Thursday, August 24, 2006

Our Hearts were Young and so were Our Spades

So having been invited by a few of you to yes, tell the early Las Vegas adventure, I take you back to the time when the earth was still fertile and cold in the right places. I was just over twenty, and had come to Hollywood with my passel full of songs-- I was a songwriter then-- and had been signed by MCA in New York which is another story. Bobby Helfer,a cousin of the composer Elmer Bernstein, was the west Coast agent assigned to take care of me, and being an honest and sweet soul told me frankly that MCA was not about to offer me for projects when they could get multiple tens of thousands more for Les Baxter. But listening to my music he said "the hell with it. I'm going to sell you. That's really good stuff." (So was he, by the way. He later committed suicide on the eve of his 42nd birthday, taking 42 sleeping pills.) So he set up an appointment for me with Frank Loesser, who listened to my songs, said "Kid, you're the biggest talent since me," preceeded to make as his own several of my numbers, but hey... he was my idol, and what could I do?.
Less my idol was Jennings Lang, very high up in the agency, famously shot in the balls by Walter Wanger for screwing Wanger's then wife, Joan Bennett, later married to Monica Lewis, a saloon singer aching for a comeback. I wrote a poignant piece of material for her for which I was paid $2500, exactly the price, what a coincidence, of the yellow Plymouth convertible Jennings sold me from the MCA parking lot, the agency at the time also doubling with a car business.
Now in my convertible, I drove to Las Vegas, where MCA had set up two glittering appointments for me: I was to write a number for Judy Garland and another for Gordon MacRae. When I arrived at her hotel, Judy Garland had a nervous breakdown. Still with springs on my spirit, I bounced back and went to the Desert Inn to meet with Gordon MacRae. He was at the crap tables, and when I stepped up and introduced myself to him, he lost thirty-five thousand dollars. He growled: "Get her out of here."
Before they acted on that instruction, I put a dollar down on the pass line, and in my by then hypnotically disconsolate state threw the dice. Seven. So I took a dollar off and shot again, and said to the man across the table "Tell me how this works." He said "Shut up and keep shooting." So I did, continuing to make my point(I later learned what I was doing was called) each time taking a dollar off, saying "Somebody please explain to me what I'm doing." But everyone said "Shut up and keep shooting."
By the time I had made twenty straight passes, word had spread along the Strip to the Sands, and many serious gamblers had come to bet with me.When I said "What am I doing...?" they said, in chorus, "Shut up and keep shooting." In the end, I held the dice for over an hour, one man made eighty thousand dollars, and a man betting against me lost tens of thousands. I finally crapped out, when someone, at last, explained to me how it worked.
You couldn't cash a personal check in Las Vegas, but I had with me a company check from NBC, where I'd had the only job I ever had, as a writer for the NBC Comedy Development Program, sharing office space with Woody Allen, who was already smarter than I was, coming to work only on the day we got paid. The check was all the money I had ever earned. Carl Cohen, the heavyweight pit boss at the Sands, okayed me for cashing, as I was friends with his son(Corey Allen, the actor who went over the cliff playing 'Chicken' with Jimmy Dean in 'Rebel Without a Cause.') As I went to get my check out of the safety deposit box I passed the dour comedian Jackie Miles, and said 'Stop me, Jackie, I'm on my way to the box.' He held up his hand in sallow-faced benediction, and said "Go my child, and learn."
So I cashed it, and now, knowing how to play, played. It took me two and a half days but I lost every penny I had made at NBC.
Now, at a later time,with my friend Louise Glenn, I drove back to Vegas. My car, a convertible, top down, turned over on the way there, righting itself. By some miracle we were not killed(pre-safety belts.) A man from the cast of Toonerville Trolley came running out of his shanty and said "You're the first crash we've had here where the people wuzn't killed. This be the curve where Sammy Davis lost his eye."
Heavy credentials.
Now we proceeded to the garage where the car was fixed, sort of, continued on to Las Vegas, where i put a hundred dollars on the pass line, won, and having smartened up, immediately got back into the car. We stopped for gas in Barstow, and somebody stole my wallet. So I understood that even when I won, I couldn't.
But all through my early married years when Don and I would go to Vegas, which we did, I would sneak out as he slept to shoot craps and lose.
The night that Liza Minnelli opened at the Riviera at the height of her young celebrity, a planeload of those who were considered good press which I was for a fleeting moment, was invited to jet along. It was a rough time for Don and me, because he was having career trouble, my novel was a big success, and I had never imagined I would be doing better than my husband, and neither had he. So we had trouble. Major. We were mad at each other most of the time, I, because I had succeeded, he because he hadn't, and there was no quarter in that era fpr a woman's being more successful than her husband, or the beauty of my success being very much due to him-- with his cheering me on, spurring me, really, as I wrote The Pretenders: "Now get down there and give them one for the healthy heterosexual!" he would say as I headed down into the basement to write a libidinous scene. "This is really good," he would opine as I handed him the pages at the end of the day. "Now go back downstairs and make it worse."
But as we neared our room in the Riviera, I was afraid I would not be able breathe, with all the unexpressed disappointment and rage in the room with us. "God," I said, silently addressing that Deity I still spoke directly to at the time, the world having done little yet to disabuse me of the notion there was an Intelligence behind it all, even a world where a woman who thought men were better was being given this bitter lesson, "get me through tonight and I will give up gambling." And so it was that there descended on me perfect Peace, and the marriage that sustained me for the rest of Don's life, which was not to be very long, but during which time we both learned what a blessing it was to have someone who really supported you, fuck the money, endured.
And I never gambled again till I lost the dollar at the airport. And so it was, moving West.

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Viva? Las Vegas?

So having had a great negative adventure in Sin City in my youth-- details to follow unless I lose interest in telling the story-- and divested of my lust for travel, or even a vague hunger, but cherishing a friend who headquarters in Venice where I have oft been but need go to no more for reasons laid out in my pome, --he attending a convention of hoteliers and travel agents only an hour away, I hied me to that desert honky-tonk to say Hello, and maybe Goodbye, because these days one never knows. The trip there, it being Jet Blue, was comparatively pain-free except for the prospect of losing my lip gel which I didn't, which non-loss made me regret not bringing my toothpaste. I flew from Long Beach, twenty minutes more on the freeway past LAX which I recommend to everybody because you can park and there is no hassle getting out on that airline including with luggage especially since i didn't take any. Arriving in Vegas, I grabbed a cab to the Hotel Paris, a place I had discovered when staying last time at the Bellagio, there being so many drapes and velvet swags and carpets in that hostelry that the dustmites had a victory over me, and I hid out at the other casino just breathing, floors at the Paris being marble, with nothing to offend my sensibilities except the Eiffel Tower that overlooks the pool. Oh, and once you're there, of course, you do notice the ad in the elevator for weddings, saying there is no better place for saying 'I Deux.' The stomach does churn, but everybody wants to be international. Or at least they used deux.
Once checked in which was not easy as they say 'Bonjour' badly and want picture ID, still a strain to the unpoliticized spirit used to a free country which many of you remember this used to be, I went across to the Bellagio where my friend was conventioning, and joined a cocktail party filled with hotel people who invited me to guest in exotic places I no longer care to go, unless they have transportation and allow small dogs. After that we had an exquisite dinner of light Japanese fare in the only restaurant you can see through, it being constructed mostly of glass and sheet rock, which comes as a comfort to the eye after all those busy walls.
Then I went back to the Paris(thinking perhaps I would write 'The Last Time I Saw etc.') waiting for The Daily Show, calling the concierge who is on record saying 'Bonjour' and 'all of our busy staff are occupe' till you could go bair-zairque, to find out what channel Comedy Central was, but when you finally get through they don't have it so one had no choix but to think and read, not necessarily in that order. Also I needed to get a new room key, as they have those magnetic-in-the-slot ones, and mine didn't work, and after a half hour of 'bonjours' they sent up a bellman with one that didn't work either, but I couldn't go through that again, so went to sleep.
I arose, did my yoga, went to swim, throwing the dead bolt so the room was open, and I wouldn't risk standing in the hall in my wet bathing suit, took my purse with all my limited valuables(priceless ID-- what if it's lost and they don't let me into the room or onto the plane home? racing through my brain) came back to the wrong floor, found the right one, (door still open) dressed and suffered through long checkout, and went to the Venetian for breakfast, that being the hotel everyone wanted to see. It is veramente grotesque, with millions of chandeliers that look like Versace's surving sister, a canal with Gondeliers, a museum with paintings from the Hermitage in St. Petersburg where I have been(the city, not the museum, as I bolted the tour and joined a Russian family I picked up at the bakery where bread was $10.00 a loaf and they said they were better off when there was a Cold War, even though they were glad we didn't hate each other anymore) but the museum charged $15.00 and I figured Las Vegas was not somewhere you looked for Kultur, or, in view of all the young hookers, a late-life love. So instead I asked Darryl, the bartender who served me breakfast at the bar at the Venetian, the only place you didn't see faux Tintorettos on the ceiling, what was good to visit and he said Mandalay Bay. So I crossed the Strip and made my way through a number of hotels, the most peace-a-fying of them being the Mirage, because there's a fish tank behind the desk that soothes the eyes, none of the fish having a frantic agenda.
All the lobbies I saw seem to be populated in great part by Asians, Chinese being driven gamblers, the tendency having apparently spilled over to Vietnam, and disconcertingly obese people,many of them pushing baby carriages, the rest seemingly carrying unborn twins in their buttocks. Made me sad.
At last I went to the Four Seasons, the only place that doesn't have a Casino, and made a phone call saying goodbye to my friend from somewhere I could think, then tried to call his daughter in London, only to discover I had lost my credit card. Called Darryl at the Venetian, and he had it, so took a taxi back to the Venetian($12.00), asked the driver to wait, got the card, zipped to the airport (10.75) and gave him a $7.00 tip so he'd go see 'O', a spectacle I'd caught in-between allergy attacks at the Bellagio last visit that everyone really has to see if they can. 'Love,' the Beatles Cirque de Soleil, which I really wanted to see, was suspended during my stay of course, as the Universe has a way of sending out little darts of seduction to get you back to places you are better off not going. I played $1.00 in the slot machine at the airport where a man had won 13 million last week and lost it, of course, which brought my losses to $26.00 including the unnecessary cab ride. Moral of the story: even when I don't gamble I lose, and if God had meant us to go to Las Vegas, She wouldn't have taken us out of the desert.
I'll tell you the other Vegas story another time. Always leave them wanting more. Do you?

Thursday, August 10, 2006


So we must all put aside feelings of frustration because we are not where or what we want to be. For some reason we have come into the world in an apocalyptic time, when the most we can do is try not to step into the fissures. Hell gapes, Shakespeare wrote. He had no idea. Not bad enough that life kills you anyway-- there are these suicidal homicidal lunatics who want to make sure it happens sooner. So lift your heads, hug your friends, make up with those you have offended unless they are carrying liquid that explodes.
At times like these I am moved to call my childhood friend Joanne Greenberg, who wrote I Never Promised you a Rose Garden, and has grown into a vessel of wisdom that still stays funny. When the Tylenol killer was loose-- oh, what a gentle madness that seems looking back!-- I suffered aloud to Joanne, and she assured me that there had been just as big lunatics in the Middle Ages, we just didn't hear about it because communications were slow. Now we have TV so we can learn this afternoon that we almost got killed yesterday, and it still could happen tomorrow. But Joanne sees the bright side: How wonderful that they found out! How great that all those people were in touch with each other so this could be exposed in time! Now maybe the CIA and FBI will follow suit.
Joanne was a rescue fireman in Colorado when she wasn't writing, and pulled children from privys where molesters had thrown them, so these things kind of slide in her eyes into a cosmic overview. She has just finished making the year's worth of Shabbas candles, and i consider her my Rabbi. At the same time she sorrows over Joe Lieverman and likes Coors, the company not the beer, because they did good in the community in spite of being Republicans, so I can't listen to her about everything.
Thus it is that I turn to Jack, whom some of you may remember as my Jewru, for what the Buddhists say at this time, although he is quoting a Sufi. "Undertake to overcome any bitterness that you are not up to the magnitude of the pain that has been entrusted to you." Azoy.
I had lunch with my son, my former little boy, on Sunday, to celebrate his birthday. I saw where his wild thatch of brown hair, so thick that when I was caught in whimsies of reincarnation I thought he might be a Kennedy-- he was in my belly when we lost Bobby-- had a few spikes of gray in it at the crown, antennas signalling age. It made me sad in an unaccustomed way, because i had just more or less come to terms with the truth that I was aging. It never occured to me that he would be, too.
Therefore let us all get our heads out of our asses, and delight in life while it's here. As Scarlett noted, Tomorrow is another day. Unless of course we have to fly somewhere.