You've got to pay to play

Updated: June 24, 2005, 10:37 AM ET
By Jay Lovinger | ESPN Poker Club

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Vegas is one weird place, a creepy mixture of sleazy cynicism and schmaltzy sentimentality - like if you comingled a red-light district in Bangkok with Pleasantville (from the Tobey Maguire-Reese Witherspoon vehicle of the same name) before it discovered Technicolor.

Both aspects of the City God Forgot were on display during 10 allegorical minutes yesterday (or maybe the word I'm looking for is "metaphorical"). Late in the morning, I got onto the elevator of my hotel - the Hilton Grand Vacations Club on Karen Ave. - with a couple of fifty-something ladies from the Great American heartland, if my read on their accents was accurate.

"Remember when we were here last year, and those college boys came back to their room with a girl they 'picked up' on the Strip?" said one.

"Yes, and when she asked them to pay her afterwards, they got into that loud, screaming fight, and security had to come and explain the facts of life to them," said the other one, giggling.

"Can you imagine how dumb those boys must be - how did they ever get into college?" asked the other, laughing at the memory. "Those girls you 'pick up' on the strip - it's not because they think you're cute. In Vegas, you've gotta pay to play"

Both of them, who could be cast in any movie about two lovable old granny ladies, were still guffawing when I got off on my floor, the cynicism dripping from every aging pore. Walt Disney must be turning over in his grave.

A few minutes later, I walked over to the nearby Hilton to have lunch. On the way to the Paradise Café, I passed three signs that listed the performers who had recently wowed 'em - or who soon would be wowin' 'em - at the Hilton. It was like the Wayback Machine had gone haywire and could not stop cranking out these entertainers who I would have thought had died or, at the very least, retired to spare their families the embarrassment.

First and foremost was Barry Manilow, the house entertainer at the Hilton. Manilow, who was considered lame 30 years ago, not only plays the Hilton regularly, but the hotel features a store - the Copacabana - that seems to sell only Manilow items (his CDs, shirts and slacks with his name and face blazoned upon them, handbags and keychains featuring his grinning mug, etc.). Of course, Wayne Newton was also appearing there frequently - 30 nights in June, July and August alone - and ZZ Top, Donna Summer and Johnny Mathis were each scheduled to make a couple of appearances.

(When I tried to explain to my daughter, Rachel, 34, who Johnny Mathis is - or, more precisely, was - I found myself at a complete loss for words. For those of you who are equally in the dark, Mathis was a crooner of June-moon-spoon-type love songs whose heyday was the late-'50s, which would make him at least 70 now. One of his big hits was named "The 12th of Never," and included the following lyrics:

"You ask how much I love you, must I explain,

I'll love you, oh my darling, like roses need rain,

I'll love you, oh my darling, I'll tell you true,

Until the 12th of Never, I'll still be loving you."

I want your honest opinion: Do you really want to listen to a 70-year-old man singing stuff like that?

As if that's not more than enough, standup comic David Brenner, whom everybody I know thought had disappeared from the face of the civilized earth - well, I guess he actually has - appears every night (except Thursdays), sharply at 8 in the Shimmer Cabaret.

But the worst horror, by far, is the fact that Robert Plant, the one-time lead singer of Led Zep, only one of the two or three most important rock bands of all-time, is appearing on July 16. This could be the greatest desecration, schmaltz-wise, since Bob Dylan recently appeared at Foxwoods.

It's a good thing Elvis isn't alive to see this.

Jay Lovinger

Founding editor, Page 2
Jay Lovinger is a former managing editor of Life and a founding editor of Page 2. "Jackpot Jay" spent a year as a poker pro and participated in the World Series of Poker. He will be writing a book on his poker adventures for HarperCollins.

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