I hadn't seen Bean in over a year, the little time we got these days to spend time face to face one of the many casualties of the months (years?) I've spent following the international poker circus. After we took our last university finals, donned caps and gowns, packed up our apartments and said goodbye one June morning in 1999, we both went back to where we came from-- she to Pittsburgh and me to Los Angeles-- and have spent the balance of the nine years since keeping in touch through phone calls and emails and a visit every year or two when her sales job would send her out to a west coast destination like San Francisco or Las Vegas and we'd converge on whatever business-class hotel was putting her up and pick up right where we'd left off. Bean and I are evergreen. We're stronger than oak. Such were the bonds fused between us through three years of cohabitation in dormitories and run-down student apartments on the frozen shores of Lake Michigan. I think of living with Bean and I hear Pink Floyd's The Wall, I see scenes from bad nineties movies like Twister and Reality Bites and remember sucking down bonghits of ditch weed we bought from the kid upstairs for $40 a quarter as we ditched class after class yet always managed to pull out decent grades in the end.
Bean was a fashionista from the moment I met her. Though I came from the beauty capital of the world and she from a place too close to West Virginia for my tastes, you couldn't tell it by looking at us back in those early days. Her positive fashion influence on me continues to this day. I remember vividly how she took me to Macy's during junior year and got me to sit down at the Clinique counter and get my makeup done for the first time. From that day on, the Cherry Chap Stick and Cover Girl pressed powder that had gotten me through all-girls high school were banished from my repertoire forever and replaced with proper foundations and concealers and eye shadows and lip glosses. My beloved red Doc Martens were replaced with sleek black leather boots and I shopped at stores not called The Gap for the first time I could remember. Without Bean, I still might be wearing brown lipstick and tapered jeans. Yeah, that's a horror show.
Bean was in Las Vegas for her ex-boyfriend's wedding. The two had dated for over three years but remained close friends after their breakup. His bride to be was about 7 months pregnant and they had the ceremony at one of those wedding chapels up on North Las Vegas Boulevard, followed by a luncheon reception at the Venetian. I drove the 273 miles from Los Angeles as they said their "I do's" and once the festivites were finished, I met up with Bean at the Luxor, where she was staying. Though we'd been together almost two years, Bean had yet to meet Pauly, and was very anxious to do so.
I'm happy to report they got along wonderfully. There were multiple utterings of "Ohmygod you guys are so cute together" throughout the weekend.
The three of us got a quick bite in the Luxor cafe. Then Pauly went back to his room at Excalibur to write while Bean and I hit the casino floor. We took seats at a $15 blackjack table. She watched me play for a while and I explained to her why I was hitting or staying in certain situations. So much for my expertise, I was down over $100 after the first shoe. After a shuffle, she pulled out $100 and nervously traded it in for red chips. She lost the first hand she played.
"That was fast. I wish this was a 15 cent table instead!"
"Come over to my place. I deal private 15 cent table for you" said the fiftyish Asian dealer with a leer.
I continued my downward slide through the next shoe. Down to my last $30 in chips, I pushed the rest of them in and was dealt two eights. I reached into my purse for another $30 to split them. A 9 fell on top of the first eight for a 17. And then a third eight fell on the second hand. Another trip into the purse for $30 more. A jack for 18, and and ace for 19. The dealer was showing a 7 and turned up a 9 underneath, only to peel off a three for 19. I pushed one hand and lost two. Yeah, that was gonna be it for me. I'd been in Vegas for two hours and I was already stuck $260.
We walked over to Excalibur and found Pauly in the poker room. I told him my blackjack bad beat story and then headed over to a Pai Gow table to try and get at least partially unstuck. Bean was intrigued with Pai Gow.
"You'll like it. You don't win a lot, but you don't lose a lot. Well, you lose a lot if you're Pauly. And you get lots of free drinks and it's social" I told her.
She watched me play for a while and got the hang of it. In favor of sitting down herself, though, she decided to go back to her room and take a power nap. She was determined to go to LAX, the Luxor's trendy nightclub later that night.
I love Bean, but to be honest I was dreading LAX. It shows how much I love her and want to spend time with her that I went at all. The last time I set foot in a Vegas nightclub was for a WSOP party back in 2006. I think I even brought the same outfit to wear to LAX. Clubbing... it's just not me. I'm not 21, I'm not single, and waiting in a line with a bunch of provocatively dressed, fake-tanned college chicks with their boobs pouring out of their tops is probably on the list of the top 5 worst things you could ask me to do with my time. But I love Bean. So I put on my black pants and cranberry silk halter top and got in line.
Bean had been gifted with some sort of VIP pass for the club. Some guy had seen her checking into her room and offered them up. Basically, what the VIP pass gets you is a shorter line. There's the main line that snaked all the way past the club, around the bar, and up to the concierge desk, populated with hideously dressed obese tourists that would be standing there for the rest of the night. And then there was the VIP line where all the guys in black button downs and designer jeans and girls with fake tits stood, craning their necks to get the attention of some former high school linebacker in a black suit with an earpiece and a clipboard. I moved us aggressively through the cluster of shivering, stilettoed girls until we were flush with the velvet rope. There was a sign there advertising Paris Hilton's Valentine's Day party scheduled for next week. Bean made her best goo-goo eyes at Clipboard Guy and after about 20 minutes he let us in.
LAX was dark and cavernous, giant chandeliers hanging over the dance floor, while a balcony full of velvet-curtained VIP booths lined the walls on three sides. We grabbed a drink and took in the scene from a perch near the back of the room. About every minute or so, some guy would walk past and check out Bean or throw out a pickup line. I stood there and sipped my vodka rocks with a splash of cranberry and counted how many guys I could spot in black button down shirts. I think I stopped somewhere around 24.
With our second drinks in hand, we ventured upstairs to check out the VIP booths. Bean marveled at the bottle service spreads-- crystal decanters full of mixers, stainless steel bowls with wedges of lemons and limes, a fifth of Absolut rounding out the frame.
"See, you just add Paris Hilton or those girls from The Hills, get them drunk enough to dance on the banquettes, and you have an item fit for US Weekly" I quipped as we turned to go back downstairs.
"Hold on there, you're going the wrong way" said a tall guy with sandy hair. He took Bean by the shoulders and turned her around, leading her back to their table. A dark-haired friend of his appeared out of the shadows and put his hand on the small of my back to lead me the same direction. I recoiled from his touch and practically jumped away, giving him a sharp look. Yeah, boy I'm the difficult one in this duo. It's not the easy con you thought it was going to be. But if my best friend wants to have a good time, I'm going to let her.
Inside their private balcony above the dance floor, a bachelor party raged. There must have been about 10-15 guys in there and a half a dozen soused party girls. Sandy Hair jumped up on the banquette and Bean jumped up with him. I looked down at the spread of alcohol on the table and wondered if I could at least get a free drink out of this escapade. Just as I was about to go for the Absolut I felt a tap on my shoulder. Dark Hair presented me with his empty glass.
"Hey, get me a vodka tonic."
What, am I your fucking waitress?
He must have seen my jaw drop and my lips prepare to form a retort because he went and gave his glass to another friend instead. I looked over at Bean and Sandy Hair had his hands on her ass.
"How old are you, if you don't mind me asking?" he said. Bean looked over at me.
"Should I lie?" she asked. I shook my head.
"I'm 30." Sandy Hair looked at her in disbelief.
"She's telling the truth" I said.
And then we found out that Sandy Hair was only 19.
"You must have a great fake I.D." I deadpanned as I downed the last remnants of vodka in my glass.
As Bean continued to flirt with Sandy Hair, I started talking about poker with a nerdy, rotund gentleman who had settled into the corner. But he lost interest after a few minutes and walked away.
"So... do you like the poon?" I turned around and there was a skinny guy no taller than me standing there. He was so drunk that his eyes had taken on that dead, ,motionless quality that onsets just before blackout.
"Do I like the what?" I club-shouted back at him.
"The poon. The poon-tang. Do you give it up?"
"Do you give it up?"
"I give it up to my boyfriend."
"You give it up to anyone else?"
"Not you, buddy."
"Then you need to leave."
"You need to leave. Right NOW. You have NO PLACE HERE!" he shouted, inches from my face. I started to laugh. That really didn't help things.
"Bean, this gentleman says I need to leave."
"What?" she said, turning away from Sandy Hair.
"Apparently I have no place here since I'm not single."
"That's right, bitch, you have NO PLACE HERE!" Skinny Short Guy slurred, sloshing vodka out of his nearly-full glass.
"No, it's OK, they can stay. Chill out, man" said Sandy Hair.
"Did you hear what this bitch said to me?"
"Why are you getting up in my face, man? Do I offend you that much?" I laughed.
"Get the fuck out" he spat.
"OK, we're out of here" said Bean, disentangling herself from Sandy Hair.
"That's right you douchebag, I'm taking the one single girl out of your party that's still 100% conscious" I said, pointing to a blonde splayed out on a chaise lounge as I grabbed Bean's hand and pushed our way through the velvet curtains.
"Are you OK?" said Bean, concern washed over her face.
"I'm fine. Let's get another drink."
"What did he say to you?"
"He's just a tool. And drunk. Don't worry about it."
We got another round at the bar. Guys continued to chat up Bean as I stood to the side. I really didn't belong here. At 22, I desperately wanted to belong in places like this, but I was miles away from the person I was back then. Much happier with myself. Blessed with someone who loves me no matter what. I looked around and watched these guys trying to get girls to talk to them. I couldn't believe how predatory it had all become. I suppose it was predatory 8 or 10 years ago when I was more into this sort of scene, but perhaps just not as overt and premeditated. Guys hung out by the door to scope the new meat walking in. They whispered to their friends as they judged the pickings. And the girls did the same. I even saw Sandy Hair and Dark Hair back out in the field, looking for more prey. Bean and I passed by them on our way out the door. But there was nothing more to say to them.
Once outside the overstimulation of the club, all the vodka really kicked in. We made our way over to Mandalay Bay, where Pauly was playing poker. I caught my first glimpse of him as he was re-checking his hand, an agonized look on his face. All five board cards were out. He grimaced and folded, just like I knew he was going to. I'd have to clue him in on that tell later.
He cashed out and we went to the sportsbook bar to show Bean some of the local hookers. I told Pauly the story of what happened up in the VIP Booth and remarked that if he had been there, he would have put skinny guy into a wall. That's my man. Bean gasped.
"Seriously, he would. He's threatened drunk Dutch poker players over far milder offenses."
We walked Bean back to Luxor before heading back to Excalibur. There was still a huge line outside of LAX, even at 1 A.M. I saw some of the same faces I'd seen waiting there hours ago and desperately wanted to tell them that there were so many better things that they could be doing with their night than waiting to get into some place that obviously didn't want them. I mean, there weren't even any celebrities around. It was Grammy weekend.
Instead I just let my mind wander to the next day's plans... Red Rock Canyon... a nice dinner with two of my favorite people in the world... getting unstuck at the Pai Gow tables...
Places I belonged.