It wasn't your typical Vegas bachelor party. Just a group of nice guys enjoying some time off. No strippers, no cocaine, no skirt-chasing or nightclubs. You know how they say whatever happens in Vegas stays in Vegas? There was nothing to leave there beyond an all-you-can-eat Indian buffet.
As we were walking down the Strip, I started talking to Chris, the father of a two-year-old. He didn't have that fanatical New Father Aura, nor the familiar dead look in his eyes; he seemed to be a healthy, happy guy with interests beyond his child. He was the first new father I'd met who was capable of talking about subjects other than strollers and sleep patterns and the color/consistency of bowel movements.
"If I ever get that way, kill me," I said. "I'll never-"
"Yes, you will," he shot back.
I was taken aback. "What?"
"You'll be that way too."
"Because that's what happens."
We walked past a crowd oohing and ahhing at a pirate ship on fire.
"Well, can I talk about other things besides my baby?"
"Am I allowed to read the paper?"
"Well, you can, but nothing in there will be as interesting as your baby."
We walked on in silence, my mind trying to get itself around this information. Later that night, I told him that if I ever thought I was in danger of turning into a terrible bore, I would just keep my mouth shut. He shrugged and said to check in with him again in a year.
There is a lot of talk about omens and superstitions during pregnancy. If the mother gets acne, it's going to be a girl, because girls steal their mother's beauty. If the mother is carrying the fetus low, it's a boy. If she eats a lot of kung pao in the first trimester, her child will have dark, straight hair. Things like that.
Superstitions rule Vegas too: people blow on their dice; dogs and bald men are bad luck; a hornytoad toenail is good luck. I remember seeing an article in the Weekly World News (so it has to be true) about casino superstitions, the funniest of which was a guy who threw a piece of candy on the floor every time he placed a bet. "He thinks the sweets will tempt the devil and he'll attack the candy and leave him alone," the casino boss said.
None of this crossed my mind in Vegas. There was some construction going on near the Fashion Mall, and I walked under a ladder. In this town, that's like strolling into a casino, opening up your wallet, and handing your ATM card to the nearest pit boss. (Which is pretty similar to what most people in Vegas do.)
Oblivious, I hit the blackjack tables. Before I knew it, I was up $241, more than I've ever won before. When I called Sarah from my room, to tell her the good news, she was less than enthused. "Remember," she said, "Every dollar you lose is a dollar we won't have to spend on the baby." Because I am weak, I marched back down to the same table, where I drank White Russians and kept playing. And winning. The next time I called Sarah, I was up $369.
But she had shocking news for me. Back in Chicago, our giant bathroom mirror, for no apparent reason, had fallen off the wall and crashed into thousands of shards of jagged glass, shards which were now imbedded in the wall, the floor, the sink, the bathtub. There were pieces of it in the toilet paper.
"That can't be a good omen," said Brad the Groom, visibly distancing himself from me when I told him. Whether he was talking about it with regards to gambling or pregnancy, I don't know, but for the next three hours I kept my money in my pocket spent and watched preseason football in the sports book at the Stardust.
Your wife is three months pregnant, you just walked under a ladder, and the biggest mirror in your apartment has spontaneously fallen off the wall and shattered: if ever there is a time to take signs and omens seriously, this is it. I alternated between wanting to fly back to Chicago so I could hold Sarah tight and tell her everything would be OK; and a nagging desire to lay down $50 on the Steelers/Texans game.
I laid the 50 on the Steelers.
They were only three-and-half-point favorites, and they were playing at home. It was a sure thing. As they kicked off and I sat down to watch, my chest felt tight. If I could win this bet, it would somehow cancel out the bathroom mirror. I But if I lost . . . When Brad materialized, I told him about the bet. "I can't believe you're still betting; you've got to be crazy," he said. "Besides, it's the preseason. The Steelers will take their starters out after the first quarter."
The air conditioning was blasting, and I was dripping in sweat.
That's where the drama ended. The Steelers won, 38-3. While men all around me threw their tickets on the floor, I collected my crisp bills -- two 20s and a 10 -- and flew home to my pregnant wife, overflowing with optimism based on absolutely nothing.