It's funny the things you remember when you're spending a night in a twenty-fifth floor hotel room in Vegas for a life-nit reason connected to “gift-wrap points” overlooking that structure that is absolutely not a “Ferris wheel” because, well, I forget. Vegas is classier than that? No idea.
And because you're spending a night in a twenty-fifth floor hotel room which does not include your cat, Louis, because Vegas hotels are really weird about cats (and Louis is equally weird about hotels), even though the The Linq, which you can see from your twenty-fifth floor window, maintains the old Imperial Palace dog “rest area” which is probably why, despite all the renovations, it still smells of pee, you cannot sleep.
Fortunately hotel rooms in Vegas include little note-pads and pens, so after I had carefully inscribed “All Hail Eris, All Hail Discordia,” in the book left behind by that Gideon dude, I got to scribbling. Which is what I do when I can't sleep, largely because I have a diagnosed mental health issue.
And the scribbling led to the memory of a promise.
Partly because of my diagnosed (by two independent mental health professionals and eight ex-girlfriends) mental health issue, I am the first to admit that my memory for details is both scant and susceptible to embellishment that typically casts me in a better light. So I somewhat indistinctly recall finding myself, somewhen around 2006, in an auditorium on the campus of the remarkably generic state university that sent me a monthly pay-check, with a guitar and no plan and sixty honors students.
I didn't really do plans from 2003-2007, possibly as a result of my diagnosed mental health issue; technically a “disorder” which is a term I am okay with since it dovetails nicely with the Eris business.
I suspect that the faculty coordinator for the honors program was either an anarchist or had simply decided that she couldn't take the shit anymore either, so that inviting the professor of astrophysics, who had recently seriously annoyed ADMIN (they think of themselves in block caps) by announcing God was a product of the insufferable hubris of humankind and saying “fuck” a lot in an interview in the city's leading indie newspaper, would help get her fired, thereby freeing her to do something useful with her life.
(People still think I'm making this up, but half-way through my “performance” the aforementioned faculty coordinator of the honors program left the auditorium to throw up, not because I am that bad on guitar but because she had recently become a future parent.)
So I'm in this auditorium with a guitar and all our 18-22 brains, who I check for brain-ness with a knock-knock thing:
And they all reply “to WHOM” so I guess they'd heard it, whatever, Jim, I was an astrophysicist not a stand-up comedian, you know. And so I'm planless and just talking to them and my ex-colleague is curled up in a nearby bathroom stall vomiting, and there's this energy because some of the kids have this look like maybe this is a bit off-the-rails and dangerous and conceivably what university was supposed to be about before those unspeakable bean-counters in ADMIN fucked it up, and other kids are ignoring me because they're figuring out how they're gonna get laid this weekend.
And I play four songs.
One is about gin and friends.
One is about a specific transgender friend of mine who was fatally stabbed.
And, yeah, I forget, I coulda done the one about my junkie girlfriend Jessica who smelled of death (that's not a metaphor, it's opiates) and probably... oh wait. It was “Waiters.” The song about one of the times I went mad.
Which I did periodically due to my mental health issue.
Anyway, everybody claps and I look around for Prof. Puking and this is the first time I notice she's not there, so I wish everyone happy feral cat awareness day and I guess we're done here.
And writing this now I realize it was rare days like these that made dealing with ADMIN and CURATORS and PROVOST'S OFFICE almost worth it because as I vaguely dismissed somebody else's honors class a handful of students coalesced around the podium where I was bolting my Taylor back in its shell and hung out for a while asking questions about everything from astrophysics to Marxism to my mental health issue to whether Johnny Marr was so fucking good with his fairground hands and unearthly riffs that he was living proof aliens had engineered some post-punk guitarists.
Then there is just one young man in front of me. And I realize we have the same eyes.
He asks me how many milligrams of Lamictal I am on a day and it turns out he is ramping up to the same target dose as me, but you have to be careful and go slow with the stuff because of Stevens-Johnson syndrome, and we laugh because like me he is constantly checking himself for rashes on the not unreasonable grounds they are an indicator for imminent death if you are one of the unfortunate 0.5%. And then he tells me he has been worrying he is not going to amount to anything, but today he discovers a tenured professor of astrophysics is in the same boat as him, and to be a tenured professor you must be doing pretty good, right?
I have this realization that of the sixty students today I have entertained maybe half of them and, right on the verge of leaving academia, I have helped one.
And I drive home and cry my eyes out because I am not strong enough to deal with that kind of responsibility.
Ten years later. I look out of the twenty-fifth floor window at that not-Ferris wheel and remember the promise. Cats. That's going okay. I'm helping them. But somewhere along the line I forgot the part about helping vulnerable people.
This post represents the beginning of my re-engagement with that process.
The next morning after three hours sleep and the knowledge that three hours sleep is exactly the sort of thing that aggravates my diagnosed mental health issue I leave my twenty-fifth floor hotel room for the elevator. It stops half way to the casino level and the doors swish open.
“Up or down?” asks a man in a suit and lanyard.
I explode into laughter.
The doors close.