Pine Nuts: Louis Prima and the summer of ‘61 at Tahoe

On my way to college away back in the last century, I landed a summer job that a boy could only dream of having, “Lifeguard at the Sands, South Shore, Lake Tahoe.” So it was with a broad smile that I drove my ’55 Chevy to the lake and found a room to rent for those three months of summer, 1961.

I arrived at dawn to my first day on the job, to clean the pool, and remember the spectacle of sunshine as it bounced off the walls of the Tahoe Basin and into the pool. I was in awe, and ever so grateful to have such a slack-key job. Soon enough the sun was bouncing off the bottom of the pool itself, and I noticed eight bright shiny circles of light on the bottom. Somebody had hit a jackpot and tossed eight silver dollars into the pool on their way to bed.

Those lucky eight dollars were a sign of things to come, for later that day I met a girl on Seagraves Beach (now Ski Run Marina) who was from Utah and was working at Harrah’s. She was Mormon and her diet did not quite fit the menu at Harrah’s, so she gave me her meal ticket. Amazingly, not only had I arrived in heaven, but meals were included. I’ve been waiting for another summer like that to come rolling around ever since.

The absolute apex of that summer, however, was yet to come. One moonlit night in June I stole myself into the South Shore Room at Harrah’s to see Sammy Davis Junior, who was spectacular, and on my way out, I slid into the lounge to see, at no extra cost, “The Wildest Show at Tahoe.” Louie Prima, with Keely Smith and Sam Butera, played all their favorites that night, “Angelina – That Old Black Magic – Just a Gigolo,” and the place did in fact, go wild.

So you might want to ask, “How, pray tell, did you get into the South Shore Room at 17 years of age when you looked 13?” Well, sorry Mom, but I had an ID that said I was 21.

And here’s the fun part. Sixty-one years later, summer of 2022, as an impressionist of Mark Twain, I’ve been invited back to that same South Shore Room of Harrah’s to talk to 800 retired Forest Service folks. Only this time, instead of a fake ID to get me in, everything will be fake, my entire identity will be fake.

Sorry Mom, but instead of pretending to be 21 when I was in fact 17, this time I’ll be pretending to be Mark Twain at 74, when in fact, as you know, I will actually be 79.

My dear mother must be scratching her head up there in the air that angels breathe. I find it hard to fathom myself. But glad? As Huckleberry might say, “I reckon not!”

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