Put dozens of Big Empire Buddies together on a casino balcony and what happens? A polka party! Sure, we had gathered for ice cream and socializing (maybe even a little romance), but by the time the afternoon was over chaos had taken the reins. A bride was pelted with Bomb Pops, and an accordion-led a sugar-fueled conga line of Buddies through the casino, commandeered the main casino stage, and finally found its way onto Fremont. The cheapskate ethos of the Big Empire was spread as successfully as the Clap at a swingers' convention.

Originally, we planned to host the Ice Cream Social in the lavish suites high atop the Gold Spike, a downscale hotel that is just a hair into the shady neighborhoods off the Fremont Street Experience. 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 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 gotten 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.

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 told them we had a credit card that was not maxed out to which we could charge the rental. They would be thrilled to be associated with paying customers, they told us. We would have exclusive use of the balcony for two hours. 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.

The Big Empire Buddies' appetite for all things free is legendary. Who can forget last year when we had our "Metal Shards Days" and 46 Buddies consumed more than thirty pounds of industrial shavings just because they was free? Not us, and certainly not the emergency room doctors at Winslow Community Medical Center. We knew we had to procure massive amounts quiescently frozen confections for the Buddies. Our pal John helped us out, shuttling Amy and me all over the Las Vegas Valley in a dilapidated, hand-painted Rover. First we went into the "bad neighborhood" to buy 15 pounds of dry ice. If you've never bought dry ice before, it costs about $0.70 a pound and is 109 degrees below zero. It also sticks to your skin if you stand in a parking lot holding 15 pounds of it for any amount of time. After prying it and some skin off my arms, we packed the dry ice into a cooler and made our way to Costco, the best place to buy huge boxes of drumsticks, ice cream sandwiches, Bomb Pops, and Creamsicles. We purchased hundreds of treats and packed them into the ice chest until it was brimming with sugary goodness.

The Fitz's balcony is on the second floor, just off the casino floor. It is below the Fremont Street canopy and about twenty feet above the Street. For our rental fee, the Fitz has put up two signboards. One read "Big Empire Social" and the other read "Private Party." As soon as we arrived the fun began. The guests weren't there yet, but a bunch of strangers were on the balcony drinking beer, reading books and staring out over the mess of humanity below. I called security and a burly guard named Ed came up and rousted the folks. I stood in a corner and pointed out who could stay and who had to go. It was a better power-trip than when I was an usher at my sister's wedding and barred my parents at the door. I may rent the balcony in the future just so I can eject innocent people again, or I'll at least see if I can hire Ed to roust people everywhere I go. Next, we rearranged the "Private Party" sign to read "Pirate Party" so that strangers wouldn't even consider crashing, for fear we'd make them walk the plank! Arrr!

When the teeming mass of Buddies started arriving, we flung open the ice chest and welcomed everyone with a special greeting that Mr. Shandis created just for the occasion: "The first treat is free, but they're a dollar apiece after that." The Buddies, true to nature, dove in with gusto and soon were stuffing their greasy ice cream holes with a wide assortment of novelties. Blue, red and green streams of melted Popsicle stained their lips, trickled down their arms, and pooled on the floor. For the first fifteen minutes there was very little socializing, just grunting, slurping and jockeying for position at the ice chest.

A wedding party passed below us on Fremont Street. The fat bride was pretty, sort of like a low-flying cumulus cloud in her flowing white gown. The groom was a drunken slice of machismo in a rumpled beige tux, a beer in one hand and his bride's paw in the other. He paid more attention to his other drunk friends than to his newly-minted Mrs. Drunken Lout. The Buddies yelled down to them, inviting them up for ice cream, but the groom declined. He was in too big a hurry to get to the pawn shop to purchase a wedding ring. As they wandered toward SuperPawn, we pelted them with congratulatory Bomb Pops.

The Big Empire's resident musical genius Fang supplied ambience, courtesy of his accordion, He quickly set up in the only corner of the balcony not to be soaked in Popsicle juice. As he tore through the "Theme for Latvia" and a tear-jerking rendition of the classic "Misty-Eyed Lady" the ice cream was quickly forgotten and romance became the order of the day.

Unfortunately, the ratio of men to women was about eight to one. (Ladies, in order to even the gender balance Mr. Shandis has authorized two treats for each of you, including one coveted Drumstick per lady.) In a desperate and misguided attempt to lure some hotties off the Street, a few Buddies made tawdry and lurid sexual innuendoes using the largest ice creams they could find. The desperate catcalls and whistles of amorous Buddies almost drowned out the raucous performance of Fang. Although none of the lovelies accepted, it seemed like a lot of them considered it for a moment, and that's more action than the Buddies usually get. One bum, a man, came up in search of free ice cream, and to make satanic gestures. He was quickly dispatched with another call to Ed.

Leave it to the Buddies to not let their spirits be quashed by rejection. Instead they danced amongst themselves, shaking the balcony to its foundation. An unwelcome striptease atop one of the tables was cut short by a barrage of ice cream sandwiches and one well-aimed Mr. O'Lucky keychain. After a while, the Buddies started coming down from the sugar highs. The Social closing time of four p.m. drew near.

But the party spirit had not died and Fang had caught a second wind. Not knowing many songs, he repeated the "Theme for Latvia" while those of German ancestry performed the traditional "Small Potato Man" dance, and those of Finnish ancestry scowled bitterly. Fang then led us off the balcony and through the casino. The withered souls at the slots looked up in confusion as our procession of dancing, clapping knuckleheads marched by. Some smiled, most felt their space was violated.

Down the escalator we went and into the main casino, with Fang pumping the accordion as though it were the chest of a heart attack victim. In the main casino, among the blackjack and craps tables, an empty stage greeted us. Our musician leapt onto it and launched into "Misty-Eyed Lady's" companion piece, the bluesy "Misty-Eyed Woman." A security guard approached, looked on for a moment and then headed to the employee break room. Dealers stopped and watched this musical whirlwind that was finally forcing life into the staid casino. Each employee eyed the group suspiciously, knowing what was happening was not kosher, but none had the can-do spirit to actually put a stop to our shenanigans. Instead, they looked at their co-workers with eyes that said, "Isn't it your job to get unauthorized accordion players off the stage?"

Ten minutes later, disappointed that he could not get kicked out of the casino, Fang packed away the accordion, waved goodbye to his fans, new and old, and left the stage. The party was over, the dry ice had sublimated and the remaining ice cream was melting. It was goodbye to the Buddies until next year.

For pictures of this year's social, go to the Buddies secret page.

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