My Sighting of Don Rickles
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.
4/7/2017 10:05:40 am
Mike said, "it's the end of an era". I agree. He was SO funny. Thanks for this.
4/7/2017 11:18:27 am
Jane, he had a bit of Pop in him, or vice versa?
4/7/2017 10:40:48 am
A truly wonderful story about a comedian who spanned the generations: I never liked him. My Father never liked him. My Grandfather never liked him.......
4/7/2017 11:23:02 am
Brian: small doses....can't say I watched him on TV, but then again (as he says in faux-ribbing on that Letterman clip) the hosts were mostly sappy. (I liked Steve Allen as a kid, Letterman as a grumpy aging guy, but nobody else then or now.) No use for the Sinatra-Martin shtick. But in the lounge, on his two feet, using the milieu of Vegas to poke fun at people who were there, he was funny, quick on the uptake. Thanks for your angle. G
4/7/2017 12:26:44 pm
I would never hijack a thread but George, you did mention the great Roland Kirk, the most musical of jazz musicians. I saw him end a quartet session at The Vanguard in 1968 by leading his group off the bandstand and down the aisle, each fellow grasping the fellow in front of him on the right shoulder, "three blind mice" style, while dancing to a rhythm beat out by Kirk by jangling the change in his pocket.
4/7/2017 12:34:18 pm
I am a bit too young to have had the chance to see the 60s jazz greats while they were in their prime (or alive). Coltrane, Dolphy etc. Kirk in his prime was making some incredible and intense music. I wish I had been able to see him.
4/7/2017 01:31:30 pm
I never saw Rahsaan Roland Kirk perform...but in 1965 on a Mets trip, Vic and I had Saturday off ---PM papers had no Sunday edition -- and we got credentials for the Derby, right down the Ohio. Epic day. We got back to Cincinnati around 11-12 or so and stopped for late snack near the hotel. He spotted Kirk with a few friends. Then we got the score from the evening Mets game and Vic could not resist. He went up to Kirk and said, "Roland, Roland, the Mets won." And Kirk said, "I can tell, man, 'cause you so happy." How often did we use that line with each other, our friends, our wives....It was Roland Kirk's line. Heard him on WLIB a lot in those days. GV
4/7/2017 03:01:14 pm
4/7/2017 04:07:32 pm
Dear Altenir: you are raising him right. GV
Mike from Whitestone
4/7/2017 08:51:34 pm
Keep telling these tales GV. What a great segment. I admired Rickles as he got older, staying witty and sharp, a good lesson on keeping busy up between the ears. I had a good example of that in my life who left the stage last year. It is admirable.
4/8/2017 01:33:13 pm
Mike, I think I know who you mean. We all need somebody older to set an example...I have three friends in their 90s who still teach me.
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“I don’t think people understand how Covid affects older Americans,” Mr. Caretti said with frustration. “In 2020, there was this all-in-this-together vibe, and it’s been annihilated. People just need to care about other people, man. That’s my soapbox.”
---Vic Caretti, 47, whose father recently died of Covid at 85.
---From an article by Paula Span, who covers old age for the NYT, which currently has 2646 comments, the majority criticizing the American public – and public officials – for acting as if the pandemic is “over.”
Classic wishful thinking, at a lethal level.