Contemplating Mortality

This column was published in The Manhattan Mercury, Tuesday, December 19, 2017.

LAS VEGAS – She pushes a button on the wall and the light-eliminating blackout drapes whir open. Twenty stories above the Las Vegas strip, the darkness is suddenly, jarringly illuminated. So extreme that I must shift in the chair to position the shadow of my head between the desert sun and the computer screen to see these words.

Otherwise I’ll end up typing qe;wlkjgnhg. Ain’t nobody got time for that.

I always get up before my wife. Love the woman, but our biorhythms don’t align.   

There are no coffeemakers in Vegas strip hotel rooms. The business plan was designed to force you to stake something on a contingency, so I change outa my jammies and descend to the casino. I’ll risk four bucks on a grande-dark roast-no room and call it good.

It’s early for me, late for others. I see poor souls, some single, some in pairs, roughly my age, bleary-eyed, stumbling in after a night of gambling and/or gamboling. They think they’re players. They are not. The walk of shame is not limited to gender or age, it’s an equal opportunity embarrassment. As a person in recovery, 25-plus-years sober, a thought crosses my mind.

There, but for the grace of God, go I. Literally.

Las Vegas is the place to come if you want to feel and experience gluttony and extremes. The brunch buffet, all-you-can-eat works of art on a plate. I hesitate to stick in a fork in them, they’re so beautiful. Just gimme some bacon and eggs already.

Distraction on steroids.

Distraction on steroids.

This place epitomizes the American service economy, peopled almost exclusively by human resources who don’t look like me. A woman my age pushing a housekeeping cart down the hotel corridor, dude driving a taxi, grey at the temples. My American melting pot feelings and fairness beliefs are held just a bit deeper. I try to shake off frustration with policymakers whose feelings and beliefs are shallower. Without this workforce, the Vegas economy grinds to a halt.

I wonder about their DREAMer children, think about my millennial son and ponder. There, but for the privilege of being born a white guy, go I. Because of that privilege, I have choices they don’t have.

George Strait in concert because my wife’s a fan. I’m ambivalent, but I like to make her happy. Experience him live, spend some attention and time on the man and I’m on board. He’s just a few years older than me and when I thought about him before, it was as a steady, non-flashy, country singer. He doesn’t know it, but we’ve aged together, me and George.   
“I was a young troubadour when I rode in on a song… I’ll be an old troubadour when I’m gone…”

Interpret the lyrics however you want, but they strike me as thinking, or in George’s case, singing, about the arc of a life. Some men sing songs about mortality beneath a spotlight in the T-Mobile Arena at the corner of Tropicana Avenue and Frank Sinatra Drive. Others write columns about it for The Manhattan Mercury.

The thrills are simpler now, the design for living more basic, stripped down. Adding value, not taking it away, to the lives of those who surround me. Tasty food, good company. Thoughts and actions aimed at those who struggle. A compelling book, a good night’s sleep. Watching my dogs romp at Marlatt Park. Grande-dark roast-no room. Good health. Physical, mental and emotional.

As the career has progressed, I have come to learn I don’t have to swing at every pitch. I have reached the point where I can be more effective not joining the conference call, but connecting one-on-one, postgame, to offer thoughts, suggestions or advice. This life is closer to the surface after a few days in Vegas.

We came here to spend time with friends, see a concert and a rodeo. This is how my wife and I vacation, always connected to events. She has us chasing the Eagles to the east coast next summer. Love that stuff, but I think I might be just as happy to go to a beach or a mountain and do absolutely nothing. When I wrote a book, a good friend loaned the use of their Lake Wabaunsee cabin. I’d arrive Friday evening, depart Sunday evening and do nothing but write. Sometimes, I pine for that lack of distraction. Maybe I pine because I’m in Vegas. This place is distraction on steroids.

Airports and airplanes tomorrow. LAS > DFW > MHK. She’ll devour a Tom Clancy novel and I’ll listen to George Strait sing a song about the heartland in my noise-cancelling headphones.

Illuminate the darkness. Throw some shade on the glare. Cancel the noise. As the years flow, seems to me that’s how I should try to spend my days and nights.