heat reverberating off of the pavement, cars impatiently honking, and one solitary, forlorn bird chirping. I tried to find it; I couldn’t.
Now, let me tell you: From the outside, the Wright is a commanding structure by any definition, but what’s truly impressive is that they have laid out the And Still We Rise… exhibit in a spiral fashion, with paleolithic Africa serving as the origin point. You are handed a map with 30ish separate exhibits, from the origin of the planet through the election of Barack Obama. And each of these exhibits are meticulously crafted. I immediately realized that I would be there for the rest of the day.
Some of the tale I was familiar with — we all are (or, at least, I assume we are, but yo, I don’t know what they’re teaching in schools these days) — ice ages, the origin of man, Lucy … but the Wright offered a detailed analysis of the origin of man without a Eurocentric bent. From there, they moved into an example of a West African city — Benin City, actually — at or around the time when the Portuguese first arrived as they searched for a way to get to the east. I loved that each chapter of history was laid out in a terrifically detailed, beautifully immersive experience: From the square in Benin City you walked into the smuggling forts on the West African coast, onto the deck of a slave ship, then down into the ship’s hold, packed with bodies, out into small town squares auctioning folks off, through slave quarters, Civil War battlefields, sharecropper’s homes and finally onto the streets of 50s Detroit.
I learned a lot. While I knew the basic gist of how the Atlantic slave trade came to pass, I didn’t know all the gory details — or, at least, the gory details according to the Wright.
They propose that the Atlantic slave trade began with the Portuguese showing up in the early 1400s with some super tight shit that the dudes from a West African tribal kingdom really dug. They wanted their fabrics, their jewelry, their cowrie. They had some things to trade in exchange, but not a lot; so the HBIC of the tribe offered up a grip of indentured servants that he had from raiding other tribes. These people were essentially slaves, but they did have a time limit to their contract, so the HBIC offered them to the Portuguese as contract labor.
As the Portuguese had just started farming sugar on the island of Sao Tome, they needed a lot of labor to help with the planting and harvesting, so they took them; and as their sugar interests grew, so did their labor requirements, and they wanted more of these servants. But the HBIC had a limited supply, as they were the spoils of war and weren’t that numerous to begin with. Eventually, the Portuguese had depleted the number of indentured servants already on hand, so they asked the HBIC to start kidnapping bitches. And the rest, as they say, is history. Only, really, it isn’t, because that kind of trauma doesn’t just fade, especially when there are reminders of it every damn day.
On this humid Wednesday afternoon, I was the only person in the museum, so the experience was rather absorbing and quite solitary. At one point, I was pouring over the spidery writing of a ship captain’s journal while standing on the deck of the mock slave ship: The floor boards were creaky and moved when I walked over them, giving me the proprioceptive illusion of actually being on a creaky old ship, and there were recordings of waves and wind and gulls, as well as the terrorized screams of a slave being branded in an installation at the ship’s bow — all which served to effectively put me squarely in a certain space.
I was suddenly jarred out of my reverie by a woman asking me if I was touring the museum of my own volition. Her manner was almost accusatory, as if I very well might be a plant. Behind her, two employees of the museum looked on with apprehension.
“I’m with the Detroit Free Press. I’m here investigating the fact that, on Charity Navigator, the Wright has a rating of 1 out of 4. Does that concern you? Are you worried about how they’re using their money? What do you think of the museum?”
The experience struck me rather ludicrous: Two white folks standing on the deck of a slave ship, discussing whether or not the black folks are performing to expectation.
“I can’t really comment on that, but I love how comprehensive and interactive the exhibits are.”
“Can I quote you on that?”
I shrugged and walked away, down into the belly of the ship, lined with crumpled mannequins.
But those kind of reminders are punctuated by others that vehemently cement the essentially resilient nature of a people, stolen, and challenged in ways we would rather forget than face the pain of naming, owning and honoring.
One such example of this kind of resiliency touched me quite deeply, and it was centered on the lives of the early American slaves. Given that folks were actually living lives, contributing to communities and building things before they were kidnapped, they had a variety of marketable skills, such as metalworking or pottery or masonry or specialized agriculture. The United States was nascent and needed the basic building blocks of society laid down, so many of the early slaves were brought over and paired with work based on their previous skills and experience. This was before the beginning of the cotton boom, which eventually transformed the use of slaves from artisans to hard laborers, and these first slaves served to establish the entire structure and community within which the United States would eventually flourish. They made the tools, the buildings, the cookware, the roads that built a nation.
Now, imagine you have been stolen from your life, spent months on a ship not knowing if you were going to live or die, have no concept of where you are, have been forced into performing your skilled trade for free, are treated like an animal, can’t really communicate with anyone and have no hope of ever returning to the life that you once knew. That sounds like the kind of soulcrushing experience that would break the spirit of even the most ardent Pollyanna, right? How could you even begin to find joy, or beauty, or grace in a reality like that?
In the museum’s exhibit on these early slaves, they had a collection of pottery that had been crafted — pitchers and bowls and plates. These had been sculpted by people that had been completely robbed of their identities, and knowing their origin, you would think they’d be rendered as ultimately drab and utilitarian items, created under duress and without inspiration; and you’d be wrong. In fact, these pieces had all been intricately carved with designs to make them beautiful.
As I shared this experience with a couple of friends, and as I write about it now, I can’t help but be overcome with emotion (read: I’m sobbing). The purity of spirit, gorgeous resilience, unadulterated pride in themselves — in the midst of all this horror, these souls still wanted to make something beautiful. How fucking amazing is that?
My expedition to Detroit had many other highlights — delicious chow, lovely dirty bars, riveting conversations, too many gin & tonics, party stars. I was originally going to write up reviews for the eateries that Mr. Tale and I frequented, but they were all so legit, I will instead list them here:
The Redcoat Tavern – If I was going to be buried alive and I could only have one meal with me, it would be this burger.
Ale Mary’s – Their deconstructed chicken pot pie will make you rethink everything you thought you knew about chicken, pots and pies.
Chicken Shack – Delectable fried chicken delivered to your front door? Yes, please!
But other than doing one of my absolutely favorite things in the world (hanging out with Mr. Tale,) Detroit was overall a lovely reminder about what we are, who we are, why we are. I sometimes struggle with the core necessity of art, if it has a meaningful purpose or if it is ultimately an indulgence, and this sojourn absolutely reminded me how essential artistic exploration and expression is to the nature of humanity. That without it, we have no way of redefining our perspectives, or sharing our stories, or holding out our hands across generations. That taking nothing and turning it into something beautiful is an arguably perfect way to spend one’s time, and that art is everywhere.
We were both quite sour — for reasons so different they nearly bordered on the same — so we decided to meet for a few days in Las Vegas. I joked that it would be a fiery explosion of our respective surlitudes, and that we would rise like phoenii from the bright and tawdry flames.
As a writer and a reader, I maintain a cadre of quotes that speak to some sweet part of my soul, and one that has stuck with me for the last 20 years is:
people are like that: they can’t see how beautiful your life is, they think your life must be terribly sad if, for example, it is mid-summer and you don’t have a tan. they want you to agree with them where true joy is to be found, and if you are weak enough to go along with this you will never again have the chance to sleep alone in a ditch in the black night. – alina reyes
It is something that I have written on refrigerators in permanent marker, on personal ads when trying to get some tail, on scratch paper taped to my monitor to remind me that my joy — each of our joy — is something perfectly and painfully unique to each of us. That it’s very easy to take what someone else says should be joyful, to hitch your shit to their celebratory star, but if you just cosign and don’t delve into your own, sometimes terrifying, concept of joy then, truly, what exactly are you experiencing?
And if there is anywhere in the world that is the epitome of manufactured joy, it’s Las Vegas. Going there when I was deep within a valley was my way of challenging myself to piece back together the little shards of joy that I knew were all about me, and to fashion them into something, anything that would inspire light in my eyes once again. I needed a reboot … and here’s what that looked like:
If you’re going to playtend the world away for a couple of days, The Venetian is an excellent backdrop for your unreality. Its tacky gaucheness accentuates the sensation that you’re not really here — oh, but you are. You can spend all day & night strolling underneath the somewhat disturbing blue skies of St. Marks Square, watching other equally intrepid travelers attempt to enjoy faux gondola rides through the pre-fab canals. This highlights the bizarre timelessness in which Vegas is the universal expert, a state that is at once comforting and unnerving. You know that the skies aren’t blue at 2am, but you’re happy to be reminded that, somewhere out there, there are blue skies. And you might even see them again.
I’m not sure why I thought it strange that the canals were located on the third floor as opposed to the first floor, particularly given the fact that nearly all of Vegas’ pools are rooftop affairs. We had selected the Venetian partly due to its complement of pools, and planned to spend much of our time there, reading and sipping cocktails.
On our first afternoon, we happened upon a completely empty pool; given that all the other pools we had strolled by were virtually impregnated by shrieking children and bronzed seniors, it really was too good to be true. We began peeling off our protective layers, dropping possessions along the way, preparing to dive into the pool’s cool, clear, empty waters — only to be accosted:
“Ma’am, there was a biohazard in here, the pool is closed.”
Given that it was 100F in the shade and the pool was singing its siren song, for a not-too-brief moment, I considered to myself: What is the biohazard? Is it one that I personally mind? After all, I’ve swam in radioactive waters, what’s the worst that can be in there? Can I just swim around it? And isn’t there enough chlorine in this bitch to kill pretty much anything?
In that split second, I almost pretended that I hadn’t heard the pubescent attendant’s banal pronouncement. What if I proceeded to dive in, and then ask for forgiveness later? I mean, this is Las Vegas; it’s basically a biohazard in and of itself. It is not a place that was meant to exist; its very creation and continued existence flies in the face of any kind of natural ecology or biology in the region. So why are we drawing arbitrary lines?
It seems even more ludicrous when that same establishment also hosts Tao Beach, which, from what I could tell from peaking around the corner, should only be entered after confirming that you’re up to date on your entire Hepatitis A & B series, plus a couple of tetanus shots for good measure. From even one glance, we knew that, even though we appreciate a certain level of debauch, Tao’s definition of that would cause even Keith Richards to think twice. It’s okay for Tao Beach to exist as a glitter-covered, chi-chi-saturated bio-hazard in a string bikini, but it wasn’t okay for us to enjoy this delectable pool with no visual ailments and only the reports of a harassed life guard warning us off? Really, what could go wrong here?
But cooler heads prevailed — or, in this case, hotter ones — and we moved on to another pool, chock full of bros and babes. And the only way to contend with the “dudes” and “woos” was to order booze by the pitcherful, enjoy succulent prawn cocktails and treat ourselves to the only true vacation food: The club sandwich. We spent that afternoon and the next, sipping mint-infused pitchers of booze and bullshitting about — you guessed it — everything, and the sun.
Sweet & Sour Octopi
No sojourn to Vegas is complete without a serious exploration of the myriad of dining options available. On our first evening, we went to D.O.C.G, because I worship pasta and Scott Conant is always talking mad smack about his amazing pasta game. While it was true that the pasta was on point, the service was fairly lackluster. We made up for it, however, by chilling in a random casino-floor bar in the Cosmopolitan, sipping cocktails and watching everyone and their mother pose in a shoe.
We treated ourselves the next morning to a delicious breakfast at a French restaurant inside of the Venetian, Bouchon. We actually ate there twice, and the food kicked ass both times — plus, we got to eat on a patio fashioned like a Parisian street scene, yet overlooking a series of tropical swimming pools, again confirming the unreality of our situation. The beignets were legit and their croque madame didn’t even know where there may or may not have been a chain, so I’d definitely spend time in that pretend French street bistro again.
Now let me ask you the following: What is Vegas without steaks? And what are steaks without the accompaniment of oysters and dirty martinis? We knew that we were going to have a steak situation going on, but it took us a couple of tries to get it right. First, we hit up the Public House, admittedly on a lark, and while the octopus appetizer we had was tight, our filet and short rib entrees were just run of the mill. I mean, they were fucking delicious compared to most food one might have the opportunity / necessity to eat in one’s life, but if you’re dropping some serious loot on a steak, you want it to rock your world. Public House’s beef story merely shook it.
So, not having our steak wad sufficiently blown, we took on Morel’s, another French affair, this time located at the Venetian’s sister atrocity, the Palazzo. Now, I will admit that, after reading about the different steakhouse options available to us at that moment and the 3.5/5 review that Morel’s had, I wasn’t sure how it was going to pan out. And when we first showed up, our service was, again, lackluster. We were prepared to go to town on some serious business and they couldn’t get it together to even bring us water. But just as we were both questioning our decision to suffer through another perhaps only serviceable meal proffered via shitty service, they changed their game completely. The dirty martinis started flowing, the oysters started arriving and my god, yes: The steak was phenomenal. While their decor left some lingering questions, we were ultimately satisfied with our steak adventure — and what more can one ask for?
While all of our vittlesprees and full on decadent dining were above average overall, there was one disappointing experience, and perhaps only because my expectations were set too high. You know what I’m talking about: The Bellagio’s buffet. Over the years, I’ve heard fantastic lore, tall tales, life changing experiences, all happening at the business end of a king crab leg, provided without limit at this storied buffet. So it was time to finally experience it for myself. Let me be clear: I don’t have the appetite or the stamina to ever truly feel that I’ve gotten my money’s worth at a buffet — whatever the hell that means — so I generally opt not to join in. But if Vegas is about anything other than unreality, the manufacturing of joy and delicious steaks, it’s about buffets.
Perhaps our arrival at breakfast/brunch was the folly, but upon seeing the long line when we exited, we were glad we arrived so early and had to wait so briefly. With all of the disparate islands promising different culinary selections and moments of foodie joy, I was bummed that basically all we had access to was a fancy omelette bar and some polenta. Sure, I’m paraphrasing here, but those were my takeaways, so I stand by it. I wanted to be so impressed by the options, the array, the possibilities, that I would be struggling not to go again and again, that I would leave so engorged that I would welcome a reprieve at the penny slots on the way out, that I would live to regret that morning like no other morning, that I would feel shameful about it, but revel in it all the same. The reality is that I struggled to find anything I even wanted to eat, and going back a second time seemed like a chore. So, now I know: The Bellagio buffet is bullshit.
Sentient Light-Based Ether
Because it doesn’t actually matter when you go to Vegas, we chose a Wednesday through a Saturday. Earlier this year, I did my time with bootsandcats while slumming in Miami’s South Beach, so even though I wanted to hit the disco at least one time, I wanted to boogie to something more interesting. We checked out what was going on and were happily surprised to learn that Chromeo was in town! Too lovely.
Tickets purchased and post-Morel’s, we headed to The Cromwell, which, as best as I can guess, is Caesar’s attempt to attract a Millennial crowd by creating a hybrid South Beach boutique hotel / casino in the middle of Vegas. Yes, it’s as horrible as it sounds. But when you need to get your Chromeo on, you’ll go anywhere.
After several levels of security and navigating an incredibly misbehaving bank of elevators — which appeared to have no rhyme nor reason regarding doors opening, closing, going up, going down, etc. — we arrived in a rooftop club that was what you envision when you think of Vegas. Multiple levels, wading pools, excess and largely empty VIP areas, indoor / outdoor and $25 vodka sodas. Years ago, Seattle had a club that was constantly billed as Seattle’s own Las Vegas style nightclub! and I perennially questioned why they thought that was a selling point. Because, let’s be honest, Las Vegas clubs are utter shit shows. And that’s why they’re so amazing.
We chilled by the pools, sipping our overpriced drinks and listening to the so-so DJ, admiring the go-go dancers and waiting for the gents to arrive. And when they did, they were phenomenal. In fact, even though we were just a few people away from the stage by the time the show started, it was difficult to make out whether or not they were humans or just a chromatic concentration of light-based ether. Regardless, we danced our motherfucken asses off well into the morning.
So, at the end of it all, did we find our joy? While Vegas can’t solve everything (okay, it solves nothing) it did provide me with a reset, and some perspective. It reminded me that deep and silly conversations underneath the palms is always an excellent salve, that sharing a meal — no matter how amazing or lackluster — with someone you love is one of the cornerstones of why we humans even built a society in the first place, that sitting underneath the sun and feeling the honey warmth sink into your skin is equal parts transformation and revelation.
And that, with enough curious creativity, all the little shards of joy that had been scattered around my life can be collected and fashioned into a chrome plated instrument, which can be used to play with that joy in a completely new way.
I love plants. Growing up in a forest with towering evergreens, sticky salal and wild rhododendrons, I’ve spent much of my adult life attempting to recreate that unruly approach to greenery.
While working on farms, my duties were often centered on weeding in between the rows of veg — and, trust me, I get the practicality, the necessity of the work. Shit needs room to breathe. But while a bit of my OCD nature felt sated by such activity, I always felt, instinctually, that I was doing something wrong. It just didn’t feel natural to me.
I want everything unkempt.
So that’s probably why I’ve never dug bonsai. And that I usually choose plants that, at their core, misbehave. Philodendrons have my number: Trailing vines that are incredibly forgiving if I don’t water them for a month; all I have to do is add a bit o’ water and they’re luscious again. I have them on shelves surrounding my bathtub, and I love that they often dip down and take deep sips of the water while I bathe.
Conversely, I have been having a rather tempestuous love affair with a maidenhair fern. For years now, it’s been a constant back and forth: Steady pruning, watering several times each week — in fact, if I even dare to let the water tray beneath her go dry, I’ll hear about it. No, actually, I will; there will be a high pitched sucking sound coming from the maidenhair until I fill the bottom of the dish with water, then she’ll relax. Our relationship seems to be constructed in the following manner:
Her: Look, I shouldn’t be in a pot. I’m a fucking forest fern.
Me: Yeah, I know, but you’re pretty and I want to keep you near me.
Her: Look, I shouldn’t be in a pot. I’m a fucking forest fern.
Me: Hmmm … well, honestly, I bought you at a nursery so you have probably never lived in the forest. But I get where you’re coming from.
Her: Look, I shouldn’t be in a pot. I’m a fucking forest fern.
Me: You keep saying that, and I’m not arguing with you about it … but don’t I treat you right? I trim you up, water you regularly, sometimes I even dance / sing next to you. I even gave you some luscious fertilizer balls last week! Yum, no?
Her: Look, I shouldn’t be in a pot. I’m a fucking forest fern.
Me: Okay, okay, I get it. You’re a fucking forest fern. Now shut up and drink.
Now, it’s true and I’ll fully admit that there have been times when I have left town for several weeks and just hoped for the best re: longevity / health of my collection of plants. My succulents look upon this kind of experience as a challenge: Yes, you can not water us, yes we will continue to grow, yes, when you return home, you will not be able to see your floor because we have taken over. Because we are succulents, and that’s how we do.
And maybe, at the crux of it, that’s where my relationship with mademoiselle maidenhair breaks down: She’s high maintenance — and I am, too! Can two high maintenance bitches really roll together? I keep trying to make it work, and I’m not going to stop now because, amidst my rebel succulents and rowdy philodendrons, I want something gentle, something fragile. The maidenhair’s fronds are rice paper thin, their delicacy a distinct art form, and that kind of gorgeous simply needs extra pampering. Just because she demands more from me doesn’t mean she lacks joie de vivre, right?
So I’ll keep manicuring her, I’ll keep watering her, I’ll keep dancing next to her. While the philodendrons cover the ceiling in trailing vines and the succulents develop biceps from their hearty dedication to living without water, I’ll stay focused on managing the maidenhair’s tender fronds.
Because, ultimately, neither of us belongs in a pot; we’re both fucking forest ferns.