The Orleans stood alone, much like the cheese of childhood poems, way out on Tropicana west of the Interstate. From the outside the hotel was so undistinguished as to be unique in its blandness. The only nod toward New Orleans was some ornamental ironworks on the hotel windows. Inside, the hotel's commitment to banality continued in a massive, open casino populated primarily by locals and elderly tourists. As we entered, a hostess handed us Mardi Gras beads to help us remember the place's theme. The only other indication of Louisiana was a huge bar in the middle of the casino that had great big fiberglass alligators sticking out of its corners.
There was nothing of interest for a tourist except gambling, so we headed up the escalator to see what kind of damage we could do. Upstairs several weddings were either underway, about to start, or recently completed. It was like the Rio's internationally-themed buffet up there. There was a Mexican wedding, a Vietnamese wedding, an American wedding, and some people who sounded Italian. To get down the hall we ducked and dodged so as not to get into any of the photos. At this point we discovered Las Vegas's best-hidden secret.
Upstairs, among the innumerable offices and banquet rooms, all of the drinking fountains that were missing from every other casino in town had been installed. Eight spigots pumping out ice-cold water were lined up against a wall, and we partook of the frosty bounty, no waiting. Even with all eight fountains going there was no loss in water pressure. We drank for at least ten minutes, frequently sampling each others' fountains, and the water never warmed a degree. My initial impression of this dull casino had been elevated. I no longer thought it was an undistinguished den. I now thought of it as a magical oasis in the middle of the desert.
Worn out from the day's activities, we headed back to the Gold Spike for a short respite before dinner and the cocktail soiree. Once in the casino, I noticed Dan, furtively looking around and carrying his bag. I nudged Matt, who had stopped to play a couple of nickels, and nodded toward the elevator, whispering, "Look over there, it's Hurricane," He replied, "Where'd he come from?"
We broke for the elevator, and Dan, trapped like a rat in the narrow corridor next to the Street Fighter machine, braced himself for the inevitable. We slammed him back into the elevator and Matt held him against the corner as I pushed the button for the 7th floor. Dan sneered, "Let me go, you lugs."
Matt growled back, "Not before you learn a little lesson, Sparky."
At this point, I was a little wary, because I didn't particularly want to hurt Dan, and the look in Matt's eyes suggested that his intentions were not as pure as mine were. But I did feel that it was in Dan's interest to remind him of the virtue of the budget traveler, untainted by the high life at the casino resorts. So I slugged him in the gut and said, "Just shut your pie hole and everything will be much easier."
Here was my opportunity to make someone else's life better through a Herculean task. I was Hercules and Dan was the stables that needed cleaning out. Whether Dan realized it or not, he would be happier for letting me save him from wealth and conspicuous consumption. Also, once I had fixed Dan I would only need to hit the MegaBucks jackpot to make my weekend complete. In truth, we were helping each other, only he was too blinded to realize it.
I got Dan into a headlock and asked where he thought he was going with his stuff. He said Katrina asked him to spend the night, and he liked her room better than ours. Now, I can deal with someone wanting to hang out with a girl. Hell, I married a girl. But, what really got under my skin like a hungry maggot was the fact that Dan could so easily abandon his low-roller esthete and so easily start living like a king. Did he really think he was going to have more fun in some silly suite at the Rio just because a girl would be walking around in the nude?
"In fact," he said, "she's probably wondering where I am." The fact that Katrina had a Mercedes only made me that much angrier.
We got to the room and pushed Dan in. I opened the balcony and led him outside. I asked if he could see Katrina's car, and he pointed it out. A bum was tapping on its window. From seven floors up I couldn't make out the driver, but I was pretty sure she was attractive. I could at least tell she had a nice tan.
Dan became dejected. That's just how wussy he had become in his "new" life. He asked why we were doing this. "You can't go around living the high life," I said. "Why not? " he asked. I explained that he had about as much right to be high-roller as a dog did to race in NASCAR. We were not born a bunch of high-rolling hustlers, and we weren't about to convert now. Besides, I said, I came to Las Vegas to see my friends, and I expected them to want to see me, or at least pretend they did.
Dan unspooled some mopey speech about how he could see us anytime, but this new connection would only be open for a short time, and the unknown path it would lead him down was what he was after. He said he really liked Katrina and claimed we didn't care about his happiness. He even told the story about how he had saved up money for a root beer Popsicle when he was little, only to drop it on the sidewalk. He tells this story every time he wants someone to feel sorry for him. It didn't work this time.
When he was done with all that nonsense I explained that we cared so much about him that we were willing to forcibly put him back on the right path. I told him maybe he didn't know it but he would rather play quarter craps with us than fall in love. Dan said we were jealous. "Jealous of what?" I retorted. I noticed Stinky didn't disagree with Dan.
Dan sat down on the bed and sighed. "You guys aren't going to change your mind, are you?"
"You aren't going to the Mirage," I said.
"Why not?" Dan protested.
"Tough love," I replied. "Besides, I have a decidedly delicious dinner plan up my sleeve. "
Stinky whined, "I'm sick of 99 cent hot dogs."
My guess is that this Katrina girl must have really liked Dan because she sat out in her car for quite a while. Then, she got out and walked into the casino. I didn't tell this to Dan because I was afraid he would yell to her and draw her attention. As the sun settled behind the Plaza, Katrina got back into the Mercedes (undamaged, I might add) and drove away.
The first thing to do was to stem the bleeding. Getting slammed into the elevator had an adverse effect on my skull. The second thing to do was declare "Payback Time!" Of course, with two of them and one of me, payback didn't last very long.
"Let me up!" I cried.
"Not until you promise to hang out with us," they whimpered.
"I'll not promise such a thing!" I declared proudly. The elevator doors open and they threw me across the hall and into the room. The Gold Spike rooms were particularly dark and depressing to me now, in light of Katrina's kindness and wealth.
I tried everything to get out of the room and to my love, even my Popsicle story, but nothing swayed Stinky and Matt. I realized my only hope was to play along. "Okay, okay, I'll hang out with you. But I need to make a phone call to my mom."
"Why?" asked Matt.
"Because I need her to wire me some more money. Gambling with Katrina, I lost all I had."
They snickered mercilessly and offered me the phone. I took it into the hall and called the Rio. As quietly as I could, I asked for Katrina's room. It rang several times with no answer and the front desk picked up. Matt looked into the hall at me. My silence had made him suspicious, and his nostril flared, trying to suck in the scent of my true purpose.
"Hello, uh, Dad, uh, Daddio!" I said to the receptionist at the Rio. Without giving her a chance to do anything but assume I was a beatnik, I asked, "Can I please leave a message for Mom. She's in room 1544."
Matt and Stinky came into the hall and stood next to me.
"Room what?" hissed Matt.
"She's at work," I told him.
"On a Saturday?"
"It's inventory weekend."
"She works at a school."
"And they're taking stock of the kids. Shush!" Was I sweating-hoo-boy!
"Please tell MOM that I am okay, but that I need her to, uh, send help, and money because I'm being held hostage at the Gold Spike." That was about all I could say because those two monkeys were on me, wrenching the phone from my hands and the hope from my heart.
Stinky said, "You made a promise, and you'll have to keep it. But if it's fly ladies you want, you can see the Xtreme Scene at the Plaza with us." I didn't know what that was.
"It's a variety show," said Stinky, "it's free, and from what I hear, you'll see titties."
"Um, " I said, "okay. "
"After that, " Matt smiled, "the soiree." Stinky jumped up and down on the bed with malevolent glee and shouted "soiree."
Matt said it was dinner time. He and Stinky led me out of the room and to the casino where the remainder of our friends had scattered about playing slots and blackjack. We walked down to the Plaza and Matt led us up an escalator. He boasted that he was taking us to his little secret. Matt believed he was the only person privvy to many public places. The Fashion Show Mall was "his secret", the public restrooms at the Grand Canyon were "his secret", and now a public area served by escalators at the Plaza was his latest "secret".
We reached an overdressed coffee shop called the "Center Stage" and Amy mocked Matt, "Your secret appears to be well-staffed. " The Center Stage probably was fancy in the 70's and most of its fixtures and furniture were clearly rooted deep within that decade. Matt bragged about how his "secret" place would perch us over Fremont Street and we could gawk at tourists as we ate. Only, we refused to grease the palm of the overdressed maitre d' and he crammed us in next to the kitchen.
The service was as if scientists had trained monkeys to serve in restaurants. It felt like good service, quick, responsive and thorough, but it didn't come naturally to the staff -- and they smelled like monkeys. The food was cheap. It was also bad. Of the eight of us, only one claimed to enjoy his meal. The rest figured we could have gotten the same food in the coffee shop for cheaper. My trout tasted like tin foil and I thought of the free feast that awaited me by candlelight in some expensive Mirage restaurant.
By the time we were done eating it was nearly eight. Time for "Xtreme Scene". Matt and Stinky squabbled over whether they could trust me on my own, since they had to return to the Gold Spike to prepare for their "soiree". I assured them that I wasn't going anywhere right away because a) Katrina had no idea where I was, b) I had no car, and c) boobs. So they disappeared and the rest of us gleefully took our free coupons for Xtreme Scene and joined the line in front of the showroom.
The Xtreme Scene was about as "Xtreme" as the high setting on a standard clothes drier. Within the first ten minutes of the show, I could have named from the top of my head two-hundred things more deserving of the adjective. The most action in that show occurred in line for our free drinks when the bartender cussed out one of the waiters as an incompetent. It was a little frightening, and the line was tense thereafter.
Even with two cuba libres slammed into my bloodstream, the opening image of the show was tasteless to the point of unpleasantness. Three women appeared on stage in black, heavy monks robes. Jeff said, "cool robes!" The first piece of choreography was for the dancers to flash short bursts of breast from their robes, while their faces and the rest of their bodies remained covered. Amy, Jeff, and Mike, endowed with lovely senses of humor, giggled at this. I, not so endowed, grimaced. It was extreme only in objectification. It was like someone coming onto the stage with a microphone and yelling "TITS!" I then understood that when the producers said "Xtreme" they really meant "the opposite of tasteful."
The girls danced, their lithe bodies much too athletic and attractive for the hackneyed stripper kicks they were forced into. One of the three supporting dancers reminded me of Katrina, and I thought of her, needing some cash and taking this low-effort, high-paying gig. She could work six hours a night (two shows) for a few hundred dollars and have the rest of her time to do whatever else she wanted. Someone like that would have a strong enough personality not to care about the audience, the lascivious insurance salesmen, the horny marines, the goofball college students, the numb business people.
The girls on stage wriggled as a recorded singer bellowed, "Shake your funky monkey 'til it cries! " I thought more of Katrina.
"I'm going to get a drink." I said. Just in time because a comedian had come on stage and was insisting on communicating everything gesturally. No words: only facial expressions and wacky body comedy. I was outta there.
Since I had no car, fleeing was futile. At least I could call and leave a decent message. Again, nobody in Katrina's room. I knew she'd be pissed. You don't stand up Daddy's girl. I left a message at the front desk saying that I was ten thousand times sorry, and that as soon as I could get away from my commitment, I would run to her.
I returned to the Xtreme Scene, only because I feared that Stinky and Matt would be waiting for me to try to sneak out. Two pretty black men were singing a booty-shaker. My Gaydar hit the red zone, and I felt pity for the drunk young lady on the verge of chucking her panties at the stunning homosexual physiques singing, dancing, and sweating on stage.
"Where's your drink?" asked Amy.
"I forgot it." I said, and turned around to really get one this time.
The line was long, and when I finally came out of the bar, the comedian was back on stage, harassing a row of men. The one guy he was picking on currently was tall and lanky, and looked very uncomfortable. It turned out to be Robert. The comedian tried to make him bust a hip-hop move, but Robert was resistant. Mugging on the part of the comedian didn't seem to help the situation as Robert lapsed into thetime-honored technique of the unwilling audience participant - standing very still while grinning. The mime eventually went away, on to another young man who was much easier to tease. At last, the men were dismissed and Robert, shaking the mime's hand, departed from the stage to a lull from the crowd.
Then the lead dancer was back. She was topless, as you'd expect, and her dance partner was a couch on wheels designed to look like a big plush set of lips. It was almost as if she were a topless dancer dancing on a couch on wheels designed to look like lips. She was clearly serious about her craft. Much of the audience may have overlooked the impressive range of her suppleness, the strength apparent in her arms and legs, and the studied accuracy of her motions. I could tell that she had many years of dancing and choreography stashed in those fishnets, but all anyone really noticed were her two pert breasts, undulating along with the rest of her. She chose, in my opinion, some of the worst songs the past decade of pop had to offer. With the possible exception of Madonna's "Hanky Panky" which was a kind of cute little ditty about spanking. And then the two guys were back. And then the "comedian" again. And more breasts. The spectacle became a blur. All I could think of was Katrina, imagining her soft breath, her delicious laughter; wondering where she was at that moment and if she was thinking of me. Well, there was really nothing I could do about it now, so I zoned out to the tunes and tits, and succumbed to a fresh wave of scotch-fueled dizziness.