Las Vegas or Bust, Part 2
The phone call came. It was from our friend. "So, something is going on with the bank, and it's going to be another week or two before I can move into the house."
That meant a week or two that my wife and I would still be living in this hotel room with our two dogs. And our friend would be staying in a REALLY seedy motel with his roommate and their six dogs and two cats. Not the ideal situation, but we went with several thousand dollars in our account, so we would manage.
That also meant that finding jobs became more critical. One thing many people don't know is that Las Vegas has been in an economic slump for years. Closed businesses and homeless people were the norm, and the city still has not quite found a way to bounce back. Fortunately, my wife (an amazing massage therapist) was able to get an on-call job at a local chiropractor's office, as well as a couple of side gigs doing chair massages at conventions. But even to get that job, we had to pay hundreds of dollars. Health card, metro card, city card. If I wanted to lose that much money on cards, I would have sat at a blackjack table *rimshot*. Thank you, I'll be here all week. Tip the veal, try the waitress.
I, on the other hand, struggled to find a job. I sent in literally hundreds of applications, competing with thousands of down and out people who went from living comfortably to sleeping on a park bench. I eventually found a two-week long temp job. My duty? Move thousands of files from old, dilapidated cardboard boxes to new cardboard boxes, and prep those for storage. Why? Because that company, like many others, was shutting down.
Each night, I'd come back "home" to our room at the Gold Spike Hotel. My wife would be on the phone with her mom, and I'd be on my laptop, trying to find a way to make some money. On a whim, I decided to look at auditions for shows in Vegas. I happened upon an upstart theater company who was putting together a dinner theater murder mystery show. And it was a paid gig! And we got free dinner on show nights! Long story short, I auditioned, and got a part. When we did the first read-through, everybody was introducing themselves and what experience they had. Summed up, their experience was little to none. I looked like Lawrence Olivier next to these guys. But, it seemed like a fun experience, and the script, schticky and corny, had promise. We even shared a rehearsal space with a current Las Vegas Strip show, "Evil Dead: The 4D Musical."
The first rehearsal, the director told us all to get onstage. I thought we were about to do warm-ups or receive our directions for the first scene. Nope. This "director" just said, "OK, go." No direction whatsoever. We acted out this script without being told where to stand, when to enter, who to speak to, etc.. My character was the first one killed, so I went into the house and watched the rest of the show. By the end of the night, I was telling the other actors the most basic things about theatre. Don't talk with your back facing the audience. Don't stand behind another actor if you're the focus. Have a reason to say what you're saying. All the while, the "director" was saying things like, "Oh, good point. I've never thought about that." This was going to be a long road.
While things were looking slightly up, our bank account was looking down. We were still doing semi-OK, but had to start pinching pennies even more than we had been before. We bought a mini-crockpot for $5.00 at Big Lots so we could "cook" at "home." We went to our favorite restaurant once a week, and shared a dish instead of getting our own. During this time, we found out that our friend's bank lost his mortgage paperwork. It was back to square one, and my wife and I were getting worried.
One day, we both answered a Craigslist ad where a company was looking for paid extras for a TV show. My wife and I both received phone calls from the talent company, asking us to be extras in the audience for the "Epic Poker Tour," being taped at the Palms. We showed up and even got to be stand-ins for the hosts (Pat O'Brien and Ali Nejad) as the TV crew set sounds, lights, and cameras. For those wondering, yes. Pat O'Brien is as smug as you imagine. We sat in that makeshift TV studio from 9:00 AM until 4:00 AM. 19 hours. And if you think watching poker on TV is boring, go watch it live for 19 hours. You can't see what the house has, and you have no vested interest in who wins. In our case, we were there to be able to pay for another week of hotel living. Not only that, we got free passes to the Palms buffet. Free unlimited food, and free unlimited beer. My wife and I ate like it was our last meal on death row. Salads, meats, sides, desserts, beer. We left at 4:00 AM, went back to our room, slept, and then went back the next day for more boredom. But it was paid boredom. That's all that mattered.
Suddenly, several things happened at once. My wife got unbelievably sick. My temp job ended, and the temp agency had nothing left for me. My show took a break from rehearsing. Our dogs, one of whom was in heat, decided that our morning drive to breakfast was the perfect time to use the back seat as their own honeymoon suite. We spent Christmas seeing a cheesy magic show, then went to a flashy nightclub full of bass beats. We went because it was free and we were bored. We left because it was loud and I'm old. On New Years Eve, I scrolled through Facebook, looking at pictures of friends and family back home laughing and having a good time. My wife and I counted down the seconds to the new year while standing in a Walmart parking lot a few miles from the Strip. We watched the fireworks explode over Las Vegas. Corny as it may sound, I had so much hope that the new year would bring new luck.
I had no idea that it could get worse.
STAY TUNED FOR PART 3!