It was my first visit to Las Vegas. I was covering a Mets trip to the Coast in 1966 or so, and there was a day off between LA and San Francisco.
My pal Vic Ziegel of the good old New York Post said, “Let’s go to Las Vegas.”
Vic had been there before.
Flights were cheap. Food was cheap. The only thing that wasn’t cheap was the gambling, but I don’t gamble. Long story. I watched Vic play blackjack and I watched life in Las Vegas.
The hotel lounge was also inexpensive. By doing the math in Rickles’ obituary in the Times Friday, I deduce that he was around 40, but in a way he was ageless. Bald. Profane. Cranky. What’s it to you?
He had a theme: Anybody who came to see him in that lounge was truly desperate.
He pointed out a young couple and wondered if they were married, or cheating on spouses.
He pointed out a young man: “He’s thinking, I’m in Las Vegas, I can get rid of my pimples.”
Then he recognized Vic as a member of the tribe. A landsman.
“Look at that nose,” he said. “What’s your name?”
Somehow, Rickles deduced that Vic was the sportswriter from the Post.
“Vic Ziegel!” screamed Don Rickles from Jackson Heights, Queens. (Queens boys are a yappy lot.)
“I love you guys!” – meaning the good old Post. (I did not count.)
Rickles thought about it for a while.
“What’s a Ziegel?” he asked the crowd.
Comedic pause. Then he touched his own beak.
“It’s an eagle. A Jewish eagle. A Ziegel.”
That’s all I remember, except laughing a lot. I’m sure Vic could re-create the entire dialogue but unfortunately Vic left the stage in the summer of 2010. He had introduced me to a lot of good stuff on the road – “Beat the Devil” in Cambridge, Mass., him chatting up jazz musician Roland Kirk in some all-night coffee shop on the square in Cincinnati. And Rickles.
In 2015, I saw an aging Don Rickles on the Letterman show; I noticed the immense respect Letterman had for him, getting him through the gig.
Now Rickles has bowed out. But every time I went back to Las Vegas – to write about boxing or an entertainer – I remembered Don Rickles in that lounge.
A private investigator I know (perhaps connected to the MI6?) has found current Ladbrokes odds of 11-10 that the impending President will not last four years. Here’s the article:
Perhaps this is mere wishful thinking from people with a few bob to wager.
You could ask, what do the Brits know? They voted for Brexit, against their own self-interest. Still, maybe they are on to something.
Are American voters figuring out what they have done? The most recent Quinnipiac poll shows abysmal ratings for any incoming President. Here in P.T. Barnum’s America, some voters who hallucinated a fine religious gentleman or a successful businessman are having misgivings.
Here are the numbers:
I recently wrote that something would get the new guy within 18 months – his tiny attention span, blatant conflicts and legalities, or being 70 and overweight. (Have you seen the latest photos of that neck?) A sex tape would be fine, too.
Right now, a lot of people are preparing to demonstrate and lobby. At the same time, a friend in the Bay Area says she’s been crying since the election. I know somebody who has come down with a cursing affliction. Myself, I am hunkering down with a hard-covered book and classical music.
Our emotions seem as roiled in a different way as those of McConnell and Boehner and Cantor and Ryan were when an African-American was elected president. Everybody has their own private angst.
One of my favorite readers said he would cover my bet about 18 months. Put up or shut up, he said.
I don’t bet. But I do root against four years of this guy:
A former college basketball star I know sees way too much of the New York Knicks and Philadelphia 76ers.
An intense player and demanding coach once upon a time, my friend has the distinct feeling he is observing a crime being committed.
We both knew players, decades ago, who dumped games, shaved points, to satisfy gamblers on one side of the point spread. Some (not all, I suspect) got caught. Many had their lives ruined; a few went to jail.
That is not the problem with the 76ers and Knicks, whose cumulative record was a ghastly 10 victories and 63 losses, as of Friday morning. The players are doing their earnest best to win but the owners are doing their dishonest best to keep the talent level down, in order to choose a top star in next spring’s college draft.
It enrages my competitive friend to see teams in the National Basketball Association skimping on salaries. He calls me and rails: What is the ethical difference between NBA teams ironically dumping games in plain sight by “virtue” of dumping salaries and the old point shaving by players?
My outraged hoopster friend asks if some of the executives’ activities are not some kind of crime, or at least a significant breach of competitive integrity? Why do the NBA poobahs allow such a public breach of faith with its fan base, the ultimate victims. Are the poobahs’ eyes shut to this “gaming of the system?”
I wonder if there is not some eager prosecuting attorney out there who could investigate the business tactic of tanking an entire season.
And what about the wealthy patrons who pay outrageous prices for seats and so-called food in Madison Square Garden? These folks did not accumulate their riches by being pushovers in their business lives. Is there not a potential class-action suit festering among the expensive suits at courtside?
Adam Silver, the still-new commissioner of the NBA, may be preoccupied by his announced goal of allowing gambling on his sport. Gambling used to be considered a vice. Now it is a way of raising money because people don’t like paying taxes for roads and bridges. Meanwhile, Silver has part of his league playing with inferior rosters in an attempt to reload, cover up past personnel mistakes, and take advantage of a system that is anti-competitive.
My friend used to dive for loose balls and rage against indifference. Now he sits in front of the tube and watches the Knicks and 76ers stagger around, according to the schemes of their ownerships.
I know of a former college player who got caught taking a few dollars to shave a few games. He’s never re-connected with teammates who would love to see him. He lives a clean life, after what he did. But the owners of NBA clubs sit in the front row and smirk.
Shouldn’t there be laws against owners blatantly trying not to win?
Whether it’s the owners or the players, dumping a game or a season emits the same foul odor.
Some numbers catch your attention. Last Sunday I read in The New York Times that the vertical gambling den in Connecticut known as Foxwoods is currently $2.3-billion in debt. Who knew?
I took this news personally. Every time my wife and I visit her family’s cemetery near Ledyard, we cannot help but notice the Foxwoods towers looming over the countryside like a gigantic mold spoor.
My wife’s cousin, Faith, who died way too young, is buried in the family plot, and so is her grandmother, who was something of a psychic, and her grandfather, a little old Yankee railroad worker, who was such easy company.
My wife’s ancestors found their way into the hills behind Mystic not long after the Pilgrims landed further up the coast.
You could say that the Pequot were there first, and that is certainly true, but nearly four centuries count for something. Now whatever passes for the dispersed Pequot run the gambling complex in the eastern part of the state. Cars and buses zoom just a few miles from hamlets where my wife’s people led such ordered lives.
My wife, who spent her early childhood swimming in Long Island Sound or skating on frozen coastal ponds, can remember visiting family farms in the hills, picking blueberries. We are not of that inland place. Whenever we pay our respects to cousin Faith, we gun the engine toward Boston or New York.
I will admit that when we make this detour, I have been known to say an inchoate prayer for the de-profanation of the Connecticut hills. I’ve seen gambling up close. Seen what it does. Like Woody Allen turning into a Hasid when he visits Annie Hall’s home in rural Wisconsin, when I spot that blight against the Connecticut sky, for at least the next few minutes I turn into a Puritan.
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The poet Laura Vecsey walks her own shoreline:
David Vecsey's sweet tale of distant love before the Web, now NYT Podcast, narrated by Griffin Dunne. Please see:
George Vecsey is Hofstra University's Alumnus of the Month! Read a Q&A with George here.