In 1969, my eight-year old cousin was on the live, kids TV variety show, "WONDERAMA." Wonderama, in varying forms was broadcast on New York City's Channel-5, from 1955-1977. Over the years there were nine hosts. I grew-up in the Sonny Fox-era but I also recall, Jon Gnagy, Sandy Becker and Bob McAllister.
The program resembled a game show with other segments like, interviews with children, civics lessons disguised as skits and celebrity guests.
My greatest memory of the show was when kids danced to top-40 music. In this instance, behind the discotheque-like dance floor, a single child, (my cousin), stood in the middle of their shot. Luckily, he wasn't picking his nose but he was beyond bored. The director didn't like the exciting imagery of his "art" being ruined and sent someone to shoo my cousin away. At home, with our eyes glued to cousin's every move, we howled in laughter. Suddenly, it got better. From the wings somebody got his attention. My cousin pointed at himself as if to say; who me?...and walked off camera.
Ah, the magic of live TV. Most young viewers missed that trick but for real magic lovers, Wonderama also featured, the "AMAZING RANDI." In my pre-kindergarten years, Randi was my first exposure to magicians. I always looked forward to his act and from him, grew to appreciate Houdini, Morris Gold, Penn & Teller and my all-time favorite, David Blaine.
Randall James Hamilton Zwinge was born in Toronto Canada on August 8, 1928. He originally billed himself as James Randi but eventually settled on the stage name, "The Amazing Randi." Randi enjoyed a long and prosperous career as an illusionist, (he still owns the world record for being sealed 104 minutes in a casket as well as being encased 55 minutes in ice). After being on over 50 TV shows, plus movies and personal appearances, he retired from his craft in 1988.
I TOLD YOU HE WAS AMAZING, RANDI IS STILL ACTIVE AT AGE 81.
Randi switched careers and gained more notoriety as an author and skeptic of paranormal activity. Along the way, he won a law suit over Uri Geller and disproved James Hydick, Peter Popoff, W. V. Grant and Ernest Angley. Randi also came up with his "Million Dollar Challenge." This offer is a big cash prize to anyone with evidence of the supernatural or occult power or an event. The money remains untouched, gathering dust. I'M GLAD THAT DAVID BLAINE IS NOT ON RANDI'S DEBUNKING HIT-LIST CRUSADE. HE IS SO GOOD, HE BRINGS OUT THE KID IN ME AND MAKES ME BELIEVE IN MAGIC.
Indeed, Randi is amazing. But I know a far more amazing guy named Randy.
I dealt craps at downtown Vegas' Hotel Fremont from September 1979 until March 1980. The casino teamed-up regular craps crews but, like a revolving door, the employee turnover was so high that I worked with different dealers all the time.
It should be noted that on my third day, I bought a beat-up car from a player who was down on his luck, (see my short story, "AMOS 'N ARCHIE)." I drove it until I got hired at the Stardust.
Dealing on the fabulous Las Vegas Strip, as a new member of the aristocracy, I immediately realized that image was everything. I recalled the following profound statement by Joe Vanilla...Canarsie's Patron Saint of Parking Spaces, "The only thing more important than what you drive, is the quality of your parking spaces." So I rushed out and bought an all new and improved, used car.THE UGLY, FADED GREEN, 1971 FORD LTD I BOUGHT FOR $95.00 WAS IN SLIGHTLY BETTER CONDITION THAN THIS ONE.
On a few occasions, this second Amazing Randy and I worked together. One-on-one he was a nice enough person. Plus his wild sense of humor and charisma generated a lot of tips, (tokes). But in reality, he was a shady, lying thief. He came from a small mid-western town and got caught-up in the bright neon lights and the sex, drugs and rock 'n roll lifestyle. He embodied the theme of all my stories; Vegas is a nice place to visit but you wouldn't want to live there.
Randy drank himself to sleep and took amphetamines to wake-up. He frequented prostitutes so much that he knew the beginners. To prove his cunning, he targeted their naivete by paying the rookies with worthless chips from a dealer school that shared the same name as a casino.
But his main vice was gambling. And if you chose to believe him, he had plenty of outrageous stories that usually started with; I was down to my last...
On one of our shifts together, our craps crew amassed, one dollar and seventy-five cents...to split four ways.
Randy told us, "I never lose. Let's parlay this shit into a thousand."
He marched us to the Keno parlor and we bet our collective pittance. And lost ! Randy then suggested that we go down the street to the Western Casino to play craps. That casino was featured in my story, "SANCTUARY FOR THE LUNATIC FRINGE."
I turned down the gambling opportunity because I felt awkward returning to the cheap clip-joint that I had once worked in. Plus, I didn't want to further exasperate my poverty.
The Western was the worst of the worst. It ranked with the Big Nickel Rendezvous, The Nevada Club and the Orbit Inn at the bottom of the casino job pecking order. That meant that working at a toilet like the Lady Luck would have been a clear improvement.
The Western's one craps table had a fifty-dollar maximum. Randy and the other two dealers from my crew bought-in for $20.00 each and proceeded to break the bank. The Amazing Randy won $1,800.00 and the other two, made twelve hundred each.. The next day, the Western fired all their craps personnel and removed the table. Amazingly, a week after that Randy was broke again.
I missed out on that windfall but stayed with the Fremont long enough to be hired at the Stardust. The intricacies of Randy's habits which included stealing chips from the casino to pay-off drug dealers, eventually got him fired. He became a retread dealer and bounced around from one bad downtown job to another.
Months later, on the exact day I bought that new (used) car, I bumped into Randy at the Friendly Club's bar. He was wearing a Nevada Club uniform. He bought me a drink and we settled into a pleasant conversation, (I got the next three rounds). Randy remembered my LTD and asked what happened to it. I told him its in the classifieds for $250.00. He offered me $200.00.
I said, "Great, give me the two-bills and I'll have it here in an hour."
He said, " Can I give you twenty and owe..."
I said, "Forget it."
He took my number and said, "I always win at the Golden Gate. I'll call you later when I run these two Hamiltons into two Franklins."
As he left I said, "Good, because I don't take casino chips."
When I got his call he wasn't laughing, "I was down to my last two bucks..."
We arranged for the buy to be on Carson Avenue behind the Four Queens.
I checked for counterfeits when the lucky bastard handed me two hundred-dollar bills for my heap. He didn't care that the drivers window was stuck 3/4 of the way up and that the smashed-in trunk was unusable. He shrugged when I told him that there was no A/C and he wasn't listening by the time I mentioned that the jack was on the floor, in the backseat.
I neglected to tell him that the license plates had expired and that the car used as much oil as gas. Randy was given a hand written receipt. And like when I bought the car, he got no title or registration card.
Months later, I spotted Randy wearing a Lady Luck dealer shirt, at the Horseshoe bar. I tried to duck him because I thought he'd bust my balls because of the car. Instead, I got a big pat on the back and he bought me a drink.
He brought up the car and smiled, "I ran that bad-boy into the ground. Then, I owed Petey Watson three-bills and gave it to him."
Instead of getting the next round, I said, "Good-bye."
Randy called me back and asked me to spot him a twenty...I said sorry.
I returned to the east coast in early 1984. In December, I moved into my first South Jersey apartment. Part of the cable company's new client enticement was a thirty day free-trial of their premium package. My wife and I were watching the PLAYBOY CHANNEL. Between features, a gorgeous blond reporter, in a bunny costume was on Fremont Street stopping people and asking them to tell a dirty joke. I couldn't believe it, my Amazing Randy was handed the microphone. I thought his joke was lame but the blond remained locked on his every word and giggled when he was finished. Something tells me, off-camera, he lured her into an alley with a handful of dealer school chips.