Saturday, December 24, 2005

Props, Pai Gow, Poker, and Pauly: A Vegas Return Engagement, Part I

The idea of a return trip to Vegas came to me as I blasted past Barstow at 95 MPH on the drive home from WPBT weekend. I always make note of my “split time” in Barstow, being the approximate halfway point on the 280-mile, Vegas-to-L.A. haul. I was on pace to make the trip in only 3 ½ hours, certainly not world-record speed, but quick and painless enough in the company of good weed and great music to make me contemplate making the same journey in a week’s time, despite my utterly exhausted physical and mental state. I still had a week of work to muck through before Hollywood went on a 17-day, year-end break, blessing me with the time and freedom necessary to engage in a second consecutive weekend of gambling, drinking, and depravity. The minute the thought entered my head, it never left, gnawing at me in the days to come. When ideas that good come to me, I'll rarely ever let them go.

I barely made it through the week. My eating and sleeping cycles were turned inside out and scenes from the blogger trip swarmed my thoughts when I should have been concentrating on other things in my 9AM-7PM world. I sat in meetings and met a couple of directors and sleepwalked my way through notes sessions. I went to a premiere in Westwood on Wednesday night and ended up dozing off through half the movie and staying at the post-party for only 15 minutes. And I’m hardly ever one to turn down free food, an open bar, and random celebrity sightings, especially all at once.

Pauly sealed the deal for me when he rang me up on Friday. I was sitting in mid-day traffic on Wilshire Blvd on the way back to my office when the call came in. “Come to Vegas. We’ll get silly and play cards. And Grubby’s got a free room at Excalibur for three nights.” Sold! I told Pauly I’d see him Monday afternoon.

The drive out was one of the worst I’ve ever had in terms of the sheer amount of time it took to get there. An accident in Cajon Pass along with two lane closures between Baker and Barstow turned last weeks three and a half hour jaunt into this week’s six and a half hour nightmare. At one point I was moving at a steady five miles per hour for 45 consecutive minutes. My leg was cramping from holding the clutch and the five-hour mix I had made on my Ipod ran out before I hit Baker. I fired up a live Pink Floyd album as the traffic finally abated and I cruised over the mountains, aiming for the sky-high spire of light from the Luxor pyramid that teased me from behind the final ridge, before the lights of the Strip opened up along the desert floor.

I pulled up to valet parking at Excalibur around 8:30. Pauly and Grubby met me in front of the big purple dragon and the three of us went up to the room. I decompressed for about an hour while we chatted and smoked. After I was sufficiently relaxed, we adjourned to the poker room, where we all sat 1-3 NL. Grubby and I were seated at the same table, while Pauly played at the table behind ours. The two of them continued a weeks-long stretch of prop betting by wagering on my first drink order. Grubby won by taking the more practical choice of Red Bull and Vodka to Pauly’s Soco rocks. The Dr. was thinking with the wrong head on that one.

The guy on my left hit on me incessantly. He tried about six different approaches, each one worse than the next. At one point he actually leaned over and sniffed my neck, asking what perfume I was wearing. When I told him it was Burberry, he didn’t know what that was. Grubby and I locked eyes as I tried to explain and I almost busted up.

Not too long after he sat down, Pauly got recognized by a fan. He is, after all, somewhat of a journalistic celebrity in certain Vegas circles, not to mention a huge cult figure in Canada. Of course I had to grab a cocktail napkin and a pen and run over and ask for his autograph to tilt him a little. We played for about 3 hours before grabbing a snack. While we ate, Pauly asked me what sort of salacious nuggets of Hollywood gossip I had heard lately that could not be found in the tabloid press. I told him that a certain A-list actor that you wouldn’t think is gay actually is gay and he couldn’t believe it. As we walked from the food court to the Pai Gow tables, Pauly kept intermittently mumbling “I can’t believe ____ is gay!”

Grubby and Pauly coached me in Pai Gow, which in all my time in casinos, I had never tried. I had played Chinese Poker before, so I was a pretty quick study and I manage to book a $27 win. Poor Pauly dropped his entire buy-in. His six-week losing streak wouldn’t end tonight. The guys went home around 4:30 in the morning and I crashed out shortly before dawn.

Whooooop whooop whoooop. Ehhhh, ehhhh, ehhhhh. What in God’s name was that fucking noise? Then a voice over a loudspeaker. “We are couducting a test of our life safety system. Please disregard any alarms you may hear at this time.” Whoooooop whooooop whoooop...

I rolled over and squinted at the red LCD on the alarm clock. 12:15 PM. I was about to get really pissed, but I needed to get up anyway. Besides, if I was testing an alarm system myself, I’d probably do it at 12:15 PM on a Tuesday during the slowest week of the year. I took a shower, dressed, and headed out for the Forum Shops at Caesar’s Palace. I had a lot of Christmas shopping still to take care of. Like, all of it.

On my way back to valet, I sorrrrt of got waylaid at a Blackjack table. I had been so good on my last couple of trips and fastidiously avoided -EV games, but I was seriously itching. I am Change100 after all. I did get that name somewhere. I bought in for $100 and ordered a Corona for breakfast. A sweet, corn-fed couple from Chicago sat in the two seats to my left while a loud Armenian guy with a stack of hundreds sat to my right, betting anywhere from $200-500 on three separate hands. He knew next to nothing about basic strategy and kept staying on hard 14s and 15s when he should have hit against the dealer’s face card. Worst of all, he wasn’t tipping poor Karen, our sad-faced, bespectacled dealer. Her dishwater hair was pulled back tight into a long, limp ponytail and fastened with an ancient black scrunchy, the wispy bangs that framed her face curling downward in a fresh-from-the-curling-iron half-coil and doused in cheap hairspray. Once I won a couple of hands, I started betting silver dollars for Karen, and the Armenian finally tossed her a green chip as she was pushed. She was replaced by J.R., a slight, but jolly older man who looked like Joe Lieberman. Every time I hit and busted, he’d say “rats!”

By the time I ran through my $100, the Armenian was down over $11,000. “That is nothing,” he said to me as I got up to leave. “I lose $25,000 last night on the roulette. I was very, very drunk.” He moved a white $500 chip into each betting circle on the last hand I saw him play. The dealer pulled a four-card 21 and his $1500 moved into the tray. “That’s OK, we get it back right now!” He sipped his red wine and went for his checks again as the pit boss indifferently gazed on.

I spent the bulk of the day shopping at Caesar’s and gawking at expensive finery that I can’t afford. I got a gorgeous silk top for my sister on sale at Nanette Lepore and picked up a cashmere cardigan for my mom at Ralph Lauren, also on sale. I got back to the room around 5 and Pauly came over after writing all day. After missing twice, I gave him 4-1 odds that he couldn't toss his wad of gum through the three-inch crack in the window from his seated position at the edge of the bed. He fucking makes it on the third try and I fork over $4. We walked over to an Italian joint in the Excalibur and carbo-loaded for our poker session with some pasta and canoles. The waitress seated us in one of those huge, round booths with a tall back and Pauly joked it must be the “canoodling booth.” So if you see any blind items in the Review-Journal in the next couple of days about a gonzo journalist and an unidentified blonde dining together on consecutive nights, that was me. Such a starfucker.

We hit MGM that night and met up with Grubby. Grubby and I sat at different $1-2 NL tables while Pauly went for the $4-8 with ½ kill. I had a table of douchebag fratboys on Christmas break with a few locals mixed in. On one of my first hands, I picked up AJ in the cutoff. The douche two to my right with artfully messy hair and a rumpled button-down shirt raised it to $10 and I called. We were heads up to a 2 9 5 flop. He checked and I bet about 3/4 of the pot. He called. Turn was another blank. He checked again, I made a pot-sized bet, and he check-raised me all in. I mucked the AJ and he showed the exact same hand as he glared at me and stacked my chips. The look said, don’t fuck with me, girlie. I’m the table captain here and I’ll have you stealin’ none of my mojo, ya hear? Less than 10 minutes after his supposed big- boy move, he lost half his stack overplaying QQ. It was then that the mirrored sunglasses came out and the staredowns got all the more dramatic. What a fuckin’ clown.

I lost a huge pot when my AK lost to J7 rivering a flush on a K J 6 flop. I visited Pauly at his table and he looked miserable, down a buy-in as well. We decided to split around 3 AM and try our luck back at Excalibur while Grubby stayed and played with a college friend for a few more hours. We had a short session there where he got sucked out. Pauly left around 5 and I counted out the rest of my paltry bankroll before turning in. With only a couple of buy-ins left on me, I was in serious need of a double-up. Cards flew behind my eyes and I wished for good luck as I closed my eyes with CNN droning on about the NYC Transit strike in the background. Mayor Bloomberg was walking to work and thousands traversed the Brooklyn Bridge in the 16 degree cold. As I was wondering just how high the cabbies were scalping fares, sleep mercifully descended.

To be continued...


Pauly said...

That bitch of a dealer at the Pai Gow tables cold decked me.

F-Train said...

I was one of the thousands tromping across the bridge. It (in a word) sucked. Would much rather have been out in Sunny LV with the three of you!