Insensible Cities


I went out on a date last night. She’s a singer from Spokane, and she’s in town to meet a mutual friend of ours to co-write. We’re in Vegas—ugh. I’m there to fake-play on the ACAs, one of several different country music award ceremonies, perhaps the last one to round out all the obligatory congratulations for the artists, labels, and agencies requiring high-profile flattery to stay relevant. But that’s them.

I’m just a sideman, a bass player, and right now I feel like celebrating my last show of a good, long year by taking my friend’s hot friend (I’ll keep her anonymous so not to distract from what this whole thing’s about: me) to Emeril’s at the MGM Grand, which is where every televised country music thing in Vegas takes place. We order the multicourse plan because I don’t feel like reading, and right now I can swing it. It’s important to occasionally indulge in the finer things when you live like swine. My buddy calls it a “human break.” I call it “dropping digits on Daddy.” Nevertheless, I opt out of the wine pairing; we’ll drink for free at the after party later.

First course: oysters, caviar, anise

It’s a nice start. Oysters are fun to eat and a good icebreaker. We talk about her, and I’m genuinely interested. She’s fun, smart, and sexy (some guys aren’t into girls like that, but I am). I hadn’t expected to invite anybody else until the last minute, so we’re dining at the bar. It would’ve been a long wait otherwise.

Second course: cod, apples, almonds

This is the tastiest dish by far. We both love the almonds. She takes a picture of her plate, but that’s okay. We’re both slightly compulsive, so we eat every bite. At what will amount to $220, I appreciate this about her very much. I’m not really a foodie, but I enjoy this dignified ritual of pulling wads of ca$h out of my pocket and then walking away from it.

Third course: some other white fish, shrimp, risotto

Fair to middling, though I’m biased because in this one three young businessmen in cowboy hats have entered stage left drinking vodka martinis (martinis are made of gin, vermouth, and sometimes bitters—everything else is a cosmopolitan). I was in the restroom when they sat down, and the one next to my date has engaged her in conversation, his arm on the back of her chair. He’s wearing a nice suit to polish off his Texas-oil-man look. Now, I could care less about whatever they may be talking about, but I’m annoyed that I’m probably going to have to talk to this guy myself. I’m wearing worn, skinny corduroys and an old pinkish tee, mangled at the bottom from the keen friction between my instrument and my buckle. I don’t shave very often. I read a lot of Plato.

Fourth course: barbecued salmon, andouille and potato hash, crispy onion crust

Terrific flavor, but it’s heavy for my taste. She leaves for the restroom; it’s just me and the ex-college football player. He smiles at me like he’s going to steal my date. This doesn’t bother me because it’s probably not going to happen. He tells me about his business and all the big country stars he’s met. I’m simply rapt. Finally he asks what I do, and I tell him I’m a bass player. He offers to hook me up with a guitar player guy he knows in Nashville who’s getting started, you know, just like me. And right before I rejoin with something fabulously cool, I’m interrupted from behind by two beautiful young women—they’re a duo, and I used to work for them. It’s nice to see them; the market’s buying up all the Hesiod it can get. The fact that Dudeman recognizes the girls from television—and the convenient ostentation of the whole thing—gives me hope that he’ll start showing me and my expensive meal some respect. And so my beautiful date returns, but the cowboy still won’t quit.

Fifth course: filet, mashed potatoes, asparagus

Yawn. Seriously, I’m all fat and tired now. And I’m bored with Colt McCoy cutting in; he keeps tempting me to flex my plumage. Besides, he’s all chips and no cards; a ruder man might say: money talks, talent fucks. But regardless of what goes on behind closed doors (I’m into good girls these days), I’ll no longer tolerate his cheap emasculations. And right before I begin to administer the subtle art of euthanasia by passive aggression, I’m interrupted again, this time by someone I don’t know: a crazy fan of my current boss. She says irrational, uncomfortably intimate things. So I introduce her to my lovely date and then dismiss her as politely as possible.

Dessert: bread pudding with warm whiskey sauce

Sweet. Creepy fans flood in in what I like to call the deluge délire, one sad person after another who has no idea what a nobody I am. And they couldn’t have come at a better time! Each one is a blow to our businessman’s ego, his Stetson looking increasingly more ridiculous. My date playfully offers one of the creepies a bite of her dessert—she’s pretending to be irritated, but she isn’t really. Singers love attention, even if by proximity. Our man plays his last card and invites us, his new famous friends, to a private party on the top floor of Mandalay Bay. I play it modest and modern.

“I won’t speak for you [my date], but I have to decline. I have an early flight tomorrow.”

She places her hand on my knee and faces Mandude: “And I’m with him.”

Aristotle once said a great leader must know how to be led. Similarly, a great asshole must know how to deal with another asshole. As we walk out, I point at our man’s bone-in ribeye and pat him on the shoulder: “Enjoy that.”

Hesiod James is a Nashville sideman. He plays bass.