Friday, February 22, 2008

STRIKE BACK: Written by strikers for hungry workers

I participated last night in a fund raiser for the Industry Support Fund – providing financial assistance to all the non-writers who were affected by our strike. I was one of several WGA members asked to read an original essay or contribute a short sketch. My contribution follows. The event was sponsored by the Met Theatre and Theatre East and was a huge success despite my piece.

Allen Rosenberg, the President of SAG, spoke at the outset. It was worth the hour drive in the rain just to thank him for his invaluable support to our cause and pledge an equal commitment to his.

In addition to all the internet stuff, SAG has a number of very valid issues that need addressing. One is product placement. Studios and networks are slipping products into shows and asking the actors to endorse them while in character. And of course they’re not paying them any more. Excuse me, but that’s
a commercial and the actors deserve to be compensated.

No one wants another strike. But if God forbid there is one I’ll be at the head of the picket line. All I ask is that they tell me where the L WORD cast is marching.

Anyway, here’s what I read – a modified blog post from a long while ago. It got big laughs I’m happy and relieved to say… except f
or the Kurt Cobain joke. Jesus, did that bomb. March Madness has arrived again -- the NCAA basketball tournament. Thus the annual pilgrimage to Las Vegas for me and three of my middle aged sports nerd television executive buddies. Slater, the Banger, and Mr. Syracuse. Slater brought his girlfriend (who goes by either Karen or Valerie -- long story) thus increasing his chances of "getting lucky" by maybe 1%. Mr. Syracuse brought his wife thus decreasing his chances. My son, Matt flew in from Boston. He's now 21 so what better way to see Las Vegas for the first time than with his dad and three guys who look like the Pep Boys?

We stayed this year at the Paris Hotel. The theme is French hospitality (an oxymoron). I'm sure I would have been given a nicer room if I registered as Himmler. The casino features a low ceiling that is painted to look like the sky, a la the Pirates of the Caribbean ride at Disneyland. It's an odd shade of blue however, one that suggests nuclear winter. There are cobblestone streets and carpeting. A replica LePont Alendre III bridge overlooks the nickel slot machines, and there is an Eiffel Tower that is fifty stories high. Tours are offered. There is a sign at the entrance that reads "No food, beverages, smoking, weddings" (true story).

I don't know why these hotels opt for these elaborate themes. The truth is: NO ONE CARES. People schlepp around in t-shirts and shorts and flip flops. If I ever put up a hotel in Las Vegas I would use as my theme the HOME DEPOT.

There was an Anti-Aging conference in town. Am I the only one who finds it odd to hold an Anti-Aging conference in the one place where people stay up all hours drinking, gorging, smoking, and enduring the enormous stress of losing their money? I guess it's held there out of respect for Joan Rivers. My feeling is if the President of the Anti-Aging organization isn't 117 then it's a sham.

Matt and I went to Le Cafe for breakfast. They said "inside or outside?" What??? Outside of course meant under the sky painted ceiling. We chanced that it wouldn't rain and took the outside.

The in-house cable had a channel that spelled out emergency exit procedures. Leave it the French to provide a surrender strategy.

Remember when Frank Sinatra used to play Vegas? This weekend it was Carrot Top and (at the Riviera) "America's Tribute to Neil Diamond". Not even the real Neil Diamond, an impersonator. In two weeks the Mormon Tabernacle Choir (true) will be appearing. I'd love to see Shecky Green open for them.

Of course you could always pay a gazillion dollars to see Celine Dion screech out five songs a night. Or is that just a Barbra Streisand impersonator?? (That one didn’t get a big laugh either)

The Paris had "Arabian Nights Spectacular", something else to make the Jews feel comfortable.

Next morning before the games, Matt and I hit the beach. Mandalay Bay has it's own beach. Unfortunately, the ocean was turned off. No waves. But we took a long walk along the grid that serves as the shore and gazed out at the horizon to see the Lance Burton Magician billboard on Las Vegas Avenue.

Somewhere in the great beyond Bugsy Siegal is saying “If this is what I ultimately created I deserved to be shot.”

From the Mandalay Bay we hotel hopped. Had to stop in at the Excalibur -- a casino in Sleeping Beauty's castle. This is home to the black socks, shorts, and wife beater shirt crowd. You know you're in trouble when they have a special parking lot just for motorhomes. Handing a pair of dice to one of these idiots is like handing a gun to a monkey.

Then it was on to the Bellagio, where Matt and I checked out the Monet exhibit at their fine arts gallery. (How can you go to Vegas and not stop in a museum??) I imagine when most of the tourists saw the ad for the exhibit they said, "Hey, they spelled money wrong!" The paintings were glorious and it was just nice to be in the only room in Las Vegas where everybody voted for Kerry.

One thing you can say about Vegas, it has the most amazingly beautiful women in the world. And so where did we spend 90% of our time? At the Sportsbook, the one place that none of them would ever be caught dead in. There were 48 games in four days. At times four were going on simultaneously. I'm betting on teams I've never heard of. The place was packed with rowdy men and good old boys chugging long neck beers. We ordered White Russians, Tequila Sunrises, and Rusty Nails. No one fucked with us!

One hazard: you see the same commercial seventeen thousand times. Especially the one for "Cialis", designed to keep a man ready for 36 hours. Too bad I'm not single. One of those magic pills would be perfect for me. 35 1/2 hours to find a woman then a half hour to perform.

The Banger bet on exhibition baseball. Even Pete Rose never did that.

In keeping with the theme, French accordion music came out of the urinals. Finally, the correct venue for that music.

Elegant dining = no Keno boards.

Slater's girlfriend Valerie/Karen is vegan, which means there are only six things she can eat and she's allergic to four of them. She and Slater are the two nicest people on the planet but I have dubbed them "America's Waiter Killer Couple". Slater switches every table and sends back every order while Valerie/Karen has the kitchen prepare items not on the menu every meal. I’m afraid to eat with them. The cook or waiter might spit in my food.

Valerie/Karen's back was bothering her so she toted around a pillow to make sitting more comfortable. But a hot girl walking through the casino with a pillow -- she looked like a hooker who advertised.

You're not allowed to use your cellphone in the Sportsbook. And I so wanted to make reservations for the “Curt Kobain on Ice” show at the Aladdin.

Featured at the Paris Hotel: drinks in plastic Eiffel Tower glasses. $12.50 (true). There was a line. I wonder how many of those people thought they were buying the "actual" Eiffel Tower?

What is Pai Gow poker???

At the end of the weekend all of us either made a little money or broke even, Stanford and Kentucky got eliminated, and the waiters at the Paris hotel got together and paid for Slater's cab to the airport. It was great great fun. And I picked up a new name:

Kenny "the OTHER gambler" Levine


Richard Cooper said...

Actors doing product placement commercials--just like in THE TRUMAN SHOW.

SAG should get a jump on the studios by forming a coalition with the costume directors--and just start selling space on their t-shirts, dresses, and tuxedos. That'll work...

Anonymous said...

My wife and I spent a wonderful Sunday in the sportsbook at Bally's. Our goal was to bet the Seahawks game and drink for free as long as we possibly could.

I used to love the book at the Hilton. They didn't watch you very closely to see if you were actually betting on anything and as long as you tipped the waitress buck, she kept the Coronas coming as long as you wanted.

But at Bally's it's the guys at the window that hand out the drink tickets, so you actually have to bet.

It helped that for one - Denise is easy on the eyes - and for two - she's been a bartender and cocktail waitress for years. She has that Bartender/Jedi vibe about her and because of that we ended up with more drink tickets than we could possibly handle. When the game was over, we passed them out to the other drunks in the book and went next door to look at that weird ceiling at Paris.

Yep, good times. Good times.

Seahawks won by the way. But fifty bucks in Vegas doesn't go very far these days.

Anonymous said...

How do you determine the correct shares of the "financial assistance to all the non-writers who were effected (sic) by our strike."?

Anonymous said...

The sports travelogues are always the best.

One might add that the second greatest reason to stay at the Fellatio is that, by definition, everything about the place is pretty much contraveganal. Pronounce that however you want, it’s just wrong on so many levels.

I decided Las Vegas wasn’t the kind of place where you went with the odds while watching Con Air with Nicholas Cage. More than 75,000 square miles of flat desert surrounding the city -- and they decide to crash land a C-123 Transport on The Strip.

By Ken Levine said...


I don't know how the money is distributed. And thanks for correcting me on spelling mistakes. When I set out to write a blog post every day my one goal was to spell everything correctly.

Anonymous said...

Just change "Kurt Cobain on ice" to "Courtney Love's Hole on ice" and try it again.

Anonymous said...

If you could choose anyone to play the big rooms in Vegas who would it be? What stand-up? What singer? Dancer? Anybody? Is there anybody out there anymore who can perform without visual and audio technical enhancements?... Imagine Abdul trying to do her latest music video live!... actually, I'd like to see that.

Anonymous said...


I don't know what I would do every day without your blog. You put MANY smiles on my face!

Jake Hollywood said...

They're still accepting donations to the Industry Support Fund, right Ken? I forgot all about last night's event and I owe them a donation.

Anonymous said...

I'm sorry but how is an actor getting paid to say "you tramp, you are having my brother's baby" any different than an actor getting paid to say "you tramp, I love coca-cola and I drink it every day". Next you guys will insist they get paid by the word with bonuses for the harder-to-pronounce ones. Jeez...

Anonymous said...

Anonymous: If I were an actor expected to say that Coca-Cola line, I'd want a little something extra just to cover the cost of the pills that would enable me to sleep at night.

Anonymous said...

"handing a gun to a monkey" - isn't that line in Upfronts and Personal?

Got a fondness for our simian cousins with firearms, do you? You'd like the Coasters song "Run Red Run".

And why do I have to type "zgurgwyy" in order to post my comment. Isn't that a local theater group?

Anonymous said...


Anonymous said...

Perhaps, I shouldn't mention it, but I happily own a Gus Viseur cd.