The Things At Which I Have Failed

Life is essentially a cheat and its conditions are those of defeat, and that the redeeming

Mom wanted me to be piano player. Got me lessons and everything. Failed miserably. (No talent/no coordination was a big issue.) Not having any of her children take to the piano (something she has loved and played her entire life – Chopin, Grieg, Mendelssohn, etc.) probably broke my mom’s heart a little bit. I’m sorry, Mom, but I sucked at piano. Wouldn’t have been any good if my life had depended on it.

Guitar, in my day, was something every 14 year old wanted to learn — the Beatles and all that — but I flamed out there as well (that pesky no talent thing again).

Then it was acting. Caught the acting bug big time in high school. Appeared in a few plays, auditioned, memorized lines, the works. Took the infection with me to college and quickly insinuated myself into the theatre department. Good looks and a big voice couldn’t compensate for other insecurities (and the nagging feeling I was destined to be the fifth most talented actor in any cast), so dreams of a career on stage were quickly dashed.

Before there was piano, guitar, and acting, though, there was baseball.

Baseball broke my heart. Big time. I loved baseball with an unbridled joy that only a little boy can have. Poured over box scores like an Ebbets Field bleacher bum. Bought book (books!?) on how to play, throw, hit, and run the bases. Played Little League insofar as I could throw the ball over the plate with reasonable consistency and once struck out Nelson Burchfield and Grady Cooksey (the Mickey Mantle and Roger Maris of Floridian fifth-graders) in the same inning. (That I can still remember this tells you something.)

I’ve never been a guy’s guy, but the closest I ever got was probably springtime in the early 1960s on a weedy, shitty, sand-spur-plagued ball field field in Central Florida shagging fly balls with a bunch of smelly ten-year olds pretending to be Willie Mays, or, in my case, Roberto Clemente.

But I was terrible at it — small, slow, stiff, afraid of ground balls and barely better on fly ones. Turned out that throwing was the only thing I could do.

Disappointing, right? But you grow up and get over it. Compared to marriage, my failings at baseball look like I went 1-for-4 against Sandy Koufax.

With baseball, at least I got in the game; with marriage, I always had one foot out the door. That is, until recently. At this point in my life I am too old to have one foot out the door. Sucking at marriage is a young man’s game. At this point, I am too old to suck at marriage.

I failed French three times in school. Tried to learn it three more over as many decades. I’m awful at French even though I love the country, the people, the wine and the food. Thankfully, the French have caught up to my sucking at their language and now many of them speak English. Thank you, French.

I tried out for the swimming team in Ninth Grade. They made me the manager so I wouldn’t get in the water.

Didn’t you hear? I was supposed to be a big television star on the Travel Channel eight years ago. That’s okay, no one else did either.

To excel at drug addiction, you have to practice, practice, practice. Drugs are great (after all, they make you feel better right now), but you have to fully commit.

I tried (mostly after my various marriages imploded), but I kept wimping out. Monday morning would roll around after some lost weekend and there I would be: brushing my teeth, shaving and choosing a necktie — a real pansy-ass who didn’t have the right stuff. Ruining your life is a full-time job — shoulder-to-the wheel-stuff and all that — and as with baseball, French, and music, I didn’t have what it takes.

But at least I gave it my best shot.

I’m not ashamed of being a failed lawyer: in fact, I’m pretty proud of it. The law is bullshit codified. Arcana for arcana’s sake in service of a racket — a racket, BTW I was knee-deep in for 33 years.

I got into law thinking it was a noble profession. Four decades later I see it as a system manipulated by the privileged few, far removed from the lofty profession seductively portrayed to me by Benjamin Cardozo and Oliver Wendell Holmes.

Had I remained a criminal lawyer (where I cut my teeth for ten years), I might not have such a jaundiced view. But instead I entered the realm of civil law (thinking it was an upgrade), where you spend your days in the service of one group of rich assholes trying to take advantage of another group of rich anal fissures. As a result, you become a money-obsessed hemorrhoid yourself. Good times.

That’s what I am today: a failed asshole lawyer….because I was never devoted enough to become the worst person I could be.

Finally, there’s politics — something I dipped my toe into after being shown the door by one of those civil law firms I misfit into. My foray was brief (only a five-month campaign for judge), but instructive. You learn a lot about yourself and your community when you run for any office, but mostly you learn how to be polite to idiots. This is a lesson I quickly forgot the second I lost the election.

Head Over Heels GIF by The Go-Go's

The inspiration for writing this came from a documentary I was watching the other night, of all things, the Go-Go’s. (Go-Go figure.)

In speaking about the ups and downs of being a rock star, Jane Wiedlin said she took absolutely nothing from all her successes, but the lessons she did learn, and the person she is today, came about because of her failures.

Failure sucks, but it makes you tough. Picking yourself off the mat so many times teaches one thing: how to get up.

Defeat teaches you tolerance, resilience, and compassion. Victory teaches you nothing. No lessons were ever learned from a cheering crowd. The getting of wisdom does not come from exaltation, but from the struggles (internal and communal) we all endure…just like Scott Fitzgerald said.

In the end, that is all life is: an endurance contest. A game we are destined to lose, no matter how many youthful victories we have.

Once you’ve felt the sting of humiliation — from childish avocations to mature failings of character — an insult hurled your way means nothing. Scar tissue is a fine shield from the vicissitudes of fate and a certain perverse pride comes from having it in abundance.

Who would the person be typing these words if he actually had developed his theatrical chops? How different would he be if he could prattle on en Français, and had been talented at anything?

The best answer is: He wouldn’t be typing these words, and he would be a far cry from the person who functions in the world these days and lives inside my head — far more boring with a hide far less thick.

Failure isn’t the opposite of success, the saying goes, it is part of success. I had the wrong stuff, and still, here I am, taking mighty cuts at curve-balls and looking forward to my next at bat — a failure at being a failure, because I never let myself think that I was.


Downtown’s Hidden Hispanic Gems

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Everyone these days is talking about downtown’s chef-driven cuisine at Esther’s Kitchen, Flock & Fowl, The Kitchen at Atomic, Jammyland, 7th & Carson, eat. and Carson Kitchen.

Heck, they’re even talking about the resurgence of Pop Up Pizza in the Plaza….which does some superb deck oven work that rivals Good Pie for downtown pizza hegemony.

But there’s two under-the radar joints that don’t get a lot of buzz, but are not to be missed. (We call them “hidden” in the headline, but they’re really hiding in plain sight, right on Las Vegas Boulevard.)

We’re talking Puerto Rican food, folks. And fish tacos. Two versions of Latino-inspired cuisine that provide a whole lot of satisfaction for relatively little bucks.

Now, I know and you know that you probably don’t know shit about Puerto Rican food. But I am not here to mock your ignorance. Rather, I am here to dispel it. And the way to do that is to mofongo and maduro your way to a tostones good time. (In case you haven’t guessed, there’s nothing subtle about this food, but it’s damn tasty — if a bit starchy — and a blend of Caribbean cuisines with all sorts of edibles from Spain to Africa.)

The only drawback to your discovery is you’ll have to get your education while either eating in your car, or standing up, or sitting on one of four stools on the right side of the building. But those inconveniences are a small price to pay for a Cuban sandwich that beats any Cubano in town:

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….or the aforementioned boffo shrimp mofongo:

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Orrrrr these sweetly fried maduros:
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“Holy Clemente, Batman!” I said to myself after a few bites. “This place is cooking with real care in their (teeny tiny, food truck-ish) kitchen.”
(Yes, I say those sorts of things to myself whenever I’m pleasantly surprised by an unfamiliar morsel in an unknown place.)
You’ll notice those shrimp are sizeable and de-veined, and the plantains were fried to a fare-thee-well.
Even something as innocent looking as this yellow rice (arroz con gandules):
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….was packed with flavor and obviously turned out by someone with real pride in this cuisine.
The Food Gal® and I ordered way too much, (and spent around $50) but everything from the sandwich to the coconut flan was a treat — so good it’s even worth standing up to eat.
Literally right across the street from Puerto Rico Express is Bajamar Seafood & Tacos — another place so surprisingly good you’re going to kick yourself for not coming here sooner.
(This is where I confess that I drove past both of these places for the better part of a year before trying them — so convinced was I that neither would be worth my time or calories. How wrong I was.)
Having been burned by flaccid fish tacos for like….forever….I approached Bajamar feebly. It occupies a space previously occupied by one failed food operator after another, sits within the shadow of the shuttered Olympic Garden, and shares a parking lot with some forgettable slinger of Mexican mediocrity. In other words, you couldn’t have a less auspicious location for the real deal in fish tacos.
But the real deal they are, from the grilled simplicity of marlin tacos (with Monterey Jack cheese and salsa fresca) to this “Lucas” laden with grilled shrimp, peppers, and chipotle cream:
….to the deep-fried classic:
….these tacos announce themselves as the actual Ensenada enchilada — the best fish tacos Las Vegas has ever seen.
As good as they are, our favorite thing on the menu is the incendiary aguachile verde:
….that will light you up and turn you on like no ceviche, ever.
We even like the little, house-made cheesecake they do for dessert here, and people tell us the battered and deep-fried fish and octopus chunks (pulpo on the menu) are not to be missed, either.
Downtown dining has gone decidedly upscale in the past three years, but amidst all the porchetta and pasta, and the inundation of craft cocktails and bohemian beers,  it’s nice to know that some solid lower-end, food-centric joints have opened to satiate cravings at all price points.
Which is just what a legitimate urban food culture needs.
Arriba! Arriba! Indeed.
1516 Las Vegas Blvd. South
Las Vegas, NV 89104
1615 Las Vegas Blvd. South
Las Vegas, NV 89104