"LEAVING LAS VEGAS"
- A lesson in sitting behind the wheel -
Until recently, I never understood drinking. Perhaps that’s because I never saw it for what it was - a necessary and vital method of self medicating your way through the bullshit of life. Anyhow, as one with the aforementioned information could probably surmise, Vegas wasn’t my immediate choice when it came to selecting a location for my twenty-first birthday. However, it was Double D’s, and prior to our break up just three weeks shy of the occasion, he had been the one organizing the event. Throwing the responsibility on to someone else had become customary for Double D, and this time he threw it in the direction of my friend and our co-worker, Theresa.
Theresa was what most people might call an “odd duck.” She was forty years old and, though successful, still lived at home with her parents - as in, she had never moved anywhere since moving out of her mother’s womb. Her best friend (and roommate) was her younger sister, Dana, who had an abnormal amount of energy, testosterone, and love for basketball shorts, which she wore - religiously. The dynamic of their relationship was comparable to that of Napoleon Dynamite and his brother. Entertaining at times, it was mostly rife with animosity and felt as if something was askew, leaving an observer feeling uncomfortable and confused about its place in time. Perhaps it was Dana’s bangs? She wore them as if she was a teenage gymnast competing in the 1989 Olympics.
Though I never cared for Dana or her rather abrasive and whiney nature, Theresa had been a sweet girl who did her best to cheer me up when I was down. Sure, she was a bit of a gossip queen, but she always made sure things happening behind my back never stayed there and took care of me at work if I ever needed it. And, in the wake of my first heartbreak and an approaching milestone birthday, I certainly did.
Wasting no time in picking up where Double D left off, Theresa immediately altered the plan of club hopping until I blacked out into a more sophisticated one of shows, high end dinners, and lavish spa treatments. The original plan to stay at Caesar’s Palace remained alive, unlike its namesake. Despite the odds, I was actually starting to look forward to celebrating my day of birth.
“I have to talk to you,” Theresa said to me one day about a week and a half out. At first, I thought nothing of the urgency in her voice, as it was common for Theresa to announce the commissary had run out of Arnold Palmer as if she were breaking the news about 9/11 once more. “Your sister is being completely inappropriate and out of line with your birthday.”
“How?” I asked, bracing myself. Though it was in Theresa’s nature to be dramatic, the same could be said of my sister.
"She’s saying what I’m planning is too expensive for everyone. She wants to stick to the original plan of club hopping and stay at a cheaper hotel that’s off the strip. It’s like, why even bother going to Vegas at all then? I just don’t get it. We’re all adults, we all have jobs. What’s the problem?”
The problem was my sad and unfortunate truth. Since I felt like a loser in High School and was still relatively new to Los Angeles, I hadn’t many friends from back home or outside of the workplace, and I’m certain those with whom I worked were under the impression I was a crazy basket case since my breakup with Double D. That was mostly because of the narrative he told, my inability to hide my emotions enough to contradict it, and the fact most of the invitees pulled out once Double D had decided to - indefinitely. So, save for Theresa, my one friend from High School, and my Hollywood agent, the guest list for my celebration was made up predominately of my more popular sister’s friends from High School - all of whom were either still getting their degrees, just starting their careers, or working as Educators. Point being… they were all broke.
Theresa concluded, “I don’t know if you want to talk to her, but I told her I don’t think it’s fair to celebrate your birthday doing what she wants.” Neither did I, but I also didn’t find it fair to have to have to talk to my sister about finances when I had already learned my lesson. The truth is alcohol and money have always been points of contention between her and me. I often judge my sister for her sloppy and embarrassing intolerance, and she holds it against me that I earn more as an entertainer than she does as a High School Educator. I still remember her throwing a fit at my parents’ house when I splurged on an $800 video camera from Costco on my twentieth birthday.
“It’s so unfair! You didn’t even go to college!” she pouted. “You walk around memorizing lines and getting your make-up done, and you get paid a fortune! Meanwhile, I shape the minds of America’s future and struggle to pay off my student loans with a shitty income! Being a teacher is such a thankless job.” It’s true - it is. And, to be clear, that’s not all I do as an actor. I also get to have my hair played with and make out with attractive men with chiseled abs. While nowadays I prefer to see my choice of foregoing college as one made by someone who already excelled at learning, there was a long period of time when my guilt felt the need to apologize for my tax bracket. My twenty-first birthday was no exception.
“Look, if you want it to just be you and Theresa then great. You both can have a nice little romantic weekend together because normal people can’t afford what you rich folk can,” my sister, living up to my expectations, told me over the phone one day. Aside from her monetary animosity, she had also never been a fan of Theresa’s, citing her belief she had a single white female propensity toward me. I couldn’t help but be influenced by my sister’s tone.
Try as I might to bridge the gap between them to find a happy compromise, I knew my sister was right. Staying at a cheaper hotel and pretending to be my Publicist, in order to get us into clubs free of cover charge, was the most cost effective way to do Vegas. So, I told Theresa family politics were dictating my sister take over the party planning, and I resigned myself to the fact another year would pass without seeing Cirque du Soleil or Siegfried and Roy (though, if I’m being fair, the latter had nothing to do with my sister or finances). On the bright side, all I had to do to see the Blue Man Group was catch a glimpse of myself in the mirror.
A week and a half later, Theresa drove us both to Nevada in her Range Rover. We listened to 90’s songs and stopped at my, and America’sm favorite drive-in for a bite along the way. As I did my best to fight a brain freeze by pressing my tongue to the roof of mouth (which, never works by the way), I couldn’t help but picture how things might have been different if Double D had been the one behind the wheel instead. JC Chasez’s voice coming through the speakers would, no doubt, have been replaced by Patrick Stump’s, my frown would be a smile, and my eyes wouldn’t have acted as dams in danger of breaching. For a mere moment, fear persuaded my mind to believe Double D had been telling me the truth about Xena, and I started to beat myself up for throwing away what I considered to be “the best thing that ever happened to me.”
It wasn’t long before skepticism resurfaced, drawing me into a darker area of my mind, where I began to envision what Double D was doing in place of his former plans that weekend. While nowadays one might resort to Instagram or Twitter stalking for the answer, back then my imagination was left to fill in the blanks which, in most cases, is usually worse. I pictured him doing Xena, eating chicken Katsuya off her tits in his LoveSac, still referring to the nature of their relationship as a “friendship.”
I immediately wished there was some way for him to witness the amount of vengeful fun I planned on having without him that weekend. A way for him to know how little his absence affected me. If only he could see me doing blow job shot after blow job shot or making out with some hot Chippendales’ dancer with a big dick, then he would know how insignificant he was to me. Holy shit - I bet that’s exactly how Kevin Systrom came up with the idea of Instagram; wanting to subtly supply his ex with physical evidence he was fine without her/him (I don’t know the man’s sexual preference), all the while masking the fact he was anything but. Damn you Kevin for not launching your app four years sooner! Alas, my misery and many of my peer’s alike would only bestow this convenience upon our generations junior. You’re welcome.
Eventually, we arrived in Vegas, and the weekend went off mostly without a hitch. It’s pretty hard to enjoy yourself on your birthday after a break-up, especially when a depressant is not only involved but continuously forced upon you, but I do remember it being less painful than I anticipated. Hell, it may have even been fun. After all, I did manage to see a couple penises in the shower of our hotel room before Sunday brunch, which was a bright spot in that it was a helpful reminder of what else was out there. Thank you to my sister’s friends for getting drunk enough to relay that message by the way.
But anyhow, all of that only came after the night prior, when the Bantamweight Division main event took place, and where I walked away the only real loser.
Unbeknownst to me, Theresa made a distress call to her sister and invited her to fly over and join us. Apparently, she was feeling anxious in the presence of liquor. To be clear, Theresa’s not sober - she just doesn’t like to drink, which was causing her to feel insecure and left out of a group whose itinerary revolved solely around drinking. At this point, I had succumbed to peer pressure, the cliched tradition of turning twenty-one, and the ease of drowning my sorrows in a bottle. So, I suppose she felt less comfortable talking to me about it than she did calling in for backup.
Wearing her signature basketball shorts and bangs, Dana charged into our hotel room Saturday morning like a bull in a China Shop. “What are we all doing tonight?” she demanded to know, despite all of us still laying in bed.
“Hi, Dana,” I said. “I didn’t know you were coming…”
“Theresa called me last night and told me she needed me here.”
“Why? What’s going on?” I asked, turning my attention to Theresa. She was fully dressed, sitting in a chair across the room, clutching her phone as if it was Life Alert.
“I just - I don’t want to drink,” Theresa confessed.
“Then you don’t have to,” I told her.
“I’m confused. If you don’t want to drink, then why did you keep ordering drinks last night?” my sister questioned, sitting up.
“I never sipped from them!” Theresa remarked, defensively.
“But, then the question still stands. Even more so, actually,” my sister added.
“Look, we’re in Vegas. We want to gamble!” Dana exclaimed.
“Well, we don’t,” my sister said, matter of factly.
“Who comes to Vegas and doesn’t gamble?!” Dana asked.
“Uh, people who don’t want to waste their money?!” my sister retorted.
“It’s not wasting money if you win!” Dana screamed.
“Well, most people don’t win.”
“We win every time we’re here!”
“Good for you!” Their argument continued to ping pong back and fourth.
“I came here to gamble. That’s what people come to Vegas to do!”
“They also come here to drink!”
“Well, we don’t want to drink!”
“And we don’t want to gamble!”
It was around this point when my sister’s more rational friend, Jessica intervened. “Look, we’re all here to celebrate Rachel. So, Rachel, why don’t you tell us what you want to do? Do you want to gamble?”
Hungover from the night before, and maybe even still a little drunk, I shook my head “no” while sipping some hair of the dog from a straw.
“Well, she didn’t want to drink either,” Theresa reminded her.
“But, she does now. Look! She’s even rallying,” my sister said, referring to the glass I was nursing. “Good for you, Rach.”
“Fine! We’re going to go gamble,” Dana started. “And I got a room for us down the hall so no one has to worry about us getting in their way.”
“You didn’t need to do that,” my sister told her. “We had space for you in here.”
“Well, maybe we don’t want to be in here with you!”
“Okay, then,” my sister said, throwing her hands up in the air and turning away from the confrontation.
“Enjoy your stupid drinking! Come on, Theresa, let’s go.” Dana lead her sister out of our hotel room and down the elevator to the main floor, where they ultimately fed what I’m sure was Dana’s gambling addiction.
After a night of continuously checking in with Theresa and inviting her to meet up with us, to no avail, I woke up on Sunday morning, packed my belongings, and reached out once again to invite her and her sister to breakfast. Also, to find out what time she wanted to hit the road and head back to LA.
“I’m already there” was the response I got. I stared at it. Was she kidding?
“What do you mean?” I texted back.
“Dana and I drove back last night.”
I sat there for a minute, stupefied. “But, I came here with you.”
“I know. I figured one of the other girls could drive you back.” I couldn't believe it.
“Everyone’s from Phoenix,” I reminded her.
“Oh. Well, what about your agent?”
“I don’t know where he is. My sister saw him go home with some guy after Studio 54 last night.”
“Could you text him and find out?” I could think of nothing more humiliating than admitting to the one person who was supposed to build hype about me that I was, in fact, a fucking loser.
“I’m not going to bother him - I don’t even think I’m supposed to know he’s gay,” I said. “Plus, he flew here.”
“Maybe you could fly back too, then?” I couldn’t believe it. Was I really just abandoned hundreds of miles from home on my twenty-first birthday? I felt like a baby left outside of a fire station.
“Don’t worry,” I said, as if she had been. “I’ll figure something out.”
I suppose I felt more pity for Theresa than I did myself, which is the only explanation I can give for excusing such insane and absurd behavior, and for continuing to be friends with her after. Eventually, I saw my sister’s Single White Female theory playing out in real time and decided to pull the “slow fade” on my friendship with Theresa.
As for leaving Las Vegas, I was able to hitch a ride with one of my sister’s friends who was coincidentally heading to California for a work assignment. I spent the four and a half hour drive back in her Dodge Neon vowing never to sit in the passenger seat of my own birthday again. After all, you can’t please everyone, especially in a world where it seems impossible to please anyone, but you can please yourself and, as long as you have a hand or two AA batteries, you always should.
My twenty-first birthday was the last time I let someone else plan the celebration of my life. In the years since, I’ve orchestrated all my own parties and ordered my own cake. And, until a guy I was seeing seemed horrified by this revelation, I never considered people might find it strange or pathetic. When asked why I did this I told him simply, “Because I know I’ll never be disappointed.” He looked at me with the kind of pity I’ll never understand because to me, it’s perfectly acceptable to order your own cake and eat that shit too. In fact, to me, there’s nothing sweeter.