The Office of Morty J. Klineman, Professional Talent Agent
Overall, Morty Klineman, professional talent agent, was feeling great. He had lost weight recently and his feline-ish toupee was freshly laundered, returned from the dry cleaners just that morning. His clients, The Regular Guys, had just wrapped up a triumphant tour at The Golden Nugget, their first stint as Las Vegas headliners. Their shows consistently sold out in advance, and they were funnier than ever.
He had worried about Larry when his girlfriend had left him for the vice president of the United States, but Larry had apparently weathered that storm in customary good stride. Lenny, who knew Larry about as well as it was possible for someone to know Larry who had not 1) given birth to Larry or 2) actually slept with Larry – and who was not actually Larry himself – reported there was no unusual behavior out of Larry in the aftermath of the breakup.
Morty Klineman did, however, sit and scowl at his telephone, which was offending him by not producing phone calls from Las Vegas entertainment directors who wanted to sign his clients, The Regular Guys, to lucrative, long-term contracts to headline the main showroom at their hotels.
Morty, and The Regular Guys, were interested in continuing at The Golden Nugget, however, The Golden Nugget showroom was closing for a few months after The Regular Guys gig while a significant portion of the casino was remodeled, and while The Golden Nugget was highly interested in having The Regular Guys return to their showroom when it reopened, it had no place for them to play until then.
Morty, however, had bigger plans for his clients. While he would certainly entertain an offer from the venerable downtown Las Vegas institution at the appropriate time, he really wanted to get his clients in a showroom on the glamorous Las Vegas Strip.
The problem was the fact that the showrooms on the glamorous Las Vegas Strip were booked for the foreseeable future – or at least the ones he would want his clients to play in. Morty now getting more and more finicky in what he would consider for The Regular Guys. They had just finished headlining at the preeminent downtown Las Vegas hotel after all; they would not work just anywhere and they would not work cheap.
Morty though, was not particularly worried. He had been around the block more than once and knew the Las Vegas showroom situation could change tomorrow, and even if it didn’t change in the next 24 hours it would certainly change in the next few months. Plus, he would have no trouble keeping The Regular Guys busy. If Vegas couldn’t produce the opportunities his clients’ talents and bank account demanded, there was no shortage of opportunities outside of Las Vegas that would.
Morty though, liked Las Vegas for his clients. One, they liked Las Vegas, and two, he didn’t have to worry about getting them from one place to another, and since he had dropped all of his other clients some time ago, that cut back considerably the amount of work he had to do.
So The Regular Guys hit the road again, playing comedy clubs around the country. At first Lenny was mildly disappointed; he had thoroughly enjoyed being a headliner in Las Vegas and wanted to be one again, but he knew that a career, much like a life itself, was always under construction, and that these things took time. Besides, he was certain they would be back. Larry actually appeared to take it worse than Lenny; a homebody at heart, he had grown accustomed to being in one place for an extended period.
The Vice President’s Mansion
One Observatory Circle
The United States Naval Observatory
As their limousine was passed through the gates of the United States Naval Observatory, Lenny was nervous. Lenny, and Larry for that matter, hadn’t ever met such a high-ranking government official before. Larry had met a mayor or two in his radio days, but the highest-ranking government official Lenny could remember meeting were the clerks at the DMV.
“Larry, what are we going to do, it’s the vice president, for Pete’s sake!”
“Relax. Rachel assures me he’s just like you and me.”
“Larry,” Lenny said, hunched over in the back seat of the limousine and almost hissing. “He’s a bad heartbeat away. He’s not just like you and me! The only you and I are a heartbeat away from is the unemployment line.”
The limousine turned on Observatory Circle, and, when they arrived at the vice president’s residence, The Regular Guys exited their limousine and were escorted up the stairs to the front door by two Secret Service agents. Before they got to the front door the butler opened the door.
“Good evening, sirs,” the man said. “Welcome to One Observatory Circle.”
The Regular Guys said thank you in unison and walked into the entry hall, where two navy stewards took their coats. The butler then led them to the living room, where they were invited to sit down.
Lenny, figuring the room was probably bugged, sat down and kept quiet. Larry stood with his hands in his pockets and looked out a window.
Presently Rachel and her husband walked in holding hands. Rachel was wearing a long red dress, her husband a dark suit. The vice president was a tall, tanned and handsome older man.
Lenny, still nervous, literally popped to attention and saluted as soon as the vice president and his wife entered the living room. Larry walked over and joined his partner.
The foursome met in the center of the room. The vice president, unaccustomed to being saluted in general and by a comedian in particular, waved his right hand in the general direction of his forehead and said “At ease.”
Lenny breathed audibly.
The vice president, aware that he was in the presence of the (younger) man who had been his competition for Rachel Rachmaninov’s hand, looked Larry over from head to toe. Since he was under the impression Larry had been found wanting and that Rachel had left Larry for him – he was blissfully unaware that Rachel had given Larry a chance to offer his own hand in marriage, and would remain so, God bless him – he had a gracious, though conquering, air.
The vice president radiated success. He should have; he had taken the modest family business he had inherited and turned into a multi-national license to print money and was one of the wealthiest men in the country. Rachel attracted to that kind of power and success and with a built-in radar that can pick it up, had seen hints of that to come in Larry.
“Larry, it is very good to meet you. And Lenny, you as well,” he said magnanimously, shaking hands all around “Welcome to the vice president’s residence.”
The residence the people of the United States provided for their vice president was a large Queen Anne style house on the grounds of the U.S. Naval Observatory. Built in 1893 for the Superintendent of the Observatory, the Chief of Naval Operations evicted the Superintendent and claimed the house for his own in 1923; in 1974 the Chief of Naval Operations himself was evicted by Congress, who made it the official residence of the vice president.
Walter Mondale was the first vice president to live there, moving in following his inauguration in 1977. Before him, Gerald Ford moved into the White House before he could live there and Nelson Rockefeller, being a Rockefeller, found government housing inferior to his own personal quarters in the nation’s capital and used the official residence only for entertaining.
Another navy steward came in and took drink orders. The vice president wanted scotch, neat and Rachel took the liberty of ordering champagne for Lenny, Larry and herself.
Except for Rachel’s briefing while they were getting dressed a half hour ago, the vice president was completely unaware as to just who the hell The Regular Guys were. He had learned a long time ago that when you were completely ignorant about something, it was usually best to admit that fact.
“So,” he said. “I must admit I am not much current on who the masses are currently amusing themselves with,” the vice president said smiling. Rachel, however, has told me all about you. I’m sorry I couldn’t see your show last night, but I’m glad you were able to accept our invitation tonight.”
The Regular Guys said they understood.
After some prodding by Rachel, Larry told the vice president the story of Lenny getting pulled over on their way to a gig, getting a speeding ticket from Ann Shelton, to her suggestions of not only that they work together, but even what to name themselves, to their early gigs up through their first gigs at The Sahara to their New Year’s Eve shows to headlining at The Golden Nugget.
Larry was a good storyteller and his chronicle took a few minutes. Lenny took a sip of his drink and listened.
It’s all true, he thought: the tentative first steps, the time in minors as they worked their way up the comedy ladder and now here he was enjoying cocktails with the vice president of the United States.
“God, I love this country,” Lenny thought to himself.
“I can appreciate you striking out as you did. I did the same thing. My dad started a small trucking firm. I inherited it and expanded it and also started carrying packages and other items that people needed delivered along the routes we ran. Soon, there were more and more routes and more and more packages and after a while we stopped delivering beer and milk and chickens and focused exclusively on packages.”
If The Regular Guys were unfamiliar to the vice president, the vice president was certainly not unfamiliar to Lenny and Larry. The story of how he had taken that small local trucking company and turned it into the largest overnight delivery service in the world was familiar to them.
“How did you two meet?” Lenny asked. Since he knew the particulars of Larry and Rachel’s relationship, he was genuinely curious.
“The World Leader personal ads,” the vice president said with a straight face. Lenny burst out laughing and Larry, who unfortunately had been taking a sip of his drink, actually spit up.
“It’s hard to meet people when you’re on the cutting edge of history,” the vice president said, now laughing himself, evidently pleased he made two comedians laugh out loud.
“Actually,” Rachel said, absentmindedly curling some hair behind an ear. “We met at a fundraiser for the president in Las Vegas that he was at.”
The butler entered the living room and announced that dinner was ready.
Dinner featured, among other things, beef Wellington, which Rachel knew was one of Lenny’s favorites.
“How do you like your job, sir,” Larry asked.
“Being vice president?” the vice president asked as if he were also the dogcatcher for the District of Columbia and Larry could’ve been inquiring about that. “It is very interesting. I am, obviously and by definition, a very important person. My phone calls get returned, when they’re not taken immediately, and, most importantly in this town, I have access to the president whenever I want, as long as I show some discretion as to when I want it.”
“But in terms of raw power, I had considerably more as a Titan of Industry. If I told the Army Chief of Staff to drop and give me twenty, he’d probably decline, or ask ‘”twenty what?” He would do this with a great deal of deference, of course. But if I were a Titan of Industry he just might do it because he might want a position on my board of directors after retirement.”
“I’ve read where you take your duties as President of the Senate very seriously,” Lenny said.
“I do, very seriously. I’d better; it’s my only constitutional duty. And I take seriously being ready to be president on short notice. But there aren’t a whole lot of decisions a vice president needs to make.”
“Now honey,” Rachel said. “Just this morning you decided not to have cream in your coffee.”
Everyone laughed and the vice president winked at his wife, whom he obviously loved dearly.
“Is it better than a bucket of warm spit?” Larry asked.
The vice president laughed again. He was familiar with John Adams’ – the first vice president – thoughts on the matter.
“Well, yes, it is. I get whatever tee time I want at Congressional and I travel well and whenever I want and there is somebody to do everything for me. In fact, I don’t even change the blades in my razor anymore.”
“Seriously?” Lenny asked. “That sounds like an incredible waste of tax dollars. I’m appalled!”
“There’s a fresh blade every Monday morning,” the vice president said. “I don’t even know who does it.”
Dessert was custard pie, Larry’s favorite. During dessert,a man in a dark suit walked into the dining room, begged every one’s pardon and spoke to the vice president.
“Sir, the president is on the phone,” he said. He then whispered something in the vice president’s ear.
The vice president muttered his apologies and said this would take a while. He winked at Larry, warned him not to steal his wife, appeared to mean it when he said it had been a pleasure to meet them both, shook Lenny and Larry’s hands, kissed his wife affectionately, and took his leave.
The three retired to the library for brandy, but The Regular Guys did not have much time. They had a show the next night and needed to catch a plane. They walked through the entry hall and to the front door, where navy stewards helped them put their coats on.
“You’ve done well for yourself, Rachel,” Larry said.
“I would’ve done well either way,” she said, smiling that smile that made Larry weak. “You two maniacs have no idea what you’re going to accomplish.”
Lenny thought that curious. It wasn’t the first time someone had said that.
Larry beamed a smile back at her.
Lenny stood there with his hands in his coat pocket and regarded them.
“Look, you two aren’t going to get all mushy, are you?” he asked. He could hear the navy stewards behind him stifle laughs.
Larry had no intention of getting mushy, though he had to resist the urge to pin Rachel to the wall, kiss her and run his hands over her body, but he wasn’t entitled to do that anymore and, in fact, had passed on the opportunity to have license to do that whenever he wanted.
Lenny and Larry said their goodbyes, turned and left. As he walked to the limousine Larry was fairly certain that Ann had been right when she said not getting married was a decision he would not regret.
Almost positively certain; ninety-nine percent certain, in fact.
But not completely certain.
Toby Flotsam’s Suite
The Mansion at the MGM Grand Hotel and Casino
Las Vegas, Nevada
That New Year’s Eve once again found The Regular Guys sharing a bill with Toby Flotsam.
Downtown Las Vegas, however, was deemed not suitable for the both of them anymore and they were playing the MGM Grand Garden Arena.
Two days before the New Year’s Eve show Toby Flotsam hosted a cocktail party in his large, two-story suite at the MGM Grand Hotel. It was a small, intimate affair, reserved for Toby, his manager, his agent, his publicist, his personal attorney, his old friend Neil Foster and his girlfriend Sara Miles, her mother, a few dozen of his best friends, his band, their wives/girlfriends/groupies, and his opening act for the show, The Regular Guys and whatever entourage they happened to scrounge up, which ended up being only their agent and Lenny’s girlfriend, Ann Shelton.
There was also a short, friendly-looking brown-haired man there, too. Neither Lenny nor Larry knew who he was and both assumed he was with Toby Flotsam’s small army. Toby had no idea who he was either, but stars as big as Toby Flotsam were accustomed to having friends of friends hanging around. He had walked up to Lenny and Larry and introduced himself as Jerry.
Assuming he was with Toby, Larry had been cordial and Lenny had practically hugged him. Jerry then left to chat with others. Jerry had the gift of being able to fit in anywhere, and everyone else assumed he was here with someone else when actually, in the finest tradition of party crashers everywhere, he had hooked on with some of the band members in the lobby and followed them up. Dressed in a casual, though obviously expensive, suit that could fit in in any of a hundred circumstances they too, assumed he was with someone else.
Sara Miles walked up to Lenny and Larry, who were standing together near a large window overlooking the New York, New York and Excalibur hotels.
“Excuse me, sir, would you like some more champagne?” she asked from behind.
“Uh, no, I’m…” he said while turning around.
“Sara!” He gave Lenny his drink and hugged Sara, whom he hadn’t seen since she and Neil visited in the spring.
Lenny stood there with a dumb look on his face while the two got reacquainted.
Lenny cleared his throat.
“Hi,” he said, holding both drinks up.
“Oh, Lenny, I’m sorry.” Sara held her arms out. Lenny gave Larry the drinks and he too greeted Sara.
Larry noticed there was a drop-dead beautiful brunette standing next to Sara.
“Uh, Sara,” Larry said. “Is this your sister?
“Oh, I’m sorry. Larry, Lenny, this is my mother, Lynn Miles. Mom, these are The Regular Guys, Lenny and Larry.”
Larry stood there with a dumb look on his face while Lenny bowed graciously.
Lynn Miles was dressed simply, in jeans and a black turtleneck. But she made even that look like something Queen Elizabeth should be wearing and gave every impression of having just returned from the beauty parlor.
“Go ahead and say hi, Larry,” Lenny prodded. “It’s okay. She won’t bite. You don’t bite, do you Lynn?”
“It’s been a while,” she said, smiling a smile that required sunglasses to look at directly.
“Hi,” Larry said. “My name is Larry.”
Lynn Miles offered her hand. It stood out there alone as Larry gazed at her admiringly.
“We’ve already established that Larry,” Lenny said. “Perhaps you could shake her hand?”
“Okay,” he said. After a second he shook Lynn Miles’ hand.
“There, see, I didn’t bite,” Lynn said.
That brought a nice laugh and gave Larry time to look around. He saw nothing resembling a husband running around the suite. Indeed the only guy he really couldn’t place with a woman was the erstwhile Jerry who was standing in a corner chatting with Ann, either unaware of, or ignoring the fact she was with Lenny. Larry immediately issued an all-points bulletin for a ring, but a quick check – and Larry could check as quickly as any bachelor in the civilized world – showed that while Lynn Miles wore two rings, neither of them were on the finger that traditionally meant commitment to another person.
Larry started getting butterflies.
Right then Toby Flotsam joined the group to spread a little holiday cheer. He was carrying a white Pomeranian and took the time required – but no more – to say hi to everyone.
“Guys, I assume you’re telling everyone about your dinner with the vice president last month?” Toby asked.
Larry wondered exactly how he knew, but figured Morty told him.
“You had dinner with the vice president!” Sara shrieked.
Lenny nodded solemnly.
Sara tapped her forehead with her hand as if she had remembered something.
“Rachel…” she said.
“I’m sorry,” Sara said. “I should’ve remembered.”
“That’s all right. I was the one who let her go. She gave me a chance to match the offer sheet.”
“What does Rachel have to do with the vice president?” Lynn asked.
“She married him,” Lenny said.
“Oh,” Lynn said. “And you two used to…”
“Rachel and I, yes. The vice president and I never dated.”
“Well, you never called him back,” Lenny said.
“It was those darn Secret Service agents; they kept listening in.”
Backstage, MGM Grand Garden Arena
MGM Grand Hotel and Casino
Las Vegas, Nevada
New Year’s Eve
Both Lenny and Ann knew something was wrong with Larry as soon as he walked into their backstage dressing area at the MGM Grand Garden Arena. It was a couple of hours before they were scheduled to take the stage for their New Year’s Eve show.
He was supposed to have arrived with Lynn Miles, with whom he had spent an inordinate amount of time with since meeting her in Toby Flotsam suite before New Year’s earlier in the week.
“What happened,” Ann asked instinctively.
“Where’s Lynn?” Lenny asked at almost the same time.
Lenny and Ann looked at each other, put two and two together, and came to the conclusion that Larry’s downcast face and Lynn not being there weren’t a coincidence.
“I got the friends lecture,” Larry said, sitting down in a chair across from the couch where Lenny and Ann were sitting.
“The friends lecture!” Lenny exclaimed. “You two were holding hands! She all but molested you at dinner!”
The four of them had double-dated a couple of days ago, enjoying dinner and the opera Tosca. Both Lenny and Ann thought they appeared to be a happily dating couple.
“Well, I had gotten the friends lecture right off the bat actually. She had let it be known she wasn’t looking and I proceeded accordingly. I even instituted a No Moves policy. I figured if she was interested, well, women have ways of letting you know that.”
Lenny nodded significantly, as if approving, and even admiring, the implementation of the No Moves policy.
“And it was great. I was happy just to be with her.”
“That was plain,” Ann said. “Both of you clearly enjoyed each other’s company.”
“We talked about past relationships and I told her about Rachel and losing her to the vice president and she talked a bit about her marriage, which I gathered wasn’t good.”
Larry paused for a second or two to collect his thoughts.
“But then she started holding my hand and we even snuggled a bit. I thought she had changed her mind and was interested. Hell, I thought, if she’s interested, I’m interested. So I reciprocated.
“But she wasn’t interested?” Ann asked.
“No. What the hell was I supposed to think, though? I mean, we even kissed a little bit.”
“I’m no expert in the matter, but that would seem to indicate some sort of interest,” Lenny said, while nodding and looking at Ann.
“Maybe not in running to the altar, but in exploring where it could go, sure,” Ann said.
“So I asked her today what was next for us. She’s leaving tomorrow, you know. And she looked at me like I had sprouted a third eye.”
“Ouch,” Lenny said. “Not a good sign.”
Larry nodded agreement.
“I thought that, too,” he said. “She said we were in no way dating, that I had completely misread what she did. She just wanted to be friends.”
“Friends don’t hold hands and snuggle,” Ann said.
“You’re telling me,” Lenny said. “Larry and I have never snuggled.”
“I was surprised at how I took it,” Larry said, ignoring both of them. “I was devastated. I felt like I had been kicked in the stomach. I felt like the brass ring had been taken away from me.”
“It shows. You look like crap,” Lenny said.
“And we’d only known each other four days,” Larry said.
“You were halfway to loving her,” Ann said. “That was plain.”
“Really?” Larry asked.
“Maybe all the way there,” Ann said, looking at Larry warmly.
“I was even moved to poetry,” Larry said. “Here.”
He fished around a front pocket and pulled a piece of paper that had been folded several times. He tossed it at Lenny.
Lenny read it. An emotional lug wrench in these matters, he may as well have been reading directions on a bottle of insecticide. He handed it to his wife, who took it and read it.
When I held you close I lacked the strength
To keep past demons at arm’s length
And now you’re gone and words are few
But every splendor began with you.
Ann read it and started weeping.
“This is beautiful, Larry.”
Larry shrugged dismissively.
“Tosca,” Ann said, composing herself. “The last line is from Tosca. Sort of.”
The libretto from Tosca had a line that said “Life gathers its splendor from you.”
“A generous paraphrase,” Larry said, shrugging. “I’m not really capable of original thought of that magnitude.”
“That’s pretty profound stuff there partner, for only knowing her for four days,” Lenny said.
“Yeah. It was the same feeling I had with Rachel, though. That feeling doesn’t come around too often.”
“We don’t really know there are past demons either,” Ann said sensibly.
“I know. That’s only a working hypothesis.”
“I mean, and I know this is impossible to fathom, but maybe you could’ve been found wanting.”
Lenny gasped in mock horror.
“Could be,” Larry said. “Certainly wouldn’t be the first time.” Over the years Larry led the league in first dates. The trouble was turning them into second and third dates.
“Yeah,” Lenny said. “Maybe someone funny, handsome and nice isn’t what she’s looking for. I mean, look what you settled for, babe.”
“What brought this on?” Ann asked, ignoring her husband. She genuinely felt for her friend Larry. “What did she say?”
Larry shook his head as if it really didn’t matter.
“I think she might be afraid to jump in, but I don’t really know. That could be just what I want to hear.”
“Could be true if her first marriage stunk.”
“Yeah, but who knows? The bottom line is she isn’t here.”
Ann went over and hugged Larry.
“I’m sorry, Larry,” she said.
“Hell, if she’d have known what was going to happen,” Lenny said. “She should have let you go all the way with her,”
Larry laughed, his first in a while.
About ten minutes before showtime, Lenny and Larry were standing in a corridor behind the stage at the MGM Grand Garden Arena. They were alone, the backstage area having been cleared a few moments before of everybody except performers and security personnel.
“You gonna be all right, partner?” Lenny asked.
It was a formality. Talking had helped, and combined with Larry’s general good nature, Larry was ready to go.
“Oh yeah,” Larry said. “I might re-appropriate Sam Kinnison’s line about thanking the good Lord for the big menu, but yeah, we’re going to knock them dead tonight.”
“Yeah, you can either love women or munch the pillow. More or less. Sam was a bit more colorful.”
“That is pretty limited. Sorta like Denny’s after midnight.”
Just then Jerry the Universal Groupie wandered up to them. He had a drink in his hand.
“Hey guys, go get ‘em tonight,” he said.
Larry looked at Jerry. Despite his backstage pass (he had been there while they were being passed out to friends and family of Toby’s band, and, as always, he looked and acted like he belonged so he was issued one as a matter of course) Jerry was not entitled to be backstage right now.
“Jerry,” Larry said laughing. “You’re not supposed to be here.”
Jerry smiled innocently.
“I know; I got lost.”
A rather large, rather serious looking security officer appeared. He walked straight to Jerry.
“You’re not supposed to be back here, sir.”
The officer could have caused – and in fact, was in the mood to cause – big problems for Jerry. Luck, typically, came 1) at just the right time and 2) from someone who didn’t really know him.
“It’s all my fault,” Larry said. “We got to talking. If you could show him to his seat, I’d appreciate it.”
“Of course, sir,” the security officer said pleasantly. “Right this way, sir.”
“Who the hell is that, anyway?”
“Beats me,” Larry said. “I think he’s with Toby.”
The stage manager appeared and said it was time to go, so Lenny and Larry walked to the side of the stage, where they would make their entrance. From that position they could see about a quarter of the arena; the lights in the arena were still on and the crowd was still filing in. They were not calm.
“You remember the first time we stood at the side of a stage ready to go on, partner?”
Larry smiled, tilted his head, and looked at Lenny.
“Of course I do. Amateur night. You made us drive three days because you were certain we’d bomb.”
“Yeah,” Lenny said, smiling at the recollection. “I even made you carry material with you!”
Larry reached into his coat pocket and pulled a few 8 ½ by 11 sheets of paper, the ‘script’ they had made up before their first appearance in case they did, in fact, bomb. They had been folded so often down the middle that scotch tape was required to hold them together.
“You still carry these?” Lenny asked, genuinely surprised. He knew Larry used to carry them, but assumed he gave up the practice long ago; they hadn’t been used as a prop in the show in years.
Larry nodded and handed them to Lenny.
Lenny opened the pages and scanned them. There was some material on whatever presidential administration was in power then and some material on women and relationships.
“Wow,” Lenny said, scanning it over. “This stuff is lame.”
“That’s not surprising; you wrote it.”
“I wrote this crap?”
“Hell, no wonder I never got anywhere.”
Lenny folded the sheets back up and shoved them into Larry’s chest. Larry laughed and put them back in his pocket.
“Well, fortunately, we didn’t bomb and need to use it,” Lenny said.
“There’s still time. You never know,” Larry said, winking at Lenny.
Just then the lights went down, and the voice of 15,000 strong rose in unison. The prerecorded announcer started talking.
Ladies and Gentlemen, Happy New Year, and Welcome to the MGM Grand Garden Arena!
More applause and even louder cheers.
And now, leading off our show tonight, from someplace funny, Las Vegas regulars just back from their tour of women’s locker rooms, The Regular Guys!
The Regular Guys walked out to applause that was as warm as it was loud. Lenny walked out waving to the crowd with both hands while Larry walked out with his arms spread, palms facing upwards.
It was a good start to a great show.