The mini-reunion finally got booked when my friend Jim, the single one who says he's not gay, offered to pay for the rooms. He insisted that Jim, Eric and Paul — three tight pals from suburban New York (Suffern High School class of '72) — get together before, as he put it, "We finally meet at one of our funerals."Destination: Las Vegas.
I'd never been. Never really wanted to go, seeing as I'm about as interested in gaming tables as I am in actuary tables. But airfare to Las Vegas is relatively cheap, there's lots to do, there's lots to drink, lots to eat, and you can stay up late. The free room at the Paris hotel clinched it. We decided to bring along the womenfolk.
It turned out that no one in our party of six had the first clue about gambling. Still, one feels an obligation. I admit to being intimidated in the swank casinos along the strip. At the Paris, I just couldn't bring myself to do anything but plug a few meager quarters into slot machines. The first night, Paul slipped off at around 5:30 a.m. and hit the $5-minimum blackjack tables. This was after several beers, a couple of vodkas and quite a few glasses of cabernet. After a few hours sleep, he sat bleary-eyed with me in a pastry shop and laughed ruefully about how badly he'd done. He didn't know how much he'd lost, but after some prodding I was able to discern that it probably hadn't been more than a couple hundred bucks. (He got several free glasses of cabernet out of it, though.)
"I just did some stupid shit," he said, shaking his head.
"Like what," I pressed.
"I think I folded one time when I shouldn't."
"Paul, I'm not a blackjack player, but I don't think you can fold."
"Aw, whatever, I got my ass kicked."
Two nights later it was my turn. We ventured into downtown Las Vegas, where aging casinos maintain wan smiles with high-watt signage. It blinked "$2 BLACKJACK" on the marquee at the Four Queens. Can't really get stung too bad there, I thought. But if there were any $2 tables, they must've been in the basement under a pile of oily rags, 'cause I couldn't find them.
So I ratcheted up my courage and took a seat at a blackjack table with a $5 minimum. I was dancing in the danger zone, babe.
I handed the dealer two rumpled twenties, and next thing I knew I was the proud possessor of eight honest-to-goodness casino chips. I liked the way they felt — heavier than expected.
I don't remember exactly how the cards fell, just that they fell well for me. I guess I won eight out of 10 hands in about a half-hour. I kept waiting to get The Fever — that giddy sensation that says, "This is my night" — but it never came. Instead, I kept thinking, "My luck is gonna run out real soon." Truth is, even as my stack of chips grew, I wasn't really having fun. When I got up $75, I walked, figuring, "Hell, I can buy myself a decent pair of sneakers."
I didn't relinquish the chips right away, though. I bought Paul a drink — Smirnoff rocks, $2.25 (compared to about four times that at The Bellagio on the strip) — and fiddled with my winnings for a while, breaking the chips into little stacks, piling them back up and so forth. It was my very suave, adult way of saying to Paul, "Nah Nah nah-nah-nah, I won and you didn't."
After we cabbed back to the Paris, I figured it was only sporting that the Big Winner should buy a round. Forty-five bucks later, I was up net $30, enough to buy — what? — my drinks on the return flight.
Like I said, we didn't go there to gamble.
Neither did we go there for the whores.
But that didn't stop me from scanning what was available — purely from an anthropological perspective, mind you. On a beer run to a convenience store, I noticed a guy trying to hand out items that no one seemed to want. I figured I had to have one. What he thrust into my hand was 20-karat gold kitsch. Hooker trading cards! They're the equivalent of baseball cards, sans bubble gum, with naked or scantily clad women on them, along with fee, phone number and sexy come-on ("I'm very open-minded"). Virtually every card promised "direct to you in 20 minutes or less."
Well, shit, I simply had to have the whole set. For the rest of our stay, I grabbed as many hooker cards as possible. When I'd accept a couple from one hawker, a half-dozen more would rush me like groupies to a rock star, giving me fistfuls. I think my wife Bonnie wanted to protest — what woman wants to be seen walking with a guy greedily vacuuming up hooker cards? — but she just chuckled, yielding to my lust for sleazy Americana.
After a while I started examining these things as if they were Stan Musial rookie cards. $49 for Monica ("Sweet as Honey")? 2-for-1, $79? $59 for spread-legged Claire (red stars covering her crotch and nipples)? How could this be? Weren't these prices just a little too good to be true. Could it be that much of a buyer's market?
When we packed up to leave Las Vegas, I made sure my hooker card collection was in the front zipper pocket of my shorts. These babies weren't going the way of lost luggage, and they wouldn't get folded or mutilated either.
Once back home, safely outside the temptation zone of these vixens, I decided to do a little research. What could one get, exactly, for $49?
I called about Lelani, a fetching brunette who was actually clothed in her picture (and smiling rather than pouting). Her $129 Special was trumped by a little round sticker offering 50% Off.
After a few rings, a woman with a purr of a voice answered.
"I'm calling about Lelani," I said. "It says on her card that there's 50-percent off."
"Hmm, well if that's what the card says, we'll honor any card," she cooed.
"Can I specifically request Lelani?" I asked. "And is that really a picture of Lelani on her card? Will that Lelani come to my room?"
"Of course. Where are you staying?"
I dodged that one. "How does this work; I mean, y'know, what do I get for half of $129?"
"The basic service. She comes out and strips for you. You get a full strip. After that, you negotiate for any other routines. That's strictly between the two of you. My name's Desiree. I hate talking with no names. What's yours?
"Tommy," I replied. (I have no idea why I lied.)
"So where would you like Lelani to come? What hotel are you in?"
"The Mirage," I answered (lying, why?). "But first let me ask you: Let's say I wanted routines of a more, um, intimate nature than a strip, what would that run, give or take?"
"If I were to quote prices, I'd get in trouble," she said. "Prostitution is illegal in Clark County (where Las Vegas is situated). Outside the county line it's legal."
This I did not know. Prostitution, ILLEGAL in Sin City.
"OK," I paused. "In that case, can you tell me if Lelani were to come to my room whether she might be inclined to engage in routines that are, let's say, more intimate in nature than a strip?"
By this point, Desiree's purr had grown a bit strained. "All I can say in that regard is that anything like that you'd have to discuss with the young lady, and that is between you and her. And as we always say in Vegas, tips are always welcome."
Oh well. I'll never know what it would've cost for intimate relations with Lelani — not that I would have booked her or anything. Stop snickering. That's the truth. I guess I'll have to settle for keeping her on the top of my stack of hooker, uh stripper, cards.
Senior Writer Eric Snider, who does not accept tips of a monetary nature, can be reached at 248-8888, ext. 114, or at [email protected]