A hotel with tacky charm


A MEMORABLE PLACEThe temperature...

August 23, 1998|By Hacky Clark | Hacky Clark,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

A hotel with tacky charm; A MEMORABLE PLACE

The temperature in Las Vegas was an astounding 113 degrees when Peter and I pulled up in front of our hotel. Even our M&Ms had liquefied in the heat. Eating them was like biting into little chocolate water balloons.

"Get a load of this place," Peter remarked as we stared at the Debbie Reynolds Hotel & Casino - three stories of dirty white stucco dotted with backlit blowups of '40s movie stars and anchored to the pavement by an enormous half-moon painted to look like a film reel.

Our room was cramped, the air-conditioning anemic. A stain blackened the carpet. The pullout sofa bed was covered in a Velcro-like fabric that snagged clothes and body hair. Over the bed was a large photograph of Jean Harlow, a faint grease pencil mustache still noticeable above her upper lip.

"Yuck," said Peter.

"But it's cheap," I replied.

We tossed our bags on the bed and set off to explore.

The casino was small and smoky and virtually empty. It was decorated in a marriage of Wild West bordello and Hollywood kitsch. An elderly woman on oxygen sat in a wheelchair feeding coins into one of the nickel slots. Two drag-show performers lounged at the bar - passable impersonators of Judy Garland and Cher. "Judy" started blowing kisses at Peter, so we moved on.

Ducking into the gift shop, we found Debbie Reynolds' face plastered on every-thing imaginable. Her recording of "Tammy" was playing overhead, fighting to be heard over the speaker static.

"What a dump," Peter remarked as we returned to the corridor and bumped into Debbie Reynolds and Eva Gabor.

Debbie had just tripped on some duct tape patching a carpet seam.

Peter reached out to steady her, and Eva thrilled him by saying, "Thank you, dahling," in her Hungarian accent. "Just like Green Acres," he whispered to me.

I stood mute, but Peter whipped out a note pad. Boldly, he introduced himself and asked Debbie for an autograph. She scribbled a moment and returned the pad to him with a heart-melting smile. "Hi Peter," she'd written above her signature. Then she was gone, barking at employees like a drill sergeant as she led Eva through the hotel.

We spent four nights at "the Deb." Each morning we'd march out its doors to sample glitzier Vegas landmarks; each night we found ourselves looking forward more and more to returning to its quirky charm. I imagine we might have been more comfortable in one of the lavish Strip hotels. But I'm glad we chose a hotel that was a little down on her luck. If we hadn't, how could I have taken home memories like the look on Peter's face when he climbed on the bed and felt someone's plastic hair comb sticking between his toes?

Hacky Clark lives in Baltimore.


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