“I’m going to call him a c*#@&*cker.”
Oscar Goodman, the former mayor of Las Vegas, gave me that distinctly Philly greeting when I met him in his steakhouse, Oscar’s Beef. Booze. Broads, less than a week after a gunman mowed down 58 concert-goers in his adopted hometown.
We had agreed to meet for a martini long before the horrific incident at the Mandalay Bay Resort & Casino, and just four days later, I wasn’t even sure he’d want to keep the date, but he was insistent. What was intended to be a purely social call took on a different purpose. I wanted to know when Sin City would get back to normal, and who better to ask than the man on whose watch “What Happens in Vegas Stays in Vegas” was coined? Only now, our conversation would be for the CNN cameras, not just a word among friends.
En route downtown from McCarran International Airport, my car passed the Mandalay Bay. Two windows on the 32nd floor, the perch from which the shooter fired across the street, were still shattered. State and federal crime-scene vehicles lined the perimeter of what had been the Route 91 Harvest Festival concert. My car moved at a crawl, allowing me to watch a man placing makeshift crosses in the median strip.
Goodman greeted me in his pinstripe suit with a hug. Just before we rolled tape, a waiter brought Goodman a martini in a glass the size of a birdbath. I asked whether he wanted it in the camera frame and he answered an emphatic yes. So, I began the interview by asking about the propriety of the drink.
“I’m having a drink, you bet I am, because this guy isn’t going to change the way I spend my life,” he said. “That’s what all of these miscreants want to do. They want to have an effect where they change people’s lives, and I’m not going to let this guy do it. I’m smiling about this guy right now because I know he’s rotting in hell in eternal damnation, and I hope that Mengele is his roommate, how do you like that?
“Screw him, because they’re not going to make us change the way we enjoy life.”
The Central High graduate, Penn Law alum, mob lawyer turned Vegas mayor was in rare form. Only he didn’t use the word he had promised upon my entry. When I brought that to his attention, he acknowledged the omission.
“Mayor,” I said, “if you want to work it in, I can roll a video on my iPhone and post it to my Facebook page to promote the interview. I’m sure it will go viral.”
He liked the idea.
So I recorded him with my phone, dropping the expletive, and then we sat at the bar and watched a rewind. This was the antithesis of gotcha journalism. I appreciated his sentiment but wasn’t sure as to the timing. I asked if he was satisfied, and then we debated whether it struck the right chord. “Let me ask my wife,” he said.
His wife, Carolyn, is the current mayor of Las Vegas, and at that moment she had larger concerns than whether a particular expletive suited the Vegas shooter.
“I know you’re busy, I’m busy too,” Oscar Goodman said into his phone as I sat an arm’s length away. I hadn’t heard a hello from either end of the call.
He then told his wife what he’d said to me a moment prior. Her response caused him to move the phone away from his ear.
When he hung up, he didn’t need to say a word. I immediately erased the sound bite.
We, two grown men, who had an Ivy League law school in common, then debated a replacement. I proposed a certain word that he rejected as “disrespectful to mothers.”
Finally, a compromise.
“Look, Michael – my heart is grieving, I’m heartbroken for the families and for the victims. But I’m not going to let this lowlife scumbag change the way I live.”
I posted the video.
No matter his word choice, he had the right idea, and it’s an important message to remember at year’s end.
“When I leave the house every morning, my wife says to me, ‘Carpe diem, seize the day,’ and I say to her, ‘Hashtag YOLO, You Only Live Once.’ We have to keep on doing what we did before. We are mourning, we are heartsick, but, unfortunately, we can’t bring these souls back. All we can do is celebrate the kind of lives that they had by remembering them,” he said.
He’s right, of course. Whatever heartbreak or tragedy any of us endured in 2017, what’s most important is that we not allow it to limit what’s to come. Happy New Year.