by Dan, Matt and Stinky

Photo graciously provided by Carol and Michael, Jeff, Scott and Jerry

PART 1 - Deflower Power



After a long, rain-soaked delay on the tarmac at Denver, a jittery flight through black storm clouds, and a spectacular landing over the rivers of lights of the Las Vegas Valley, I was itching for some action. Gambling would be fine, so would street-brawling or a crab-walk, anything that didn't require me and my attention-deficient mind to sit still and be scolded for pinching the small child in the seat next to me.

Las Vegas! I was excited for so many reasons, the least of which was that my wife cannot monitor my drinking when she's too busy hollering at a "Piggy Bankin'" slot machine she believes has been unusually stingy. I was also excited about the Big Empire activities, including the Ice Cream Social, Gold Spike Cocktail Soiree and the Shrimp Cocktail Eating Contest. My job was to pull together enough people to insure chaos and then get out of the way.

It was almost eleven p.m. when we landed, and we were hungry. I made arrangements using the in-flight telephone to meet our friend Feldy at the Peppermill coffee shop on the Strip. Many people say the Peppermill's decor is a throwback to the 70s, but I don't think that's accurate. To me it's a throwback to the mansion of a rich pervert throwing an unsuccessful orgy circa 1969. Every square inch not covered with silver or plastic plants is draped in thick, dingy velour. The colors are dark, yet dazzling. The ceiling is low, so the deep, sexy murmurs of the gathered swingers carry. In the kitchen, former private dick John Shaft prepares the eggs. The ham and cheddar omelet is one bad motherfu - shut your mouth.

Amy is a vegetarian, so she ordered the fruit salad. What she got was more fresh fruit than our local Safeway has on hand at any time. The dish must have weighed five pounds and included an entire pineapple, bunches of grapes, half a juicy honeydew, a pound of deep red watermelon, a half-dozen fat strawberries, and a dollop of cottage cheese. Mine and Feldy's beef dips and fries were dwarfed in comparison, but still tasty. The service was superb and sultry, the prices were slightly higher than other coffee shops, but it was fair for the opportunity to dine where astronauts would not feel overdressed.

The Fireside Lounge, tucked into the back of the Peppermill, is tackier, cheesier, and infinitely more elegant than anything short of the Hustler world headquarters. A bubbling, multi-colored fountain is the centerpiece. In its middle, a raging fire glows year-round. The booths are low and modular, like leftovers from "2001: A Space Odyssey." From the back of the room I heard a voice from a speaker say, "Hello, Angels, I have an assignment for you" to a trio of scantily-clad, hot-looking ladies.

Midnight arrived - the witching hour and the time I had agreed to meet my new Internet buddy, Bob S. Black, at the El Cortez's quarter craps table. We thanked Feldy for his always welcome company, and pointed our dinky rental car toward downtown.

I had never met Mr. Black before. I had never even seen his picture and was a little concerned that I wouldn't recognize him. He assured me that I would know him because he'd be the only guy at the quarter craps table who didn't look like he belonged. At the risk of sounding like a braggart, I rarely miss a "One of These Things is Not Like the Other" on "Sesame Street" and was sure Bob would be an easy mark. With my wife following, I swaggered across the spooky, shadowy parking garage and through the little-used back entrance of the El Cortez. I strutted between the crowded aisles of old three-reel slots, my head cut through the thick haze that hung in the air, and I wheeled around the pit to the crowded quarter table.

I was stumped. Nobody there looked out of place. Every drunk, sour player stooped over his stack of rat biscuits. Around the table, there was more grousing than cheering, and some bettors barked at the roller to chuck the dice. Others were in arguments with the dealers over payments, debts or bet placement, and one fellow was vigorously fighting with himself. The only person slightly different was the younger guy at the far end of the table. What he lacked in age, though, he made up for in grease and slouch. His T-shirt's collar was stretched to his navel, his hair drooped from his scalp in stringy black clumps, his eyes were so bloodshot they made mine water, and his face carried the weary, haggard look of a man who had either been holed up in the ElCo for too long or just spent a month wandering around the deserts of Egypt.

I knew Bob was only 27, and that's about how old this guy looked, so I tested the waters. "Bob?" Those bleary eyes looked

Married-Ladies' Man Lethargio

up from the felt. "Yeah, Matt, how are you?" His eyes stayed up long enough for a covetous glance at my wife, then they turned back to the table. "Keep your greasy mitts off my wife," I advised him, then we shook hands.

I pushed Bob over a bit, squeezed into the table and changed a new $20 bill for 80 rat biscuits. The waitress strolled by and I requested a Budweiser. All the beers come in cans at the El Cortez, even the fancy import stuff that Bob sucked on. The rookie dealer shoved me $19 in chips, which I wouldn't have noticed if there hadn't been a five minute delay in the action while the dealers tried to figure out how to pay a hop bet. My wife had wandered off into the bowels of the ElCo, in order to review the decor and theme, so I had time to pay attention to my chips, rather than keeping Bob from wrapping his octopus-arms around her.

"Hey, I'm a buck short here," I harped at the dealer. "Huh?" he asked. "Look, there's only nineteen bones here." The dealer looked at my stack and nodded. He said under his breath, "I'll square you up, but I gotta do it on a payout, when the boss ain't looking."

Whatever, I figured. Bob and I rolled up and down, winning fifty cents, losing fifty cents and watching the dice move around the table as our cocktail waitress kept us happy for those big (by ElCo standards) dollar tips. At some point, my wife returned and said she was cashing in for the night and hitting the sack. I turned to kiss her goodnight and so did Bob. After I slugged him in the arm, he knocked that nonsense off. The dealer never did give me my missing dollar. Finally, the dice got to Bob and he "Hung 'em High."

I learned from Bob this night, in addition to the facts that he isn't above pursuing married women and that he wears Speedos under his trousers, that there is a Lucky Zone above the craps table. If you toss the dice higher than six feet, you're gonna be a winner. And the higher you go, the more luck will flow. Not to get too technical, but it has something to do with the winner-dust which floats above craps tables, sort of like the ozone layer. Bob kept inching higher into the Lucky Zone, until the dice flew over my head and the dealers gave him dirty looks.

When the rookie dealers finally got the guts to order greasy Bob to bring it down, he descended from the Lucky Zone and crapped out. It was okay, though, because I had earned my missing dollar plus a few others for tips. The dice moved to me and I was aiming to top Bob's lofty heights. Up, up, up the ladder I went, adding inches to every toss. I figured I'd be throwing a while and was in no hurry. Finally, with the dice grazing the dusty chandeliers, the stickman rapped my knuckles and ordered me down. Even the rookies, obviously, are aware of the Lucky Zone.

With the dice now being pitched into what I call the "Loser Zone," I crapped out and decided to call it a night. I bid farewell to Bob, who was headed back to the Golden Nugget to prowl for wealthy divorcés or, as he put it, "adventurous married ladies." I headed upstairs and joined my wife in our $23 room.

The El Cortez has several room categories and all of their prices are fixed for all seven nights of the week. Twenty-three bones buy a night in the portion of the hotel that's been there since 1941. It's up one open flight of stairs from the casino, and down the door from a low-rent barber shop. The sounds of the slots and drunken revelers funnel up the staircase and rattle around the old halls, making the cheapest rooms a bad choice for light sleepers. They are small, with barely enough room for a dresser and queen-sized bed. Otherwise, they are clean and comfortable. The bathroom was recently remodeled in frilly flowers and ornate fixtures, and it was well stocked with soaps and shampoos. The other room choices include bigger and fancier $28 queen rooms in the new tower and $35 double-queens. For $40, you can move into the "King Suite." Frankly, if you're getting something called a "king suite," you're too damn fancy for the ElCo.

I climbed into bed with Amy and the effects of the long day hit me. Amy woke up briefly and asked how the craps had gone. I told her I won a little and said there was something I needed to tell her but couldn't remember. As I tumbled into Slumberland, I still couldn't remember.


Morning came with the ring of a jackpot bell just down the stairwell. I awoke and immediately remembered what I had forgotten the night before. Amy was already up and in the shower. When she came out I sat her down and said, "Here is what I wanted to say last night: stay away from Bob. He's a Lethargio." "Lethargio?" asked my wife. "Yes," I warned, "a lazy Lothario."

It was almost eight a.m., the time Amy and I were to meet Jerry. Jerry is an old friend of Dan's from their Arizona State University days. I had only met Jerry twice, but had enough information to know we would get along just fine: he was a Vegas Virgin. I have always done well with virgins. Not sexually, but I have been able to mold their still soft ideas and will to my whim. I planned to take Jerry under my wing before anyone else brainwashed him, and I would show him my Vegas, the way this town should be seen. I'd drag the poor boy through the muck, give him a wedgie, introduce him to skanky ho's, and he would be forever grateful. By the time the rest of our friends arrived that evening, Jerry would be eating out of my hand, no matter what I put there, even Circus Circus scrambled eggs. He would be another foot soldier in my cheapskate army.

An incredibly nice person named Amy (not my wife) from a newsgroup I frequent gave me two free buffet coupons for the Orleans, and I figured my wife, Jerry and I could split the cost of the last buffet among us. This would put a decent meal under Jerry's belt and have him thinking being cheap was an easy, fun business.

The Vegas Virgin

By the time we got downstairs, Jerry was waiting. Per my instructions, he had ridden all the way to the Downtown Transit Center from the airport on the CAT 108 bus. He was one dollar poorer and a little shaken by the 45 minutes on a crowded bus. "I'll protect you," I said as I gave him a wedgie before I forgot about it. We walked to the ElCo parking garage with Jerry desperately trying to de-wedge his underwear.

The Orleans buffet was mediocre at best, but worth the $1.33 we each chipped in. I explained my Las Vegas philosophy to Jerry: Las Vegas is best seen with both feet planted firmly in the gutter. I wanted him to be able to enjoy what the city had to offer, from the bottom up. I told him about how Dan had fallen in love with a rich girl last year, and how I spent my whole vacation trying to save him from a lifestyle he couldn't afford and a girl who wanted him for his body and brain, but not his face.

Over waffles, I regaled Jerry with Stinky and my midnight raid of a Rio suite, and the free souvenir cocktail glasses we got. My virgin hung on every word and he believed my side of the story, for lack of anything else to believe.

"Dan was wrong, very wrong," I said in a hypnotic voice, working to plant the idea deep within Jerry's psyche.

"I want to see your Las Vegas," he begged before going back for a second plate of eggs. He understood the virtues of cheapness and the high adventure it could lead to. Now all I had to do was get him to ignore Dan. I knew Dan would have his own nefarious plans for the boy, but I had first dibs.

As a well-respected and foul-mouthed film critic, I had to do my duty and see a movie. Amy and I dropped Jerry off at the Sahara and returned to the super-comfy theaters at the Orleans for a matinee showing of "Austin Powers 2." Jerry really wanted to go to the Hilton to see the weird Star Trek stuff, but we dropped him off at the Sahara and ordered him to walk the rest of the way under the blazing June Sun. That would toughen him up for the job ahead.

After the movie, Amy and I returned to downtown and made a business stop at Fitzgerald's. Originally, we planned to host our Saturday afternoon Ice Cream Social in our lavish suites high atop the Gold Spike. But, a last minute move to the Fitz was necessitated by the size of the expected crowd. Had we kept it at the Gold Spike, disaster was imminent. One of our more litigious Big Empire Buddies would have sued us for causing heat stroke when the air conditioner failed under the strain of trying to cool 35 bodies packed into a small room in 105 degree weather. Or we would have been kicked out of the hotel for smuggling dozens of people up to our rooms, and that would have left us with no choice but to sleep out in front of the Western with the crack bums and cockroaches.

A phone call to Fitzgerald's found their marketing department very accommodating, partially because we told them that we were the Big Empire, but mostly because we showed them a credit card that was not maxed out. They would be thrilled to be associated with paying customers, they told us. We would have exclusive use of their balcony for two hours on Saturday afternoon. We figured two hours was plenty; if anyone passed out and couldn't leave under his own power after that, we'd haul the body into the casino and prop it up at a slot machine. He or she would undoubtedly get picked up by a tour group at some point and end up in Phoenix or somewhere, and would no longer be our concern.

It was now late afternoon and our Southern California friends would be arriving soon. We returned to the Gold Spike and found Jerry in his room, pampering the blisters that developed when he returned to Downtown from the Hilton on piping hot sidewalks. He proudly showed them to me and bragged about how he had saved a buck by avoiding the bus. Seeing him in such pain brought a tear to my eye. "I'm so proud of you," I said. My little guy was growing up so fast.

After a long dehydrating day staggering lost through the valley, however, Jerry wasn't the eager student he was at breakfast. It was time for his next lesson, the one where we got some skanky 'hos from North Las Vegas, but he wasn't budging. "Later," he pleaded. I countered that later all the good 'hos would be claimed and we would have to sift through the dregs.

"Skanky 'hos?" he repeated in a shy, confused way. "Are those anything like Ring-Dings?"

"No, no, my friend. They're the holy grail of slumming it. I'm talking Grade A, leathery, aged, withered, heroin-addicted 'hos," I elaborated with a series of hand gestures, trying to get him in the mood for action. "You're gonna do the nasty."

"Um," he giggled nervously. "You know, I'm married."

"They don't care."

"I, um, oh, gee, I'm gonna have to pass on this one," Jerry stammered. I could have kicked myself. Did I push too hard? Did I think he was more advanced than he was? Should I have pulled back? I could feel Jerry slipping from my grasp as he went back to tending his blisters.


As I boarded the plane at SFO, I couldn't help a wistful smile. What adventures awaited this year?! It turns out that I did manage to find the e-mail of Katrina (my fling of last year), and we corresponded a few times, realizing quickly that we had little in common besides last year's Paree in Vegas. So, in a sense, I felt turned loose to allow my libido to run wild again. And yet, there seemed to be a hollowness to the prospect. As I learned last year, this one-dimensional type of adventure, no matter how extravagant, does not feed the soul. No, give me a quiet pond, some port-du-salud and Merlot, and Whitman's Leaves of Grass. Barring that, give me Las Vegas-give me its very soul!

Robert, my ever-vigilant travel companion, got us into the last row on the plane-a good spot, he said, for one can slip one's carry-ons under one's own seat and stretch one's feet out ahead of one. And that's just what this one did. Robert began to tell me about why Southwest is the second best company to work for and why Davis, California, and Santa Fe, New Mexico, are the best places to live in the U.S. That, and dozing, made it a short flight.

We arrived at MacCarran, and my spirit soared with excitement, "the rush and crash" as Michele Clinton put it. Las Vegas enriched my chakra, and I got a slight woody. Pardon if that's an "over-share," dear reader, but I could hardly eschew these feelings, nor the tittilating vibrations of the landing gear!

Robert and I went to rent a car. Although the slogan of this rental company was "Unlimited Smiles!" our representative proved to be a complete bitch. Fortunately, my studies of transcendental philosophy, Zen meditation, and crystal power over the last year enabled my groundedness to prevail, and Robert and I pulled out shortly in a white car of some sort.

I desired sustenance, not having eaten for some hours. Since a spirulina and tofu wrap was not available, I pleaded with Robert to stop at a Burger King. I ordered a Whopper, offered Robert a bite, and ended up with half a Whopper. No bitterness here; merely observation. I also observed a gnawing half-a-Whopper-sized emptiness in my stomach for the rest of the evening.

On to Part 2

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