2 - Getting the Virgin His 'Hos
Realizing that I had only packed dress shoes and they looked
really stupid with my Bermuda shorts, I ran up to the Payless
Shoes on Fremont for a pair of sneakers. I returned to downtown
just in time to greet our Southern California friends. I'll just
use first names because they are all big shots in the entertainment
industry and they don't appreciate the infamy. They were Mike,
Ghizal, Phil and Steve. Because I only see them once a year,
and a year is a long time for healing, they were happy to see
Many hands were shook, and money was exchanged before we started
discussing where to have dinner. I wanted to eat at the Western
because I never had. Plus, their snack bar is cheap and I figured
the money we saved would go a long way toward getting Jerry a
skanky 'ho. We were not of mass mind, however, with none of the
Southern California contingent even knowing who Jerry was. He
was still locked in his room, and my friends don't like buying
'hos for strangers. Plus, Mike had just gotten over a severe
case of food poisoning and he had no interest in the cost savings/unclean
food trade-off the Western offered. We compromised by agreeing
to eat at the Las Vegas Club's Upper Deck coffee shop. I went
up and told Jerry to meet us at the Western. He asked where that
was and I told him to go east on Fremont, quickly and with his
eyes on the sidewalk.
As always, the Upper Deck did not disappoint. The room is
quiet and comfortable, the food is good and standard, and the
prices are cheap. To add a little foreign intrigue to the evening,
I tried the French Dip, like the French spies eat, for about
four bucks. Others had pancakes, chicken, grilled cheese and
rubbery steak. Our group settled into two adjacent booths and
created dozens of new Old Lady Playing Keno jokes while we ate.
Buoyed by our stuffed tummies and the prospect of a full weekend
of shenanigans, our growing group ventured down
Fremont Street. It was "Disco Weekend" under
the Fremont Street Experience and Phil and I decided to shake
off the rust. Many of our readers probably remember Phil and
me from the classic film "Breakin' 2: Electric Boogaloo."
I played "Electric" and Phil played "Boogaloo."
To this day, we still get fan mail from loyal breakin' enthusiasts
who ask us to reveal the secrets of our style.
Phil and Matt
Break Some Mad Moves
Well, once we had made some space for ourselves in front of
the stage and live band, Phil and I treated Downtown Las Vegas
to a clinic on headspins, back-busters, poppin' donuts, slithering
wallises, tippy-toe sliders and the one move Phil perfected that
I never did, the "720-degree Rump-shaker." The bass-heavy
rhythms kept us in fluid motion, and the flash-bulbs of awed
tourists lit up the evening sky. We ground and grooved, moving
to the music and the wild applause we got. With the crowd begging
for more and the bassist missing notes because he was too busy
watching, we decided to leave the people wanting.
We continued down to the Western for business and pleasure.
After the dangerous walk past the shuttered shops and derelicts
who reside between the Western and the rest of Downtown, we were
glad to approach a familiar face. Bob S. Black slouched against
the front wall of the Western dragging on a Camel Light, surrounded
by a gaggle of new friends, most of them missing either teeth
or limbs. I pulled my wife tight to my side, not because of the
bums, but for fear of Bob's slippery ways.
We entered the casino and my friends scattered like cockroaches
when the light is turned on. I looked around and noted the improvements
Jackie Gaughan had made to his property. The blackjack pit had
expanded from six to ten tables, three or four with a $1 dollar
minimum. All the tables were double-deck. He had also added a
poker table to the pit, and a $1-$3 seven-card stud game was
being played by a surly mob of the undead. In the back, the snack
bar had been enclosed in glass to keep the thick, sickening haze
of cigarette smoke from spoiling the meats.
I wandered over to the dime roulette wheel, where I was to
meet an Internet scam artist and test his strategy against Lucky
Ned's IncrediSystem. At dime roulette, a twenty dollar bill buys
you 200 dirty chips, or five unwieldy stacks forty chips tall.
The croupier is almost always a rookie and spills the chips while
sliding them across the table. I stood and watched as a bitter
group of people covered the numbers with several dollars worth
Fifteen minutes later, the scam artist still hadn't showed,
but Carol and Michael, two Big Empire Buddies had. They courageously
made the trek to the Western by themselves. My friends and I
looked out of place, but Carol and Michael must have seemed like
Martians. They appeared even cleaner and far more polite than
us. Of course, anyone who knows them is aware they have a dark
side, a thirst for cheap thrills that can only be sated when
someone gets hurt. I gave up on waiting for the scam artist.
The fact that he never showed, after saying he would, disappointed
me and made me lower my regard for all Internet scam artists.
It's a shame when one bad apple ruins the reputation of a whole
No sooner had I left the roulette table and wandered over
to the blackjack pit when Jerry burst into the casino, his face
shiny with sweat and his breath coming in gulps. He carried one
of his shoes in his hand, and his sock was bloody and torn to
shreds. Jerry scanned the room; his eyes were crazy... bad crazy.
"What the hell?" I wondered. Jerry spotted me and
rushed past the blackjack pit.
"You lousy son of a -" screamed the Vegas Virgin
as he latched his hands onto my neck and shoved me back into
a table. "I was almost killed."
Even though I couldn't breathe, I had to smile. My little
buddy was really making progress. In between gulps of air, Jerry
continued his story and his grip on me tightened. "I got
lost and I ended up in the yard of this abandoned apartment complex.
Then this guy with a knife came out of the shadows and mumbled
something. That's when I started running." The Western's
security guard, a man so fat that his belly poked out between
the buttons of his shirt, sauntered over to us. He motioned Jerry
to take his hands off me, and Jerry complied.
"Look, fellas," wheezed the guard, "you want
to fight, do it outside. You can come back in when you're done."
Jerry and I apologized and, after a couple of cans of Heineken,
he cooled down. He bent over and put his shoe on his scraped-up
foot. He was still breathing heavily and trembling with fear.
Even though Jerry had just tried to kill me, I couldn't be
mad at him. He was just too cute and too innocent. I put my arm
around Jerry's shoulder and drew him in. "Let's not fight,
Jer. Let's just say we both made mistakes. You made the mistake
of trusting me, and I made the mistake of letting you. There's
still a lot of weekend left, so why don't we start over?"
Jerry eyed me warily, "No skanky 'hos?"
"Don't ask me to make promises I can't keep. Here,"
I pulled a shiny five dollar bill from my wallet. "How about
five dollars?" I held the bill up and I saw the anger in
Jerry's eyes melt away. It was replaced by a look that said,
"He's giving me money, how bad can he be?"
I took Jerry by the hand and led him to the blackjack table.
His eyes widened as he watched the silver tokens flashing in
and out of the dealer's tray. His eyes danced as the cards were
"Sit down," I encouraged him, and Jerry sat down
gingerly, as though the seat were made of Ginsu knives. He put
out his five dollars and quickly found himself in possession
of five silver dollars.
After a half-hour, it was obvious that Jerry had never played
blackjack before. I sat beside him and fed him a steaming helping
of misinformation. At first, Jerry used two hands and didn't
know how to gesture when he wanted to hit or stay. I taught him
to rub his belly for a hit, pat his head to stand, and do both
if he wanted to double-down. I was cracking myself up, but it
confused the rookie dealer and surly, keno-playing pit boss.
They found it about as funny as the cocktail waitress's mustache,
and they worked to undo my teaching by scowling and yelling at
"Why do you deliberately try to confuse me?" my
bewildered friend asked after the third time the dealer ordered
him to stop rubbing his belly. I answered, "Hey, you need
to split those tens, so do a handstand." Eventually, Jerry
learned the gestures preferred by the Western staff, but by then
the dealer and pit boss were so sick of his antics they were
yelling at him no matter whether or not he gestured correctly.
Robert and I pulled up just in time to see a scraggly bunch
of ne'er-do-wells ambling Spike-ward from the dingy side of town.
I wanted to scream and honk, but Robert bade me desist, and I
took the lesson in restraint. We found a spot, miraculously,
in the jam-packed lot behind--as Garcia Lorca would put it--El
Spike de Oro; and disembarked in time to catch Matt and Amy making
their way through the lot to retrieve some rental-car-bound memento.
I greeted Matt with a sucker punch to the stomach. We laughed
a bit and he said, "No Katrina this year, Capice?"
"Roger Wilco," quoth I.
Then I cried a little. Amy cheered me up, though, by offering
me a jolly little somesuch that made me smile. Later, I wadded
it into a pocket and forgot about it until it had passed through
the laundry. What it was, I now cannot say, for its current form
is nothing more than a paper pulp clot. No matter, Amy's kindness
remains with me to this very moment as I type. Pardon dear reader
as I wipe a tear and sniff some patchouli--a sure-fire cheering
tonic for all good souls.
Up to the rooms, were Robert and I escorted. And what a joy
did I feel to witness the reassembled kith of Las Vegas lore!
Besides Matt and Amy, Mike was there. And Steve the Lawyer. And
Phil--he is my brother--he is older than me. And Ghizal the poet,
and Linda Carter was there. And two people who I didn't know
but who looked about as friendly as a mountain apple pie on a
summer's dusk. That's friendly!
And whom did my wondering eyes take in next, but my old
compadre, Jerry. As I live and breathe! He had not changed a
bit: same fresh young face, same bright smile, same swarthy hand-clasp.
Oh to be reunited in such an auspicious place and at such a time!
Immediately I took Jerry under my wing--or, rather, to my side,
for I had as much to learn from him as he from me. Jerry, I knew
was a first timer, a "Vegas virgin," as Matt would
say, his gambling hymen swelled with an unquenched brew of curiosity,
longing, and apprehension. What a disturbing image this creates!
Dear reader, retch not, but read on!
Matt and Dan
fight over the Virgin
To signify our re-bonding, Jerry and I traded the old ritual
greeting, "What's Up?" "Not Much." And I
gave him the customary noogie with my old noogie-giving knuckles.
I tousled his hair. He tousled my stomach vigorously. We tousled
over the old times, and the party really kicked into high gear,
expelling "the jams" at a ferocious rate, if you catch
Everyone talked and reacquainted. It turns out Steve had made
a small fortune off his Stupak 3:16 shirts in the last year.
By explaining the joke to as many people as possible, he'd created
a cult following which blossomed into a modest media splash--and
a new summer home. Mike began drinking heavily. It was water,
but still I marvelled at his stomach for libation. I was introduced
to the apple-pie people: Carol and Michael. It turns out they
weren't as friendly as an apple-pie, but at least as congenial
as a blueberry cobbler.
Then we all changed clothes in for an evening of dicing and
drinking and driving all over tarnation. During this, I caught
a glimpse of Jerry's cute little heinie. That wife of his must
think it's the most adorable little peachy-butt, and call it
her "crumpet," or "cini-mini," if I may be
allowed to make assumptions into his private life.
That's when I decided it was time to bring in the mojo. I
produced a lucky hoodoo candle that had been given to me by a
gypsy woman in a dark bog; or at least, a decent impression
of one for a young woman in her living room. The green of the
candle represented the green of money, of course, and its burning
would infuse our cold-hard-cash chakras with the forceful pull
of a 2000-gauss unipolar therapeutic magnet. I lit the candle
and we all watched it burn, casting strange incantations over
Dan's mojo candle
proved lucky for him.
Ghizal especially had the hang of it, chanting mystical things
which nobody could make out. Something about, "shomeethuh
monee." I looked at young Jerry, his eyes aglow in the candle
flame, and an old song came to me, one that goes something like
"Make as though you were a deer and run run run through
the forest!" Clearly, I was overtired. Therefore, it was
time for Jerry, me, and the whole horrible crew of us to paint
the town fuschia!
Dan the snake-oil salesman promised Jerry a life of easy comfort
and fun, and it didn't sit right with me. I needed a way to show
Jerry that while Dan was having more fun than me, and sure nobody
was being hurt, and sure it attracted ladies, and sure it was
harmless enough, and sure it didn't require him risking his life,
it was a shallow, empty kind of fun that only left you with a
solid, contented feeling and nothing more. Somehow, I had to
show Jerry the truth, that fun was better when it required hard
work and real terror. And I had to do it quickly, before Dan
had sunk the tendrils of clean-living into that virgin flesh.
I watched Dan and Jerry with what many would call jealousy
and envy, but not me. Ever since I took an anger management course
and almost graduated from it, I have been able to understand
the occasional bouts of rage that blur my vision and make me
break other people's property. What I was experiencing was neither
jealousy nor envy, it was righteous indignation. What had been
mine was stolen away by Dan. Dan had lured Jerry in with an easy
demeanor, a winning smile and his deceptive honesty; the three
main ingredients in any crap sandwich.
As I was itching to bust a face, Amy tugged on my shirt and
reminded me that it was time to go pick up Stinky and his brother
Mike from the airport. "I ain't going," I said.
"You promised," Amy prodded.
"Let pretty boy go," I suggested and nodded toward
"Yeah, okay," offered Dan all too willingly.
"Oh, no, you don't," I snarled. I didn't know what
Dan was up to but I was going to stay one step ahead of him.
"I'm going and you're staying right here."
I thought that for the third year in a row I was going to
miss out on a night of action in Vegas, and barely arrive in
time for the ice cream social on Saturday. A giant storm of some
sort had crippled O'Hare airport, and all of American Airline's
planes were stuck there. I managed to trick an unsuspecting ticket
agent in Newark into buying me a direct flight on America West,
whose plane was gassed up and ready to go, right out there on
the tarmac. I considered it a personal triumph, and silently
thanked Robert for all his years of tutoring in the subtleties
of air travel.
Matt and Amy came to pick up my brother Mike, who was in from
Monterey, and me at the airport, and we headed downtown, passing
the Strip on I-15. We took note of the progress of construction
on the various Strip properties, and once again marveled at the
ridiculous flashing lights running up and down the corners of
Mike had not been to Vegas in many, many years, and he
had never stayed at the Gold Spike. We thought we were going
to get to initiate him into Vegas' seedy underbelly, until he
informed us that his first time in town, he and his friends had
stayed at the Imperial Palace, where they had found a pair of
underwear under the sink in the bathroom. Matt and I peppered
him with questions - Boxers or briefs? Men's or women's? Dirty
or clean? He had a quick answer to all our queries. Clearly my
brother was no Vegas virgin, he knew the truth about the town.
Mike reacts to
an unprovoked attack by Stinky
At the Gold Spike, my head swam a little, because I was so
tired and hungry after the long flight, and because the smoke
and yellow, buzzing lights in the casino sapped my energy. I
bucked up, though, when I saw a very large group of old friends,
many of whom I had not seen for a year or more.
I was introduced to Jerry, who looked pretty wet behind the
ears. Seeing the opportunity to finance my own trip by taking
advantage of his naivete, I immediately asked if I could borrow
five bucks, "until I get to the ATM." He agreed, not
knowing enough to be suspicious, and I was ready for a $3 steak
at Binion's Horseshoe.
Because of the relative late hour, everybody aside from Mike
and me had eaten. So while the rest of the gang made its way
to the Plaza, we hung a left at the Lady Luck and walked into
Binion's. Halfway through the meal, Mike left me to call his
wife. Luckily, she was awake, because he had left her home alone
with their two-month old baby, who was not fond of sleeping for
long periods of time.
Although I wished nothing more than to revel in the unparalleled
look of happiness on Stinky's face as he arrived, first in this
town of wonder, and second in this company of bosom compatriots,
there was a lot more for friend Jerry and me to do than sit in
the Gold Spike--no matter how sumptuous it was. Quaffing four
jiggers of my favorite liquors out of cute little bottles packed
expressly for the purpose of getting ripped took only minutes.
Then it was time to hit the town--I mean to slap it like a bitch!
Phil, Jerry, Mike, Ghizal, Robert, Carol, Michael, and I all
headed out on the town.
Crossing up to Fremont Street, we caught sight of a local
denizen, dreaming drunkenly under a newspaper machine. He appeared
to be dead, but nobody wanted to touch him, nor to entertain
thoughts that we had already seen a cadaver this early into the
evening, and so we decided he was sleeping--almost angelically--and
moved on toward the obvious destination: the uniquely unanimous
Plaza, towering symbol of might. Of course Biff, in the fictional
"Back To The Future" movies, took over that hotel as
his primary base of operations: nothing else could simultaneously
appear so menacing yet inviting, glitzy yet grimy.
We wended Plaza-ward, passing under the Fremont Street Experience,
a veritable wonder of the modern world--perhaps the largest cartoon
display available anywhere. And with the all-time greatest songs
from the dead-center of mainstream music behind it, it's no wonder
that it made Jerry's square jaw drop on its mandibular hinge
with an audible pop. My heart swelled with something gaseous
and ethereal, smelling faintly of catsup, as I watched his soul
fill with three-story imagery of dancing guns, hoe-downing clowns,
and boogey-ing outlines of the Great State of Texas.
It was all I could do to pull him up the strip, so eager was
I to show him more, more, more! Our friend Jeff was also scheduled
to meet us in the area of the craps game shortly, and I wanted
to make sure I got to him in time. This reunion of the three
of us--all of the same alma mater--would be heartwarming in the
extreme. You got puppies with big eyes? Forget puppies with big
eyes! This would be more heartwarming! You got itty babies all
gurgling and fresh? Well, those are pretty damn heartwarming
Anyhow, the crowd on Fremont Street was formidable and several
times, Phil vanished into it, only to reappear with an odd grin
on his face. I wasn't sure what he was doing, but it didn't seem
to matter until, as we crossed Ogden, he admitted that he was
playing kid tag, and had already scored a redoubtable lead of
8 points. No fair! And stranger still was the fact that at least
8 children under 4 were being toted around in this merry-go-round
fare in the wee hours of Saturday morning.
To Jerry, I explained the joys of shooting craps: the rattling
dice, the roar of the crowd, the dourness of stickmen. Then we
all stopped for silly photos at Sassy Sally's. But they were
not doing them this late in the evening, so we pretended to get
our pictures taken, then hustled ourselves into the casino and
laid our once-again-impressionable selves on the mercy of the
hawkers. Charming Jerry, easy prey of villains everywhere, was
rooked in minutes, and I watched him flow down the stream of
the con-game. He put ten dollars in chips into a big shiny machine
that glinted like sparking flint off his corneas. He lost every
one without so much as a bell nor whistle.
"I lost," he said, unbelievingly.
"Naturally," I said. "These casinos are completely
bogus. Pay-offs are unheard of here--isn't it wonderful?"
Jerry looked like a little lost lamb, but as a question formed
on his lips, I whisked him back out into The Experience and the
group of us continued toward the Plaza. I had only enough time
to tell him to bet on the Pass Line before we entered the teeming
lobby of the greatest damn casino of all time.
And there was Jeff, sure enough, at the craps table, already
working up a sweat over a growing stack o' chips. The table was
packed, and it was double-duty difficult for me to find not one,
but two slots--in proximity with each other, no less--for Jerry
and I, but muscle in, I did, upsetting an older woman with platinum
blonde hair. What joy! To be standing at the bar, tossing in
the double double-saw buck, feeling the felt-like feel of the
"Excuse me!" complained the woman.
"Piss off." I told her. There's only enough joy
here for me and my friends!
By the time we hit the Plaza, Dan and Jerry were thick as
thieves, which I found odd because only one of them actually
was. The Plaza swarmed with its usual blue-collar clientele floating
easily on the wide river of free liquor, or as I call it, "Old
Boozey." The tables and slots buzzed with dim, yellow energy.
The worn-down casino was stuck in a time warp where nothing ever
gets cleaner or dirtier, it just stays dusty. The same band was
on the same stage as the first time I stopped in here ten years
I strode up to the dollar craps table and worked my way into
the action. I invited the Virgin to join me and learn from my
crappy wisdom, but Dan had cleverly found a space beside him
at the far end of the table. Fine, I thought, we'll settle this
the way gunslingers did in the old west: with a craps war - dice
blazing, chips flying, old men, women and children running for
cover and begging for mercy. It was about to be a bloody melee
with only the table and a dozen strangers to separate us.
I glared down the table and Dan met my steely gaze. He knew
what was about to happen. Then I ordered a mai-tai from the cocktail
waitress. "And bring extra umbrellas, please. I collect
At his end of the table, Dan placed his dollar on the pass
line. At my end, I placed my dollar on the pass line. I chuckled
and thought, we'll see who wins this one. As it turned out neither
of us did. The shooter crapped out. Dan and I quickly reloaded,
and the next shooter set a point before crapping out. Getting
impatient, I snarled at Dan, "You're going down." He
put a protective arm around Jerry, who looked a little scared.
The dice shifted into Dan's hands and he laid his wager on
the pass line. As I bent to lay my wager, the dice rocketed across
the felt. The red cubes whacked against my fingers and tumbled
to a stop. "Seven! Winner seven!" Dan grinned at me
wickedly as the dealer slid a dollar next to his bet and I nursed
the small welt rising on my knuckle. I quickly dropped my next
buck on the pass line. Dan again hurled the dice at Mach Three
and they careened off the table. I ducked and they shot past
my ear, struck a woman at the next table. I stared at Dan, slowly
shaking my head and clucking in disapproval while the innocent
woman hollered, "My head! My head!" I refused to give
Dan the satisfaction of knowing he had struck a nerve in me,
so I did not let him see my soiled trousers.
"Keep 'em on the table, sport," the dealer scolded
my nemesis as he selected a new pair of dice. Dan quickly crapped
out, and even though I lost a bet, I laughed at his incompetence.
Stuffed full of beef and news of one anothers' lives, Mike
and I caught up to the others and bought in for twenty bucks
apiece at the dollar table. Having never shot craps before,
Mike relied on me to show him the way. This was a mistake, because
my rudimentary grasp of craps barely gets me by, even without
the distraction of having to try to explain the game to a third
party. I did okay getting the correct odds on our pass-line bets,
but the table treated us like the jerks we are, and we were both
down our first twenty in no time.
Stinky and his
girlfriend. Nah, just kidding. Julius is too cute for him.
Mike, ever the impatient student, wanted to start laying come
and prop bets right away. At first I discouraged him from prop
bets and told him to take it easy on the comes, but he kept pushing
me for information. Finally, I had to admit that I don't know
how half of the stuff works anyway, so if he wanted to bet anything
weird he'd be on his own.
After everybody had been cleaned out by Jackie Gaughan's minions
in shabby suits, we retired to the Gold Spike snack counter.
I sat next to Jerry, casually working my hand toward his wallet,
but he shifted around on the vinyl seat too much for me to get
a good grip. So I settled in for some sulking and a piece of
I was a little weary, a lot beaten and completely blotto by
the time my forty-dollar buy-in had disappeared. The fact that
Dan had stolen my new friend would have really bothered me if
it wasn't for my good friend alcohol. As it was, I was more than
happy to be a third wheel on the way to the Gold Spike diner
for a slice of pie and some coffee before bedtime.
I guess I didn't realize exactly how drunk I was, but I quickly
figured it out when I ordered myself a hot dog. The Gold Spike
wieners are large. They are also ancient. All day, they slowly
rotate on metal rollers, turning a deeper shade of bloody brown
as the hours wile away. By three a.m., the franks achieve a spectacular
degree of toughness. It made no difference, though, because in
my state a slice of chocolate pie and a tasteless hot dog were
exactly what I wanted. They were what Dan and Jerry wanted, too.
And, so we sat and ate, fighting off sleep and swearing that
these were the tastiest hot dogs ever made. We bonded like blood
brothers, then went up to bed the best of friends.
On to Part 3