Hi, Mom, want to meet my new girlfriend?

The Baltimore Sun

The tartiest dish at a Baltimore Thanksgiving this year was not the sauerkraut, but the Vegas cocktail waitress Michael Phelps took to dinner at mom's.

Caroline "Caz" Pal is a buxom brunette who shows up on Web sites like Beverly Hills Pimps and Hos covered in tattoos and not much else. She's also the girlfriend and holiday dining companion of Phelps, according to a People magazine report that quotes "a source close to Pal."

Credit People for breaking the story, but give the New York Post props for playing up the angle of Phelps' "school-marm mother" meeting "a tattooed strip-club waitress who has bared her chest for photographers almost as many times as the Olympic swimming star."

"Olympian's mom meets strip gal," the Post headline read.

How'd that howdy-do go? Debbie Phelps did not return my message seeking comment.

Coulda gone one of two ways. Either Debbie Phelps reminded her son that she sacrificed all those years so he could become an Olympic hero, not an international playboy. Or, laughs all around.

The latter is possible if the whole thing came down to one of those classic mix-ups over who's bringing what to the holiday potluck.

"You wanted cocktail napkins?" I imagine Michael saying. "I thought you said cocktail waitress!"

I also imagine Debbie Phelps was understanding.

Much has been made of the bond between the swimming sensation and his single mother. There's no greater testament to their relationship than this: Most men wouldn't take a gal like Pal home to meet mom.

Pal may be a lovely young lady once you get past her racy photos. (For the most part, the pictures I saw had strategically placed lollipops and the like to cover some of her up.) And of course it's unfair to expect Olympians to live up to all that mom-and-apple-pie shlock we heap on them. Do we expect other athletes, say, professional football players, to date "nice" girls?

Phelps has every right to date whomever he wants, even someone who makes his see-through Speedo pics look demure. But please don't make us watch - especially as we're also watching an aw-shucks profile of the guy on national TV.

Anderson Cooper reported on 60 Minutes the other night that since the Olympics, Phelps has been relaxing, doing a little foundation work and "building the Michael Phelps brand." Is that what you call it? I once worried that Phelps was cheapening himself by pimping Frosted Flakes instead of Wheaties. But Vegas hotties? They're gr-r-reat for the brand!

To be sure, it's not Phelps' fault if trooping home to Rodgers Forge for Turkey Day sets off an Internet gossip frenzy. (Google Phelps and Caroline Pal and you get 103,000 hits.) But Phelps, who has been hanging out in Vegas practicing poker and, apparently, other indoor sports, has hardly been discreet.

"He has been seen partying and making out in public with Pal, who works at Moon nightclub in the Palms Fantasy Tower," reports the Las Vegas Review-Journal.

While Phelps and Pal ducked cameras at one point on a night back in October, Phelps later sought the limelight by mounting a DJ stand and "mouthing words to a rap song," the paper's Vegas Confidential column reported, quoting an unidentified source.

"He went from being real low key to being kind of out there," the source told the paper. "He acted like a dumb kid."

Which is exactly the problem.

Michael Phelps may be a grown man of 23, but he's spent half his life underwater. On his first break from training since age 11, he's emerged from the pool a man-child - an exquisitely mature physical specimen with the social experience of a middle-schooler.

That he has a ton of money, lots of time on his hands and women throwing themselves at him only makes matters worse.

Back in October, when Phelps was honored with a parade in Towson, I made note of one of his many love-struck fans along the route. A young girl held a sign reading, "Michael, I'm legal in four years. Wait for me."

I was grossed out at the time. Now that's sounding like good counsel.

So that's what he eats

So Anderson Cooper, the CNN newsman on special assignment to 60 Minutes, missed all the Vegas-hottie-poker stuff that's been occupying so much of Michael Phelps' time lately.

Perhaps Phelps wouldn't have agreed to race Cooper in the pool if the reporter had dared dip into his social life. Then again, Cooper is famously mum about his own personal life, so maybe he didn't want to seem nosy.

But Cooper still discovered a few things about the Olympian's post-Beijing existence.

Cooper got the skinny on the swimmer's diet. Phelps said he really only consumes 8,000 to 10,000 calories a day, not the much-reported 12,000.

He learned about more endorsement opportunities. Not for Phelps. Nor for his mom. But for Phelps' bulldog, Herman. The suitors weren't mentioned by name, but there are "several" sponsorship deals on the table.

And Cooper exposed the contents of Phelps' Fells Point bachelor-pad pantry: Rice Krispies Treats and not much else.

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