Before Their Time
Four Vegas Veterans
Tell Their Tales of Woe in the Oh-Eight
4- Saturday Night
1 || Part 2 || Part
3 || Part 5
Back down on the mezzanine, we wandered into the Venetian shops
in hope of getting some freebies for Shakes and Jeff. I bought some
Italian glass beads as gifts for the wife and baby. When Shakes
and Jeff returned from their visit to the tourist shop, both sported
new tchatckes and Shakes had a new chocolate moustache from the
ice cream bar he was greedily wolfing.
"I gotta eat this fast," he explained,
"before the second one melts."
examines a bottle of "Lasorda" wine provided by
famed masked wrestler Pits McCoy. Presumably it was purchased
at a dollar store. And presumable someone has since stabbed
Tommy Lasorda with a shiv in a men's room.
Since it was time for dinner, we headed into the
hot afternoon for Lotus of Siam. Shakes opted out. And I understood
that. Without Feldy at our table, the evening wasn't what
it might have been. Bill the chef didn't visit us. We didn't
get a photo taken. Our celebrity was easily upstaged by the entrance
of the mayor of Las Vegas.
The only unique perk besides the consistently fantastic,
seriously world-class food, was the addition of Fine Print's
libation offering. He had brought a bottle of Tommy Lasorda wine.
The ex-Dodger manager wasn't actually the vintner. He didn't
produce anything but a crazily devoted fan base and a slew of down-played
sex scandals. But he had slapped his name on some Italian grape.
To be fair, he has two levels of bottle: the $15 and the $150. The
bottle we had was the former, with a texture like chewing tobacco
and the aftertaste of sliding into home.
Jerry picked at his meal, as he had at breakfast.
"What's the matter, String Cheese?"
"I don't like Thai food."
Oh String Cheese. Didn't he understand that the only thing
unpleasant about this world-class meal was the Lasorda wine? But
it wasn't that. Jerry was distracted from tasting the subtle
tones in the curry by a burning desire to visit a burgeoning sci-fi
store just around the corner. Ever the fan boy, Jerry wanted to
see what was going on in there, but he wasn't sure he could
Imagine his thrill when Phil volunteered to accompany
him down the steaming blocks of sidewalk to check out the store.
I didn't go, but later heard the report that the proprietor
was very glad to see them both and talked brightly about his new
business and his hopes of attracting a dedicated international clientele
among aficionados of Star Trek, Star Wars, comic books, sci fi,
fantasy, role playing, and other sundry geekery.
I've heard that Lotus of Siam is delicious... and expensive. No
"expensive" for me. I have to maximize my dollar-to-calorie
ratio. So while the rest of the gang munched and kibbitzed at Lotus,
I visited the finest palace of awesome food and fun for cheap: Circus
Circus! Oh, the acts! Oh, the dazzling pink! Oh, the amazing quantity
of food! Thanks to the destruction of flavor that occurs in everything
they touch, I was able to mow freely through plate after plate,
unhindered by curiousness about what flavors the chunks of fat in
the meat might represent. The meats were plentiful, and I never
saw bare metal underneath the food. If I took the last few pieces
from a bin, the watery, oily meatjuice kept the bare metal at bay.
Bare metal is a sign of limitation to me, and when it's time to
eat, any sign of limitation or moderation can rapidly give me The
After the sixteen dollars I parted with at the
otherwise fine tacqueria the night before, I was determined to get
my money's worth tonight and then some. By taking only tiny sips
of Coke, I was able to pack in what felt like a near record amount
of meat, fat, and the occasional dollop of gravy sans mashed potatoes.
Eating there on my own, without companions, made for an even more
rollicking good time, for I didn't have to waste energy on
the occasional mutter of conversation.
When my stomach finally communicated its absolute-full
barrier with a violent twitch, I looked in sadness at all the food
and otherwise that I would not be able to consume. This buffet,
you see, has a damning, asinine rule: you can not stay here from
breakfast to lunch to dinner and into the next day on one price
It was time to get dolled up for the evening. Unlike years passed,
I decided that it was time to look swank, without the silly. I opted
for by shiny black pants, black T-shirt and black shoes. With my
shaved head and inordinately pale skin, I looked in my mind like
a badass. From Siberia.
Then Jerry emerged from the bathroom in a leopard-print
shawl with feathers around the sleeves, shiny red pants, a gold
chain, and the pimpiest shoes in town: tall platform jobs in red
with clear heels filled with water and--get this--dice. Yes, two
dice rolled in each clear heel with every step, so that Jerry was
shooting craps just by walking.
Maybe I should have worn some silly with my Siberian
bad-ass slick. Even my smoove pants garnered not a single gander
at the cocktail soirée. That's because Fancy Pants'
fancy pants were shinier, blacker, and worse fitting than even mine.
I had a jet black afro wig in my bag, and I could
have put it on, but it was brand new and shedding. I didn't
want poly-spun hair all over me all night long, so I left the wig
in its bag.
On the way out of our hotel to the cocktail party,
we stopped in the lobby of Las Vegas Club to check out their new
floor show, set on a makeshift stage in the shape of a deadly skateboarding
halfpipe. But there were no skateboards or bikes in evidence, only
a puffed up cockaninny demanding ovations from the meager crowd
for standing on top of the various boxes and cylinders he took pains
to stack upon the stage. His posturing comprised the bulk of the
act as the feats themselves were a far cry from extraordinary. Finding
ourselves unable to gawk, we left. Now people could gawk at Jerry
without distraction. And gawk they did.
Arriving at Main Street Station, the party was already in full swing.
I took out the afro wig and plopped it on Mike Ho's head.
The wig soon passed from Jacquelyn to Bill to Bill to Bill, pate
to pate like some kind of disease. It finally wound up on the head
of a bystander who seemed to like it so much that I told him he
could keep it. He was thrilled. His girlfriend was nonplussed. The
wig had cost me a dollar at a yard sale and had brought me at least
two dollars worth of fun, and this stranger a lot more than that.
Most of the party, I talked with Bill and Jacqueline,
whose literary livelihoods give us a lot to talk about. I like them,
too. They were trying to help me think of drinks for each letter
of the alphabet. I wanted to try to drink up the set.
Emperors talk shop over libations in the Main Street Station
bar during the 2008 Big Empire Cocktail Soiree. Later, Phil
would really dress up.
I sipped an Amaretto Sour. Bill suggested a Black
Velvet next: hard cider and Guiness layered in a tall glass. Sounded
good to me, but he had drifted away between the end of drink one
and the start of drink two. Forgetting the name, I ordered a Blue
Hawaii, which was horrendous. After that, I'd had my fill
of alcohol for a while, so my C drink was Coke (Light Ice). Thus
endeth the game--for me. Phil was sipping a Papaya Sling.
"Did you start at A?" I asked, aghast.
"Yeshh." Phil fell asleep briefly,
then woke with a sharp laugh. "But they're virgin."
When the cocktail party wound down, it was time
to hit Joker's Wild for some more craps action. The table
was cold, though. The only hot thing in the casino that night was--you
guessed it--Jerry. In his pimp suit, he looked over his shoulder
at the three women laughing at him from a blackjack table. He went
over and sat with them, and soon he had them laughing with him...
buying him drinks...confessing their deepest desires... and offering
up their room keys.
"Look out, ladies," I yelled in my
mind. "You don't know who you're messing with."
Since I was off on my own away from the group, I had to high tail
it downtown to meet the crew for a last round of craps. I hopped
on the Deuce and made my way up The Strip. These double-decker buses
offer amazing views, amazing smells, and gyrating upper deck motions
(and I don't mean showgirls). As the bus filled to capacity, I started
to feel a mistake. A mistake deep in the gut, manifested as a small,
innocent "burp" gone horribly wrong. The burp became a
river, and since I had been pushed to the back of the full upper
deck, I had no escape. The murmurs became louder as a river of vomit
trundled down my frontside and onto the floor. I couldn't stop the
flow for what seemed like an eternity, by which time the bus had
finally stopped. I ran to the front and jumped out of the exit before
waiting for any reprisals.
What was important is that I felt better. And I
wasn't too far from downtown now, having long passed Stupak's folly
on the ride north. Thankfully I had time to dash to the hotel room
for some fresh clothes, because experience has told me that the
group is hesitant to let me in the car when I'm still dripping with
the night's consumption.
I was glad to catch up with the gang. Since I had
finally sated the full button, I could concentrate on excellent
craps throwing and winning. I noticed some of my neighbors wincing,
but prided myself in the ability to cover the caked river of vomit
that had tumbled down my shirt so that they wouldn't know where
such a stench could come from. Bagels didn't even notice. He was
concentrating too hard on not being an alcoholic. Matt lit up some
of his stinky cigs, maybe to keep the wafting vomit smell at bay.
And with concentration, I earned a solid twenty-five dollars in
just two hours of gambling. This was a tremendous rake and I felt
positively glowing as I rode the Boulder Highway bus back downtown
(since the group had exiled me from riding in any of their cars).
Leaving Las Vegas is like taking a huge, satisfying dump after a
huge, satisfying meal. It's purging all the bad stuff you did and
all the shame you feel. Between packing, getting to the airport,
going through security and ticket lines, waiting to board and take
off, and flying home, it probably takes about the same amount of
Three days of carousing, drinking, eating greasy
food and sinking deep into a morass of morbidly bad habits is just
about the right amount of life wasted. By the end, I am sated and
can't think of anything else corrupt to do, so I want to go home.
I'm anxious to see my wife and son most of all, because they are
my self-restraint. Without them, I would probably spend most of
my time semi-conscious, slumped between the sofa and the coffee
table, a pony keg in front of me, a half-built power-steering pump
dripping fluid on the carpet and softcore Cinemax porn on the television.
I'd probably have a pet turtle, too.
By Sunday morning, I am tired and cranky and ready
to check out of the Vintage Suite I shared with Phil at the El Cortez.
My flight isn't until late afternoon, but that's only enough time
to do something for motivated people. Saturday night broke and exhausted
me so that on the final day, I'm looking for the path of least resistance
between here and home.
Saturday night was the Soiree. After we made our
appearances and said our hellos we drove out to the tiny, dingy
Joker's Wild in Henderson. The twenty minutes from downtown feels
like a million miles from the Strip on a freeway lit up like a white
river through the huge black patches of unincorporated nothingness.
It ends at a wide, empty road lined with closed storage places,
tumbleweeds and sports bars whose blinking lights try to say, "It's
not depressing in here. Please believe us. Please?"
Finally, the square, industrial little casino's
lights come over the horizon. Whenever I walk into the Joker's Wild,
I see the same cast of regulars, like extras for real life, milling
about and spending their lives filling in the background. Most everyone
there knows each other. Not that they are friendly, but at lest
before slugging someone in the jaw a patron can call his target
by his first name. This is a casino where fun isn't expected. The
lounge band once interrupted their set to ask us to quiet down our
craps game. A blackjack player called me an amateur because I drank
to have fun, not to forget. The craps is either a buck or two bucks
and has ten times odds, though, so we keep coming back.
A few of us squeezed into the already crowded craps
table and started drinking a lot of beer, scotch, fizzy things,
cocktails we saw gumshoes in movies drink, coffee and stubby bottles
of lukewarm spring water. Burt brought a sleek tin of cigars that
I assume were expensive because they don't package Rum Crooks that
nicely. He pulled back the gold foil and offered me one. I accepted
and smoked it fitfully, trying to get the pungent smoke to go the
direction of my least favorite tablemates and away from myself.
I made it halfway through the stogie before I felt like I just got
off the Spider at Lakeside Amusement Park. I needed to stop, close
my eyes and pray I didn't vomit. Or, if I did, that it would on
Burt in his cheap, shiny tuxedo jacket. Seemed to me that it already
smelled of puke.
Other players left the game, and after a half hour
our group had nearly taken the entire table. Our crew was comprised
of friends from the Soiree like Cameron, Bill Turk, Bill Thompson,
Bill Walsh, Jacqueline, Walt and Fancypants Taylor. Cameron bet
maniacally, with a laser-like focus on the hard ways. Burt was a
dilettante, playing large bets on pass, don't pass, come, don't
come, props and hops. The bulk of the crew including Mad Geek, Stevie
Fine Print, Bagels, String Cheese, Fang, Shakes and myself bet the
pass and come, with tips to the dealers on the hard ways, or for
ourselves if we were feeling frisky.
One of the regulars who stuck around was Mom. Not
mine, and not anyone else at the table's either. She's clearly someone's
mother, though. Mom is in her mid-70s, short and square with a red
gingham shirt buttoned to the top and a red kerchief tucked into
the collar. She is always at the Joker's Wild craps table when we
come to town. In retirement, my own mom likes to travel and sew.
This woman likes to shoot craps and try to cheat the casino out
of a buck here and there by pulling back a bet or arguing with the
new dealers. She's a tough bird.
Mom wanted to know why Burt was wearing a tux and
I was in a green sharkskin suit. Burt lied to her that he just got
"Well, where's your wife?"
"I don't know; I don't care. I needed to get
away from her."
Mom clicked her tongue disapprovingly. It was apparently
better to bring your new wife to The Joker's Wild than to ditch
her at some chapel in a sketchy neighborhood halfway between the
Strip and downtown. Her disapproval only encouraged us to push the
fib further. Soon it was my ex-wife that Burt married, and I was
currently dating his ex-wife. It became my third ex-wife, which
I insisted was the best of the bunch. And she was calling on my
cell phone to talk to Burt, but I was instructed to tell her I had
no idea where Burt was, maybe a brothel. Oh, and I had gotten out
of prison recently, where I rotted on a bum rap. Sure, I committed
the crime, but there was no way the police could have known it.
Finally, Mom voiced her disgust for our cavalier
disregard for the sanctimony of marriage. She had been married for
forty years to the same man, and he was a saint. She had spent her
entire career filing papers for some executive at JC Penney, and
she was damn good at it. Mom never said she loved her husband, her
job or her children, but she did what was necessary, and by God,
it was Burt's duty to be with his wife and to listen to her nagging,
even if she were an insufferable fictitious harpy.
All this time, the dice were cold. I bled blue
dollar chips on the pass and come lines, two at a time. A few shooters
had decent rolls, but nothing as spectacular as the previous night
when Fang shot for forty minutes and demanded absolute silence from
the dealers, other players and surrounding tables. And he got it.
Winning gives you that power. The Joker's Wild claims they close
the table at one a.m., but they really shut down about 12:30. At
least they do when we're there. By then, I'd lost all I wanted to,
had no more lies for Mom and was ready to move on.
After coloring our few remaining chips, the group
split up. Some said good night. A few of us headed for the Western's
three-dollar blackjack tables and the lure of Adis, the Ethiopian
dealer with the incredible ass. She's not much to look at from the
front, but when she's dealing the other side of the pit, it's delightful,
especially once you've had a few cans of Heineken.
Sadly, Adis moved to the day shift. Chris was also
off this early Sunday morning. Last summer, we played at his table
and his competence was way beyond that required at a break-in joint
like the Western. I asked him why he hadn't moved up to a better
casino like the California or Sam's Town.
"Because they drug test."
He's still at the Western and still prefers dope
to a livable wage and healthcare.
Where else could the night end but at The Western? One would have
to walk a lot farther from the downtown strip to find a sleazier,
scarier, skankier place to sit and play, but the blackjack tables
are low limit, and the dealers don't mind if you scream too loudly
for three a.m. Cameron handily demonstrated that fact.
Playing while zonked with fatigue is not good for
strategy, and I watched twenty bucks steadily dwindle to nothing.
I also watched the tattooed mook on the end of the table wager faithfully
on the Royal Match. The odds of hitting this bet--a suited king
and queen--are approximately 1 in 300, but the wager pays only 50
to 1 if you do hit it. That's a house advantage that's
far too depressing to calculate while zonked with fatigue.
And yet, the hard luck case at the end of the table
hit it. With a windfall of fifty dollars to play with, he tipped
the dealer five and the waitress another five. Then he stacked twenty
back into the Royal Match circle for what would have been an impressive
parlay. Would have been.
I was getting more and more tired, more and more
depressed. Jerry and I hang-dogged it back to our room with a stop
at the Gold Spike, our old stomping ground, now gutted for remodeling.
Inside, it looked like something between and underground art scene
and an urban crack house. It gave me bad dreams.
One of our dealers at The Western was a very tall Spanish girl whose
looks sneak up on you. At first she seemed plain, almost homely.
After an hour or so, though, her beauty was revealed. It was the
little things: her milky skin, her long neck and the way she was
genuinely sad when we lost. The other dealers were unmemorable.
In fact, the cocktails were more remarkable. I tried a whiskey sour
in honor of Cameron, and it was some sort of powdered lemonade mixed
with acetone. I resorted to a couple of Heinekens. The Western may
be the last casino in town still to serve cans instead of bottles.
I don't know if the reason is economics or because its clients are
more likely to bust bottles over heads. Which, I guess, is also
economics, because it costs money to clean up bloodstains.
Stumped for what to order next, I remembered Sambuca.
Burt had ordered me one the previous year, but I didn't drink
it then because I was at capacity. Also, it looked slippery and
thick, like transparent motor oil. I decided to try again and vowed
to drink the entire liqueur this time.
It tasted like shit. Licorice-flavored shit, but
still... It glistened in the shot glass and swirled slower than
water. It was sticky and sweet. With every sip, my stomach wrenched.
I made it through the entire shot though, because I said I would.
To me, Las Vegas is all about doing incredibly stupid and hazardous
things just because you said you would. That's what being a man
is all about.
Once the Sambuca was gone, my stomach settled.
I urged my friends to stay until sunlight seeped in through the
gaping entrance of the Western, but most of the others were ready
to call it quits by 3:30. They left Burt, Phil and me to get a late,
late snack or an early, early breakfast at the Four Queens. Then
Burt made some lame excuse about an a.m. flight and the need to
sleep before it. He took a cab back to whatever luxury Strip hotel
he holed up in, leaving Phil and I to join the others for strange-
textured burgers at Magnolia's Veranda. When we left the Western
and walked through the still warm night toward downtown I realized
I was much more tired than I felt while drinking and playing cards.
I didn't want to go to bed, though, because I knew
that when I woke up, I'd be ready to go home. Even while falling
asleep in my French fries, I begged the others to stay awake a little
longer. I argued that no great stories happened while you slept.
Unless you sleepwalk. Which I don't. My friends shrugged, paid their
tabs and shuffled off to their rooms at the (Las) Vegas Club.
Defeated and sleepy, I made the slow walk back
to the El Cortez and up the two flights of stairs off the casino
floor to my room. I may or may not have taken off my clothes and
brushed my teeth before falling asleep. I don't remember. I tried
to fall asleep leaning against the wall so that in case the urge
to sleepwalk overtook me, I would already be vertical.
But six hours later, I woke up horizontal. I groaned
and knew that it was time to go home.
to Part Five