While most of the group headed off to catch Xtreme Scene, Matt and I prepared ourselves for the Second Occasional Gold Spike Cocktail Soiree, the social event of the season. We gathered up the streamers and bags of confetti and set out to stake our spot in the Gold Spike lounge.
Once in the lounge we were growled at by the bartender when we started unrolling one of the streamers. We thought a second time about putting up any decorations to identify ourselves as the hosts. We decided to stick with the old method of just looking for the people who least looked like they belonged in the Gold Spike and assuming that they were there for the party.
Matt and I ordered a drink each to help quell the pre-party jitters. The soiree was scheduled to start at 8 p.m., but we knew that no participant in the alt.vacation.las-vegas newsgroup, an ever-fashionable set, would show up much before 8:15.
The first to arrive were David Snopes and Barbara Mikkelson, from Los Angeles, easily recognized by their clear skin and bright, smiling faces, both rarities in the Gold Spike casino. Greetings were exchanged, and the party began its gradual snowballing roll.
Steve Elliott arrived with Billhere, who came in with his usual flourish, calling out, "Hey Matt! Where's your wife? I want to see this imaginary woman!" He was disappointed to find out that he had to wait until the end of Xtreme Scene to meet her. We were equally saddened to hear that either his Mormon wife does not approve of the kinds of goings-on we had scheduled, or that Billhere did not approve of her attending the sorts of goings-on we had planned and would not be making it at all. Billhere had promised to bring his wife if Matt brought his, and after Matt had been reassured that this wasn't a wife-swapping thing, he agreed to it. But Billhere had reneged, and Matt was a little upset. After Billhere and Steve came Mike Canterbury and his lovely wife, Mary.
More and more people trickled in, many whose names I don't remember the name, and with each new arrival, the security guard's eyebrows raised further. The Gold Spike lounge is not really set up to handle large groups, and the party spilled out in between the banks of slots. While we were all simply talking and laughing, and some of us even playing the machines, the security guards kept their eagle eyes trained on us.
I was approached at one point by a Gold Spike regular, reeking of liquor something fierce, who tried a few times to ask me for something. I could not understand what exactly he wanted. After he tried one more time, very slowly and as clearly as he could, I finally figured out that he wanted me to go with him to the coffee shop and act as his second person for a 2-for-1 coupon. I thought it awfully nice of him to ask me, a complete stranger, to share a meal until he further explained that I would not be allowed to eat, just to pick up the second meal and sit there while he ate them both. I commended him for his clever plan, as I always admire anybody who wants to scam a free meal, but had no intention of joining him.
The joint really started to hop after the Xtreme Scene show ended. Robert came dashing in to the party, filled with tales of his performance debut, and the rest of the gang regaled us with stories of dancing and singing and annoying, whistle-blowing comedians. Even Dan seemed to have calmed somewhat, and stopped his incessant dramatic sighing for at least ten minutes.
Ted Newkirk and his gal Pamela showed up, pushing the number of guests up to 35.
Billhere finally met Amy, and no matter how much we tried to convince him, he would not believe that she was Matt's wife. He concocted stories of a giant conspiracy that had been going on for two years, culminating in this moment, when we finally fooled him into believing that Matt had convinced her to be his wife. Amy and I assured him that we would never have the wherewithal to pull a stunt like that. But the point became moot when the security guards finally had enough of our revelry and told Amy and me to quit leaning on the slot machines or else.
Ted suggested that this would be an ideal time to start the Penny Slot Tournament. Billhere turned his attention from harassing Amy to haranguing me for having won the last Penny Slot Tournament. He yelled, "You better not cheat this time, cocksucker!" His unkind words just made me want to win more, especially considering that this evening's tournament had a real prize - a heavily coveted Gold Spike T-shirt.
On any given Saturday night in the Gold Spike Copper Mine, there are very few open penny slots, and even fewer penny video poker machines, so the whole party could not participate. The contestants would not only have to compete for slot prowess, they would have to compete to see who got a machine. Ted explained that pushing was allowed. He began the five minute countdown and we scrambled through the casino, over slots and under tables, to reach the Copper Mine. He called out numbers at the top of his lungs, hoping to be loud enough to get us all booted so he could keep the T-shirt for himself.
The competition was fierce and furiously quick. At least four people fell out of the race after the first minute. I was concentrating intently, as I had received a full-house with one of my first pennies and was building what felt like a good lead. Close behind me were Mike Canterbury and Steve Elliott. But when the final buzzer rang, I cashed out my 51 pennies, added them to the original 45, and was declared the winner by almost 40 cents. I quickly accepted my T-shirt before Billhere could call for an official investigation.
As I took a moment to compose myself for a victor's speech, though, the Gold Spike security thugs approached us yet again, this time claiming we were blocking the "emergency paths" between the slot machines.
The drunk bum that hit Stinky up for the free meal stopped by to chat with me. His name was Burt and he was a 52 year-old former mail carrier. By the number of times he mentioned his former occupation I could tell he was proud of this and identified himself this way. Burt shook my hand no less than 50 times. Every time he shook my hand he told me I was an honest man and that I had integrity. For a bum he sure had a fantastic ability to accurately read people. Burt talked in a slurred speech as he rocked on his heels. I thought he would fall over. I asked why he was a "former" mail carrier and Burt explained in bits of intelligible speech that he would still be one if his supervisor had liked him, because he only got in one accident while driving drunk. He said he sure liked Christian Brothers brandy. I sympathized. Burt shook my hand once again and then asked me to give him a dollar. This is when I introduced him to Mike Canterbury and his wife Mary, and I ditched the three of them to meet some other soiree guests.
Debbie, one of the swing shift managers at the McDonald's I work at showed up. Debbie has been a supporter of mine at work, against all the jerks there, and even getting me into counseling rather than fired when I put one of the senior citizen's hands into the deep fat fryer. That guy was so slow and always talking about his Buick! I was glad to see her. Billhere was too, even though he didn't know her.
I chatted while keeping an eye out for Dan. We let him go to Xtreme Scene with the rest of the gang after dinner because it would have been hypocritical for us to deny him such a cheesy pleasure. Worried that Dan would slip away, I was thrilled when he walked through the door of the Gold Spike and into the soiree. I wondered if we were finally loosening the evil grip that the high-life had on his throat.
While the cocktail soiree was an overwhelming success, and we were passively forced from the Gold Spike by the disgruntled security guard, I would have enjoyed the evening a heck of a lot more if I could have been sure Dan was back in our midst. One minute he was happy, the next sad and confused. I remembered one thing from the deprogramming my parents put me through after I joined the Moonies. That one thing was that Dan was at a critical juncture. He could now go either way and we needed to handle him with kid gloves, as though he were a baby's butt covered with contagious boils. This would require the gentle touch for which Stinky and I were so well known.
After the Spike, the shrimp cocktail eating contest took place at the Golden Gate. The thirty of us still partaking of the soiree strutted through the casino and gathered near the rear deli counter. Billhere sponsored the contest and ordered eighty cocktails to get the competition started. For those that have never been to the Golden Gate deli, it is about the size of a large living room. When it is already mostly full, thirty more people make it cramped. Dan ended up standing near the piano and whenever the pianist wasn't looking he added a few notes to the music. Our group overflowed into the casinos and bar area. As people left, which happens rapidly when my friends and I are present, we took over the empty deli tables. To expedite the exodus Stinky and Robert sat at a table with two elderly women and started discussing bikini waxing.
At the counter, Billhere had some difficulty convincing the Golden Gate chefs that he wanted so much shrimp. He pulled out a crisp $100 bill and asked, "Do I stutter? " The crew busily prepared the delicacies with assembly line precision. As the shrimp cocktails were finished in batches of ten, I carried them to our tables and passed them out. A surprising number of the group either ordered their own jumbo shrimp cocktails or chose not to participate. I don't like shrimp cocktails and forced down two only because they were free.
Shortly, the stack of empty cocktail dishes piled up and a crowd gathered. We had tourists on every side of us, fascinated, as we were, with this exercise in gluttony. The competition was whittled down to a few iron-stomached veterans by the third round of shrimp cocktails. Ted Newkirk, who I would put my money on to do just about anything, was restricted to only one cocktail by Pamela. By the fourth round, only two survivors remained: Billhere and Steve Elliot. Billhere ordered a fourth and Steve matched him. Both men were pacing themselves well and it looked like this would be a marathon.
But Billhere stumbled halfway through his fourth. The shrimp were getting warm and the cocktail sauce was losing its tang. A bit of his shrimp repeated on him and Billhere pounded his stomach with his fist to bring it back to working order. Steve watched from a distance, his eyes narrowed to slits, and his spoon moving at a measured pace from the dish to his mouth.
Miraculously, Billhere finished his fourth, paused for a moment and then asked for a fifth shrimp cocktail. The crowd cheered and applauded, including many people we didn't know. Now our attention turned to Steve, who had watched Billhere's next move before making his own. Tension filled the room as Steve paused, looked at the amassed dishes before him, back at Billhere, and then at the few remaining, lukewarm shrimp cocktails. Billhere was already elbow-deep in the cocktail sauce of what appeared to be the winner. Steve took a deep breath and said, "Give me two."
The crowd erupted in cheers. What a brilliant move! Billhere slumped over his table in defeat. Just when he thought he had Steve against the wall, Steve played his trump card. Now all Steve had to do was eat the two shrimp cocktails that Jeff placed in front of him. He did, slowly and completely. The next step was to award Steve with the shrimp cocktail eating contest's grand prize: the "Pound of Pig" dinner at the Plaza diner, to be eaten immediately. Steve, ever the gentleman, politely declined because it meant that the runner-up would benefit. Second place was whatever part of the Pound of Pig dinner the winner didn't eat. Billhere then declined his prize, claiming he had reinjured an old gastrointestinal wound. I didn't press the issue because if either of them had accepted I would have been out four bucks plus a tip.
We expected the evening to end here. Instead, half of the hardy band of soiree attendees wanted to continue the fun. We headed over to the Horseshoe for a free photo with $1 million before the booth closed at midnight. Thirteen of us crammed into the photo area while several others opted to remain on the sidelines. This was because they were either drunk, shy, or did not want any record of their participation in this event. Out of respect, I will not list their names. After the photo, it was near the witching hour and several of us wanted to try our luck with the dice. The Horseshoe was too crowded, so Mike Canterbury suggested the Plaza's quarter tables. We walked over to the Plaza only to find their cheap game equally saturated with players. The group decided to bump the action up to the dollar level where the table wasn't quite so crowded, and we slowly elbowed our way in.
I was one of the first of our group to get in at the table. I pushed
my way between an elderly Asian husband and wife who were flat betting
the "don't pass" line. When I first set my chips in the table
rack, the man said there wasn't room for me.
I told him I was pretty sure there was because I am thin and also stronger than him. To emphasize my point I curled my hand into a fist and held it in front of the man's wife. I told the couple, "Don't bet the Dark Side when I'm around. This here's a whole new ballgame."
And to prove this I won my first bet. I nudged the old man and said "Huh, huh?" He put another red chip on don't pass and then grunted at his wife to do likewise. I told her that she was a free woman, I was a winner and she should bet the pass. The woman held her chip out over the table, looked at her husband then at me. She placed her chip on the pass line and I smiled smugly at the man. This time the roller crapped out on two throws. The old man pounded his fist and cursed his wife in Chinese.
The old man stormed away from the table and Stinky took his place. The man's wife stayed put and gave him a severe tongue-lashing in her native tongue, to which Stinky said, "You said it, sister." Then he pulled out some of the old Stinky magic, producing a huge and noxious cigar from his sock, which helped clear out several spaces on the other side of the table. Steve Elliot and Mike Canterbury got in along with Jeff, Mike and Steve. Billhere knocked over a man with a cane and grabbed his spot on the other side of the Asian woman. He fanned out a thick wad of hundred dollar bills and was handed stacks and stacks of red and green chips. Robert slipped in beside Billhere. Billhere admonished me to get my money off the pass because, "these damn casinos cheat."
Dan laid back from the table, hanging out with Amy at a bank of nickel video poker machines. I kept an eye on him and every time our eyes met, he tried to give me this sad puppy look. I was so concerned for Dan's state of mind that I almost stopped gambling.
We controlled most of the table and more of our friends hovered about, hoping to score free drinks when the waitress came by. When she did I got a beer and my one pack of Camel Lights for the year. The dice were at the far end of the table, with Mike throwing and Jeff and Steve right behind him. I bet a buck plus five times odds and the occasional come bet with odds. Robert said that if I played my pass bet with ten times odds, instead of pass and come, I would expose myself to a lower negative expectation with as much money on the table. I didn't understand what he was saying, so I used my standard response for such situations. "You don't know what the hell you're talking about, Robert."
Debbie, my boss, worked her way to the table and Billhere took it upon himself to teach her how to lose massive amounts of money at craps, insisting that it was easy. She followed Billhere's instructions and stood by the table. When the dice got close, Billhere moved her up to the rail and handed her one of my dollars to put on the pass line. The stickman shoved the dice to her and Billhere did the Las Vegas equivalent of Sir Walter Raleigh covering a mud puddle with his coat. He peeled off a $100 bill and laid it on the pass line. He told the boxman, "Money plays," before I could pick it up and run away. In two quick throws, Debbie crapped out and Benjamin Franklin disappeared down a little slot in the table. Billhere acted like he didn't care, but you know it bugs someone when he spends more on one roll than my family did on my grandmother's new dentures.
The dice passed on to Mike, and Billhere returned to laying stacks of red on the don't pass line. Mike hit point after point. The table was jovial, and the crew was handsomely rewarded for their prompt payments and professional demeanor. I personally gave one of the boxmen a dollar and told him to put it on hard twelve for "the boys." As he threw it on the table he said "as opposed to the soft twelve?" I could tell he was mocking me. When I come into a joint to play the dollar tables I expect to be treated like a dollar player, not some dirtbag. "Give me my dollar," I said. "It's too late," he said, "your friend already rolled the dice." I demanded my dollar. "You made fun of me, and I don't like that." The pit boss said the dollar had already been wagered. I threatened to take my dollar action and walk out, to which the boss said that would be okay with him. I ordered Mike to hold the dice until my argument was resolved. The stickman told him to throw the dice and, out of sheer cowardice, Mike did. He hit his point, an eight, we all screamed a bunch, (except for Dark Side Billhere) and the crew forked over our winnings.
I was still mad about the dollar, though. The boxman said, "I thought you were going to leave." I said I was, as soon as the waitress brought me my drink. By the time she did, I was winning too much money to really give a damn about standing up for principles. I looked over at the nickel machines to find only Amy. I panicked for a second before I saw Dan standing at the other end of the table, behind Jeff, and envying all of our winnings. Dan threw down twenty dollars and joined the game. He was just about recovered from this bout of puppy love.
The dice were passed to Jeff and he immediately started one of the hottest rolls in the history of mankind. My stack of dollars turned red. Mike Canterbury won $100 on his $50 in odds bets on a ten. Billhere moaned as his chips slipped away to the gods of the don't pass. Even Dan was having a good time. Stinky, Amy and I smoked my Camel Lights. As the money rolled in I found myself less concerned about Dan. Yes, I wanted to perform my Herculean task, but money proved to be an excellent substitute. With a smile on his face and a lot of money in front of him, Dan pointed to me from his end of the table. He asked if I had any more smokes. I threw one across the table and it landed short of Dan, in the "Field" of the table.
The disagreeable and unkempt pit boss growled. "Who threw that?" Nobody said anything. The pit boss picked up the cigarette and examined it. "Who threw the cigarette?" We all looked at our feet, except for Billhere, who I thought was going to rat me out, but instead shouted at the pit boss, "You're cheating!" The angry man glared at our suddenly quiet group. We remained silent and the stickman slid the dice to Jeff. The pit boss slapped the stick, "If someone doesn't take responsibility, you will all stay after the game." Steve giggled, and the pit boss accused him of thinking the situation was funny.
"No dice for these babies," ordered the boss. "But," the boxman said. "No buts," he snapped, "if they aren't men enough to admit what they did, they aren't men enough to play craps." My friends were disappointed, and they looked at me. They thought the honorable thing for me to do would be to say something. I felt pretty crummy too, so I spoke up.
I said, "She did it," and pointed at the small Asian woman. She said, "No, I didn't." My friends agreed with me, and the pit boss told her to get lost. After a bunch of protesting, she took her medicine like a man and left. I felt kind of bad about doing that to a nice lady, but I didn't want the whole group to get booted for a moment of bad judgment on my part.
After the heroic gesture, my karma was good and the table remained hot for another fifteen minutes. After we all exhausted our turns with the dice we filed away from the table. As I left I reminded the pit boss of my good deed. He thanked me for my candor and I asked, "How about some dinner?" Without flinching he responded, "For how many?" I told him eighteen. He asked if I would settle for two. I agreed. Snapping his gum and rubbing his messy hair, he wrote up a full meal comp in hopes of getting this particular one dollar player back to their tables for another hour of craps.
Billhere also quit playing, but not before shouting at the table crew, "You won't get away with this! I know what you're up to! Don't think I won't tell people about your goddamn shifty dice!"
The evening had come to its logical conclusion, with everyone either drunk or tired, and also wealthier than when the evening began (with the exception of Billhere). The group disbanded inside the Plaza, and those of us staying at the Gold Spike headed back. Spirits were high, even for Dan. Stinky and I walked with him through the deserted Fremont Street Experience. I felt proud to have accomplished the second of my three goals. Tomorrow, I thought, I can put three dollars in the Megabucks machine.
I asked Dan if he was glad to be back with us and away from all that tacky crap at the Rio. He said maybe, but he couldn't be sure because he felt flush from the cash he won. I explained to him that this wasn't about keeping him out of love. It was about keeping him out of harm's way.
Unlike Matt, who already has a wife, I could sympathize with Dan. I too felt the occasional pull to go chasing after a soulmate. Of course, I would never let some fancy girl sway me from my dedication to saving precious pennies, but I nevertheless wished there were some happy medium. So on the walk back to the Gold Spike, while we were all still feeling the flush of recently taking the Plaza for some cold hard cash, I proposed just such a medium. I told Dan that we could combine all of our goals by simply finding him a girl in the Gold Spike. He seemed skeptical, despite my argument that, "it could be like a scavenger hunt!"
I got very excited by the idea, and as we approached the squat casino, I grabbed Dan by the arm and Matt followed behind. I pulled Dan between the rows of potential Veni de Milo. First we circled the tables, because girls who play table games tend to have more moxie, a trait which Dan values highly. The pickins were decidedly slim, but I noted at least a prospect or two, not the least of which was a bored looking dealer. I figured she had a built-in pickup line, the time-honored classic, "what time do you get off?" Dan nixed her by kicking me in the shin.
Next we walked between the rows of slots, searching for anybody who didn't have rolls of fat hanging over the stools and who was not stooped so far over as to appear to be an extension of the machine. Again, not many women met my admittedly low criteria, but a few stood out as decent prospects. He seemed reluctant, rejecting the women with such nitpicky concerns as, "She's probably sixty-five," and, "What? Her? She's homeless for Chrissake!" I reprimanded him for not cooperating.
Finally, I headed Dan toward the bottom of the barrel: the penny machines. I had to ease up a little on the requirements, and searched for anybody who was not dirty. I came around a big bank of slots and hit gold. A thin woman perched on a stool, her auburn hair cascading down to her shoulders. I approached and tapped her shoulder. She spun her head around, the cigarette dangling from her mouth dropping ashes on my shoes, and yelled, "What the hell?" My jaw dropped at the sight of her face. Dan screamed in terror and covered his eyes. I had seen softer, better moisturized skin on mummies.
We had covered the entire casino and there was only one card up my sleeve left to play. "You want to check out the ladies' room?"
"I just want to go to bed," pleaded Dan.
"What about love?"
Dan yawned, "I'm done with love. You guys spoiled it for me."
"Really? So you'll hang out with us now?" I asked. Dan nodded.
"Cool," Matt said.
With victory under my belt, I was ready to sleep.