NEW YORK - One Maker's Mark Manhattan on the rocks: $17.

City and state taxes on two nights at a small midtown "boutique" hotel: $146.

Annoying a home state Supreme Court justice so badly he spits actual news at you: Priceless.

Let me explain.

The two money items are but samples of what Pennsylvanians pay during Pennsylvania Society weekend here, a death march of parties and politics, an exercise in excess for those wanting or having influence or power.

It annually draws hordes.

The third item is more personal, and more fun.

Friday night, outside the Peacock Alley bar and restaurant in the Waldorf-Astoria, Supreme Court Justice Ron Castille gives me the evil eye.

"I told my staff if I got enough drinks and saw you here I was gonna punch you right in the [expletive - the big one - deleted] nose," he snarls.

See, Castille, soon-to-be chief justice, is most displeased with a column a few weeks back suggesting PA's political/judicial community is a self-serving club incapable of acting in the interests of citizens or even, sometimes, justice.

Specifically, I suggested calling in the feds for a case involving a gambling license, the Gaming Control Board and powerful Philly lawyers, including, of course, Castille.

In a nutshell, legendary defense attorney Dick Sprague (who owns a piece of a casino and used to represent Vince Fumo, who wrote the state's gambling law) filed an emergency petition with Castille to stop a Dauphin County grand jury from investigating upstate casino owner Louis DeNaples, a Sprague client.

The grand jury reportedly is looking at how DeNaples got a license given his past: a no-contest plea in a federal fraud case; alleged ties to organized crime, and a history of major contributions to state politicians.

Another top Philly lawyer, Tad Decker, a close friend of Ed Rendell's, was the Gaming Board boss when the license was issued. So I noted that Decker and Castille were-law school roommates and that Castille's court earlier declined to look at potential conflicts between Decker's law firm and another casino.

You get the idea.

"The fix is in! The fix is in!" Castille says in a mocking tone.

"Well, the fix is not in . . . next week [meaning this week] I'm issuing a decision that lets the grand jury go forward," he says.

News, I think, actual news.

I say, well, that's only because I caught you guys about to put the fix in.

"I know you [expletive - not the bad one - deleted] will say that," says he.

I should explain I've known Castille a long, long time, so he tends to be, uh, candid, with me.

But, assuming he's not just putting coal in my stocking, such a decision is good for the state, good for the court and good for the pursuit of the truth.

(Though when I see him Saturday night, he stops and punches one fist into his open palm while fixing me with a steady stare. So, stay tuned.)

The rest of the weekend? Eh.

Political chatter is mostly about 2010 and the next race for governor.

I see what will probably be only half the field and nobody says he's not running.

Presumed Democratic golden boy Dan Onorato, newly re-elected Allegheny County chief executive, tells me, "I'm getting around the state pretty aggressively."

Republican U.S. Attorney Pat Meehan says, "I've got a lot of work to do, but I'm giving it serious consideration."

Tom Knox says he's in. Democratic state Auditor General Jack Wagner, facing re-election next year, says, "I'm not retiring." Republican state Attorney General Tom Corbett, also up for re-election, says he's focused on "one block" - or is that bloc?- "at a time."

Former GOP Congressman Pat Toomey and last year's GOP gubernatorial nominee, Lynn Swann, both say they're not closing any doors.

And me? I'm saving up for another Manhattan. *

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