Star-crossed fingers 

Lucky me. On the occasion of the first birthday of the mega-hangover hotel, the Hard Rock, I've been invited to a Sunday morning rock & roll brunch buffet with survivors of the rock midway from the 1970s. Assorted string hairs from the likes of Loverboy, Deep Purple, Santana and the Atlanta Rhythm Section -- bands made for those coke mirrors you won by killing state-fair goldfish -- litter the ballroom as I squeeze the daylight savings time from my weary bloodshot gaze. I don't belong here ...

"This is Billy Manes," introduces the publicist to the tables of gutterati. "He's a writer for the Sentinel."

Ouch. Well, let's see. I'm single, I'm young (ish), and I write a lot about dating. Oh my god. I'm Hildi Brooks! Quick, somebody light me a cigarette!

"This is Glen Hughes from Deep Purple, and this is Dave Jenkins from Pablo Cruise ..." rattles the publicist, as I drift into an AOR purple haze. Where's that cigarette?

"And this is Mike Reno from Loverboy."

"Mike Reno! I love you! I'm a big fan!" I flub, as I quickly turn around and cross my fingers over my ass -- whether to imitate the famed "Get Lucky" album art or cover up a lie, I can't be sure. But surely you can.

"Wow, you are!" chubs Reno, still apparently working for the weekend.

Mike's not the red-leather, headband Canadian you may remember enjoying between the tears of an REO breakdown. He's bigger, butcher and maybe even a little better, if not better looking. Still, I'm engaged by his frontman celebrity enough to linger uncomfortably into his breakfast repartee.

"Last time I saw you, you were mugging it up on VH-1's "Never Mind the Buzzcocks" show," I update, confirming either my fan-dom or my loser-dom. Again, your guess.

"Yeah. What did you think of the show?" he leans, prompting a press-snob grimace.

"I HATED it," I coat. "But I hate everything on VH-1. I mean, they just make fun of you."

"They asked me to stand in a lineup and just do this ..." he details, waxing everyman in the face, fairly unattractively. "I think I gave myself away when I did this ..."

The crossed fingers, predictably.

"It's one of those things you just do for fun ... heh heh," he deadpans. "They flew my wife and I into New York for the weekend; they gave us a car, a few bucks and said we'll see you for two minutes on Thursday. I mean, I was like, 'I'll do that.' And I made them promise not to make too much fun. You can only take so much abuse."

How much? Anyway, Reno's keeping the Loverboy machine rolling, with more low-budget touring on the palm-treed horizon, thank god.

"We're putting together this whole triple shot of rock with us, Eddie Money and Survivor," he threatens. "Tour buses, which we haven't done in years, and we're going to go down one coast of Florida and up the other. I mean, if you want to see a show ..."

I don't.

"It's almost too much," he confesses.

Breakfast with people who don't normally eat breakfast for fear of toxic shock, that's too much.

"This is just fun," he funs. "I've got three kids, and they don't even want to see me anymore. It's like, 'You guys wanna go to the park?' and they're like, 'Right dad.' So I guess holding hands and walking through the mall is out of the question."

Yes. Yes it is.

Not out of the question, however, is my potential run-in with motormouth Carrot Top, who, I find out, is slated to introduce the "supergroup" this afternoon as it stirs the giant swimming pool into a classic-rock lather. Now that he's officially my nemesis, following a roasting in this space two weeks ago, a potential incident with the Top rattles the eggs burning in my stomach much worse than the idea of getting lucky with Mike Reno. What ever will I do? Own up to myself? Never. My top is merely made of cotton.

The Carrot, who's performing later in the evening at the nearby Hard Rock Live, opts not to do anything with his introduction short of a "Y'all have a good time today!" squeak to the relative non-notice of the yellowed hair, teeth, and skin of rockstar wives. Like me, they're standing by, if not leaning on, Mike Reno.

"What'd you think of Carrot Top?" quizzes Loverboy Mike, roosting in the backstage region of the fisting rock fare. "I heard he was only on for two minutes."

"Well, you see, Mike. I'm gay ..." I nonsense, not sure why.

"Is that a good thing?" he mediates.

No. Never. Of course, Carrot Top is only inches away from me, posing with 5-year-olds who may or may not appreciate him for his true talent. (He is wearing very much makeup. Did I mention that?) I'm pouting in the haze of his hair in the background of disposable-camera photos -- that is a good thing. Life is perfect.

So perfect, in fact, that I offer to allow Reno to sign my ass right where my crossed fingers are resting. The kid is hot tonight, baby. Wisely, he rejects with a simple promise to grab my ass the next time I stumble by. He does eventually sign my laminate, though -- sans ass grab.

"Billy, I lover you," it reads.

Lucky me.

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