The Groom
and Phil
as the Jack of Clubs
Part 5 - Surely Now We've Learned Our Lesson
Part 1 Part 2  Part 3  Part 4  Part 6  Part 7


Where we sleep.
The room looks better when you're sleeping.
(click photo to enlarge
-  ESC to exit)
        A good night's sleep didn't improve Steve's outlook. It probably didn't help that Burt woke him by asking for three bucks to tip the maid. It certainly didn't help that Ghizal also asked to borrow nine bucks, "Just for fun."
        Phil is always the last to get up. This morning, everyone else was awake and ready to go by ten a.m., but nobody could reach him. He didn't answer his phone. He didn't answer his door. We would have been worried if this didn't happen every trip.
        We went to the lobby to wait, only to find Phil standing next to the front desk with a security guard by his side. His face was smeared purple, green, red, yellow and orange. He waved to us, his lips and the palm of his hand were inky dark.
        "I did it!" he said with a big smile.
        "Did what?"
Waiting for Phil.
Everyone waits for {Phil in the Cabana lobby.
(click photo to enlarge
-  ESC to exit)
        "I tasted the rainbow."
        "This man's with you?" asked the security guard.
        "It depends," said his brother Dan.
        "Not again," groaned Steve.
        The security guard gestured at a door signed "Employees Only."  "We found him in there, sleeping in the Skittles bin."
        "And I ate them all! Yay, me!"
        Before they allowed us to retrieve our belongings from the rooms, the El Cortez demanded a $200 candy bin sterilization fee. Steve put it on his credit card, but not without a lot of complaining. We were homeless again.
        We stood on the sidewalk, disoriented in the already hot day. Revelers from an electronica rave at the Speedway trickled in to the Cabana Suites after their all-night dancing, drinking and illicit-drug taking. The college-aged women had pierced noses and wore glow sticks and skimpy neon costumes. The guys with them were tattooed and straitjacketed in tight black tees and trousers. Apparently, these dirt bags were good enough for the El Cortez but we weren't. They thought Phil, whose multi-hued skin fluoresced in the sunlight, was one of them.
        "That's cool, dude," said a pink-haired girl dressed with her boyfriend.
        Phil nodded. "Did you taste the rainbow?"
        "Totally!" they both replied.
        "Well, guys," Steve began, "it's been fun."
        This was met by cheers, though half-hearted ones due to our being overtired, overheated and, in the main, penniless.
        "No, really," said Steve, "it's been great. Let's go home. Now."
        We made some half-assed counter arguments and half-spirited rebuttals, but most of us suspected it would end this way. Steve was dead-set on getting out of town before any more disappointment could befall him. Nobody had the strength left to convince him otherwise.
        That is, except Dan. Having only been in town nine hours and having slept seven of them, he was shocked by Steve's quitter attitude. He reminded him of the motto that had guided us out of the darkest times in the past: "You can't have a miraculous comeback unless you set yourself up for one."
        Building steam, Dan grabbed Steve's arm and shouted, "Don't tell me not to live, just sit and putter. Life's candy and the sun's a ball of butter. Don't bring around a cloud to rain on my parade!"
        "Wha?" said Steve, but Dan wasn't taking "Wha" for an answer.
        "Don't tell me not to fly, I simply got to. If someone takes a spill, it's me and not you. Who told you you're allowed to rain on my parade?"
        "This is supposed to be my party. We've been kicked out of two hotels and these guys have no money."
        "I gotta fly once! I gotta try once! Only can die once! Right, sir? Ooh, life is juicy and you see, I gotta have my bite, sir!"
        The next moments passed like a montage. There we were: the gang in a long shot up Fremont Street, Dan's voice booming off the drab walls of the Freemont Medical Center, walking in a brisk pack past the payday advance stores, the cheap pizzeria and Don Yeyo's Cigar Factory. We pushed--Steve first--onto the already packed Deuce bus as Dan burst into the exuberant bridge of a song only he heard.
        "I'm gonna live and live NOW!  Get what I want, I know how!  One roll for the whole shebang!  One throw that bell will go clang! Eye on the target and, wham! One shot, one gunshot and bam!"
        And then, jammed nose to armpit in the bus, we lurched very, very slowly toward the strip, Steve in a daze, the guys embarrassedly explaining to other riders that this happened often but that it would be over soon, and Dan belting out, "Nobody, no, nobody, is gonna rain on my parade!"
        Jerry asked, "So, we're not going home then?"
        "Nope!" shouted Dan.
        Steve conceded, "After lunch."
Big shoe.
Phil checked, and big shoes don't have big smells.
(click photo to enlarge
-  ESC to exit)
        The ride from downtown to the Strip gave Dan three hours to fill Steve in on the fine art of a happy marriage.
        "It's all about compromise," he told him. "Compromise and nookie. Nookie and compromise." Dan then went into some detail about both of these subjects, using his hands and the bus's exit pull-rope to illustrate key techniques.
        The rest of us tried to stay close together but it was standing room only. A few got separated by a large Korean family and ended up spending the whole trip listening to them argue in their native tongue. We didn't regroup until we got off at the Cosmopolitan. Steve's palsied expression and silence as he exited told us we were probably lucky not to be near him and Dan. Now it was time to fill him with fine food.
        Unlike the rest of us, Dan had never been to Las Vegas' newest hotel. As he explored it, he raved about the tastefulness of the whole property: hip without being gaudy or pretentious. The art, the décor, the details all spoke to a younger generation--our generation. He felt smart just being there.
        We took him to an Art-O-Mat, the converted cigarette machines that sold handmade art at five bucks a pop.
Filling the Art-o-Mat.
Cosmopolitan staff politely explain why we can't have free art.
(click photo to enlarge
-  ESC to exit)
        "Very cool!" he declared as he slid a twenty-dollar bill into one. "It's healthier than smoking and simultaneously appeals to the senses of aesthetics and value."
        He bought some earrings, then a refrigerator magnet, a small hand-drawn comic and a painting of a movie monster. Then he put in another twenty. And another. We dragged him away once he had filled his pockets and hands, including $45 worth of handmade door stops. He shouted, "But I haven't collected them all!"
        Estiatorio Milos presents itself as tastefully as the rest of the hotel. The place is stylish, but in an airy Mediterranean way, not a dim New York way. The main colors are white and gray. The atmosphere and the settings are clean, and the food is beautifully presented without showing evidence of over-handling. The fish, for instance, isn't posed like a sex-hungry nude on a bed of brown rice. It is served prone on a white dish with gentle saucing and plenty of white space.
        Speaking of fish, the fresh seafood selection greets customers as they enter, arranged on a long bed of ice. As we walked by, Phil reached out to stick his finger in the gaping mouth of a red sculpin, but drew back.
        "This place seems too nice for shenanigans," Dan admonished.
        "No--that fish opened its mouth!" insisted Phil.
It's watching.
The fish keep an eye on us.
(click photo to enlarge
-  ESC to exit)
        No question about the freshness of the food. We read our menus like detective novels, engrossed and excited. Burt noted the seasonal cocktails pressed from fresh fruit and house-made mixers. Mike commented on the seafood appetizers. Jerry liked the bread. Steve smacked his lips. Yes, lunch was going to make it all better.
        "If it looks good, order it," Dan encouraged. "This one's on me. Happy wedding, Steve."
        Steve smiled. The rest of us hadn't seen him do that in quite a while.
        When cocktails came, Dan proposed a toast: "To nookie and compromise."
        The food was awesome. Some enjoyed the meze plate that included daubs of red-pepper humus, baba ganoush, yogurt salad, and a dolma. Others had the tomato salad. The main courses were the fresh, mouth-still-moving salmon served with steamed vegetables, the chicken brochette with grilled mushrooms and the lamb chop with fries and asparagus. All were equally outstanding. Dessert included walnut pie (possibly the best we've had) and the restaurant's popular yogurt martini, a seasonal fruit parfait served in a martini glass.
Food served far classier than we're used to.
(click photo to enlarge
-  ESC to exit)
        Steve's mood lightened in shades with each course. By dessert, he was back with us and not against us, laughing, smiling and tipping back a second ruby red cocktail. In that meal, we recaptured what we had set out for: camaraderie and celebration.
        Dan held up his drink. "A toast. To the beginning of a new chapter in a friend's life."
        "Hear, hear." Everyone but Mike joined the toast.
        Mike mumbled quietly, "Make that the end of a chapter. A very good chapter."
        "What?" asked Steve. "I couldn't hear you."
        "Nothing," said Mike. Then he muttered, "Goodbye, free Angels' baseball tickets."
        While Steve was in a good mood, we broached the subject of staying the night, as originally planned.
        "We still need to win our money back and give you all the things we promised."
Steve is having the time of his life.
Steve recovers from his bad case of the grumpies.
(click photo to enlarge
-  ESC to exit)
        "I don't need anything," Steve said, then he added, "except for you guys to pay me back."
        "Yes, you do!" Burt said sharply as he pounded his fist on the table so hard that a fork bounced up and struck a passing water boy in the arm.
        "It'll feel like a long extension of this lunch," promised Ghizal.
        "Class out the ass," swore Jeff.
        Robert added, "Except, you know, with a break for dinner."
        "Yeah?" Steve asked, his eyebrow raised. "Lunch has been pretty good. No more nasty strip clubs?"
        We promised.
        "No more Ground Rule violations?"
        "What's left to violate?"
        Steve asked, "What about hotel rooms? You can't use my credit card."
        Jeff patted Steve's arm. "We'll find a way."
        Mike stopped grumbling. "I have a great idea."  He whipped out his phone, snapped a picture of the table and then started typing on it.
        Steve leaned back and patted his belly. "I guess we could do one more night."
        High fives were exchanged and we whooped until the people at neighboring tables scowled.  The mood was jubilant, even more so when Burt ordered another round of cocktails for the entire table.
        The only drawback to the Estiatorio Milos experience was the check. Dan, in a moment of panic, found himself surprisingly low on cash.  He didn't realize he'd spent so much at the Art-o-Mat.
        He said to Steve, "You know I'm paying for this, right?"
        "That's the rumor," he said, still smiling. "And I appreciate it. You hit it out of the park with this one."
        Mike interjected with a snarl, "Like how the Angels are going to hit it out of the park without me this year?"
        Dan said, "Good. I've got it. I just need to hit an ATM. So, could you spot me until then?"
        Steve sighed. "What did I just say about Ground Rules?"
        Dan looked confused. "I arrived late. Remind me."
        "No loans."
        Phil said, "Technically, that's now Ground Rule Number Seven and Three-quarters."
        Dan shrugged. "Look, I don't mind if you violate your own rules. I won't tell anyone."
        Steve was uneasy. "Why don't you use a credit card?"
        "I can't have bachelor-party-related charges showing up on my bill. I have to make sure my wife doesn't find out how crazy I'm going this weekend—in your honor, of course. That's what I mean by 'compromise.' So, cover this, and I'll pay you back, like, really, really, soon."
        Matt leaned over to Steve. "Don’t forget that Dan was paying for all of us."
        Burt added, "And don't be chintzy with the tip."
        Steve's recovery from his foul mood had been slow and nuanced, aided by the fine food and our relatively polite manners. His descent back into anger, however, was sudden and violent. He flailed his arm as though attacked by wasps. He either ejaculated a single profane syllable or coughed. The rest of us chose to think it was the latter. Ultimately, though, rather than make a scene in the restaurant he agreed to float Dan the money. Dan promised to hit the first ATM he saw that would take his Poet's InterFederated Credit Union card, which has its own network and whose ATMs can be identified because they have a stanza of Dickinson painted on them.
        Steve took out his credit card and set it on the table. "If everyone's broke, I guess we're not staying tonight."
        Mike set down his cellphone. " I just booked nine rooms at the Hilton. No roommates."
Our view from the Hilton.
Looking out over our playground from the Hilton.
(click photo to enlarge
-  ESC to exit)
        "How'd you do that?"
        Mike either smiled or sneered. "I called in a favor someone owed me."
        While signing the receipt, Steve made noises--mostly grunts--about leaving Las Vegas before more terrible things could happen, about getting home to plan the wedding, about missing his fiancée and wondering why he hadn't heard from her. The rest of us drowned him out, though. Another night meant a million more chances to get back on our feet. More promises were made, some reiterating previous promises, and some new, like his and her rollerblades and a goat for milk.
        "Besides," Mike said while winking to the rest of us, "the worst has already happened."
        "What?" asked Phil. "Why are you winking at me?"
        With the room situation settled and lunch paid for, we went our separate ways. Most wanted to escape the heat by swimming. Burt announced plans to play in a $110 poker tournament at the Golden Nugget. Matt said he wanted to play too.
        Steve grumbled, "I thought you were broke."
        "Separate funds," said Burt. He reached into Jerry's Speedos, which he'd yet to remove, and removed some folded bills. "This is my poker money."
        Steve stared at Matt. "What about you?"
        "I've got a little something up my sleeve... and in my pants."

        Matt meant what he said. Before leaving for Las Vegas, he had printed a map of every blood and sperm bank in town that paid for donations. He planned to hit a series of them between the Cosmopolitan and downtown to finance his poker buy-in.
        By the time he and Burt reached the Golden Nugget, he was down about three pints and two tablespoons of bodily fluids, but up $122. He would have been up $130 except one of the sperm banks made him pay for a magazine he ruined.
The Golden Nugget.
Where Matt and Burt's poker dreams go to die, slowly.
(click photo to enlarge
- ESC to exit)
        Burt got assigned to a table full of grizzled locals that looked like they had been sentenced to participate in the tournament by a court order.
        After giving all that blood and sperm, Matt was very light-headed and sleepy when he sat down. After the second hand, he passed out.
        The dealer prodded him. "Wake up, sir."
        "Did I win?"
        "No, you've been asleep for two hours and just got knocked out. We need your seat."
        "How'd I play?"
        "Very tight."
        Matt patted the felt with his hands, nodded to the other players and said, "Good game, good game. It was a pleasure playing with you."

        The group that went swimming decided to do it in honor of Steve's upcoming nuptials. Dan thought the expansive Hilton pool would be an ideal place to tell Steve more about the subtleties of living in wedded bliss. He wanted the groom to know that basically all problems could be solved if both partners agree to just shut up and communicate.
The Hilton's pool.
A vast expanse of concrete with water in the middle.
(click photo to enlarge
- ESC to exit)
        "Communication, communication, communication," Dan communicated, as they took the elevator down from the rooms. It turns out, though, that the pool was not an ideal place to talk about communication. First, the water in relation to the surrounding concrete deck was like a puddle in the middle of a parking lot. It had about the same degree of wow factor as a community pool: no slides, no secret coves under a waterfall, no swim-up blackjack tables, all of which were essential to profound conversation. The only thing that gave it any specialness was the crush of people around and in it. That could have been great for people watching, but for every sun-bronzed beauty there were ten unattractive tourists disappointed at what the Hilton pool turned out to be.
        Nevertheless, the guys peeled off their shirts and hopped into the mobbed, pee-warm pool.
        As Dan talked with Steve about the languages of love between a husband and wife, he found himself yelling louder in order to get his points across. That's because a DJ pumped high-volume dance pop for the bathers. It was an eclectic mix from the 80s, 90s and today. He followed Van Halen's "Jump" with Outkast's "Hey Ya," and then went into the B-52s' "Rock Lobster." 
        Seeing how wide-ranging his choices were, Dan thought he might get a song played. He hopped out of the pool and dripped over to the DJ booth, which was really just a dining fly that also doubled as a storage area for extra chairs.
        "Can I make a request?" he asked while soaking a stack of CDs.
        "'People.' The original Streisand version, please."
        "You know," Dan sang it for him. "People. People who need people are the luckiest people in the world!"
        "Oh, come on," Dan whined. "This is my friend's bachelor party."
        "And he wants to hear Streisand?"
        "I have no idea."
        Rejected but determined, Dan went to our chairs and got a five-dollar bill out of Steve's wallet. He didn't want to scorch his feet, so he splashed back through the water, emerged on the other side and returned to the DJ booth with the soggy bill between his index and middle fingers.
        "About that Streisand song?" He sang quietly, "People. People who need a little tip on the side…"
        The DJ took the soggy fiver and looked at it as though it were a rotting sardine. He clearly thought it was less than one should tip the Hilton's poolside DJ.
        "Here." Dan handed him a nearby deck chair. "You can have this, too."
        Feeling pretty happy about his upcoming request, Dan returned to his friends via the pool. Robert was telling Steve about airplanes.
        Dan interrupted, "Get ready for something sweet and sticky in your ears."
        Steve slapped his hands over the sides of his head. "Please don't put anything in my ears."
        "Not literally. I got you a little gift from the deejay; your favorite song."
        "Really?  Michael Bublé?"
        However, Dan's song was not coming up. The deejay played "Brimful of Asha," then "Summer of 69," then songs by Christina Aguilera and Garth Brooks. He followed that with "People Come Together," as thought to taunt Dan, who was turning into a prune waiting.
        "Hey," Dan yelled to the DJ. "I have to go to the bathroom, and I don't want to do it in your pool!"
        "Then don't!" He yelled back. Several people in addition to the DJ expressed disgust with the idea.
        "But I don't want to go to the restroom because you might play my song while I'm in there, and I'll miss it. So I'm trying to hold it until you play my request. By the way, did you enjoy the deck chair?"
        He never did play the song. You might want to think about that before you choose to take a dip in the Hilton pool because it wasn't number one.