It's approximately 43 minutes before noon, and Las Vegas Weekly is drunk. "Oh my good gay God!" LVW proclaims from a booth deep in the bowels of the pink-, purple- and blue-neoned Peppermill Lounge. "I am quite the drunk bastard!"
Though it's not unheard of for LVW to get the occasional early start, an alternate state of consciousness is practically the mandate for this particular weekend (May 14-16). Day two of Modern Drunkard Magazine's "Lost Weekend in Las Vegas" begins with LVW enjoying an early morning rum cocktail or three, followed by a mushroom and Swiss burger and the thievery of a marvelous dispenser of unrefined yet multicolored sugar. It ends with LVW passing out atop a hotel bedspread made gritty with spilled, unrefined, yet multicolored sugar at 5:30 in the morning. In between, she witnessed proposals, fistfights, marriages, arrests, upbraidings and upchuckings: all in all, a relatively tame day at the First Annual Modern Drunkard Convention.
It was to be the gonzo story of the century, one that Hunter S. Thompson hisself would get wind of, be jealous of, and gape at in gibbered amazement in the manner of Ozzy Osbourne when confounded by the Food Network's Two Fat Ladies on his telly. Backseat Conceptions, a Philadelphia-based indie production and promotional company whose clients include Modern Drunkard, was driving its silver school bus, the Dirty Erin, on a three-day, cross-country pub crawl from New York City to Las Vegas, and LVW was to ride along. Three days of drinking festivities were to ensue, followed by 72 long hours worth of hangover on the bus ride back.
Instead, shortly before the scheduled departure date, LVW received word that the Dirty Erin was in no shape to hit the highway. According to Backseat Conceptions Producer and Modern Drunkard Philadelphia Advertising Director Nick Esposito, "The bus not coming down here is a complex story made simple by the fact that it was totally illegal. It was not insured or registered or even inspected. There was no legal element to the bus whatsoever. We could have dragged it down there, but it was also six days of travel time, three days to get down here and three days to get back so unfortunately the bus couldn't make it.
"We don't actually own the bus; another guy owns the bus, but he doesn't know where the paperwork is. We can't do the legwork; we don't even have the basic building blocks to make the bus legal. Even if we had the money we wouldn't be able to make it legal. It's really lame."
LVW was angry with the unprofessional oversight, and she proclaimed the whole lot to be nothing but a bunch of drunken assmonkeys. LVW then learned that members of the Modern Drunkard staff were taking a "Booze Bus" from their home base of Denver to the convention, on which unlimited keg beer and poker were promised amenities. But messages left for Editor/Publisher Frank Rich about the possibility of catching a ride were never returned, and LVW once again proclaimed the whole lot to be nothing but a bunch of drunken assmonkeys.
LVW was forced to take a non-gonzo, unglamorous airplane, on which she didn't even drink anything harder than orange juice.
The rumor going around the first evening of the Convention, however, was that the Booze Bus never materialized at its intended rendezvous bar at all, so LVW asked Frank to explain the mystery of the increasing number of vanishing vehicles. "Groauosidfoiwjehh bussanumasiiijfke!" he said. "Iaskdfosijerkms toodrunk oasindflkasdniwesfdfsssssss Bloody Marys." He then disappeared into the Women's Room with a limp arm around his wife, Modern Drunkard Marketing Exec and Convention Manager Christa Rich.
In Billy Wilder's 1945 Oscar winner, The Lost Weekend, writer Don Birnam goes on a bender, steals money from his brother, hawks his girlfriend's fur coat, envisions bats flying out of his apartment walls, spends time in a hospital psych ward and contemplates suicide. Compared to Frank Rich, Birnam was a lightweight. The former novelist founded Drunkard as a small humorous zine, which has since grown to a bimonthly, full-color national publication, complete with features, columns, ads and glamorous throwback illustrations dedicated to the lifestyles of the soused and staggering.
Seven years later, Frank's vision of uniting tipplers from the world over has become more tangible. With all convention events pertaining to drinking, the weekend plays out at both the Double Down Bar and the Stardust hotel, a glitzy reminder of a bygone era that perfectly captures the Modern Drunkard aesthetic.
At 6 p.m. in the glitzy reminder's Avalon Ballroom, the conventioneers, not surprisingly, are late in arriving. So far the crowd consists of the Modern Drunkard staff, all impressively dressed in svelte black matching suits, and a kid who looks all of 17 stumbling about the hallway in a blue and white Hawaiian shirt and cheap sunglasses despite the dim lighting.
At 6:45 p.m. Drunk Standard Time, things liven up, and local barflies as well as those from far-off, exotic locations such as Minnesota gravitate to the sign-in table. Both daily and weekend laminated passes are available, but only the latter option comes with an official Modern Drunkard shot glass, convention poster and T-shirt. Some attendees know each other from the Modern Drunkard message boards and are ecstatic to match faces with screen names at long last. LVW finds this either incredibly touching or incredibly sad; she's still not exactly sure which.
They spill, literally, into the Ballroom, a venue that with its expansive stage, 30 white-linen tables that seat eight revelers each and temporarily vomit-stain-free carpeting, is much too fancified for a bunch of already drunk or rapidly becoming drunk guys, most of whom vaguely resemble LVW's old roommate Jeff: short and round, sporting glasses, close-cropped hair and a goatee, with a fondness for Hawaiian shirts and for keeping a drink in each hand at all times. There are very few females present, but those who are can already sense this will be a weekend spent fending off obnoxious advances.
After stopping in at one of the two swanky bars at either end of the ballroom, the laminated massesmaybe 500 or sogawk at tables lining the back wall: swag from the handful of local and LA-based bands serving as soundtrack to the weekend; Modern Drunkard gear including T-shirts, hats, flags, lighters and flasks; Drinkingstuff.com gizmos including standard and deluxe bongs, shotgun beer-can openers, three-spout taps and RU-21 Hangover Supplements; and Backseat Conceptions merchandise including T-shirts, posters, stickers, Hot Rod condoms and Gray Kangaroo Alcohol Filters, which, as LVW can testify, are remarkably effective gadgets for making cheap booze taste Top Shelf-esque and help eliminate hangovers.
A camera crew arrives, preparing to blind attendees all weekend in order to film their "drunkumentary," and in the glare of camera lights, Modern Drunkard writer/proofreader/Colorado Advertising Agent Luke Schmaltz flies across a table, sending both himself and the unfortunate piece of furniture to the ground. He immediately jumps up and dances about maniacally, still holding an unspilled Pabst Blue Ribbon. LVW can't tell if the commotion is purely pratfall or not, but it's not the most pressing issue at the moment. LVW just overheard that the Pabst is free, and though here strictly as an impartial observer, she is currently occupied with heading to the nearest swanky bar.
At 8:10 DST, a random inebriate wanders on stage, subconsciously signaling to everyone that something official is about to happen. Minutes later, Denver-based Master of Ceremonies and "Lounge Lizard Extraordinaire" Sid Pink, sporting a pink ruffled shirt, blue jacket, blue sunglasses, aerodynamic coif and three rings to a hand, mans the podium.
"Pink" is a remarkably accurate last name, as he bears more than a passing resemblance to Steve Buscemi's Reservoir Dogs character: slight build, nasally voice, "kinda funny-looking in a general way" face.
Mr. Pink welcomes everyone to the convention and introduces the present Modern Drunkard staffers. Frank has gone missing, and when he is finally found and hoisted like a bag of vodka distillery-bound potatoes to the stage, he is greeted with a deafening standing ovation.
Sketch and stand-up comedy follow, and LVW's attention wanders, turning instead to a conversation on the great sorrows that surely lie behind these boozy smiles. The Jeff to her left views drinking as a religion substitute as opposed to a coping mechanism, while the Jeff to her right claims the organization is a manifestation of nation sociopolitical reactions to the gradual illegalization of all thing fun in nature.
Just as LVW offers the theory that a well-lubricated existence is a reaction to not being an adequate competitor in other arenas of life, the qualifying round of the Clash of the Tightest Drinking Contest is announced. Eight contestants subsequently take turns ordering rounds and undergoing coordination tests that involve dropping a Ping-Pong ball into a tube and catching it at the other end. The weekend takes on a new tone of dedicated seriousness, and LVW admits that there is certainly no lack of competitive spirit on the premises.
After four of the Tightest advance and burlesque troupe Ooh La La begin to sway and swig onstage, LVW goes in search of more free PBR.
LVW awakens the next morning at 7:30 to the sound of the shower running, which it has apparently been doing all night.
A Bloody Mary Morning Mixer and an encore round of Burlesque for Boozers at the Double Down missed by LVW in lieu of sugar thievery later, and it's to the ballroom for Indie Cinema for Inebriates. While waiting for a series of shorts to gear up, LVW chews on a straw and eavesdrops on several conversations at once. "I was at a real crossroads in life at that time," "I never had a blackout, but I had a soul death" and "I hit a blind man in a crosswalk when I was younger" are among the snippets she catches before wandering over to the bar and discovering that PBR is no longer free. LVW promptly proclaims the bartender to be an assmonkey.
At 2:30 DST, Mr. Pink introduces a feature written and directed by Frank and starring Luke and writer Giles Humbert III. Would Frank like to say a few words about the film?
Frank probably would, but he's once again gone missing. Someone whips out a cell phone, and he enters the ballroom 10 minutes later. The requested few words are spoken and the remarkably better-than-anticipated black-and-white noir Nixing the Twist unspools. Midway through the film, an audience member ambles up to the steps, stops in front of the projection screen and moons the crowd. By the time anyone can process that a minor interruption has occurred, the exhibitionist has already disappeared over the edge of the stage.
After the lights come up, the Jeffs all visit the restroom, and LVW is asked if she would like to compete in the next event: Drinkingstuff.com's Beer Bong Contest. Since LVW is attending the convention strictly as an impartial observer, she politely declines and instead watches four teams of two take the stage for a little bong-on-bong action via some seriously industrial two-man beer bongs. The projector screen is still in place, as are speakers, a podium and other stage clutter, but the drinkers don't seem to recognize the need to wait just a few minutes. A rough countdown, a few seconds of fevered chugging, and all the bongers simultaneously raise their arms in victory. No one can tell exactly who won, but as one bonger wringing out his shirt puts it, just being part of the competing group is honor enough.
A few hours of bands and a welcome reception for a conventioneering couple who first met last night on the way to the Double Down Saloon and were married later in the evening, and it's time for the Clash of the Tightest semifinals. The four dipsomaniacs who advanced from the previous night are James, a red-faced and surprisingly absorbent frat boy-type who helps man the Drinkingstuff.com table; the young, perpetually-bandanaed Molly; and two literal heavyweights who go by the respective monikers of Bruiser and Ogre.
Molly bows out to James before a round of tequila shots threatens to turn her face as red as her headwear. Bruiser then runs his hands through his curly mullet and rubs his eyes; Ogre tugs at his goatee and scratches his bald head, and it's clear that the Roy Jones Jr. and Antonio Tarver face-off isn't the only big match in town. The big rumor going around is that tomorrow night's Clash Finals will be eligible for wagering at Stardust Race & Sports Book.
Shots soon hit hard and fast in this other great physical display of the evening. Screwdrivers, double Jagermeisters and a mixture consisting of equal parts red wine and vodkacalled a Brutal Hammerare consumed, and after 15 rounds, Bruiser is sweating alcohol out of his wide, freckled Midwestern forehead. Round 18, and his left eye is twitching. A shout goes up after Round 21; the Ping-Pong ball slipped out of his hand after making its descent down the white tube. Ogre is declared the victor, and as a stout blond woman leans over the nearby trash can to congratulate the winner, Bruiser begins vomiting in it, viscous brown liquid cascading within inches of her purple sequined chest.
Day three, and after LVW skips the Bloody Mary Morning Mixer once again, it's time for the educational segment of the convention: the Soused Seminars. Modern Drunkard staff writer Boyd Rice expostulates on tiki culture in Paradise Lost, and writers Rich English and Nick Plumber tackle the entire "History of Hooching," with touchstones of the latter including drunk monkeys, drunk monks and such enlightening facts as "The Egyptian word for 'wine' is 'urp,'" and "Without alcohol, there would be no art, sports, commerce or Western civilization as we know it."
The convention reconvenes after a four-hour dinner break, and LVW, having sat for one and half of those hours on a parking lot curb, staring at a pretty, flowery tree, thinks it might be time to stop drinking.
The Drunkard Trivia Extravaganza, however, has other ideas. LVW has long battled a crippling addiction to Jeopardy and was a member of her high school Quiz Bowl team. Though attending the convention as an impartial observer, LVW is embraced by team Northern Alliance. Three rounds of a few softballs and several incredibly subjective trick questions later, LVW is shushed for shouting obscenities. Northern Alliance receives a Modern Drunkard wall flag and lighter for coming in second, which LVW proclaims to be a crock of shit. First-place winners Team Assmonkeys, as LVW dubs them, receive a bottle of absinthe to distribute as they see fit.
After another round of Burlesque for Boozers, Luke proposes to his Ooh La La girlfriend, leaving the weekend's number of proposals and weddings tied at three apiece. LVW loudly proclaims that love is an illusion and that everyone is an assmonkey.
Next up is the awards ceremony, reminiscent of those omnipresent summer camps of LVW's youth, where everyone casts votes for their friends to receive hastily printed certificates including the Bukowski Award for the Most Disheveled Drunkard, the Hemingway Award for the Hardest Drinker, the Mae West Award for Most Uses of a Double Entendre, the Jackie Gleason Award for the Most Generous Drunkard and the William Wallace Award for Most Gibberish Spoken.
The crowd then swarms to the front of the stage for the Clash of the Tightest Finals, where Ogre and James, as well as their trainers, referees, drink runners, color commentators, and the Drunkumentary camera crew set the scene for the most impressive drinking competition ever witnesses by LVW's bloodshot eyes.
Ogre rains Brutal Hammers down upon James, who counters with alternating orders of White Russians and half tequila/half lime juice in an attempt to disadvantage his opponent with a tricky "stomach curdling" maneuver. After more rounds than anyone can keep track of, all Ping-Pong balls remain undropped, and Ogre orders another round of Brutal Hammers. He finishes his drink quickly, but something goes wrong for James. The Drinkingstuff.com underdog falls out of his chair while simultaneously spraying projectile vomit toward the front row. He spends the next five minutes with his head in a trash can, and when he finally re-emerges, his face is in need of a good wash, as are his jeans, which are now streaked with a chunky pink liquid.
Ogre receives a bottle of absinthe in addition to a trophy depicting a drunk monkey sitting in a martini glass. In his acceptance speech, he lauds his opponents, the Drunkard staff and functioning alcoholics everywhere. He also swears that he will never defend his title because it prohibits him from sharing drinks with his friends for most of the evening. LVW finds his speech touching and his Glassmonkey trophy hilarious.
The convention has been a success, and even if it hasn't, no one would be able to remember it any differently anyway. Frank takes the stage and releases the most lucid torrent of words he's produced the whole weekend. "This is beautiful," he proudly slurs. "Finally the drunks are uniting. Finally. We are the most oppressed majority in the word. We are the most repressed majority. I don't want to get political, but I will. We are the most repressed majority in the world. We are the majority; we are the most oppressed. Have you ever heard about roadblocks for f--king rapists or murderers? No. Have you heard of them for drunks? Yes, every f--king weekend, they are f--king putting roadblocks out for us. We are the most repressed majority. This is our first convention. We are the most oppressed majority, we are. We drink, most Americans drink. We do. We are. We are oppressed. Finally, though, we're starting to organize. Finally. We are starting to organize. This convention is about fun, but next time we must start organizing. We must start organizing. If we don't, then we'll f--king be lost. This time it's fun; next time it's political. Are you guys ready for this? We are the most oppressed majority imaginable. We are the most repressed majority. Think about it. Are there roadblocks for rapists and murderers? No, but there are roadblocks for drunks. Terrorists? No! We are, we are the most repressed majority imaginable. This time it's fun; next year we will start organizing. Are you with me?"
A cheer goes up; hugs, business cards and final shots are exchanged, and just like at the end of summer camp, the departing swear many oaths to keep in touch and remain best friends forever. LVW retires to her room, and once changed into the too-small T-shirt with a sailboat on it and astoundingly baggy, blue-and-green-plaid boxer shorts she dares to label sleepwear, she is struck with such a thirst that she is willing to strangle a puppy in exchange for a single glass of ice water. LVW grabs the plastic card off the table and the ice bucket from the tree limb outside the window and heads down the hallway. She fills the bucket and weaves back to her door, where the card doesn't seem to work in the electronic lock. The magnetic strip seems to be in the wrong place, and since when did they put LVW's picture on the key card? She looks down at the full ice bucket, worthless driver's license, too-small T-shirt with a sailboat on it, astoundingly baggy blue and green plaid boxer shorts, unshaved legs and bare feet, and calls herself an immense assmonkey.
LVW descends the stairs and makes her way past restaurants, shops, slot machines and several smirking gamblers. She explains her situation to the nonplussed desk clerk and is given her third replacement card of the weekend. On LVW's return trip through the casino, a group of conventioneers still going strong in the bar hails her and extends an invitation to join them. They don't even seem to realize her outfit is slightly out of the ordinary. As a morning newscast flickers on the overhead television, LVW shrugs, pulls up a chair and orders another round.