Monday, August 26, 2013

WAY BEFORE...WHAT HAPPENS IN LAS VEGAS...

In January 1979, (I was twenty-three years old), I showed up for my first day at the Slots-A-Fun Casino with my brand new "Sheriff's Card" in my billfold.  Before I was permitted to work, I had to show these credentials to the boss.    
DUE TO THE FEAR OF ORGANIZED CRIME INFILTRATION, A COSTLY NEW JERSEY GAMING LICENSE INCLUDED AN IN DEPTH BACKGROUND CHECK.  THIS LENGTHY INVESTIGATION CAUSED THE MOST ROUTINE APPLICANT TO WAIT SEVERAL MONTHS, EVEN A YEAR TO BE APPROVED. NEVADA WAS DIFFERENT, IT HAD AN "INNOCENT UNTIL PROVEN GUILTY" ATTITUDE. TO GET MY "SHERIFF'S CARD,"  I WAITED IN LINE FOR FIFTEEN MINUTES AND PAID THREE DOLLARS. 

I carefully slid my sheriff's card back into my unique billfold. My billfold was a card holder that some salesmen used to display credit card-sized photos of their goods, (it was practical too because it had two hidden sleeves that were suitable for storing small amounts of paper money).  Even though I received a lot of flak because it was a less than masculine baby blue, I liked it because of the gimmick I developed, (too bad I was never clever enough to take a picture of it). 

The gimmick I discovered, included putting the heavier, laminated cards like my Brooklyn Collge ID and draft card at the top.  That way, I could fling the cards forward simultaneously while saying, "Let me present my card." Like an accordian, the plastic compartments would fly open towards who ever I aimed it.  People thought it was funny..the manager at my new job...not so much.  However, about a week later, I found out that one of the dealers waiting to go home on my first day, Pete Izzo, thought it was hilarious.

It should be noted that Vegas was separated into two licensing jurisdictions, (basically, the strip and downtown).  The specific border that divided the city from the county was Sahara Avenue.  Therefore a toilet like Slot-A-Fun which was south of Sahara was technically in the high rent district, (a.k.a. the fabulous Las Vegas Strip), and required a sheriff's card.   On the other hand, the rinky-dink casinos downtown, (north of Sahara), required a "police card." Much of this story is concentrated on that Sahara Avenue division.
I ALWAYS HAVE TROUBLE FINDING DECENT SLOTS-A-FUN PICTURES ON THE INTERNET.  IRONICALLY, I'VE HAD THIS ONE ALL ALONG, (TAKEN BY MY DAD IN JANUARY 1980).

Pete Izzo (25) was so fascinated by my billfold gimmick that he tried to buy it off me.  He was such a nice guy that even when I turned him down, we became passing friends. 

Izzo was a sloppy, fat guy from Woonsocket Rhode Island.  His dark, pockmarked, oily complexion and sharp facial features gave him a caveman look.  His greasy, wild hair was a trifle long for casino standards.  But due to his tough exterior and claim of connections to the wise-guys in Providence, noboby bothered him over such trivialities.

On one of my night's off, I bumped into Pete and two of his fellow, Slots-A-Fun graveyard shift dealers.  They were a rather large trio. His buddies were, Joe Imperiale, (a 310-pound former college football player) and Frank Ianucci (who was built like Izzo, at 5-11 and 260 pounds).  I later nicknamed them.  Then years later, I wrote a corresponding blog, (March 1, 2010) called, "THE LAW FIRM OF, IMPERIALE, IANUCCI AND IZZO." 

They were on their way to the El Cortez Casino for the steak dinner special and invited me along.  Later, we played twenty-five cent craps and drank for free all night.  I hung with them on my night off many times.  In the weeks to come, we made several more visits the El Cortez.  Also, we went to Jai Alai at the MGM on three occasions (until we got barred for life) and horse back riding once.

Izzo's tough exterior was just a front.  He was a country boy at heart and his move to Las Vegas was the first time he had ever left Rhode Island.  Privately, he was a milk and cookies kind of guy who missed his mother and phoned her every Sunday.  Another part of this big galoot's unwillingness to leave home was a fear of flying and driving.  He was okay on a bus, in a taxi or as a car passenger but to move west, he took AMTRAK.  Therefore it was shocking that he got on a horse, (at the time, I joked that the other horse's were jealous of my horse because at 190 pounds, I was a twig compared to them).

Sometimes, I pushed the envelope with Pete.  Luckily, he thought my "jealous horse" line was funny. He also had a sense of humor when we wound-up at Denny's for munchies, at six o'clock in the morning.  Imperiale, Ianucci and I all had breakfast food but Izzo ordered "Dinner Italiano," (a.k.a. the slop Denny's called meatballs and spaghetti). 

We were all cutting up Izzo's odd choice up when Ianucci said, "Are you sure your Italian?"  In the middle of gulping his root beer Izzo countered, "Pure Sicilian!" Imperiale sneered, "Your mother would be so proud." Izzo interrupted our laughter by saying, "You assholes can drop dead! 'Cause I know when you see my plate, you'll all want some...and you can beg till you're blue in the damned face...but I ain't givin' up shit!"

Izzo dug in as soon as he was served. His contorted expression signaled to us that he made a poor food choice.  He moaned, "Yous wanna try this?"  We shook our heads.  To save face, he devoured the whole mess.  We had a good laugh at his expense when he looked up from the empty dish with red sauce all over his face.  Pete Izzo stated with a sigh of satisfaction, "That was pretty good. But these guys would make a fortune if they made pizza."  I looked at his sausy face and said, "You look like a friggin' pizza."  Then the joke hit me.  So, I modified the pronounciation and said, "Your new name is 'Pizza,' (more specifically 'Pete-Sza').  He didn't care so after that day, that's what I usually called him.

Imperiale and Ianucci left Slots-A-Fun for better jobs at the same time that I was pushing myself to get out.  On one of my last shifts, I crossed paths with Izzo as I was rushing in and he was rushing out. I noticed that he had a fresh, short haircut and cracked, "Hey Pete-Sza, you look different...what did you do, wash your face?"  He gave me a dirty look.  That look stayed with me because after I left the job, I didn't see him for several more months.

By December 1979, I was living with SK28 on East Sahara and dealing craps at Hotel Fremont.
I WAS AT THE FREMONT FROM SEPTEMBER 1979 UNTIL MARCH 1980.  ON THE NIGHT BEFORE MY FIRST DAY, I WRECKED MY CAR. SO MOST OF THE TIME I LIVED WITH SK28, I HAD NO WHEELS.

SK28 had no car either.  He was a pan dealer and break-in poker dealer at the Sahara Casino.  This was way before casino Texas Hold'em went viral.  So SK28, in order to qualify as a poker dealer had to serve an apprenticeship by acting as a Hold'em player to fill spots on the table during his breaks from dealing pan.
PAN, FROM THE PHILIPPINE WORD, PANGUINGUE (pan-geen-gee) IS A RUMMY-LIKE, 320-CARD GAMBLING GAME.  IT DATES BACK TO THE 1800's AND WAS INTRODUCED IN THE USA IN 1905.  IT IS NO LONGER OFFERED IN LAS VEGAS CASINOS AND CAN ONLY BE FOUND IN A HANDFUL OF CALIFORNIA CARD ROOMS OR ONLINE.
SK28 could rationalize not needing a car because he could walk to work, a shopping center and the bus stop easily.  One night, I walked to the Sahara to meet SK28 after work.  We had decided to eat in the steakhouse diagonally across the street, in the Jolly Trolley Casino, (by being on opposite sides of the jurisdiction border, Jolly Trolley workers required a police card and Sahara employees needed a sheriff's card).

The Jolly Trolley Casino was a bust-out, saw-dust joint with a terrible reputation for attracting low-lifes as clientele, dealers and managers.  To lure in gamblers, they had a seedy topless theater.  At the snack bar, (which offered a huge hamburger for 49c), if you sat in the right seats, you could avoid the cover charge and get a cheap thrill when the bouncer pulled aside the curtain and exposed the dancers.

While I was waiting in the Sahara for SK28 to punchout, I saw Pete "Pete-Sza" Izzo playing poker.  He was dressed like a knucklehead tourist and was toting a plastic bag full of Vegas souvenirs.  He whispered that he was a professional poker player and duped the so-called sharpies by having them think he was a mook (an easy mark) from out-of-town.  He also explained that he lived nearby and played a lot at the Sahara.  Similar to SK28, he liked living in the area because the city bus was convenient and made the whole town excessible.

We exchanged phone numbers.  Once I dropped by his apartment and we went to the Jolly Trolley for a burger, a beer and some cheap thrills.  He had two of each so my check was half his $1.98.

The second time we decided to have lunch at the Trolley, I was sitting on his sunken-in couch admiring his littered living room.  I was amazed to see so many partially-finished Fudge-Covered Oreo Cookie packages and the army of McDonald's chocolate thick shake empties.  I complemented his choice of cookies but added, "How can you drink so much of that aerated kaopectate?" as the phone rang.  Someone told him about a lucrative poker tournament at the Aladdin Casino. Pete-Sza excused himself from lunch and wasted no time in getting his faux-tourist uniform on.  We were going in the same direction so I waited with him at the bus stop, (same corner as the Jolly Trolley).  When he got on, I went into the casino.
THE JOLLY TROLLEY  (1977-1981) WAS LOCATED IN A STRIP MALL, (PARDON THE PUN).  IT WAS ORIGINALLY HONEST JOHN'S CASINO.  IT BECAME THE BIG WHEEL IN 1971 AND FROM 1975-1977, IT WAS CALLED THE CENTERFOLD.

I got my belly-full as well as many quick glimpses of the topless girls.  But when I reached for my baby blue billfold that I used as a funny gimmick, it was no laughing matter...it was gone...and I was penniless.  Based on their scummy reputation, I loudly made a fool of myself and claimed to have been the victim of a pickpocket.  That dump was used to vermin...except it was the bouncer accusing me of being a cockroach trying to beat a 99c check.  I was powerless to resist and was ushered out.  In the street, I was confused, mortified and angry.

A few weeks later, I got a new (old) car and a different apartment miles away. I fell out of touch with Pete-Sza again.  In that time, the porn star Marilyn Chambers did a one-women show called, "THE SEX SURROGATE," in the Jolly Trolley showroom. 
MARILYN CHAMBERS (1952-2009) WAS AT THE TOP OF HER CRAFT THROUGH THE 70's AND INTO THE 80's.   IN THAT TIME, SHE APPEARED IN 36 HARDCORE FILMS.

Ms. Chambers was supposed to use the Jolly Trolley opportunity as a springboard to the legitimate singing and dancing career she always wanted.  But her act featured full-frontal nudity during an interpretative dance as she pantomimed an orgasm during self-satisfaction.  Vice cops were in the audience so her first and only performance was stopped.

Months later, I got a call from SK28.  He said Pete Sza called and found my billfold in the cushions of his couch. When I was re-united with my Canarsie branch of the Brooklyn public library card, New York State driver's license, some pictures and other forms of ID, I was also relieved that all eleven of my dollars were still hidden in the secret compartments.

It was no surprise to me that the Jolly Trolley lived-up to its reputation and closed down in disgrace.  That's when a keno player hit the top prize $25,000.00 and the Nevada Casino Control Commission revoked their license because the casino didn't have enough cash to pay-off.
CASINO KENO IS A LIVE, INEXPENSIVE, LOW-PERCENTAGE LOTTERY-LIKE GAMBLING GAME. TWENTY OUT OF EIGHTY NUMBERED PING PONG BALLS ARE RANDOMLY CHOSEN AND THE PLAYERS WHO MATCH ENOUGH NUMBERS WIN.  IN 1979, THE JACKPOT WAS $25,000.00.  THESE DAYS, IT'S DOUBLE.

Today that strip mall boasts a true Las Vegas landmark, the world's biggest gift shop.
IN 2009, I TOOK MY FAMILY INSIDE.  AND YES ANY CHINTZY LAS VEGAS SOUVENIR YOU COULD IMAGINE IS FOR SALE IN THIS INCREDIBLY LARGE STORE.  MY ONLY REGRET WAS THAT I DIDN'T SEE PETE-SZA BUYING NEW PROPS TO SUPPORT HIS" INEXPERIENCED POKER PLAYER" SECRET IDENTITY.

These days the Las Vegas Chamber of Commerce and Better Business Bureau have teamed-up with slogan; What happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas.  Now that you read this blog, you know the craziness out there...is nothing new.

4 comments:

Charlieopera said...

Good stuff, as always.

I'll be on your end of the state next Monday and Tuesday. We're staying at the Trop, but fear not, I no longer gamble (bookmaking cured that a long time ago). I'll be working on a new project most of the early morning and attempting to waddle the boardwalk in the afternoon. Let me know if you're around ... it's the wife's annual trek to A.C. for nothing more than the free room, the beach, spa and the good eats. Last year we stayed in a dump next to the Trop (and had to walk down 12 flights because a wedding there kept the elevators too busy for the rest of us suckers) ... but we ate at the Trop and enjoyed it. Anyway, let me know if you're around those days.

Anonymous said...

Enjoyed your story, loved your Fremont Hotel ID, lol. --- RBOY in CT

Anonymous said...

Good story. Very funny. Except Pete-Sza (was he a real person?) was right, Mickey D's chocolate shakes are great and DON'T taste like yucky aerated kaopectate. --- A of A&L

Anonymous said...

THE JOLLEY TROLLY story was great, as usual! --- SK28 in Arizona