Matt Dog 20/20 here with a riveting tale of abject heat, eldritch rare book dealers, and drunken librarians with hankerings for M&Ms, Coors Banquet, and unshakable death-wishes. It’s a tale like many others: life, death, heatstroke…all the hallmarks of a classic noir tale straight from the pages of “Really Awesome Noir Stories” Magazine. But it’s unique in one way, one truly amazing way — it’s about Matt Dog 20/20!
That’s right folks, I don’t do this full-time, I actually have a job. I am a librarian. More specifically, I’m a special collections and digitization librarian (that’s: old books and random artifacts, and scanning things, respectively). My job sometimes necessitates my traveling to conferences, as many jobs do. This past week I attended RBMS — that’s “Rare Books and Manuscripts Section” of the ACRL (Association for College and Research Libraries).
Laypersons —> you people.
The conference, which is basically just an excuse for rare book dealers (aka raging asshats), librarians, and other information professionals with a stake in special collections or related fields to get together at their employers’ expense and get wasted for three nights. This RBMS just happened to take place in that sinniest of cities, that strippiest of burgs, that wretched hive of scum and villainy:
Thash right…Lash Ve…*HIC*…Las…uhm.
I had high hopes of a bacchanal the likes of which would have made Caligula’s weeping, herpetic cock blush purple.
Like, you know, something slightly more than:
But with more scoliosis sufferers and gallons of medical-grade cottage cheese.
However, what I experienced was about as risque and unmentionable as a library conference in Dover, Delaware. That said, I’m rather glad, in fact, that that’s the truth. I’ve experienced being black-out drunk in Las Vegas before and would rather keep such events to an annual basis. My last trip to Sin City was around X-Mas and after being propositioned by a prostitute with a hairlip (or, like, a knife scar?), tagging around with a retired divorcee who looked and sounded like Whitey Bulger, blacking out somewhere between the Wynn casino, a 7-Eleven, and some much-needed assistance finding my hotel room from a saintly resort employee, I really didn’t feel like doing that again. Yet.
What aided in this relief was the fact that it was over 100 degrees for 3 days (with nightly lows in 90s), thus I felt no desire to exit my hotel; I was at the tail end of a pay period and only had a $20/night food & drink credit; and I was staying in the conference hotel within judgement distance at all times of colleagues and potential collaborators. The Universe was hard at work stifling Matt’s Bad Decision gland…okay, glands.
To be sure, I did do some drinking and, thank zombie Jesus, I was one of the more moderate imbibers at RBMS (which bodes well for next year in Oakland). The first night’s drinks were procured at an ABAA (Antiquarian Booksellers’ Association of America) mixer, where I took advantage of the open bar and drank precisely three Coors Lights. ABAA are big spenders, to be sure. I was accosted by a fun, adorable, but totes wasted librarian from somewhere in the Northeastern United States. I then met some cool folks from A Certain Southern University and chatted with a rare book dealer who specialized in heavy metal ephemera. After that died down and all the librarians went back to their rooms to answer a billion e-mails (because, apparently, library business can’t wait), I made a few stops at the hotel’s watering holes. Bally’s, the middle-rung resort in which I was stranded due to oppressive, Tatooine-like heat, had two or three casino floor bars. I had a $3 Coors Banquet at one (which required the bartender to dig around in the back of a dusty fridge) and a $6 Coors Banquet at a bar 45 feet away. I then decided to stop while I was ahead (actually, I’d made and lost $15 at a robotic blackjack table) and crawled into my king-sized bed to dream of lollipops and great big bushy beards.
Night number two involved my only trek out of the conference hotel. I walked around 1.2 miles to the Palazzo/Venetian to a rare book store for another mixer. Now, 1.2 miles doesn’t sound that bad, even in 100 degree weather at 6pm, but let me tell you: walking down the Strip is not like strolling down a street in Denver or Sheboygan. Crossing major intersections involves climbing stairs or the world’s slowest escalators to pedestrian bridges, then across concrete catwalks to more stairs or slow-ass escalators. Looking back one realizes he or she has only traveled forward about 20 feet. Each casino on the way forces sidewalks to meander to and fro from the Strip to make sure passersby are tempted into popping in for a bit, or, like, the rest of their lives. Then, all along the way you have to shoulder past drunks, tourists taking a billion pictures with M&M statuary, and, of course, the legendary gauntlet of poor fuckers handing out titty bar coupons. The uppermost stratum of the Strip is composed of 2×3 cards like this:
After finally getting to the mixer (drenched in sweat like a railyard hobo in Phoenix), I had a few glasses of moscato, which was the only wine they had that wasn’t red, and red wine after a stroll through decorum hell in 100 degree heat is like asking for a cool glass of fuel injection cleaner after five hours in a sauna. I looked at some $98,000 books behind plate glass, tried to chat with the snobbiest snobs RBMS had to offer, and eventually gave up, returning to my room to eat M&Ms, a Butterfinger, and watch Prometheus on my laptop. Not porn, though I would have had the wireless not cost $15 per night.
MATT DOG DOESN’T PAY FOR PORN.
It wasn’t until the third and final night that I hit my stride and actually had a pretty good time. Most of the conference attendees piled into some tour buses to head for the closing mixer at a museum on the outskirts of town. I bonded over mutual disdain for library administrators and cataloging practices with the aforementioned Southerners; had a great conversation about Hollywood Boulevard trash with a Getty Museum curator; another awesome Southerner, and, I think, managed to make a few new actual friends (like, the kinda people I can call upon to write me letters of support when I go up for tenure, or, you know, just vent to when my bosses are being raging sharts). The entire time I drank naught but Miller Lite, which, due to the museum’s keen attention to classiness, was gingerly poured from cans into inflexible plastic stemware. Nice.
Afterward I hung out with my new Southern pals at a Bally’s bar, had a few more beers (and some Jame-o and cokes), and retired to my quarters to pass out with a proper buzz.
It’s almost always the way I work, too — my sometimes paralyzing social anxiety is not keen on its owner being in conferences with lots of people, but I find that my brain and heart need about 2.3 nights to warm up to new people and places. Sadly most conferences only last three or four nights, but luckily librarians have as many conferences as Martin Scorsese has eyebrow hairs (lots, we have lots of conferences).
I might not have come away with much to tell about rare books or special collections management, but I gained something much more valuable: new friends, new colleagues, and the knowledge that 108 degrees is exactly as horrible as it sounds.