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.
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?"
"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
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
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.
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
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