The man who mistook a breast for a $50 bill

Vegas' mob past rises up and bites its neon butt; Marla's shoe-loving' man convicted

By Douglas Cruickshank

Published May 13, 1999 4:00PM (EDT)

This kind of thing gets me so darn mad: A high-profile sports star makes a tiny, itty-bitty, perfectly understandable mistake, and everybody jumps all over the poor guy. Three weeks ago Daryl Strawberry innocently stumbled upon a folded $20 bill that somehow showed up in the glove box of his car and somehow happened to be folded around a small helping or two of cocaine. When Strawberry, an art lover, discovered what he naturally took to be a particularly fine specimen of rare origami, he put it in his wallet for safekeeping without first unfolding it, because who but an uncultured dunderhead with no appreciation for Japanese art would unfold a priceless example of origami?

Now comes Dennis Rodman, a retiring soul, a humble practitioner of the game of basketball, and one of the soberest, most level-headed, and thriftiest men to walk the planet since Benjamin Franklin (who was also known to attract lightning). Last Oct. 3, it seems that Rodman was having a bit of supper or perhaps a soothing beverage when a $100 bill -- a Ben Franklin, if you will -- slipped from his grasp, sailed through the breezy Sunset Strip hotel where the hardliest working man in Hoopdom was enjoying a few moments of peace, and, with the accuracy and homing skill of a Scud missile, descended directly into the brassiere of a waitress named Susan Patterson.

Now, Rodman is a wealthy man, but he's not so wealthy that he discards $100 bills willy-nilly. So, as anyone would, he immediately endeavored to retrieve his errant currency. Unfortunately, and much to his surprise and embarrassment, no doubt, the brassiere, or cup thereof, in which the bill had lodged itself, happened to be occupied by one of Patterson's breasts at the exact same moment that Rodman found his hand wandering about, somewhat desperately I should think, trying to retrieve his property.

Well, as you can imagine, once he grasped the fullness of the situation, he became flustered, and of course he couldn't really see what he was doing because it's quite dark inside a brassiere, and, anyway hands don't have eyes. Then, not surprisingly, in his haste and disorientation, Rodman's hand -- lost in the dark as it were -- mistook Patterson's breast for the $100 bill and seized it. At which point it became abundantly clear to Rodman that what he'd initially identified as a small, valuable slip of paper was in fact a fully developed female breast. He was, I'm sure, mortified. It was an odd and awkward chain of events, to be sure, but entirely understandable when carefully explained.

Except to the hot-headed, unreasonable Patterson, who alleges that Rodman's actions were intentional. Patterson, who seems inordinately judgmental and hasty in forming conclusions, claims that Rodman, who was employed by the Chicago Bulls at the time, actually stuffed the $100 bill down her blouse and availed himself of a freelance fondle or two while he was at it. Fortunately, Patterson has acquired the services of attorney Gloria Allred, known to be something of a peacemaker, and I'm sure the whole confusing business will get straightened out when, with Rodman's counsel helping out, they all get together for that very reason in a Santa Monica courtroom on Sept. 22.

Finally, some good news: The old Las Vegas is comin' back! In recent years the town that Bugsy Siegel put on the map, and Sinatra's Rat Pack turned into a Mecca of custom-tailored sharkskin pre-hippie hip, has been in danger of becoming a fun 'n' fluffy family fun park. However, in the past few months, the City That Can't Say No has rolled over to have its dark underbelly scratched and all sorts of interesting critters have come crawling out.

Fret not, we'll get to the details, but first a little quiz. If Charles Dickens were alive now and he were writing a novel about Vegas, what would he name the chairman of the Gaming Control Board, the state agency that regulates Nevada's casinos? How about William Bible? Jackpot! Winner Paid! In fact, Bible is the former chairman of the Gaming Control Board -- and he's been a regular in the Las Vegas Sun newspaper lately because of what look to be mob-related hi-jinks that the GCB investigated on his watch (Bible, God bless him, is not implicated in any wrongdoing). The case is fairly run of the mill, as mob cases go -- execution-style murder, drugs, lotsa bucks, blah, blah, blah -- but the names are downright toothsome.

The principals' monikers are good enough -- Teddy Binion and Herbie Blitzstein -- but a shadowy figure named Ivy Ong comes in second, right behind Bible, in the name-game roulette. Binion, a co-owner of the Horseshoe Club, got his gaming license yanked for allegedly loaning one hundred grand to Blitzstein, a "mob figure" and "underworld loan shark," according to Sun writer Jeff German. Ivy Ong was an "associate" of Blitzstein's, to whom our man Herbie handed over the one hundred large "on the street." Both Blitzstein and Binion are shooting dice at the great crap table in the sky these days -- no, they didn't die of old age -- but their good names live on, as does Ong.

Meanwhile, the Las Vegas marketing and tourism folks must be getting ulcers as the air-conditioned neon nightmare they've worked so hard to transform into a vast midway of wholesome family theme resorts is once again being regularly associated with the mob -- albeit tangentially, even comically -- in current news stories. Indeed, after a bit of a hiatus, guys whose middle names begin with "the" are once again showing up in Vegas papers. As detailed last week, it looks likely that a lawyer who defended mob figures such as that man of many vises, Tony "the Ant" Spilotro, will be the city's new mayor. If so, we can count on Tony the Ant's innovative use of hand tools -- something they don't teach you in Sunset magazine -- frequently finding its way into reports on the mayor's past life as a barrister.

Nor could the Vegas PR flacks have been happy to see 68-year-old Phyllis McGuire, a member of the 1950s singing trio the McGuire Sisters, in the news recently for allegedly hitting and, uh, head-butting one of the city's police officers. McGuire, now a piledriver, I mean pillar, of Las Vegas society, was friendly with Chicago mob boss Sam Giancana in the 1960s and 1970s. Their life together was depicted in the HBO movie "Sugartime," and not accurately, according to McGuire, who threatened to sue, but never did. But the local police apparently stepped in it big time when they tangled with McGuire after pulling over her Cadillac in March. Charges against the hard-headed songbird were dismissed last month, with a $5,000 donation from McGuire to the Injured Police Officers Fund being part of the deal, the Sun reported.

I didn't mean to leave you hanging on the shoe tree regarding the Chuck and Marla case, but I figured, hey, it's over, what's the rush? Yep, Chuck Jones, who, I needn't remind you at this point (but I will anyway), admitted to doing the horizontal hula with Marla Maples' Manolo Blahniks, was pronounced guilty in New York State Supreme Court of burglary and illegal gun possession last Wednesday -- big surprise. His shoe fetish admission notwithstanding, Jones was cleared, the Daily News reported, of stealing "piles of her shoes and underwear to satisfy an obsession with" the estranged wife of Donald Trump. Taking the high road as always, the New York Post memorialized the decision with a cartoon titled "Visiting Day for Chuck Jones" that depicts Jones sitting behind the window of a jail visiting room speaking on the telephone to, well, what could be a Manolo Blahnik stiletto heel perched next to a phone receiver on the other side of the glass.

Get it? The shoe came to visit him! Ah, fuggedaboutit.

And remember to mark your calendar for later this month when the Butterfield & Butterfield auction house in Los Angeles will auction off an array of famous crime mementos, including music and lyrics to two original songs composed by gangster Al Capone, the John Tesh of his day. One of Scarface's tunes, titled "Madonna Mia," goesa somethin likea this: "In a quaint I-tal-ian gar-den, while the stars were all a-glow/Once I heard a lov-er singing, to the one that he loved so."

Al! Why didn't you tell us? You had a gift, dude.

C'mon Al, I was just jivin' ya. Al! Al! Put the bat down!

Douglas Cruickshank

Douglas Cruickshank is a senior writer for Salon. For more articles by Cruickshank, visit his archive.

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