Far Too High in Las Vegas
|Charleyne and Diana|
In 1972, Charleyne (see “I Married a Hippy,” April 14, 2010) and I were riding in the back of taxi on the Las Vegas strip when she suddenly cried out, “Stop the cab!” at the driver, and we screeched to a halt. Alarmed, I asked her, “What’s wrong?” to which she replied that we’d just passed her college friend Diana on the street and we must now flag her down. “Are you sure it was her?” I asked. “Yes, Doug,” Charleyne replied with certainty. “I recognized her butt.”
A few words about this college friend Diana (who I’d not met at this point, but subsequently did get to know and like). She and Char had been introduced to each other at St. Mary’s College (the sister school of Notre Dame in South Bend, Indiana), and become best buddies. Diana had a great sense of humor, but bad taste in men, including the jerk she eventually married. She also had a history of being spotted in unlikely places. Once in college she agreed to spend a weekend in Chicago with a man, only to be recognized on the street by a business friend of her father, who promptly reported her mini-affair to her family back in St. Louis—getting her into hot water. Now here again she was spotted in a strange city, and this time she was also on the arm of a very attractive young man. Both were dressed up, she in a tight skirt emphasizing the derriere Char had recognized, and he wearing an expensive sports coat and tailored slacks, both sporting huge mirrored sunglasses.
When they came by the cab, Charleyne called to them, and immediately the two women were school girls again, hugging and laughing, making introductions, and muttering amazement at this coincidence. The man with Diana, introduced as a California VIP, let’s call him Raoul, was less pleased to see us, but Diana immediately invited us back to their room at the Riviera Hotel and Casino to smoke pot with them (smoking pot was mother’s milk to Char and Diana, and by this time even I, a renowned fuddy-duddy, was getting used to it). Raoul agreed with all the enthusiasm of a man visualizing a hot night with a hot woman turning into a gabfest with strangers, and it was undoubtedly his intention to get us high and then bid us a speedy adieu. Charleyne and Diana were oblivious to this goal, but I was on Raoul’s side. We had no marijuana with us in Vegas, and this was a great opportunity as far as I was concerned to see Las Vegas through different eyes, which, witness below, proves you should be careful what you wish for.
It was the highest I’ve ever been in my life, and the same was true of Charleyne, even though she’d smoked a great deal more in her adventurous years than newbie me. This was the kind of high where everything you see—even if it’s a pretty ordinary long hallway with dozens of doors in both directions—is a new world, exciting and confusing at the same time. We stood just outside the door, and our hands clasped involuntarily. Frozen there, we were Hansel and Gretel looking at the Candy House of the Witch in the Dark Forest.
But, after a bit it occurred to me that it was just a hotel hallway in spite of its many charms, and I gathered my senses enough to say, “Let’s go to the elevator,” pointing just off to our right across the hall. “NOOOOOO!!!” Charleyne cried in terror. She looked at me, eyes wide with fright. “NOT THE ELEVATOR, DOUG, PLEASE NO!” Alas, she had claustrophobia in elevators even under the best of circumstances, so I hastily agreed that would be a bad idea. “The stairs then?” I asked, and she eagerly nodded, pulling me toward an EXIT sign at the end of the hallway.
Things get fuzzy from here on, but I think I remember entering the stairwell and the two of us starting down. I believe we began on something like the sixteenth floor, so there would have been quite a descent to make, but I don’t remember much about that. Instead I segued into a wonderful state where I was witty and the life of the stairwell party, pulling off funny jokes about our situation, followed by even funnier jokes, laughing at my remarkable sense of humor each step we took. I did come out of my fog at one point to notice Charleyne peering out of the stairwell through a door marked “10” as she worriedly looked into another hallway identical to the one we’d left above. “Where are we?” she muttered, concerned and bewildered.
I remember thinking “This is the woman I love, and she’s in trouble, so I must come to her rescue.” I promptly became Sir Galahad. “My dear,” I intoned gravely, “the door indicates we’re on the tenth floor, so we need to keep going down.” Astonished at my insight, she looked at the door, nodded her head, took my hand, and down we went again, with me making myself laugh by a wooden Frankenstein-Descends-Steps routine. I doubt Char appreciated it, but it was hysterical.
I don’t know what Circus-Circus is like today (I’ve haven’t been in there since the night in question), but in 1972 the world’s most famous druggie, Gonzo Journalist Extraordinaire Hunter S. Thompson, described it thusly in his famous over-the-top book “Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas:”
The Circus-Circus is what the whole hep world would be doing on Saturday night if the Nazis had won the war. This is the Sixth Reich. The ground floor is full of gambling tables, like all the other casinos . . . but the place is about four stories high, in the style of a circus tent, and all manner of strange County-Fair/Polish Carnival madness is going on up in the space. Right above the gambling tables the Forty Flying Carazito Brothers are doing a high-wire trapeze act, along with the four muzzled Wolverines and the Six Nymphet Sisters from San Diego . . . so you’re down on the main floor playing blackjack, and the stakes are getting high when suddenly you chance to look up, and there, right smack above your head is a half-naked fourteen-year-old girl being chased through the air by a snarling wolverine, which is suddenly locked in a death battle with two silver-painted Polacks who come swinging down from opposite balconies and meet in mid-air on the wolverine’s neck . . . both Polacks seize the animal as they fall straight down towards the crap tables—but they pounce off the net; they separate and spring back up towards the roof in three different directions, and just as they’re about to fall again they are grabbed out of the air by three Korean Kittens and trapezed off to one of the balconies. . . . This madness goes one and on, but nobody seems to notice. The gambling action runs twenty-four a day on the main floor, and the circus never ends.
He went onto say that if someone is majorly “high” Circus-Circus is the “vortex . . . the main nerve.”
As Charleyne and I stood there, hand in hand, gazing at it in wonder, I heard myself say, “Hunter Thompson has sent me here! He would be so proud of us if we experience this madness!” You’d think Charleyne, after all we’d been through, would have said no, but by now her senses were readjusted to the craziness that is Las Vegas, and she was never one to shy away from a challenge. “Let’s go!” she cried happily.
So we crossed the street and entered, arriving on the upper level, with the gamblers down below. There were carnival booths on this level, and a trapeze act was indeed performing right above the gambling pit. In this case it was a gorilla chasing a scantily-clad nymphet all around the ropes and even onto the carnival level where we were, pushing their way noisliy through the crowd. I remember looking at the guy in the gorilla suit as he went grunting by me and wondering what he’d put down on future job applications when it asked “Describe Your Former Employment.”
“I want to gamble,” Charleyne announced firmly, pointing down towards the pit. I agreed and we walked to the top of a grand staircase, very wide, with scarlet carpeting and marble banisters. We stood there, right in the middle, and I turned to Charleyne. “It’s just made for Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers,” I said, twinkle in eye, one brow arched. She took my hand and smiled. “Then let’s dance!”
So we did, elaborately, whirling down the grand staircase.
No one seemed to notice.
"I Married a Hippy," April 14, 2010
“Marijuana and Me,” July 11, 2010
"Charleyne and the Giant Cookie," September 16, 2010
"Bowling With Charleyne," February 13, 2011
"Playing Blackjack With an Old Chinese Woman," April 3, 2011
"How To Play Craps Vegas Style," April 15, 2011
“A Guide to the Best of My Blog,” April 29, 2013