Part 2 - The Crappy Day After, Followed by the Great Night


I climbed into bed and feel into a fitful sleep disturbed by the vision of pocket kings trampling my head and an urgent need to take another piss.

I don't know what time the others left the El Co, but Stevie and Mikey were sprawled out asleep in the room when I stumbled in. Before heading up to our rooms, Stinky and I agreed to mobilize the entire crew by noon. After all, the purpose, and the tax-deductible reason, for this trip and our per diems was to visit the casinos and update our site. But with a lousy showing at the table rattling around in my head, I woke at 8:40 and couldn't fall back asleep. The lion-like roar of Mikey's snore was no help. Neither was it a help to think of my wife back in Denver, having to tend to our son's nasty cold and resulting mood all by herself.

Jackie welcomes us into his house. Very few people do that.

Just escaping the hell of sick kid duty and repeated viewings of that God damn Fireman Mike video made me happy enough to want to get out of bed and thank God I was alive, in Las Vegas and not hungover. Stevie and Mike still slept, so I carefully and quietly got out of bed, crept to the bathroom and slammed the door as subtly as I could. I didn't want to be awake alone, but I didn't want them to think I was making them get up.

I took a shower, took a dump, got dressed and returned to the bedroom. Stevie and Mikey's eyes were open, although they looked a little dazed. Mikey rubbed his face to release the rubbery feeling that comes from lack of sleep.

"I didn't wake you guys, did I?"

"No, it's fine," Stevie said with the insincerity of someone who didn't want to get up but also knew who had paid for the room.

"Good," I said, equally insincere. I picked up the phone and called Stinky's room. He, or someone who grunted just like him, answered. He couldn't form words, exactly, but his "Hunnnh" sounded pissed off, so I let him sleep a little longer. I don't like physical confrontation, especially when I might lose.

I didn't learn this until later, but Stinky had trouble sleeping too. He shared his room with Flanders, who really, really loves Southern Comfort. More than he loves his mother because, he says, the bottle yells at him less than mom. and becomes decreasingly ashamed of his body when drunk. God knows he should be. He parades around a hotel room in nothing but tighty-whiteys. He sits anywhere with his legs spread open and his roundish, pasty and furry body pressed against you or your belongings. It's fine, I guess, that he's comfortbale with his sexuality, but I'm not. I once found what I'm sure was his pubic hair stuck between the bristles of my toothbrush. You better believe I only used that brush a few more times before throwing it out.

When Stinky had returned to his room, he found Flanders asleep or unconscious with his feet on one bed, his head on the other, and his body hanging like a suspension bridge between. Stinky slipped into the far edge of one bed, but slept lightly, waiting for the eventual thud of Flanders on floor.

While Stinky slept, I gave Mikey and Stevie review forms for a few hotels while I covered the Vegas Club and Plaza. One of my missions was to set up the Sixth Annual Solar System Series of Poker for June 11. Once again, the SSSOP will be the most prestigious poker tournament in the world, full of surprises, horrific play and a massive, magical bracelet that turns wrists green for the winner. I spoke with Ken at the Plaza, which has hosted it once previously, and arranged for a noon tourney on the 11th, with 2000 starting chips and, most likely three tables.

The Plaza has undergone some subtle changes, like the removal of Manetti's Italian restaurant. What the hell? Larry Manetti played the Rosencrantz to T.C.'s Guildenstern on "Magnum PI". The poker room has moved a lot more Pan tables back in; the blackjack remains good. The management company has reduced the craps to a shitty 2x odds. That's worse than the Strip. The Diner has a limited, fixed menu full of junky food. And the entire second floor was open to the building's skeleton above while workers were welding. It looks like Barrick Gaming's initial promises of big changes and improvements for the Fremont flagship have turned into a naked attempt to merely keep the ship afloat.

The same's true at the Vegas Club. Two times odds at craps and a gaping hole where the once-fine sports book used to be. There's just a bank of five console TVs tuned to the same rerun of "Bewitched" and one man on a kitchen chair in front of them laughing at Esmerelda's pomposity.

By the time I finished the updates, I was floating in a fog and suffering a low-grade headache, I returned to the hotel and called Stinky's room. I could see no reason to suffer alone. This time he was awake enough to say, "hellnnnhh."

"You awake yet?"

"Uh, no."

"We've got work to do."

By work I meant go to the new South Coast Casino, eat their buffet so that when we tell people it stinks we can do so with authority, and then fan out and update as many property reviews as possible.

After eight more phone calls and just a bit of banging on their door, Flanders and Stinky emerged. Stinky was green. Not green with envy, but green with--holy shit--I don't know what. I have no idea what gets into your blood to turn your skin green. Formaldehyde, maybe.

Since we were headed in different directions for the day, our group took three separate cars to the South Coast. Despite his condition, Stinky insisted on driving because he lives in Chicago and never gets to sit behind a steering wheel. We stopped only once so he could get out, hunch over and vomit. I made sure we were close to the Rio for that.

Sadly, Stinky couldn't enjoy the mediocrity of the South Coast Casino's Garden Buffet. Despite having not eaten anything solid for 24 hours except his own burped up bile, he barely managed a few shreds of iceberg lettuce and none of the gray-veined, mushy popcorn shrimp or droopy fried chicken. I ate gobs of everything because I am a stupid, easily-pleased American. Actually, I probably got my $8 worth, but of foods I wouldn't otherwise eat, and would probably return if a restaurant tried to serve them to me. The buffet was nearly identical to that at sister-properties Orleans and Gold Coast, and heavy on middle-America greasy dishes. They must have one hell of a deep-fryer in the back.

Eating made me feel a little less sleepy. Lots of caffeine drove my headache to the back of my skull. I can't say I felt well, but I was a little more confident in my poker game. Last night, I made a promise to God that I would never play poker again if he helped me fall asleep. Now, since I got screwed on the sleep anyway, I could ignore the promise. Instead I promised to limp only with Ace-face; raise only with QQ, KK and AA; fold if I wasn't clearly way ahead after the flop. Grind out a small win and drink only a little beer.

As the rest of us ate, Stinky set the mood with his ever-changing skin tone. Light green to a brilliant vermilion to the color of my 1976-vintage refrigerator. Packets of casino assignments were handed out, all had lots of walking, and all had some massive casinos that are really fucking hard to cover.

Stinky and I had the Off-Strip properties, like the Santa Fe Station, Arizona Charlie's and Sunset Station. He bowed out, though, because he's a big fat pussy. Instead he whined like a bad wheel bearing until we returned to the hotel so he could sleep. It sounded like a pretty good plan, except for the fucking conscience the nuns implanted in grade school wouldn't let me. Chalk another one up for our public schools.

Alone, I visited a string of lousy little off-strip places as dingy as they were joyless. It was Friday afternoon , so there were more locals drinking away their misery than usual. Cash paycheck: get loaded: blow paycheck: wake up Saturday morning and start loathing that you have to go back to work on Monday. The only exception was the Hard Rock, a much nicer hotel than its assholes customers deserve. It's well laid out, has fantastic restaurants and is attractive. It also plays has shitty music for shitty asshole frat guys who talk too loud, and the games have some of the lousiest rules in town. Not that the frat guys would ever notice. If I had known better, I would have patented wearing the baseball cap backward when I invented it. I could retire just off the royalties here.

I like to watch the herds of outsider guys who aren't cool but hope that the Hard Rock will be like going to a college far away from home: a chance to start over and finally be cool. They don't realize that their dorkiness is ingrained in their soul and detected by pretty girls. Also, they can't seem to have a conversation without mentioning Magic: The Gathering, and the only desirable girls that appeals to are fat one who are open to threesomes. By the second or third day of their trip, these dorks huddle, once again scared to death of rejection, and left to commiserate while drinking their cocktails through straws.

Dictators are the product of indecisive friends. After wasting half their lives waiting for someone to choose a restaurant, the dictators said, "Screw it, we're going to Chili's." The friends didn't disagree and the dictator discovered how much more efficiently things are when there are no decisions to make. Plus, they get what they want. For our group of eight, I dictated we'd go to Guadalajara at the Boulder Station for dinner. It's reasonably good, reasonably cheap, and in the general direction of Henderson, home to one of the last dollar craps games in the world. Nobody disagreed. And dinner was fine.

The Eldorado Casino resides in an old-townish part of the sleepy suburb of Henderson. And by sleepy, I mean that everything shuts down at nine p.m., and cop cars crawl by with their spotlights on if you're walking after ten. It's a small, low-ceilinged casino with faded carpet, smudged glass, a few table games, a lot of slots and a ton of dirt-cheap lousy food to bring in the locals. I hear announcements for the poker room, but I have never seen it. There may be a lounge act on the stage behind the craps table, but I've never even noticed. It stinks to high heaven like someone just cooked up a big batch of tobacco.

The craps table, though, is one cloud short of heaven. One dollar line bets and ten times odds. And none of that mini-craps shit. This is a full-size table worked by four break-in dealers who you can easily confuse to score bonus payouts. A few regulars had the table half-full when we arrived. I moved in next to Marcus Welby, a retiree with a surgical mask covering his mouth. Beside him was a younger retiree with his hair swimming in hair care products and a goatee trimmed so neat that you could tell he hoped it compensated for his roundish belly. Beside them and next to the dealer was a mulleted fellow who looked like a poor man's Jeff Brantley, and who sang all the way along with "Reeling in the Years" and every Steve Miller Band song.

At the far end stood Gary Glitter, frazzled black hair, polo shirt with an upturned collar and a diamond stud in his ear. he looked a bit dazed, maybe to be at a craps table in Henderson and not a Vietnamese prison. Beside him, Mom sat on a stool and angle-shot every opportunity she got, trying to pick up portions of her pass-line bet whenever the crew wasn't looking. James and Hilary squeezed in next to me, setting Marcus Welby on high alert. My ear filled with his muffled rants about how rude they were to squeeze the shooter. He apparently felt the man with the dice needed adequate room to throw good numbers.

Stinky, Mikey, Stevie, Flanders and Shakes (who just arrived from Phoenix) filled in at the other end between Gary and Mom. The shooter sevened out, giving Dr. Welby plenty of gristle to jaw on. Some bitching to nobody in particular about how the shooter had to change his motion because of James.

I'm a firm believer that hoodoo and superstitions can make craps really fun. I've been know to "Put Jackie to Bed" and have my own throwing routine. I love to bet meats and greens and birds and squirrels on the table. I have stupid names for rolls. But when you start believing the shit enough to ruin the party, you need to drag your ass back to your mobile home and try getting through to Art Bell's show one more time.

That's where Dr. Welby belonged. Maybe he started out as a happy-go-lucky young man who had a good time playing craps. Over fifty years, though, the house edge ground him down like a millstone, and the whole time he blamed his ridiculous superstitions and the other players.

James had the dice next, set a point, rolled a few more times and sevened out. The Doc said "You don't have to throw with your left hand." "Do the Hustle" came on for the first of three times in the next hour, and Stinky did. The cocktail waitress tried to zip past us but we caught her attention and ordered drinks. Still foggy and keeper of the car keys, I stuck to water. Flanders got his first of many So Cos. When the waitress returned and discovered that, unlike the locals, we tipped, she made sure to keep coming back. Flanders estimates he drank 14 cocktails, which the waitress disputed. She said he had many more than that.

The dice came to me. My first throw is always critical. I need to see whether the stickman orders me to keep the dice below eye level or if I'll be allowed to shoot for the ceiling. You see, those little red cubes are things of beauty in a high arc, the casino lights reflecting as they fly like tiny, square Supermans. When I am on, I can hit the fingers of enemies hanging over the rail, or knock over a stack of chips bet on the Don't. When I am off, I can blind someone.



Mike laughs uneasily as Stevie pounds yet another 40 and asks if the casino serves anything larger.

I launched the dice into orbit, they sluiced through the smoke cloud hanging overhead and then continued over the table, landing on the dirty carpet. I thought Dr. Welby would have a heart attack. He said something unkind about me, my mother and then my pets. With each throw, I refined my technique and "climbed the ladder" to greater heights. I hit an eleven, a seven, a point and out. The table was cold.

Dr. Welby had the dice, set a point and sevened out. He didn't offer an excuse. Neither did Mr. Haircut when he did the same thing. And so it went around the table until the dice were with my friends. Dr. Welby had smartly deduced we were together, being the only people under 50 in the joint. By the time Stinky got the dice, Welby pulled his money off the table in protest of our youth and horrid crap-shooting incompetence. He said, "These guys throw like a bunch of girls," to which his friend agreed. I asked him, "Didn't you two just seven out without a point?" And he quieted down a bit.

But Stinky finally hit a couple points and the pall over the table began to dissolve. When he sevened out, Welby seemed pleased. Next came Stevie. He has a strange knuckleball style that makes him look like a claw-handed fetal alcohol syndrome child when he's shooting. Whatever, he held the dice for over a half hour, setting points and hitting them hard like he was a carny and they were his wives. My initial loss turned into a small profit.

When Stevie finally sevened out, the table applauded. All except the Doc, who still boycotted us. Shakes took the dice. He earned that name one night at the El Co when he held the dice so long his bladder built up a mean amount of piss, and he shook and danced in a futile attempt to keep it from leaving his body before his historic throw ended. He could have bought twenty new pairs of pants with what he won that night. On this night, he simulated the shake, much to the dismay of Mom, who kept snapping that it was wasted motion and made no sense. "Knock it off!"

He hit a lot of points. Dr. Welby finally relented and put his money back on the pass line. It was like Gerry Adams ending his fast because someone put a piece of cheesecake in front of him. "I have a cause but... mmmmmm. Sinful." My small profit turned into a large profit before Shakes sevened out.

Mom and Gary Glitter had short rolls, Mom's frequently interrupted by the pit boss coming over to scold her for trying to spirit chips off the table. She left after that, something about oatmeal cookies.

Then Hilary had the monster roll. Legend has it that craps virgins, especially women, are lucky. Hilary was. Most of the time she didn't get the dice all the way down the table, but it didn't matter. At the other end of the table it didn't even matter what she rolled. The break-in stick man and the break-in dealer had gotten into a pissing match, and the winners were my friends who got red chip payoffs on blues, 2:1 on 6:5 bets, and then just the occasionally double payment if they scooped up their winnings before he was done. My large profit was looking like a new exhaust system for my Falcon

Flanders had enough booze in him, and it was getting close enough to the midnight table closing that I reminded him of a long-standing challenge: five bucks to urinate while at a craps table. An extra five to urinate on one. He considered and then declined. I will need to try again on a night when we haven't won so much money.

James sevened out again, leading Dr. Welby to prescribe a good kick to his ass. But when I got the dice, I found the zone. It was indeed way up by the ceiling. I lobbed the dice, hitting the table almost 80 percent of the time, also hitting points and numbers but no sevens. The cocktails kept coming, the pit boss announced "Last shooter!" I stayed hot, inching closer and closer to my holy grail--a ricochet off the ceiling--with each roll. Cheers, more drinks, more money, more points.

All good things come to an end, though. When my red, blue and orange chips filled a rack I finally hit the Voldemort and the jig was up. There was applause, not only for me but for the run of good luck we had sustained. Marcus Welby turned to me and said, "I'm not the kind of guy who applauds. But here you've got me doing it."

"Fuck you, Grandpa," I replied. In truth, though, I was touched. I had reached out and melted this ancient germophobe's heart the only way I could: with cold, hard cash.

On to Part 3

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