PART 3 -
Everybody's Working for the Weekend
TRUE! nervous, very, very dreadfully nervous I had been and
am; but why WILL you say that I am mad? The disease had sharpened
my senses, not destroyed, not dulled them. It is almost an unspoken
rule that the pilgrimage to that strange land is a trip to be
taken by men and men alone. Not that anything in the city itself
is contrary to womanliness, nor that my colleagues or I entertain
any sex-based pre-judgements about a woman's ability to cope
with the degradation and compromise which we practice yearly.
It's just that, apart from a few exceptions, women don't seem
to like the city, it's canned raciness, its insensitivity and
Amy: I'm not sure how she does it; perhaps so blinded by love
for Matt, she is able to tolerate Las Vegas. Or perhaps vice
versa. And then there's Abby. And Carol too. And a few other
women, a growing minority of people who are learning to appreciate
Although it is true that my fiance Lauren is very much in
love with me, I would call her anything but blinded by love.
If anything, her deep affection has made her more aware of and
sensitive towards our environment. Normally, our home is filled
with warm candlelight, fragrant flowers, and the low hum of a
HEPA air filter. We eat fresh, organic produce, perhaps an occasional
free-range chicken. We live a lifestyle even further from Las
Vegas than its physical geography.
So my excitement was mixed with a decided trepidation. My
goal: to show Lauren a good time without compromising my own.
Could it happen? It had to! Priceline.com had started me on the
wrong foot: a not-cheap flight with a stop in LA. So having been
up since 6 am, we were not in the best of moods when we finally
touched down in Vegas at noon.
The year 2000 marks the year of the first election for Mayor
of the Internet. Our boss, Mr. Randy Shandis, who owns the Big
Empire, is one of the two front-runners. We were about to come
face to face with the staff of the other: Al "The Foz"
Fozano is slicker than that denizen of the deep sea, the mucous-covered
hagfish, and about a billion times as good-looking. Naturally,
we had our fears about his minions from the Handsome Homepage.
While we may not have been blessed with princely good looks,
we like to believe that our characters make up for our physical
shortcomings. Unfortunately, this is not true, as we've learned
time and again. It's always the rugged-jawed men who get what
they want out of life. Our greatest hope for being cool remained
the Internet, and you can bet that we weren't going to let these
pretty-boys take that away from us, too. There would be daggers
flying out of our eyes that morning at the Fremont buffet.
Matt and I, with Amy along for support (because she's the
only one of us worth a lick in a brawl), stood in between the
fake bamboo line dividers when we first saw our rivals. Sure,
they had nicer hair, cooler clothes and better-proportioned physiques,
but did that make them more handsome than us? Yes. But they were
probably dumb as two-by-fours.
We circled around each other, like packs of stray dogs. Each
group sized up the other, ready to attack--or wet himself, or
run screaming like a girl through the casino. Luckily, it wasn't
necessary, because the Fremont buffet has plenty of edible scraps
for everybody, unlike dirty, garbage-filled alleys or the Imperial
Confident that we would not resort to blows, we introduced
ourselves. The most talkative of the Handsome Boys went by the
name "JR," just like the guy who got shot on Dallas.
He was accompanied by his girlfriend, "Cami" and some
kind of bodyguard or something. Slotsy, Fozano's "brains,"
was nowhere in site. Apparently he had elected to stay ensconced
in his cardboard suite between the high-rises of New York's Upper
East Side for some kind of debutante ball, or more accurately,
to eat the leftovers after some kind of debutante ball. This
news was delivered with a hint of bitterness. I made a mental
note to be sure to remind Randy to exploit this potential fracture
in the Handsome Homepage's harmony to his advantage.
The meal passed without altercations, except when Matt challenged
Cami to arm-wrestling in the pudding bowl. We chatted about trivialities,
getting a feel for our opponents. Each side left a little wiser
and better-prepared to battle the other in the coming months,
as the campaign would heat up. In the spirit of goodwill, Matt
invited the Handsome boys to attend our Ice Cream Social the
next afternoon. It would turn out to be a fateful decision.
National Auto Rental upgraded our economy class to a mid-size
car--probably a standard procedure to fool the customer into
thinking it's a real value. We were both starving, and I was
thinking to take Lauren to any casino restaurant we could find.
She flipped through the tourist booklet we'd gotten with the
car and found out that Chin-Chin, a favorite Chinese café
from her youth in Santa Monica, had a branch in New York, New
York, Las Vegas. She wanted to go.
Now, I was feeling nervous about our room. It's true that
I'd eschewed a Gold Spike suite in an attempt to find something
that would be more pleasing to Lauren. I found a great deal on
rooms at the Las Vegas Club, but for me this was uncharted territory.
Rumors about a nice north tower and a crummy south tower. Or
So the last scenario I wanted was to show Lauren to a sleazy
room on an empty stomach. We stopped at New York, New York, and
it took her breath away-literally! The stench of cigarette smoke
immediately matched its weight against the over-the-top décor
for Lauren's attention. She was fascinated, transported by the
true-to-theme interior. Simultaneously, she was deafened by the
noise I'd come to view as an apt soundtrack to a weekend of debauchery.
And the fragrance, as I'd mentioned, had her wheezing in no time.
But we found Chin-Chin, and it relatively fresh inside, and the
food was very nice indeed. In fact, it would turn out to be a
weekend full of great food.
After paying a tab that was about the same as what I'd paid
for all my meals on my first trip to sin city with Matt (way
back in 1988!) we squealed our Stratus downtown.
The official Big Empire Cocktail Soiree festivities began
at noon on Friday with the Photo Contest. The Big Empire gave
away mascots and free cameras to the first six teams to claim
them. The mascots were dirty, chewed-on stuffed animals bought
by the dozen at the Arvada Salvation Army. The cameras were cheap
Michael's photo mascot on a phony royal guard's shoulder.
The object of the photo contest is for each team to take the
most entertaining pictures of Las Vegas possible in 24 hours.
Each picture must have the mascot in it to prove it wasn't a
canned shot. Cameras were to be returned to Stinky, Amy or me
by noon on Saturday. We would whisk them to a one-hour photo
booth, and guests at the Ice Cream Social that afternoon would
look at them and vote on who shot the best roll of pictures.
We had many bums and Gold Spike guests eager to relieve of
us of the free cameras, but we held out for five registered Big
Empire Buddies to fight their way through the crowd. The teams
quickly took off with their cameras and mascots, to capture the
glory of Las Vegas on celluloid. Since we hadn't seen Dan and
Lauren, we held back one camera for them.
Check in at the Las Vegas Club was slow and it was a half-crabby
couple that finally slid the card key in the door of room 1112.
The room was small but decent. I called Matt, and he soon came
over with a camera, a stuffed animal, and a Phil.
Our mascot was a yellow duck-billed thing. I think it
was supposed to be a platypus, but why yellow? And why were the
feet and abdomen all wrong? Lauren thought it was a duck, but
I've never seen a duck lie flat on its belly like that, like
some kind of amphibious pond skimmer, in short, like a platypus.
We decided to name it "Pussy, the Duck-Billed Thing,"
in order to appease everyone. So with disposable camera in hand,
and Pussy the Duck-Billed Thing in the other, I took Lauren out
to see downtown for the first time.
the duck-billed thing, Pussy.
She immediately gravitated to a vendor of fine hand créme.
"That's just typical," I thought. "Already she's
found the girlie things here in Vegas." The vendor with
a (faked?) French-Canadian (?) accent had his patter down cold,
and treated each of Lauren's hands to a different gob of expensive
cream with a massage included.
I stood there grimacing, thinking how only a short decade
ago, there would have been a puking vagrant causing a traffic
jam where that pretty boy was now selling his "imported"
lotions. Fortunately, Lauren is an astute shopper and wouldn't
shell out-or ask me to-for a $20 dollar bottle of goop. I took
her by the arm into the Union Plaza.
Boom: Keychains. Another disappointment occurred here. The
spunky lady taking photos said we could take a picture together.
But when Lauren posed licking my face, the old biddy wouldn't
take the shot.
"I'm not going to take your picture like that,"
"Oh, come on," said Lauren.
"No. I'm not taking your picture like that. Put your
We did, but Lauren tried to get her tongue to my face at the
last minute. She missed by a few seconds. The photo lady didn't
snap the picture, but summarily dismissed us.
"You'll have to come back later. I'm not going to
take your picture."
Street Cops are unamused by our phot contest. Pussy was later
"We'll be good, please just take our photo." I was
getting miffed with her Puritan attitudes.
The room started spinning for me. "Well, how about if
we take them separately?"
"Lady, look! We'll take separate pictures. We won't be
able to do anything too risque--oh, just too, too crude--for
your bookish, backwards-ass, cold-fish sensibilities straight
out of Squaresville, Bitch-Town, Illinoise."
This created a very awkward silence between the three of us.
The room stopped spinning and landed on photo-lady's tight-lipped
visage. Lauren rescued me by taking me by the arm and leading
me toward the Omaha Lounge.
After unloading the cameras, Stinky, Amy and I met Feldy at
a Thai restaurant named Lotus of Siam. Feldy just would not stop
talking about this place. "Oh, Lotus of Siam, this,"
and "Lotus of Siam, that." "I'm going to name
my first child Lotus F. Siam," and "Oh, your recent
surgery reminds me of a funny story that has nothing to do with
Lotus of Siam. Speaking of Lotus of Siam"
It was only four hours since I had embarrassed myself by eating
an entire tray of raspberry Jell-o at the mediocre Fremont Paradise
Buffet with those dreaded Handsome Boys, so I wasn't really hungry.
Yet, I couldn't stop eating the amazing food that Lotus owners
Bill and Sai Pin kept putting in front of us.
Everything was fresh and perfectly prepared. The crispy rice
and sausage salad was spicy (a 7 out of 10 on the hot scale,
said Bill, the owner). But instead of just being hot, it was
spicy with every spice distinguishable. The rice was crispy and
seemed to melt on the tongue, and the sausage was just the right
sourness. We also ate sweet and tender fresh beef jerky made
from sirloin. And then we finished our appetizers with a plate
of steaming-hot garlic chicken wings.
For our entrée, a whole steamed catfish was delivered.
The price is dependent upon the size of the fish and you really
need to call and order it in advance since it takes 40 minutes
to prepare. It was flaky and tender and moist and didn't have
any of the oily flavor I expect from catfish. But, what was amazing
was the lime and chili sauce. This sauce was so phenomenal we
ended up using all of it, even after the catfish was gone (Stinky
ate more than his fair share).
For dessert we had banana rolls which were bananas wrapped
in sticky rice and then fried within filo dough. We also had
coconut ice cream on a bed of sticky rice. The coconut ice cream
has no dairy, they skim the cream off settled coconut milk and
make it out of that. It tasted good in such a subtle way that
I didn't realize how perfect it was until I was done eating it.
and the Lotus of Siam catfish.
By the time we were done eating, belching and unzipping our flies
and leaning back in our chairs, it was near dark and time to
return to the Spike and meet up with friends.
The sun fell like a beef tongue from a butcher's block, with
a wet slap that cooled the pavement. We had a mediocre dinner
at the Las Vegas Club Dugout. Lauren couldn't find anything on
the menu that appealed to her, and I was not surprised. Unless
it's a burger in a gourmet restaurant, or a very rare greasy-spoon
BLT, Lauren is unwilling to eat badly. And with nothing hinting
at real quality in the Dugout, she said she'd nibble on my Club.
Sandwich, that is. And have some water.
The highlight of the meal was the daring photo shot by my
man, Jeff Barr. Dude took his photo-contest mascot, a white teddy
bear, and gave it to our waiter saying, "I'd like an order
of fries, delivered to that table," (indicating a table
where an elderly couple sat, sipping coffee), "and serve
it with this bear on top. Thank you."
The couple's confused expression was priceless, but Jeff missed
that first moment of shock in his snapshot. His photos show their
smiling faces after the photo contest had been explained to them.
Nevertheless, I saw their shock at the cute widdle teddy bear
on the fries they didn't order, and the image will always be
So, we ate and it was time to show my lady the REAL Vegas
lights: the strip at night. Sure, to my jaded self, the strip
is just so much folderol on top of a big rip-off. But to the
fresh eyes of Lauren, it was the neon that mattered. We drove
down to the Strip, but stopped at the Sahara, so we didn't see
much of it.
It's not every day that a fella comes across a stunningly
beautiful blackjack dealer at a Sahara dollar table. So when
I saw the statuesque Svetlana (her name has been changed because
I can't remember what it really was) from somewhere in Eastern
Europe, I was determined to woo her with my nearly perfect basic
strategy and silver coin bets. Her table was full-up on my first
pass, but I took a lap around the pit, and by the time I got
back, a spot had opened.
Seated on my right was some yahoo from Oklahoma or somewhere,
and on my left a couple of young punks. None of them could appreciate
the exotic allure of the quiet, red-headed dealer of my dreams.
Only I took the time to imagine the circumstances which had landed
her in godforsaken Nevada. Perhaps she had tried to follow her
dreams of movie stardom and gotten on the wrong plane in New
York. Maybe she was married to a Russian mobster who had tired
of her simple good looks in favor of a flashy trophy bride. All
I knew for sure was that for the time being, the world outside
of our shared green felt didn't exist. Except for her, maybe.
While some men try to impress the busty cocktail waitresses
with enormous tips and cheesy pick-up lines, I knew that, aside
from the fact that such shenanigans never work, a blackjack dealer
is a much more complicated and sophisticated creature. So I sat
quietly at the table, slyly asking for hits when the cards warranted,
and rebuffing her advances when a stand was in order. Ah, the
thrill of the romantic thrust and parry.
At the Sahara, I tried blackjack but got bored by the slow
pace and the drunk guy at the other end of the table who kept
saying "Thassa alotta gummin sometoes." He was right,
of course, but he kept saying it. Blackjack just doesn't have
much allure for me when there's a craps game humming nearby.
I love the shouting, tumbling dice, camaraderie, spilling beer
on the felt and passing out.
So, I picked up my handful of tokens and wandered over to
a crowded craps game where Dan had a rack of chips. Lethargio,
Burt and their ladies stood at the far end, whispering among
themselves, no doubt about me. I knew the table was hot and the
cocktail service was good because Lethargio was holding a dollar
chip before a cocktail waitress.
"Jump!' he yelled, and every time she lunged he raised
the chip a few inches out of her grasp. I wondered if that was
cool. I wasn't sure since I was still struggling to find my cool
"Room for one more?" I asked Dan, not waiting for
an answer as I gave the elderly man next to him a bump with my
hip. I waited until a young lady hit her point, and then placed
As soon as my chips hit the felt, the table went colder than
the showers my wife makes me take. Each and every eye was on
me, blaming me, partially because I was the new guy, and partially
because I kept saying "Oh, no, here comes another loser,"
as the dice moved around the table. I was trying to use reverse
psychology on the dice, but, as I later learned, dice cannot
hear. As long as I was there, no points could be hit, only craps
The other players grumbled and frowned, Dan leaned over and
whispered, "You're not welcome here." This wasn't a
friendly warning, it was a threat. I panned over the other players
and they were flexing their fists and glowering at me under lowered
"Well," I said, picking up my chips. "I know
when I'm not welcome." I didn't want to hang around a bunch
of uncool losers, so I wandered across the casino, looking for
cool losers. Failing that, I would settle for uncool winners.
Before I could settle into another game, though, the most
wonderful sounds rolled out of the comfy Casbar Lounge. The
Checkmates, Las Vegas Casino Legends Hall of Fame inductees
and very cool characters, were inviting the audience to climb
aboard the "Love Train." Sweet Louie and Sonny Charles
called to me with heavy bass and silky vocals. Their funk was
an opportunity for Stinky and me to show off the "poppin'"
moves that got us voted off of "Star Search" after
only one appearance.
I rushed to Stinky's blackjack table, only to find him staring
glassy-eyed at his dealer and drooling on his cards.
"Let's go, Boogaloo" I tapped his shoulder. He brushed
"You've never turned down a chance to break dance before."
Stinky wheeled on his seat, the silvery strand of drool hanging
from his lip to the table. He hissed at me, "I've got something
going on here, so make like a banana truck and haul bananas."
Stinky returned to gazing at his dealer, the drool strand
unbroken, and said to her, "Where were we? Oh, yes, you
were telling me a delightful story about how I have fifteen."
His uncoolness bummed me out.
First I went up a few dollars, and started to gain a little
confidence. I tried to engage the object of my affection. An
occasional "all right" slipped from my lips upon a
close win. When she dealt herself a 21, beating my pair of tens,
I gently teased, with my most romantic screaming, "What's
wrong with you?! Are you trying to kill me? Jesus Christ!"
After some time, though, my ten-dollar buy-in started to melt
away, and I felt the progress I had made with Svetlana ebbing
along with it. Somewhere in the background, the Checkmates tootled
their upbeat Rhythm and Blues tunes, but it was like the sound
of worn-out bus breaks squealing to my ears. How could I hear
of love and dancing when the girl I should by all rights be marrying
was looking at her watch, praying for her break so she could
leave me to Dale from Chino or one of the other hollow-eyed shells
who deal cards for the Sahara?
Behind me, there was some rumbling among my cohorts about
taking a ride on the new Sahara rollercoaster. I was in no mood
for such earthly pleasures, though. I was in the middle of making
a spiritual connection.
All at once, though, I gave Svetlana my sweetest smile, she
dealt me a nine when I needed an eight, and took my dollar, leaving
me with only five - my lower limit. Crestfallen, I left the table
and headed for the lounge, to catch up with the rest of the gang,
to forget about my lost love with a thrill ride of epic proportions.
For fifteen long minutes I pouted in the Casbar about being
alone. Sure, my wife was there feeding me gin and tonics because
she knows that I usually cheer up after eight or nine of them.
And the Checkmates music was as cool as ever as they strutted
across the stage in their matching cream suits. Nobody has more
soul than Sweet Louie and Sonny, not even ghosts or angels.
But the combination of booze and R&B didn't lift the funk
that hung from Stinky's refusal to dance. Many great dance duos
have been busted up by women before, but probably never by a
Sahara blackjack dealer with a vaguely Eastern European accent.
This reminded me of our big break, when we were scheduled to
appear on ABC's "Superstar Bad Boys on Ice," and he
didn't show up. That is the sad day I spent explaining to strangers
why I was in a "Bad Boy" skating competition in a Little
Bo Peep costume. It would have made a lot more sense had Stinky
shown up in the wolf costume.
and Sweet Louie share a private moment.
Right when I was about to start knocking over strangers' tables
in a blind rage, Stinky wandered in, smelling like the sour milk
of rejection, and all was forgiven. Within minutes, he had forgotten
the girl and I pushed my anger with him to the back of my mind--saved
for a rainy day. We shook off the cobwebs and stretched against
the far wall of the Casbar during a slow song, discussing which
routine to unleash on the unsuspecting.
I burned a few holes through the back of my shirt with back-spins
and sprained my wrist doing a cartwheel. Stinky was "poppin'"
like both a robot and a mannequin, simultaneously stiff-limbed
and smooth. I could tell the Checkmates were buoyed by our moves,
and they shook the rafters on "Brick House" before
leaving the stage. A crew was called in to mop up Stinky and
my sweat. It was decidedly cool. I was floating on a wave of
coolness, but still, I felt something was missing, that I wasn't
as cool as I could be.
Friday night was slipping into Saturday morning as the clock
struck midnight; the time Cook E. Jarr would debut his new show
in the Improv space at Harrah's. But before we left the Sahara,
many of us wanted to try its new rollercoaster, Speed. There
was no line and we were quickly jerked out of the casino and
into the night on wire-thin rails.
Speed is a lot like the first time I had sex: it cost six
dollars and lasted forty seconds. It was a very good forty seconds,
Cook E. Jarr? As far as I'm concerned it was empty. No, wait.
One cookie in the very bottom of the jar! Ew! A stale oatmeal-raisin.
No chocolate chips in there, either, but a spot or two of mold.
Feh. You can keep it.
True, the house was packed with Big Empire hooligans, taking
over well over half of the club, but there were drawbacks:
One, it was as smoky in there as in that hotel I once watched
burn to the ground. And Cook E. was adding smoke special effects
making it even hazier.
Two, the dude was basically doing karaoke very loud. Way too
Three, I didn't have the patience to wait for him to get drunk
enough or coked-up enough to do anything really legendary, like
taking his clothes off, puking on the microphone, or ditching
us with his karaoke machine on auto-play.
Carol and a photo mascot.
And to top all this off, it had been a muy long day. Lauren
and I were both at the end of our energy, ready to drag ass back
to the LV North Tower, and black out. Which is what we did. Nevermore.
Dan was subdued at the show, sitting way in the back of our
group of thirty-plus Big Empire Buddies. Entrance to the show
was free, but there was a two-overpriced-drink minimum and Amy
and I ended up shelling out $16 for a half-gallon of water. It's
the sort of highway robbery that should be reported to the Better
Business Bureau. Or, if a person can't get a hold of the BBB
at midnight on a Friday, then it is appropriate to express displeasure
by peeing in the corner when nobody's looking.
Cook E. stepped onto the stage fashionably late, cranked up
both the smoke and karaoke machines and tore into "Delilah"
like a coyote into a jackrabbit. He was immediately smothered
by gifts from fans wishing him well in his new digs. They included
champagne, flowers, cookies, generous tips to the "Jarr"
and a crisp hundred-dollar bill (not from the Big Empire).
The Improv, unfortunately, is too much space for one man,
no matter how big his stereo. Cook E. has personality by the
truckload, but not enough to fill this high-ceilinged, wide room.
The smoke machine worked overtime to create Cook E.'s trademark
stop-drop-and-roll ambience. In his old room, at the Casino Royale,
the small room was packed with tables and people, and nary a
sound could escape the low ceiling. Here, the sound rolled off
the stage and disappeared into the dark, empty corners.
That said, Cook E. was as cool as always. He's knows he's
a corny camp joke, but he doesn't quite get it. And his charm
lies between knowledge and understanding. Is he really as crass
as his sex jokes, or are those part of the gag? Are his shaggy
stories funny, or is it funny that he tells them? Either
way, the man excretes a party vibe the way Stinky excretes sweat--by
the bucket. It wasn't long into the show before I was on the
stage spinning Cook E.'s disco ball and the other Buddies were
shaking their tail feathers. The dance floor was a hazy, grooving
sings for Amy as Peanuts, Phil, Abby and an unnamed mascot look
Last December, we caught Cook E. at the Casino Royale, and
met some of his groupies. In particular, Stinky was a favorite
with Lady Denim and Middle-Management. Lady Denim is a tumultuous
blonde in a distressed denim mini-skirt and one-size-too-tight
blue jean jacket. She slinked, strutted and made lewd gestures
at Stinky using her tongue and fingers. Stinky was smitten, but
too intimidated by the Lady to approach her after the show. Middle-Management
is Lady Denim's seemingly-conservative friend in a business suit
from the Fashion Bug. But, like the mousy teacher in Van Halen's
"Hot For Teacher" video, she's more than eager to let
down her graying, short-shorn hair and climb atop a table and
shake loose of her corporate-raider look.
Well, Lady Denim and Middle Management followed Cook E. to
Harrah's and they were here, stirring things up on the dance
floor. I urged Stinky to join them, to make himself the meat
in a groupie sandwich, but Stinky was too coy.
It wasn't until Burt and Lethargio forced every Buddy onto
the dance floor during Cook's subtle reinvention of Tone Loc's
"Funky Cold Medina" (much prettier than Andrea Boccelli's
version) that Stinky approached the girls. And they blew him
They turned their shoulders on him, uninterested in their
former boytoy, the kid who hadn't given them the time of day
all night. Perhaps it was because they were too busy trying to
give a drunk 70-year-old a heart attack with their lusty gyrations.
Maybe they had no time for a man as timid as Stinky. Or, perhaps
they are like most women: charmed by Stinky after one encounter,
sickened after two.
Buddies gyrate so wildly they start to spontaneously combust.
By the time Cook E. finished the song, the dance floor was
heaving from our dancing. We had nothing left to prove, so we
headed out into the cool air of the night and on up to the Peppermill's
Fireside Lounge for a nightcap.
I felt cool, cooler even than at the Checkmates, and cooler
than at Cook E. Jarr, but still not cool enough. There was a
hollow spot in my gut where a big dab of cool was needed.
to Part 4