The Road Trip •• The Arrival •• The People Who Apparently Will Never, Ever Be My Friends •• The Myth of Danny Gans, and other Vegas lessons

There's nothing quite like the healing power of harsh neon lights, flashing marquees, and really, really trashy whores.

Ah, Las Vegas: sweet symbol of sin, icon of iniquity, den of debauchery… the alliterative epithets are as numerous as hotel rooms and hookers on the strip. There's nothing like the song of coins clanking into metal trays, shooting rapid-fire from the gut of a jingling slot machine; the uproarious cheers of high rollers racking up chips at the craps tables; the precise crack of pamphlets -- catalogues selling room-service prostitutes -- brandished by street vendors who don't quite look you in the eye.

I love Las Vegas.

I've only been once, and only for a weekend, which I believe is the way to do it. That way, you don't get sick of it or sick from it (well, we managed to last year, but we probably had that coming anyway). I played my first slot machine and bet on my first winning horse at age six, so gambling's not foreign to me, but somehow I'd never made it to Las Vegas Boulevard until last year, when our four hot asses drove up there and took the nickel slots by storm.

Someday, I want to do Vegas with somebody. Not that my girls aren't the best company, because they are, and hello, when we're together, every oily, smarmy kid within a mile radius -- each one drunk and erupting in pus -- checks us out. There's nothing hotter than volcanic acne, especially if your hair's so greasy that I could wring it out and fry a chicken. (Cue Homer Simpson cooing, "My GOD, you're greasy.") But there's something awfully seductive about being able to go back up to your hotel room and have wild sex after a night at the tables with free drinks. Maybe the logician in me has simply concluded that that if sex is fun and Vegas is fun, then sex in Vegas must be twice as nice; or, maybe gambling's an aphrodisiac of some kind, or possibly I'm hornier than a satanic bull. Who knows. But, as I'm not prepared to road-test that theory on a hard-ridden man-whore whose picture I saw on a flyer with a giant sparkly blue star over his genitals and his chest dripping in Vaseline, well, I need to show up with a guy already in tow.

Yeah, so this entry wasn't supposed to be about sex -- not entirely, anyway; it would be hard to steer clear of the topic completely given how often it came up during the car trip to Vegas. Let me sum up: I enjoy Las Vegas, at least in the measured morsels in which I've tasted it thus far.

The Road Trip

On Friday, the day of our departure for Las Vegas for a Television Without Pity summit, things looked a little bleak. Lauren, Jessica and I were all varying distances from death's door come 4 p.m., our scheduled departure time from Los Angeles, and some random cop yelled at me (through his car's megaphone, no less) in the parking lot of my local supermarket because I was waiting for a parking spot, as if idling in a vehicle is some kind of vehicular violation worse than the dual cosmetic and environmental atrocities Officer Oink was committing himself in his Chevy Suburban cop bus with built-in donut bay and Double Gulp cupholder. Apparently, he was in a hurry to join his Suburbaned colleage in the parking lot so they could jointly decide not to ticket a greasy, gangly youth for some minor foul like failing to signal a turn, or negligent personal hygiene.

By the time the three of us left behind Los Angeles and headed east to U.S. 15, which we'd take North into Nevada, my fever and a mighty, painful sniffle had set in and Jessica felt shaky and queasy. Bob was busy sexually harassing Lauren. Still, we soldiered forth, maintaining our witty banter and intellectually superior observations for as long as possible.

HEATHER:
… So what I'm saying is, there won't be snow in Africa this Christmas time.

JESSICA:
Don't be fooled by the rocks that she's got. She's just Jenny from the block.

LAUREN:
I'm going to throw my arms around the world this Christmas time.

JESSICA:
I'm dying.

HEATHER:
I can't help wondering… do they know it's Christmas time at all? Should we let them know, or something?

JESSICA:
I can't believe I'm going to die without having sex with Michael Vartan.

LAUREN:
Sex is good. Feed the world.

HEATHER:
I like peanut butter. Let's feed it Jif.

Naturally, sustaining this high level of conversation taxed three such brilliant but ailing brains as ours. Last time the four girls went to Vegas, we spent the better part of the five-hour drive playing "Death is not an Option" – name two people and say which one you'd sleep with, assuming you can't kill yourself to alleviate the agony of, for instance, having to make out with Woody Allen or Marilyn Manson. Most people keep playing until they figure out who is essentially the last person on Earth they'd nail before suicide. (Note: In order to play this game, you have to remove Michael Jackson from contention.) It's a mindless game, but surprisingly engrossing, especially when you get down to Pat Summerall versus John Madden, or Aaron Spelling versus Kirk Douglas.

This time, though, we needed something fresh. We had to whip out the big gun in order to remain awake and alert.

We had to play "Marry, Fuck, Kill."

This classy road game, fun for the whole family as long as you never play it in front of your family, involves listing three people and then deciding which you'd kill, marry, or fuck. It's all very upper-crust.

And ugly. Because there are some decisions you don't want to make.

LAUREN:
Okay, I have one. George Clooney, Ewan McGregor, and Hugh Grant.

JESSICA:
(gasps)
Oh, no. Oh no you di-int!

HEATHER:
They're all Fantasy Sex Campers. I can't kill a Fantasy Sex Camper. I'd get sued.

JESSICA:
I hate you, Lauren.

LAUREN:
This game is a cruel mistress.

HEATHER:
Well, obviously I can't kill Clooney. Hello!

JESSICA:
I know. If there's a person in the world so stupid as to kill the Cloons, I'd have to spit on that person and steal their shoes.

HEATHER:
I'd fuck Cloons. And marry Ewan. And… wait, can I kill Hugh Grant? I'm not sure I can.

JESSICA:
Can I kill him… with sex?

HEATHER:
Yeah. Fuck Cloons, marry Ewan McGregor, and kill Hugh Grant. I'm sorry, Hugh. I didn't mean for it to end this way.

JESSICA:
I think I'd do the same thing, though. Not happily, but then again, I'd be having sex with George Clooney and I think that would wipe out the memory of Hugh Grant altogether.

HEATHER:
Lauren? Do you have an answer?

LAUREN:
You girls are not going to like this.

JESSICA:
Oh holy mother of God, I know what's coming.

LAUREN:
I think… that I would kill Clooney.

JESSICA:
(opens mouth, no sound comes out)

HEATHER:
WHAT THE… I… out… OUT! Of the car!

JESSICA:
(makes squeaking noise)

HEATHER:
That is sexual sacrilege. My car is holier than that.

LAUREN:
I'm sorry. It's not like it gives me pleasure, but… I have to do it. I'm killing Clooney.

JESSICA:
You are not the Lauren I know.

HEATHER:
I have no roommate.

JESSICA:
Okay, okay, I have one to distract us from the gross miscarriage of the rules that just happened.

LAUREN:
Yes, please.

JESSICA:
The All-Game-Show-Host edition: Pat Sajak, Alex Trebek… or Regis.

HEATHER:
Regis! Go Irish!

LAUREN:
You are sad.

JESSICA:
I can't kill Regis.

LAUREN:
I can so kill Regis. I will kill him twice -- once for you.

JESSICA:
I secretly love Regis.

HEATHER:
But can you have wrinkled Regis sex?

JESSICA:
Oh. Suddenly, I feel ill.

LAUREN:
I'd kill Regis and marry Alex Trebek. And fuck Sajak.

HEATHER:
Ew, Sajak. I really, really hate Pat Sajak. But… I can't have sex with Reege. I can't kill him, either. Shit. Damn you, Trebek.

JESSICA:
I think I'd marry Regis and fuck Sajak and kill Trebek.

HEATHER:
I'd kill Sajak, fuck Trebek, and marry Regis. Jessica and I can have a long, loveless, sexless marriage to Regis.

LAUREN:
But then you'd have to spend your life listening to Regis.

HEATHER:
It would be worth it for free Notre Dame tickets.

JESSICA:
You are a whore.

HEATHER:
Good thing that's legal where we're going.

JESSICA:
John Madden, Woody Allen, or Screech from Saved By The Bell?

HEATHER:
That's just... My body is tainted. In the span of five minutes you've contaminated me beyond any Moroccan Death Flu.

LAUREN:
I can't fuck Woody Allen. He looks like my grandfather.

HEATHER:
So you'd kill him? You'd kill your own grandfather?

LAUREN:
Well, I can't very well fuck him. I would have to fuck Madden.

JESSICA:
You're dead to me. If I had a tape recorder, I'd use that sentence against you forever.

HEATHER:
And no judge would convict you. Drooling, blubbery, nonsensical sex with John Madden? Is it physically possible for any woman to mount that without ten years of yoga classes?

LAUREN:
I CANNOT SLEEP WITH MY GRANDFATHER.

HEATHER:
I'd kill Madden, marry Woody for his early work, and fuck Screech, and oh my God, I really just said that.

JESSICA:
I think you're right, though. I think that's the only way. I hate this game.

HEATHER:
Hee.

LAUREN:
Oh, I hate when you do that.

JESSICA:
Bring it, bitch.

HEATHER:
Billy Crystal… Kenneth Branagh… and Bill Cosby.

LAUREN:
What? How? Where?

JESSICA:
Is it even legal to put those three names together?

HEATHER:
I don't know how it happened.

LAUREN:
Damn. Well, I'd kill Bill Cosby.

JESSICA:
(shrieking in horror)
YOU WOULD KILL THE COS?

LAUREN:
WELL, WHAT AM I SUPPOSED TO DO? FUCK THE COS?

(five-minute pause for suffocating laughter)

HEATHER:
I can't breathe. More vitally, I can't drive.

LAUREN:
Don't kill us. We've already offed Clooney and The Cos.

JESSICA:
Speak for yourself, Clooney-killer.

HEATHER:
She's right, though. You can't be expected to fuck The Cos. Nobody can. I think I'd fuck Billy Crystal to get it over with and marry Kenneth Branagh.

JESSICA:
No way. You'd fuck Billy Crystal?

HEATHER:
Just to get it over with! I could fuck Branagh forever if I married him and that would erase the pain of one night on the Billy train.

LAUREN:
You're odd.

JESSICA:
No shit.

HEATHER:
Remember when Lauren killed George Clooney?

JESSICA:
Murderer.

LAUREN:
Are we there yet?

The conversation lapsed into silence.

The Arrival

We descended upon Las Vegas Blvd. shortly after 10:30 p.m. after completing that tantalizing half-hour stretch on U.S. 15 in which you can see the light from The Luxor -- a hotel shaped like a pyramid with a beacon shooting straight out the top and into the sky -- from miles away.

"We're close!" I yelled.

"Well, you can see it from space, too, actually," Lauren pointed out.

"Woo! We're closer than space!" I whooped. "That should be its slogan. 'The Luxor: Closer Than Space.'"

Our hotel was The Aladdin, a nondescript-by-Vegas-standards hotel (so, only discreet blue and green lights atop the building and a subtle Persian theme) smack in the middle of the strip, next door to Paris and within walking distance of Caesar's Palace, The Bellagio (someday, I will stay there), and The Mirage.

As we skulked into the lobby, looking like we'd been coughed up by a dying old man, we peered over our shoulders at everyone who passed, wondering if maybe that person was one of the faceless recappers we recognized only in 10-point Verdana font. Luckily, as it turned out, none were, and we could escape upstairs in sickly anonymity.

My pal Omar G. would be bunking with us – poor guy, stuck with three sad, sick bitches -- but as we were the last to arrive, everyone had already gone out to dinner, so we just hung out and hydrated and waited for them to return to the hotel so we could meet and greet before passing out. We spent a large portion of this time discussing the many ways in which The Aladdin is superior to The Sahara, which is where we stayed last time, and encountered two bloodstains on the wall in addition to the thick cloud of smoke hanging over our beds at all times. The Aladdin, conversely, boasted a clean, bloodless room, no mail-order brides in the lobby (despite the presence of at least two brides of questionable gender), and an enormous bathroom complete with a bathtub big enough to house all three of us (no, gentlemen, we did not test this theory).

Everyone else rolled into the hospitality room at about 11:30, so we headed upstairs to kick off the weekend.

There's something really cool about meeting people you feel like you know, despite never having seen their faces and, in many cases, never having swapped a single e-mail. As painfully shy as I can be in situations like that – and oh, can I ever – there was something so comforting in the common TWoP bond. It's like, "I get what you do, and I get why you do it." There's not a sense of having to explain why sometimes, your recaps get upwards of fifteen pages, and isn't that tedious and pointless of you to make them so long, and why you write twenty-two recaps of a show you hate, anyway? There's none of that. We're in it together. We know.

Occasionally, I caught myself playing observer rather than participant, but I can't always help that. I try not to do it, but when my inner introvert takes over it's hard to wrest back control. It's fun, and kind of engrossing, to watch people's personalities come out and compare them to what shines through on my computer screen, but then I remember they might be looking at me thinking, "God, she's boring," and then I get annoyed at myself, and the nerves make me even quieter. Oh, the things I do to myself.

Luckily, everyone I met was uniformly cool and welcoming, so it was easier for me to shake off the shyness and strike up a conversation, even if it was just about how shitty ER is these days. People were really, unexpectedly nice about my show, too – turns out a handful of them have seen it, and even like it, which is about the nicest thing I could've heard.

All this made me wish I wasn't sick. By Saturday, we were much more energetic if still a little woozy, gambling with vigor – losing money, in my case, with equal élan – and gabbing at both the recappers' meeting and the big dinner that night. Come Sunday, we'd mostly healed, making this the exact opposite of last year's girls' weekend in Vegas, during which we arrived healthy, won a ton, and left sick. But my energy was completely sapped Friday night, and as a trio we figured we'd get more out of Saturday if we rested up on Friday and tried to sleep off whatever ailed us.

Omar crept in at about 3:30 a.m., by which time we'd been snoozing for two hours, and he and I stayed up for a bit whispering and gabbing as Lauren and Jessica slept, until we drifted off ourselves. It was so awesome to catch up with him – I hadn't seen him in over a year. There are some people you just know will always be a good friend, and he's one of them, especially for putting up with a sick and sniffly me with about one-tenth of my normal energy.

And then, there are some people who will never, ever be your friends.

The People Who Will Apparently Never, Ever Be My Friends

The world is small. This wigs me out.

Saturday, we rolled out of bed, grabbed some coffee, and walked to The Mirage so we could sit at its sports book and see the UCLA game. Man, it's great there. Huge screens, horse races, glittering boards with scores and over/unders – it's a fanatic's dream. I watched Notre Dame's basketball team beat Maryland, a top 10 team, while we saw the Bruins' football squad fall apart against Washington State. Thirteen bowl games hinged on UCLA winning, yet we managed to find the only cluster of Washington State fans in the nation. One of them was the actor who played Peter Brady on The Brady Bunch. Who knew.

But an interesting thing happened: sitting there in the bar, sucking down a Michelob and consoling a depressed Jessica and Lauren, I looked up casually and saw a guy crossing the bar. I squinted. Then, I saw the girl following behind him. My eyes drifted back to his face as he glanced in my direction; embarrassed, I reddened and my gaze dropped to the floor while I prayed silently that they'd pass.

They did.

"I know them," I hissed to Lauren.

"What? That's so weird! You should go say hello," she chirped.

"No, you don't understand," I panicked. "They hate me."

Of all the people from my past to cross my path, it had to be two who truly think I'm evil.

Even Dan, whom I called two seconds later with my mouth still hanging open in shock, was like, "Oh my God, that's right, they hate you!"

The girl was my year at Notre Dame, the guy one class above us. Both worked at The Observer, started dating, and began hating me when I became Editor-in-Chief and passed her over for a promotion she wanted. It's a bit more complicated than that, to be fair -- at age 20, I wasn't as adept at breaking bad news and did a horribly ham-handed job trying to offer her a different position instead of the one she wanted. I took lousy advice in trying to cushion the blow. Bad idea. But you live, you learn, and it's a little petty of them to still spit venom in my direction. I even apologized to her once. I didn't wrong either one of them, yet they actively hated me, and apparently, according to Dan, they continue to remember me with bitterness and ire. Which is weird, because hi, that was five years ago and we've all grown up and moved on, and I'm not a bad person, and I am not the one who gave her that horrible haircut, so maybe she should redirect that wrath, yes?

Seeing them threw me for the rest of the day. I was possessed of that horrible, sinking feeling that, yes, people out there hate me. Hate me.

Now, I'm sure there are plenty of people out there who hate me and I'm just unaware of it, blissfully ignorant, cloaked in merry oblivion. That's fine. What I don't know probably won't kill me, although I suppose that's never been proven. But the effect of knowing two people hate you, knowing exactly what their faces look like and sharing a history with them and finding out that a grudge has been held eons down the line... to put it tastefully, that completely sucks goat. It messes with my mind in a big way. All the ways in which I've tried to be a good person, all the times I've been considerate of others even to the point of hurting myself, get wiped out by the simple confirmed fact that two people breathing air with me in The Mirage think that I'm a wan, curly-haired piece of crap. In truth, I couldn't give a shit about these two people, day-to-day, and I barely even remember their continued existence. They're that far off my mental radar. But when confronted with their faces and reminded of their loathing, I suddenly couldn't think of anything else. I wilted a little inside. The girl and I got along really well, too, for the better part of three years, but suddenly I was a festering asshole. Am I really a festering asshole? Yikes.

The whole thing made me quite tired. It still makes me tired. All that self-flagellation worked my arm muscles into an acidic ache, my shoulder slumped a little, my head hung a little lower as we wove through rows of slot machines and card tables, and I swallowed the urge to run after them and beg for lenience. After all, why should I care if they hate me? Who are they to me, and really, who am I to them? It shouldn't matter. It shouldn't.

But somehow, it did.

The Myth of Danny Gans, and other Vegas lessons

You can't gamble all day, breathe pure oxygen pumped into crowded, smoky casinos, and play Spot the Whore without learning a couple things along the way. Here's a few:

1) I am a pathetically low roller.

The reason I know this, besides the fact that putting even $5 into a machine at once makes my hand shake, is that I get absolutely no free drinks in Vegas. The waitresses aren't exactly circling the nickel slots trying to booze up the people feeding valuable five-cent coins into the machines, and I don't usually sit at once machine long enough to make a butt print that would incite a waitress to give me alcohol. It's fairly tragic.

2) I have weird mental blocks. Background: There's a supermarket near work called Pavilion's, which is part of a chain and so not that unique a name in Los Angeles, but it's on Robertson Blvd. and so for some reason I cannot not call it Robertson's. It's the stupidest thing. And it's just that store, too. There's other Pavilion's stores in town whose names I can use correctly, but not this one.

Well, in Vegas, I like playing video poker, usually of the nickel variety. But when I'm feeling saucy, I'll upgrade to 25-cent machines.

I felt saucy.

"I want to play some quarter nickel poker," I announced.

"Um," Lauren said.

"Quarter nickel poker?" Jessica coughed.

"Yeah, what?" I blinked, innocently.

"Quarter video poker?" Lauren corrected.

Oh.

Yeah, that wasn't the last time I said "quarter nickel poker," either. Suddenly, that's all I could call it, and no, it was not a conscious decision to sound idiotic. My brain couldn't spit out the right name. My brain, it seems, is not terribly brainy at all.

3) I might be a Las Vegas business genius.

Pocket-sized flyers of nude women with stars for nipples -- all of them either strippers or prostitutes, or a happy hybrid of both -- practically paper the pavement in Vegas. The boy grabbed a few of these tiny cards and started shoving them in his sister's face; she screamed and hurled a bunch back at him, which of course is a generous gift in the eyes of a curious little boy, but she didn't know that.

But the whole thing led to my business epiphany: hooker trading cards, just like baseball cards. If you think about it, it's not a big stretch from one to the other: both get paid a lot to play with balls and big sticks, both run the bases, and both are grossly overpaid for things most of America would do for free.

Each card could have stats on the back -- career length, blow jobs given, men porked, injuries, speed -- and could compare how they've done when playing for different pimps. (It's all in the coaching.) Instead of bubble gum, each pack of cards would come with either a bubble-gum flavored condom, or edible panties. And this way, you can make informed whoring decisions, as well as carry nice little souvenirs that accrue value on the mean streets of Sin City ("I've got a rookie season Luscious Bone card, which I'll trade for a 2001 Chesty La Rue and a mint-condition 2000 Heather Graham").

Oh, admit it, it's brilliant! Come on!

Pun intended.

4) Either people are insane, or I am old. When we went to Paris for lunch on Sunday, we stood in line for a table at 10:35 a.m. And the couple in front of us? Was drinking beer.

Specifically, she pounded a can of Budweiser, then toddled off to the bar and came back with what looked like a Malibu and Orange for him and a rum and coke for her. You could smell the alcohol emitting from that thing. I thought Jessica, who wasn't feeling terribly well yet, was going to keel over from the fumes.

I'm sure there was a time when I'd be hitting the bottle that early in Vegas. Well, maybe. Certainly during college football season at Notre Dame, we'd start tailgating earlier than that. What have I become?

Wait, I know: I'm down with the OLP.

5) Even if the rest of the world's never heard of you, if you're famous in Vegas, you're a God among entertainers.

There's a guy. His name's Danny Gans. Backwards, his name is Snag. He looks like a giant tool, with his Crest smile and his tight black t-shirt and his prominent forearms. His smile says, "Come bask in the healing glow of my pants." If you saw him in a magazine ad, it would be for Rogaine or a designer imposter men's cologne, and you'd think he was just another quarterback-turned-addict-turned-rehabilitated lounge singer -- the oldest story in the book.

But Danny Gans is, in Las Vegas, bigger than Jesus. He's Deity Gans. He is adored. He is the Entertainer of the Year almost every year, and when you mention Danny Gans in front of people who have seen him perform with their own eyes, they get all quiet and speak in hushed yet reverent tones. "Oh, he's BRILLIANT," they pant, moistening at the tear ducts. "Magical."

And yet no one is completely sure what Danny Gans does. Those who see him somehow can't find the words to describe his talent. He sings, this much we have been able to deduce, and rumor has it he whips out some impressions in his act. An act, incidentally, that you will find at The Danny Gans Theater. If you don't know where to find The Danny Gans Theater, do not panic; simply check the tops of every taxi crawling Las Vegas Boulevard, or look heavenward. The sweet Lord above will give you divine guidance, in the form of giant billboards and The Mirage's neon marquee.

Danny Gans. Entertainer of the Year. Man of the Year. Humanitarian of the Millennium. Dental Big Spender of the Century. Owner of People Magazine's Most Eligible Forearms of 2002.

"Who?" you ask, puzzled.

Exactly.

But I think it's best not to compartmentalize Danny Gans. Let his magic wash over you and stretch and mutate and get that pesky chocolate stain out of your sweater. Do not disturb the mystique. Do not think you can understand Danny Gans, for he will only find new ways to confound you.

"Who?" you ask, totally lost now.

Exactly.

Addendum: After Omar read this entry, he instant-messaged me the following: "The cab driver on my way to the airport couldn't shut up about Danny Gans. He said he's seen every show in Vegas and Danny Gans is the absolute best, and I asked him, "So what does he do?" and he got all quiet like, "Well, you know... He, uh... he... I'd go see him again and again!" I think he's just a really good mass hypnotist."

See? Don't try to understand the Gans. It's beyond us all.


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