I jumped out of the car and hugged CJ, who just couldn't stop smiling. He giddily showed me a set of photos he'd snapped at the mansion on his spankin'-new digital camera. My jaw hit the floor when we hit the Ava Fabian-Tiffany Taylor shot. I could already hear Otis crying.
Spaceman appeared from behind, grabbing my shoulders and bearhugging me. I swear I heard him squeal. Chad stumbled over and fake-puked on the roof of my car in an eerie act of foreshadowing. And a thoroughly jacked-up Pauly flew to my side, warning me that Al Can't Hang wasn't just drunk, he was "Top 5" drunk.
But my eyes fell to Speaker again, puffing contentedly on a Parliament from my purse, that movie-star smile back on his face where it belongs. Where it had been far too absent as of late. The genesis of this entire weekend had been about doing just that, and between two wild nights in Vegas and one in Hef's backyard, I'd say we'd hit our mark.
* * * * * *"I want to get this over with."
You'd think he was facing dental surgery or something, but we had only been in the Ceasar's Palace Forum Shops for about twenty minutes. I had convinced Pauly that none of the nearly-identical lightly wrinkled button-down shirts that comprised a good portion of his traveling wardrobe would cut it at the Playboy Mansion, and that he should suck it up and pull out the MasterCard in the name of all that is good and holy and buy a hot outfit for the party.
"Do it for Hef," I pleaded.
Our first stop was Hugo Boss, where Pauly declared everything gay. Next was Armani Exchange, where he took a liking to a textured blue button-down, but not the indigo hipster jeans that were paired along with it.
"$115 for jeans? Are you crazy?"
"These ones I'm wearing right now? $145."
"Working in Hollyweird has warped your brain."
We declared that the "fail-safe" outfit, the one you go back to if nothing else in the mall suits your fancy, and continued onward. We hit Ralph Lauren next. Sending an unemployed studio executive with a fashion-induced credit card addiction into Ralph Lauren is like handing Robert Downey Jr. the keys to a suitcase full of blow. The temptation is almost too much for one human being to handle. I buckled down and fixated on men's shirts. A snazzy violet-hued one caught my eye, but Pauly looked nauseous when I pointed it out to him.
"Fine then, what would YOU pick?"
His eyes tracked along the rows of shirts, stopping on a white one with blue stripes.
"What about this?"
"It's exactly like the JCrew one you already have."
"Or this one?"
"Dude, it's exactly like the one you have on RIGHT NOW."
Ralph Lauren was a bust. So was Diesel. Pauly grew anxious and I was resigned to the Armani Exchange shirt when the Kenneth Cole store peeked out at me. Showcase always seemed to find cool shirts there. I led the Doctor inside.
Our salesman was tall, black, handsome, and very very gay. Pauly gravitated toward one shirt almost instantly-- a soft linen button-down with light green stripes accented with silver and navy-- while I tried to tear my gaze away from a flawless lightly ruffled eggshell trenchcoat that would look so good aginst my $145 jeans. The shirt fit him perfectly and I smiled my approval. The MasterCard came out, the shirt was purchased, and he'd go on to grumble about the $198 price tag all afternoon.
Pants were next. I'd been hard-selling the virtues of perfectly torn hipster jeans, but Pauly wanted nothing but class. How could I disagree with that? We settled on some slick black pants and a matching belt from Banana Republic.
"Try them on with the shirt," I pleaded.
"Come on, we can do that later. I'm hungry."
"Just do it. You have to see the whole picture. You won't regret it."
Two minutes later, a changed man emerged from the dressing room. The same mischief flashed in his eyes, but the scruff of his Old Navy checks and schwag-bag T-shirts had evaporated, replaced by $400 worth of couture. He stepped up to the three-way mirror and took a look at his new, improved self.
"Now this is a man ready for the mansion!" I declared.
And I swear I saw him blush.
To be continued...