Saturday, July 7, 2007

Or not

I woke up at 6:30 a.m. today at my parents' home in West Palm Beach to go see my resurgent grandfather (my dad's dad) before I had to drive to Broward County (70 miles south) to see my surviving grandmother (my mom's mom) before an afternoon flight I booked out of Fort Lauderdale back to Vegas.

At 7 a.m., my grandfather was sleeping soundly. I couldn't wake him. I didn't want to try too hard, even when the nurse at the hospice said, "Toss some water on his face and wake him up!" So I sat with him for an hour, then drove to see my grandmother. She turns 90 this month, by the way. These are some sturdy genes, I tell ya.

Around noon, my father called. Grandpa was still not awake and the doctor could not rouse him. His kidneys had quit entirely, his midsection was filling up, his breath was again belabored.

I called Delta to ask what I could do with the one-way ticket to Vegas I had bought the night before. Shockingly, the guy I got on the phone was terrific, expressed his condolences and offered to put a note in the system to allow me to reuse my full fare without those change fees. Then, seeing the ticket had been booked within the past 24 hours, he said he could just refund the whole thing to my credit card. Amazing, huh? I have name so I can write Delta and laud him.

So I drove back to the hospice and stayed for another seven hours. I don't know how all the time passes. We talk, we eat this and that from the vending machine, we read and watch a little TV, we take note of every little tic and motion and then call those relatives not present to report them.

It's unlikely he'll ever wake up again, but he did seem to be showing small signs of awareness. My aunt and I are certain we saw him nod slightly when he was asked if he was comfortable and his breathing becomes faster when we speak to him. I put a stick with a tiny pink soaked sponge on it in his mouth and, while most of the time there was no response, twice he did clamp down on it and suck in some water.

As before, this all is an emotional minefield. Yesterday we were encouraged by his progress, so obviously we don't WANT him to die. But now he's uncommunicative, breathing with great difficulty and bloating, so maybe dying would be a good thing since he's said his wishes were no respirator, no dialysis, no medication? By now I would've been home in Vegas with Miles, who I miss terribly, because this looked like it could take quite a while and my grandfather's funeral will be in New York, not here, anyway. So we will now be apart as long as this takes -- and how long is that, exactly? Is it wrong to feel anxious, to wish it were over?

Again, thanks to everyone's kind, encouraging and thoughtful emails. It's nice to know sharing this is of some value.

Friday, July 6, 2007

The Weirdest Thing

The man to your right was supposed to be dead by now.

Instead, my grandfather today was eating, talking, laughing, singing and announcing to no one in particular, "I'm happy!" He wanted his false teeth, his glasses and his watch. My father and aunts are now weighing their options in terms of nursing homes for a man whose blood pressure was plummeting three days ago and whose kidneys recently changed their mind and decided to be useful for a while longer. I can't imagine it happens much, but he's likely to check OUT of hospice alive in a couple days as if he was there for a weekend getaway. Meanwhile, my father today received a condolence card from one of his neighbors.

So...I'm flying home to get back to my real life Saturday evening. My grandfather may not last much longer even with all this good news, but I've visited and gotten so much more out of it than I expected. I'm contented with these important memories.

While I've been here, I missed out on covering a Chinese acrobat slave saga, a shooting at the New York-New York and the start of the World Series of Poker.

Oh well. It's Vegas. Something off-the-wall will happen next week, too.

The Amazing Moish

First off, thanks to so many, many of you for your kind emails of concern and sympathy.

My grandfather, Morris Friess, is a remarkable creature. He rebounded from a broken hip at 88 to be able to walk a mile to the pizza parlor in NY six months later. And now at 93, although clearly on his way out, he's making some unusual strides.

When I flew down here, his kidneys were failing and his blood pressure was being artificially inflated by medication that was being administered solely so that he didn't expire while I was in transit. Per his wishes, we've removed all the medication save morphine and we refused dialysis. Yesterday, he was moved to a beautiful hospice center.

And then his kidneys started working again and his blood pressure -- without assistance -- was improving. He's been awake for moments on and off, and while he sleeps he starts bellowing odd phrases like, "Get your foot off my foot!" So it's really unclear what's what, but he does seen more contented in hospice without so many tubes and such.

This has, obviously, been a strange and confusing time for my family. One of my father's two sisters is here with me and we've had a really nice visit, and all this idle time in the hospital/hospice has been strangely eventful in its own Seinfeldian way. And balancing my grandfather's end-of-life decisions with the evidence that his spirit may be broken but his body has the durability of an Energizer bunny has given rise to fear, uncertainty, guilt and, since we're a loud Jewish family from New York, even some humor.

I'll be going over shortly to see how he is and then decide how much longer I ought to remain here. He would be buried in New York besides my grandmother, so I probably would not come back here unless somehow he miraculously lasts many months.

Again, thanks to all of you for the really nice emails. Stay tuned and, if you really, really have some interest, I posted some photos and a message to my relatives who aren't here on a very, very back-dated blog post here.

Wednesday, July 4, 2007

No "Strip" This Week

I'm very sorry to say I had to rush out of Vegas today to the East Coast because my 93-year-old grandfather, Morris Friess, is gravely ill and likely to die in the next couple of days. I received conflicting reports of his condition during my arduous travels today, but I saw for myself at 4 am when I got to the hospital that his breathing is belabored and he won't be returning to form ever again. His kidneys are failing and my father, per my grandfather's wishes, has refused a respirator or dialysis, so it can't be long.

Grandpa Moish is a wonderful, gentle soul who has enjoyed a productive, happy and almost flawlessly healthy life. I'm as sad as someone should be, I suppose, when someone who has lived a long, well-lived life is almost done, if that makes any sense. Very numb, but I can't possibly feel cheated. Heck, I made it in time. I doubt any of my sisters will be as fortunate.

More to come in coming days, but keep the Friesses in your thoughts. That photo is me on my graduation day from Northwestern on June 14, 1994 with my grandfather and grandmother, who died on Dec. 9, 2003 at the age of 87.

Yes, we have great genes. My living grandmother is turning 90 this month. And my great-grandfather was 104 when he died.

Tuesday, July 3, 2007

"The Strip" is LIVE @ 7 pm PT with DONNY OSMOND

Join us for the live chat during the show at LVRocks.Com at 7 pm PT (OK, we usually don't start till 7:05 pm PT!) as we record this week's episode featuring a news-breaking interview with the iconic Donny Osmond!

Plus, news from Vegas, the trivia question, the poll and, as always, the Top Secret Tourist Tip of the Week.

See ya later!

Off to Poker Camp!

I'm off to Caesars Palace for a three-day poker tutorial given by, among others, 2004 WSOP champ Greg Raymer and record-holding 11-bracelet winner Phil Hellmuth Jr. Should be fun and should have some fun stuff to discuss here. I wonder if there'll be Wi-Fi...

The *$*@& R-J

No, really. Amy of the "Grits To Glitz" podcast pointed out to me that Mike Weatherford's review of "Defending the Caveman" in Friday's R-J included the use of two curses, "asshole" and "dick." Strange that a family paper would allow that, especially when it could've been dashed out. And apparently, he did it twice; the word "asshole" also appeared in his May 31 discussion of the Golden Nugget show's impending arrival.

We're on the Web; we can say whatever the f--- we want.


I have deleted an erroneous post from last night regarding a Las Vegas Sun piece about a dating service and its disappointed customers. It turns out that I was wrong; there were, in fact, two men with the same name in Las Vegas and the one quoted in the piece was not the prominent business executive. I had questioned the omission of his job from the piece; it wasn 't the same guy.

Apologies to Abigail Goldman.

Sunday, July 1, 2007

Thin-Skinned Sin City

I begin this post by stating, for the record, that I admire Clint Holmes. He is a terrific song-and-dance man, a tireless supporter of many important causes in the community and a genuine, all-around nice fellow. Even the requisite self-promotion all of us who make our living on the brand equity of our names and reputations must commit to flows out of him with about as little egotism as I've ever known from a celebrity.

So I'm a fan and have promoted his now-gone Harrah's show on many opportunities, most notably when I offered it as an alternative to Celine Dion is a L.A. Times Travel Section cover piece called "Vegas' Seven Deadliest Sins."

Which is why I'm disappointed to hear from more than one source that Clint confronted one of the few truly honest theater critics in a city full of hacks willing to write praise in exchange for dinner and/or a show about a scathing assessment of Clint's autobiographical musical, "Just Another Man." The show had a three-week run at UNLV in June in an effort to see how it works on stage and, perhaps, move it along to London or Broadway.

Critic Anthony Del Valle of Review-Journal hated the show. Intensely. He rendered it a D+ under the headline "Holmes' 'Just Another Man' not legitimate theater." You can read it for yourself; I'm not interested here in debating Del Valle's critical abilities or flaws. That's besides the point.

The point is, Del Valle takes his job extremely seriously and is despised by many for it. He's as likely to give a lousy (or terrific) grade to a high school production as to multimillion-dollar Strip show, pulling no punches and sparing no feelings. He honest to goodness only cares about giving his unfettered evaluation to the people who pay for it, the readers of his newspaper. Many of those hacks I referenced above will actually suck up to the talent and the PR folks involved with the shows he pans by attacking him.

Clint was understandably disappointed by Del Valle's review. It no doubt threw him off guard. He'd been enjoying uninterrupted showers of praise from his many friends in the local media for the admirable nature of the ambitious project he was undertaking. He'd dreamed for years about "Just Another Man" and now it was being realized on a Vegas stage with a lineup of terrific talent, including former "Mamma Mia!" star Tina Walsh.

Yet what Clint did next was wrong: He angrily stomped up to Del Valle a few weeks later and expressed his dismay. Strangely, he did it at a reception in plain view of a fleet of theater critics who were in Las Vegas for a critics' convention. Here's Del Valle's account, which has been corroborated by others who were there:

Clint "came up to me and said, 'Do you have any idea what it's like to work hard for years with people you love and then be told by a critic that all your effort is only worth a D+?' I was too surprised to say anything. And then he said, 'We need encouragement. And you know we get standing ovations every night.' "

Del Valle responded that as a critic, the response of the audience is not something that ought to impact his own judgment. Clint apparently backed off a mite, suggesting the two have coffee and discuss the show. That date hasn't happened as yet.

Now, I can't speak to whether Clint's show was any good because, quite regretfully, I didn't get to see it. I was overwhelmed by work on media night, then June zipped by and suddenly the run was over. But even if I had -- and even if I had enjoyed it more than Del Valle -- I would still have been surprised that a seasoned pro like Clint had such a thin-skinned reaction.

On a personal level, I empathize. As a new book author, I cringe at the likelihood that someone will tear apart what I just worked so hard to create. But I also know that that is the risk that all creative people face when we attempt to sell our creations to the public for money, and it's something that folks on Broadway and in Hollywood understands is part of the bargain. The implication here, though, is that Del Valle should have sugarcoated his critique or not written about it "Just Another Man" at all because such ambition and creative industry deserves unmitigated "encouragement."

I shudder to wonder how Clint may respond if the show does make it to London or New York or another entertainment capital where Clint hasn't built up all the good will he's earned in Las Vegas. How will he deal when dozens of Del Valles render honest assessments of it, uninterested in how earnest or kind a person he may be?

I take on this topic because it reflects a broader problem here in Las Vegas, one that harms every tourist who visits. If there is one thing this city sorely needs, it is a robust league of genuine, beholden-to-nobody critics in a variety of arenas - art, theater, food, architecture, etc. If this city is ever to truly join the ranks of any of those disciplines and ever be seen as a city with some cultural -- and not merely commercial -- impact, we will need to develop that. There are a few I admire, to be sure, but they and I are drowned out routinely by the cacophony of faux reviewers, frequently paid in cash or in kind to write happy talk and have it published for the purpose of obtaining those ecstatic blurbs meant to deceive those who would spend their money.

Just a thought.