LUCKY MAN

KNOW­ING WHAT THINGS ARE WORTH IN LAS VE­GAS

Sharp - - CONTENTS - By Ben Ka­plan, with foot­notes from Lester Ka­plan, his dad

Ben Ka­plan goes to Ve­gas with his dad, rents a con­vert­ible Lam­borgh­ini, and dis­cov­ers what it means to be alive and well in the city of lights.

If you’re go­ing to take a shvitz with some­one — I mean Hall of Fame sauna choices — you might choose Leonard Co­hen, Christo­pher Plum­mer, or Morde­cai Rich­ler. Or my dad. Naked on a towel, it’s best to sit be­side some­one wise, ego­less, and worth lis­ten­ing to. In a sauna, there’s no es­cape from con­ver­sa­tion, and when that lit­tle room gets hot and the con­ver­sa­tion goes deep, my dad, like any hero, gets philo­soph­i­cal. At 70, he’s been up and down and back up again, but he re­mains hand­some, col­lected, and funny, not to men­tion a never-end­ing font of pro­fes­so­rial wis­dom. (It helps that he’s a pro­fes­sor, as well as a shrink.) Some­times, when I’m run­ning around chas­ing the chaos of rais­ing a three- and a six-year-old, I play my dad’s voice in my head, and the world makes a lit­tle more sense again.

But he lives in Mary­land and I live in Toronto. I have about as much op­por­tu­nity to take a shvitz with him as I do with Christo­pher Plum­mer, which is why I look for­ward to our an­nual fa­ther-son va­ca­tions.

It’s been a thing, these last six or eight years, tak­ing trips with my dad on his birth­day. He makes it seem like the trips are for him, but I can’t un­der­stand my life some­times — mar­riage, fa­ther­hood, death and dis­ease — and the trips have be­come my lifeblood. Last year, our trip was can­celled when my sis­ter-in-law got sick. This year I need it, to breathe some air not con­tam­i­nated by grief. We’ve been all over the con­ti­nent, to the Ba­hamas, Ja­maica, At­lantic City. But we keep com­ing back to Las Ve­gas — a desert amuse­ment park that’s as sauna-like as you can get with­out tak­ing your clothes off — for the weather and the rush. It’s a place that works for us. It’s where we go when we want to hide.

Turns out my dad is also a good guy to have by your side in Ve­gas. He has no agenda, no di­etary re­stric­tions; he goes with the flow and is good about pick­ing up the cab fare be­tween ho­tels when his back starts to hurt and he can no longer walk.

I learn from my fa­ther — last trip, at the buf­fet at the Vene­tian, he had a last round of Pek­ing duck for dessert and hit at 16 play­ing black­jack when the dealer was show­ing a queen. He’s al­ways telling strangers he’s proud of me.

The first thing we do in Ve­gas is get some­thing to eat. STK, in the Cos­mopoli­tan Ho­tel, is more night­club than res­tau­rant. It’s not a strip club, though they seem to pay such es­tab­lish­ments an up­scale homage: the mu­sic is loud, the lights are low, and a sweet per­fume scent hangs in the air. We’re at a ta­ble the size of a match­book in the un­der­arm of the bar, and my fa­ther says he can’t hear. He doesn’t look com­fort­able — big­ger than his chair, he looks like Papa Bear in Baby Bear’s Bed.

The prob­lem is I’m ex­hausted, and STK feels in­tense. Ev­ery­one in the res­tau­rant looks like Young Thug or Selena Gomez. I used to see my­self as Steph Curry; when did I be­come Ray Ro­mano? At 43, I groan when I take a seat and ex­hale loudly af­ter a sip of cof­fee. At our tiny STK ta­ble, I can see my dad’s lips move but have no clue what he’s say­ing. When a wait­ress rushes past us, ig­nor­ing my whim­per (“mar­tini?”), I feel a mil­lion years old, ready to watch Sport­scen­ter, or­der a room-ser­vice burger and call it a night. How can my fa­ther feel?

My dad speaks to some­one calmly, which is strange be­cause the house mu­sic is so loud, but then this hap­pens: we’re es­corted up a flight of stairs to an el­e­vated black leather booth where we pro­ceed to do Ve­gas the right way, with lob­ster tail, mar­ti­nis, and an off-menu rib cap. The man has ac­cli­mated him­self to the bac­cha­na­lia, and I keep my arm around him for most of our meal. I don’t even re­mem­ber first putting it there; I just know I don’t move it af­ter I do. Then, af­ter I go to bed, Lester Ka­plan, be­spec­ta­cled and wear­ing clothes my mom packed for him, wins two grand play­ing craps.

This year, I plan the trip in metic­u­lous de­tail. Be­fore leav­ing, my dad and I get hair­cuts; we get match­ing brown leather Nike Cortez shoes, and my mom slips my dad a sur­prise $300. The plan­ning ses­sions, which start in Novem­ber, es­ca­late in in­ten­sity and ex­cite­ment un­til we’re lit­er­ally Face­tim­ing our suit­cases the night be­fore, shar­ing what we plan to bring.

But when we ar­rive, I give my wife, Julie, my dad’s cell­phone num­ber and keep my phone turned off in a drawer in our room at the Aria Ho­tel

With my dad around, I can rest. As we walk from de­light to de­light in ho­tels the size of shop­ping malls, my dad says, “UFB,” which means, of course, “un­fuck­ing be­liev­able.” And Las Ve­gas, af­ter all this time, still is: the Sports Book at Cae­sar’s Palace; roasted merino lamb at Sage; Rich Lit­tle, Cana­dian veteran of the Dean Martin roasts, at the Trop­i­cana Ho­tel. These things, en­joyed best with my fa­ther and a glass of any­thing, re­ally are UFB.

My mom was go­ing to sur­prise my dad with a ride to the air­port in a Maserati, but I told her that was a waste of money. Who wants to sit in the back­seat of a sports car? Be­sides, I have some­thing bet­ter in mind when we’re there. It’s Day Two of the trip and I’m driv­ing a yel­low Lam­borgh­ini Hu­racán with the roof off be­hind my fa­ther, who’s in a red Fer­rari 458 Spi­der, giv­ing me the thumb’s up sign through his con­vert­ible as we sit in traf­fic on the Strip.

We rented the cars from Ex­otic Driv­ing Ex­pe­ri­ences and are sup­posed to be driv­ing around Lake Mead in south­east­ern Ne­vada, but there was a mix-up and we no longer have time — we can’t miss a meal — so in­stead we take a lap around Las Ve­gas Boule­vard, our scalps siz­zling in the sun. It wasn’t al­ways like this. Six months ago, my dad hurt his back and couldn’t walk. The pinkie fin­ger on my right hand is crooked from punch­ing the wall. Some­times life is hard, but not to­day. Neil Di­a­mond

comes on my ra­dio, my dad can’t fig­ure out how to turn off his blinker, and I’m ra­di­at­ing like the sun.

I keep think­ing that in 15 years, my boy Matthew, named af­ter my dad’s dad, will be 18 and my dad will be 85. If my kid wants to spend time with me, I’ll have lived a suc­cess­ful life. Sit­ting here in traf­fic, idling my Lam­borgh­ini, try­ing not to make eye con­tact with the home­less guy yelling at me, I can imag­ine Matthew in a green Alfa Romeo be­hind me, me be­hind my fa­ther — three gen­er­a­tions — and I can imag­ine Matthew laugh­ing at me when my wind­shield wipers won’t turn off. To feel loved. Sup­ported. Grow­ing up, I took that for granted. Even when he’s gone, I tell him, it will be like he’s still here be­cause I can feel him in my bones. 8.

The rest of our week­end is spent on large meals, March Mad­ness, and dress­ing up for ev­ery­thing. Friends from Los An­ge­les pride them­selves on dress­ing like schlubs in Ve­gas, and it’s true that you can play craps and eat steak in Crocs here with­out any­one bat­ting an eye. But I like act­ing the part — Frank Si­na­tra, The Killers, Swingers, the mob. At the Dorsey mar­tini bar at the Wynne Ho­tel, I don’t want to dress like I’m pick­ing up my daugh­ter from day­care.

Satur­day night, my dad’s 70th birth­day, I’m wear­ing a skintight checker­board suit in tones of ca­nary and aqua at Cae­sar’s Palace and singing along at the Rod Stew­art show. I buy us a cou­ple of Heinekens (with dad’s cash, but still) and we stand for much more of the show than you might ex­pect. The au­di­ence around us is en­tirely women, and through­out the con­cert my dad, flex­ing his charm, makes them all laugh. Life is good.

We end the night at the Mon­te­cristo Cigar Bar talk­ing bull­shit with the man­ager as he brings out a bot­tle of Bal­ve­nie and dad has a Padron Da­maso cigar even with his asthma. When I first men­tioned the idea of this trip to my fa­ther, he booked his ticket, and when Julie calls to wish him a happy birth­day, he tells her that I said I wish she were here (which is true). Some­times a bar, as a man well knows, can be like a sauna — a place to seek out life’s mean­ing — and, wav­ing our cigars and sip­ping our Scotch, I ask my dad what’s the best way to be a hus­band, raise a fam­ily, be a fa­ther, be a man. He says the trick to life is en­joy­ing the mo­ment. Ev­ery­one’s go­ing to die, but are you alive, right now, while you’re here? Be ap­pre­cia­tive, man­age ex­pec­ta­tions, he says, and speak clearly when it’s time to raise your voice. I’ve learned from my fa­ther, in Las Ve­gas and also at home, be­ing a man means max­i­miz­ing and cre­at­ing op­por­tu­ni­ties, with­out scream­ing, for our wives, for our chil­dren, for our peo­ple, for our­selves. I take an­other to­tally un­nec­es­sary, to­tally de­li­cious sip of my drink and lis­ten.

My dad and I like to go to Las Ve­gas. And this trip, well, maybe he knew that I needed it bad. On the day we were leav­ing, the morn­ing af­ter cel­e­brat­ing his birth­day at STK, my fa­ther split his win­nings with me. 9.

7. Ex­cept for the stares of walp­keionpgleby, driv­ing a Fer­rari in traf­fic is the same as adr­pirvi­iunsg. 8. He loves thtaot tset­lolry but­telilik­negep him: I’m still here. 9t.heon­beesotf trips of my life. o6n.e Boefn tihse cheap­est peo­ple I’ve ever met.

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