Twelve Quick Updates from a Whirlwind of a Month

What an interesting — and busy! — few weeks it’s been.

  1. Las Vegas trip. I got back this past Monday from a two-night trek to Sin City to meet up with friends surrounding the Vegas Internet Mafia Family Picnic event. VIMFP is an annual confab featuring Vegas-focused podcasters and bloggers. Lots of attendees. Lots of fun. You can listen to me and Tony discuss my trip report on episode 290 of The Vice Lounge Online.
  2. Nicole’s wedding. My cousin Nicole married Corey on the 14th. Lovely wedding and reception. I wish them the very best for many years of wedded bliss!
  3. Horseshoe Hammond excursion. Tony and I trekked to Hammond, Indiana for a day trip to this lovely Caesars Entertainment casino on the outskirts of Chicago. Everything I touched seemed to turn to gold! You can hear the highlights in VLO’s episode 289.
  4. Essay contracted.  I’m pleased to announce that I’ve recently signed a publication agreement for a short essay, “A Moment of Clarity,” intended for publication in a volume titled Staying Catholic When You’ve Been Hurt in the Church. The book — edited by Eve Tushnet and published by Wipf and Stock Publishers — is currently in early production status.
  5. Brewed Awakenings 2 released. I’m delighted to share that Brewed Awakenings 2, the annual house anthology of Caffeinated Press, is now on the market. Buy your copy today to support local literary excellence! This collection features 15 stories by 14 different authors, ranging from just a few hundred words to more than 20k words; the stories cross genres and styles.
  6. Grayson Rising released. And speaking of releases, Grayson Rising also hit the market this month. This delightful YA novel, partially set in Grand Rapids, is the first major fiction release by local author AJ Powell. In fact, AJ hosted a small launch event at his place of employment that was well-attended and greatly enjoyed by those who dropped by.
  7. The 3288 Review, Vol. 2, Issue 1, released. And now the trifecta: We recently printed the fifth iteration of our quarterly journal of arts and letters. It’s a flourishing property that is already drawing attention across the state. Quite proud of it!
  8. NaNoWriMo is coming. November looms, and with it, National Novel Writing Month. I will participate again. I will also continue to host my Saturday-morning write-ins. I have a pretty good idea of what I want to write, a point I’ll expound upon in greater detail over the next few days. Let it suffice that I’ve developed a good skeleton for a literary novel augmented by some detective-genre conventions. The working title is The Catfish in the Shallows. Do not expect to see/hear much of me between 10/31 and 12/1!
  9. Site5 shenanigans. Although it didn’t affect this site, I had a world of trouble — as in, five days of unexpected downtime — with my longtime Web host, Site5. Outmigration is on the near-term horizon, unfortunately.
  10. Health quality glossary. Spent a fair amount of time recently as a subject-matter expert for NAHQ as we fine-tuned a comprehensive glossary of terms specific to quality improvement in healthcare. Much of this work entailed the alignment of definitions across existing products. Good intellectual exercise.
  11. SIP lines for Caffeinated Press. For years, the CafPress toll-free phone number (888-809-1686) went straight to a voice-mail box. I’ve now set us up with a SIP provider (i.e., a voice-over-Internet phone service) so our toll-free number actually rings in the office. I even have a desk phone, now, with my own extension and local number. Not that I actually use the phone much. But still. Progress.
  12. Outdoor kitties. A pair of felines have been lurking around my house. One of them has a home, and I’ve ensured that she’s been returned to it. The other — a fluffy black tabby, neutered, and sweet as molasses — keeps visiting. He likes it when I give him some Meow Mix. So I do. So far, he looks like he’s in good shape: his coat is fine, he looks well cared-for, his weight seems constant. I’ll keep my eyes peeled for signs of neglect as the cold-weather season sets in. I get the feeling he’s someone’s cat and that he might be an indoor/outdoor dude.

All for now.

Bells, Bells, Bells

Bell #1: Wedding.  Today I was privileged to attend the wedding of Brian and Liz at a lovely church in Holland, Mich. The ceremony began at 11 and started auspiciously: The couple rickrolled their guests by having the string quartet intersperse a few Astley measures after the canonical opening of The Wedding March.  Adam leaned forward and said, “Dude, were we just rickrolled?” Yes, Adam. Yes we were.

The pastor was also the bride’s father, which provided both emotional contrast and occasional bouts of levity (like when he ostentatiously switched places with himself to give the bride away). In any case, the ceremony was lovely, Liz’s dress was gorgeous and Brian comported himself well. The post-wedding luncheon included some games, a gorgeous performance of Songbird by Cassidy and excellent sweet tea. (Seriously. As many times as I’ve been served tea at various functions, no one has prepared it as well as the caterer for this wedding.)

Several members of our writer’s group attended the ceremony; the “other” Jason, Mel, Cassidy, Tabby/Richard, Jen, Adam/Ashley, Brittany/Steve and Lianne/person.

Best wishes to Brian and Liz as they begin their life together as husband and wife.

Bell #2: Casino Winnings.  Last weekend Tony and I spent two nights at Caesar’s Windsor on a comp; ostensibly, we did our “Best Year Yet” planning but we also found time to enjoy a few authentic Cuban cigars (over-rated), imbibe adult beverages (too expensive for too little alcohol) and enjoy delicious food (Nero’s steakhouse is fantastic). In addition, we managed to run about $10k through on my card one night, at a total net loss of only maybe $60. So it turned out really well. We left on Friday, with a pit stop in Okemos to grab a few Davidoff Maduros from The Corona and a reduced-cost hour-long table massage for me. The trip to Windsor was routine. The Caesar’s Windsor complex is nice — it’d be an upper-middle tier property on the Strip, I think — and the Canadians were unfailingly polite. Mix perfect weather, cigars along the Detroit river, tasty food and some productive work, and the three-day weekend was time well spent.

Bell #3: Workplace Chinese Firedrill.  Two weeks ago, my department was unceremoniously dissolved; the nine of us have been scattered to the four winds. ‘Tis a time of great uncertainty, requiring some deep thought about one’s options.

The Wedding of Tony and Jen

My dear friends Tony and Jen celebrated their nuptials last Sunday, April 17, at 1 p.m. PDT at the Las Vegas Country Club. I was privileged to be a part of that blessed event and the activities surrounding it. As my way of helping to preserve and honor the memory of the occasion, I shall transcribe the details to record.


I’ve known Tony for nearly 14 years. We met at Western Michigan University; we served together in the student government and in the College Republicans. I have been acquainted with Jen for nearly as long — I first met her when she was “studio support” while Tony and I filmed Love Chat, a call-in cable-access TV program in Kalamazoo. Although I didn’t know Jen nearly as well at first, I’ve gotten to know her much better in the last few years; she is a first-class lady and Tony is very lucky to be marrying up. On a personal front, I’m happy that I can consider this union as “my friends Tony and Jen got married to each other” rather than “my friend Tony got married to some blonde chick with a nice rack.”

Tony and Jen dated three times over a decade or so. The third time was apparently the charm. Although the happy couple had talked marriage for nearly a year, Tony finally bought the ring and popped the question about six months ago, when the two of them went to Las Vegas for a mini-vacation.


Thursday, April 14. Arrival Day. Tony, Jen, Tony’s parents Ken and Cindy, Jen’s brother Joe, Jen’s mother Barb and her escort Mike, and I all arrived in town at varying times on Thursday the 14th. I left Grand Rapids at 1 p.m. EDT, arriving in Las Vegas at 3:15 p.m. PDT with the briefest of layovers in Minneapolis. When I got to town, I shuttled to the Stratosphere (where I spent the next five nights) and got settled. After that, I walked down the Strip to Caesar’s Palace to connect with Tony and his parents. From there, we walked to the Mirage, where everyone who was in town for the wedding assembled for dinner at the buffet. After that, a group of us went to the bar on the gaming floor at TI for drinks; Tony and I played video poker, enjoyed a cigar and sipped Scotch at the bar. Then Tony promised to drive me back to the Strat but sneakily shoved me in a cab instead.

Friday, April 15. Party Day. I took the monorail from Sahara to Harrah’s and enjoyed Harrah’s buffet breakfast with Tony and Joe. Then we traded Joe for Jen  and ran errands in Tony’s giant boat of a Crown Vic Police Interceptor — including taking me back to McCarran to get my own rental car, a Hyundai Sonata, and grabbing a few bottles of wine and some distilled water. Then we met Emilie and Jon and her parents John and Susan at the airport and drove them to Treasure Island for their check-in. After that, Tony and Jen obtained their marriage license and took engagement photos while Emilie, Jon, Susan, John and I went to Kahunaville at TI for drinks and snacks as a lead-in to a formal dinner for the entire wedding party at BOA Steakhouse in Caesar’s Forum Shoppes.

Dinner at BOA included the bride and groom, Ken and Cindy, Barb and Mike, Jon and Emilie, John and Susan, Tony’s friends John and Maliegh, Jen’s friend Heidi,  Jen’s friends Cary and Deb, and Joe and I. I had a delicious petite filet mignon with sauteed mushrooms and herbed potatoes. Joe had a filet and a lobster tail the size of his head.

The wedding party split after dinner; Emilie coordinated the bachelorette party (after having her carefully laid plans thwarted by the clock, she recovered with quiet and skillful dignity) while Tony, Joe, Jon and I split off for the bachelor party. We ended up hoofing it to KGB for drinks (best. White Russian. evah!) then checked out the bars at the new Cosmopolitan. Cosmo was pretty but stuffed to the gills with Jersey Shore-style clientele, so we ended up making a gambling-and-drinking circuit among Bally’s, Flamingo and Imperial Palace. The IP is Tony’s favorite casino for reasons that remain unclear to the rest of us. Amidst our travels, we did have to hop a fence and walk into oncoming traffic, but the razor-sharp steel on top of the fences did not snag anyone’s testicles (yay). We returned to our respective hotels by 4:15 a.m. PDT, having outlasted the women by a comfortable margin.

Saturday, April 16.  Recovery Day. Tony and I had a fabulous buffet breakfast at the Wicked Spoon at the Cosmopolitan — notable for the extraordinarily high quality of the bacon. Then we hoofed it to Bally’s for a video poker marathon. Unfortunately, neither of us hit the Royal, but we tried; we did, however, enjoy some quality time smoking Cuestra Rey cigars, drinking Bacardi-and-diets and gambling. When we tired of offering sacrifices to the gambling gods, Tony and I picked up Jen, Emilie and Joe and drove to the Las Vegas Country Club for the wedding rehearsal (I got to play the priest). When rehearsal was complete, we ate at the BLT Burger at Mirage (having swapped Emilie for Heidi) for delicious burgers and beer, then did some light gambling at Mirage before calling it a night a bit early.

Sunday, April 17. Wedding Day. I picked up Jon and drove us to Mandalay Bay. Tony and Joe surprised us by being five minutes early, then Tony treated “the guys” to brunch at the buffet then took us to The Art of Shaving for a royal shave — his gift to us. The royal shave is a 45-minute experience complete with two passes of a straight-edge razor, a facial mask, a massage and multiple hot and cold towel compresses. I picked up a handful of Davidoff 2000s as a gift to Tony. Then Jon and I picked up John and Susan and we proceeded apace to LVCC for the wedding.

The ceremony itself was beautiful. There were 15 guests in addition to the bride and groom and Joe and Emilie (best man and matron of honor). I was thrilled to sit in the front row with Tony’s parents, cracking jokes with Cindy and escorting her in her high heels down the steep grass embankment for the posed photos. Fr. St. John offered the short form of the wedding ceremony, then we had photos and then dinner. The salmon was baked to perfection — a truly delicious wedding meal. The folks at the Las Vegas Country Club did a great job, and Jesus with his absurdly long trilled Rs provided excellent table service. The string quartet was fabulous and the photographer (a high-energy skinny-jeans dude named Jason) had a great set of people skills and a decent eye for framed shots.

After the wedding I took Jon, Emilie, John and Susan back to TI, where we enjoyed some cocktails at TI’s Breeze Bar before changing and heading to the Venetian for a wine reception in Tony and Jen’s room. Their suite was larger than many two-bedroom apartments and luxuriously appointed with a great view of the Strip. I served as bartender that evening but made a measly $10 in tips. Guests included the newlyweds, Jon and Emilie, Ken and Cindy, Barb and Mike, Emilie and Jon and Joe and I — and I managed to snap some decent photos of the reception between uncorkings and topping off glasses. We ended up skipping a planned dinner at Delmonico’s in favor of heading as a group to Imperial Palace for karaoke and adult beverages. IP was a great time (it can be hit or miss) and I even managed to break my karaoke cherry by singing Kenny Rogers to Tony’s Dolly Parton for Islands in the Stream. We looked like idiots but after enough Bacardi-and-diets you don’t much care. Tony also got Emilie up on stage for Gypsies, Tramps and Thieves. We stayed there until the karaoke closed at 1 a.m. PDT; the whole group except Tony’s parents and John and the four-months-pregnant Maliegh attended.

Monday, April 18. Vacation Day. I picked up Emilie’s dad at 9:30 a.m. and we drove to the Hoover Dam for the full dam tour. It was a great day for it — and John has a delightful sense of humor. He paid my admission and I bought us Burger King afterwards. I’m glad we were able to get away for a nice chunk of the day.  Then I spent less than an hour with Tony and Jen, wandering the gaming floor of the Venetian, before heading back to Stratosphere for a nap, dinner, packing and the acquisition of souvenirs for the folks back home.

Tuesday, April 19. Travel Day. My flight left McCarran at 7 a.m. PDT. I got up at 4, showered and returned the Sonata. The travel experience was mostly smooth and painless. No long waits, except in Minneapolis; the outbound plane to Grand Rapids was delayed coming into MSP, so I had an extra 75-minute pause. That said, the flight to G.R. was empty enough that the flight attendant let me move to an exit-row window seat, with the entire row to myself. Got back around 5 p.m. EDT and took The Rapid back home. Made a quick Meijer trip for groceries then settled down to watch TV and eat before going to bed around 10:30 p.m. EDT.


No chronology would be complete without a bit of supplementary analysis. Here you go:

Wedding.  The ceremony and everything about it was beautiful. The bride’s dress was elegant, the setting was perfect (and we spent a good deal of time outside despite the 93 F temperatures) and the service of the LVCC staff was impeccable. Being invited to attend a small wedding is a high honor, and being seated next to the groom’s mother for a front-row seat increased my level of privilege. Emilie and Joe performed their respective tasks as matron and best man with great skill and high success.

Stratosphere. In retrospect, booking the Strat was a mistake. Although the distance from TI/Venetian wasn’t an issue, the fact that a big chunk of the distance between them was a no-mans land of homeless people and construction didn’t help. I was not impressed by the Stratosphere. The gaming floor was nice, but the room was interchangeable with any mid-market Holiday Inn. The shops and bars there were decidedly downmarket (Hello? Auntie Annie’s Pretzels?) and I think I heard more people talking in Russian and German than in English. I can’t imagine why the Strat would be a destination hotel/casino on the Strip, and with the soon-to-be-closing of the Sahara, I don’t think the future looks too bright for this icon of Las Vegas Boulevard. That said, I was only there to sleep and shower, and I had a car, so my accommodations did not distract from my enjoyment of the Las Vegas Wedding Extravaganza.

Driving. No doubt about it — renting a car is the way to go in Sin City. You can valet for free everywhere. As long as you are smart enough to avoid driving directly on the Strip (using Paradise Road for most north/south travel worked well for me) you can get places quickly and easily. Just be sure you and your vehicle are capable of aggressive driving. Safe, slow drivers will be shot on sight, or locked forever at a curb with their turn signal blinking uselessly.

Fashion. You can spot the Eastern European tourists — they are typically dressed in some sort of high fashion, but at least one thing is just off. Like the Diesel jeans hiked too high, or the odd choice of sunglasses, or curious color pairings. In West Michigan, youth culture favors athletic wear or the Abercrombie/Hollister brands, but in Vegas you could go for hours without seeing anyone who dressed like a Michigan native. Vegas social apparel tends to be much more urban trendy than anything you’ll see at a bar or club in Grand Rapids or Lansing. Also, you see many more tattoos on the guys — I daresay a decent majority of men under 40 sported ink in some way — and significant female tattooing was frequent enough to be unremarkable.

Dining. Eating in Vegas requires elastic-waistband pants. Although we mostly did buffet — Tony’s favorite — there are plenty of fine restaurants and cigar bars on the Strip that offer excellent food at a decent price. I think I gained five pounds on a five-night trip.

Nightlife. Vegas night life is heavily centered on upscale nightclubs. One night, we passed the entrance line for Tao at the Venetian. The line was probably 300 people deep, and they were mostly dressed identically — revealing black cocktail dresses on the women, $1,000 outfits on the men, and not a single fatty in sight. There wasn’t a large amount of diversity on the Strip; buff, horny young men hitting on slender, slightly slutty women was the overwhelming paradigm. No real themed clubs — no cowboy bars, no leather bars, no gay bars. Yes, they exist, but you need to search for them; the Vegas Strip clearly caters to upscale young heterosexuals who like urban DJ spins.

Now that I have nattered on for 2,100 words, it’s time to abide. The Vegas Wedding is over; a good time was had by all, and I made it back safe. Success!

Tony and Jen: Congratulations. And thanks for letting me be a part of your wedding and your life.