I’ve been sweating balls lately because I’ve only made about $200 in the last 30 days. I work as a souvenir photographer (the technical term is “camera girl”) at one of the big theaters on the Strip, but the headliner, a saccharine banshee we’ll call Sally Dingdong, has been on a six-week hiatus.
Normally during these breaks, I like to just take the time off and pursue my modeling and fetish gigs. But a few months ago, the company I work for informed me that if I want to keep my health insurance, I have to work four shifts per week minimum, no matter what. Boo!
What this means is that when Sally Dingdong is off at Botox camp, they send me out to work other shows in town. The company I work for has photo concessions at around 20 Strip hotels, so you never know where you’ll wind up! Sometimes it’s fun, but most of the time it’s a miserable slog through wrinkled, obese masses of unwilling, underdressed fanny-packers who want absolutely NOTHING to do with you and your camera.
At least with Sally Dingdong’s show, people get dressed up and pay upwards of $200 per ticket…so selling a $45 souvenir photo isn’t that hard. But try doing that at the Riviera, or any of those other low-end dumps! It’s like banging your head against a wall, only more humiliating.
I’ve worked at most of the hotels on the Strip, and the only thing to recommend some of them is their employee dining rooms – Aria and Mandalay Bay in particular have awesome E.D.R.s that are on par with many commercial buffets in town. Those who know me know that there ain’t nothing in my fridge but vodka and eyeliner – I don’t buy groceries; I eat all my meals in the E.D.R. (casino employees get a free meal each shift). But a free dinner isn’t enough to make up for the agony of making $8.25 an hour all night long (normally we make commission, but if you don’t sell anything they pay you minimum wage for your time).
Luckily for me, this time they didn’t send me too far afield – they put me out at this avant-garde adult circus that just opened up in the plaza in front of a certain old-school mega-resort. It’s a badass show – obscene shtick and crazy, death-defying hunky Russian acrobats, held in an antique Belgian circus tent from the 1800s. REALLY cool! Alas, the crowd is mostly locals and casually-attired drunkards schlepping yard-long daiquiris on harnesses around their necks…not a prime photo-taking crowd. Even lowering the price to two-for-$20 hasn’t helped – I’ve made minimum wage every single night I’ve worked it.
On the weekends, it’s even worse – they been sending me inside to work a lounge show featuring an ex-boy-band star from England. The show itself is pretty good (his band is AMAZING), and the lounge itself is old-school awesomeness: it’s a floating Roman slave ship shrouded in dry ice and old-lady perfume, est. 1966! I totally dig the lounge, and the boy-band singer is super friendly and personable…but I’ve still been making minimum wage. The tickets in there are only $40, so no one wants to buy $45 photos…even when the star himself comes out and poses with showgoers! It’s crazy.
We did have one isolated incidence of awesomeness, when Miss Kylie Minogue came in for one night only. I wasn’t a big Kylie fan, but her audience was OFF THE CHAIN – 90% flaming gay hotness, all dressed up in Greek god costumes, waving glowsticks and going apeshit. I’ve never seen so many good-looking gay men in my life! They had a DJ spinning and the lights down low while we were shooting, and it was just like being at Gay Burning Man. FUN! And the show itself was incredible – amazing staging, lighting, and costumes, with all these ripped gay dancers dangling from the rafters, writhing in mid-air simulated orgasmic ecstasy as Miss Minogue rose up from under the stage in a giant glittering clamshell. AWESOMENESS! That show put Cher to shame, I have to say. She was great!
That night I managed to make a little over $100, so that was pretty much half my month’s income, camera-girl-wise. But I also made a few more hunnies posing for nude photos in random perverts’ hotel rooms, as I am sometimes wont to do.
I say “perverts,” but most of these guys are legit photographers – people I meet on Model Mayhem, who are traveling to Vegas and want to do some shooting in their spare time. I’ve done photo shoots in most every hotel in Vegas, from the Bellagio right on down to the Excalibur, and I actually feel pretty safe doing so because of all the hotel security – there’s cameras everywhere in Vegas, and hired goons within screaming distance at all times. There have been a few creepy instances (more on which in a later post), but for the most part, the photogs are cool…even if a bit pervy sometimes.
My shoot last week was at the Monte Carlo, and the photographer was a young kid who had never shot a nude model before. He was kinda shy and very quiet for the whole 2-hour shoot, so it was slightly awkward…but he was really nice and very professional, so no harm done. And he didn’t try to hit on me, which was nice…but I realized why a few hours after the shoot, when I went in to work the Kylie Minogue show and he was there in the audience!!! As I mentioned, that crowd was 90% gay (at LEAST)!!!
Anyhooz, money has been tight, but who needs money when you’re having as much FUN as I have been?! In fact, I had the most fun EVER last Monday, running around town with a broken ventriloquist’s dummy as a partner in crime! Who needs Terry Fator and his dumb-ass show (see my review of this on yelp.com if you want to read something really scathing)?
One of my good friends, a Jewish biker/bodybuilder we’ll call Muscles Manischewitz, had mentioned he always thought it would be funny to have as his Facebook profile photo a shot of him with a ventriloquist’s dummy – an old-time vaudeville-type shot, where he’s drinking a glass of water as the dummy “talks.”
Well, I’m like the Fairy Godmother of Vegas – I like making people’s dreams come true. And I happened to know that my photographer friend Curtis Joe Walker (CurtisJoeWalker.com) recently bought a ventriloquist’s dummy for $5 off a passing homeless man! I went downtown to his studio and borrowed the dummy, which was one of those old-time Charlie McCarthy dolls from back in the day… all dressed up in a little tuxedo. Nice!
I had some errands to run, and my Mother (with whom I was chatting on my Bluetooth) advised me not to leave the dummy in my car, as someone might steal it (?!). So I toted the dummy around like a kid as I went about my business. Meanwhile, keep in mind I was jabbering away on my Bluetooth headset…so to passers-by it looked like I was ranting and raving to myself while carrying a ventriloquist’s dummy!
But that didn’t stop the good crackheads of downtown Vegas from kicking me game. I got hit on more that afternoon than ever in all my days! One homeless black guy even told me this awful joke: What do Chinese people call a black man with AIDS? “Coon Die Soon.” Awful!!!!
Anyhooz, around 7pm I took the dummy down to the Strip to visit my friend Muscles Manischewitz at work, so he could take his new Facebook profile pic on his break. Muscles does the lighting for a certain celebrity impersonator show at one of the hotels, and sometimes he lets me come up in the lighting booth and hang out to watch the show and gossip. He knows ALL the gossip!
Meanwhile, another friend of mine is now performing in the show as Bobby Darin – the fabulous, incomparable Art Vargas (www.varjazz.com). If you’re ever in Vegas and have the chance to see Art’s show (he also does a lounge act) – by all means, SEE IT! It’s AWESOME! He is the most charismatic, high-energy performer, and his band is freaking amazing. They do all the old Vegas standards, but totally tongue-in-cheek…sort of like Richard Cheese meets Freddie Mercury. All the old ladies loooooove him, and you will too – I swear it!
So anyhoo, while I waited for Muscles to have his break, I watched the show. Art Vargas was amaaaaaazing as always, and the other performers were great, too – especially Harry Shahoian, the Elvis impersonator on duty that night. I’m a HUGE Elvis fan and have seen many an Elvis in my day…but this guy was without a doubt the SWARTHIEST BEAST of a manly-man Elvis I’ve ever seen – like the blue-collar, sweaty, hairy, workingman’s Elvis. Awesome!
Incidentally, one of the male backup dancers in the show, this Romanian beefcake, also moonlights as a photographer, and I’ve shot with him before, too. There are few in Vegas who haven’t seen me semi-nude…I’m THAT Bohemian.
So after the show was over, I posed for photos with Swarthy Elvis and also the Steven Tyler impersonator (who was great, too) and then when the theater had emptied out we went in to take our vaudeville pic. Muscles had rigged a solitary spotlight to shine on the stage, and they dropped the curtain down for a backdrop. I snapped several pics with Muscles’s iPhone, as “Steven Tyler” clowned around beside me, and they came out fantastic. Another dream fulfilled…bling!
Then I headed across the street to visit another friend – a wealthy-but-lonesome Tennessee oilman I met at a Bob Dylan concert I was working last year. We’ll call him J.R. He’s a suuuuuuuper nice man, and he and I struck up an unlikely friendship. He comes out to Vegas several times a year, and I always make time to hang out with him…and we always get up to some kind of crazy high-jinks. He usually stays at the same hotel, and he knows EVERYONE in the joint, from the dealers to the waitresses to the bartenders. He’s like Mr. Vegas! I know everyone there thinks he’s my sugar daddy, and that I’m using him for money… but fuck ‘em . We’re just really good friends who happen to share a love of booze, old-timey country music, and a twisted sense of humor. And that’s that! I do run semi-shady errands for him now and then, and he does kick me a cut of his winnings here and there, but there is nothing unseemly about our relationship. It’s kind of like Audrey Hepburn in Breakfast at Tiffany’s, going to Sing-Sing to deliver the weather report to that mob boss – basically innocuous.
So I went over to visit him in the casino where he was playing $100-a-hand 3-Card Poker. Whenever I drop in on his gambling sessions I try to do something goofy to surprise him – one time I was wearing a yellow dress, and whipped a banana out of my purse like it was my cell phone. Everyone at the table cracked up! So this time, I thought I might as well bring my ventriloquist’s dummy along and surprise him with that.
The casino where he always gambles is a real old-time joint that dates from the 1960s – in fact, it’s right around the corner from the aforementioned Roman slave-ship lounge. The ceiling is covered in smoke-blackened dangling crystals, the dealers all wear golden medallions, and the waitresses have all been around since opening day. I LOVE THIS CASINO! It’s everything I dig about Vegas – it’s got soul!
I spotted J.R. at one of the 3-Card Poker tables and snuck up on him with the dummy, in a little dummy voice: “How-deeee! How ya doin’?” Oh my God, the whole table went nuts! J.R. was playing with a table full of big fat good-ole-boy types, and they just went absolutely apeshit over this dummy – especially when J.R. insisted on bankrolling $100 hands for the dummy, too!! I sat there at the table with this ventriloquist’s dummy perched on my lap, his little plastic dummy hands on the table, and J.R. placed bets for both himself AND the dummy!
The best part was, once the dummy hit the table, everyone started winning! It was like he was good luck. All the players started calling him Charlie, high-fiving him and talking to him in high-pitched baby-talk voices. These were grown-ass good-ole-boy MEN, by the way! Charlie himself had a few lucky hands, winning a few hundred dollars and attracting alllllllll kinds of attention. All the waitresses wanted to talk to him, and passers-by took his photo (“No one is going to believe I saw a dummy playing poker!”). Even the pit boss came over to make sure Charlie was old enough to be in the casino!! LOL!
I was actually surprised no one said anything about this creepy plastic dummy sitting at the poker table… he could have had a video camera inside or something! I can’t imagine Joe Pesci allowing this to take place in “Casino.” But no one in that old-school joint seemed to care. It was great! They even let us take plenty of photos, which I thought was a no-no in casino pits. Everyone was just dying of laughter…which is usually the case when J.R. and I hang out.
Well, as always, the good times only lasted until the money ran out (J.R. is a canny gambler and never goes over his self-imposed limit)…so after we left the table, we went around taking photos of Charlie in various spots around the hotel. J.R. was absolutely enamored of that dummy, and started talking about buying one for himself! He’s the type of guy who buys everything he wants, so I’m sure it won’t be long before he has a dummy of his own. Crazy!
But after drinking five Bailey’s on the rocks and hanging out in the casino til almost midnight, it was time to put Charlie away. The very next day, after giving J.R. a ride to the airport, I packed him up in a backpack, papoose-style, with just his creepy dummy head peeking out, and rode my bike downtown to my friend’s studio to return him. I was kinda sad to see the creepy little fucker go – I had so much fun toting him around.
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