Showgirl means that's what they do. See, the entertainment in Vegas got started back in the old dayz. ‘BC’, you know what I mean? Before Cassettes. So in all the old Repressed of A, from sea to shining sea, there were like no legal titties. There were like naked volleyball magazines and that was it. And they were from Denmark, and they had ‘em all mixed up. There were, you know, a couple of girls, then some old women, and then some naked old men with hats and sox on, you know what I mean? It was disgusting!
So, part of the scam was like you could go to Vegas and there were naked tits all over the place. They brought all these shows in. All from Paris; all naked sparkly tits and asses, and it was Continental, so it was okay.
And so, you had your whatnots. You had your bad singer, and your lions and tigers, and a few fruity dancers. And that was it. And then you had your showgirls… And that's what they did. They just showed you things. You know, showed you this and that…their costumes; their wings and their feathers, showed you their pearls and their rhinestones, but mostly they showed you their tits. And they wore tall hats and things and just teetered along naked. Not such a bad job at that!
So Cherie was third generation. And she, at some point, like in gym class, learned to dance. Well, they called it dance, you would probably call it just staying upright. Which is not so easy as it looks, what with the lights and the tigers backstage. And those damned costumes which are all unbalanced. But there was one thing about Cherie, which I can guarantee. You never before in your whole natural life saw such high pretty Zabongas, both keeping the rhythm and swaying two/four time, along with more than half of the band. I've seen a near-blind pensioner from Orlando drop an entire veal chop onto his lap when Cherie passed by.
So, by a process of Darwinian Selection, Rocco Darwin being the shop steward, Cherie got to be the lead nude in the show. But she was there for football. At least that's what she said.
She wasn’t my first choice, by the way. My first choice was the other one. The one that was married to a Big-Ten tailback for seven years and did the sports anchor for the affiliate in Kansas City. She at least knew football. But it wasn't to be. I asked Cherie what she knew about football and she thought for an hour. It seemed like an hour. And then her head swung to me like the clockwork in some medieval German town. The little doors opened, her cross-eyes came out and fixed me with that smile of infinite promise. "Well," she said, and the voice was like silk panties sliding off a black satin sheet, "I knew Benny Hodgson,…real well."
I'll bet she did. Benny, as you may recall, was involved in that playoff game back when the league was young. Benny played quarterback for the Mustangs, which was why he had the Rangers at seven to two. What he didn't know was that his opponent, old Banjo-arm Lembeck, had bets of his own. In fact, what with what the new league was paying him and what with the premium price of pussy on the road, he had taken the short odds out of desperation and the need to cover some markers being held on the sidelines. What ensued was high embarrassment for all concerned. They just stood there and traded interceptions. In fact, if it wasn't for the fact that the opposing cornerbacks had bets of their own, they would have set conference completion records to the other team.
Anyway, I gathered Cherie was part of the vig on some such similar transaction later that same year. In fact, as I recall, the only thing that Skeeter McCoy, the free safety, caught that day was a nasty infection.
Why football? And that's a good question. And it’s exactly what I asked Morty.
"Because that's the subject of the show."
"The one you are writing."
"I'm not writing a show," I told him with all possible innocent sincerity, considering I was trying to look down and up Cherie’s dress at the same time.
"Well, you better be, because that's what I told Paul."
“Paul?" I asked. Whereabouts she piped in, staccato.
"Paul is the kindest, sweetest, most wonderful man in the world."
Right! Pure "Manchurian Candidate"! Her eyes kind of glazed over, like when a dog burps and smells his last dinner… kind of pleased and relieved and relaxed all at once. Had the government programmed these people? It would explain why they purported to love life in this radiated wasteland. But no. She was sincere. And it was a deep-seated sincerity, born of, like, real fear. Right away, I was interested to know who this All-New-Paul was.
And, of course, no one would tell me. Not directly. They, like, talked around it, changed the subject. Like started getting real interested in the lint on their fly and stuff. From what I could make out, he was some god, sort of like Yahweh. One that would smite you if you mentioned his name. Well, they were not gonna be smitten just to fill this kid in. So mostly I learned it in dribs and drabs and sideways, like when they tell you you got cancer, but don't worry, it'll be okay.
So now I was the writer.
"But I'm not a writer," I told him.
"Don't worry, it's Vegas, they'll never know." Not the last time I would hear this feeling expressed.
"It doesn't matter, just fake it.," said Morty, slurping his shav.
"Fake writing television?"
"Don't worry," he said kinda gently, "I‘ve seen television. Everybody does it. So can you."
“But I don't know what this show is about? I've never even seen it."
"You're better off, believe me."
"Morty, what is this?"
"Don't worry. Nothing to worry." And he was gone.
Whenever somebody tells you not to worry, that's just when you should worry. Drop everything, sit down and get five or ten good minutes in. Things will generally never be this clear again.
"Wait!" I ran after him. "What is this football? I thought I was doing home video."
"You are. Later. First this."
"You didn't tell me!"
"I like to surprise."
“I don't know how to write a talk show, Morty, and I've never seen this one.”
“Doesn't matter. It’s Veg…”
“It's Vegas, I know, but still…”
“It doesn't matter. Just write anything. It's just so they can set the cameras, see. It's nothing, you'll get the hang of it.” He stopped dead in the parking lot heat blast to explain.
“She says something, then he says something, then they go to the board. And she points to a game and announces the team and the point spread, and then he talks some more. See, nothing to it. Just fill up the cards with words. And when you get to about a hundred and twenty-six, that's enough. And then we type it up, and give copies to all the crew, and Rafferty writes up the teleprompter and the truck gets copies and we all know what's going on, see?”
“Nothing to it. Like I said.” And he was off.
So I had to coach her. And I had to ask her. So I sez to her, "Cherie…" She perked right up at the sound of her name. "Uh, how long have you been interested in football?"
"Football?" she said, and I knew it was a struggle. Her eyes glazed over. My eyes glazed over and I wondered what happened to failures out on this desert.
The line was Paul wanted her. Oh, yeah, he'd had her, but he wanted her to be on his show. Presumably because of all the people in all the world, she was the only one less suited for television than him. He hoped to look good by comparison.
You know what a sports book is, Mom? Right I thought so too. I thought it was something by Pete Hamill. But no. It's this big fucking room. Looks like the Strategic Air Command. Looks like they could launch a sputnik from there. What it is, is the place where you hang out and make legal bets on sports. Who knew? And Paul was going to do the show out of there, because, it turned out Paul set the betting line on all the games for the casino and was like some semi-genius at it at that. Cherie was gonna be his Don Pardo, his Ed McMahon.
"Cherie," I asked her, "What do you know about football?" By now, I was desperate. Who knew what Paul might think if he found I was locked in a room with his favorite Kabungas? "Cherie," I pleaded…"Uh…do you know like what a fullback, a halfback…a quarterback is?"
"Are they dresses?"
My throat constricted. "A blitz?"
She nodded sweetly. "That's a beer."
"A red dog…?"
Now, she looked up from under her lashes, winked and licked her lips…
“Sure I do, but it's gonna cost you."
What a sweet girl!
So Cherie was clueless. I tried mnemonics but she couldn't pronounce it. And like too much of it didn't make sense to her. Like she got why the Broncos are in Denver. Like the west, like cowboys and rodeos. That's Denver. But that could be Texas, too. Miami would have Dolphins but so would San Francisco and San Diego and Tampa Bay. But why would Tampa have Buccaneers. And why would Chicago have Bears? I could see her point. Both of them. And I could see quite a bit of leg, which threw me off.
So I tried colors, see, like blue/green for the water off Miami and Orange for the sun going down, and that's where you'd find Dolphins, right? The problem with Cherie was, like, she could get over mostly by being beautiful and just looking at you like she was interested, more than somewhat, in whatever it was you were trying to impress her with. And while that all worked pretty well for her, it didn't position her so greatly for follow-up. So she just sort of grinned at me and I despaired.
“She's just never gonna learn who these teams are,” I told Morty, “and she doesn't really care. She's got it knocked pretty good at just standing there and looking beautiful and she's not going to put out much more effort than that.
“Well,” Morty theorized, “maybe Paul knows that, and he isn't all that concerned that she gets the teams right. It could all be so the Feds don't look at him, or pay attention to what he’s saying, and therefore can’t honestly testify as to whether it is actually entertainment or not, and that's just gotta be good for him.”
I saw what he meant. He meant not to pay anybody else to write the fucking show.
Cherie had that distant quality of wonderfulness without even trying. Like she was cooed over and tickled under the chin and in various other places as she grew older and sprouted legs and tits and things. She had been beautiful as long as she could remember and accepted it as a justifiable part of the universe, that everything was nice and going to get nicer, and men were just people who gave her things.
She seemed to have no complete understanding that the world was a nasty place where people stole your stuff and you could get squashed flat by a semi for just trying to cross Tropicana Boulevard. She was like all innocent of that stuff, if not anything else.
The problem was, in trying to write dialogue for a nude, and writing death threats, urrr… dialogue for an un-indicted co-conspirator. I mean the academy didn't even have a category for that.
And not bad enough, the Feds were taking notes. Was I going to have to explain all these lines in court, under cross examination? That would be bad. And how could I prove I was a writer and not an un-indicted conspirator? Not an obstructor of justice? How could I prove that what I was doing was entertainment? Not with these stiffs saying the lines. I'd go to jail like Oscar Wilde.
And the other problem was, like, of course, that it was going out live. You could only hope that judges and law enforcement officials would have some counter-programming for that, but just quite probably no such luck. My only hope was that they'd be too shocked or laughing too hard at his hubris. Because if there was anyone less likely to get an intentional laugh, it was All New Paul.
"Just fill in the cards,” Morty said. “Just give Rafferty enough to fill up the cards with black scribbles. That's how we do it in Television.” he said.
And so, knowing nothing about football betting and very little about television, I became a writer of such. And out of desperation I determined a methodology. If they were just going to scribble anything, I would just type anything. As long as there were no discernible threats of bodily harm I figured I'd be okay. And like if Paul should get outta hand and make one, I could prove from the transcript that it was an illegal ad lib. So I proceeded to type, taking an hour for lunch and typing straight through to five o'clock. “That ought to do it,” I said.
Of course, Morty owed us one. Why his whole fortune, such as it was, was based on hanging out with Dad. Dad would get loaded and have ideas. And Morty would write them down on the odd chance he’d be able to decipher them and they’d make any sense, once sober. Dad had the idea for Scopitone, a film loop that would play in a jukebox with a tune. Crazy, you say, but the basis for MTV a few decades later. See, that’s the thing. A great idea too soon is a recipe for disaster. You keep thinking about it and figuring it out and talking it up and, god forbid, putting money into it, until one day it’s supplanted by the next good but real bad idea. Then twenty years later you’d say, “I thought of that.” And what good does that do? Might as well just shoot yourself in the spleen.
Anyway, what happens is somebody else hears your rant and makes something out of it. For one thing, he’s in a better position, being more or less usually somewhat less drunk. So one day, Morty listened better than good. Dad was on about TV. He’d been in New York when they invented it and had done early shows.
He had the idea to put Ampex VR-3000 videotape recorders in trucks and send them places to make TV.
And it all devolved into this.
“Why is it called the All New Paul Lieberthal Show?” I asked.
“You hadda ask! Don’t ask. Just write the show. You’ll be better off.”
“But the show seems to be, and I'm not real sure about this, but it seems to be about betting. About betting on football, and, like, I've never done any of that.”
“What? You never laid down a bet?”
“Not even on the home team? Not even in college?”
“It was the late sixties. We had drugs.”
And I saw Morty’s dilemma. He counseled everyone who lived in Las Vegas.
And I was the one. I said it and meant it.
“I don’t. I don’t know how.”
This was against convention and good sense. And community cohesiveness and stuff. For the whole state of Nevada was based on gambling and vice. Everybody in an office had a football pool. How did I not know that?
“How do you not know that?” he said.
“Dad,” I said.
Dad was a gambler, on nightclubs, Broadway shows, and Jimmy Walker’s floating crap game. And in Vegas, after the thing with the Feds, he was a bust out degenerate gambler.
Morty was thinking he’s got people who just don’t understand Vegas. And he was right.
And Cherie was even worse. She didn't even know the names of the teams. Or where they came from.
Ya see, Ma, time, for me, has sort of warped together. I don't know if it’s the drugs. Or residual ground radiation from the Atomic Testing. Or gamma rays from the high desert. See, they come from the stars and go through your head like a million miles an hour. There's definitely something fucked up with that. Whatever! The story of Vegas seems to melt back and forth and I can't make any sense of it. I guess that was the problem all along.
So, don't try to find any timeline. There isn't one. At least not one real clear to me. And I'm the one doing it. Maybe it’ll be apparent after the fact. Like you and Dad.
Not that I'm blaming you. But you could have warned me. You could have said something.
"Like…”Don't do that!” Or, “What are you, stupid? Don't answer that.” You could have said something. Instead of nothing. Which is what you did.
In my dream, Dad was there, too. He wasn't dead and I could talk to him and ask him things. Things like 'What the fuck?’ and stuff. And ‘How good was it when it was good?’ and ‘What happened? What the Hell happened?’
Like you can't go back in time, and that's too bad, because things seemed better back then. I mean now, from this perspective. Not then. Then they sucked. But they were in many ways better than now. We just didn't know it. And now I always look around and try to memorize things, try to fix images in my mind, in case, looking back later, this is better than I think it is, now.
Like I don’t know what numbnuts thought of a gangster talk show but I have a suspect and, as they say in the Lounge Act, ‘…it goes something like this…’