Friday night, I sat in the Chili’s Too at the Minneapolis-St. Paul airport, eating dinner and waiting for my connecting flight to Las Vegas. I knew I was near the gate for the Vegas flight because a girl wearing a purple sequined tank top walked by. She may as well been wearing a sandwich board that said, “Follow me to Sin City.”
My cell phone buzzed with a text message from my younger brother, Tickle. He was already in Vegas with our youngest brother, Snake Anthony, our Uncle T, and our cousin, Youngblood. We were on the trip to initiate Youngblood into the Vegas club—he just turned 21, and as we did with Snake Anthony in 2006, we wanted to show him all the new and exciting ways he could lose hundreds of dollars and kill millions of brain cells.
“Where does a pirate vacation?” Tickle’s text message asked.
“Arrrgkansas,” I guessed.
“Arrrgentina,” he wrote back.
Pirate jokes before I even landed. It would be a good trip.
Never double-down against a guy named Elmer
Right when I got in, I sat down with the rest of my war party at a blackjack table against a dealer named Elmer—the same name as our grandfather (and Uncle T’s father). I wasn’t sure if this was a good sign or bad sign, because Grandpa Elmer was a broken-down drunk. I only knew my grandfather when he sat in the corner of his house in his pajamas, drinking coffee and listening to ballgames on a transistor radio. Elmer the dealer, however, was clearly a productive member of society and also seemed very friendly. So I took it as a good sign.
It was a very good sign for Youngblood. He wound up winning $1000 against Elmer. Uncle T, Snake Anthony, and I more or less broke even. Tickle was not tickled by Elmer, and a few of his Benjamin Franklins made their way across the felt to the house.
Tickle, while annoyed, vowed to rebound. “I’m the People’s Champ,” he said. I have no idea what he meant, but it was an assertion he continued to make all weekend.
To kill ya
I do not like tequila. Uncle T loves it. Whenever we drink with him, he preaches the Gospel of Good Tequila. I have had the good stuff with him, and even the good stuff seems like a bad idea to me. But when you’re in Vegas, the whole good-bad polarity is reversed, and you find yourself doing things like drinking more tequila in one weekend than you have over the past decade.
After our Elmer encounter on Friday, we hit the bar. I had already had a few vodkas and felt myself on the slow, pleasant journey from Buzzistan to Drunkerbaijan. Uncle T decided to buy us a ticket on the express train by setting us up with four giant shots of top-shelf bad idea. I assumed that the size and price would indicate we would sip this most demonic of demon rum, but Uncle T rocked back and downed it. The rest of us couldn’t let the oldest guy show us up, so we all threw our shots back.
There are few things worse than realizing, as you’re downing a shot, you can’t get it all down in one shot. I got half down my throat before I felt the Mexican napalm shooting up from my belly. I stopped with the other half of the shot in my mouth, waiting to be swallowed, which is not a happy place to be when you don’t really want to swallow what’s in your mouth. I managed to get it down and immediately got the pre-hurl saliva mouth. As Ralphie would say in A Christmas Story, “Oh, fudge.”
I stood, breathing deeply, fighting to pass from Code Red to Code Orange. Slowly my stomach returned to its seated and upright position.
Of course, this didn’t prevent me from drinking three more shots of tequila the next night. And yes, I am three years away from turning 40.
We obsess over Danny Gans, though we know not who he is
Danny Gans was plastered all over the Mirage. On the Mirage sign, inside the lobby, even on the chips, Danny Gans and his Osmond-white teeth smiled at us. “Entertainer of the Year,” boasted one poster blurb.
“Who the hell is Danny Gans?” we asked. We did not know.
We found ourselves talking about Danny Gans constantly. Our mantra for the weekend was What would Danny Gans do? We relayed sightings of him: in the men’s room, at the craps table, in line at Chipotle.
Stumbling into the Mirage buffet for dinner, we chatted up the cashier. “Does Danny Gans ever eat here? What’s his favorite dish? He seems like a crab cake guy, does he like crab cakes?”
She laughed at us, then said, “Actually, he calls in sick a lot.”
That random bit of information poured gasoline on the Danny Gans fire. Danny Gans abuses his sick leave—who knew he even had any? Did he accrue hours, or did he just call up and, Rick James-like, say, “I’m Danny Gans, bitch!” After all, he performed in his own Danny Gans Theater at the Mirage.
“So what happens when Danny Gans cancels?” one of us asked. “Does somebody else perform?”
“No way,” another replied. “How do you replace Danny Fucking Gans? You can’t substitute for him. If Danny Gans calls in, then the magic has to wait.”
The man who would have been king of YouTube
Our party grew larger on Saturday. Tickle’s friends, Trapper and Hawkeye, joined us. By day, they are respected professionals. Or at least professionals. By night, they are Tickle's companions in pranksterism.
We went to the club in the Mirage again on Saturday night. Trapper proceeded to hit the dance floor and conduct the single greatest night of Caucasian dancing I have ever seen. To fully appreciate it, you have to know that Trapper has a similar vibe to Steve Carell. He’s friendly looking, very hirsute, and seems very down to earth. But the minute his feet touched the dance floor, he started a four-part dance routine:
- He would hop up to someone—male and female—and conduct a space-invading blend of grinding and vogueing. He had his hands down low, palms out, as if he was ready for some naughty business. We called this the Bad Cop move.
- After anywhere from two seconds to two minutes, the object of Trapper’s attention would appear to get annoyed. He would immediately back off and throw his up hands in a no-harm, no-foul fashion. This was the transformation to Good Cop. He wasn’t really going to grind you, he was just playing!
- When the person gave him the look of what in the hell are you doing—or verbally asked what the hell he was doing—Trapper put a finger to his lips and made a shushing motion.
- Finally, he would hop away backwards from the person, but make a come hither motion with his shushing finger, inviting them to join him.
I cannot really do justice to how funny this routine was. Talking about it the next day, we agreed that if we had been able to videotape it, Trapper would have been the King of YouTube. He would have entered that pantheon of YouTube gods: Lightsaber Kid, Crying Britney Spears Fan, Profane Asian Uncle. Inboxes around the world would have been flooded with FWD: OMFG ROTFLMOA at the Dancing White Guy! He would have been so popular, there would have been a Dancing White Guy backlash.
Alas, we did not have a video camera.
Hawkeye’s indecent proposal to Tickle
Tickle is one of those people who will do anything for a laugh, especially if there is a profit involved. He’s taken bets on if he could drink a gallon of milk in one sitting, ride all the way to Milwaukee in the middle of summer with the heat on, and even rub his face with Trapper’s sweaty boxers for 10 seconds.
Sunday night, Hawkeye dropped a prop bet bomb: would Tickle, right there in the bar, crap his pants for $400? Trapper chimed in that he would throw in $200 to make it $600.
Most normal people would immediately reject that bet. Tickle, however, is not most normal people. The bet would erase his losses from the trip. Negotiations began in earnest: How long would he have to sit there? Would he have to walk around? Would he collect if he was tossed out before the allotted time? I don’t think the Iraqi government worked as intensely on their constitution as Tickle, Hawkeye, and Trapper did on this Magna Crappa. After 45 minutes of haggling, they finally settled on Tickle pooping himself and either staying in the bar for 30 minutes or winning if he was thrown out before then.
“You’re not really going to do this?” I asked my brother.
“I could use the money,” he said. “You wouldn’t do it?”
“No way,” I said.
“Come on, name your price.”
“You can’t put a price on dignity,” I said.
“Would you do it for a million dollars?” he asked.
“Okay, yeah, for a million I would.”
“Then name your price.”
He had a point. “Five grand,” I said. “That would be enough that even if people were grossed out, they’d say, ‘Well, five grand is a lot of money.’”
The bet escalated. Trapper offered to match Hawkeye’s $400 and raise the bid to $800. As if that wasn’t enough, Snake Anthony moved from the don’t do it camp to throwing in $200 to make it an even thousand.
I know Tickle. At that price, it would take an act of divine intervention for him to not shit his pants at the Mirage bar. Uncle T decided to play the role of God. “Tickle, you are not doing this,” he said. He had protested earlier, but half-heartedly as he was amused by the negotiation process. Once it became clear that Tickle was going to do it, he put his foot down. After all, who wants to be the uncle to a nephew who craps himself?
Tickle finally called it off. I was mostly relieved, but I’d be lying if I said part of me wasn’t disappointed.
The People’s Champ is going to miss his flight
Tickle has missed more flights than everyone else I know combined. If he doesn’t miss the flight, he is always cutting it close. He had an 8 a.m. flight on Monday, and Tickle decided he was going to stay up all night with Hawkeye and Trapper rather than sleep for a couple hours.
Snake Anthony and I did not join him in this pursuit. We went back to the room, packed, and managed to crash at a reasonable 2:45 a.m.
Snake’s cell phone rang at 4:00. He ignored it. Then mine rang. “What?” I asked.
“I’m the People’s Champ,” Tickle slurred through the receiver.
“Go fuck yourself,” I said, closing the phone. It rang again.
“Tell me I’m the People’s Champ,” said Tickle.
I knew how this would go if I fought. “You’re the People’s Champ,” I said.
“Tell Snake Anthony I’m the People’s Champ,” Tickle said.
“Snake Anthony, Tickle is the People’s Champ,” I said to the other bed. Back into the phone I said, “Now fuck off.”
Tickle came back to the room at 5:00 and of course woke us up. He made a wake-up call for 6:15, then flopped into my bed next to me and started snoring.
When hammered, Tickle snores like Shemp Howard of The Three Stooges. There’s the exaggerated sawing on the intake, then some kind of yipping on the exhale. The only person I’ve ever heard snore like that, aside from Shemp, was my Grandpa Elmer.
After nudging Tickle did no good to stop the snoring, I put a pillow over his face. That woke him up. “Roll over and stop snoring,” I barked. He did.
At 5:30 the hotel phone woke me up again. It was Tickle’s friend, Smoke, who lives in Vegas. He had visited that night, left his cell phone in our room, and needed it back before we left. Tickle told him to meet him in the lobby at 6:30 and he’d give him the phone if he’d take Tickle to the airport. Then my brother fell back asleep and started snoring.
At 6:15, his wake-up call rang. I punched Tickle in the back. “Wake up, you’re going to miss your flight.” My brother did not budge. I decided to just get up and take a shower, figuring I could catch a ride to the airport with Smoke and get some breakfast. When I was all ready at 6:40, Tickle finally woke up.
My brother rarely worries about anything, but he went from passed out to full-bore panic. He had 80 minutes until his flight left, and the screening lines at Vegas are legendary in their length. Tickle threw all his stuff into his suitcase, making a giant ball of clothes that prevented the suitcase from closing. He had to take everything out and repack so he could close the suitcase.
By this point, Snake Anthony and I were doubled over laughing. We had talked all weekend about this moment, and now it seemed highly appropriate that Tickle was being punished by the Vegas gods. “You’re never going to make it,” I said as we finally left at about 6:50.
“I know,” he said with genuine regret. “And I only have one flight to catch because I took Allegiant. I’m going to get stuck here til tomorrow.”
“Oh no, you’ll get stuck here longer than that,” I said. “And you’ll be out of money. You’ll be on the Strip, offering to shit your pants for ten bucks.”
Smoke, however, came through big time. He drove like the People’s Champ to the airport. Tickle got inside at 7:15 and sprinted to his check-in desk. I left for mine, checked in, and headed to the very long security line.
Near the scanner, I saw Tickle ahead of me, his Bears cap pulled low, his face dragging with fatigue, waiting for the security scan to finish. He saw me and we pointed at each other. I watched him go through security in time to make his flight.
“That was a triumph of the human spirit,” I texted him. “You truly are the People’s Champ.”
And to think we’re probably going back in May for Tickle’s bachelor party.