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Renaissance, Schmenaissance--I Said Hit Me! Signore Buonarotti's Florentine masterpiece reminds us all to dream big dreams in the gambler's paradise.

Christmas In Hell

You're a Mean One, Blackjack Dealer Grinch!

By Harmon Leon

Christmas in Las Vegas. It has a nice ring to it--the most unholy city in the world on the holiest holiday. What's a Vegas kinda Xmas all about? (I'm betting it's really subtle, with a quaint New England charm.) From the little town of Bethlehem to the bright casino lights, I searched for the true meaning and spirit of the holiday. Tub of nickels in hand, fueled by 99-cent shrimp cocktails and dollar Heinekens, I will seek out casinos, churches, strip clubs and buffet lines.

It's Christmas Eve day. Upon arriving, the first thing I notice--Vegas fails to acknowledge Christmas. It doesn't exist here. So far, the closest thing to Christmas is the movie I'll Be Home for Christmas available on pay-per-view in my room for $9.95. The strip is packed. Either these people are Jewish or they're sinners. As I walk toward the Stardust, a crusty man in a vest shoves a Vegas Guide to Naked Women in my paw.

"Tell me, my good man, are there strip shows commencing this Christmas Eve?" I inquire.

He looks at me incredulously. "This shit don't close down!"

Yes, nudity is as good of a present as any. A few yards away, some stupid bastard trying to collect donations for a crippled-children's charity is being completely ignored. Aaaah, irony! Even at Christmas, money should always be used for a big spin and possible million-dollar jackpot.

I enter the Stardust. There's a long line for $1.59 pork sandwiches. Ringing jackpots and clanking coins are the sounds of Xmas. The Stardust is devoid of any other Xmas motif. The blackjack dealers should at least be dressed as elves. Or there should be a show featuring a singing and dancing Jesus backed by topless Mother Mary showgirls.

"Are there any special Christmas shows tonight?" I ask the gray-haired ticket lady.

"No, not really. But we do have Gallagher!" she states with glee. Hell yes--The Nutcracker has been replaced by the Watermelon Smasher! I set up camp at the bar. Scattered people sit alone, drinking in stony silence. Several who look like they've done prison stints are intoxicating themselves, wearing sullen expressions, trying to forget horrific events of the past. The bartender says "Merry Christmas" as he hands me change from my 99-cent Frosty Margarita. At least someone is in the spirit!

With the Good Book tucked under my arm, I duck into a casino. I take a place at the bar and start reading from the scriptures. My point--not to offend, but to illuminate a subtle irony, creating a dichotomy. Or something like that. Dressed-up people who've just come from church throw me dirty looks.

"Do you see what that guy is holding!" snarls a dressed-up woman to her dressed-up husband. I quote something from the Bible, Leviticus to be precise, and start drinking. If they're so bloody righteous, then what are they doing in a casino on Christmas Eve?

The pock-faced bartender leans over. "These seats are reserved for gamblers!"

Merry Christmas indeed! I take my Bible and sit at a blackjack table and open to Isaiah. "I'm going to win for the Lord!"

The dealer shrugs, dealing me a two on top and a jack in the hole. I look at my cards, then dig deep into my book for consultation.

"Santa Claus is coming to town--hit me!" I'm dealt a king. Busted.

"Can't I get another chance since it's the eve of Christ's birth?"

"That don't change the rules!"

My five-dollar bill is swept away. I berate her for not showing love for her fellow man. I depart with my Bible.

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From the January 24, 2000 issue of the Metropolitan.

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