Charles Marino and Other Hot-Ass Stories From the Vegas FrontAugust 20th, 2008
by Reno J. Romero
LAS VEGAS, NV-
The Girls of Bromidrosis
The first night I arrived in Vegas I ate fried-chicken and drank beer. Under normal circumstances this is not a good combination. Hell, it doesn’t even sound good. Fried-chicken and beer. But these weren’t normal circumstances. I had just arrived home after living over three years in the South where nothing - and hardly anyone - made sense to me.
So, I wasn’t looking for harmony. I was looking to gorge myself and get drunk.
One beer. Three beers. Tack on another one. Then another. I sat on my sister’s patio as the wind whipped up from California. The air was cool and dry. My head was spinning on nostalgia and alcohol. The light from the Luxor was cutting through the dust. I was home.
The next morning I got up and went to the market for some goodies. There was a stripper shopping, her cart full of junk food and booze. She just got off graveyard duty and was still in her school girl uniform. Her tits were the size of basketballs. Her ass was hanging out.
Las Vegans think nothing of seeing this sort of thing. It’s part of the scene like the heat and neon. After years of living in the hell that is the Bible Belt, she was a welcomed sight. I wanted to hug her and thank her for her Dionysian ways.
“Thanks, bro,” I would have said.
“What?” she would have hissed. “Can’t you see that I’m a girl?”
“Oh, I see that,” I’d say, jumping my eyebrows.
“Are you some kind of pervert or something?” she’d asked.
“Hey, don’t give me a batch of shit, sister. I’ve just come back from the Bible Belt. Okay? Just a little oppressed that’s all.”
“Oh, babe, I’m sorry to hear that,” she’d sympathize.
“Me, too,” I’d say.
The first time I went to a strip club I was twenty-seven, twenty-eight. Late in the game. I never got into going to strip clubs but I know a lot of men that dig those places. Some even eat lunch at strip clubs. Really. You know you’re a hardcore strip club dude if you’re eating lunch with topless women.
Once I was at a strip club in a little town in the California desert. The place was a dive. Reeked of feet and served beer in pitchers. It was a bachelor party and we were jacked up on speed and whiskey. A perfectly nasty combination of chemicals and stupidity. A fool’s recipe.
I don’t remember much from that night but what I do remember is this stripper (she was a redhead) sitting at the table with us and my friend asking her: “So, does the carpet match the drapes?”
Without hesitation, she spread her legs and pulled her g-string to the side. It was a perfect match.
“Ah!” we shouted throwing up our arms.
It was 109 degrees when I stepped into the Gold Coast. Before I left Vegas for Charlotte, the Gold Coast always served as a great place to write. Old School casino. A locals’ den full of characters.
On any given Saturday you’d find me at the sports book checking out the gamblers - especially the ones who played the horses. Loud and wild eyed. Smoldering cigars and cigarettes. Sipping vodka and whiskey. Screaming at the TVs that showed horses racing all over the country.
“Go, This Cat Swings!”
“Chop House! Chop House!”
“Eyes of Sara! Come on, baby! Go, go!”
So, I stepped into the Gold Coast for old time’s sake. Four years later it was no different except that the hot dogs that used to sell for seventy-five cents went up to a buck twenty-five. It was Friday afternoon and the sports book was getting packed. Drunk bastards from All Over, USA, were lined up and tossing in their bets.
“Marlins, baby! This one is gonna hit, bitch!”
Like strip clubs, I never got into gambling. I don’t know, it just doesn’t work for me. Truth is, I already have too many hang-ups. I don’t need another one. Not now. Not ever. But I can understand its attraction. I can see why it eats some people up.
I found a seat, got myself situated, and looked at the boards. They were lit up. Tons of action. Boxing. Baseball. The odds of winning the Super Bowl read:
Giants 10/1; Patriots 8/5; Cowboys 5/1; Ravens 55/1; Eagles 17/1; Dolphins 80/1. Wow. Eighty to one. The Dolphins are bad. Bad as in horrible.
I remember when the Dolphins used to win. Back in the day. They won a couple of Super Bowls. In fact, they are the only team to date that has had a perfect season. No losses. Not one the entire season. But not anymore. They’ve been stinking up the field for years now.
Not even Dan Marino, an NFL icon and the Dolphins most celebrated player, was able to deliver them a championship. He played for the Dolphins somewhere around a thousand years. That’s a long fucking time. Still, no rings. Egg. Nada. He’s arguably the Charles Barkley of the NFL.
* * *
I noticed this guy sit in the row of seats in front of me. He had a couple of hot dogs loaded with ketchup and mustard. And a Bud Light. He looked very familiar. I’m not good at remembering names but I remember faces. And I remembered his: pocked skin. Thin green eyes. Little ears. Chipped front tooth.
I racked my brain for a bit and then remembered that I worked with him at a bookstore around ten years ago. He was an odd fellow. A little different. But it wasn’t a bad thing. I like different and we got along pretty well. And he knew his books. He devoured them. A voracious reader.
Around a year after I quit I ran into this girl that was still working at the bookstore and she told me that Frank and Shelley were married and were expecting a kid together (Shelley also did hard time at the bookstore). I was blown away. It was the craziest thing I ever heard. It was completely ridiculous. And yet it made perfect sense.
Shelley, like Frank, was also an oddball. Chubby. Zits. Very naive. Very young. Occasionally she had a healthy coat of B.O. going. Frank had her by at least ten years.
Frank scarfed down the two hot dogs and slammed his beer just in time to order another one from the cocktail waitress. He handed her a comp and went back to scribbling some notes in the margins of his program. His race came up.
“Go, two. C’mon. Two! Two!”
His horse lost. Frank looked around and looked at me. I could tell he recognized me.
“Reno? Dang, man.”
We had a beer together and caught up. He was still married to Shelley. They had three kids now. Two boys and one girl. Julie was her name. I’ve always liked the name Julie. I guess, it’s because every Julie I ever met was nice.
“She likes the color green. And pizza. Damn, that girl could eat some pizza.”
I told him about North Carolina. Told him about the seasons. The trees. The big lakes and the macaroni and cheese. The shameless culture and its Dark Age mentality.
“I’ll never leave Vegas,” he said. “And go where? Kansas? Minnesota? Fucking Ohio? Where is Ohio anyway?”
“I don’t know. Somewhere that way,” I said pointing east. “I think.”
Just Like Gerry Cooney
I pulled into the neighborhood and saw the same batch of kids fooling around in the street that I’ve been seeing for the past few months. When I first moved in I paid attention to their shenanigans. The reckless dodgeball games. Bikes pulling skateboarders. The sloppy basketball games.
I just got back from rehearsing for an upcoming gig and was taking out my equipment when I heard:
“One, two, three, four…”
I turned around and saw two kids (brothers - one older and much bigger than the other) wearing boxing gloves. Big blue boxing gloves with white trim. The older brother was counting off while his challenger was on the ground in the fetal position protecting his head (or was he holding it together?).
“…seven, eight, nine…”
He paused for a long time before he said ten. He wanted his brother to get up and get another beating. He gave him another shot at redeeming himself.
“Okay, I’ll give you another ten seconds. One, two, three, four…”
(That’s Gerry Cooney on the ground after being beaten down by that guy who will become famous for his grilling ways.)
I started laughing. Now, I realize that someone getting knocked around technically isn’t funny, but for nostalgic I’ve-been-there boy memory it’s a keeper. I remember playing this game as a kid. Jabs. Kidney shots. Ripping uppercuts. Pummeling each other in the backyard.
I won some, lost some. Little did I know that those backyard brawls would serve as a foreshadowing of things to come.
On the floor or doing the counting.
Everyone is a VIP; or Do You Have the Nuts?
A friend of mine from Michigan flew into town with some of his partners. Multiple dudes. On the prowl. It’s always an amusing sight when you see packs of men cruising the Strip looking for some action. Red eyes. Winking. Hands clutching beer. Rubbernecking the girls.
Jim is a good man. Funny. Smart. A hero of mine and a sports junky. Football, baseball, hockey, golf. Hell, he probably follows roller derby and bass fishing.
We had lunch at Margaritaville. Funny-looking place. Big-ass volcano with a bar cut into it. Straw canopies. Giant fishing poles popping out of booths. Very kitsch. Very Vegas. I never understood the whole Jimmy Buffett thing. Just like I never understood the Grateful Dead thing. I guess, like the Dead, I think his music sucks.
Anyhow, Buffett was once a country musician but then found a drunk cross-eyed island crowd to sing to and made millions. The dude was born in Mississippi for the love of god. Not Puerto Vallarta. Not Hawaii.
We left the volcano and went to Bill’s Gamblin’ Hall and Saloon. It sits right on Flamingo and the Strip. Same building where Barbary Coast used to do business. But nothing’s changed. It still reeks of cigarettes, desperation, and jet-powered air-conditioning.
In fact, that’s what all casinos smell like: smokes, desperation, and jet-powered air-conditioning. It’s heavenly - the Vegas potpourri.
We found a bar right by the sports book and ordered some drinks. The two bartenders were in their forties. Their faces told us they didn’t give a rat’s ass about customer service. One of those what-the-hell-do-you-want deals.
I’ve always liked the Old School Vegas people. The no nonsense, no bullshit types. The ones that have been up and down the Strip one too many times. You’ll find these folk working in old dives like Bill’s. Or in one of those hard-luck bars weathered by the wind and those who’ve given up.
We talked sports and literature. Women and poker. Jim’s a poker player. Earlier that day he entered a tournament and walked away with some cash in hand. Back at home he plays at a place called The Barn Poker Room. He was wearing one of their T-shirts. On the back it said: Do You Have The Nuts?
I read the shirt and was busting up.
“Jim, what’s with the ‘nuts’?”
“The ‘nuts’ means you have the best hand,” he said pulling back his beer.
Right then a woman squeezed in between two people sitting at the bar trying to order some drinks. There was a long line of people who also wanted drinks five feet away from her.
“You know what’s going on, right?” one of the bartenders asked her.
“Huh?” she said, holding a crisp twenty-dollar bill.
“You know what’s going on?” he said motioning to the line.
“Oh, I can’t get drinks here?”
“If you’re not sitting at the bar you have to stand in line like everyone else.”
“Oh,” she said sharply and got in the back of the line.
He looked at us and shook his head.
“Everyone is a fucking VIP,” he said.