A person can’t really claim to have been in Las Vegas until they’ve had the opportunity to meet and speak with Elvis, the “King Of Rock ‘N’ Roll”. I got my chance on Monday morning when I found him hanging out on the street near the Riviera Hotel and Casino.
I asked Elvis if I could photograph him and he said he only poses for tips. I said, “I’ll give you a buck”, and he said, “Hold on, let me move into the sunlight.” I took The King’s picture and then said, “Oh, what the heck - here, take two bucks. It was worth it.” The King became ecstatic and high-fived me. It kind of made me sad to see Elvis reduced to the point that one extra dollar would make him so happy.
Me to The King: “I liked Vegas better when the mob had it.”
Elvis: “You’re telling me! I used to have a house and eat food.”
Me: “Hey, I’m looking forward to your next big hit. It’s been awhile.”
Elvis: “You’re telling me!”
But ya know, there’s more than a little truth in what Elvis and I had to say. During the Old School days of Las Vegas, back when the mob was in control, Vegas was really cool and there were some good deals to be had. One could practically eat, drink, and smoke in that town for free because the mob knew they’d recoup those losses in dollars gambled away. And so for a guy like me who really does very little gambling, Vegas was quite inviting. Free food and free hangovers!
But ever since something tougher than the mob – namely Corporate America - ran those old school businessmen out of town, Vegas just hasn’t been the same. Now everyone is asking top dollar for everything and what used to be a playland for adults has been transformed into an amusement park for families. And like everything else that Corporate America touches, Las Vegas has been all but utterly ruined. Do you know that I spent two and a half days in Las Vegas and not once – not once! – did a statuesque blonde on The Strip ask me if I wanted “company”. Sheesh! It just ain’t my Vegas anymore! I mean, I certainly wouldn’t have accepted the proposition, but hell, it’s nice to be asked.
“Now there’s something you don’t see every day, Chauncey.”
“What’s that, Edgar?”
“A watermelon on the Las Vegas Strip taking cover from the sun.”
“Oh, I don’t know about that, Edgar. Melons don’t want melanoma any more than the rest of us do.”
I went up to downtown Vegas, where it’s still a little more like “Old School” and had some Bass Ale and played some video blackjack at the El Cortez bar for awhile. I didn’t win any money but the ale was complimentary. The El Cortez Hotel, I'm sure y’all recall, is where I was conceived on my parents’ wedding night in 1958.
While at the El Cortez, I was also keeping an eye on the television screen above the bar when an ESPN announcer announced that George Blanda had died. I asked the old goat at the end of the bar, “What team was Blanda playing for last year?” He didn’t get the joke; I had to explain it. Never mind. It’s not funny when it requires an explanation. And to think that this old goat had the “noive” to think of himself as an old football fan. (For my non-NFL-fan readers, George Blanda was one hundred and forty-eight years old when he finally retired from football in 1976.)
After leaving the El Cortez, I found myself walking by the Fremont Casino when this old man, toting a shoeshine kit in his hand and toting few teeth in his mouth, approached and asked me if I’d like him to shine my boots for five dollars. He said, “I’ll get ‘em all shined up for you.”
“No,” I said, “I got some blood on them—”
He interrupted me, “I’ll get all that blood off and sho’ make ‘em look real good.”
“No, actually, it’s my own blood and I like the blood on my boots.”
“Oh. OK,” he said, and moved on.
I looked back at the old guy with appreciation in my heart for him. Here was a thin, old man, down on his luck, but instead of just begging for a dollar or spare change like so many other down-and-outers do, he was still actively trying to work, trying to provide a service for his living. He wasn’t asking something for nothing. I watched him go for a few moments and then I walked into the Fremont.
I hadn’t gone very far into the casino and the old man was still on my mind. I was wishing I could have had him shine my boots, or that I could do something, ANYTHING for him. And then the idea hit me.
“No, not really,” I said. “You see that dark splotch?” I asked him while pointing down to the top of my right boot. “That’s my own blood and it reminds me of a wild time I had one night. So, I’ll tell you what: I’ll give you five dollars to NOT shine my boots. That way, you get to keep the five dollars and I get to keep the blood.” I handed a five dollar bill to the old man and he thanked me, flashing a big, happy, toothless smile, and he stuck out his hand. We shook on the deal and then I went back into the Fremont and ordered something on the rocks.
Now, speaking of the Fremont, I can’t even think of the place without remembering a drink I shared there with my Pa back in the 1980s. Nor can I think of it without also thinking of the movie ‘One From The Heart’, with its absolutely fabulous cinematography and Tom Waits’ soundtrack which is perhaps the best movie music ever composed. For a movie that really isn’t all that good, I sure do love ‘One From The Heart’. I’d go so far as to call it the greatest mediocre movie ever made. There are some scenes and bits of dialogue in that film that amuse me to no end (most of them involving Harry Dean Stanton and/or Lainie Kazan).
One scene in particular has Harry Dean Stanton, playing the part of Moe (“Moe me, moe you, moe love”), convincing his best buddy Hank (played by Frederic Forrest) to walk over to a hot professional model on the street (played by Nastassia Kinski) and attempt to pick her up. So, Hank gives it his best shot, which is so pathetic and inept that it cracks me up, really leaves me laughing out loud (even I was smoother than that back in the day!) But surprisingly, Hank is successful, and when the model walks away after making plans with him to rendezvous later that night, Moe approaches his buddy and hesitantly asks, “What’d she say?”
Hank: “I think she said . . . she said meet her at the Fremont at nine o’clock.”
Moe: “She . . . you mean, she . . . she told you that?”
Hank: “That’s what she said.”
Moe: “I’ll be a son of a gun, you did it. …The most highly implausible thing I’ve ever seen in my life.”
Ya know, if you want to see what Vegas looked like back in the good old days, and if you want to be dazzled by the outstanding cinematography of an overall mediocre movie, and to have a few laughs to boot, you really ought to rent ‘One From The Heart’ someday.
Downtown Vegas is decidedly more sleazy than is The Las Vegas Strip, but I’ll tell you the truth, I like downtown better. Those are my peeps there! I feel more comfortable in an El Cortez or a Fremont than I do in Paris or in New York, New York on The Strip.
I found that what was once the Glitter Gulch Casino is now the Girls Of Glitter Gulch Gentlemen’s Club. No, I didn’t go in; I’m too much of a “gentleman” to sit there and stare at women degrading themselves. However, I’m not above snapping a few pictures of the video monitor outside advertising on the street the goods inside the club! After all, I’m no less than “guy” and I do have eyes, and the Gentlemen’s Club management has indeed mastered the art of guy-catching and eye-catching advertising.
[“Oops!” is right! Three cheers for the semi-sloppy ‘Word Placement Technician’. Give that person a raise... they gave me one!]
Aww, yeah, the Golden Gate Casino. I’ve spent $300 dollars at the Golden Gate trying to win back the $10 dollars I lost there 30 years ago. And I tried it again this trip, too. I walked in, put a ten spot on the black, the roulette wheel went ‘round and ‘round, and where it stopped . . . was red. Alright, that’s it, I quit! Why those dirty, double-dealing dogs, they can just KEEP my Hamilton. Hell, I don’t even want it anymore. Besides, I would have just blown that ten bucks on cheap wine, cheaper women and Paris Hilton CDs anyway. Yeah, they can have my ten dollars. (I wouldn’t mind getting the three hundred back though. Maybe next time.)
In downtown Vegas they have what they call “The Fremont Street Experience”. Images are projected in the evenings on the canopy stretched overhead which keeps the visitors in shade during the daytime hours. The program I experienced was a Psychedelic Rock Music extravaganza. Loud late-‘60s Rock was pumped into the street through hanging speakers and everyone went tripping. It was pretty groovy.
That night, I went back to the Peppermill Fireside Lounge, hoping to find PlatBlo there. Heck, it wasn’t Sunday anymore, and after getting an eyeful at the Girls Of Glitter Gulch Gentlemen’s Club, I had changed my mind and decided that PlatBlo could have me after all. Virginity’s so overrated.
Unfortunately for my libido, PlatBlo wasn’t at the Peppermill that night, but a bunch of young, college-aged people were there celebrating the birthday of their friend Jenny. It was a good, fun-loving crowd and someone even offered me a free Redheaded Slut. Actually, that’s a drink served in a shot glass. Everyone (myself included) toasted Jenny (whoever she is) and drank their Sluts. As I told the bartenderette, “Hey, that drink is definitely better than its name.”
I had a couple of glasses of Grand Marnier on the rocks and enjoyed the crowd and the music videos: “She's a brick----oouse! She’s mighty mighty, just lettin' it all hang out. She's a brick----oouse! The lady's stacked and that's a fact, ain't holding nothin’ back.” Hokey-Smoke, I still like that song!
Continued in Part 3…
Blue Hawaiily Yours,
~ Stephen T. McCarthy
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