February 27, 2007

Interview with a vampire

He wasn’t sporting a three-day growth of beard because it was trendy, even for thirty-something guys in Reno. He just hadn’t shaved.

He was sitting at the video-poker machine at the end of the row at the Grand Sierra Resort in Reno, formerly the Reno Hilton, formerly the MGM Grand. He was waiting to be paid for a jackpot when I hit one myself. His face fell. He looked at the five figures flashing on my screen like the captain of the high-school chess team looks at the head cheerleader: it was something he wanted but something he would never get. “You come here a lot?” he asked. Sometimes, I said. I asked his name and, casting his eyes quickly around the room like a kid about to steal a Snickers bar from the candy rack at the drug store, he hesitated and told me.

I asked him if he lived in Reno. “Near here,” he said. “How about you?” I told him Seattle. “My girlfriend – wife, actually – is from Oregon,” he said. “You must get a lot of tax forms playing that big.” I told him yeah, I did. He said, “I do this for a living. I keep all my money in silver. I haven’t filed a tax return for 10 years. You don’t have to file a return. As long as you don’t, they can’t do anything to you.” I said I expected they could throw you in prison. He looked like I’d just dinged the door on his newly restored 1960 Chevy. “No, the income tax is unconstitutional. The Supreme Court ruled that.”

I nodded. “Good luck to you, sir,” I said. Then I asked him if he showed an ID when they gave him one of these tax forms. He said yes. “Does it have your address on it?” It’s a mailbox, he said. “Then the mailbox company has your real address,” I said. “Well, they did at one time,” he said. He had moved around a lot. “Aren’t you worried they’ll show up at your mailbox one day and cart you off to prison?”

“What are they gonna do?” he said. “Stake it out for two weeks?

“Maybe,” I said. “If they want you bad enough.” They came with the money and the tax form, which I signed hurriedly like you signed your monthly rent check. He asked if I was married. “Used to be,” I said.

“I have an 18-year-old wife,” he said. “Well, it’s not a legal marriage.”

“Eighteen,” I said. “How old are you?”


I told him I was going to have to put this in my seamy underblog but given the circumstances I wouldn’t use his real name. “I’ll call you Marty,” I said.

“Why Marty?” I shrugged. “Can you call me Scooter? I’ve always wanted to be called Scooter. Wait, on second thought you’d better not. Everybody knows I want to be called Scooter.”

“I’ll call you Marty.” I started playing again and he showed no signs of leaving. “So how’d you meet this 18-year-old, Marty? On the Internet?” He said yeah. “Chat room? ‘Middle-aged guys seek teenage girls who like daddy types’?” His eyes widened like I’d given him a good lead he hadn’t thought of.

“It was actually on a site called VampireFreaks.com,” Marty said. I whipped out my notepad and started scribbling. I wanted to remember this nightmare when I woke up.

“Is that a good place to meet 18-year-old girls?” I asked. He shrugged.

“She was 16 when we met. We chatted online for a couple weeks and then met in person. On her 18th birthday I drove to Oregon to pick her up and get married.”

Eugene, Oregon?” I asked.

Marty’s eyes narrowed. “How’d you know?”

I shrugged. “Eugene is where girls like that live,” I said. I looked at him. “Did you consider the possibility that when you got to Eugene you’d find an FBI agent waiting for you?”

“Yeah,” said Marty. I played a few hands of video poker but he was quiet like anything he said could be used against him.

“Why marry an 18-year-old?” I asked.

“We have a lot in common,” Marty said. “We like food, and wine. And sex.”

“Wine?” I said. “But she’s not old enough to drink.”

“Oh, anyone can drink wine,” Marty said. “It’s a religious exemption. The Supreme Court ruled.”

I blinked, but decided not to pursue it. “So what does she do all day when you’re out gambling?”

“Hangs out at home,” he said. “She’s not old enough to come into the casino.” He brightened. “Pretty soon I’m going to buy a sailboat and sail to Hawaii.”

“There’s no gambling in Hawaii,” I said. “What are you going to do for a living?” He shrugged.

“Say,” said Marty, “How’d you like to meet my wife? We could have dinner!” I was in too far to stop now so I said I’d love to. I told him to meet me at the steakhouse at seven. I cashed out and went up to the suite to start writing.

At seven I came down to the steakhouse. I half-assumed they wouldn’t show but Marty was right on time. The vampire girl I expected to be all decked out in Goth but she surprised me by showing up in Gap instead. She was cute with shoulder-length blonde hair and a pink sweater that covered the kind of territory Lewis and Clark would have abandoned their expedition to explore. I’ll call her Natasha. I sat opposite her with Marty in the middle. I ordered 2002 B.V. George Latour. Natasha didn’t get carded although, to be fair, she was almost 19 and looked it.

I told Natasha I expected her to be all Goth and she said she didn’t do that any more. She didn’t like being around all the negative attitudes. She just had the one piercing now, on her belly button. Did I want to see? Of course I did. She lifted her top to show a cute teenage navel with a stickpin through it. I don’t remember much about the stickpin.

“So, do you like vampires?” I asked.

“I am a vampire,” said Natasha.

“I thought you had to kill someone and suck their blood to be a vampire,” I said.

She scrunched her face. “No,” she said sweetly, “you just have to have a fantasy of sucking blood – or wanting your blood to be sucked.” She glanced knowingly at Marty.

“So you had ads posted on VampireFreaks that you wanted to suck each other’s blood?”

“Actually,” said Natasha, “he wanted to deflower a virgin and I wanted to be deflowered.” I ordered a bunch of appetizers to share and, true to Marty’s word, they both enjoyed the food and wine. “I still have my lesbian virginity,” she said. “I keep trying to meet someone online but the ones who want to meet me always turn out to be guys.” I nodded sympathetically.

Natasha suggested we go up to my suite after dinner so Marty could sober up. I figured the worst that could happen was they would kill me, suck my blood, and steal my PIN number, so I led them up. Marty asked for some water and I pointed to the $6 liter of Voss on the counter. He poured himself a glass. Natasha asked for one and he poured one for her too.

We sat on the sofa awhile. Marty was pretty quiet, probably thinking about his sailboat. Natasha took off her shoes and put her bare feet up on the coffee table. With the toenails painted red, I figured if she dangled those feet out a car window they were good for six or seven blocks of gridlock. I snapped a photo and her cheeks turned red to match her toenails but she didn’t move.

Natasha said it was close to her 19th birthday. Marty piped up. “Yeah, you’re gonna be too old for me.”

“You keep saying that,” said Natasha.

“It’s just a joke,” Marty said.

Natasha turned to me. “There ought to be some limit on how many times you can say something and have it still be a joke.” Marty was silent. I figured she still had a good six and a half years till she was half my age.

Marty excused himself to the T-room and I asked Natasha if she had career plans. “I want to be a wildlife photographer,” she said. “I’m worried about going to Hawaii. There’s not much of the kind of wildlife I want to photograph there.” I didn’t get the whole Hawaii thing. No gambling, no wildlife. It seemed like a pipe dream to me but maybe a pipe dream was better than the reality of this hell-hole called Reno. “He said he was going to get me a camera for my birthday,” she said, “but I think he changed his mind.”

Marty returned and drank the last of the Voss water. At about the same time we all decided it was time to call it a night.

Before they left, Natasha gave me her Myspace address. I gave it 10-1 it wasn’t fake. “You know,” whispered Natasha, pausing at the door, “I don’t let just anyone take pictures of my feet.”

February 19, 2007

Harrah’s Reno Blues

She was a dancer, a redhead. She went by Veronica, but last month it was Victoria. Who knows what it will be next month.

Gabe is my man in Reno. He’s an executive host at Harrah’s, where if you look me up in the computer tiny showgirls wearing pink feathers pop out of the USB ports and do fan dances on the monitor. In Vegas I’m a big player but in Reno, I’m a true whale. When I walk into a casino they quake with fear and drool with greed. This time they got the best of me, to the tune of a year or two’s Ivy League tuition. But Gabe was my man. He made sure I loved coming back to this dilapidated town, the alcoholism capital of the universe, Reno Nevada, the biggest shitty little city in the world. We caught up in the steakhouse over two bottles of 1997 Stag’s Leap SLV Cabernet. The big news was about the redhead. She was getting married.

I remembered very well the night last month we all went to the Keystone Cue and Cushion to shoot some pool and hang out with Kenny, the dying bartender. Kenny was best friends with Brian, the male dancer, who was dating Veronica, whom we kept calling Victoria but never got corrected. Veronica was very friendly and pleasant as I beat her at pool and when I called it a night, leaving the rest of the crew at the bar, she walked me to the door and lingered. I looked her up and down and then looked back inside at Brian and Kyle’s curious eyes. She had the kind of body that made you want to buy a trapeze just to see if you still had any acrobatics left in you. But redheads are bad luck, I thought, and decided to give it a pass as I turned and walked out the door alone. Besides, as tired as I was and as much as I had to drink, it would have taken an hour or more for the Cialis to kick in.

When I had woken the next morning, Kyle heard me making coffee and tiptoed out of his bedroom wrapped in a white towel. “Shh,” he said with a bashful grin. “Victoria’s still here.” Redheads are bad luck, I thought to myself. Kyle told me when I had left it got tense and awkward at the bar. Veronica wanted to play charades to break the tension. Something had to break, because she ended up in my suite with the kid.

I roused myself from my reverie and blinked at Gabe. “She’s getting married?” I said. “To Brian?”

“No,” said Gabe, “to Kenny.” The redhead had dumped Brian and was marrying his dying best friend. That made less sense to me than most nonsense in this crazy town. Why would a dame dump a guy and then marry his dying best friend two weeks later? I texted Kyle with the news but my subconscious was working overtime. Penn Jillette, of Penn & Teller, had told me it only took seven seconds from the moment of the Challenger disaster to the time the first sick joke was posted on the Internet. I felt horrible but it jumped into my throat like a rabid bullfrog and banged on my vocal chords from the inside until I choked it out. “Gabe—” I slapped my hand over my mouth, trying not to say it, but Satan grabbed my arm with his clammy claw and pulled my hand away.

“I married a man in Reno, just…to…watch…him…die…”

Gabe recoiled in horror. I recoiled in horror. I blamed Jenni. She was a comedy writer and had warped my brain.

Gabe and I finished off the SLV and called it an early night.

I forgot all about the redhead the next night when Gabe and I went back to the FQ Men’s Club and partied with a hot 38-year-old Ukrainian named Elena who chain-sipped $10 Pinot Noirs while saying over and over again, “I am bad girl.” Gabe and I drank $7 waters and sat back and enjoyed the show while I smoked a Macanudo. “She’s getting married tomorrow,” Gabe said. “Veronica.” I took a deep puff on the Macanudo and let it out slowly.

The next evening I was ready to see the redhead. Gabe had told me the early, non-topless show “Let the Good Times Roll” was way better than the topless show (if only by virtue of not having a puppet) so we got a comp and went in. The house manager gave me a warm greeting but then sat us way in the back, at a booth where we had to look through people’s heads to see the stage. Gabe went to talk to him and we got moved to the front. I wasn’t sure if Veronica would be there but sure enough she came out smiling and dancing, a real pro. I texted back and forth with Kyle, who still wasn’t sure if I was making the whole thing up. You can’t make this stuff up.

The show was hot – hot enough to make a fat man drop a plate of nachos piled high with guacamole and jack. The girls, including the redhead, changed clothes on stage until you thought the lace on their white underwear would wear off. They started in pajamas, then stripped down to basics, then modeled a wardrobe that would have been on the cover of the catalog if Victoria’s Secret made cheerleading outfits.

Halfway through the show the manager came down and leaned into me. The points on his lapels were sharp enough to spear a boiled shrimp and dip it in cocktail sauce. “Have you been taking pictures?” he yelled through “I can cook too” from Leonard Bernstein’s On the Town. “One of the dancers saw you taking pictures with your cell phone,” he yelled. I had finished texting with the kid and had put my cell phone back in my pocket so I just showed him my empty palms, thinking that would end the kafuffle. It didn’t. The guy persisted, now yelling at another big player we were sharing the table with. That guy was on the verge of tears. He wasn’t a small guy.

The manager turned to Gabe and yelled, “Make sure all photos are deleted.” We were all very confused. My cell-phone camera barely had the horsepower to snap Jimmy Durante’s nose from six inches and I was pretty sure the other guy didn’t even have a camera. They sure were afraid of someone taking grainy pictures of the kind of show you usually see for free on a cruise ship. It didn’t add up, but then not much did in this batty burg.

After the show the redhead didn’t make an appearance in the lobby with the other performers. I guess she was in a hurry to get to her wedding night. Gabe and I had dinner at the Italian restaurant. We tried the 1999 B.V. George Latour. I thought about taking a picture of the label but who knows, they might have called the cops. I thought I could hear the whistle blowing…

As nutty as all this seemed to me, Kyle, stuck back in Georgia going to classes, must have been even more confused. He had called Victoria/Veronica a few times after that magic night a month ago but lately the redhead hadn’t been answering his calls. I was back in my room writing when Kyle messaged me that she was on the phone with him. The hotel wanted her to fill out a security statement about the photo incident and she wanted to know if I had sent him any photos. He told her no and waited for her to bring up her marriage but she didn’t. Finally he asked about it but he didn’t get much of an answer. I guess that was to be expected.

I figure it all came down to the boyfriend, Brian. He was close to the redhead. Maybe even in love with her, who knows. And when you lose the one you love, you look for someone to blame. You can’t blame your best friend, dying of cancer. Maybe you blame the guy with glasses in the front row, the guy enjoying your performance and texting his buddy in Georgia to share the fun.

Or maybe you just hang your head and cry.

February 18, 2007

Steakhouses are for vegetarians

I tore myself away from Caesars Palace without getting up the nerve to try the new high-tech ubertoilet they had in my Augustus Tower suite (but only in the powder room). Rather than hop back to Seattle in between trips to Vegas and Reno, I jetted over to LA to spend a couple days with my uberhot new sweetie Jenni. I forgot it was the Grammy awards but I found a room at Le Meridien.

Jenni had sent me some old photos, including one I really liked of her taken some years ago in a plaid dress sipping a cosmopolitan. That inspired me to take her to Mastro’s steakhouse in Beverly Hills, one of my favorite restaurants and, to my surprise, one of hers since she has been a vegetarian her whole adult life. “Mmm…sides!” she said, and made the reservations. She surprised me by wearing the same plaid dress and looking fantastic. Well, that didn't surprise me.

We left the $30/day valet parking at Le Meridien and arrived at the $7 valet parking at Mastro's. I asked for the super-double VIP presidential table and they escorted us upstairs to a nice large table far away from the piano player, which is a good location. I got the Chilean sea bass, which I go in and out on loving but I seem to be in a loving phase. We shared a cornucopia of sides including the wasabi mashed potatoes and sugar snap peas.

The cocktails at Mastro’s are huge – I’m guessing about 10 oz. once you refill your glass with the extra they always bring. Jenni tried a “flirt,” a trendy new drink made with vodka, Chambord, pineapple juice, and Champagne. I got a Tanqueray 10 martini with blue-cheese-stuffed olives. The live music is a bit too loud upstairs and the tables are too close together downstairs, but other than that I love the place.

The next evening Jenni suggested we hit Sushi Roku with her roommate Christine, friend Diana, and one of her beautiful 18-year-old twin sisters, Alejandra. No, I’m not making that up. Diana picked us up at Le Meridien and drove us to the restaurant, but when I got there I realized it was only two blocks from the hotel. Welcome to LA! Ale and Jenni ordered veggie and the other girls let me order for them so I selected a bountiful fish feast and a bottle of cold Harushika sake since they didn’t have the Divine Droplets. Harushika used to be my favorite but D.D. ruins you for all other sakes.

Later, we smoked on the comfy sofa out front of Le Meriden and felt the cool Southern California air on our skin. Tomorrow I would fly into the heart of my favorite soap opera: Reno.

February 16, 2007


I’ve been a Penn & Teller fan as long as I can remember. I’ve seen their show a dozen times, bought their books, shook hands with them after the show, and recently become friends with Penn (the big one who talks) and his beautiful wife Emily. I watched the first season of Bullshit on Showtime religiously (which may not be the best word to describe the work of a rabid atheist) until I canceled my Showtime subscription because that was the only thing I was watching on it. So when Emily invited me to go to the set where they were taping season five, I jumped at the chance.

Bullshit is taped in Las Vegas, in a modest studio located just off the Strip in a small industrial park. I knew I was in the right place when I saw Penn’s fuschia Mini-Cooper (one of three) with license plate “ATHEIST.” There was a gold Lexus SUV with license plate “MOFO” that clearly also belonged to someone with the show (Mofo the gorilla appears in their stage act). Emily pulled up and escorted me in.

I had wondered how they created their signature white-background effect on the show and discovered the straightforward answer: the set had a white background. This caused dirt problems (Penn said never again would he do a show with a white set) and Penn had a pair of magnetic metal over-soles he snapped on to keep his shoes clean while he walked around the rest of the studio. Teller covered a beautiful pair of burgundy Oxfords with more pedestrian surgical booties.

The stars of the show made efficient use of their time, sitting side by side working on laptops during the numerous breaks for scene changes. When we broke for lunch Penn and I discussed movies while he ate a huge plate of rice and vegetables. He was a big fan of ‘60s horror movies which, he said, were the only way for directors to make films with serious social commentary. “A horror film with breasts was an automatic green light,” he said. Lots of guys who wanted to make socially relevant films but had no particular interest in horror discovered that if they wanted to make a movie about, say, feminism, all they had to do was work it into a horror movie with boobs and they got an automatic check.” I was going to have to watch all George Romero’s movies again from that perspective.

As lunch was about over Penn’s friend Otto, of the ventriloquist act Otto and George, arrived to do a bit in the show they were taping in the afternoon. Penn & Teller were calling bullshit on the practice of exorcism, dressed as priests and casting evil spirits out of George the dummy. I stayed to see Otto and George do their bit before excusing myself to go think about making horror movies with boobs.

February 15, 2007

Heads up

Having been inexplicably passed over yet again for the NBC Heads-Up Poker Championship I decided to play the $200+30 rebuy satellite Saturday at Caesars Palace for one seat in the exclusive field. Only 71 people entered so I had a decent chance of getting into what’s becoming one of the premier events in poker.

My buddy Chad Layne was at my table but was busted early by the charming Alex Vuong, who trapped him with top pair and a better kicker.

Terry Fleischer showed up at the table with 25,000 chips but his wild style didn’t work out so well at this table as people kept showing down big hands against him. He doubled me up playing four-deuce suited but I lost most of my chips when my Presto couldn’t hold up against eight-six flopping two pair.

I put my last few chips in with a raggy queen and got called by the same guy who busted me in one of the season two UPCs by calling with Ace-Ten. Once again, he had Ace-Ten and once again I lost the race and busted 25th.

It wasn’t so bad to bust at 5:59 p.m. since I had a 6 p.m. dinner invite from Benjie and Mark at Bradley Ogden, conveniently located steps from the poker room at Caesars Palace. I had a steak tartare and Chilean sea bass, both excellent as is pretty much anything I’ve ever had at Ogden. Benjie always lets me pick the wine and I saw no reason to get anything but the 2002 Casa Dalla Valle Cabernet.

After dinner we went to The Producers, the new abridged version that had just opened at Paris. We walked across the street and enjoyed David Hasselhoff’s performance as the flaming director-actor. I was not a big fan of the show when I saw it on Broadway, not loving Mel Brooks’ score, and it’s fair to say that it in my eyes it benefited by being shorter. The acting and production were terrific and I’m sure it will be popular with tourists.

February 9, 2007

The Ballad of Billy G.

I’d met Billy G., a rumpled, weathered, fiftyish gambler, up at Lake Tahoe last year. He was playing video poker next to me and bragging about the three porn actresses he had been lounging by the pool with all last week in Vegas. “What business are you in?” I had asked Billy.

“Porn,” he said. He had one of those gravelly, whispery voices that made it seem like everything he was saying was at the very least confidential and quite possibly a state secret.

Billy owned a bunch of web sites where people paid to watch videos of porn actresses. He explained the business to me: “There are about 15,000 porn actresses,” Billy said. “There are another 15,000 wannabes. But there are only 15 bona fide porn stars.” One of these, who went by the name Memphis Monroe, was Billy’s crown jewel. She was one of the top girls at Hustler and Billy had some kind of ancillary rights deal with her that seemed to keep him in gambling money.

Billy wore a Caesars Palace baseball cap, jeans, and a denim jacket with a small sewn-on patch of an eagle that wasn’t quite the Post Office bird or the one on the dollar bill. “What’s that eagle?” I asked. “It’s designer,” he said. “It’s from Guess.”

Billy had flown in from New Orleans, where a friend of his had just been murdered, possibly by the psycho woman he had been shacking up with. Billy went down to the precinct to give them the lead but the detective, Billy said, wanted $5000 to move the case up towards the top of the list. “We got a lot of homicides here,” he said, “and only a few detectives.”

I told Billy I had just been playing at the Rio with no luck and I was taking the evening off from gambling. “I don’t play at the Rio any more,” Billy said. “I got robbed there.” He had a half-empty Corona sitting in front of him but he hadn’t taken a sip the whole time and he didn’t now.

“In your room?” I asked.

Yeah, said Billy. “I had tickets to the big fight. I was driving my daughter back to college in Kansas. Damn car broke down and by the time I got her back and got to the airport I missed my flight. Took the next flight, got into Vegas, cabbed over to Thomas and Mack and got to my seat just in time to see them lift the winner up on their shoulders. I didn’t see one punch.” He looked at me for sympathy, which I gave him.

“So I took a cab to the Rio, where I was staying, checked in, and had one drink at the bar.” He repeated, “One drink! Then I went to the men’s room. I left my drink on the bar.” He shook his head. “Well, you know how these pimps and hos work. They wait back there by the bar where you can’t see them. Then when you go to the bathroom they slip something in your drink. They wait 10 minutes, then they come up to you.” He lightly grabbed my left arm. “ ‘Come with me,’ they say. Richard, I don’t remember one thing. Not one single thing.”

“I slept for a full day. When I woke up, they had taken $4000 in cash and about $8000 in jewelry. But Richard, this drug—” Billy closed his eyes and opened them again. “When I woke up I saw a piece of paper on the floor with four numbers written on it. This drug—” He smiled and shook his head like you do when you wake up and find the team you had that hunch on won in a blowout but you never put down your bet.

“Of course, it was my PIN number. This drug makes you tell them anything and you don’t remember one thing. Not one thing.”

I tried to think of something to say but not one thing came.

Billy leaned back and smiled. “Anyway,” he said. “That’s why I don’t play at the Rio. Hey, give me your cell number so we can hang out when we’re in town.”

I thought quick. “So did they charge anything before you canceled your cards?”

He smiled and nodded slowly. “Gas,” said Billy. “The fuckers charged eight tanks of gas, one right after the other, at the same gas station. Here, give me your phone, I’ll call mine and then we’ll both have each other’s numbers.” I didn’t see any way out of it.

“So,” I said, “Tell me again about those porn stars you lie out with by the pool.” He consummated the mating of our cell phones.

“Not porn stars,” he corrected. “Porn actresses. There are only about 15 porn stars.” He smiled and winked. “And one of them is my girl.”