Saturday, August 09, 2008

Zen and the Art of Loving Las Vegas

I'm sun burned, broke, and on what seems to be an endless hangover...but I'm glad I did it, I'm glad I stayed in Las Vegas for nearly one week. Bless you oh land of opportunity/reckless oasis of sin and filth/harbinger to a return to the nihilistic banality that envelops nearly every other city that is not you!

I'm not supposed to like the place, grew up around casinos in Tahoe and was purposefully steered away from learning about such things as poker and blackjack. Casinos were where I had to follow my mother to get her paycheck: strategically hopping from one geometric shape on the gaudy carpeting to the next, through tobacco-tainted smoke clouds and the endless tableau of adult zombies glued to video poker like moths to flames. The roaring clashes of coins in the slot machines still haunt me. It was not a glamorous scene.

But I was not about to go to Vegas for the glamor, nay, I was there for the spectacle.

I think you have to go with the right group of people, or mind frame, to enjoy the city of sin for what it is: a bastardization of all things cultural, worldly, prudish, environmentally scenic and graceful. It's like all of the casino proprietors and developers are like, "Hey! F-you Paris! F-you New York! F-you natural lighting, Venetian canals and Greek statues! We're going to turn all of you into potty stops and minor points of interest along one sick pub crawl where visitors will spend nearly everything they can possibly spend and then some! Yaaaaay Capitalism with a capital C! Go Team America!!!"

In this respect, Las Vegas is a stunning testament to an overindulgence in the indoctrination of American capitalism. --I saw a Neiman Marcus the size of two city blocks! And inside the shopping plaza at Caesar's Palace, there are kiosks with slurpee machines filled with slushy margaritas and daiquiris right outside of Versace and Louis Vuitton boutiques!

Alien concepts to Las Vegas: moderation, regulation, responsibility, subtlety.

What people don't tend to think about is that this rebellious attitude extends, historically, to the state's relationship with the Federal Government. This is a state that has been going through a major drought for years with its dependency on the ever-dry Colorado River, yet maintains a massive man-made lake so that private yachts can flaunt themselves like floating peacocks. A state where an organized-crime boss named Bugsy Siegel made an honest living and in turn created a major city, and a state where civil liberties have always held true to the spirit of the Wild West (i.e., generous gun, prostitution and public drinking laws, etc etc).

And then you think about all the atomic testing, Area 51, the toxic waste dumping grounds and whatever else no one hears about, and you realize: this is one f-ed up state. Not the ideal breeding ground for a nuclear (no pun intended) family. Novelist Elizabeth Benedict, in the essay "Searching for Treasure in Las Vegas" states:

Nevada has been a victim of the government's exploitation in a way no other state has been. It has also quite deliberately created its own smarmy identity — by legalizing gambling, in 1931, and prostitution, quickie divorces and quickie marriages— in a way no other state has done...Nevada is the homely girl from the wrong side of the tracks who knows the only way to become popular is to let all the boys sleep with her, and so becomes the town whore. The state itself — terrain, natural resources, weather — was not much of an enticement as a destination to live or to visit, until it became the only place in the country you could easily get married, get divorced, get laid, and maybe even get rich quick. It's easy to become the town whore. It might even happen overnight. But once you are, it's tough to transform yourself into anyone else.

Concepts I could do without, and did, in Las Vegas: elitism, oppressive policemen and patrolling, apparent presence of homelessness, bourgeois influence.

As long as you have money to burn, you can access whatever social environment you so choose. To my knowledge, none of the clubs we visited excluded anyone based on attire or looks. Sometimes, I was told, you can't wear flip-flops, but that's about it.

And, as a woman who considers herself a feminist and has had to live with the indignation of sexual harassment on the street through the years, I loved seeing flyers and billboards of scantily-clad women in every direction. There was so much commodifiable sex that nobody seemed to notice female bystanders. I guess men get so inundated with sexual options that they just give up. No creepy stares, kissy noises, unnecessary propositions...I could have walked around in a bikini and no one would pay any mind. I respect that in a city.

From space, Las Vegas is the brightest city on the planet. According to my shuttle bus driver, who must have been loaded what with all the swerving, the city's casinos take in roughly $18 million per day. And it all started with a few gangsters with dreams so big that no rule of law could stop them. And the legacy continues, with corporate robber barons picking up the slack. Hunter S. Thompson was wrong, Las Vegas is not the death of the American Dream. It's the only place where it still lives--albeit a bit anemically.

(Bonus section)
The Top Five Greatest Things To Do in Vegas:
5. Drink margaritas poolside in lieu of breakfast. Bonus points for drinking margaritas out of plastic cowboy boots or Eiffel towers. Negative points for drinking margaritas at Jimmy Buffet's Margaritaville (they don't even play that song there--rip off!).

4. Jump on the bed/dance to the Top Gun soundtrack. Especially Kenny Loggins' "Playing with the Boys."

3. Watch other people wig out on the hallucinogen salvia (it's legal in Nevada).

2. Rap the copy of the bible found in your nightstand (John W: "The Book of Job has a particularly pleasing iambic pentameter!").

1. Eat your weight in Alaskan crab legs and shrimp cocktail at the Spice Market buffet.

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