PART 5 -
A large contingent made its way to the El Cortez, where Lady
Craps sang her siren song.
The El Cortez quickly filled up with wandering Buddies, and
we pushed our way into the dollar craps table. We were hovering
around like vultures over stragglers in the desert. Every time
a stranger left the table, a Buddy would swoop in for a piece
of the still-warm flesh. I got in pretty early, next to Brett
on one side and a stranger just beyond him. By this time in the
evening, I was riding pretty high, as we all were.
a rumor that the Gold Spike will let you work for your supper.
It proved untrue, but they will let you work for free.
The guy on Brett's right introduced us to a unique method
of cheering for our numbers. Say the point was a six. Rather
than just yell out "six" over and over until the dealers
wanted to kill us, this clever dude would instead call for a
"Forty-deuce! Forty-deuce!" Four and two adding up
to six, it made perfect sense. Alternately, he would noisily
instruct the dice to come up as a "pair of tre's, pair of
tre's!" Brett and I immediately picked up his lexicon, and
were soon rooting for "sixty-twos," "pairs of
quads," and "thirty-ones!"
For once in the history of our visits to the El Co, the drink
service was speedy and reliable. Our volume increased in relation
to the amount of booze we downed. The increased volume caused
more of the El Co regulars to vacate spots, and more buddies
squeezed in to take their places until we controlled the entire
thing. The table was hotter than a case of Bombay Syphilis, and
with each new buddy at the table, the decibel level rose.
Lauren had enough casino, so she went (I found out later)
on photo shoot, capturing word fragments here and there. The
"OLD" in "Golden Nugget, the "FIT" in
"Fitzgerald's, the "CRAP" in some sign somewhere,
all in neon and bulbs. These shots were quite striking when we
saw them later.
But at the time, I was in the mood to shoot dice, not pictures.
I decided to continue on Lauren's and my path of arriving fashionably
late. We'd been late to the penny slots and missed it, late to
the shrimp cocktail contest and had to eat the warm leftovers
. I figured being a little late in an orange suit was about as
cool as one could get. In the contest of cool, I was about sixteen
leagues ahead of Matt and Stinky combined.
By the time I got to El Co, things were hot and heavy. I heard
shouts from the minute I entered the smoky den. The craps table
was ablaze. Brett was throwing point after point, and the entire
Big Empire contingent was yelling as though they were teenage
girls who'd just been caller number 10 on KSOZ. I moved to get
Now, there's only one thing worse that a cold-ass craps table,
and that's a steaming hot table--that you can't get in on. There
was no room for my skinny frame at that table. None. A mother
and son team stood where I was supposed to be standing, dropping
austere bets and lifting slightly the corners of their dour mouths
at each pay-off. They did not deserve this. John Knee, having
sworn off gambling, spent his energy empathizing with me.
I pulled out my secret weapon: el stinky stoagie grande. I
began puffing it on them. John Knee helped by farting toward
them and making rude comments. They shot us dirty looks, then
ignored us. I puffed like a factory; so much that I started feeling
bad for the rest of the people in the casino who had to tolerate
my second hand smoke. My eyes burned, my stomach churned, my
tongue went into deep denial. But that mother and her darling
boy just stood there, making me angry as the buddies tucked green
chips in their pockets at a furious rate.
At long last, I gave up and played those goddamned nickels.
Finally, they'd had enough of thwarting me and left. I came
to that table like a horny tourist approaching three women dressed
entirely in Latex. The relief stood out in beads upon my head--which
I knew wasn't cool--but at that point, I couldn't care. I threw
in two Jacksons, figuring I'd be juggling Benjamins 'ere long.
But my desperation was to no avail--and perhaps was the taint
that made the table go from red hot to piping hot, piping hot
to luke warm, and, at last luke warm to unpleasantly tepid.
Nevertheless, "Patty" the spunky septuagenarian
waitress was hammering the rusty nails into me at breakneck speed.
This is because in my initial delirium in finally getting up
to the table, I forgot the El Co's rat biscuits (our name for
the low denomination chips and low stakes tables) were a buck,
not a quarter. So I tipped her six, thinking "$1.50."
She came around pretty regularly until she realized I'd wised
up. I even tried to snake a few coins from her tray, which pissed
her off plenty. Then she stopped coming around, but by then I
had a staggering, drooling, careless-betting drunk on.
It was a perfect time to chat with Karefree Karen, Burt Cohen's
S.O., about Elliot Pound and Gertrude Stein. My MFA at last paid
off, enabling me to carry on an articulate, erudite conversation
while desperately intoxicated, and--oh, is that my money
The evening becomes a blur. I fell down for a minute and noticed
that nobody ever cleans very thoroughly underneath a craps table.
Later on, an old regular showed up. I recognized him as the guy
who called me a "jack-off" on the last trip when Jerry
("The Vegas Virgin"), Stinky, Burt Cohen, Lethargio,
and I were shooting dice off the ceiling. I was about to call
him on it and challenge him to some kind of thirty-something-on-senior-citizen
fisticuffs when the dice came to him and he passed them to me
saying, "Let this guy roll--he'll be good."
I felt vindicated. I shook the dice vigorously and in the
dizziness that followed fired them off to the other end of the
table. I rolled an eight, then a four, then sevened out.
I always say that, unlike blackjack, craps is more fun when
you're winning. That's why the El Co was so much fun. A very
drunk Lethargio kept yelling at me to help him put down some
odds for the boys, and I was liquored up good enough to follow
orders and then encourage others to do likewise. So, many times,
the incompetent rookie dealers were given piles of chips to show
our appreciation. It probably taught them a bad lesson, being
rewarded for doing a poor job.
A stranger tried to horn into our group and we welcomed her
with open arms until she shot the dice and sevened-out. She was
quickly chanted away from the table. The poker players at a table
halfway down the pit complained to management about our noise,
but it didn't do any good. When asked to quiet down, I simply
said what the Fonz would say: "Sit on it." Then, a
light bulb clicked on over my head.
Hitler, the dealer with the squared-off mustache who had previously
accused Matt and I of not belonging at the El Cortez, had to
eat his words as our friends piled around the table, slowly draining
Jackie Gaughan of his fortunes. I had never been at a table that
stayed hot for so long. I was winning my place bets. I was winning
my come bets. I think I even won a hard-way for the boys.
Amy had been wandering around downtown, filling her notebook
with observations about the casino themes. As she approached
the El Cortez, she heard some homeless men complaining about
being woken up by our whoops and hollers from half a block away.
It's easy to make a lot of racket when you're winning, and
at one point, I was up over $120. Not too shabby for a twenty-dollar
buy-in on a dollar crap table with 10x odds. Feeling good about
my winnings, I challenged Matt to, "show me some love"
when I was rolling. I laid down five bucks on the pass line,
and browbeat him into doing likewise. Once the point had been
established, I lay down ten bones behind it and won. Over and
over again. I had the longest roll of my life - about 20 minutes.
It felt like two hours, though, with that kind of scratch on
It was in saying what Fonzie would say that I found the coolness
I had been searching for all weekend. Saying "Sit on it"
elevated me to a plateau of cool, high above any levels I had
previously reached. "Hey!" and "Whoa!"
I called Brett Potsie, Burt Cohen Ralph Malph, and Dan Mr.
Cunningham. Stinky, obviously, was Joanie. I was untouchably
cool and nobody could bring me down. The dealers gave me a dirty
look when I tried taking another man's winnings but I just gave
the thumbs up and they smiled. The cocktail waitress was slow
with the next round of drinks, so I gave the craps table a hard
thump with my fist and - presto! - there she was with cold Heinekens
The answer was so simple. I came to Las Vegas in a vain search
for cool, when it had been on Nick at Nite all along. I thought
it was sharp clothes, a cheap cigar and a lovely lady on my arm
in the tackiest city on earth, but it's so much simpler. Cool
doesn't come from the stuff you own or who you have sex with.
It comes from within. And from imitating a middle-aged hoodlum
on television. And from owning a Harley Davidson, biker boots,
jeans and leather jacket. Heyyyyyy!
After many hours of incredible rolling, though, the math caught
up with us. The table cooled significantly. Many buddies found
nice round numbers that would justify them chickening out, but
I plugged away, trying to reach that $150 mark. The noise level
receded, and only a few dedicated shooters remained. I was among
them. My chips dwindled rather quickly, and the sight of a cocktail
waitress circling the table left me cold rather than excited.
By the time I finally gave up the ghost, I was down to sixty
bucks in winnings. I had forgotten the cardinal rule of a good
gambling session - give up when you have enough money to buy
a slice of pizza every day for two months. My greed had gotten
the best of me.
The remaining stragglers headed out in the breaking sunlight
for the long walk back to the Gold Spike. We stopped at the snack
bar for pie, but it tasted like dust in my mouth thanks to my
lack of self-control. I kept thinking about that great big pile
of chips, and how I could be sleeping with a crisp hundred in
my wallet, my only worry that Ghizal would sneak it from me while
I rested comfortably.
I heard him call me a "jack-off" under his breath.
I was thinking of putting my ten skull rings into his wizened
skin, but I had an awful suspicion he was right. And I fell down
again. Scrambling up to the table and gathering my meager stake
to me, I begged for water. A cocktail waitress came by and I
pre-tipped her approximately half of what I had left for some.
Glancing at the scant amount of chips that I could still call
mine, I decided I would make everything back on long shots. I
bet hard way, horn, prop bets, yo. Not one paid off. So I decided
to leave. I was about the only one left anyway, except for Burt
and Karen, the latter of whom, I think, wanted to move on to
Cummings and Levertov.
Burt and Karen were very humane, walking with me up the Experience,
now more of a purple haze, making sure I didn't whack into anything
that was made of metal or that was holding a nightstick. They
did this in spite of the fact that I kept calling Burt "Bob"
and telling Karen that she would look "hot as fuck"
in head-to-toe latex.
Back at the Vegas Club, I figured that 3 a.m. was party time.
Quietly saying "Woo!" to myself, I wove through the
casino, dropping random silvers into random machines. By 3:10
I realized that the magic wasn't there.
I always get this feeling when I'm in Las Vegas. It sneaks
up on me every time, and it happened just then. I felt lonely
and sad that I was going to miss the sunrise. I was feeling sentimental
with nobody to emote to. Money had no meaning. My friends were
all asleep or somewhere else, and I didn't feel like making new
friends, like with some vagrants, just to have someone to talk
too. Anyway, there are no more quality vagrants downtown anymore.
I'd drunk enough to be pissing clear every 15 minutes, so
I decide I should go to bed. Lauren moaned as I stumbled in.
I went to the crapper and wrote my obligatory Vegas poem, somewhat
short this year:
I am flesh puddle, dim & sore
While they replenish its musculature
Dead--and not me.
Deepest ancient, non-somniac
And Vegas is my crunchy pillow one-eye.
Goddamn Vegas can kiss my oily teeth in!
Those ladies were hot. I liked Green.
The other three lines are illegible, smeared with a foul-smelling
A few hours into my troubled sleep, I felt a smash on
my forehead. Matt, with a pillow in his hand and an evil grin
on his face, stood above me, saying something about hey and whoa
and how we had to get going if we were going to catch up with
Jean Scott and our free breakfast at the Hard Rock.
even the mascots, woke up regretting the previous night's drinking.
My tongue like cotton in my mouth, and a banging in my head,
I tried to grab a few more precious moments of sleep. It didn't
help much. I finally dragged myself to the shower, wondering
how alcoholics could wake up every day feeling like I did just
I had mixed feelings when I woke up. Those feelings were being
hung over and being cool. Amy, as usual, was already awake and
reading a book in the bed. So, when I finally cracked my eyelids,
a muttered a slow, low "Heyyyyy," and gave the pretty
lady a thumbs up.
"How long is this going to last?" she asked.
"What do you mean? Whooooaaa."
"How long are you going to act like the Fonz?"
I explained to her that this was the new me. It was who I
would be forever, and if she didn't like it, she could sit on
"Like when you decided to be a rodeo clown? That lasted
about eight minutes."
"That wasn't cool. This is cool."
"No," she said with that bored sound she responds
to most of my great ideas with. But we didn't have time for me
to show her how cool I was. We were late for a wedding.
At the Shalimar Motel, in that dangerous stretch of seedy
businesses between downtown and the Strip, our friends Karyn
(different from Burt's Karen) and Greg were renewing their vows.
The "chapel" was a large utility closet off the lobby,
decorated with lace and purple carpet.
Big Empire wedding of Karyn and Greg (Greg is the one picking
Karyn and Greg were overdressed, judging from the minister,
but Karyn had brought a beautiful stuffed poodle. The ceremony
was short and sweet, and we followed the wedding party to In'n'Out
for the reception. I gave the couple thumbs up, and Amy gave
them some laquered watercolors by famous bullfighting painter
Rico Tomaso. Then we had to leave.
It was time to for us to eat free food at the Hard Rock, courtesy
of Jean Scott. Jean and the Hard Rock's slot host had arranged
a brunch for potential slot and table players. Somehow, we slipped
in and enjoyed a small but very deluxe breakfast in Mortoni's,
the hotel's postmodern steak house. Amy, Stinky and I were joined
by almost everyone but Dan and Lauren, because all of our friends
love free crap as much as we do. I was worried that our motley,
ugly, hungover and unshaven group would get the boot, even though
we signed up in advance.
Jean flitted about the room, playing host to all her friends.
Jean's a very smart woman, and yet she and her beau Tom are always
nice to us, even after that time Stinky stepped on her foot-out
of pure orneriness. Jean didn't even give me any funny looks
when I said "Heyyy, this is cool, Mrs. S."
We get a nice big table in the restaurant and start weighing
down with croissants, prime rib, omelets, chocolate desserts
and iced tea. At one point, I was about to chuck a roll at Phil,
who was sitting across the table and making a funny face. I asked
myself "What would Fonzie do?" and the answer was obvious
"You wanna rumble?" I asked him.
He paused, "What's a rumble?"
"It's where I smash your teeth into the asphalt, nerd!"
"Oh," he made the face again. "No, I don't
think I want that."
"Then, cool it!"
In exchange for the good grub, we promise to run some coins
through the Hard Rock's video poker. We scoured the casino in
search of their ever-dwindling inventory of full-pay machines,
and finally found a small cluster. We played them for about an
hour, effectively making our free brunches very expensive before
we gave up.
It was time for Amy and I to catch a plane, a big cool plane
back to Denver. On the trip to the airport, on the flight, the
drive home from the airport and all that evening, Amy rolled
her eyes as I called the stewardesses nerds, said "heyyy"
and gave her the thumbs up about thirty times.
She doesn't mind anymore. She's used to how cool I am now
and holds no hope that I'll ever stop. If she does, she can sit
Matt has a history of waking me up in Las Vegas when I'm not
ready to wake up. Though he was in a hotel far from mine, this
trip proved no exception. The phone rang early and Matt was on
the other end saying, "Heyyy! Rise and shine, turkey. Heyyy!"
I thought that was pretty darned cool, but unfortunately I
would not be seeing him that day. I made my adieu on the telephone,
then queasily accompanied Lauren to a late brunch at California
Pizza Kitchen. All her favorite LA restaurants had been transplanted
here in Las Vegas. She felt at home. But she was quite bored
with the casinos, especially by day without their electric dazzle,
and, frankly, I'd had quite my fill.
So we decided to see Red Rock Canyon, the breath taking natural
landscape just a short drive out of town. Red Rock is a small
canyon with russet spires of stone, a clamberer's delight. Lauren
and I found hiked and climbed to a sunny spot and hung out. We
explored in the rocks and scrub trees for a long while, getting
some sun and noticing the slightly more outdoorsy caliber of
the tourists that had come here. It was a view beyond words and
the air healed me of the binge of the prior night.
After a while, we needing to start our migration back toward
the airport. We drove the rest of the 12-mile scenic loop and
saw more of Red Rock air-conditionedly.
When we reentered the man-made, multi-colored canyon, both
of us felt a little ill. But Lauren had wanted a Krispy Kreme
from Excalibur, and since I'd never tried one but longed to explore
the hype, we made the stop. They were decent, but not hot out
of the oil, so I wasn't impressed. (It was another six months
before we had hot plain KK's in NYC and really GOT IT.)
Running off the sugar buzz, we hit some more shops--I forget
which casino they were associated with. Lauren and I bickered
needlessly over something and realized we were low on energy
and ready to leave. Since we'd left Red Rock, the afternoon had
been one long goodbye, sugarcoated, but finally down-heartening.
So we headed for the emotionless plateau of the airport.
But emotions there were running hot. As so often is the case
with travel to or from the Bay Area, a storm over San Francisco
had made travel anywhere near there impossible. We could not
have our flight back to Oakland, nor any other flight there.
Even San Jose was jammed up.
When our frustration abated enough to make plans, I suggested
a night at the Vagabond Inn so we could try the airport the next
day. Lauren said "get me out of this hell-hole." So
we got a flight to LA where we stayed on vacation an extra day,
relaxing on the beach with Lauren's father. The final verdict?
Lauren had a decent time, but she refuses to return. So next
year, if you see me cutting loose on the buffets, making bank
off craps like freakin' Stupak, and strutting down Fremont with
the Latex Ladies on my arms, you'll know that Fang the Swinga
is back for the weekend. Look out, ya kook! Lemme hear ya now!
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