LAS VEGAS _ My brother and I went to Las Vegas this weekend to watch Ohio University play in the Las Vegas Invitational basketball tournament. I try to support Ohio University sports when I can. Most of the time this involves watching football or basketball at 8 am on ESPN2, and although I am always thankful my Bobcats are on national television, there is a 50-50 shot the first half won’t be televised because the bull-riding semifinals went long.
Not wanting to miss the opportunity to see the Bobcats play live at Orleans Arena, we rented a car and drove across the desert from Los Angeles. It takes four hours to drive from Los Angeles to Las Vegas. This is one of those facts that all Los Angeles citizens know by heart, along with “USC is in the ghetto” and “Pink’s Hot Dogs is always busy” and “never take the 405 between 6 am and 4 am.”
I knew this was going to be one of those special Las Vegas trips as soon as we walked into the casino. In an attempt to woo younger people, our not-at-all-hip-and-therefore-affordable casino had a section called The Party Pit. The Party Pit, which it should be noted was not a pit at all but very flat, looked like the rest of the casino floor, except for two things. There was a huge sign behind a disco ball informing you that you were in The Party Pit. Dancing atop an elevated platform behind a half-dozen tables were strippers who stopped just short of actually stripping.
I stopped and took it all in, right next to a father and his young boy. It was 11:30 pm. In Vegas, it’s not uncommon to see parents with kids walking around the casino late at night. In fairness, sometimes they are checking in or checking out, but often they are just milling about, like Father of the Year and his son. The only plausible defense for the dad would be if he planned to use the carnal tableau as a Teachable Moment.
“Now, son, remember when we were in Las Vegas and saw that woman dancing? That woman was not a stripper. Her clothes never came off. It would have been foolish to give her money. Do you understand what daddy is saying?”
This was not the strangest thing I saw all weekend. I am an Ohio State fan. My brother and I went to a Cleveland bar – apparently when everyone left Cleveland they took the bars with them – to watch the OSU-Michigan game. At the bar I sat next to an elderly woman who breathed through a portable apparatus. Naturally, she chain-smoked Camels the entire game. Not that she watched the game. She didn’t. She played video poker and drank beer for three hours while her husband chain-smoked right along with her. It was nine in the morning. They paid by check.
It would be easy to discount this woman as dim, but I prefer to think of her as a hero. If you only had months to live, and every breath you took came from the inside of a metal tank, would you stay in, eat bran, drink water and get plenty of exercise? Or would you take your Social Security check to the bar on Saturday?
Looking back on it, I should have bought her a beer.
As for the tournament itself, Ohio lost its opener 98-41 to Kansas. There was a point at the end of the second half where I thought we would pull within 50, but we let it slip away. After the game my brother and I congratulated a group of Kansas fans, who could not have been nicer. If you see a man with white hair over the age of 50, and he looks like a co-pilot, and he says things like “gosh,” odds are he is a Kansas basketball fan. My brother and I talked to a group of 5-6 Jayhawks outside the arena. They were with a little boy, maybe 10 years old. Seeing our green Ohio gear he looked up at us and said, “You guys stink.” We ignored him. Then he chimed in again. “You guys got your butts kicked. You stink.”
I knew we stunk. Everyone in the arena knew we stunk. I am pretty sure on the white board in the locker room our head coach wrote, “We stunk” and then walked right into a bank of lockers, through a wall and out of the building. This little punk showed no sportsmanship, no grace in victory, and his parents stood idly by.
So I bent down to his level and whispered, “You’re going to lose to Duke.”
His mouth dropped.
His mother said, “What did you say to my son?”
I said, “You’re going to lose to Duke.”
She said, “Don’t you dare say that.”
I laughed and said, “Well, you are.”
It was a good Teachable Moment.