by Tony X Stanton
I was sitting alone at 3am on a weeknight in the Bourbon Bar in Las Vegas. Well, not technically alone. I was sitting with 3 off duty dancers/strippers, a guy dressed as a bad 80’s heavy metal cliche from one of the shows and a great many, many bottles of strange and unusual beers and drinks. I’d flew into Vegas that day, I’d been awake 26 hours straight, but somehow couldn’t sleep due to jet lag and was in the middle of a crisis. After years working away from home I needed someone to ‘talk at’ to try and make sense of things. There was the feeling that these dancers and heavy metal guy were sort of used to people like me in the middle of whatever existential crisis we felt an urgent need to talk about to strangers.
So I talked to these semi-naked woman and the long haired guy who looked like Axel Roses uglier stunt double after a horrific accident involving a mallet though I’m not sure how much sense I was making. I’d been drinking beers non stop for hours now, but no matter how I tried I couldn’t get drunk. The Venetian Hotel, like all the casinos in Las Vegas pumped oxygen filled air into the casino floors to keep you sober enough to keep spending money. It was like the ultimate alcoholic prick tease, enough to keep you carelessly tipsy, but not enough to get drunk. But damnit! There was no way that I was going to admit defeat, I was a member of a somewhat notorious group nicknamed the ‘Mansons’ God damnit, and we didn’t admit defeat!
So the drink continually flowed as I mawkishly rattled on and on about how after working away from home on and off for years that I’d changed so much I had no idea who my wife was as a person anymore, and she didn’t know who the hell I was by this point.. I opened my heart to a bunch of strippers and Axel Rose’s ugly stunt double in The Bourbon Bar at the Venetian in Las Vegas…and it helped.
Years upon years, working away from home in the weird extremist world of visual effects had changed me. That and whenever I was home I was always in my office preparing for the next job, or the next lecture I had to give…or any one of a million other things that seemed oh so important.
It may surprise you to learn that some of the dancers, strippers and people who work in Vegas seem to be pretty bright people. One dancer, a pretty girl with bright eyes, long black hair and over inflated tits like gravity defying barrage balloons pointed out something that somehow I had missed. “Why dont you talk to your wife about it? If you’ve changed so much maybe she has too and you guys need to talk about that.” It seemed to make sense when the girl said it in a way it never had when I had thought it to myself. Although this may be as she was punctuating each word with a tap on her leg of a black bull whip that was part of her costume.
I was in Vegas to give a couple of lectures at an industry convention covering my day job in TV and Film visual FX. To me trips like these were sort of free holidays with a side order of piss ups with an after hours trip to the take away that was meeting new friends. I’ve always found lectures very easy to give and I’ve always thankfully had the ability to talk and keep people amused without a script. Of course it is entirely possible that this is all a self delusion and I am really a sad little man with an over inflated sense of his own importance boring the crap out of everyone. But I prefer to think of it as bringing knowledge to those that need it most… pissed up visual effects artists.
I’d came to Vegas on the back of living in Dublin for a long time working on a film and a couple of TV shows. So I’d spent a lot of time in Dublin town over the preceding years, and it was like a second home to me. Some places ‘just fit’ with you and Dublin was just such a place. Although it was also very bad for me as I often ended up spending most of my time in one of its many bars or nightclubs. The last trip there hadn’t been as good as the previous ones. Most of the people I knew had moved on, which seemed to suck the soul and joy right out of me being there. Including most of the other members of the group of party heads I was a member of nicknamed ‘The Mansons’. (Named as such as we were a bunch of crazy bastards with more stories in our lives than most.)
Like attracts like, and so it was that the ‘Triumvirate’ of the Manson’s were born, consisting of Bob (who worked in a place he called ‘the batcave’ keeping watch over Dublins traffic system), myself and Savanna (VFX producer and one time boss of mine). This triumvirate extended to cover others such as Yakov the mad Bulgarian, and Peter. We were the core of the Manson’s…and boy how we partied! That time is indelibly etched on my mind with a guinness coloured laser. Had we been in Dublin together another 6 months I have no doubt there would have been casualties. Some people that walk into your life are complementary in a good way, a nice, calm way. Others are an explosive combination akin to putting semtex together with a fuse and encourage each others wilder natures. That was us. The subconscious need to find other people like ourselves brought us together, the sum was greater than its parts, and we loved each other for it. We had the duality of being both very good for each other as friends but also pushing the envelope on a regular basis until it split spilling paper everywhere.
When I first started living and working in Dublin a couple of years previously I started behaving like I was a single guy again, as my wife was back in England in my home town with my 2 kids. But suddenly after not going out to the bar for nearly a decade I was off the leash. I should point out that my ‘wife’ at the time and I never married as we never saw the need for a bit of paper. She did however know me well enough to realise that the words ‘bar’ and ‘relationship’ where I was concerned were not good bedfellows. But I digress…
So after suffering the daily nosebleeds of Vegas, spending huge amounts of money on food and a great many pointless things, walking up and down the strip with a homelessness infestation seemingly rampant, I was reminded of how glad I was that my own days of living on the streets were long behind me. I was tempted to go into a few bars, to sample them, for ‘purely research purposes’ of course. It may have been 1pm in vegas but back in my home town it would be 7pm, which is ‘beer o’ clock’ in any language which ever way you slice it. (Although preferably with a twist of lemon.)
Las Vegas is not a place to be when you are all on your own, when your life is in the process of falling to bits. Somehow I felt that while there it was somehow linked in some strange twisted way to how I felt. Seeing artificial people wandering around an adult plastic silicone filled Disneyland made me feel like even more of an outsider. The gap between the rich and poor was never so obvious as on the strip on an afternoon or early evening. I had been there nearly a week by the time anyone I knew got there, so by then I was very eager to get back home. But there was still 5 more days of vegas!
With the daily nosebleeds now approaching ‘exorcist’ levels, I didnt dare leave my suite without at least 3 white cotton hankies each the size of a hand towel. I finally had my job to do and people I knew to talk about. But while I may have been walking and talking and able to do give my lectures as usual like some crazy autopilot with geordie accent and psychological problems, part of my brain was still ‘processing’. So each day I’d find time alone in various little bars hidden away at the Venetian Hotel to think. Was I doing the right thing? Was I about to make a massive mistake? What if my ‘wife’ took serious umbridge with the whole splitting up idea and didn’t let me see my kids? Jesus god almighty! That hadn’t crossed my mind, I was a pitiful spaghetti knot of a man at that moment. Drink helped, although the whole ‘unable to get drunk due the extra oxygen’ thing was starting to grate on me a wee bit. I needed to get home.
The flight out of Vegas to London Heathrow Terminal 5 was like the 7th level of hell as the plane had no less than 5 screaming babies (whom I felt like sacrificing to the plane gods after the 8 hour flight was over). I’d not been able to sleep on the plane, I felt terrible and the world seemed entirely made out of some tron-like system of flashing orbs that floated in my vision. I knew the worst thing I could do was close my eyes. I stayed awake…by the time I got my flight into Newcastle the lights became a tron-like disco, then by the time I was on my 30 min ride home I didn’t have any idea who I was, why I was or where I had been. (although by that point a very large portion of me didn’t care about any question that didn’t contain ‘would you like a cup of coffee and several packets of cigarettes?’) I was a caffeine tragedy zombie simply existing to put one foot in front of another. My thoughts dominated by the talk I must have with my wife, but also trying to remember that although I may be a bastard, I am not a total cunt. So I wouldn’t say anything until after Christmas. Yeah that was the plan, say nothing until my kids have had their xmas and the whole god damn year was out of the way. A new year and a whole new start.
This was a fine plan. But it had one critical fatal flaw… my ‘wife’ had lived with me for 11 years and knew me VERY well. She was a singular woman who had to put up with me and my constant stream of work, rants, crazy ideas and constant need to life life at the edges. This woman knew crazy very well as she’d been sleeping with it for 11 years and crazy had provided her with two wonderful children. So it came to pass that while putting the presents out for the kids ‘from santa’ she had already worked out most of it. That was not a fun conversation. Splitting up in the early hours of xmas day is funnily enough not on anyones ‘bucket list’. There were tears, the usual recriminations (that neither of us meant, because a split is more painful than putting your knob in a mincing machine, it’s never fun…not even a little bit.)
We both behaved like sensible adults and remain friends to this day, we’ve never needed lawyers and didn’t want things to get so toxic that we could only communicate through them while living in different time zones inside concrete bunkers. Basically for one day… we both grew up. Everything was put aside until after the xmas and new year period so as to not ruin it for my two young kids.
I found it interesting that although Emily was only 4 years old, when we sat her down to gently explain to her that ‘mammy and daddy are going to split up and live apart, and we both still love the both of you’ talk, she in fact had already worked out that we were going to split up and surprisingly was fine with it, in fact she told me she had been waiting for ‘mammy and daddy to work it out’. Kane my son, who was 8 at the time took it a bit harder.
But then splitting with a long term partner is never pleasant, even when it is the most obvious and right thing to do. The day I moved out of the family home and into my parents place for the next month wasn’t a good time. I was in a dark place and that darkness surrounded me and suffocated me 24 hours a day. It was like a huge black dog had decided to take a massive shit all over my life. The trouble was in many ways the big black dog taking a shit…was me. My guilt over doing the right thing hung over me like a large hangy over thing. What if I had never worked away, would that have helped? How about if I had gave up the one thing I was fucking good at and try to be normal for god damn once? Maybe not needing to be the centre of attention would have been a good thing to try just a single time? 2013 as a result ended up in an inverse fashion to how it had started. while the ‘dong’ of midnight on New Years Eve 2012 leading into 2013 was full of hope and promise, the ‘dong’ of midnight on New Years Eve 2013 leading into 2014 sounded more and more like the tolling of a very big and ominous bell.
But never in my wildest imaginings could I have foresaw the absolute batshit insanity that 2014 had in store for me. If your life is written down in some book in a mystical place, then I was about to set fire to it multiple times in the most spectacular fashion, then tape C4 explosive to it before attacking its remains with an axe. This is the only logical explanation for what I fully hold my subconsciousness responsible for. But that’s a tale for another article.