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Posted by on Apr 25, 2020 in Blog, Essays, Las Vegas, Music and Concert Reviews, Personal | 0 comments

An Evening with Al Pacino

 

al-pacino-thumb

 

Writer’s Note:  Back in January 2017, I penned this article after seeing Al Pacino interviewed onstage in a two-hour career retrospective.  I’m publishing it here for the first time on the occasion of Pacino’s 80th birthday — April 25, 2020.

 

Few can command a room just by being inside it.  Al Pacino is such a man, with an undeniable command presence.

That was my instant takeaway the moment when the spotlight hit the iconic film actor who was introduced to a Saturday night crowd of about 800 loyal fans at the Opaline Theatre inside the Palazzo.

Pacino had arrived in Las Vegas for an exclusive one-hight-only, one-man engagement.  Think Pacino unplugged.  Aside from the somewhat nameless and faceless interviewer who tossed Pacino plenty of softballs to smash out of the theatre, this was Pacino totally in the raw, mostly unrehearsed and unscripted.  While some of the questions asked were repetitive and maybe even a few of the answers were orchestrated for maximum impact, the intimate setting was also loaded with plenty of spontaneous moments and edge-of-your-seat recollections for classic movie lovers.  Most satisfying of all, Pacino seemed to sincerely enjoy the trip down memory lane, with pit-stops where you’d expect them on his 50-year-career.  He was a much better storyteller than one might have anticipated.

Indeed, Pacino personifies what it means to be a movie star.  He made the Godfather’s fictional character Michael Corleone into someone who’s real to millions, forever embalmed into cinema’s collective consciousness.  When we hear Serpico, we think of Pacino.  Sonny, the bisexual bank robber based on a real incident, is Pacino.  Scarface.  Dick Tracy.  Frank Slade.  Carlito.  Lefty Ruggiero.  Shylock.  Richard III.  Phil Spector.  He even played Dr. Kevorkian.

I was surprised by my own reaction, that Pacino’s best moments weren’t the highlights of his superstardom, but rather the low moments and the struggles, both personally and career-wise.  We can forgive but he can’t forget, and Pacino carries the burdens of pain from his childhood, though no amount of talking about his early life could quite remove the lingering sting of loss all these years later.

He talked about growing up in East Harlem (and later the Bronx), born into a lower-class household, raised by a single mother at a time when single mothers were widely viewed social outcasts, especially in Italian-American culture..  Pacino’s father abandoned the family when Al was 2.  Interesting factoid from the show:  Pacino was mostly raised by his grandparents who were immigrants from….Corleone, Italy.

Pacino seemed the most unlikely heir of what was to become his ultimate destiny.  He worked as a messenger, busboy, janitor, and postal clerk in between acting jobs consisting mostly of small roles in stage productions.  There was even a period when he was unemployed and homeless.  Sometimes he slept on the street, in theaters, or at a friend’s house.

In the 1960s, leading men cast in movies did not look and talk like Pacino.  Smallish.  Way too New York.  And way, way too ethnic.  By age 30, even though he’d studied at the famed Actors Studio under the tutelage of mentor Lee Strasberg (who would later play the legendary role of Hyman Roth in Godfather II),  his acting career was going nowhere.

However, everything was about to change, including public tastes and mass audiences’ demands for authenticity combined with Hollywood’s own methods of casting prompted by a new age of writers and directors.  New movies would need smallish actors, with New York accents, who were genuinely ethnic.

Pacino’s role, playing a heroin addict in his first film The Panic in Needle Park (1971) caught the attention of movie director Francis Ford Coppola, who had just won an Oscar for screenwriting Best Picture winner, Patton.  Coppola took a big risk and cast Pacino as Michael Corleone in what became a blockbuster film, The Godfather (1972).  Jack Nicholson, Robert Redford, Warren Beatty, and even Robert De Niro tried out for the part, but Coppola insisted on Pacino, to the dismay of studio executives who wanted someone better known.

The stories of phone calls between Pacino and Coppola during the tense negotiations were told here, presumably, versions heard by the public for the first time.  Neither knew of the monumental tidal wave that was to come engulfing both of their lives, totally reshaping the careers of both men.  Now, Pacino remained every bit as appreciative of that loyalty, noting that no other film director would have gone to bat with such steely determination, especially given that Coppola was also relatively young and didn’t have total control of casting decisions.

As one would expect, there wasn’t nearly enough time to tell all the stories.  Even Pacino’s most obscure film roles elicited some hysterical recollections about on-the-set disasters and even the actor’s own missteps.

Pacino had clearly done this before, and his experience as an amiable storyteller showed onstage.  Yet, the actor’s occasional gaffes were among the most endearing moments.  When absorbed in stories, he’d often get excited and would sometimes even ramble off on tangents.  A few times, the moderator had to steer Pacino back on track.  This wasn’t annoying at all.  It gave the presentation a genuine sense of spontaneity, that we were privileged to be sitting in an audience sharing Pacino’s recollections of what happened when the cameras weren’t rolling.  I should add that not having any film clips, props, or other supporting materials actually helped the format.  Midway into the retrospective, everyone in the audience seemed to feel what a special moment this was and we were lucky to share it.

Las Vegas might be known for gambling, but it usually leaves nothing to chance.  The odds are known.  Most shows are the same, night after night, year after year.  Pacino’s recollections, though imperfect and incomplete, was in a sense the acrobat performing without the net — no notes and no script.  While other celebrities have done one-person stage shows, with mixed results, most of those efforts look way too contrived, even manipulative.  Not so, with Pacino.

Pacino has crafted a reputation based on playing tough guys in movies.  But his first love is stage acting and theatre.  After taking about 25 minutes of questions from the audience (most of which were terrible — thankfully, Pacino was gracious and answered questions he’s undoubtedly been asked hundreds of times and anyone with access to IMDB can lookup), the legend paid homage to Oscar Wilde, Tennessee Williams, Eugene O’Neil, and Noel Coward.  It seemed Pacino wanted to talk more about stagecraft.  Unfortunately, the interviewer cut off some of the evening’s most passionate thoughts from Pacino.

The final few minutes included a short glimpse of what was then Pacino’s next major upcoming film project.  That night, he’d recently signed a deal to play Jimmy Hoffa in Martin Scorsese’s The Irishman.

Was it enough?  Was it worth paying $80 to listen to a film icon talk about his life and career?  Was this a show to recommend?

The answer is simple.  Hey, it was Al Pacino.

Enough said.

__________

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Posted by on Apr 14, 2020 in Blog, Essays, Movie Reviews, Personal, Politics, Travel | 2 comments

Midnight Expression

 

nolan dalla

 

PART ONE

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Midnight Express is a mesmerizing 1978 film based on the true story of an American college student who gets arrested and then convicted of drug charges who is summarily forced to endure the unspeakable horrors of the Turkish prison system.

After I watched the movie — its screenplay penned by Oliver Stone based in the captivating book by Billy Hayes who wrote of his experiences — like so many viewers I came away with a deep hatred for Turkey and its people. It was impossible to watch that movie and see the way Turks were portrayed and not be jaded by the cruel hyperbolic depiction.

I wasn’t sympathetic to drug use nor smuggling, mind you. However, the injustices of the Turkish legal system and the way such a relatively minor crime was punished left a lasting impression. For many who saw it, Midnight Express was the only thing we knew about Turkey.

But life does twist us in ways we cannot predict and turn us onto paths we do not foresee. Fifteen years after Midnight Express infuriated tens of millions of moviegoers, I ended up working for the Embassy of the Republic of Turkey in Washington D.C. I was an employee of the Turkish Government for seven years, between 1993 and 2000.

During my employment with the Turks, I gradually came not only to admire the fascinating history and rich culture of Turkey, and before them, the Ottomans. Working with people with very different attitudes opened my eyes to another perspective of the world — one that was not always consistent with my own perspectives, opinions, and values that I thought to be unshakable. Visiting Turkey four times during my tenure with the Embassy broadened my experiences even further. The photo (posted above) was taken during one of those visits, while in Istanbul.

However, one thing I couldn’t shake was the terrible memory of Midnight Express and the constant reminders of how Billy Hayes was treated by the system I now supported with my own labor. His book and the movie came up frequently among the Turks while I worked there. It was often the first thing Americans thought of when they were asked what they associate with Turkey. I even came to share the Turks’ resentment of the distorted portrayal. I began to posture defensively about it in conversations with Americans.

Fuck Billy Hayes. He was a drug smuggler. He did the crime, so he should have done the time! He got what he deserved!

Nonetheless, I couldn’t refute his very real story of a grave injustice at the hands of a government that was essentially run by a military dictatorship (in the 1970s). I couldn’t defend a corrupt system where an admittedly guilty man gets convicted, serves most of his sentence, and then just a few months before being released gets *retried* again for the same crime and subsequently is given life imprisonment. Imagine that for a shocker. Life imprisonment!

Sometime around 1997, while still in the employ of the Turks, it occurred to me I’d never actually read Billy Hayes’ book, Midnight Express, which was the first-person account. Reading it with an open mind seemed way overdue.

The text of Midnight Express, penned by a college graduate who once aspired to be a journalist and commanded a mastery of both language and expressing his own emotions, recalibrated every thought I had about the story, the book, and even the movie (which took extraordinary artistic liberties and even added incidents that didn’t really happen). As I closed the book following the final paragraph, guided by Billy Hayes’ narrative, I was a changed man, or at least I saw things differently than before. There was no genesis of opinion, nor even a definitive finality to that story. All of life’s experiences and the way we look upon them — good and bad — contribute to the rolling assembly line of evolutionary thought.

Billy Hayes and Midnight Express had once again affected me in ways I didn’t expect. His story made me think of things differently, and in a very tangible sense had also broadened my horizons at looking at subjects in a more existential way — that there can be contrasting even contradictory truths which depend on where we are in time and who we interact with, some by intent and others purely by chance. The truth we believe today might be the falsehood of tomorrow.

Perhaps I felt closer to Billy Hayes and his story solely because I spent all that time also influenced by Turkish people, which was a clash of perceptions. This all happened more than twenty years ago. Occasionally, I wondered what happened to Billy Hayes?

I wondered:  Did he disappear? Did he try to forget about his years in Turkey? Was he even still alive?

Between 1997 and 2020, Midnight Express appeared on television sporadically and like a firefly to the flame, I felt the magnetic pull of curiosity tugging at my soul. I watched the movie a few more times, each viewing a chasm driven deeper into the divide between illusion and reality.

Then, about three weeks ago, something remarkable happened.

A local magazine was sitting on my living room table. I don’t even recall how it got there. The front cover showed a photo of Billy Hayes. Was that the same Billy Hayes who wrote Midnight Express?

It was. What was he doing on the cover of a publication about Las Vegas? He was sitting in a pose a Red Rock, seemingly at peace with himself. Wait — Billy Hayes was now in Las Vegas?

I was about to explore….and discover so much more.

 

billy hayes in las vegas

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PART TWO

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On the night of October 7, 1970, an American college student named Billy Hayes duct-tapped four pounds of hashish to his torso and attempted to clear customs as he was about to depart Istanbul’s Ataturk Airport. He made it successfully past the initial terminal search, then boarded a transport bus that shuttled international passengers to a waiting airplane out on the tarmac. It seemed he was home free.

But just as the bus pulled up to the jetway, Hayes was confronted with a horrific sight. Turkish Army soldiers were lined up waiting to search passengers for a second time. Recent terrorist attacks by the Palestine Liberation Organization put Istanbul and other airports on a heightened state of alert. Hayes had just made the biggest mistake of his life. His life was about to change in ways no one could have predicted.

Yet, Hayes later said his arrest, trial, conviction, and five-years spent inside a hellish Turkish prison turned out to be one of the very best things that could have happened. Watch the video clip here, which runs about three minutes. It’s a short, but thorough account of Billy Hayes and the factual background story of what became the incendiary 1978 movie, Midnight Express.

So — almost fifty years later — what was Billy Hayes now doing in Las Vegas?

I read the well-written expose on Billy Hayes that focused on what he’d done in the four-plus decades since his escape from imprisonment in Turkey when in 1975 he paddled 17 miles in a storm across the Marmara Sea and crossed the heavily fortified border into Greece and on to freedom back home. Turns out, Billy Hayes had moved to Las Vegas.

Now 73 (his birthday was last week), Hayes has made peace not only with himself but with his once-hostile captors — the Turks. Hayes was invited to return to Turkey as an official guest of the government, actually the TNP (Turkish National Police). He openly spoke of his experiences and even expressed love and admiration for the country and especially its people. It seemed such an unlikely, even an impossible reconciliation, but Hayes had never *hated” Turkey or the Turks despite his imprisonment and brutal treatment.

What I remember was Billy Hayes’ book and the movie destroying Turkey’s tourism industry and jading an entire generation as to how it perceived a proud culture and people. Certainly, this had not been his intent. In fact, he’s been trying to correct the record and make amends, ever since. These noble efforts speak to the remarkable qualities of a man I somehow thought of as a friend, with so many kindred interests — experiences with Turkey (indeed very different), deep love and background in writing, a free-spirited outlook on life — but who I’d never actually met.

None of us is ever likely to be locked up inside a Turkish prison, nor understand the fear and nightmare of what it’s like to face a life sentence for drug possession (later changed to drug smuggling). Nonetheless, his remarkable story resonates with all who have read it, and who can now hear it, thanks to Hayes’ doing what amounts to a one-man show of his life and experiences. He has written other books, directed a movie, and even appeared as the hired assassin in a Charles Bronson movie, Assassination.

When our lives return to normal after the CV-19 crisis, I hope to go see Billy Hayes’ show. I expect there are many more things I can learn, not just bout him and bygone days in Turkey, but about myself. His story is a rebirth and a revelation.

Last week, Billy Hayes and I became Facebook friends. This is one of the many unanticipated benefits of social distancing and isolation, which is to create of our time what we want to make of it. Hayes doesn’t know I’m writing this, but I expect he’ll read it. If so, I have some words for him:

Thank you for sharing your story and for your gifts as a writer and for your courage to self-examine through intense introspection and for being fully human and for enduring and for moving to Las Vegas and now being one with us on social media.

Midnight Express, which factors in the title of Billy Hayes multiple narratives, refers to an uncharted labyrinth of escape from captivity. In a sense, we all remain captive to all of our outmoded perceptions, those old ideas, destructively archaic thoughts, and paralyzing fears. Yes, each of us remains in perpetual pursuit of truth’s liberation, of finding our own Midnight Express.

 

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Posted by on Apr 7, 2020 in Blog, Essays, Las Vegas, Personal | 3 comments

Remembering the Castaways

 

Castaways

 

The Castaways Casino was open from 1963 to 1987. Here’s my recollection of that forgotten slice of the Las Vegas Strip before it was demolished to make way for The Mirage, which stands in its place today.

 

It was cramped.  It was smokey.  It was hot.  It was dusty.  It was ugly.  It was a hellhole.  And, it stank.

But none of that mattered at age 21.  None of those things were important when visiting Las Vegas legally as an adult for the first time every bit as capable of debauchery and degeneracy and depravity as the rest of America’s mad herd of merry gamblers.

I can’t identify what exactly it was that made the Castaways so damned appealing, so fun, so interesting, so compelling, and — now 36 years later — so memorable.  The Castaways wasn’t luxurious like its Haute neighbor Caesars Palace, next door.  It wasn’t famous like the Flamingo, down the block.  It wasn’t known for world-class entertainment like the Sands, across the street.  It wasn’t Ballys.  It wasn’t the Aladdin.  It wasn’t even in the class of run-down mobbed-up Dunes, soon slated for demolition.

The Castaways was a cramped square-shaped casino that resembled the inside of a bus station.  And it was loud.  Outside, the parking lot was too dark.  Inside, the casino was way too bright.  There was a small hotel, with 100 rooms, the quality about equal to a Motel 6 about five years too late for renovation.  There was a restaurant on the premises rumored to be pretty reliable, serving a truck-stop like menu 24/7 with prices starting at 99 cents for a full continental breakfast, including a tiny glass of artificially-flavored orange juice.

I made at least four trips to the Castaways between the ages 21 and 25, sometimes with $300 in my pocket and once with about $7,500 — my fate the same on each and every trip.  My final visit was in 1987, only a month before it closed down and was bulldozed to the ground to pave way for Las Vegas’ first giant mega-resort called the Mirage, which opened two years later in 1989.  The Mirage is a gorgeous hotel to look at and it ushered in what’s known as the modern era of Las Vegas with 4,000-room resorts being commonplace, famous TV chefs, circus acts, and showrooms of shopping and more shopping.

But I do miss the old Castaways.  Yes, I do.  Yeah, it was a dump.  But it was the dump where I liked to hang out.  Like an old pair of shoes or the girl you first fell in love with or a cheap can of beer, it all just seemed so real, so authentic.

castaways casino

 

The Castaways never established its own niche until perhaps it was too late and the times had changed.  Maybe that’s why some of us connected with it so easily.  As a casino, it was the orphan.  A stepchild.  More of a black sheep.  It was the ugly offspring that struggled and always had to borrow money from rich parents and brothers and sisters.  It was an oddball and an outcast.  And it eventually ended up as rubble, the spot where it once stood obliterated to the dustbin of history by a fake volcano.

Nothing seemed to go easily for the Castaways from the day it first opened.  In 1963, the casino was themed as a Polynesian Resort, with Tiki torches and palm trees surrounding the exterior.  The hit television show Gilligan’s Island with its own set of castaways couldn’t even save the casino, which struggled financially.  Things were so bad, the casino had to close its doors by the final day of 1964.  Unconnected to organized crime that was so pervasive throughout Las Vegas at the time, skimming apparently played no role whatsoever in the casino’s floundering finances.  Fact was, the Castaways was just a very poorly run casino positioned at a horrible spot on The Strip.  It sat next to a Mobile gas station.  Who would want to gamble at the little place with palm trees across the street when the Flamingo and Sands were packed with pretty people and the greatest live entertainment of the 60s?

The original owner was an oilman and he realized seven wasted figures deep that there was more money buried under the ground than above it.  So, the Castaways was sold in 1965.  The new owners invested $300,000 and redesigned the outer structure, installing a colorful motif in front which was far more alluring than the simpler facade with thatched roofs made of faux-straw.  They also put in eight fresh gaming tables, plus 70 state-of-the-art slot machines.  For the next two years, the casino didn’t make much money.  But it didn’t lose money, either.

Progress.

Howard Hughes changed the Las Vegas casino landscape forever when he went on a wild spending spree during 1968, taking full control over at least five major properties.  Included in this grand acquisition towards so-called corporate legitimacy was the Castaways.  The selling price was reported at $3 million — a tidy sum which included the land, a huge parking lot, the casino, a hotel, a restaurant, and the gaming license.  Hughes might as well have stolen the property given what was later to come.

Hughes didn’t survive much longer, but The Castaways did.

It outlived Hughes by more than a decade before a new suitor came along.  His name was Steve Wynn.  He had a grand idea to tear down the Castaways and build a new casino resort, the likes of which Las Vegas had never seen before.

castaways casino

 

The Castaways was a pioneer in at least one aspect, and that was sports gambling, and this was all due to the wit and wisdom of the late Sonny Reizner.

For someone widely considered so old school, Reizner was in many ways actually a modern maverick.  He one of the most important transitional figures in the history of legalized sports betting.  Around 1976, Reizner opened up one of the city’s first sportsbooks located inside a casino, which was housed at the Castaways.  Up until then, horse racing and sports betting were thought of as far too labor-intensive and not profitable enough to dedicate proper casino floor space.  Hence, racebooks and sportsbooks in Las Vegas were tucked inside smaller OTB-style storefronts that looked like strip malls.

sonny reiznerReizner saw the future and in some ways even manufactured it.  He knew that a well-managed outlet for sports gambling could attract new customers.  So, he manned a small sportsbook called “the Hole in the Wall.”  It took bets on sporting events only.  No horse racing.

By 1978, Reizner recognized he could create and then corner a new market when he launched the first-ever NFL handicapping contest.  It cost $1,000 to enter.  The winner was declared the handicapping “world champion.”

In 1980, Riezner was posting odds on things like “Who Shot J.R.?” from a popular television show.  His novel idea of a publicity stunt even created controversy as he issued tickets on the outcome, but the gaming commission stepped in and ruled wagering wouldn’t be permitted on entertainment-related events.  He put up numbers (later, for amusement only) on where the Skylab Space Station would crash when it fell back to earth.  Indeed, Reizner was a master of generating free publicity, and his home base of operations was the Castaways.  The Las Vegas Hilton, the Stardust, and the Union Plaza also caught on to this market and helped foster it, but the Castaways was the kickoff, the tip off, and the ground central, all encased in a cubbyhole containing two betting windows, a few telephones, and a large whiteboard with the latest odds scribbled in colored magic markers.

Long after Reizner passed away (in 2002), and the Castaways was but a memory, the football handicapping contest, and parlay cards, and other fun promotions created by the sports gambling maverick have become staples inside every major casino sportsbook.  We all owe a debt of gratitude to Sonny Reizner.

……….

And now, the final chapter, and my own story and recollections.

I don’t have any big scores or life-changing moments from the Castaways.  What I remember was a horribly run-down and painfully uncomfortable casino which was the greatest place in the world to hang out.

There were some blackjack tables, a craps table, and slot machines surrounding the parameter walls.  Two poker tables flanked the casino floor, separated by rails crammed with barstools.  Every seat seemed to be filled each time I went inside and it didn’t matter if it was 4 pm or 4 am.

The Castaways was super player-friendly.  Free drinks, never a hassle.  Helpful sports betting clerks.  But the dealers and pit bosses were what I remember most fondly.  They welcomed card counters.  They encouraged new players and even helped them place bets.  I even saw dealers and supervisors openly tutoring players on “21” basic strategy.  You’d never see that anywhere else.

Oh, everyone seemed to be talking and the noise was unbearable.  Back then, all the machines used coin in, which meant dirty buckets were pawed by eager gamblers, dropping silver dollars, quarters, dimes, nickles, metal slugs, and even pennies — one at a time, making the cling-clang down the shoot — and then to really get the full effect, multiply the echo of coins by 50 or 60 or 70, and add some bells, and the occasional scream from a lucky winner or furious addicted loser — and the place sounded like a cross between a tin can recycling plant and a hospital emergency room.

Then, there was the smoke.  The smoke inside was so thick it was blue.  Like a lava lamp hanging permanently in the air, gyrating until it melded with billions of other particle-toxins until it became one giant fucking ashtray the size of a casino.  The smoke was so thick it was nauseating.  Like burn your nostrils and water the eyes — thick.  But no one complained or even cared because no one thought about smoking and non-smoking and second-hand smoke back in 1987.  It’s just the way it was.  Hell, back then you could smoke on airplanes.

And I remember the poker, played by scary-looking people.  Old ladies.  Cowboys.  People who looked like they were part of the Mafia.  They all looked like professionals.  Cigs dangling in their mouths while they played, and while they talked even, the ash burning down and getting longer until there was actually a faint glimmer of suspense at wondering just how long that crooked ash from a burning Pall Mall could hang off and extend the butt, before crashing onto either the distorted green table felt or the shirt bib of the smoking poker player who was utterly oblivious to the ash and toxicity of what amounted to working inside a Kentucky coal mine, let alone concerned about the strategic position of the closest ashtray stamped in the Castaways logo.

I can’t forget the beer at the Castaways, either.  I’ve tasted lots of cold beer in my life, but the beer at the Castaways might have been the coldest.  It was always brought by a smiling waitress in those really thick red glass bottles, where the weight of the container was much heavier than the actual contents.  Longnecks.  Budweiser longnecks.  Ice cold Budweiser longnecks.  Goddamn, that beer was cold and it was good.

It was at least 105 degrees in Las Vegas on my final visit.  Or, it could have been 110.  The black tar burned your feet through the soles.  When you pushed that swinging glass door that never seemed to close because people were going in and out all the time, it just went back and forth on its hinges, faintly cutting the hot air outside from the blue nicotine of air inside, as an outdated AC system basically said “fuck it,” that was, if it could talk.

Funny thing was, the Castaways made lots of money during its last few years.  Every spot around it was much bigger and fancier, but lots of people must have also loved slumming around in the cheap place where no one ever paid for a drink, where the beer was cold, and cigs weren’t necessary if you smoked.  All you had to do was step inside, and inhale.

I lost my last $5 chip at a blackjack table, the last shred of anything of value on my person, but I still ordered another cold beer and took it out the door at an ungodly early morning hour I don’t know since there were no clocks on the walls and time didn’t matter anyway, and I headed back to my freezing hotel room at the Flamingo Hilton, which had luxury rooms shoehorned on the backside on the other side of the pool.  When I left that summer night in June 1987, I didn’t realize that was the last time I’d see my old friend.  I didn’t even get to say goodbye.

The Castaways shuttered its doors just a month later, and by fall, the parking lot was no longer burning hot but the asphalt was buried in busted concrete and broken glass, surrendered to greater powers and in the shadows of steel girders rising in the near distance.

 

Note:  There were two casinos named the Castaways.  This location is not to be confused with the casino that opened later on Boulder Highway and torn down in 2003.  Despite the same name, there is no relation.

 

Further Reading:  For more information on the Castaways, I highly recommend visiting “The Perlowski Files.”

 

Special thanks to David K. Li at NBC News in New York for prompting me to write this story.

 

Castaways Las Vegas

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Posted by on Apr 5, 2020 in Blog, Essays, Personal | 1 comment

Matrimonial Spin Cycle: Our First CV-19 Fight

 

washing machine

 

Okay, so Marieta and I got into our first fight since CV-19 social distancing began. Guess who won?

Marieta says I don’t do enough work around the house, and of course, this is correct. She asks what percentage of housework I do, and I answer “about 30 percent.” She snaps back, it’s more like “10 percent.” I decide I can live with the compromise number of 20 percent, call things even, and pop open another Negro Modelo to celebrate the house not burning down with a domestic spat.

So, just when I thought everything was okay, we saw a TV show and the guy said he didn’t know how to work the washing machine. I knew I was fucked. Marieta took the cue, and insisted I don’t even know how to work a load of laundry and flip on the machine. I said, “I know how a washing machine works! Who doesn’t know that?”

“Prove it!”

Oh shiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiite.

So, we stop the program and as I walk from the living room to the laundry area it feels like a shuffle to the gallows.

I get to the washing machine. I swear, I think I worked it one time. I think so. Hard to remember. C’mon memory! Kick in!

So, there’s knobs and dials and buttons and settings and I think I might be able to wing this, when she asks where the soap goes. Of course, I blow it and point to the fabric softener thing and hell it all looks the same to me, I mean won’t the soap work there also? What difference does it make? The soap gets to the clothes. Works for me. This all begins another sub-argument, and I’m reminded of the old saying about when you’re stuck in a hole to —– QUIT FUCKING DIGGING!

I surrender. It’s 10 percent. I’m so dumb I can’t work a washing machine. My next lesson — mastering the dishwasher.

This CV-19 shit can’t end fast enough.

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Posted by on Mar 23, 2020 in Blog, Essays, Personal | 0 comments

Coping and ‘Agreeing to Disagree’ in a Disagreeable World

 

 

Compartmentalization: The Ideal Coping Mechanism for ‘Agreeing to Disagree’ in a Disagreeable World

 

Compartmentalization is a coping mechanism to preserve social connectivity while at the same time maintaining civility.

I think a better understanding of this concept — and putting it into practice more often — will help many people. It’s certainly helped me. Indeed, practicing compartmentalization has not only been immensely helpful, but it’s also allowed me to expand many of my relationships and benefit from those connections.

Let me explain how these thoughts and this post came about.

A few days ago, posts by friends from my poker days came across my Facebook feed. Even though it’s been several years since I’ve seen them in person, following Facebook and being exposed to their activities has allowed me to keep up-to-date on where they’re now working and what they’re doing. In a sense, it’s allowed friendships to continue, even though I don’t see them much anymore. That’s one of the joys of this social media platform, which is a continuous scroll of updates, interspersed with the occasional surprise.

Robbie K. Thompson and I began working together at the World Series of Poker back in 2008. He quickly rose through the ranks as a floorman-supervisor and was calling the action on the main stage, sometimes on television. Robbie and I are polar opposites on almost all political topics, but I’ve always respected him and enjoyed his company.

I’ve known Eric Daniel Comer for an even longer period, dating back 20 years. We worked at the Horseshoe together and did various tournaments in the South, side by side. Eric has a tremendous work ethic. I can’t recall a single unpleasant encounter with him.

Anyway, there was a political thread where I jumped in, claws out, scratching as usual. Robbie and Eric chimed in with some nice comments, even though we disagreed strongly on the topics. That incident was an important reminder to me that it’s not only possible but in many cases *essential* to try and find common interests and stay afloat on those conversational liferafts.

Whatever your political persuasion, there are times of shared solace and reflection. Most of us agree this social distancing period is such a time, in fact, THE PERFECT TIME not necessarily to “social distance” but rather to reconnect, share, and learn.

Compartmentalization is precisely what it sounds like. We place our thoughts and engage in discussions in compartments. Most of my closest contacts have a multitude of different interests — on politics, music, movies, sports, and just about everything else. It *IS* possible, and a joy, to share a laugh or learn a historical fact or hear about a new affordable Zinfandel from someone with whom I have no political or philosophical affinity.

I’m blessed to have many friends from all over the world, with different ideas than my own. Even though I’ve engaged in heated discussions with many, I can’t think of a single individual who I couldn’t be friends with in person, if given the opportunity.

I think we all benefit by sharing our passions, but also maintaining some boundaries. I shall continue to do everything within my persuasive powers to advance my beliefs and obliterate bad ideas, hopefully with logic and rationale. And, if I’m unsuccessful with some people, that won’t impact my opinion of them, not in the least.

We can disagree without being disagreeable. Thanks for Robbie and Eric for reminding me of this important lesson on this glorious Monday morning.

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