Monday, June 21, 2010

Miscellaneous: Life in the Cheap Bastard Section

Whenever I told someone in Seattle that we were spending a few days in Las Vegas, I always got the same response. Never “When are you going?” or “Where are you staying?” but “Why?,” the assumption being that I was heading to Sin City against my will. I’ve stopped trying to explain that I actually enjoy Las Vegas. I’d simply say that my client insisted that’s where the job go down and then change the subject.

On this trip we decided to honor the city’s bygone glory days by attending a Rat Pack tribute show. Trouble is there are two of them, one borne of the other, and they’re feuding, at times in true old-school fashion. We opted for The Rat Pack is Back because it’s the older show and it would allow us, at last, to visit downtown Las Vegas. That its home, the Plaza, served as Biff’s casino in Back to the Future Part II and the devil’s headquarters in The Stand was another plus, as was the fact that the Plaza’s showroom had essentially been neglected for decades prior to a renovation that preserved its Nixon-era glamour.

The show is modeled on original Rat Pack concerts but flexible enough to allow for late-career hits and Viagra jokes. The impersonations are variable, yet offered with energy and palpable affection. And the band is terrific, so a good time is had by all.

I knew that there was some audience participation in the show and sought out seats in the second tier. What happened next taught me a valuable lesson. Halfway into Frank’s set, the doors behind us burst open and “Joey Bishop” came down the aisle pretending to sell T-shirts. “I’ve got an extra large here, and looks like I’ve got another extra large right ... here.”

Guess who the spotlight hits.

I have limited recollection of the next few minutes. Rosemarie assures me that I was a good sport. I do remember Frank yelling at Joey from the stage and Joey hollering back, “I’m over here, in the cheap bastard section!” I did get a free T-shirt out of the deal, and in the men’s room after the show a guy pointed at me and said, “Hey, you’re the cheap bastard!” Recognized in a Las Vegas casino. Easily the high point of the trip.

Also crossed off our Las Vegas to-do list was an excursion to the Liberace Museum. Located in a mini-mall off the Strip, it’s more fun than it has any right to be. Liberace’s showmanship, turning his excesses into part of his act and inviting the audience to enjoy his ostentation right along with him, was ahead of its time; the museum is cannily marketing him to a new generation as “The King of Bling.” I hope it works, because the exhibits also underscore his skill as a performer. There’s no flash photography allowed – all those rhinestones are blinding enough as it is – so the pictures of each of us wearing a Liberace-style cape came out blurry. That’s my story, and I’m sticking to it.

Random Las Vegas thoughts –

* Everywhere we went, we ran into fighting couples. In restaurants, at neighboring slot machines. The worst was in the shuttle coming in from McCarran Airport. I wanted to lean forward and say, “If you two came here to rekindle something, I think it’s too late.”

* I was amazed at the floor space given over to penny slots in the high-end casinos. On previous trips I only saw them in B-list joints. Considering that Rosemarie won money on them, I’m not complaining.

* Casino themes are spoiled by staff tattoos. Historically, cowgirls and antebellum Southern belles did not have tramp stamps.

* I know it’s hot in Las Vegas. But that doesn’t mean everyone has to wear flip-flops everywhere. And if you must, at least pick up your feet. A guy scuffing along in front of us lost his sandal three times in a block and a half. I’m fairly sure he didn’t make it out of town alive, killed in some horrific moving sidewalk accident.