The Groom
and Phil
as the Jack of Clubs
Part 6 - It Looks Like Everything's Gonna Be Okay
Part 1 Part 2  Part 3  Part 4  Part 5  Part 7


        There was neither time nor money for dinner once tournament-losers Burt and Matt got back to the Hilton.  But they came bearing gifts: more Four Loko they felt was a better use of their pocket change then reimbursing Steve.
        "What is that?" Dan asked upon seeing the colorful cans for the first time.
        "Party juice," said Burt.
        "It looks it's made for rapists to give to teenaged girls who've never drunk alcohol before."
        Matt protested a little too much, saying the cans were beautiful and intended for supercool grownups, but could also be shared with their younger girlfriends.  He didn't even convince himself.
        "Who cares what the can looks like?  Just close your eyes and drink it," urged Burt as he took a big swig.
        "Potty juice, huh? Like Metamucil?"
        "Party," corrected Matt.
        Dan studied the can a little more, took a swig, let it settle on his palette, and then gagged.
        "That's awful.  That's the worst thing I've ever drunk. Let me have some more."

A combo that can kill.

Jerry finds it tangy.

Burt adjusts to Four Loko.
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        Others came into Matt's room and the cans were passed around.  The daredevils among us mixed Lemonade and Watermelon, and nobody died.  Steve arrived, saw the Four Loko and quickly turned around.
        "Get back here," we yelled.  Ghizal chased him down the hallway.
        "I told you guys, no Four Loko.  Besides the fact that it could ruin my career, it is emblematic of the juvenile, classless behavior I am leaving behind by getting married."
        Dan leapt out of the room, shouted "Woo doggie!" and then did four quick laps up and down the hallway.  He paused in front of Steve and Ghizal, jogging in place and chugging more Four Loko.
        "I'm glad you're not drinking, Steve.  I have more advice for you, straight from the heart, and you're going to want to hear it with a clear mind. I want to tell you so many important things.  I want to compromise and communicate, and fornicate and salivate."
        "I'm about to leave," said Steve.

Dan reacts to the delighful bouquet.

Matt is delighted by its malty liquorness.

Dan experiments in flavor country.
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        "And I'm going with you, wherever you go."  Dan put his hand on Steve's shoulder.  "In the grand scheme of things, love is relatively new concept.  Let's start with the Paleozoic era. In the beginning, there was no communication or compromise, only congealing masses forming into planets and stars. The trilobites and the protomammals knew nothing of tenderness and affection. They only knew a biological mandate to crawl out of the primordial ooze."
        "You guys are on your own," said Ghizal before he hurried back to Matt's room.
        Steve gritted his teeth as Dan continued.  After fifteen minutes, he had gotten up to describing how parasaurolophus could use a pocket of air in its skull like a horn to send messages over long distances.
        "Screw this," muttered Steve.  He headed to Matt's room with Dan behind him.
        "Give me one of those," he commanded, pointing at a can of Four Loko as he entered. Dan followed him, simulating various mating positions of the velociraptors complete with sound effects and lubricants.
        We tossed a can to Steve and celebrated his decision to abandon discretion.  He opened it and took a deep, long drink. Mike captured the moment with his phone.
        "What changed your mind?" asked Jerry.
        "Communication." Steve drank quickly.
        Phil arrived.  He was dressed in a blond pageboy wig, a red crown, a red vest with black and gold embroidering and he held a scepter in his hand.
The Jack.
Phil dresses for the ladies.
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        Ghizal laughed. "That's a great costume, Phil."
        "What costume?"
        "You look exactly like the jack of clubs."
        "I do?" Phil looked at himself. "Huh. I wasn't trying to. I just put on what was still clean."  He took a deck of cards given to him by the Golden Gate out of his pocket.  He went to the mirror and held the jack of clubs up.  "You're right. Although, technically, I'm more handsome."
        "I have an idea," said Ghizal. "You know how the bums in downtown dress up in costumes and ask for money to let tourists take pictures with them?"
        We nodded. Ghizal proceeded to tell us how Phil could blend right in. People would take pictures with the Jack of Clubs and give him a couple of bucks. We'd take turns using Phil to earn money, and take that to the Western Casino's dollar craps table. Ghizal estimated that Phil could make at least as much as the guy who spray painted a refrigerator box yellow and claimed he was SpongeBob Squarepants.
        With his speech slightly slurred, Steve said, "You seriously want me to panhandle during my own bachelor party?"
        "No, Steve," said Dan. "You and I will stay behind.  I think you'll find the Cenozoic Period particularly fascinating, because of the rise of warm-blooded animals."
        "I'll do it."

        Downtown was hopping on a Friday night.  People streamed from casino to casino.  They carried yard-long beer glasses, frozen daquiris and crappy trinkets bought from the retail kiosks. Despite the free flow of alcohol, though, we discovered that carrying a can of Four Loko was frowned upon by Fremont's bike-mounted security patrol. So our first stop was the alley between the Las Vegas Club and the Glitter Gulch strip club to gain some liquid courage.  Phil wasn't nervous about going out in public in his costume, but the rest of us were about being seen with him.
        We drew straws to see who would panhandle with Phil first, and Jeff drew the best one.  It was a clever illustration of a crazy straw with a lot of loop-de-loops and some very nice cross-hatching for the shadows.  The rest of us watched from the alley as he took Phil out and paraded up and down Fremont, asking strangers if they wanted a picture.

Phil with a new admirer.

Making another easy fifty cents.

Explaining himself.
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        "How much?" asked a rotund man with a southern accent.
        "Twenty dollars," Jeff replied. "Fifty if you want the deluxe package."
        "I'll give you a quarter, and you take the picture."
        "Deal." We were on our way.
        Fifteen minutes later, Jeff had four dollars, an empty cocktail glass and a half-used book of matches from Binion's. He took his earnings and was gone to the Western.  It was Robert's turn. He struck upon a drunken Mrs. Moneybags who said she would pay five dollars if she could put her hand down the Jack of Clubs' pants.
        "You can do that for free," said Phil.
        "No," Robert said firmly.  "Five dollars."
        We collected money faster as the evening progressed and the people on Fremont got more inebriated.  People who ignored Phil earlier in the evening stopped later, believing that the thing they needed most in their lives was a photo with the Jack of Clubs. Jeff quickly lost his initial craps stake and had to do a second stint. Phil was the last to earn his betting money because he had to wait until the rest of us were done leeching off him.

Phil gives Ghizal a freebie.

Taking a little break.

Arriving at the Western.
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        By 9:30 p.m., all but Phil stood in the grim, fluorescent-lit smoke at the Western's one-dollar, double-odds craps table.  Physically, the Western is a few blocks outside the concerts and go-go dancers of downtown.  Philosophically, it is miles away from anything festive.  However, the distances have shrunk in recent years because of the city's efforts to revitalize the space between them.  The sidewalks where prostitutes and crack dealers once loitered now front hipster bars and restaurants. The street has a median decorated with the city's historic neon signs.
        The Western had not beautified. The dollar craps table was the first thing inside the doors, similar to how Tiffany's may display a 20-carat diamond ring in its window.  Mixed between us along its rail were the regulars: hoodlums, hard-lucks and souses.  With between five and ten bucks each, we were the high rollers.
        The table was rocky.  We had little breathing room in our budgets so we kept the bets simple: a dollar on pass, two in odds.  Our stacks grew to twelve dollars and shrunk to two until Phil finally showed up. The security guard looked up from his desk and rolled his eyes as Phil entered as the Jack of Clubs.  A few gamblers stopped pressing slot machine buttons, but they said nothing.  His getup was no more noticeable than the man in an adult diaper at the nickel video poker, or the young man playing blackjack with his pant waist hanging just above his knees.
        "Your royal highness," the floor supervisor said as Phil put a handful of quarters, two dollar bills and a buy-one-get-one Big Mac coupon on the felt.
Western by Day.
A view of the Western from a safe distance.
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        "What took you so long?" asked Dan.
        "It turns out the bums don't take kindly to strangers," said Phil. He told us how a man in a wheelchair wearing an ape costume and a woman in a cowboy outfit made entirely of grocery bags and cotton balls had threatened to beat him to a pulp if he didn't get off their turf. A guy spray painted gold chased him away from Binion's and forced him to take a circuitous route, by Main Street Plaza, the courthouse and through the dilapidated Lady Luck construction site.
        But he was here now, and our crew was complete.  Dan got the dice for the first time that weekend and made the most of it.  He rolled a ten and came right back to it.  He connected on a six.  Along the way to his next point, he traipsed across almost every point as we up our bets and lay out comes.
        We shouted and jumped.  Sure, we only won a few bucks, but it was money we needed. The dealers got tips, something they rarely see at the Western, and that encouraged them to make calls in our favor.
        The Four Loko we had drunk earlier was wearing off, though.  When a cocktail waitress didn't come to our table right away, Steve yelled loudly across the casino. "We're thirsty over here!"
        Dan congratulated him. "It's good to see you enjoying yourself. You know, the tyrannosaurus rex was always thought to be a fierce fighter, and he was. But he was so much more; he was also a tender lover.  When hungry, he killed; when horny, he snuggled. The marriage lesson is to adapt to the situation, to roll with the punches."
The rocky Western craps table.
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        Steve balled his fists and muttered, "Punches, huh?"
        Before Dan could expound, the cocktail waitress arrived and our attention was on her. We all asked for drinks at once and she scribbled down what she heard as fast as she could.   Matt ordered a beer for himself and an appletini for Steve, assuming he'd like it as much as he did the WNBA and Michael Bublé. 
        "This one's my gift to you," Matt said as he clapped Steve on the back.  Steve grunted, which was more polite than saying, "I hate appletinis."
        Matt left for the bathroom when the cocktail waitress returned, leaving Steve to tip for the drink he didn't want. She handed him the beer he asked for plus a lo-ball glass filled with a sticky, greenish-yellow fluid. Mike snapped a photo of him double-fisted.
        Jerry was fascinated.  "That looks like the Incredible Hulk's urine, as seen in DC Comics Number 142."
        Steve held it up to the light, then took a sip.  "That's what it is, all right."
        Jerry excitedly grabbed the waitress by the arm. "Can I have one of those, too?"
        The Western's bar made every drink we thought of, and they all tasted the same. In short order, we had several shots of Sambuca, Sex on the Beach after requesting the girliest drink they had, raspberry margaritas, lychee daquiris, rusty nails, Tom Collins, manhattans and whiskey sours.
        We didn't care about the taste of burnt rubber because we were winning and because our taste buds had checked out halfway through our Four Lokos.  Dan finally lost and passed the dice to Phil, who came out blazing by hitting four sevens in a row.  Our meager buy-ins were now over twenty bucks apiece. Phil has a reputation for wild throws, but tonight the rest of us arranged ourselves so our bodies and arms could deflect anything errant. Phil's next throw hit Ghizal in the face and the dice fell onto the table as a four.  We laid our odds and tossed a few bucks in tips on the hard way for the dealers.  The stickman loudly rooted for the point.  Phil hit a five, a nine, a ten, and twelve other numbers and everyone got restless.
        "Hit the hard four already, Jack," growled the stickman. "I've got bills to pay."
        "Okay, lean back," The Jack ordered him. "A little more. Now forward a bit.  Hold your stick at a 37-degree angle--37, not 38." The stickman did as he was told. "Good. This might hurt a little."
        The rest of us stopped talking and watched as Phil set the dice just so, cocked his arm and carefully aimed for the man's face.  He pulled back his arm, paused, adjusted his position and finally let loose. The dice sliced through the air.
Western security takes offense with something Matt says.
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        "Dice on the floor!" shouted the stickman as the dice flew over Matt, who was standing next to Phil, and landed in the bingo lounge.  Everyone was impressed.  As far as the floor supervisor could remember, it was the first time anyone had ever thrown the dice off the end of the table he was throwing from.
        Phil hit the hard four on the next throw, netting the dealers a forty-dollar tip, and then he hit some more points. By the time he sevened out, our stacks were tall and filled with red chips, even a few greens.
        The Western's craps table closed at eleven p.m., probably two hours before our winning streak would have ended. The dealers colored us up and the supervisor locked down the chips, we had to take our winning ways elsewhere.
        As we waited in line at the cage, even Steve was enjoying himself.  He laughed at one of Matt's jokes, which nobody ever does sober, and he complimented Phil on his wild throw. He was beginning to remember how much fun it was to be one of the guys, to let loose of pretense and adulthood. Even drunk, though, he needed something.
        "So," Steve said to Dan, "about lunch."
        "It was great, wasn't it? But you don't need to thank me again."
        "Actually, I was thinking more about getting paid, you know, now that we've won back some money."
        "Not to worry. As soon as I see an ATM that takes my card, we'll settle up."
        "You've got some of it right there." Steve pointed to Dan's winnings. "I mean, I don't want to sound like a jerk, but money's really tight with the wedding planning and I just need to know I'll get reimbursed."
        Dan reassured him and Steve turned his attention to the rest of us.  He asked to be paid back for the small loans he had given for water, the El Cortez damage, toiletries, a foot massage chair, drinks and tips. While each of us might only owe a little, he said, it added up to a lot. And he only agreed to this trip because we had promised to pay for everything.
        We listened to the speech. It was a very good speech and full of logic and what seemed fair.
        Jeff responded first. "I'm hungry."
Matt, the Jack and Ghizal order tacos.
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        The rest of us agreed and forgot what Steve had been talking about. There was a taco truck in the vacant used car lot across from the Western. Actually, it wasn't a truck but an unmoored trailer with two young people sitting in its fluorescent-lit interior.  It smelled good.
        We got in line right behind a man who looked exactly like Rutherford B. Hayes, beard and all. We knew it wasn't really him, though, because Hayes wasn’t a taco type of president.
        Just as Burt approached the counter to place his order, his cellphone rang. "Hello?... Yes, I'm still in town... Right now?"
        "Wife problems," Dan said knowingly to Steve. "Lack of communication."
        Burt's call continued. "I have to get a cab."
        He hung up the phone and told us, "I have to go."
        "Maybe if you'd talked it out," said Dan as he put an arm around Burt's shoulder.
        "That was the Rio. A seat has opened for the World Series of Poker Lo-Ball Deuce to Seven tournament starting in fifteen minutes."
More tacos.
Sitting, thinking and wishing for more tacos.
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        "Deuce to what?"
        "I don't know what it is." Burt waved his arm at every passing car. "I'll read the rules on my phone in the cab. I should do all right; I've still got Jerry's lucky swimsuit on."
        Burt ran back to the more populated area of Fremont Street to find a cab while the rest of us ate tacos and discussed our recent win. When Steve ordered, he looked around, expecting somebody to pick up his tab, but nobody offered.
        After eating, Steve brought up money again. It was rude of him to make the rest of us feel uncomfortable just for having borrowed money after promising we wouldn't. His words hung in the air like a sour fart while we while we digested the comments, and the tacos. Finally, Ghizal said what was on our minds.
        "Sexy blackjack!"
        Even downtown, cheap blackjack games are hard to come by on a Friday night. A few casinos advertise two-dollar tables, but the rules suck and rubes are stacked three-deep waiting for seats.  The Gold Spike, though, was far enough from Fremont Street to keep the crowds away and had two good three-dollar tables.
The exterior of the Gold Spike.
The Gold Spike beckons with cheap and sexy blackjack.
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        The Spike advertised sexy dealers, and it wouldn't have been fair to complain since the game is cheap. They're definitely cleaner, friendlier and prettier than the ones at Foxy Girls. But they were the second string: those who weren't pretty enough to deal at casinos where customers actually tip. This was exactly how we liked them. We've been rejected and insulted enough to be more comfortable with women who have a couple flaws, like a peg leg or jagged scars across both cheeks.
        Our first dealer was a young woman dressed as a sailor during a severe wartime fabric shortage. We took our seats and ogled, while she ogled Phil in his Jack of Clubs outfit.
        "Are you here for the electronica rave thing?" she asked.
        "No," said Phil. "I'm the Jack of Clubs."
        She dealt deftly. Clearly, she had learned deck handling quite well on those long ocean sorties. The very first hand Dan got--wham--blackjack!
        Phil leaned over from his seat and said, "You're welcome."
        He pointed to the blackjack. Resting on the pillow of the ace of hearts was the jack of clubs. "That's me. You're welcome."
        "Oh, thanks."
        The next hand, Mike got a thirteen that included the queen of clubs and Matt got the king of clubs. Phil pointed.
        "That's my lady. And that's my boss. He's kind of a dick."
        So it went. We all told jokes, and our dealer laughed, even at Matt's. Every time the jack of clubs appeared, Phil said, "That's me!" With the queen it was "That's milady," or "At your service, your highness." On each king, Phil piped up, "Hey, boss! (he's kind of a dick)." When the ace appeared, Phil declared, "That's my crest!" With any other jack: "Hey there, cousin!" or "Go back to your own kingdom." Often, Phil spoke continuously in order to comment on every card dealt.
        He spun a complex story line among all the face cards. Apparently there was a pending merger or possible war between the court of the spades and the court of the diamonds, and the clubs would play a significant but mysterious role. The hearts were clueless, but the six of diamonds and the five of spades were also having a clandestine love affair a la Romeo and Juliet.
        While most of us crowded around the scantily-clad private first class, Jerry opted for another blackjack table. His was electronic. The cards appeared on a digital screen, and the dealer, an avatar of an attractive young woman, appeared on a vertical big screen.
        When a seat opened at our table, Jeff waved Jerry over.
        Jerry demurred. "I've got a rapport going with this dealer."
        "She's just a video loop," argued Jeff.
        "At least she's not pretending to be amused while really thinking I'm a dork."
        Our soldier/dealer blushed and smiled nervously. We suddenly felt sober.
        "Hey, that's me!" Phil continued his routine but it was no longer funny. While our sexy sailor was quickly running out of patience with Phil and looking over her shoulder for a relief dealer, the rest of us decided to address the deflating party the most appropriate way: more alcohol.
Something girly.
Matt and Dan have girly drinks with sexy dealers.
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        In a last-ditch effort to impress the dealer with his sensitivity, Matt asked the waitress for the girliest drink in the house. Not to be outdone, Dan said, "Make it two."
        Out came two shapely mai-tai glasses filled with Pepto-pink slush topped with dollops of whipped cream. Each had a phallic sculpture in cocktail straws, cherries and whipped cream.
        "What is it?" Matt asked.
        "It's called a blowjob," answered the waitress.
        The hair on Matt's neck stood on end. He had two choices: to refuse it loudly while talking about manly things, or to accept it and prove how comfortable he was with his heterosexuality. He chose to accept it, because the alternative wouldn't have gotten him any drunker. He stroked the glass with sensual gusto. He licked, caressed, sucked and moaned while working over the long straw.
         Besides halting the game for five minutes, Matt's performance sickened almost everyone.  Dan learned from Matt's mistake and chose an alternate route. He pounded his blowjob in two brain-freezing gulps and shouted, "Titties! How about those New England Patriots, huh? Gonna shoot a lot of home runs this year. Man, do I love chainsaws."
        The blowjob tasted awful, but it was potent and got them quite buzzed. Phil elbowed Dan and pointed. "There's my lady. And there's my boss (he's kind of a dick.)"
        Matt and Dan exploded in laughter. "Good one, Phil."
Something girly and green.
Steve's a copycat.
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        Seeing their good time, Steve asked for the same drink, but in more macho green. When it arrived in verdant, sugary, alcoholic glory, we tipped our glasses to the bartender for his artistry. Not to be outdone, Jerry called the waitress over to his video table and ordered something called a Pink Squirrel, which was every bit as disgusting without the sexual innuendo.
        "Bring me the manliest drink you have," ordered Matt, an obvious attempt to flirt with the new dealer, who had stepped in dressed as Marlon Brando in "The Wild One" after a rival gang attacked his clothes wielding nothing but scissors. The bartender sent him a Budweiser in a plastic cup with several olive-sized stones at the bottom and a stranger's loogie floating on top.
        "Can I have something insouciant?" Dan asked. The waitress shrugged. She spoke to the bartender, who pulled a dictionary from under the counter. After reading, he sent a tumbler half-full of white wine, simple syrup, a cocktail onion and a small marshmallow floating on top.
        Steve asked for "Something sinister."
        The bartender outdid himself: a shot glass filled with thick pitch-black liquid: a combination of Jagermeister, 151 rum, cayenne pepper and at least two mystery ingredients that smelled of death. Steve considered it warily for several minutes before taking a tiny sip.  His eyes rolled into his head, his ears twitched and his face twisted into a scowl that still hasn't entirely left.
        Phil, ever the scientist, poured a drop onto his palette and let the effects register. After an involuntary grimace, he choked out the words, "It burns!"
        It was stupid for anyone else to take a turn at the glass, so we did. As the liquid seared like Drano down Dan's windpipe, he moaned that he was reliving his worst childhood flu. Feverish deliriums crowded his soul. He gagged and fell onto the grimy carpet, weeping black tears from his eyes.
        "You guys are pussies!" barked Matt as he grabbed the glass and took a big gulp. He stood stock still for three seconds before convulsing and dry heaving.
        "Not… so… bad," he gasped and then coughed and gagged. "I think... I'll have... another," he hissed.

Steve experiences the sinister.

Dan does too.

Phil is intrigued.
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        We asked for furious drinks, "the soul of a sad little girl in a cup", "something with motor oil" and "a transgendered drink," and the bartender complied. The room spun and the cards whirled. Phil's boss was a dick. Our chips rolled in and out to the tune of "The Dance of the Sugarplum Fairies". At some point the Gold Spike closed the blackjack tables but we were too toasted to notice. Dan kept putting chips into the betting circle, piling them on top of his previous bets until, after a half hour, the stack was eight inches tall.
        He finally noticed and shouted, "You guys, I won! I won!"
        Mike came over from a slot machine. "You won all that? How?"
        "I don't know. I must have hit a superduperblackjack or something."
        Jerry quit his video table, saying, "She's starting to repeat herself."
        Nobody was in a condition to count chips, but we knew the amount we dumped onto the cashier's counter was far more than we had bought.
        "How much did you win?" Jeff asked Robert.
        "Me too!" Jeff said. "No, wait. I got fourteenty thousand hundreds."
        Steve was perhaps the drunkest of us all, and probably with the best reasons for being so. However, he was sober enough to remind us that we owed him money.  "Like a million billion dollars."
        "You'll get it with interest," Phil assured him. He was the most sober since he had talked about his card family much more than he drank. "And not just any interest, but payday-loan interest."

        We left the Gold Spike and returned to the Hilton. The plan was to sleep, wake up fresh and have a lovely brunch. We would make good on all our promises.
        Steve said good night. He felt good, not only because he would be getting his money back, but also because he'd exorcised a demon. He cut loose and went wild, got drunk and did stupid things.
        Now he looked forward to returning to normal: to some brioche and a copy of the New York Times in the morning. He went to his room, put a photo of his fiancée on the pillow and a wave of relief washed over him. Relief that the weekend was almost over and there was little time left for more misfortune. Relief that he would be repaid in full. Relief that he would soon see his fiancée. Relief to be in a Hilton, which represented the type of upper-middle-class lifestyle he aspired to. In fact, it was the same brand he and his fiancée would stay at during their Hawaii honeymoon. As he drifted to sleep he imagined he was already there, with the ocean just outside his room.