If this were any other person in any other town, we might wonder why some dude is removing his gold hi-tops, leaving on his aviators, jumping into a pool filled with drunk/stoned/dumb girls and guys and letting total strangers — including paparazzi — take pictures while a King Kong-sized blowup penis floats behind him and entire bottles of champagne are sprayed into the aquatic orgy.
But this is Ryan Lochte on a 108-degree afternoon in Las Vegas. And much as what happens in Vegas is supposed to stay in Vegas, I must say that accidentally running into a Ryan Lochte pool party is exactly the sort of thing I thought might happen in Vegas. I didn’t plan on being part of his 29th birthday bash; I just happened to be staying at The Palazzo, and we just happened to be sipping mojitos at the Azure pool when interrupted by the sound of costumed bongo players at 1 p.m. Right behind them, with entourage, was a tank-topped Lochte, who took his place inside a $4,000-a-day cabana with a dozen bikinied girls.
I know Lochte as the 11-time Olympic swimming medalist. Celebrity watchers know him as the party dude/wanderer who is trying to enter the Hollywood scene and sometimes being mocked for it. You remember Jon Hamm cracking on him at the ESPY Awards, recalling how Lochte playfully bit into one of his medals at the London Games: “It was an amazing Olympics. Usain Bolt proved that he is the fastest man on land, Michael Phelps proved that he is the fastest man in the water, and Ryan Lochte proved that he is not the sharpest knife in the drawer. Lochte won five medals, and only two of them were damaged when he tried to find out if there is chocolate inside.” Phelps, who couldn’t control himself when shown in the audience that night, is still laughing.
But the Lochte I’m seeing in Vegas pool mode is friendly, polite and engaging. His complete lack of attitude might have a little to do with The Palazzo sponsoring his pool party, for which he receives a free cabana, free luxury suite, free run of the place, an ample paycheck and other let-the-imagination-wander perks. OK, so his TV reality series on E! — “What Would Ryan Lochte Do?” — didn’t rock the ratings and faded away. And Seth MacFarlane was hilarious when he parodied Lochte last fall on “Saturday Night Live.” As for his slogan — “Jeah” — yeah, he really did trademark it with the U.S. Patent & Trademark Office. But Lochte has made millions in endorsements, and assuming he hasn’t blown his fortune, don’t cry for him. And I don’t care if he was lame on E!; he can’t be worse than Bruce Jenner, who has been emasculated by the evil Kardashians and should return his 1976 Olympic decathlon gold medal out of shame. I went over to Lochte’s cabana, shook his hand, wished him well, and we took a picture. Another guy in the cabana was wearing a “Cocaine and Caviar” t-shirt, for what it’s worth.
If anything, Lochte almost seemed a tad dazed and lonely, locked in that cruel middle ground between sports idolatry and celebrity backlash. If I was advising him, I’d tell him to spend one more year enjoying the post-Olympic lifestyle, then find a coaching job at a major college program, perhaps in his native Florida. Who wouldn’t want to swim for Lochte?
What I’ll also remember about my Vegas weekend: The Azure pool was the only thing that didn’t require waiting in line, which means what stays in Vegas includes lots and lots of money. I’ve been here often, mostly for prizefights (moment of silence for the demise of boxing), and I don’t recall so many resorts jammed with so many people who have so much disposable income. The recession clearly is past tense in this town. From the second you leave the air-conditioned comfort of the McCarron International Airport terminal and enter the blast furnace that is the August desert, you wait. Landing at 10 on a Friday night, I was able to wedge in a workout via a cab line that stretched 150 yards east to west and required a dozen back-and-forths through the labyrinth while hundreds of impatient folks snaked toward the taxis. Then you crawl through traffic on Paradise Road and Harmon Avenue, which is the less expensive trip ($18) when the cabbie will insist on a “quicker” way on I-15 that will cost close to $30. On the way home, do yourself a favor: Take a direct, comfort-controlled van from any hotel for $7.
Then you wait in the lobby of The Palazzo, where every girl’s head is grazing the roof in her 10-inch heels, and every guy is trying to look like Bradley Cooper in “The Hangover” trilogy when, in truth, he’s built like Zach Galifianakis. The demographic was young, 20s and 30s. Oh, the casinos still had blackjack players of all ages, but every image of Old Vegas is gone, replaced by pool parties in the afternoon and clubbing at night and upscale restaurants represented by every celebrity chef imaginable but Paula Deen. If they’re still doing all-you-can-eat buffets here, they’re hiding them well in hotels with beautiful, large, split-level suites that overlook a Strip skyline now larger than that of most American cities.
The Cosmopolitan is the “it” place, but I backed out of an 11 p.m. Robin Thicke show at the pool — in part because I was exhausted after two weeks on the road, in part because I’m boycotting Thicke. Everyone knows his monster summer hit, “Blurred Lines,” is at least a slight ripoff of Marvin Gaye’s “Got To Give It Up” and George Clinton’s “Sexy Ways” — everyone, that is, except Thicke, who somehow is the son of Alan Thicke, father figure in the ’80s family sitcom “Growing Pains.” When owners of the Gaye and Clinton songs filed suit alleging copyright breaches, Thicke countered with his own lawsuit and wants a federal judge to decide if he borrowed from the other songs. In music, it’s called “borrowing.” In journalism, it’s called “plagiarism.”
Wrote Thicke’s lawyers: “The basis of the Gaye defendants’ claims is that `Blurred Lines’ and `Got to Give It Up’ `feel’ or `sound’ the same. Being reminiscent of a `sound’ is not copyright infringement. The intent in producing `Blurred Lines’ was to evoke an era.”
The evoke-the-era argument would have been more cred had Thicke honored Gaye and Clinton from the start, BEFORE “Blurred Lines” sold almost five million tracks, spent the summer atop the charts and commanded 140 million views for You Tube videos with almost-nude or all-nude models. Anyway, I’m told Thicke opened his show with “Blurred Lines” — couldn’t he have waited a while for his signature tune? — while wearing a long-sleeve jacket in 90-degree heat. I’d recommend staying cooler — and cool — at Bond Bar in the Cosmopolitan.
After getting up Sunday morning, writing this journal post and eating at Bouchon — a reasonably priced subspecies of Thomas Keller’s Napa Valley gem — I saw an ad for another afternoon party. At the same pool (Azure) in the same hotel (Palazzo), I could spend the day with another famous former athlete who makes his living in celebritydom. Further, Lochte was challenging this man to a race in the pool.
Ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls, and blow-up penises alike, here’s Shaquille O’Neal.
Tweeted Lochte to Shaq: “Hey @Shaq R u ready for my bday @AzureVegas @PalazzoVegas @SilvestriLV I’ll race you in the pool arms behind my back! Winner gets the GOLD!”
Should I stay and see if The Big Shamu would accept the challenge?
I caught the first flight I could to L.A.