Drunk and Bowling in Las Vegas: Tales from the Third Annual DIY Bowling Tournament

 

The first time I saw NOFX was about five years ago in Phoenix. The bar was at one end of the venue and the stage was at the other. I went to the bar and had a couple of beers while the opening bands played. I’d just ordered a new beer when NOFX came on. I started wandering towards the stage, but about ten steps into my wander, a bouncer told me that I had to dump out my beer if I wanted to leave the bar area. So there I was, torn between my desire to see NOFX up close and my desire to drink the full beer that I’d just purchased. The beer won. I watched NOFX from the penalty box in the back of the venue. Fat Mike was the little blur in the middle of the stage. El Hefe was the blur to his right. Melvin was the blur to his left. I think Eric played drums. I heard drums, anyway. But fuck it. It was my own damn fault.

When NOFX came on at the House of Blues this time, though, I made sure my drink was empty, gave Todd my flask of whiskey, and wandered up towards the stage. The kids were going nuts down there, but not the hardcore-oi-elbow-in-the-head kind of nuts. It was more like walking out into the shorebreak and drinking a beer. Sure, something would pound into you every few seconds, but it didn’t hurt and it didn’t knock you off your feet. NOFX pounded through a set, a little sloppy, but fun as hell. They played a bunch of songs off their latest album, but also mixed it up with some really old ones like “Green Corn” and “Day to Daze.” When they played the “Punk in Drublic” songs, the shorebreak got a little higher. I let myself get swept up in the undertow a couple of times and ended up right in front for the last few songs. During one of the last songs, I felt a drumming on my back and turned around to see a girl standing to the side of me, bouncing along with the song, drumming the beat on my back. I love that kind of unbridled joy. It’s a sure sign of a great show.

I climbed out of the pit to find Todd and find that he drank all of my whiskey (fucker). He introduced me to some of the Fat Wreck Chords guys. They were like Todd – half in the bag. We made a plan to drink more. First, we checked out the overpriced, glitzy casino surrounding the House of Blues. There was a real cheesy dance club. The clubbers waited in line outside. A velvet rope separated them from those not in line. Brian Archer of Fat threw himself into the rope in something between a drunken stumble and a Huntington Beach strut, then crashed down the line, barely in control. The clubbers shirked away, stunned. They didn’t know that this was the eve of the third annual DIY Bowling Tournament.

We ended up at the Gold Coast Casino, the spot where the tournament would take place the next afternoon. The bar was full of punk rockers getting drunk. The infamous Tiltwheel guys showed up. I met them for the first time. Bob Tiltwheel told me that he’d read my book and that it reminded him of Tortilla Flat. He instantly became one of my favorite people in the world. We drank a shot of whiskey. Bob’s friend Chris realized at this point that I had a bottle of whiskey in my hand (bars in Vegas that aren’t the House of Blues rule) and she went on to drink most of it. After a while, Davey Tiltwheel decided he was going to the karaoke bar to sing a Cher song. I decided it was funnier as an idea than as an actual event and wandered off on my own to have drunken adventures. Things started to get hazy, whiskey and punks and ringing slots. I met a guy with tat sleeves and Malcolm X glasses. I asked him who he was there with, a band or a record label or whatever. He raised his arms up over his head like he’d just won a jackpot and said, “Chicago Public Schools.” I told him that I’d never heard of that band. He knew I was kidding. We talked about books and mixed up kids for a while, and from there, the night faded into oblivion.

I felt less than healthy the next morning, but better than I should’ve and ready to bowl. We went to the airport and picked up Skinny Dan and Katy. With that, Team Razorcake was there in full. We fueled up on a greasy Vegas lunch and headed off for the lanes. Skinny Dan was full of questions about what kind of score we needed to win the thing. The kid can roll. His last game before the tournament, he rolled a two hundred. The rest of us thought about our bowling scores and told him, “Well, maybe you can get high score.” Because we damn sure weren’t gonna get two hundred in one game.

The BYO guys (who put together the tournament) apparently knew this. They stuck Team Razorcake down in the nether regions of the bowling alley, the skid row lanes dedicated to teams who know that, if your bowling score is too high, you’re not drinking enough. We were sandwiched between the Dimwits and RKL. The Tiltwheel guys were two lanes down. If you were looking for punks getting ugly, this was the place to go.

I wandered around the alley to see what the less ugly were doing. The bowling alley was a weird place. I’m used to lanes full of NASCAR t-shirts, mullets, big hair, and heartland America, but the Gold Coast Lanes that night looked like they’d undergone one of those cheesy eighties movie makeover scenes/music videos. NASCAR shirts were converted to bizarre, punk style bowling shirts – Team Brittany Spares, who were a bunch of tattooed punk broads with Catholic school girl skirts; Team Poon Tang Clan; the Fat Wreck Chords teams walking around in their plaid pajamas; a nod to the Simpsons with Team Pin Pals. The more I wandered, the more bizarre it seemed. Mullets had been transformed into shaved heads, big hair transformed into pink hair, cheesy bowling alley disco gave way to the Adolescents, X, the Clash, the Buzzcocks, and an occasional Selby Tigers song. The heartland was transformed into the disenfranchised. If bowling alleys were like this all the time, I’d learn to roll.

Team bowling started. Skinny Dan jumped out to a great start. The rest of us dragged him down. We alternated lanes with the Dimwits, who turned out to be great guys. I had heard of them beforehand, but I hadn’t heard their music. Since then, Will Dimwit has sent me a CD. It’s good stuff. Real raw, real drunk, open and honest punk rock, kind of like the Dimwits themselves. Pat, their singer, was their ringer. He came into the alley with his own ball, which was crystal clear except for the Bud bottle in the middle. The longer the tournament went on, the drunker Pat got. The drunker Pat got, the better he bowled. It got to the point where, at one point, Pat stumbled up to the line, threw the ball, fell down, and barely managed to stand again in time to see that he’d just nailed a strike. Fucking drunk savant, that guy.

In the meantime, Tiltwheel maintained their bid for low score by apparently refusing to put their drinks down to bowl. As the games went on, I noticed that Davey Tiltwheel was even refusing to bend down to roll his ball. He’d just walk up to the line, drink in hand, throw the ball somewhere near the gutter, and let it roll down. In one moment of perfection, though, two Tiltwheel team members simultaneously bowled two balls and combined for a strike. There’s something to be said about being the best at being the worst.

Next to Team Razorcake on the non-Dimwits side was RKL (Rich Kids on LSD). RKL was a great eighties punk band. They put out an album on Mystic, Mystic screwed them like they screwed everyone, different band members went on to other projects (Slang, the Other), and RKL has kind of been relegated to record collectors, punk archivists, and general obscurity. They were back for the bowling tournament, though, and making a pretty good show of it until the last frame of their last game, when one of the RKL guys ran up to the line, rolled a perfect strike, and blew out his knee. A crack (and by crack, I don’t mean super competent. By crack, I’m talking about what they must’ve been smoking) team of paramedics came along to administer first aid. They took the Tiltwheel crew’s pizza box, made a splint out of it, and wheeled him out of there. Everyone looked on to see the biggest, nastiest, most swollen knee they’d ever seen. Except for Pat Dimwit, who was too drunk. He saw two of the biggest, nastiest, most swollen knees he’d ever seen. The Dimwits and RKL were scheduled to play a show that night.

We actually weren’t able to catch that show, though. We ran into an old friend of Skinny Dan’s, a guy named Chris. Chris is making a documentary on Vegas Elvis impersonators, so while Pat Dimwit was drunk and stumbling into the drumset and while RKL revived the songs that Mystic thrust into obscurity, Team Razorcake was at a casino on the edge of town watching Big Elvis, a four hundred pound Elvis impersonator who played to a crowd largely comprised of people who lived in the trailer park adjacent to the casino. Big Elvis is about as entertaining as your attitude coming into the show. An old couple in lime green leisure suits who jitterbugged to the song that he’d dedicated to them definitely loved Big Elvis. Chris loved Big Elvis. Chris had interviewed Big Elvis several times and in great depth, and knew the saga of Big Elvis’s childhood, his adolescent days of being thin and simply a young Elvis, all the way up to Big Elvis’s current corpulent stature. Chris told us all about it while Big E belted out tunes that weren’t usually Elvis covers. I listened and watched Big E jiggle as he hit the bass notes. I guess I’m too much of a cynic, though, because to me, it just seemed like a fat guy in bad seventies flares and stretch pants singing karaoke in a trailer park casino. If I’d wanted to see that, I would’ve stuck around the night before to watch Davey Tiltwheel belt out his Cher covers. The casino kind of bugged me, too, when I watched the guy blowing all of his money after midnight while his two young children looked on.

The second half of the bowling tournament was at night. The previous days winners were posted, and Team Razorcake wasn’t one of the top sixteen. In fact, despite Skinny Dan averaging something like 160 a game, we finished forty-ninth out of seventy-two. So that was the bad news. The good news was that we were so far back that bowling didn’t matter. And, as if the ghetto lanes weren’t loose enough the afternoon before, we all really loosened up when there was no chance of winning. Jimmy the Truth, former Panthro UK United 13 guitarist and Tiltwheel secret weapon, showed up in an ill-fitting, checkered blue, three-piece suit. It was a good sign of things to come.

Will Dimwit gave me the scoop on his show from the previous night. He said that they had to bump themselves forward in the line-up so that Pat would be able to stand through it all. They did manage to get on stage on time and make it through the set. Pat even did well, Will said. “That’s just his thing, though,” Will told me. “He’s like that for every show.” I made a mental note to check those guys out the next time I had a chance. As it was, Pat was back to his antics, stumbling and falling into strikes. The rest of the Dimwits seemed to have suddenly gained fans to keep them occupied between frames.

The Tiltwheel guys, meanwhile, looked like they’d had a hard night while we were at Big Elvis. I asked Bob about what he’d done the night before. He shook his head, showed me his scraped up hand, and said, “Fuck, I don’t know.” Davey responded to the same question by giving me a look that seemed to say, I wish I would’ve blacked out. I didn’t ask Team Titlwheel member Nicole what she’d done, but she was still wearing the same clothes as the night before, only her fishnet stockings were pretty shredded. Only Jimmy the Truth looked healthy and strong. All of this notwithstanding, Team Tiltwheel took their perfection through losing one step further with such tricks as piggy back bowling and place kick bowling. We spent a lot of time that evening alternating between hunting down Dimwits so that the bowling could continue and watching the Tilthwheel crew commit lane sacrilege. Pretty soon, everyone was getting into the act. The bowling tournament deteriorated into a bunch of punks fucking around in a bowling alley, which is just right, if you ask me.

Later on that night, as the bowling alley cleared out and my money ran out, a few teams bowled their last games to see who won. I don’t know who did. I don’t care. They pissed me off by making their games outlast the free booze at the awards ceremony. Competitive fuckers. As far as I’m concerned, the tournament lasted until the last time Pat Dimwit simultaneously ate shit and nailed a strike, then said, for the eighteenth time in two days, “That’s my first fucking strike in weeks.” It lasted until Todd grabbed his ball, walked back to the snack bar, then flung himself into a fifteen yard dash that ended with eight pins down. It lasted until the last Davey Tiltwheel gutterball. And in the end, I won because I got to meet a bunch of cool people and get drunk and bowl with them all. Skinny Dan came in a close second, because he kept his average up to 160 a game all the way through.