Dan's Story:

When they shut the tables on us at the Western, we felt spurned, but it is no lie to say that we've been thrown out of better places. There was no reason to stay for the 25¢ roulette, I told myself as we walked cautiously up the dicey street toward the nice-by-comparison Fremont Street. As we walked, we encountered one of the many Las Vegas panhandlers. He looked a little like Kurt Cobain, coffin-rot and all, and said he would trade us all of his clothes for a Pepsi. His clothes weren't that nice, but Matt can never resist a bargain. So, Matt pulled out a wrinkled dollar and held it out. The drunk was grateful and handed a bag full of clothes to Matt. As the man reached for the dollar, Matt pulled it back. He said "The deal was for all of your clothes." The man replied that all he had was in the bag. Matt asked about the trousers he was wearing.

The Horseshoe sparkles like the Western never will

The man paused. Matt turned to Steve for legal counsel and Steve agreed that "all" clothing did imply everything, worn or unworn, but he also said there was probably little legal precedence for bartering garments from bums. The man finally chose not to complete the transaction and we continued our wary trek back to downtown. Matt said to Robert, who is his approximate size, "What about you? What will it take to get you out of your pants? "

Which brings me to a significant point about the downtrodden of Las Vegas. It's hard to feel charity for someone asking you for food money while they stand outside of a casino. There's just no credibility there.

We finally made it back to the Gold Spike, and it was getting late - just late enough for penny slots. We had saved coppers all year for this, and now we were going to make it count! The Spike was on our side, for they had added intricate multi-game computer penny slots to the ancient lever-and-reel kind still to be found in the very back of the "Copper Mine." Matt and I managed to snag two computer machines side by side and that gave us a perfect opportunity to get some quality time between friends. Instead, we gambled. We formed a bond by screaming, "let it ride!" over and over as we played a poker variation of the same name. The fact that I heavily tipped the cocktail waitress the first time she came around - and not in pennies, mind you - assured that she visited my corner of the mine often enough for me to get a hefty buzz on. Matt, too cheap to tip, was shut out of the alcohol action. Amy came to see what was going on when she heard me, drunk, and Matt, sober, yelling, "Let it motherfucking RIDE 'EM COWBOY! COMMA TIE-YI-YAY!"

It turned out that the odds in pennies sucked just as badly as in larger denominations. My year's worth of saving was gone in a matter a minutes. "Magic Fingers" Matt, on the other hand, switched to another game and got on a roll. He didn't reappear in my consciousness for four or five more hours.

Amy, Mike, Steve and Robert decided to turn in. Matt, Jeff, and I, the night-bloomers weren't going up until our eyes were caked and cracking with weariness. I sat down for some of that dollar blackjack. It was 3 am and the tables were still crowded, but I managed to get in on the end. On the opposite side from me was a drunkard who alternately flattered and insulted the bleary-eyed dealer. As I sat he was saying, "when you were born, it was a gray day in Hawaii." I was a little discombobulated, and I got dealt a 13 - the first of many. Across from me, the drunkard flipped over his blackjack and told the dealer, "I have always been vastly fond of your ancestors." In between us a young man taught his novia how to play, but both managed to lose three out of every four hands.

I alternately stayed and hit my thirteens, and wound up on a losing streak that moved quicker than the rate at which I downed free scotches. The man opposite from me told the dealer, "Your

mother is a sainted woman." The man next to him rolled his eyes and a few of us chuckled - but not me. I had busted again. It was late. I was cranky. I decided to double on this particular thirteen because after all, what the goddamn hell anyway? I got an eight, the dealer had two jacks. The man across from me had lost and told the dealer, "your father has a most unpleasant odor." I decided it was time to make a break for it.

"I'll see all of you pedestrian suckers in hell, later on, " I said with what I felt at the time to be genuine Las Vegas swagger. However, standing was a challenge. I was soused, and my legs were numb. I fell face forward onto the sticky carpet. I heard malicious laughter above, and I cursed, but my words were muffled. Lucky for me, Jeff had been playing at the same table, and managed to haul me to my feet. I cursed him for stealing all my blackjacks, and he let me sink back down to the floor. I didn't mind staying there, but a very large, very slow moving security guard had different ideas.

He agitated me with his toe, but all at once a much bigger commotion erupted from the direction of the Copper Mine. A woman screamed bloody murder. For this, I managed to stand up. The entire casino looked in the direction of the copper mine to see a woman slugging a guy in a baseball cap. She screamed, "Give me back my money!" as the guy fell to the ground. The security guard forgot about me, and I followed him to the scene of the knocked down man.

I listened as the woman gave her side of the story to the guard. She and her boyfriend were playing the penny slots, side by side, just as cute as can be, when the beau ran out of pennies. He asked his sweetie for some of her stash, but she refused. So, he hit her "cash out" button and grabbed the money. This is when the woman screamed and punched him. The guard settled the dispute by kicking them both out. He told them he didn't care how they settled the fight, just to do it elsewhere.

It was now 4 a.m., and nothing more exciting than that would likely transpire before sunrise. And so, with eyes red with smoke and fatigue, I tramped up to our suites and died like a dog on whatever padded surface was available.

Matt's story:

The penny slots proved to be cruel mistresses, much like some of the girls I claim to my friends that I once dated. The object of bringing a huge shopping bag full of pennies into the Gold spike is to get rid of them and have fun while doing so. But the 500 or so that I brought lasted longer than I could have ever imagined - well beyond the point where it was fun, and past four in the morning. Every time I thought I would rid myself of my entire stash, some magician appeared on the computer screen and magically added credits to the machine.

I was so tired that my head nodded as I played, and I had a hard time concentrating. Worse, I was alone . Dan was off playing

Matt and Dan share a long overdue fistfight

blackjack on the other side of the casino, and everyone else had lost their pennies and gone up to the dark quietude of the suites. When I first got to town, my mind had been on thoughts of deep regret, and I had been almost depressed until I ate a second helping of soggy crab legs at the Boulder Station buffet. Now, lonely in the hazy sea of grouchy people with their fingers darkened by the dirt of all the hands that ever touched their pennies, my morosity returned. I wasn't drunk because the cocktail waitresses did not return to the Gold Spike's Copper Mine unless you tipped them, but I needed to achieve one of my three goals. I wanted to do it before I was so exhausted that I fell off my stool and onto the wet, sticky carpet.

I didn't have the strength to perform the Herculean task of improving anyone's life, even though there were a hundred worthy candidates within spitting distance. I couldn't win MegaBucks because the Gold Spike no longer had any MegaBucks slot machines. The only thing left was to call my dad and apologize for all the grief I had caused him. I tapped the shoulder of an obese young woman who was scrounging for pennies on the floor. There were still 250 credits on my machine, and I asked if she wanted them. The young woman, my age but much more beat, asked "For what?" For nothing, I explained. I told her I was tired and I wanted to call my dad. She pushed me kind of hard on the shoulder, and I took that to mean that yes she wanted my credits and that I had better get lost before I changed my mind. So I did and she sat down.

Dan and Matt share some more

I found the pay phone across from the elevators and called my father. As I dialed, I got kind of nervous about apologizing. What if my dad was mad and said he didn't love me, or he told me I was a mistake? Mostly I dreaded him pulling his all-time favorite stunt where he tells me I was adopted and then he pulls out the papers to prove it. He loves doing that. My hands shook, although that was partially from the exhaustion.

I was relieved when nobody answered and the machine clicked on. My father is old enough that he has never caught up with technology, and hearing his own recorded voice is to him like a dog seeing itself in the mirror for the first time - a horrifying and surreal experience. He is nervous about his answering machine and records very official and somewhat scary sounding messages. His metered voice instructed me to wait until after the beep and then speak slowly and clearly, spelling any unusual words. That's when I burst into tears. It was cathartic to apologize to the machine, which reminded me so much of my father, and I blathered on for five or so minutes -however much time was left on the tape.

I hung up, rode the elevator to the suite, entered, and stumbled over Robert who was fast asleep in the middle of the floor. I crawled into bed beside my wife, finally happy and ready to sleep.


Matt's Story:

I don't know what burr had gotten up Dan's butt, but when I woke up to go to the bathroom there was something about the way he was sleeping that made me quite angry. As I relieved myself in the spacious Gold Spike lavatory, I thought about how Dan slept, all peacefully curled up, breathing slowly, and with a slight grin playing across his face. It made me more and more angry until I couldn't stand it.

I returned to the bedroom and went monkey on his ass.

Dan's Story:

At 7 a.m., Matt, out of the blue, bodyslammed me in Hulk Hogan style. I tried to return to sleep, but couldn't. So I got up and rousted Matt, who now seemed to be comfortably snoozing. I made short work of his comfort by giving him the Rude Awakening Neck Slam. He bawled and cried for mercy, but I was just getting warmed up. It was time for the Butterfly Suplex, which I delivered with characteristic aplomb, dropping Matt's gangly and surprisingly lightweight body to the floor. Amy stirred, asked us to grow up, and then got out of the way of my next move. Others were also rising and making their displeasure with life known.

"Fine," I figured, "their front row seats to the devastation will make them forget their misery." I mounted the nightstand to deliver a crushing Flying Elbow, but Matt "The Stickler" managed to roll out of the way. Now I got worry! While my back was turned, Matt slapped me into the dreaded Camel Clutch. I heard him gloating to his bleary-eyed wife. That was all the distraction I needed. I got my elbow into Matt's gut, forcing him to release his grip. Then I gave him a loud chop to the solar plexus. And another chop. There was a luggage rack nearby. While he was reeling, I picked it up. What was I going to do? Oh! Down it came on Matt's head. That should have ended the squabble once and for all.

I returned to bed, but somehow Matt had revived and he tumbled me, and the mattress I was laying on, to the floor. He followed this with an Atomic Drop which, I must admit, was delivered with the grace of a professional. I was smarting. He slapped me into the sleeper hold, and, tired as I was, he might have been the victor. Yes indeed. It was Mike, now in the room who lifted my limp arm above my head. It fell useless to my side. Again, Mike lifted my arm - was there any life left in there? No! It fell a second time. For the third and final time, Mike raised my hand, it began to fall - but what was this? I was just too damn stubborn to give in! I heard the roar of the fans. Actually, just one fan, the one in the air conditioner-but it was enough. I broke loose and clothes-lined the tall Matt into submission.

This could have gone on for quite some time, but we agreed to a truce until we both had a chance to nap. We fell asleep again at around 8 a.m. for an hour. 

Matt gives Dan a friendly hug

Steve stepped out of the shower with the fashion statement of the trip. He had printed himself a T-shirt with large black lettering that read "Stupak 3:16". On the back it said "Long Live the Polish Maverick". Wherever we went for that entire day, people either stopped him to ask what the deal was with Stupak, not realizing it was a play on a biblical notation, or they asked whether Stupak was in the Old or New Testament.

But it wasn't until we rose for breakfast and arrived at the Main Street Station Buffet that the trip really began. All the monkey business was fun, sure, but it was empty fun. I was in the mood for more than idle entertainment.

At the weekend champagne brunch price of $7.95, the Main Street buffet is still good, and I was hungrily filling my plate with fried pork when a wave a nausea hit me. I put the plate down on the marble counter and walked away. I caught my breath by the freezer cart wherein sat boxes of push-ups and other frozen confections. I took one - a box that is - and returned to the table. Everyone eagerly participated in "pushing up" delicious orange yogurt. Eventually, someone mentioned my brother Phil, who would normally be with us, making a mess of the buffet, and we all spent a moment missing him.

That's when I remembered that he had asked us specifically to honor his memory by eating and playing with Jell-O, preferably lime. I returned to the buffet line to get the sacramental Jell-O. My plate of pork sat just where I had left it.

That's when I saw HER.

A very cute woman helped herself to a dainty cannoli. She had straight, black hair in a flapper-cut, clothes half way between Goth and retro; and a look of innocence on her punim that made my oils boil. I turned on that old Fleischmann charm as I approached. "Is this the plane from Sacramento?" I asked. She looked up at me in surprise, saw that I was still holding the bowl of sacramental gelatin, and a twinkle entered her eye. "It looks like Cherry Jell-O to me," she said.

Oops. - I had fallen in love.

I couldn't think. My mind raced. She smiled, and walked toward her table. I went in the same direction, luckily. "I'll bet you're as sweet as that cannoli," I said, and instantly regretted it. She was forgiving though and said, "I'll bet you're as wobbly as that Jell-O." Sparks!

"Well, I have to go back to my friends now, so have a good time over there," I muttered as she found her seat with several other well-dressed, young women and men. I felt a little shy and shabbily heeled in their presence.

Once I got back to my table, I ate the Jell-O with gusto, as is the tradition. Were Phil there, he would be slurping it with a straw, making noises that would nauseate the dead. I noticed she was looking at me. I refused to play in the Jell-O. I took up a knife and fork and cut away a sliver of the semi-delectable stuff. I chewed carefully, then glancing her way, I sipped my water. She was still watching me. Matt said he had to go because it was once again time to pick up Stinky at el Aeropuerto. I told them I was not done eating yet. Matt said fine, but he was going and we would all meet me at the Casino Royale in an hour. The others wanted to walk around Fremont Street before heading to the Strip, which left me alone with my gal.

Stinky's Story:

The morning began shortly after the evening ended. Two hours after, to be precise. I woke up at 3:00 a.m. to the sound of a belligerent Matt calling me from the airport telling me that I was not on my flight. This I already knew. I blamed the Gold Spike for not delivering the message to him and told him what time to pick me up in the afternoon. I could not fall back asleep for the remaining hour I had allocated myself so I entertained myself with a little AM talk radio and a cool shower.

At 4:30, my chauffeured Caddy arrived as I waited out in front of my building, slowly coming to the realization that my neighborhood is even shadier at that hour than when I am normally awake.

I arrived at the airport in plenty of time to discover that I had not actually been confirmed on my flight, like the ticketing agent told me, but that I had been put on standby. Fortunately, not many people fly to St. Louis from La Guardia airport at 6:30 on a Saturday morning, and I boarded.

My heart skipped a beat when I realized that I would be sitting next to the angry German woman from the night before. She appeared to be asleep, or at least as tired as I was, so I figured I was safe. Her companion John told me that TWA put them up in a hotel overnight. I cursed my lack of persistence, until he told me that it had taken so long to get those tightwads to give up the room that they didn't have a chance to sleep at all. After a moment or two of conversation, we both fell fast asleep.

In St. Louis, John, Angela the angry German, and I were all too scared to get off the plane during our hour-long layover, because the flight to Las Vegas was overbooked and we had no guarantee that they would let us back on. I had already decided that the only way they would get me off that plane before it landed at McCarran would be if they grabbed my ankles and dragged me down the aisle, screaming obscenities. The flight attendants must have read my mind, because the plane taxied back without incident.

Just before the plane took off, however, a thunderstorm began somewhere in the midwest, and we stopped. Later on, I would have to explain this incident to an incredulous Robert, who isis aware at all times of all weather conditions within the United States. He was convinced that it was some kind of TWA scam. I have no reason to believe TWA would pull such a stunt, but since I was already fed up with their service, I agreed with him.

After an hour on the runway, the plane finally left and the remainder of the trip passed smoothly. I spent some time chatting with John and Angela. I realized that they were not scary at all when they were not in a hurry and frustrated by forces beyond their control. They were in fact quite nice.

As the plane landed in Las Vegas, I realized that I had been in transit for 12 hours straight, not even counting the wasted six hours the night before. I briefly longed for the simple, straightforward, four-hour drive from Orange County that used to take me to the city of sin.

Matt's story:

When Amy and I got in the piping hot black Mirage we had to sit very still for a moment while the air conditioning kicked in. Had we moved and touched any of the black vinyl or metal, our skin would have melted. Amy asked me if I noticed the girl Dan was flirting with at the buffet. I hadn't. But I hoped that the girl had some tragic flaw for which I could relentlessly tease Dan for the next few years.

We entered the freeway system just north of the Gold Spike and an interchange called the Spaghetti Bowl, mostly because of the way many freeways intertwine, but also because of the delicious red marinara slathered onto the roadways. We cut through the backyards of the Strip mega-resorts on I-15 South and then east on I-215. It was a short, unpleasant ride through a multitude of construction zones and ambiguous lane stripings.

At the airport, I again chose a parking spot closest to the terminal, but this time I didn't bother putting any quarters into the meter. Hell, Robert already had gotten one ticket. It wasn't like another one would kill him. I reminded Amy not to tell Robert about the tickets because I wanted them to be a special surprise.

Dan's Story:

When the gang had left, I sat alone at the booth, sipping water, staring at the lovely brunette. She got up to return to the buffet tables, and I arose. As she circled the dessert tray again, I came around the other way, snatching up a handful of chocolate nonpareils. When we were face to face, I crooned, "Say, are these your sprinkles?" "No," She giggled, and my heart lightened.

"Your lips say 'no', but your laughter is champagne falling over a cliff onto a rocky beach where pelicans and grebes play." "Oh, grebes" she sighed. "Are you like a poet?" "Like nothing, " I told her. I am a poet of love, and here was my Laura, my Beatrice, my super-hootchy-kootchy girly-girl. Yes, love had struck me and the feeling was akin to the time Matt had once clocked me with a short plank of two by four.

She asked what I was up to. I said, "Hanging around, seeing the sights, breaking the banks. You?"

"Pretty much the same. What's your name."

I introduced myself as "The Fang," but told her she could use my first name, Daniel. She said her name was Katrina, and she asked if I wanted to meet her friends. She led me to her table and introduced me to the others. There was a tall, blonde woman named Sheila, a shorter, pretty-faced woman named Skye, and some guy called "Bo" or "Beau" that I anxiously hoped was not having sex with Katrina. They made room for me at their table as they finished eating. I learned that the four of them were from Los Angeles, all friends from UCLA, and all in an indie-rock-band called "Mighty Princess Leah."

Katrina, the keyboardist, grabbed my leg under the table. "You should hang out with us." If I had other plans, I forgot what they were.

"Us" turned out to mean "me." As the rest of Princess Leah took a separate car toward the Fabulous Strip, Katrina escorted me to her father's shiny Mercedes and then to the Rio.

On to Part Three

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