Keeping it Jewish where the Rat Pack Roamed

Viva Las Vegas!
Viva Las Vegas!

Long before I packed my treasured books, scratched Bob Dylan CDs and prized collection of fedoras into eight moving boxes that I had dug up from the Sherman Oaks Best Buy and hoped a jet airliner for the flight that ultimately brought me back to Jerusalem, there was my two-year foray into the cartoon world of Las Vegas.

Not a holy place in a typical sense, Sin City has nonetheless provided sanctuary for many a fallen 1980s television personality, forgotten former member of the Forbes 400, defrocked record producer and other itinerant dream weavers – lured like moths to a flame by visions of easy money, making love to a Pussycat Doll and rubbing elbows with Wyclef Jean.

Yet Las Vegas, famously awash in neon-tinged decadence, is also home to America’s fastest growing Jewish community. Synagogues, kosher restaurants and mikvot dot the landscape. According to the Jewish Federation of Las Vegas, approximately 600 Jews immigrate to Glitter Gulch and its environs every month.

As such, having discovered that a Bachelor of Arts degree in Political Science is worth exactly the paper that it’s printed on, I decided to reinvent myself as a debonair, sophisticated, Courvoisier-sipping hotel tycoon.

Step one of my career makeover included leaving southern California for the bright lights of the William F. Harrah College of Hotel Administration, University of Nevada, Las Vegas.

To supplement this educational excursion, I went out and landed my first Las Vegas job, as a night auditor in a hotel on a street named Paradise.

This rather gray nine-month interlude had one sparkling highlight: my colleague – who I shall rebrand here as Apollo Lightfoot – one hell of a guy with stars in his eyes and holes in his cap-toe Oxfords.

I wouldn’t say that Apollo worked hard. In fact, like it says in the Bible, the boy had a lot of quit in him. He did, however, possess that ability that I’ve always admired in the devoutly lazy: knowing how to work smart. Indeed, Apollo did just enough to get through the shift, just enough to pass along an irate guest’s complaint to the morning crew.

Just enough.

In contrast, I would break out into hives if the toilet in one of the rooms started backing up. I sure worked hard – and had the tattered nerves to prove it.

Our backgrounds couldn’t have been more different. Yet, Apollo was comfortable enough around me to occasionally strangle the stank monkey, heralding the blessed event each time with a triumphant “I pood it!”

Even better, Apollo had stories. He was a black man married to a Japanese girl who was the heir to the Sony fortune. He would swear up and down that her maiden name was actually Sony. To spice things up a bit, Apollo also kept a girlfriend in Las Vegas (while the former Ms Sony was back East learning the ropes of the family business) who was an exotic dancer.

To avoid complications, Apollo would tell Sparkles that he was a Los Angeles-based film producer who regularly scouted locations in Las Vegas on behalf of Universal Studios. When he would pay her a visit, backstage at the Olympic Garden Gentlemens Club (“The Strip Starts Here”), he would always bring a suitcase, empty of course, to complete the effect of someone who had just landed at McCarran International Airport.

A few months after leaving the hotel job, I bumped into Apollo at a local watering hole, the Firefly on Paradise. We chatted briefly and then he handed me a business card that read:
“Apollo Lightfoot, Screenplay Writer and Consultant.”

What’s not to love about such a survivor? Dreams, even of the totally delusional, are the mother’s milk – the last refuge – of the damned.

Besides, show me someone who says that he is completely content with where he is in life and I’ll show you a liar – or a fool.

God bless you, Apollo Lightfoot.

Wherever you are this starry night, keep swinging.

To read other pieces of mine that have appeared in the Times of Israel, click here:

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