The Golden Nugget Hotel And Casino
Las Vegas, Nevada
As Lenny stood by the window in his suite at The Golden Nugget and took in the view while waiting to make his first appearance as a Vegas headliner, he was surprised to find himself relatively free of nerves. Not completely free, of course; he was human after all, and there were the usual butterflies he felt before any ‘big’ show (he had long lost the butterflies before a regular, non-big show), but the sheer terror he had anticipated feeling all his life – and, in fact, had first felt before he and Larry first took the stage together – simply wasn’t there.
Lenny stood at the window in his hotel suite at The Golden Nugget, looked outside, and wondered why.
It certainly would’ve been normal to be scared out of his wits. He had, after all, been dreaming about being a Vegas headliner since he started telling jokes at family gatherings as a kid and it certainly wasn’t every day a man found himself two hours away from his life’s dream.
Perhaps he found himself calm because The Regular Guys were very good at what they did, and there was no doubt they would knock them dead, not only tonight but also for the whole six months.
Or, perhaps, there was nothing to achieve. They were comedians. They went and did their next show, and they worked hard at it, and they made people laugh, and, since they were very good at making people laugh, they shouldn’t be too surprised they had found themselves getting paid progressively more to make more and more people laugh in bigger and bigger places.
Simply doing a good show every night, without worrying about anything else, seemed to be working well for them. Everything else – gigs, money, notoriety – had all been there for the taking. In an industry obsessed with buzz and celebrity, a good show every night was turning out to be the best publicist there was.
Sure, they’ve had a few breaks – like Bertie Higgins getting eaten by an oyster – but there were few people who succeeded in any form of human endeavor without a break or two.
And just because you get a break didn’t automatically mean you took advantage of them. The road to success was littered with the careers of those who had not been able to take advantage of their breaks, either because they had lacked the talent or had not been ready for success.
As Lenny stood there at the window with his hands in his pockets, he decided The Regular Guys had been good enough to walk through every door that had been opened. And every previous success had paid a handsome dividend of confidence. There was no reason to be nervous, Lenny decided. Those accustomed to meeting challenges usually did.
The Golden Nugget Hotel and Casino
Las Vegas, Nevada
While Lenny was standing at his window pretending to be Socrates Larry knelt before the commode in his bathroom ralphing like he had just consumed a quantity of bleach.
It followed that Lenny would be here, preparing for his debut as a Vegas headliner. After all, he’d been preparing for this his entire life and if someone works long enough and hard enough for something they sometimes get it. It had taken Lenny a few years to get his sea legs and find his course with Larry, but there, too, you spend enough time digging in a gold mine, you’re probably going to find a nugget.
But what the hell was Larry doing here? Larry grew up Lutheran, and Lutheran children spent about as much time dreaming about being a Vegas headliner as they do dreaming about becoming pope. Lutheran boys dreamt about being big-league ballplayers until they realized they had no talent before going to college and settling into a nice career as a mid-level executive or a low-pressure sales job like insurance. Raised by a Lutheran minister and Lutheran school teacher, Larry could not have ended up farther away from his expected life’s course had he chosen to star in Danish porn movies.
And Lenny! What was he going to do about Lenny? Lenny had been a complete mess before their first-ever Vegas gig; there was no telling what he was doing now! If the usually steady-as-she-goes Larry was ralphing, Lenny may well be on the roof of The Golden Nugget looking for leaping space.
Larry, his business in the bathroom hopefully completed, cleaned himself up and walked back to the living room of his suite. He sat in a comfortable chair and put a warm, wet cloth over his face. As he did so Lenny opened the door to Larry’s room and breezed in as if his biggest worry that day had been whether to have his eggs scrambled or poached. It was a couple of hours before showtime.
“Good evening partner!” Lenny said as if they were meeting for drinks and dinner.
Larry lifted a corner of his warm, wet rag near his eye.
“Shut up,” Larry said.
Lenny looked at Larry. He wasn’t particularly worried, though Larry sitting in a chair with a damp cloth over his head was something new.
“Lenny, for the first time that I can remember, I am genuinely nervous.”
“Indeed, my friend. In fact, this is most excellent!”
“I’m glad to hear that, actually,” Larry said.
“This is a big day, my friend. We have come all the way from sharing a bill with The Precision Whatchamacallit Squadron to headlining The Golden Nugget. You should be nervous. This day is not like any other.”
“I just got through ralphing,” Larry said, peeling the wet rag from his face. “And they’re a brigade. A brigade, not a squadron.”
“Really? You were ralphing? Mr. Ine In His Veins ralphed?” Lenny asked, cackling. He walked to the bathroom as if to verify this statement. He stuck his head in, looked around, and walked back.
“Are you nervous?” Larry asked.
“Of course not,” Lenny said. “Don’t be silly. After due and long preparation we are going out to a place most people have never dreamed of. We have success halfway in our bag right now, old chum. We only have to go out there and shove it the rest of the way in.”
“You’re quoting Thoreau. Sort of.”
Lenny raised an eyebrow. Larry, as usual, was annoyed because he couldn’t do that.
“Yes, I know,” Lenny said, smiling. “It’s from his diaries.”
Larry nodded. He remembered seeing Lenny reading it on the road last year and they had discussed Thoreau at length.
“Does Thoreau have anything to say about ralphing before a big show?”
“Yes. ‘We only need travel enough to give our intellect an airing.’ Get dressed, we’ll take a walk; your intellect could use some airing. Not to mention this room.”
The Fremont Street Experience
Las Vegas, Nevada
Lenny and Larry exited The Golden Nugget and headed west down Fremont Street, towards The Plaza Hotel. Typically for Las Vegas in the spring, it was incredibly windy out, and both Lenny and Larry were glad they had brought their overcoats with them.
“You remember the first time we played Las Vegas?” Lenny asked.
Larry, feeling better now that he had gotten a dose of cool spring air, chuckled affirmatively; of course he remembered it.
“Boy,” Lenny said, shaking his head. “You sure were nervous before that show, too.”
Larry stopped dead in his tracks and instinctively put a hand out in front of Lenny, and began laughing.
“Me?” Larry exclaimed. “Wait a second here. You were the one who was pacing the room and standing at the window telling me Vegas wasn’t the county fair circuit!”
“I most certainly was not!” Lenny said. He turned his head up as if he were utterly insulted.
Larry laughed. He felt better. Lenny was being Lenny; this was a good sign.
“Morty said the show is sold out for the first two weeks,” Lenny said.
“The gossip columnist told me that, too.”
“You really ralphed?”
“Yeah. I have no idea why. I’ve never been particularly nervous before.”
The pair had made it to the end of Fremont Street so they turned around and faced east. On their right was the historic Golden Gate Hotel; on their left the Las Vegas Club; behind them The Plaza. Fremont Street was pretty busy tonight.
“You are on record as being skeptical our first time,” he said.
“Yeah, well,” Lenny said, waving a finger. “There was a time when a studio head actually said ‘Who the hell wants to hear actors talk?’”
Lenny looked at his watch and saw it was an hour before showtime, and he and Larry made their way back to The Golden Nugget, to the showroom and backstage to their dressing rooms. There were flowers waiting for them from The Golden Nugget management, Morty and Ann and even Rachel Rachmaninov, whom Larry hadn’t seen as often as in the past.
“Look at this,” Lenny said, holding his arms out expansively as they walked in. It’s like an arboretum in here! God, I love this town.”
“Hey, these are from Wayne Newton,” Larry said.
“Get out of here.”
“No, really. Dig this.” Larry walked over and handed Lenny a card. It had the logo of the Stardust Hotel, where Wayne Newton was currently headlining, on the front, and a handwritten message, presumably from Wayne himself, on the inside.
There were others as well, and word that The Regular Guys had reached their dressing room must’ve been passed because a couple of executives from The Golden Nugget, as well as Morty and some other well-wishers, stopped by to say hi. Larry even received a phone call from his dad, which, considering he was one of the most reserved people on earth, underscored the importance of the evening. Dad didn’t want to take up a whole lot of his son’s time, but he did want to wish him well.
“You’re not going to ralph again, are you?” Lenny asked a few moments before they took the stage. They were standing backstage right behind the curtain.
“I don’t think so. I feel really good. Like I did the first time we took the stage.”
“You felt good the first time we took the stage?”
“You bet. I felt we’d be pretty funny together. I also felt you’d take to it once you got on stage.”
“You were right as usual, my friend. May I then assume the official prognostication for our stay is good?”
“Of course it is,” Larry said. “There is simply no reason to assume otherwise. I even offer a quote from your boy Thoreau.”
Lenny made a let’s-have-it motion.
“Follow your genius closely enough and it will not fail to show you a fresh prospect every hour.”
“As long as our genius shows us a fresh, preferably funny, prospect this hour, my friend everything will be okay.”
Right then Lenny and Larry could see the lights in the showroom dim through a crack in the curtain and hear big-band type music start playing.
“Ladies and Gentlemen, good evening and welcome to The Golden Nugget,” a previously recorded voice said. “And now, from someplace funny, please welcome The Regular Guys!”
Lenny and Larry bounded on stage as they usually did; Lenny, also as usual, threw coins to the crowd, and Larry again took pictures of the audience, this time with a disposable camera, which he threw into the audience after he had exhausted all the pictures. Larry started with a joke wondering about how, since everything was legal in the Great State of Nevada, just who the heck was in jail, which got good laughs, and The Regular Guys were on their way to a good, though perhaps not brilliant, first show.
The Golden Nugget Hotel and Casino
Las Vegas, Nevada
After the show, Lenny and Larry left their dressing room and headed for the casino. The Regular Guys were not particularly enthusiastic gamblers, but they had just concluded their first show as Vegas headliners and neither was in the mood to turn in just yet.
Both were feeling exultant. Their show had been good; not their best ever, but not even gold medal sprinters set personal bests every time they left the blocks. The Regular Guys had gotten a lot of laughs though, and both Lenny and Larry were feeling great. They had barely made their way to the blackjack pit when several fans that had just seen the show recognized them. They graciously accepted a good deal of good wishes and threw out some high fives and even signed some autographs.
Lenny walked up to an empty blackjack table.
“Pit boss, we would like to deal a hand or two of blackjack for my fans,” Lenny said, raising his hands expansively towards the multitudes that had gathered with him at the blackjack pit.
The pit boss – a short man with thick dark brown hair combed straight back – looked around; he had recognized Lenny and Larry and indeed, there was a crowd of about a dozen or so hovering around. He walked up to Lenny and put a hand on his elbow as if he were escorting him somewhere.
“I’m sorry sir,” he said. He was wearing a brown suit with a brown tie. A nametag on his jacket indicated his name was Vic. “It is against the law for anyone but authorized casino employees to deal blackjack.”
”Really?” Lenny asked, genuinely surprised. He had thought he could just mosey on up to a blackjack table and start dealing his own game; he was in a casino, after all and that’s what casinos did, deal blackjack.
Vic pursed his lips and nodded seriously; he looked as if he took his morning coffee seriously and gave the impression he had been supervising blackjack games since he was in diapers.
“Well, if we can’t deal blackjack,” he said to Larry. “Let’s play blackjack.”
Lenny and Larry sat down at either end of the table. Lenny felt his pockets and laughed.
“I don’t seem to have any money,” he said.
“That’s okay sir,” Vic said. He wrote something on a slip of paper, placed it in front of him and told him to sign it. Lenny had to press hard because it was in triplicate.
“A marker,” the pit boss said, waving a hand dismissively. “Don’t worry about it.”
A marker was basically an IOU, a loan a casino gave to a player. The Golden Nugget didn’t know if The Regular Guys would require markers, but if they wanted to play and required them, they had already been approved. Neither Lenny or Larry had previously established credit with The Golden Nugget, but they were employed there for the next six months, so they wouldn’t be all that hard to find if the casino needed to collect a debt.
Lenny signed. The pit boss whispered something to the dealer and the dealer gave Lenny $2000. The scene was repeated with Larry.
Lenny and Larry played a hand or two without incident, except for Lenny losing.
During the next hand, Lenny looked at the hand of the man sitting next to him.
”Whatta you got?” Lenny asked, even though he could see his hand.
The man looked at Lenny suspiciously. Lenny gave him an It’s-Okay-I’m-A-Comedian smile.
“Pair of queens,” the man said, his darting from back and forth from the dealer to Lenny.
“I’ve got an ace and a seven,” Lenny said, showing the man his hand. “You give me your queen and we’ve got blackjack.”
The dealer looked sideways at Vic, who, already suspicious of any comedian who expressed a desire to deal blackjack, had been standing by for just such a circumstance. For his part, Vic let down his guard a little and actually smiled.
“You can’t share your cards with another player, sir,” he said.
“Why not?” Lenny asked innocently.
“Because,” Vic said. His tone indicated that ‘because’ came from Mt. Sinai and was the only reason Lenny was going to get.
“It’s not cheating,” Lenny informed the pit boss. “We’re a team.” To reinforce the team concept, Lenny put an arm around the guy sitting next to him and smiled as if trying to impress a clemency hearing. This caused some general laughter amongst the small crowd that had gathered in the blackjack pit.
The pit boss wasn’t moved.
“I’m sorry, sir,” Vic said, still smiling. “We can’t allow players to share cards.”
Lenny, realizing an argument he wasn’t going to win when he saw one reached into an inside pocket of his suit coat and pulled out the cards he used for Bad Magic.
“Well, how about I supplement your official house deck of 52 cards with 52 cards of my own?” he asked.
Lenny made a big show of opening the package, taking the cards out and rifling through them. He found a queen, removed it from the deck, and inserted it in his own hand. With a flourish he picked up the now useless seven that was in his house-dealt hand, flung it at Vic, and put his own deck off to the side for future use. He then presented his new, winning hand to the dealer.
Larry, and pretty much everybody else, started laughing loudly. The pit boss was trying his best to remain the gaming professional he was and refrain from laughing too hard. He was not having any notable success at it, however.
“Again…sir…every apology. But we cannot allow you to introduce your own cards into a hand.”
“Oh, so I can use my own money but I can’t use my own cards,” Lenny said smiling. “Boy, talk about your house advantage. Sheesh! No wonder we’re being paid so well, Larry.”
“Look Lenny, why don’t you just take a Sharpie and cross out the offending number and write in whichever value is to your advantage?” Larry said, making it sound like a sensible alternative, not something that could get arrested for.
Lenny pointed at Larry. “That, my friend, is a great idea. Who has a Sharpie?”
Lenny looked around at the crowd that had assembled.
The pit boss took a step forward, looked down briefly as if some-what embarrassed, and held up an index finger.
“Ahem,” he said, clearing his throat.
“Oh, let me guess,” Lenny said loudly. “This is illegal, too?”
“I’m afraid so, sir.”
Larry started laughing really hard.
The Golden Nugget Hotel and Casino
Las Vegas, Nevada
When he got back to his room, Larry had a message from Ray Evans, the gossip columnist for the Las Vegas Herald waiting on his cell. The message said he could call back as late as 1am, and seeing as it was only just past midnight, Larry returned the call.
“What’s this crap I hear you and Lenny tried to deal blackjack after your show,” Ray asked.
“Wow,” he said, considering the matter. “Good sources.”
Ray Evans verbally nodded.
“I’ve been around a long time, Larry.”
“What did I have for dinner tonight.”
“Lizard balls,” Ray Evans said. “Actually, I have no idea. But if I really wanted to know, and I don’t, I could find that out.”
“Depends on where you ate. If I worked the phone enough I possibly could. Maybe even probably could.”
“I’m going to have to swear the slaves to secrecy, then,” Larry said.
“It won’t work. I learned long ago hotel employees love tattling on their star guests. What compelled Lenny to think he could deal blackjack after the show?”
“Beats me,” Larry said. “It was a surprise to me, too.”
“He hadn’t talked about it before?”
“Ray, we don’t plan our show; much less our post-show revels. It was completely out of blue.”
“He could’ve gotten The Golden Nugget into real trouble if he’d insisted.”
“Oh, Lenny’s harmless,” Larry said. “When the pit boss said no, that was the end of it.”
“He doesn’t have an ego that’s going to get you in trouble one day?”
“I doubt it,” Larry said. “There might be one under the surface there somewhere, but he’s really happy with what we’re doing.”
“Morty’s turning down TV and movie offers left and right for you.”
“So I’ve heard,” Larry said dryly.
“He doesn’t tell you about them?”
“He and Lenny talk them over,” Larry said. “Every now and then they’ll bring me the particularly intriguing ideas just to have the pleasure of hearing me veto them.”
“You guys are funny. You could put together an entertaining show.”
“We already do. We’re both happy on stage. Besides, we’ve already established that I’m lousy in front of a camera.”
Larry then told Ray about their venture hosting an early morning news show. And while their cable specials had been good, that was merely The Regular Guys doing their usual crap in front of an audience with cameras present.
“There’s a lot of money to be made out there,” Ray said.
“Yeah, there is,” Larry said in a neutral tone that didn’t betray whether Larry thought there being a lot of money out there to be made was good or bad; it merely acknowledged Ray Evans’ stating a fact.
“You guys going to get yourselves some of it?”
“Oh, we’re getting our share right now, Ray.”
“Larry, headlining at The Golden Nugget is just a drop in the bucket. Entertainment minimum wage. You have no clue how much money you could be making. This country is so emotionally dead it is living vicariously through those that can entertain them more than ever. Those who can entertain and keep them from actually going out and doing things themselves are licenses to print money. Morty knows how much money you can make, and he can make it for you if you let him. And heck, you only work for an hour and a half a day. That leaves a lot of free time for other projects.”
“Yeah, but we need our rest. If we started running off and doing other things the show would suffer. Everything we have, and anything else we may get, is because we do a good show every night. And besides, how much money does someone need?”
“Larry,” Ray said laughing a laugh borne of a throat that had processed its share of cigarettes and booze. “I’ve been in this town a long time and have seen almost everything. You’d be surprised how much money some people need.”
Lenny and Larry played blackjack a few other nights during their first week. They were always funny and loud and both usually had a martini with them. Ray Evans had even proclaimed them the new Rat Pack in a column.
“Look at that partner!” Lenny exclaimed, hitting the newspaper with the back of his hand. “The Rat Pack! God bless this man.”
Larry laughed. He had enjoyed the reference too.
The funny thing was, they seldom played for all that long. In fact, they seldom played for longer than 45 minutes or so. But there was still an air of excitement rolling over from the show, and they both enjoyed a couple of drinks, and they played and chatted with the crowd that gathered, and, all in all, it was a nice little diversion after the show.
The second week they played a few more times and it got completely out of hand. The crowd would actually start forming towards the end of their show even though there was no guarantee The Regular Guys were even going to show up afterward. The Golden Nugget actually had to start dispatching extra dealers and a couple of extra security officers to the blackjack pit. It had gotten so out of hand that Lenny was actually concerned it may have been bad for business.
“Oh, no, no,” Morty assured him. “They actually like it.”
“I am not making that up,” Morty assured him. “Casinos like it when there are lots of people hovering around their tables. Most of them stay and play a little bit. Since the purpose of a casino is to entice people to play their games of chance, they’re happy. There was some concern at the gaming commission that you were prop players, but since you’re not paid for this, it’s no big deal.”
“Prop players?” Lenny asked.
“Prop players are paid by the casino to drum up interest in a game,” Morty said.
“Is it legal?” Lenny asked.
“Oh yeah, as long as the casino points out who the prop players are when asked. There are some other regulations as well.”
The Regular Guys card playing, at least the after- the-show-in-front-of-a-big-crowd variety, came to an end one Wednesday night when a heckler from the show decided he had nothing better to do and started heckling their card playing.
“Why’s he swearing at me Lenny,” Larry asked after a hand as if the heckler weren’t there.
“Well, he has just seen our show, after all,” Lenny said.
“Good point,” Larry said. “Let’s hope he doesn’t go postal on us.”
At that point, three security officers tried to approach the man, but he was oblivious to the large size of the three men and in the mood for a go-round, so he started pushing and swinging. He didn’t get very far; he was a little too drunk to think or move all that quickly, but his activity did start a modest uprising in the blackjack pit and some others got into the shoving act as well. It all got sorted out in fairly short order, but that put an end to The Regular Guys blackjack playing after their show.
There was, of course, the obligatory message from Ray Evans, the gossip columnist at the Las Vegas Herald, when Larry returned to his room.
“How do you find these things out,” Larry asked, feigning exasperation when he called him back.
Ray Evans chuckled that throaty, smoke and booze enhanced laugh
“Larry, I practically had a play by play. My phone rang shortly after the opening bell!”
“What, are you on the Bat Phone? Do they keep a line hotline open to your office?”
“No, but I am on speed dial.”
“Well, what do you need me for?”
“It’d be great to verify this with a Regular Guy insider,” Ray Evans said. Then, typically, he started reading what his sources had told him without waiting for Larry to say whether he was or was not interested in providing verification services.
“That’s not entirely true,” Larry said. “We never talked directly at the heckler.”
“Really? This source is always spot on.” Ray murmured something to himself and you could hear him ruffling through his notebook.
“No, I read them right,” he said mostly to himself. “You sure about this?”
“Positive. We were right there. Here’s exactly what was said: Quote: Why’s he swearing at me, Lenny? End quote. Lenny quote: Well, he has just seen our show, after all. End quote. Larry quote: Good point. Let’s hope he doesn’t go postal on us. Thus endeth the quoting of The Regular Guys.”
“Might help if I can quote you on that,” Ray Evans said.
“Go ahead. Make it sound really special, though, like getting me on the horn required Congressional dispensation or authorization from Wayne Newton.”
“I’ll take care of it. Using your name will help. What’s this going to do to your blackjack careers?
“Well, we haven’t made any formal command decisions yet but it’s probably done. Neither one of us is a big card player. It’s sorta like our career; we just did it because it was kind’ve fun.”