150 years ago, he would have been mistaken as a carpet bagger. He had a tight mustache, carried a handbag filled with clothes and a backpack stuffed to the gills. He sat down in front of my well and wanted to know what the cheapest drink was. I told him our cold, cheap and yellow Bud or Coors Light was the best deal at $3 and he ordered one. He was diminutive, maybe 5-foot-7 at best. His arms were covered in tattoos and he was fidgety. He had interrupted my conversation with my cook, Casey. We were talking about The Walking Dead and I was telling him that the difference between the graphic novels and the TV show was worlds apart. The best part of bartending on a slow night is that the space behind the bar becomes one part pulpit and two parts soapbox. My guest said that The Walking Dead was his favorite but has only seen portions of the first season. I sized him up quickly and knew this kid was lonely. I quickly dropped the difference in mediums conversation and started chatting him up. He told me he was from Las Vegas, like me, and that he had moved up here to live with his sister. He was looking for work and was trying to figure out what to do in Salt Lake.
I gave him some sagely advice and went back to pouring drinks for guests in the bar. The kid kept inserting himself into conversations but was failing miserably. I eventually saddled up to him and let him talk for a spell. He started off telling me he loved the Insane Clown Posse and wanted to know why ICP wasn’t able to throw out Faygo sodas or confetti at their shows. I had no answer for the Faygo but as someone who is still sweeping up confetti from New Year’s Eve I could probably answer the latter question. For the uninitiated, Faygo Showers are crucial parts of an ICP show where they shake up the 2-liter bottles and spray the audience. I probably could have answered that as well if I took the time.
As a rule of thumb, I despise ICP and their league of followers, the Juggalos. They have a real hate-like feel to them and they celebrate ignorance and violence. Their music is grating and sophomoric and falls short of what I would consider to be decent hip-hop. Most people who know me would say, “Hey Ben! I know you love rap and clowns. What gives with the ICP bashing?” My response is simple. I like them separate. Rapping clowns is enough to give even the strongest guy a bad case of coulrophobia. Besides, you’d have to be drunk on cough syrup to enjoy Insane Clown Posse. Fun piece of trivia I learned while looking into the ICP, I share a birthday with Violent J. He’s worth a scary Google.
The lone Juggalo spent most of the evening at the club until I asked him to leave at the end of the night for falling asleep at the bar. You can do a lot of things in the club but napping isn’t one of them. I felt bad for the kid and I can see why he grouped himself with the ICP. Their sense of isolation is probably something this kid feels all of the time and it must be nice to be around fellow Juggalos—the same way I feel around Padre fans or burrito aficionados. The kid was a hot mess probably because he lacked any parental guidance or the attention of an older male friend. I doubt anything I did that night made much of an impact on him but I hope he left into the frigid cold night with a taste of hospitality. As a guy moving from Vegas to SLC, it’s the first contacts that make the biggest impact.
Lex Blood versus Nick Champion. This last weekend at the bar I had two guys with the best names ever start tabs with me. The first was a super cool guy named Nick Champion. He came in with a buddy and a lady friend. He bought everyone’s drinks, tipped great and was a decent conversationalist considering how loud the club was. The second guy was named Lex Blood. Lex wasn’t as cool but still a nice guy. Lex gave me a weird, yeah-I-know look when I said he had a great name. I guess Lex was still looking for a lady friend and didn’t want to talk to the chubby bartender about what composes a great name. Nonetheless, they both had great names. Lex Blood sounds like a super-villain from a comic book with Nick Champion being society’s only salvation against the streets running with blood. To date, the best name I have started a tab with has been Kiefer Sutherland.
Greatest champion in my lifetime? Iron Mike Tyson. Lifetime record of 50-6-2 with 44 wins by knockout, there is wasn’t a better heavyweight champion in my lifetime. I discovered boxing watching the highlights from the local news as Tyson would dismantle opponents in my own neighborhood. Most of his big payday fights happened at the Hilton Hotel just down the street from my parent’s house. As a southpaw, he had the most crushing left in the fight game. He was fierce, barbaric and a monster in the ring. Unfortunately, he had difficulty in separating his in-ring behavior with how he conducted himself outside of it. As heavyweight champion of the world, he was convicted of raping a woman in an Indiana in 1991 and went to jail for almost four years. I was 16 years old when he went in, a year away from graduating from high school. I was crushed knowing that my boxing hero was a sexual predator. We’re asked with too much frequency to separate the summation of an athlete from their on/off court behavior. With Tyson, it was too hard to bridge the gap. When he was released and dispatched a group of tomato cans in his first post-prison fights, I watched in a crowded living room with a bunch of college friends as the great Tyson was TKO’d by Evander Holyfield in the 11th. It was November 6, 1996 – I was in my final year of school. Prior to the fight, I had hated Holyfield. I thought he was a holy-rolling washout. My wallet and heart were with Tyson. I would caution any parent thinking of sending their kids to the University of Nevada about the dangers of sportbooks before they start school. Even though Iron Mike was barely older than me (he’s eight years my senior), he looked like an old man. It was a disappointing lesson to learn, that your heroes age and eventually fall down.
Tyson was in the forefront of my thoughts this weekend at Sundance because he is my greatest celebrity sighting at a movie. The year was 1990 and my mother and I were sitting in a relatively empty theater at the Gold Coast Casino in Las Vegas. We were sitting in Las Vegas’ only art-house theater escaping the punishing heat to watch Another 48 Hours. The original movie is one of our favorites and there is no better movie companion than my mother. She would see anything and was always good for buying the sodas and Junior Mints. We arrived early in the tiny theater, the Gold Coast only had two screens, and got ready to watch Reggie Hammond and Jack Cates bumble their way through the streets of San Francisco when Mom asked if I knew that guy. I turned around and sitting directly behind me were three of the biggest men I have seen up to that point in my life. Most guys sit with a chair between them but these guys were three across and in the middle was Iron Mike Tyson. Holy Mackerel!!! He obviously had a couple of bodyguards with him and was patiently waiting for the movie to start. I leaned into my mother and said that it was Mike Tyson, the heavyweight champion of the world. My mother never disappoints because she asked me if he was famous. I told her to be quiet because that is Mike Tyson and he probably doesn’t want to be bothered. Mom defiantly puts down her Junior Mints, turns around and said almost famously, “I’m Kathy and who are you?” I fell into my chair as Tyson said his name was Mike and Mom turned around satisfied saying he isn’t that famous.
For the record, this isn’t the first time my mother has ambushed celebrities she has no idea who they are. At McCarran Airport, she had a 15-minute conversation with Tone Lōc. She interrupted Tone at an airport bar where we were supposed to be having a quiet drink before I went back to Salt Lake. She said he had a really nice voice and Tone Lōc thanked her as they chatted while I waited for my plane. I wanted a little more face time with Mom before I headed back to Utah but she was content trying to find out what a funky cold medina is.
We went to Sundance on Sunday and saw The East. The movie is about eco-terrorist and the independent contractor who was charged with bringing them to justice. It starred Alexander Skarsgård, Ellen Paige and some other people. I didn’t care for it because the eco-terrorist just looked like hippy radicals with bank accounts and internet access and I found myself rooting for the big corporations that were polluting the world. I am pretty much a law and order guy and I hate it when a movie makes me jump to the right and want any left-winger thrown into the clink. There was a very telling moment for me and Erin during the Q&A at the end of the movie. The director brought the cast up on stage and they took a bow for their efforts. I asked Erin if Ellen Paige was on stage. She said yes, she right up on stage. I said which one. She said the short one. Now, because I have bad eye sight I could only see a short Chinese boy on stage and I asked if that was her. She said, no she’s on stage. The over-whelming majority of our fights come from me not really listening and she speaking in general terms. I guarantee we’ll be together longer than anyone of you because we already act as if we are in our mid-70s. As it turns out, the small Chinese boy was Ellen Paige and I was surprised how small she was. I think movie actors need to be tall enough to ride most roller coasters. My kingdom for a John Candy. BTW, Alexander Skarsgård is really too good looking to play a dirty radical. I kept think he didn’t need to be blowing up corporations but rather serve as their spokes model. He also looks way too much like Viggo Mortensen. It is really challenging for hunky guys to play unhandsome people and I celebrate Skarsgård trying to pull it off. Because I am in the really good-looking guy fraternity, I know how hard it is for these guys to play ugly.
I am re-launching the podcast soon. Trust me.
Do me a favor. If you were able to read this far in the blog, I would appreciate a nod in City Weekly’s Best of Utah for blog of the year. It probably isn’t but it would be nice to get some traction.