Friday, June 26, 2009

But of course I've got a Michael Jackson story!

I'm still completely gobsmacked over the fact that the Gloved One has rung down the curtain and joined the bleedin' choir invisible (and don't even get me started on Farrah Fawcett). But, thinking about how he has been a part of my life in some way or another since I was a kid, I recalled an incident where I had the privilege of actually performing for Michael. Curious? Read on...

Back in the early 90s, I had a pseudo "acting" gig, working as a "grip" in the Alfred Hitchcock tribute show at Universal Studios Florida (the show was called "Alfred Hitchcock: The Art of Making Movies", but was affectionaltely known as "Itchy-cock" thanks to our Asian tourist friends. I found a clip of the show on YouTube, but I can't embed it, so if you're curious, check out this video. Picture me as the dude in the purple shirt.

My "Itchy-cock" gig was really fun (and super easy). The casts rotated, so I usually did 3-4 20-minute shows in an 8-hour day. Pretty cushy. But, of course, everyone was always trying to get out of shows or swap times so they could sneak out and see an afternoon matinee (that happened a lot). Remember that.

Michael Jackson was on a highly-publicized vacation in Orlando at the time (he was traveling with Macauley Culkin, which was regarded as slightly creepy as I recall.) They came out to Universal and were scheduled to come see our show in the afternoon. According to the schedule, it was MY show. I was beyond psyched and, naturally, my co-workers fell over themselves asking me if I wanted to swap shows with them. Obviuosly, I turned down their gracious offers. I can clearly remember seeing Mike 'n' Mac sitting in the back row of the small theater. When I was introduced, I waved and mouthed "Hi, Michael!" Although my "role" in the show was miniscule, I was so nervous. I did pull it off without a hitch (oops...sorry for the unintentional pun there!) Sadly, there was no "meet and greet" afterwards, but I do have my very own personal MJ memory. Sniffle...

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Sunday in Vegas - Drag Queens and Stingers

Our last full day in Vegas started a little bit late – surprised? Rose headed back before the rest of us went to lunch at RM Seafood (the RM stands for celebrity chef Rick Moonen) in the hotel. The food was really good (my sister got mac ‘n’ cheese that was flavored with jalepeno – she couldn’t eat it, but it sure looked good), but the service was awful. After eating, we went to the Shark Reef for a while (very cool) and then took Mom to the ice bar. I sweet talked the lady there to “upgrade” Mom from a parka to a fur coat, ‘cause Brenda don’t wear no parka. We had two drinks there. I made the mistake of having a stinger for my second drink (I mean, crème de menthe in an ice bar? A match made in heaven, if you ask me!) The bartender was a complete babe, so I had enough liquid courage (and a wedding ring) to go talk to him. I envisioned he and Sue chatting, so I said to him “My friend fancies you.” His name was Alden and he had modeled for Abercrombie and Fitch (with a name like Alden, I think there’s really nothing else you could do.) During this little conversation, Sue beat it out of the bar. Oh well….

Since Vegas is a town where everyone makes at least one bad decision, Sue and I decided to have one more drink before we went upstairs to get ready to go see Jubilee. We went to the Orchid Lounge in the hotel and were waited on by a super sweet bartender named Wayne. He looked like one of the Osmond Brothers and, since there really is a Wayne Osmond, our bartender got a new nickname. We did only have one more drink and got ready to go out. When we got to the theater, Jules and Sue sat down in their seats (down front were the only accessible seats) and Mom, Colleen and I sat up in the cheap seats. Apparently, the show wasn’t sold out, so the ushers came and got us so we could sit with Sue and Jules. And get table service. I wanted a drink, but I got “the look” from Mom and drank water during the show. Sue didn’t. She drank champagne from big old goblets. I had a feeling things weren’t going to end well. Jubilee was everything you would think a big, old school Vegas revue would be. Cheese-o-licious! They had musical numbers depicting Samson and Delilah and, of course, the sinking of the Titanic. Since we were now up front, our tour guide from the day before saw us and we got winked at. For some reason I thought that was so amusing, probably because I’d never seen anyone break character like that before. If you go to Vegas and the show is still running, go see it. It’s so Vegas (and after a while, you really don’t think about the fact that the girls are topless. That’s weird.)

Mom, Sue, Colleen and I all went to dinner afterwards at Stripsteak at our hotel. I don’t think I have ever had French fries as good as the ones I had there. Ever. I also had a killer Kobe beef burger (sorry Anthony Bourdain, I like Kobe burgers!) The best part about dinner was watching Susan try not to look drunk in front of my Mom (even though we’re all grown, there’s just something weird about being tipsy in front of someone’s parents.) She wasn’t doing too well. I was distressed because I had been looking forward to seeing the drag show at Gipsy which featured the gorgeous queen Shannel from “RuPaul’s Drag Race”. I knew Mom and Colleen weren’t going and the way things were looking, Sue wasn’t going to make it either. I was not going back to Florida without seeing the drag show, so I went by myself. God knows I’m no stranger to a gay bar! The cab driver promised me that there would be cabs available outside of the bar when I wanted to leave, so I went in with little trepidation. The show was in progress when I came in and after only a few minutes, Miss Shannel came on stage dressed like Stevie Nicks. I was in heaven! During a break, I met a very nice drag queen from Hawaii named Princess. She was more than happy to talk with me. Her two friends (also drag queens) – not so much. They were downright surly. I went back into the bar to get a ringside seat for the show and two cute boys sat next to me. They were from Odessa, right down the road from my former place of residence, Port Richey (small world!) Don and his partner (I can’t, for the life of me, remember his name) were my best buds for the rest of the night. After the (fabulous) show, I got to meet Shannel, who was gracious and far from the diva she was portrayed as on RuPaul’s show. I even met her mom! As promised, a cab was waiting outside to whisk me back to the Mandalay Bay. It was well worth staying sober for – and a perfect end to a perfect trip. Words just can’t do it justice. I’ll be back soon, Sin City!

40th B-Day Recap - Saturday in Vegas - Cougarlicious!

Our fun-packed day began with the Jubilee Backstage Tour at Bally’s. Colleen and I went over early (Mom opted out, preferring to rest up for the long day/night ahead) and desperately tried to find a place where we could eat breakfast without having to wait for a million years (you can walk into any restaurant for dinner, but breakfast is a completely different story. Las Vegas must be the breakfast buffet capital of the world. Actually, it’s probably a good thing, because if any of these people are like me, as drinks hit the belly, the need for food seems to diminish greatly – and that results in one drunken night owl. Might as well get a good “base” early. Sadly, Colleen and I ended up at a convenience store in Paris. My breakfast (if you could call it that) was spicy beef jerky and a Michelob Ultra. Breakfast of Champions. We went into the Jubilee Theater for our tour and were delighted to see a recreation of the set of “The Price is Right” on the stage (they do a live version of the show during the day). We took some pictures at “Contestants Row” and couldn’t resist the temptation to sneak up on stage and get our pictures taken on the Showcase set. Being the rabble-rousers we are, other people quickly scurried onto the stage to get their pictures taken as well. This was all well and good until our tour guide came out and caught us all in the act (apparently, this was kind of a no-no.) At least our guide, Patsy, laughed it off. She is one of the dance captains of the show and mentioned the fact that we’d recognize her in the show as “the drunk lady on the Titanic” at least a million times during the one-hour tour. (I’m not kidding.) We had to sign a waiver before going on the actual tour, lest anyone wanted to recreate the infamous “pushing down the stairs” scene from “Showgirls”. The tour was cool – the theater geek in me loved seeing all of the set pieces, costumes and stage mechanisms. We were saddened to see that the stairs that led to the dressing room were curved – not the straight, steel staircase from “Showgirls.” Damn! We learned lots of “fun facts” about being a showgirl – you have to have natural boobs and be at least 5’9” (well, I’m 50% of the way there!) and you have to re-audition for your role every 6 months. That would completely suck (although it reminded me of my days back at Universal, when you’d watch all of the production crews scramble for jobs every time a Nickelodeon show wrapped.) Patsy promised us that if we waved to her during the actual show that she’d wink back. Considering we were in the cheap seats, I figured that wasn’t gonna happen.

After the tour, we grabbed Mom and made a beeline for Dick’s. My lap dance buddy was there, as well as the waiter who made Jules her hat the day before. Of course, the waiter served us. You could actually see him pondering whether or not he should be “rude” to my Mom. He started out nice – and I started to worry that we weren’t going to get the “Dick’s experience” – and then redeemed himself by saying “And we don’t serve water with lemon – EVER – so suck it, old lady!” Yay, waiter! We ambled around for a while, and then Mom and I went to mass (yeah, really!) When I got back to the room, my friend Rose (who I’ve known since I was 5) had arrived and we got ready to go see CHER (you gotta use caps when you’re talking about CHER…and TINA…and FRAMPTON)! Rose didn’t bring any cash with her and she managed to sweet talk the cab driver who drove her from the airport. She left for collateral a photo of her son (very cute collateral indeed!) and promised to call him later so he could take us to Caesars and pay him then. This cabbie, DJ, was a hoot. He was chummy and chatty and my Mom was confused. She asked if Rose actually knew the guy. DJ gave us some fun “taxi tips”, like making sure the drivers traveled down the strip on Frank Sinatra Blvd. instead of Las Vegas Blvd. (if he said it once, he said it a thousand times.) We paid him and headed into the show. As always, CHER was fabulous. Costume changes a-plenty, glitz, glam, wigs, boy dancers – you name it, she brought it. And – I didn’t fall asleep! Woo hoo!

After the show, we had reservations at Rao’s (Rao’s of the overpriced spaghetti sauce Rao’s). Caesars was a complete zoo as we exited the theater and to make matters worse, they had confiscated our cameras before the show. Our reservation was for 9:30, I think it was 9:28 when we got out of the theater. Rose and I made a mad dash to claim our table while Colleen and Mom waited to get the cameras back. We had NO idea where we were going, so we asked the doorman at the Shadow Bar. I don’t know what it was about him, but he was the most handsome man I’d seen in a while. He pointed us in the right direction and we headed off. Rose was under this guy’s spell too. She told me that she hoped I paid attention because his handsomeness was so distracting that she temporarily lost her information retention skills. We all got to the restaurant in dribs and drabs and had a delicious meal. Mom and Colleen went back to the hotel, leaving Rose and I to our own devices. Our first stop was to go back and see the “handsome man”. We asked him (since he looked to be about our age) if he knew of any age-appropriate places we could go and hang out. I know I’m still a “spring chicken” but I didn’t want to be the “old girl in the club.” The question was pretty much just an excuse to get another eyeful of him – and take a photo (the photo you see here just doesn't do him justice).

For sentimental reasons, we decided to stop by the Las Vegas Hilton, in hopes of seeing David, the craps dealer I befriended there last September and Carol, the manager who offered to comp me for breakfast after finding out I had been out of work for a few months. Sadly, they were nowhere to be found, but we did see a sign for an after party for the Monster Garage show – which piqued my interest. Monster Garage is a band made up of a bunch of your old 80s hair band faves and led by Mr. Dee Snider of Twisted Sister. We walked right into the bar and sat down, but there were no aging hair rockers to be found. What was there was the godawful house/cover band Sin City Heat. If there’s one thing that I can truly admit is a guilty pleasure is a cheesy pop cover band, and Sin City Heat is one of the cheesiest (second only to the cover bands they used to have at Disney’s Pleasure Island in the late 80s/early 90s.) We were treated to a few numbers by the band (the only one I can remember is “Crazy In Love” by Beyonce) before they packed it up. As they were ending their set, the bar started to fill up with dudes who obviously were at the Monster Garage show – and the mix of cheesy Vegas-types and middle-aged heavy metal fans was slightly unsettling. Rose and I decided to move on to another adventure and as we walked out, Dee Snider came from downstairs into the bar. What timing! I went up to him and asked for a picture, to which he gladly agreed (he’s a really nice guy.) Rose (who I forgot to mention had on heels that made her over 6’ tall) came up to him for a photo and Dee leaned into me and said “She’s a tall drink of water.” (She is actually taller than him.)

It was around 3:30am, so we went back to the Mandalay Bay and I dragged Rose to the ice bar. We only stayed for one drink because Rose hated the frosty establishment. We went down to the Rumjungle, which we had both patronized before for some late night dancing and caipirihnas. We closed down the place (I still got it!) and, as we were leaving, got chatted up by some boys. We thought we blew them off, but as we walked towards Razzles for an “early breakfast” (hash browns for Rose, a Bloody Mary for me), we found them in front of us in line. I don’t know exactly how, but we all ended up sitting together. The leader of this group, Zack, called me “Cougarlicious” and begged me to make out with him. I’m not a believer in the whole “what happens in Vegas…” thing myself, so I told him “No” in more ways than I could ever imagine there were. Zack was 30 and a lawyer and was there with his friends, one of whom was nicknamed Teabag (I’d lobby for a new moniker if I were him.) Fortunately, Zack’s friends finally dragged him out, so we could return to our room unharassed (the boys did pay the check, so that was cool.) I think it was around 5:30ish when we finally went to bed. Now that's making the most of your day! My recap of my last day (sniffle) is forthcoming...

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Friday in Vegas - Dancing with Dicks and Cirque du Snoozay

(Part two in a long overdue recap of my 40th birthday festivities!)

Well, we didn't sleep in as long as I thought we would...we even made it up in time for breakfast - a late breakfast, mind you, but breakfast nonetheless. We went downstaris to a restaurant called Razzles. Good news: we were seated immediately (because we were all feeling slightly...umm...peckish). Bad news: we were relegated to a secluded area right next to the kitchen. I guess hungry beggars can't be choosers, hmm? We also had a slightly eccentric, slightly surly waiter. In the middle of my order, he just walked away (I pretty much got out "I'll have the -- " and pbbbllltt, he was gone - sorry for the "Hee Haw" reference.) I did have a delicious lobster omelet (even breakfast is decadent in Sin City!) and a Bloody Mary (a morning tradition!)

After filling our tanks, Jules headed off to the massive pool area and Sue and I ventured toward the Excalibur, where my old FSU bud Donavin was staying. I was delighted to discover that there was a Dick's Last Resort there, as the joint was a favorite when I lived in Atlanta. Of course, we had to have a few drinks, for old times' sake (by this time, Jules had joined us, as she couldn't find any space at the overcrowded pool area - can't blame the folks for wanting to hang out, as it was the nicest weather I've ever experienced in Vegas. It was in the mid 70s-low 80s the whole time we were there.) There was a master of ceremonies-type/ringmaster at Dick's, doing a hilarious (and quite low budget) recreation of the Belagio fountain show that had to be seen to be believed and then dissected a good deal of the musical numbers from "Grease". He asked if it was anyone's birthday and of course, me being the closet attention whore that I am, volunteered for a burfday lap dance. I was seated in a chair in the middle of the joint and was promised a "sexy lapdance" from the emcee (did I mention he had a little extra "cushion for the pushin'" - if you know what I mean? See photo above if you don't get it.) Marvin Gaye's "Let's Get It On" pulsed from the overhead speakers and it was ON. Hey, it was way better than the dance I received during my first bachelorette party (which was actually at a male strip club!) Cameras clicked away - the picture above just sums it all up so nicely. We hungout a bit more and watched Donavin and Jules subtly flirt with each other while admiring the parade of hilarious paper hats that walked by (at Dick's they're famous for making the patrons wear these hats, with incredibly lewd things scrawled on them.) Some favorites were "I fart KY Jelly", "Hung like a white boy" (on a black dude, 'natch) and my personal favorites - one man with a "I love to blow bubbles" hat and his buddy wearing a hat that said (of course) "Hi, I'm Bubbles." Jules insisted on getting a hat, so this funny waiter made her one that said "Blah, blah, blah, just stick it in my butt." Classy and understated.

Since Donavin had a "lady friend" waiting for him at the Wynn, we parted ways and the gals and I headed down the strip, ending up at New York New York. We made a beeline to the pub (Nine Fine Irishmen) and ordered up some delicious imported brews and an assortment of fried potatoes and onions. Yum! Afterwards, Sue decided that she wanted one of those chair massages. I was pretty buzzed by this time, but a massage sounded pretty damn good and, "What the hell, it's my birthday!", I forked over my $20 for a damn good massage. Despite being smack dab in the center of a noisy casino, it was pretty darned relaxing! Before we left, we had one more drink (why not, right?) and met some guy who had also recently turned 40. The only reason I remember meeting him was that I found a photo with him on my camera (one of those "Oh...yeah...!" moments, to be sure.)

We returned to Mandalay Bay to get ready for dinner and the show. I put some of my famous "doe-eyed look" individual lashes (probably the only advice I've ever actually used from Cosmo) on Jules - and they stayed on her for the rest of the trip. We went to the MGM Grand for dinner and the Cirque du Soleil show Ka. We had a craving for sushi (well...I always have a craving for sushi), so we ate at the Grand Wok. The hostess there was strikingly beautiful (a petite Asian woman with impeccably applied makeup and a sleek, bob hairdo.) She looked like a model, but was surprisingly camera shy. This was all it took for us to make it our mission to get a photo of her. She was very wily - we never got the picture. The sushi was okay (I've definietly had better), but at least I was eating at regular intervals - unlike my last trip to Vegas when I only had 2 miniscule slices of pizza at Spago to soak up 15 hours worth of booze. It wasn't pretty.

After dinner, we went to see Ka. All of the ushers were "in character" and wore very elaboarte costumes. Pre-show, there were periodic shots of flames and performers tethered to big bungees swinging over the stage and onto various set pieces along the sides of the stage. It was pretty cool. So far, so good. Unfortunately, the oversized plush seats were a little too comfy and, as the theater darkened and the signature Cirque new-agey, pipe flute-laden music began to play (toodle-dee-dooooo...), I started to find myself in an epic battle between staying awake and passing out. I was in and out of consciousness for the duration of the show - despite more flames, tilting stages, stage combat, applause and stomping around. Irish beer will do that to you. After my very expensive nap, we ventured over to Studio 54 for what amounted to a nightcap (Sue and Jules were getting up early the next morning to go to the Grand Canyon. To me "getting up early" and "Las Vegas" never belong in the same sentence, but maybe that's just me. Of course, I had my "second wind" (and didn't have to get up early) so I was rarin' to go. We met a nice man from Canada who was handing out panther panties to all of the ladies (for real - he said it was "for charity". I didn't know there was a need to donate thong panties to ladies who frequent Vegas nightclubs.) He offered to "take care of me" so I could stay out longer. That's never a good idea, so I headed back to the hotel for a (somewhat) early sleep. We had a big Saturday, so the slumber definitely did me good...more to come!