The Groom
and Phil
as the Jack of Clubs
Part 3 - With the Dawn Comes Regret
Part 1 Part 2  Part 4  Part 5  Part 6  Part 7


        We awoke from our blurry Four Loko hangovers when someone rapped on the suite's double doors. They opened and a small voice called out, "Housekeeping."
        "Gahhhhhh!" Phil screamed in the bloodcurdling tone of someone who'd just lost a leg in a log splitter. Wearing only underwear, he leapt from the bed, grabbed a lamp and charged out of the bedroom, still screaming.
        "¡No, señor, no!" said the small voice followed by a loud crash from the foyer. The door closed. Phil returned to the bedroom without the lamp and climbed back into bed.
Steve enjoyed the spacious luxury of the Rio.
Steve enjoys another area of his suite.
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        "What was that?" Mike asked.
        "The maid," Phil said. "I asked her to come back later."
        An hour later there was another knock at the door.
        Phil sat up, "Hand me that other lamp."
        Steve was already up now and got to the door first. A security guard the size and shape of the doorway stood there. He held Burt, dressed in a hotel bathrobe, by the ear.
        "This, uh, 'gentleman' says he's with you. Is that correct?"
        "Not exactly. He's supposed to have his own room. But if he's anything like these guys--" the rest of us emerged from the bedroom, like clowns from a clown car, until the foyer was full of haggard men.
        Jerry waved hello at the security guard. "Did you bring coffee?"
        The guard counted under his breath as we appeared. "How many people are staying in this suite?"
        "Eight, unfortunately."
        "And I make nine!" shouted Phil as he came out last. He offered the guard a lamp.
         The guard let go of Burt. "This friend of yours was found in a skimpy bathing suit in the Girl's Night Out Party Pit, trying to hustle tips by dancing on one of our chrome poles."
        "Like this."  Burt removed the robe and gyrated to illustrate the story. He pulled at the waistband of the Speedos and shimmied until three dollars in tokens and a matchplay coupon fell out.
Obstacles in the can.
Matt takes a catnap.
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        "He's actually pretty good," said Ghizal.
        Jerry gagged. "That's my bathing suit!"
        "Nine people in a room is a felony crime: defrauding an innkeeper."
        We didn't understand how we could be defrauding an innkeeper when the Rio Suites was a 3,000-room hotel, not some quaint little place where messiahs are born in mangers. It turns out, the law is a misnomer, just like how Ghizal got arrested for breaking and entering his ex-girlfriend's apartment to retrieve a crockpot when, in reality, he didn't break anything. He only jimmied the lock.
        Regardless of semantics, the upshot of Burt's performance and our overpopulation was a lifetime ban from the Rio, except for the buffet. And we wouldn't be allowed to use coupons for that. Burt also had to pay a two-hundred dollar pole-sterilization fee. The guards gave us fifteen minutes to vacate, of which we spent twelve pointing fingers. The rest of the reservation was forfeited.

The Peppermill!
The subtle hues of the Peppermill.
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        "Now what?" asked Steve after we trudged down to the hot parking lot with our hastily-packed luggage and a lamp taken as compensation.
        Jeff said, "The Peppermill." Breakfast at Las Vegas' classiest coffee shop was his gift to Steve. And that made everyone except Robert feel better. He reminded us that TGI Friday's served breakfast too.
        It was just after noon when we walked into the purple, pink and blue neon of the Peppermill and requested a table for ten. While we waited, Burt threw some money into one of their video poker machines and hit a four-of-a-kind in deuces that required an actual hand pay.
        “Man, I needed that after paying for the suite and those fines at the Rio.   Now I won’t have to dip into my beverage budget to pay for food.”
        The hostess called our group and we followed her to a long booth. It was the time of day when we could order a cocktail with eggs benedict, or a ham-and-swiss with a cup of coffee and a bottle of Budweiser.
Breakfast cocktails!
Jerry enjoys a cocktail while Burt wonders how Rio security got his phone number.
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        Steve asked Mike, "Are you sure my fiancée hasn't tried calling you?"
        Mike checked his phone and said, "I'll send her another text message."
        "Just tell her to call. Don't mention any of the stuff that's happened, okay?"
        Mike patted Steve on the back. "Anything for you, buddy."
        The Peppermill was just the ticket for Steve. The food mellowed him and tempered his frustration with our eviction from the suite. It also reminded him of the potential for the rest of the weekend. It helped that Jeff gave him a WNBA Championship cap from 2000. This was an opportunity for him to repeat his long-held belief that 2000 was the league's best season.
        He put the cap on and said,  "Now I have a way of connecting with the tens, possibly dozens, of people in Las Vegas who share my passion."
        Of course, everyone's mood brightened when we reached into our pockets and rediscovered our cash-heavy wallets. Last night was real, not a Four Loko-fueled dream. At least not the craps part of it.
        Thursday afternoon was free time, and we would each go our own way. Some of us planned to
WNBA 4Eva!
Steve shows off his new cap, and new attitude.
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visit the Sahara. It had already closed and its contents were now being liquidated. The other half would take Steve to the pawnshop featured on the TV show Pawn Stars and buy him whatever his heart desired. Robert explained that this was his gift because he knew what a big fan of the show Steve was.
        Steve said, "I've never seen it."
        Robert said, "Well, I'm a big fan, so shut up."
        Phil, Mike, Steve and Jeff got into Mike's car. While Steve suggested he'd rather go to the Armani store at City Center Phil explained Pawn Stars to Steve. He described the doodads and gimcracks that people bring into the shop on the television show.
        Steve tried to make the best of the situation by relating it to one of his and his fiancée's hobbies. "So, it's like antiquing."
Downtown at the pawn shop.
The bucolic setting of Pawn Stars.
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        "Sort of," said Phil, "but without all the nice stuff."
        The shop was crowded, more with looky-loos than with real consumers. The boys had to wait in a line on the hot sidewalk before they could get in. Once inside, they followed a path past display case after display case filled with overpriced kitsch. There were flintlock rifles, old coins, posters of Jimi Hendrix, barbaric old medical devices and brooches and rings.
        "Whatever you want," Robert said to Steve, "is my gift to you."
        "Thanks, but-"
        "Like that fountain." Robert pointed to a four-foot tall statue of a boy peeing right into the gaping mouth of a frog. "Look at that accuracy. Wouldn't that would look great in your dining room?"
        "That's really not the theme we're going for--"
        "Say no more." Robert waved over a clerk behind the counter who told him the fountain cost $4,000.
Phil and Mike ponder something overpriced.
Phil and Mike ponder something ridiculously overpriced.
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        "I'll give you three hundred, and I want Reward Stripes," he countered. The clerk left to help a real customer.
        The clerk didn't come back. Robert suggested to Steve that he would still buy it for him, if the groom paid the extra $3,700.
        "But I don't want that thing."
        "I understand. We'll come back tomorrow after I've won the rest of the money."
        Meanwhile, Phil had bought a pen once used by Ross Perot. Jeff had paid $150 for a used Atari cartridge of the game Burger Time. Mike overpaid for a vintage newspaper that had a blurb on the third page of the business section about Apple's release of Operating System 6.2.
        As they left, Steve pulled Mike aside, "Still no messages? Are you sure she got your text?"
        Mike looked at his phone. "Positive."

The empty Sahara.
The derelict Sahara, where fun once lived.
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        Burt, Jerry, Ghizal and Matt went to see the torn up innards of the Sahara. They also hoped to get Steve a wedding present; something of extraordinary beauty and uniqueness that he would cherish all his life. Surely a defunct, dilapidated casino would have that. They agreed on an industrial deep-fat fryer. They'd show up at the church and wheel that stainless steel monster down the aisle during the ceremony. The organist would stop, everyone would look, the priest would say, "Holy shit!  That kicks ass!"
        The Sahara was hot and dark. The casino floor, once alive with tumbling dice, the electronic bleating of video poker and the laughter of players, was dead. The boys stood inside the front doors, which had price tags on them, while a liquidator explained the purchasing rules before releasing them into the hotel to explore.
Burt fulfills a dream.
Burt fulfills a dream of performing on the Casbar stage.
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        The roulette tables looked more beat up without players hovering over them. The carpet was more threadbare without a lot of feet on it. For every piece of history with a price tag, there were twenty pieces of generic hotel hardware.
        The liquidation had been underway for nearly a month and the most sentimental stuff like logoed fixtures, Beatles memorabilia and the painted Moroccan guard statue, had already sold. Still available were high-backed booths from the steakhouse ($750), iced-tea brew pots ($75), 19-inch tube TVs ($20) and battered nightstands ($10). Also priced to sell were the stage ($5,000) and stage lights ($1300) from the Casbar Lounge, where we first saw the Checkmates perform.
          The boys took the stuffy elevator to a penthouse suite. It occupied the entire top floor with a maze of hallways, bathrooms and bedrooms. The living room had a twenty-foot-long wet bar and a panoramic window overlooking the Strip. The patio had old plastic grass.
The Sahara suite.
If walls could talk, this suite would complain of abuse and neglect.
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        “This place is nearly as big as the Rio suite,” Burt observed.   “If we hide, maybe we can sleep here tonight!”  The plan made some sense, and the guys crammed themselves into one of the closets.  But they quickly realized that without air conditioning it was well over 110 degrees.  They lasted 10 minutes before busting out, gasping for fresh air.
        When they got back to the main floor, they toured the back of the restaurants where olive forks, prep tables and a nacho cheese dispenser were on sale.
        "Just think," said Ghizal, "This once warmed the cheese the Rat Pack used in their famous nacho fights."
        "They never had nacho fights," argued Matt. "You're thinking of the Andrews Sisters."
        Ghizal shook his head. "You've obviously never read Yes, I Can by Sammy Davis, Jr."
Jerry with his cans.
Jerry shows off his wedding gifts for Stevie.
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        They debated chipping in and buying the dispenser for the newlyweds, but realized everything that could go wrong at the reception if Phil get his hands on it. They kept shopping.
        One section of the casino floor had been cordoned off and made into a supermarket for the Sahara's excess stock of cocktail glasses, plates, flatware, relish trays and napkins. Having never run a bar, the boy didn't know if two dollars was a steal or a rip-off for a gross of swizzle sticks.
        "How big is Steve's house?" asked Jerry.
        Nobody knew. Steve never invited them over. Jerry, however, was on a mission. He wanted anything with the Sahara logo on it and settled on about sixty of the plastic hotel room trashcans at five bucks a pop.
        "One for every room of their love nest. Plus, I'm done Christmas shopping for the next twenty years," he bragged as he loaded them into the back of the rental car. Burt, Ghizal and Matt left empty-handed, unable to find that one piece of nostalgia they couldn't live without.
Mike gets his Asteroids on.
Mike practices destroying things.
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        The pawnshop and Sahara groups reconvened at Insert Coins, a new bar in downtown. The theme is drinking and gaming, and there are classic console games like Centipede, Galaga, Joust and Asteroids. The booths have controllers for Playstations, Wiis and Xboxes. A DJ in the back blasts hip-hop.
        At night, Insert Coins is packed with hipsters. In the late afternoon, not so much. When we went it was mostly technicians repairing joysticks and guys like us more interested in chatting up Ms. Pac Man than a real-live girl. Matt played Galaga for 50 cents while drinking a $6 beer.
        Mike played Asteroids for a couple minutes until Robert found him there and was instantly transported to his days of ditching high school to go to the arcade and waste hours in front of the bleeping, glowing, quarter-eating machines. He shoved Mike aside and crouched in front of the controls, impervious to Mike’s angry body blows. The rest of us recognized the look of determination on Robert’s face and left him to work out his aggressions.
        Burt got yelled at for tilting the pinball machine. Jeff asked the bartendress for a "Space Invader," a house specialty drink so special she had to look it up in a book. She made it wrong and had to re-make it. "Nobody orders this crap. We usually just serve beer," she explained.
Cabana Suite Exterior.
The outside of the Cabana Suites.
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         Steve asked Mike again if he'd gotten any messages.
        "The only thing I can figure," said Mike after verifying that there were none, "is that she doesn't want to disturb your weekend. She wants you to enjoy yourself. To cut loose and do things you won't do when you're married, like give me your Angels' season tickets."
        Steve rubbed his chin and nodded. "Maybe you're right. Not about that last part."
        We had yet to address the issue of rooms for the night. Everyone but Burt thought Burt should find us new digs. After all, he got us blacklisted from the Rio. He claimed, however, to have no way of reserving a room since the suite had left him busted.
         Jeff, being the only one with an unlimited minutes cellular plan, called around and found a small block of rooms available at the El Cortez. The only catch was we needed to guarantee them with a credit card, and the major companies had long ago rejected all of us but Steve.
        "I have a library card," offered Phil.
Cabana Suite Interior.
Burt and Jeff try to regain their senses after the visual assault.
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        "Visa or Mastercard," said Jeff, looking directly at Steve.
        Steve said resolutely, "Ground Rule Number 6."
        "Seven," corrected Phil.
        "Whatever. I positively, absolutely will not loan you guys money."
        Ghizal explained to him that this would not be a loan, just a guarantee. In the morning they would all pay cash from their stashes of Joker's Wild loot.
        Still on the phone with the hotel, Jeff said, "They need an answer right now."
        "Fine." Steve groused, but he opened his wallet and handed his card to Jeff.
        We walked over to drop our bags off. The rooms weren't in the hotel proper. They were one block north, where the scummy old Ogden House used to be. The El Cortez had taken over and renovated it to look like a South Beach Miami boutique hotel and called it the Cabaña Suites. The lobby gleamed with chrome and glass. The floor was a glossy black-and-white checkerboard.
        While we waited for the sensation of vertigo to subside, Phil found a large bowl of Skittles on the reception desk. Skittles are his kryptonite. That is, if he had any superpowers and if Superman actively sought out and devoured all the kryptonite he could find. When we arrived the bowl was full. By the time we got our keys, it was nearly empty.
Mike gets his Asteroids on.
Phil's pocket of Skittles.
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        "Top that up for me, will you?" Phil asked the clerk with a wink.
        The Cabaña Suites are not really suites. Some are smaller than Motel 6 rooms. But the El Cortez tricks you into not noticing their tiny size by searing your eyeballs with bright green walls, patent-leather furniture and high-contrast wall patterns.
        "My retinas! My retinas!" shouted Mike as he walked into his room. We later found Ghizal shaking violently on the floor of his. After wedging the lip of a Sahara trashcan into his mouth and rolling him on his back, we asked if he had epilepsy.
        "I do now!" 
        The bathrooms are more sedate, with brick-tiled walls, stacks of fluffy towels and oversized walk-in showers. The quality is there, even if good taste isn't.
        We didn't stay long. Mike went room to room and told us to meet in the lobby. Matt had planned dinner, and Phil had planned the evening's entertainment.
        "I hope it's TGI Friday's," said Robert as he smacked Jerry on the top of the head with his TGIF reward card.

Burt, Steve and a ring.
Burt tries to sell Steve a wedding ring he paid five bucks for.
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        In the euphoric moments after the big craps win, Matt promised to take Steve to one of the fancy Cosmopolitan restaurants. That was before he'd seen the menus, full of dishes with exotic names and prices. All day long, the money that once felt like a gift had assumed the weight of reality and the bills we owed back home. It no longer felt like a gift but our own hard-earned money. Matt and the others didn't want to shell it out for tiny portions of weird foreign food.
        "Which will it be?" Steve wondered aloud. "Celebrity chef Jose Andres' Jaleo or China Poblano?  Maybe the casual French elegance of Comme Ca, or the award-winning Blue Ribbon Sushi? Of course, the wine list at Scarpetta is supposed to be spectacular. And I've heard glowing reviews of Holsteins from my lawyer friends at the courthouse."
        Matt led us up the Cosmopolitan escalator to the restaurant levels, saying "I think you'll be surprised by my choice. It's a little-known hidden gem. Dining here is the ultimate in exclusivity."
Secret hallway.
Shhh. This hallway is a secret.
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        We circled the second floor, then went up to the third. We passed the doors of crowded restaurants like Jaleo, D.O.C.G. and China Poblano, while Matt tried to find his "hidden gem".
        "This is it," he declared as he led us down a long, dark, unlabeled hallway. Its walls were covered with cheesy old album covers: Herb Alpert, the Kingston Trio, Nancy Sinatra and Bobby Darin. Oh no, we thought, he's sneaking us into an employee cafeteria... again.
        The hallway opened into a small pizzeria with four chairs, a Galaga console and a pinball machine against the wall. Behind the counters, three Mexicans made New-York-style pizzas and served precooked slices to about twenty customers. Matt smiled proudly.
        "Welcome, gentlemen, to your Cosmopolitan dining experience," he said with a sweep of his arm. "Steve, go ahead and get two slices. Three if you want. On second thought, two is plenty."
Cosmo Secret Pizza.
Steve appreciates the gourmet dining.
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        Most of us were secretly relieved not to be eating snails. Steve was underwhelmed, but he didn't complain. After all, the pizza was pretty good. The only person who didn't have a slice was Phil; he feasted on Skittles from his fanny pack.