Sunday, August 31, 2008

Liza in the Bottomless Pit of Appalling

There's no real way to back into this, so I'll just say it:

Last night I spent an evening at The Horseshoe Casino in Hammond, Indiana attending a concert by Ms. Liza Minnelli.

It began way back when B-- bought George Carlin tickets as a present for her father; the tickets arrived the day George died.

"And then I realized," B said, "that these people are not going to be around forever."

Thus began a "See Them Before They Die" campaign, and when R, B's gay friend, suggested Liza, we thought, when else would we:

a. Go to a casino
b. Go to Hammond, Indiana
c. See Liza Minnelli.

Sure, we said. Life is short. B and her husband paid for my ticket as my birthday present, although he did not attend (He somehow felt that Liza's concert was in some way responsible for George Carlin's death, or, as I put it, he was going through a bad case of Hilary Supporter.)

We discussed possible pantsuits, lamé outfits, sequins and rhinestones. Fake eyelashes, lots of blush.

The afternoon of the show I called B.

"I'm wearing this very thin-fabric nod-to-Bob-Mackie thing. No bra, plunging neckline, slanted hemline; I think this will be the last year I can realistically wear it. I'm coupling it with the largest double-hoop earrings I own. "

"I'm wearing jeans and a slutty top," said B.

We were having fun with it. Then the mailman rang my buzzer with a package, and when I went down and found myself feeling profoundly uncomfortable being seen in my getup by the mailman, I knew I'd never make a whole night. It's not that I was worried what the people of Hammond might think; it was rather that I worried I'd fit in.

I changed into a black dress, looser, still plunging neckline, still no bra. Kept the hoops, and then realized there may be too much A/C and threw on a jean jacket. Kind of Peter Paul and Mary meets Chaka Khan.

We left very early to give us plenty of time to find the casino - R picked me up and we then got B. R had not gotten great directions, and I held the Mapquest sheets in my lap.

Two hours and four stops for directions later (there is nothing so infuriating as being told "Oh, you just go straight ahead and you cant' miss it," when what they mean is, "You go straight ahead through four towns and then you can't miss it.")

We drove through Indiana, beaten into silence by the desolation. Northwestern Indiana is one of the saddest places I've ever been. We went through Gary and Whiting, abandoned building after abandoned building broken by occasional liquor stores; these, along with bait and tackle shops, were among the few business still hanging on.

Then we saw the huge, gaudy sign for the casino and got ourselves into the parking garage.

We took the elevator down to the casino where we went through an ID check.

"You are young enough to be my child, but if you think I need to have my ID checked, that's fine with me, " I said to the young man at the podium. "Can I get my picture taken with you?"

I reached for my purse, but he said anxiously, "No, no cameras. Don't even take it out or they'll take it away form you. Really, I mean it. Be careful."

He looked around nervously at where I presume the hidden cameras were, and I assured him I'd keep the camera inside my bag. He looked terrified.

We entered a huge room full of video slot machines in front of which sat obese people in cheap clothes and horrible hair. Instead of the traditional ching-ching, each machine gave off its own melody. All the melodies seemed to have been created to layer upon each other in a harmonious whole; the end result was a constant musical sort of hum reminiscent of Close Encounters of The Third Kind.

"This noise is freaking my shit out," I said to B.

"These people are freaking my shit out," she replied. B, like me, is dumbfounded by the gambling urge.

Nobody in the entire place was smiling.

The three of us were hungry so we checked out the various food outlets, strategically located to provide maximum exposure to the casino. Up stairs, along walkways, escalators, we searched for food. Past more ID checks where young women with plastic hair and nails randomly decided whether we needed to be screened.

The steakhouse had entrees in the $50 range, with salads at $20. No.

The Village Buffet looked more promising, but as we stood in a line similar to security at the airport, R went on reconnaissance and discovered the line went on forever. B and I stood among people who looked patently poor, and whose tickets indicated they were frequent visitors.

We finally went to a smallish food court, and after checking the Chinese counter and seeing nothing vegetarian, I got in line at Benny's Home Cooking, with R behind me. I looked at the menu of pot roast, ribs, and three kinds of chicken over to the side orders and tried to settle on something that looked the most immune to bacterial overgrowth.

Here's how it works at Benny's:

Stand in line. Wait while the party of three in front of you decides to become very picky about what they're going to get, and how much they will get for their money. Watch their reaction upon being told there is no pot roast, and their clear expectation that if they make enough of a fuss one of the hairnetted teenagers behind the counter will pull a pan out of her ass.

While this is happening, see the 300-lb. woman waddle up to the counter and interrupt the proceedings, telling the young woman behind the counter that her macaroni and cheese she'd completely polished off was very unsatisfactory, and she'd like something else.

Now one of the women in the party of three complains because she hasn't placed her order and has a bus to catch. She will then proceed to ask a million questions about the food, clearly hoping to get something for free.

Realize that being in the poverty line has not stopped these people from paying for a bus ticket to a casino where they will throw away money they can't afford but will act like they are being robbed if they only get two chicken wings with their order.

I contented myself with counting filthy wigs, and I realized this was an Inferno-esque vision of Obama's America: Black and White brought together under the common banner of horrible clothing, appalling wigs, obesity, and pure bottomless trashiness.

We sat at a table that B had jumped on for us. R had gotten a side of broccoli and cheese, which floated in a half-cup of water. My mac and cheese was pretty good, as was the corn, but it wasn't exactly the kind of dinner one associates with a night on the town.

B proclaimed her soup from the Chinese concession very good, leading us to the observation that once again the Chinese are kicking our ass.

I went up to get some salt and pepper by the pick -up counter of Benny's and saw two 30-something men standing nervously, waiting for their order. I took in their neatly pressed shirts, clean trousers, nice haircuts and designer glasses.

"Liza?" I asked. They nodded.
"Yeah. I thought you might be fellow travelers. God knows I didn't come here for the food."

Truly, it was just awful. The worst mall food court was The Ritz compared to this. The thing is, the casino was bright and clean and decently kept; it was the people who were appalling.

We went to the theater, where we had seats in the front row of the balcony.

The show was great. Liza is old school, amazingly vibrant and adorable, and we all loved her. She made jokes about her battle with booze and pills, and her divorces. I was impressed by her in a way I wasn't expecting, and I was very glad I'd seen her. During one of her costume changes the 12-piece band had its shining number where each member got a solo projected onto the screen for those of us farther away. They were all men in their 40s and 50s, dressed in suit jackets and ties.

"I love that the band members look like Teamsters," B said.

Afterward, R wanted to gamble for 15 minutes, so B and I stood and looked around at the machines. B noticed a woman whose credit card was connected to her purse by a lanyard, and was stuck into a machine.

"Good Lord, it's the Borg collective," I whispered.

"Why don't these people go see a show, go out to dinner, take up something useful?" B wondered. "Wait, I think I've just become blinded by the Miss Teen America Whore of The Year outfits the barely-legal waitresses are wearing."

"The outfits don't really do much for the tattoos."

I was aching to take out my camera and capture a shot of the Sea of Appalling, but I didn't want to risk losing my camera. Not for this. I'd risk a camera grab if I'd captured a cop beating someone senseless; I wouldn't risk it to catch five morbidly obese people staring blankly at a spinning screen.

R insisted we play one round of $5.00 slot machine. We obliged him and pulled the lever the two times we got for our money.

"Oh, darn. It didn't hit," I said.

"Yeah. Shocker, that," deadpanned B.

"But look! We were sooooooooo close," I deadpanned back. "We should do it again."

"Yeah." And with that, we left.

Waiting for the elevator, we saw a young couple exit, she stomping ahead of him, telling him loudly that he was a Pussy Ass.

"No one is a Pussy Ass as much as you," she snarled, stomping through the hall, he following behind, obviously embarrassed by her behavior.

She continued in this fashion out the door and onto the ramp outside, her loudly repeated declarations of his Pussy Ass-ness audible through the glass.

I turned to B and R. "And I can't get a date."

"He'll propose to her tonight," B predicted.

We speculated on what would make someone a Pussy Ass at a casino. A sane measure of restraint?

We left with the masses, and discovered that it took 40 minutes to get back. We had been so lost on the way.

"Well," B pointed out, "it's not like we really need to remember how to get back."

True. Holy God.

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