Thursday, February 26, 2015

Financial Wellness


I hate thinking about money. My way of money management has always been one of least resistance. Oh, there's some kind of savings plan through the company? Fine, take some of my paycheck. I can split up my direct deposit into a savings and checking account? Fine, take 40%. I'll spend the rest.

I'm great at spending money. I don't buy many things. I don't care about big TV's or new couches. I prefer the lending library to the personal one. I prefer the radio to the record collection. My zen-like approach to the corporeal comes from crossing continents and oceans, shuffling off worldly possessions like a molting crow. Vinyl and paper are just to heavy too lug around the world. Since I don't want much, I basically buy whatever I do want and if there's something left over in the end, great. If not, who cares? I'll make more money.

Student loans have essentially destroyed my credit. I never paid attention to my credit score, so I never did anything to combat the effect of my federal student loans. I went to buy a car a few weeks ago and learned my score for the first time in my life. Low. I still got the car I wanted, but only because I'm making pretty OK money these days.

My structural engineer is a financial genius. He chastised me for not being smarter about my money.

I've decided to take a more active role in my financial future. I downloaded a budgeting app, took the personal budget online course on MGM's M-Life Insider Education site, and I've been talking with experts.

Here are a few things I've learned about myself:
  1. I spend more on alcohol and bars than any human ever should.
  2. I spend less on clothing than anybody would ever guess.
  3. If I spend only $200/month on alcohol and bars, I could pay off my student loans in just three years(!)
  4. Investing in my 401(k) makes me feel a lot better about getting old.
  5. With apps now, financial stuff can actually be fun.
I'm starting to look at this like a game. I always looked at it like a chore. If I'm clever, I might have a crazy credit score, own a cool condo, and have all my federal debt paid off soon. I never thought any of that possible.

I'm using Mint. Maybe you'd like it ↯
I like this article about how attracted people are to financial stability ↯
I'm looking forward to digging into this blog ↯

Saturday, February 21, 2015

I Found 52 Bottles of Belle Epoque


My boss gave me our dead stock list and said, "see what you can do with this, bud." It was divided into liquor/beer/etc., and I went straight for wine. One of my favorite bottles of Champagne jumped out at me: Perrier-Jouët Belle Epoque. And you know what? 2004! 2004 was the first year they started painting the bottles since 1902!!!

I couldn't believe it. I wanted to just open a bottle and drink it. If this were my spot, I'd take one home and drink it alone and take pictures. I still got to taste it, and holy crap. It's 2015 now. So, it's about 10.5 years old, I'd say. That's about the perfect amount of age on a bottle of Champagne, and I have to say, this juice has done well. I mean, this is kept in MGM Grand's cooler, which is perfectly maintained.

Toasty almondy, appley gold, and just a touch of lees to make you know it's been done the old-fashioned way. This is an elegant lady the rougher beasts of this breathing world won't appreciate, but if you've got any finesse, any passing grace, you'll notice the subtle curves in her bubbly mouth. And the outside of the bottle is nice, too. It's hand-painted, designed by a famous Japanese artist, and inspired by Art Nouveau, which is one of my personal favorites when it comes to architecture and design.

Essentially, I found a treasure. I put it in the Mansion bar at MGM Grand a few days ago, and we've sold a couple bottles. I priced it at a seriously low cost because I was really excited about sharing it: $283. That's a steal... like, really.

Anyway, it's my dream that someone will come into the Mansion bar, find it through the high-roller casino, and ask for this very special bottle. Keep the bottle, take it home with you and put it on a shelf. It's special.

Check this out ↯

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Ellis Island




Ellis Island is a brewery in Vegas, but who cares? They're not winning any awards any time soon; so what? They're selling their brews for $2.00, and some guy who sounds exactly like R. Kelly is on stage singing Karaoke.

A couple guys sit with me at the bar. They're in Vegas from Colorado to tell resorts if lightning would ever strike the hotel ten times all at once. "No. Well, maybe in ten thousand years. Mostly we tell them what'll happen when the biggest flood Vegas has ever seen comes around." They tell me which properties are safest when Noah's deluge comes round, but the conversation starts and ends with talk of zombie apocalypse. "But we're nice guys; we're not all doom and gloom."

One of the guys sings. it's almost closing time. The lady who sang Amy Winehouse perfectly when I first arrived can hardly stand on stage now. R. Kelly can't read the words on the teleprompter. Things fall apart. The center cannot hold.

It's a great crowd. People carry crooners through the choruses, the Karaoke jockey cranks the back up vocals during the verses. There's no shame to be spotted. A group of black ladies gets up and tries to sing Pussy Cat Dolls.

Last call lumbers in like a Lazarus Bukowski because I thought this place was 24. Most of us shuffle out and find our way to the buffet, which is about to open. I make a quick lap of the casino instead and take in the decor and study their brewery through the glass for a few minutes. I've got to keep moving.



I've had a great time, but I'm in no mood to loiter in the light. There's entropy in the air, and I'm starting to think there's an apocalypse afoot. But isn't there always?

Sunday, February 8, 2015

Dino's Lounge


Some people think my life is fancy. It is pretty glamorous. But I also love 24-hour dive bars if they have character. I don't like going to some random shit hole, mind you, but if there's a place boasting character and history, I'm probably totally into it. Dino's is one of those places.

I rolled in there in a suit at 3;30 in the morning. It's across the street from a collection of seedy strip joints and sleazy motels that give the northern part of the Boulevard its reputation. Dino's parking lot is the kind of place where you shouldn't be surprised to find me dead one day.

Inside is everything you want out of a place claiming to be "THE LAST NEIGHBORHOOD BAR IN LAS VEGAS." From the spotty neon to the light-bulb-eyed taxidermy to the signs promising events, to the ceiling tiles painted by local artists, there's plenty for your eyes to drink. The only people in the bar were a couple who'd just moved here from Wyoming or something. They wanted to know how to get casino jobs. I told them to stay drug free.

The bartender told me his name was Ryder. I said bartender's choice, and he said Jame-o. This town's relationship with Jameson is zombie-like. I ended up doing some Jame-o shots with Ryder between Dry Manhattans. Turned out Ryder used to live with one of my cocktail servers. He's perfect at the job. He cares about his room and his customers and seems to know everyone in town. I don't know why he's on Grave, but I'm glad he is because at 5 AM, having a bartender like him is a good thing.

A lady comes in wearing a sexed up costume. She works at one of the sexy-waitress-PBR-slinging-rock-n-roll bars. She and Ryder declare their undying affection for one another.Everyone's happy to be alive in a world where the sun is a dying star. In a good bar, it's always 10 PM. At Dino's who gives a shit? It's dark and the world outside is a shambles.

Cops come in and ask for a guy. He's not in here; it's just Ryder and me who have dicks now. We all give each other looks because the cops being in the parking lot means we're staying for a couple more rounds. Ryder knows how to talk to them, and they're nice to him. They say there's a report of a girl getting dragged unwillingly into a car in the parking lot.The name they want came off a license plate check. The girls says she saw the car when she came in, but it's gone now.

I end up leaving at dawnish promising to return. I probably will soon. I like this place. This is my neighborhood.


Saturday, February 7, 2015

Atomic Cocktails


I was really excited about this one. One of the bartenders at Herbs & Rye suggested it as an after-hours spot (they're open until 4), and I love Herbs & Rye, so why wouldn't I love this suggestion?

I went to their website and read about how they found an old safe and how they totally retrofitted everything and how people used to watch the atomic testing from the roof. I was amped.

I walked from the top of Fremont and when I got past El Cortez, there was a fleeting moment when I thought maybe I'm getting too old to just be walking into bad parts of town, and I chuckled to myself. This isn't really the bad part of town, but it is very close, and I've seen worse. It does get darker quickly once you get past the Container Park, though. If I were smaller or a woman, I wouldn't want to walk it.

Once in the door I took in the atmosphere, which is a retro, low-light, very Vegas feel... still in love. I recognize the very bartender who recommended me come here sitting at the far end. I recognize a tourist I'd met the night before. I say hi to both. I sit down. A guy with a beard asks me what I want. Then everything kind of started sucking. I got into conversations with a couple people at the bar about cars, and that was cool, and there was a lady bartender there who seemed to be on her shit, but this bearded guy was far too douchey for the vibe at Atomic Cocktails. Dude rubbed me the wrong way.

I'm not the biggest stickler, especially in Vegas, especially after midnight. But this was my day off, so it was probably only around 7 or 8, and this place came pretty highly recommended. So, to have a douchey bartender is just unacceptable and puts a damper on what was otherwise a good beverage adventure. Plus, his cocktails sucked. I can drink a shitty cocktail from a friendly bartender or a great one from a dick hole, but when you're a prick serving me crappy cocktails, I'd rather just go to a local beer bar and save my money.

I'll probably go back some day and try not to sit in this guy's section because I really liked the feel of the room, but not for a bit. My days off are too few to be sold garbage drinks by a guy whose beard is his most interesting attribute.

The tourist and I went to Le Thai and Downtown Cocktail Room.

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Have You Seen Birdman?


Don't know who Roland Barthes is? Don't know what a Chekhov play is? Ever hear of a tracking shot? Can't recognize a Shakespeare quote when you hear it screamed in a New York street? Well, fuck you; that's what Birdman says.

Also, fuck you if you like super hero movies or anything close to the mindless joys of summer.

Despite all that, Birdman is a sweet movie about an aging man who still dreams big and wants the women he loves to be proud of him while he regrets his transgressions against them. The characters feel real with their flaws and motivations, acted wonderfully by a great supporting cast.

It's like an English department got together and wrote an exquisite corpse of a film that turned out beautiful but can't help but howl against the mainstream... needlessly.

I loved this movie and will watch it again. But I do think the film's rallying cry against the industry that created it, posing theater against movies and high-brow against low-brow is a little loud and almost drowns out the soul of this great piece which should be a classic and just might be.

If you don't know who Roland Barthes is, by the way, good for you. French philosophy is great and all, but what good is it for you? Never heard of a Chekhov? That's cool. He's just a Russian guy who wrote a bit. Shakespeare? Shmakespeare. What's the point of knowing anything about Shakespeare?

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Will Iggy Destroy Hip Hop and All Art as We Know it?!

Iggy Azalea has been getting some stress from the likes of Q-Tip et al. There seems to be a weird idea floating out there that art is precious and fragile because it is a tool for social commentary and change. Well frankly, nothing can be further from the truth. The powerful thing about art as a game-changer is that it is resilient and poses as nothing more than entertainment. Art is an innocuous little novelty floating around our culture like an unmolested asp in Egyptian sands.

I understand why people like Q-Tip want to guard the genre as their own. White appropriation is as annoying as it is inevitable. And to want to keep something out of the hands of the hegemony is natural if you've been one of the most influential people in the genre for all of your adult life. And if you really love the art, you might want to study the history of that art. You might start to think that history is important in understanding the art. You might think understanding the art is important. But it isn't.

I wish I were less a student of art and more a passive bystander who said things like, "this is cool because it is." I'd love not to think critically about the things I love. Art does not ask you to think critically. Art does not require anything of you but to use your senses. It doesn't want to mean anything. It doesn't want to say anything. It certainly doesn't want to influence the way you feel about this or that issue. It is an artifact. The artist might have had delusions of art as a transcendent language that speaks to the soul. But the artist is dead. Art does not belong to the artist. It belongs to the audience.

That isn't to say that art doesn't sometimes do unexpected, interesting, revolutionary things. In fact, it is precisely because it is so useless every other time that it is so powerful a weapon in rare situations. But you can't expect everyone to desperately want to wield its fickle power. Sometimes its power is just to make people twerk. Not every artist requires a place in history or monuments to their contribution.

And if you think Iggy Azalea is the harbinger of the end of hip hop, if you think she's that influential, what a fragile thing hip hop must be. And if it's that fragile, it was never as powerful as you thought it was. We might see a time when hip hop needs a preservation society and grants to stay alive like that number our progenitors did on jazz. That's a quick way toward irrelevance. But I always thought it was too brazen, raw, and honest to fall.

Hip hop to me was a venting for the violent fantasies of those who felt held down. A white teenager can relate somehow to the frustrations of a black adult male who wants to say "fuck the man, I'm doing shit my own way." It was only a matter of time until people like me grew up on hip hop and started teaching their white kids it was a great art form. There was a whole episode of Friends about this. And when other cultures got  hold of it, what did you think was going to happen? Iggy is Australian, but you should take a look at German hip hop if you really want to rant about white appropriation. A white, english-speaking foreigner is now enjoying a world where hip hop and girls with big butts are acceptable and popular. Maybe she'll grow as an artist. Maybe she'll just shake her ass against Jennifer Lopez until we all tire of it.

But art. Art is nothing. It's a specter. You can't put it in a bottle and hope for it to thrive. You can't study it from every angle and claim more ownership. You can't protect it. It's playground sand. Build with it, throw it, eat it, cast it into the sky until the grains are stuck in the roots of your hair.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Have You Seen Top Five?


Let's face it: most comedies suck. I mean, they might make us laugh, but most of them appeal to our basest tastes, filled with dick jokes and gross-out humor. There's a little of that in Top Five, but at least it has a heart, and it's charming as can be.

Remember Adam Sandler's Funny People? It's kind of like that except it's also a romantic comedy. And it feels realer in a lot of ways. Alcoholism plays a major role in the film, and it's a fair depiction of the fight against addiction, I'd say. There's some weird butt jokes that seem weirdly sex-negative and even homophobic, but it plays because the characters have all sorts of hang ups. The characters are good depictions of the contradictory efforts of Americans. "I don't care what Michelle Obama says; fry or die." Chris Rock's Andre Alan wants to be famous but only for the right things. He wants to be brave, but he's afraid to do almost anything he's already loved for. Rosario Dawson falls for duplicitous men but is a duplicitous man (it's a spoiler if I say more). Rock is surrounded by friends who want to save him but also say he's only funny when he's drunk. I'm a giant fan of contradictions within people and our culture. This film explores that.

There's even a scene where Rock pays to jump rope with kids in the street but is too afraid to jump in. Rosario ends up jumping in for him, launching her character dangerously close to MPDG territory, but she never ends up quite so manic or quite so pixie to go all in and lose the verisimilitude.

The title refers to an in-joke that owes its roots undeniably to High Fidelity (the book--let's forget the movie, shall we?). It's an answer to the question "what are your top five hip-hop musical acts?" Even Jerry Seinfeld gets his answer in with a credits cut scene.

When Adam Sandler, Whoopie Goldberg, Jerry Seinfeld, and Chris Rock are all at a strip club chatting about marriage, I just wanted a whole movie of that. In fact, I wish Robin Williams and Billy Crystal were with them. There's also a part on a subway or bus where Rock is talking about his favorite comics, saying he wished he hung out Bill Murray and could talk about him like they were friends. Seriously, there are gems all over this flick that make it rewatchable and just a down-right charmer, scenes that leave you wanting more. That's hard for a writer to do, and Chris Rock does it with casual grace.

Comedy doesn't come like this enough. This film points boldly at what the genre could offer. And I'd even go so far as to say that it shows us what a multi-cultural cast could do for our culture. This isn't a black movie or a white movie. This is an American movie, and I love it for that. In Jerry Lewis's book, he says he always wanted what Chaplin had: Pathos. He wanted to be able to tug at your heart with comedy, maybe even make you cry. Who would think Chris Rock would have it?

And if that's not enough, DMX has a cameo that is as funny as anything you'll see this year. Brilliant stuff.

If you haven't seen it, please do so in the cinema. Your dollar is your vote for more of this.

)()()()()()()()()()()()()()()()()()()()(

This is the second beautiful comeback I've noticed this year. Maybe there are more. Let me know if you can think of one in the comments. I'm thinking of John Wick here. Is Sandler going to come out with something decent out of nowhere? Are we finally in a decade with good movies again? Are the studios finally as desperate as they were in the 70's and are beginning to allow our auteurs a little freedom? Let's hope so!

++++++++++++++++++++++++

My top five:


  • Tupac Shakur
  • Beastie Boys
  • The Fugees
  • Busta Rhymes
  • Ice Cube

The Whiskey Down


The Whiskey Down is one of my favorite places at the MGM Grand. Before I worked there, I enjoyed having a drink at this lounge, and I adored the atmosphere, which is borderline steam-punk meets speakeasy.

Late at night, I help manage the Whiskey Down. The bartenders at night are super sassy/nice. The cocktail waitresses are funny. The atmosphere is awesome. The lighting is mercifully dim.

There are Black Jack tables in there. There are overstuffed couches and low tables. It's the kind of place that invites you to stay for a spell. It's right in the middle of one of the largest casino floors in America, but it feels intimate and private. Edison bulbs help the old-world quaintness, and there's a delightfully curated collection of old bottles and photos on the walls.

There's also whiskey.

If you're in Vegas, come visit. You'll like it.

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

The Big Sleep (1946) - Like Marcel Proust


This has always been one of my favorite scenes in a movie. I want my life to be this. Is it too much to want a Lauren Bacall? Also, I do not care how you say Marcel Proust--neither does Marcel Proust--but I say it the way she does because there's nothing sexier than a woman who knows who Marcel Proust is and compares you to him.

And do you know who wrote this screenplay? William Fucking Faulkner. There were co-writers, but who cares about them? I mean, William Faulkner!

I read the book in college. I chose the coolest Junior seminar: Post-war Detective Fiction. I took that class so seriously that when the professor cut books for time (this was actually not post-war), I still read and wrote about them. I even went to a tiny video rental spot on College Ave in Berkeley and asked them to create a noir section. I watched every single film they had, and there were far too many to be reasonable about it.

And if you're interested, there's this gem which was recorded in post, after they were married and the war had ended: