Clay Chucky

You know how when a person starts off with,

“no offense, but…”

what follows is bound to offend someone?

No offense, but, I hate Las Vegas.

First, there’s everything it stands for:  The greed, excessiveness, raunchiness, and wastefulness. The elevated importance placed on money and status. The incredibly insensitive display of indulgence when there’s so much suffering in the world. It represents the worst parts of America.

Then there’s the whole “anything goes” mentality that turns it into a giant frat house on crack. Its famous “what happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas” mantra on the one hand is true, as you leave a part of your soul there. And even more of your salary. On the other hand, this concept turns even polite, quiet types into raving lunatics and cranks up the level of douche-iness on the already douchey to 11. There was a douchebag convention when I was there recently. It was called “March Madness.”

Vegas is an assault on all senses simultaneously. And everything about it is strategically set up to lead people to make bad decisions. Vegas is designed so you lose all sense of time, place, and manners. You can’t even walk the strip without losing your way (and your mind) because of all the ups and downs and twists and turns. You rarely sleep, and when you do, you have crazy, disturbing dreams. You become confused and overstimulated and tired. Finally the city breaks you down. “OK, fine,” you concede. “We’ll just sit in the one place that has chairs (casino floor) and put some damn money in a damn slot machine.” You tell yourself,

At least it might be fun to pull the lever and to carry around a bucket to collect the change!”

Oh, wait…

Vegas is too much of everything. Too many people, noises, lights, and children. What a great place for kids! The dancers on tables, and the hundreds of naked boobs pictured on cards littering all the sidewalks. And what kid doesn’t love a clown? Or a drunk! Plus, there’s the dangerous thrill of all the second-hand smoke.

I found myself mimicking the Jimmy Fallon “Ew” countless times on this trip. One small word sums up this monstrosity.

Cirque du OK
There are some positives. I actually felt thin there. Correction, I was thin during “day Vegas.” And not just thin, but classy and put-together. Stepping out in “night Vegas,” however, I was an old, frumpy fat-ass who might as well be wearing a track suit.

The food, even the “cheap” food is pretty damn good. And you can eat at the restaurants of all the chefs you know from reality TV. Also, the fountains at the Bellagio are surprisingly lovely.

Finally, there’s the entertainment. Not Celine, who perfectly represents Vegas on so many levels, yet, none of them positive (except that she knows she belongs in Vegas, and I respect that.) But the Cirque shows, which are visually stunning, and yet sufficiently eerie to be worthy of the city in which they have permanent homes. Beatles Love is a spectacular event that makes you feel like you are on psychedelic drugs, but in a good way. Except they have a character who looks like a cross between Clay Aiken and the Chucky doll; a miniature, psycho Clay Aiken. During the show, Clay Chucky walks around with a bouquet of flowers looking as frightened and confused as the rest of us. He could easily swap the bouquet for a knife and change the entire concept of the show.

Almost immediately after we left the theater and ventured out on the “night Vegas” strip we saw an adult wearing a Chucky costume. It was as if I expected him. In fact, I would’ve been surprised if we hadn’t seen a life-sized Chucky. It was time to go.

Not my town
Vegas is like that Clay Chucky. Cheesy, campy, confusing and creepy. Ew.


Crime scene two

I studied criminal justice at St. Cloud State University (SCSU) in Minnesota. In one of my classes we watched a reenactment video of various crime scenarios. The excitable host would critique the actions of the victims, and explain what they should have done differently. Then he would yell,

“Let’s give them another chance!”

The actors would reenact the same scene, behave correctly, and not wind up victims. It was entertaining, and surprisingly effective. I have thought about many of the lessons from that video over the years but the one on “crime scene two” stands out in particular.

Crime scene two is where your dead body is dumped, or the site of your murder. The killer first abducts you (from a public area) and then takes you to a secluded, usually wooded area, aka crime scene two. Alive, you should never allow this to happen (jump out of a moving vehicle, run from a loaded gun to your head) as there is virtually no chance of survival at crime scene two.

Cracked Heel Relief
SCSU hosts an annual trivia weekend that boasts 50 hours of non-stop trivia. The first year we played our team name was “Cracked Heel Relief.” The following year (my personal favorite) we called ourselves “Smell my Jif.” We came in last place each year, but won the prize for best name. The Cracked Heel Relief year was 1991 – before the World Wide Web – so we had stacks of books strewn about the apartment. To answer a question correctly, we had to either 1) know things (not likely), 2) look them up in reference books and almanacs (limited success) or 3) call people and ask them. It was an early version of “phone a friend” – the version where you wake people up in the middle of the night and annoy the shit out of them with questions like, “What new color puff was added to Trix cereal this year?” (Lime green).

One year a trivia question was about a city in Italy found at the “heel of the boot.” The answer was Brindisi.

My friend Patti and I knew this city well. Too well.

The heel of the boot
On a map, Italy looks like a boot, and Brindisi is located at the heel. Our trip to Brindisi was in 1989 and came on the heels of a whirlwind month-long tour of Europe on a coach with 44 people, followed by a semester in the heart of London, as part of a study abroad program. Patti and I stayed for a month after the program ended to backpack around Europe and visit some places we didn’t see with the group.

In our infinite wisdom (probably clouded by our stay in Amsterdam), we decided to head straight from Amsterdam to Corfu, Greece. And to get to Corfu we needed to take a ferry from Brindisi.

When our train arrived in Brindisi, as is true with most air and train terminals, locals surrounded us offering cheap taxis, hotels, food, etc. We eschewed all “deals” and went to find the ferry terminal. Unfortunately it was the off-season, we had missed the one ferry that left for Corfu per day, and had to spend the night. Due to limited funds our first choice was the youth hostel.

While we were at a bus stop trying to figure out the public transit system, an older gentleman pulled over to ask us if we were going to the hostel (I’m sure it was our backpacks rather than our spiral perms, Girbaud jeans and over-sized exaggerated v-neck tops that tipped him off that we were not from around there.) He kindly offered to drive us there. He said he knew right where it was (out-of-town, in the middle of nowhere) and that no public transit routes went there. I should have recognized these as red flags, but, blinded by a free ride by someone who was old, like a dad, and therefore harmless; I ignored them.

Patti firmly declined. She had a bad feeling. He argued with her. He seemed taken aback and miffed that we would not take him up on this very generous offer. He tried to persuade us, playing on our fear that dangerous people were lurking, waiting to take advantage of young American students, but Patti held her ground. He finally sped off in anger, and I called the youth hostel to get directions. I heard a recorded message saying that it had closed for the season. Patti and I looked at each other in horror. He was going to take us to crime scene two.

Shaken by our near abduction and subsequent grisly murder, we hightailed it back to the train station and approached the pushiest and most annoying of all the locals.

“Please, here is all our money, take us to your hotel.”

Once in the room, we finally exhaled and relaxed a little. The room looked clean, was reasonably priced, and we started to feel safe. And that is when we decided to unfold the comforter at the end of the bed. Our eyes widened along with the stain.

“Oh my god.

Is that blood??


We stared at it in shocked silence for a full minute or more. This was not from a mere flesh wound; it was massive – multiple gunshot wound sized – and took up more than half of the fabric.

It didn’t appear fresh, but it was there.


Was a body wrapped in it, taken to crime scene two and disposed of; the comforter returned, neatly folded and placed back on the bed? More likely the killers moved the body some other way, but why leave the bloody evidence behind? And the hotel staff must have known because they folded it.

As in trivia, we had no answers.

Many adventures and close calls followed Brindisi; wild dogs chased us on our rented mopeds in Corfu and I had my passport stolen in Paris, but they all paled in comparison. Brindisi is forever stained on our brains, like that bloody comforter.

Brindisi, Italy is a heel. Geographically and metaphorically.

And no amount of Cracked Heel Relief can save it.