Monday, August 01, 2011

Hello, Dolly!

My Grandma Dorris loved to make Christmas cookies and had a handful of favorite recipes that she made every year. The colorful assortment would be divided up, mounded onto platters and covered with wax paper--some to keep at home and some to give away. One of those regular favorites was Hello Dolly or Dolly Madison or whatever those cookies are called.

No really, that was what she called them every time.

"Well, I think I'm going to make up a batch of those Hello Dolly or Dolly Madison or Whatever Those Cookies Are Called." I can still see the cookie in my mind; it was a layered bar with chocolate chips and coconut and sweetened condensed milk. I suppose I could look them up on the internet and find the real name, but I prefer to remember them as 'Hello Dolly or Dolly Madison or Whatever Those Cookies Are Called.'

This post, however, is not about cookies. I threw the above paragraphs in as a freebie, just because the title I'd written reminded me of my grandma's traditional Christmas cookie assortment. This is Part Three of my series about the business trip Andy and I took to Las Vegas last week. To start with Part One, click here.

My husband had a friend in high school named Dolly. They were never romantically involved, but they went to the same school, the same church, and participated in the same traveling church choir. She moved away before graduation and they lost contact completely until a couple of years ago, when they ran into each other on Facebook. They became 'friends', but that was all. Dolly's life and Andy's life really had little in common any more. He was a committed husband and father, a Christian living in rural Montana running a small business. She had completely turned her back on her former faith and was living a fairly hedonistic party life, working as a cocktail waitress in Las Vegas. About the only communication they have had on FB was to say that if either of them is ever in the other's area, they should stop in and say hello.

So we did.

Andy offered for us to take her out to dinner and she suggested we just meet her at her place of employment, the New York, New York Casino on the Strip. Walking into the building, we already felt like country bumpkins. I had on a pretty brown and black shimmery dress--a favorite--but it suddenly felt overly modest, almost prudish. Unfortunately, I had forgotten to bring any nice shoes to go with it, so I was wearing my trusty Tevas. At least they are a muted tan color and have thinner straps than some of Teva's sturdier models, and of course they were a better choice than my running shoes or my multi-color stripe woven slides, but they didn't really help my confidence level. Andy had on clean black jeans and a black button down shirt with his nice black leather shoes, but I had forgotten to pack his black belt, having to settle for the brown braided leather number. Belt color isn't a big deal at all when his clothes are covered up by his shop apron at the trade show all day--but the shop apron doesn't really go out to dinner. These are little things in the overall scheme of life, but walking into a place like that, they suddenly feel like a big deal.

We were to meet Dolly Doll (like her new name?) in the 'high limits' room at the casino. Glancing in, it looked really posh and out of our league. What is our league, even? Do we have one? We boldly walked into the exclusive club anyway. Andy spotted her sitting at the bar with her back to us, laughing with a friend. As we walked toward her, though, a large man stepped deliberately into Andy's path.

"Can I help you?" he smiled, but his eyes were quietly intense. He was impeccably groomed, clean-shaven with black hair slicked neatly into place. His dark sport coat looked expensive and nicely tailored, the collar of his white dress shirt open to reveal a thick gold chain. Glancing down, we saw heavy gold rings on several of his fingers and Italian leather shoes.

"Is there something I can do for you folks?" he asked again, as we had apparently not responded the first time. We were clearly out of place here, having inadvertently stepped onto the set of a classic mob movie.

Andy played along like he owned the joint. "Yes, actually, we're here to see Dolly," and he glanced past the brick wall of a man and nodded toward his old friend.

The man's face lit up in genuine welcome this time. "Oh! You're here to see Dolly! We've been expecting you. My name's Vinny." He stuck out his hand and Andy shook it. His name was Vinny. Could this be any more stereotypical?

Dolly had heard the commotion and rose tentatively from the bar to greet us. She looked nervous but smiled through the preliminary greetings and introductions. She then walked us over to a dimly lit corner of the room and introduced us to a well-dressed, soft-spoken man who nearly blended in with the shadows. His name was Jeffrey; he was 'the big boss' (really--the number one head honcho) at the casino and, having heard that Dolly had special visitors coming, he had generously comped us a $300 tab at the Italian restaurant on site. We were more than a little grateful--and secretly appalled that any party of four (a co-worker of Dolly's would be joining us) could spend $300 on dinner. In our regular lives and those of our friends, three hundred dollars goes a lot further than just one dinner.

Introductions and hand shakes finished, Vinny swept back over to escort us to dinner, rambling on in his Big Apple accent about making sure we are treated like VIPs and getting us a good table.

He strode confidently past the long line of people to the front desk and began quietly explaining that he had some VIP guests here that needed extra special treatment. His dialogue, which I won't try to repeat here, as I fear I would slaughter the vernacular, sounded straight out of a movie. We really couldn't tell how much of it was an act and how much was for real. Either way, it made us fight to contain our giggles. How did we end up being VIP's, treated with the utmost care and respect at the nicest restaurant at one of the nicest casinos on the Las Vegas Strip?

Our dinner was spectacular--better than we could have expected. The food was not just expensive because of the environment in which it was served; it was expensive because it was expertly prepared and beautifully served. There were appetizers before dinner, wine throughout, and a sample platter of all their best desserts to share afterward with coffee for those who wished. It was really an incredible meal served by a most attentive and professional waiter, we assured Vinny every time he came over to check on us at our prime patio table along the railing.

"Everyting ok here witchu? They treatin' you good, huh? Cuz if you don't feel like they're treatin' you right..."

"Everything is perfect, Vinny, but thanks for checking."

"Ok, then, but if there's a problem, you just let me know. I'll take care-a-it."

The most interesting part of the evening, however, was not the food. The most interesting part was definitely Dolly herself, and all of her co-worker friends, a parade of whom came by our table in a steady stream to meet us--Dolly's conservative church-going monogamous friends from the wilds of rural Montana. We were quite the attraction, apparently. In our table along the railing of the patio, we might as well have been in a cage at the zoo. The more we got to know Dolly, the more we understood why we were such an anomaly.

Dolly had not only walked away from the Christian faith of her youth, she had turned completely around. Her lifestyle had become something completely hedonistic. She lived in a world of disposable relationships, surgical enhancements, inconvenient parenting responsibilities, no respect for or communication with parents, partying until 4 AM regularly, seductive flirtation and innuendo as a way to make a living, and in general, living for the moment at its highest (or lowest) form. It was a foreign world to us--especially in our 40's--as much as our wholesome, conservative life was foreign to her.

When her friend left the table for a bit, Dolly shed some light on why she had walked away from Christianity. She had seen too much hypocrisy as a teen, she felt, to be convinced that it could all be true. God's people had disappointed her. Little things had added up. A youth pastor encouraged the kids to shun the music played on the secular stations, encouraging them to fill their minds with only 'Christian music,' but then blasted the Beach Boys when they were out on the road together, justifying it by announcing that he really liked the Beach Boys and always had, since he was a teen himself. She had seen Christians rally against smoking and drinking, but found nothing in the Bible forbidding them. Her arguments were pretty classic.

Since she seemed to be making very direct eye contact with me, a person she'd never met before, most of the evening, I decided to chime in with my thoughts. I told her that she and I were very similar in how we saw things. I think that statement surprised her, just a little bit, thinking we were exact opposites. I said I had also experienced the hypocrisy of people whose stated beliefs don't necessarily match up with their actions all the time. I told her that she and I had taken different courses of action in response to the hypocrisy: she had turned her back on faith in general; I had determined to live my own life, as much as possible, in accordance with what actually is in the Bible, being as genuine and real as possible.

She had no answer, but quickly concluded, as she saw her friend approach again, that a lot of people have faith when they are young, but as they grow older, most see that it's all fake and they leave it behind. She looked genuinely relieved that her friend was returning and she wouldn't have to talk about this anymore.

Her arguments were really rather flimsy, but we let her alone about them, other than my one statement. She and Andy went on to laugh over old memories and we each talked about what we do for a living. The end of dinner was clearly to be the end of our time together, as she began to get antsy to go out to see her 'hot man' as soon as we finished our dessert.

She walked us through the casino toward the parking garage, stopping frequently to introduce us to other co-workers (none of them wearing nearly enough clothes) as we went. They had all apparently heard about us coming and we again felt like some sort of circus freak show novelty to see the way people looked at us wide-eyed as Dolly described who we were and how she knew Andy. Arriving at the parking garage, we exchanged hugs and said our good-byes. We told her we might be back for this same show when it returns to Las Vegas in two years and, to our surprise, she said we should look her up again.

We drove back to our hotel and talked of what a surreal experience that had all been. Such different lives from the ones we lead. Such different priorities in life. Andy assured me that there was no appeal for him in that whole scene. We both felt that her arguments against Christianity had been entirely shallow and not well-thought out. She had to turn away from Christianity, if she wanted to live the party life she was living. After all, if she clung to any last vestiges of belief, she might be bothered with a (gasp) conscience. That would be really inconvenient.

It was sad, really, and we went away with heavy hearts, but still had to laugh at the craziness of it all. Is it ok to do both? I hope so. I've reflected on the evening often in the week and a half that we've been home now. In the vernacular that I grew up with in the 80's: what a trip.

The rest of the business trip went well. We made quite a few really excellent business contacts and camped out in the desert again on the way home. It was a good time away for both of us, but dinner with Dolly and friends was clearly one of the more unique things we have ever done.

This concludes my three part series on our trip to Vegas. So much has happened since we got home that I'm dying to write about, but couldn't allow myself to do it until this was wrapped up. Whew. Time to get on with it.

1 comment:

Theology Mom said...

What a great story! I'm so glad you shared.