This was Bob Hope’s turf. Frank Sinatra’s. Spiro Agnew’s.  The place fairly reeked of high-grade Formica and plastic palm trees. Clearly, a high-class refuge for Big Spenders.”

Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, Hunter S. Thompson

One of the bright spots of Vegas is the attempt on the part of chefs to provide the Vegas crowd with fine dining. We had dinner at an Italian joint at the Bellagio called the Osterio del Circo. The place was established by the renowned restaurateur named Sirio Maccioni: his family has places in New York. The place looks like a circus tent, complete with a unicycle-riding monkey. The place specializes in homemade pasta, grilled-Florentine steak and seafood. The appetizers are also are so good it will make you want to immigrate to Italy. The fare is upscale, but the price isn’t much worse than any other place. My wife and I split an order of steak carpaccio, thinly-sliced beef tenderloin, served with a spattering of radicchio, fresh fennel, greens, a glug of extra virgin olive oil and aceto balsamico, salt and pepper. It was so simple that it was also whimsical. No one would think of something so easy to make. You eat it on thin slices of crusty bread. It’s fantastic.

Unfortunately the Maccinoni family is running uphill footrace. Despite their efforts to provide Vegas with world-class food, the patrons preferred to wander around the casinos with large bags of cheese burgers and fries from McDonald’s. These junk-food crack heads preferred the “happy meal,” a box lunch with a quarter pound of malignant beef on a bun, super-sized fries, and a 36-ounce diet coke. It is a sight to behold. The scene is horrendous: overweight people in flip-flops. One big mammal had a waist-line of 56 and an in-seam of 32: he was taller when he was lying down. The leisure suits have been replaced by shorts, t-shirts, and flip flops. The evening wear was different at Caesar’s Palace and the Bellagio; for women, it was the solid black-satin cocktail dress or the black fish scale sequin dress, with a lot of leg showing, stiletto heels, and a low-cut neck line, for maximum exposure. Of course, the only appropriate attire for men is a one-piece white star-jeweled jumpsuit, cape and tinted aviator’s glasses. There were also a large contingent of low roller and wanna-be bikers at the Luxor. They could gamble, drink, eat, and receive multiple piercings and tattoos in the same place.

Despite the new-found reputation for family fun, Vegas lives up to its reputation for sexual perversion. If you start at the MGM Grand and walk toward Paris, you’ll see scores of pimps handing out pamphlets advertising “Women to Go.” That is, prostitutes to your door in “20 minutes or less.” The pimp, who looked like the typical college student who used to paint houses for extra cash, handed me a pamphlet, and said, “We deliver.” Apparently, he didn’t seem to notice that I was taking in the sights with my two teenage daughters. When I mentioned that I was with my kids, the guy handed my oldest daughter a flyer on stripper night school.  The course was called “Stripper 101,” with a special offer on how to pole dance. The class was being pitched to women between 18 and 80, of all shapes and sizes. The class not only covered the basic moves of how to snap a boa, manipulate a chair, remove the brassier without revealing too much, but it was also presented as a “great way to burn off 500 calories.” From the looks of the brochure, some of the women needed to lay off the buffets: people would pay to see them put their clothes on. The course instructors state clearly that “stripping down” wasn’t mandatory, students were encouraged to get frisky, especially if they had special rates. 

But the street wasn’t the only place that was full of working girls. There were a number of walking pinups hanging around the Mandalay Bay hotel and the Four Seasons. I couldn’t this one wasn’t from the “20 minutes or less” crowd, but something told me that she was a cut above the run of the puppy mill sex farm. She was tall, blond and wore a low-cut, sleeveless, red satin cocktail dress that told us she was no one’s wife. If looks could kill, we’d all be six feet under. She looked like she came right out of Central Casting, right down to the stiletto heels played up the tie-me-up/tie-me-down look on her face. There was something deeply menacing about her: behind all of that made up beauty, the Pygmalion fantasy, come to life, there was a look as cold as ice, of a person who would just as soon kill you as do you. Nothing remotely resembling a smile or even the light recognition that anyone else was in the crowded hotel lobby when she entered. I suppose hit men have that same look on their faces when they go to do a piece of work. Like the film Mona Lisa, she was accompanied by her driver who dutifully walked a few steps behind her, so as to tell everyone that he was with her but he wasn’t really with her. What gave it all away was that lewd radiance that comes from dancing naked and giving lap dances to slobbering drunks. Pretty soon, it dawned on me that the place was crawling with them; they were all over the place.

But the whole thing brought on a series of dark and bizarre thoughts ranging from her board of fare to her income tax. How did she fill out her 1040s? Did she declare tips? Then, my mind shifted to whole “girls in 20 minutes or less” deal. It told me that we had really slid off the moral high ground. Shouldn’t the brochure have read, “Girls in 20 minutes or fewer?” First, we lose the distinction between the words “less” and “fewer,” and they we are knee deep in prostitution. It makes sense. The second thing that occurred to me was that these fantasy menus had little diversity to speak of. It was all pretty standard: domination, foot fetish, school girls in Catholic uniforms, blonds, brunettes and red heads. The only ethnicity that was singled out was German; perhaps they were double billing in the domination selection. However, the “of color” or “alternative” selections were relegated to a small section in the back or not at all. Where was the pride? Why weren’t the others out representing? How could it be that perversion, after all of these years, was still so waspish? Where were the transvestites, gigolos, gays, lesbians and trans-sexuals? The only cultural diversity I saw in Vegas was at the Lion King! Why was that? Were straight white men the most in need of fulfilling their fantasies? Were gays, blacks and lesbians actually more fulfilled? Were they living their fantasies? Or, were their fantasies more along the lines of just being able to go out to dinner or on vacation without being the center of attention of a bunch of gawking idiots?

While I knew that the whole “world’s oldest profession” thing was legal in parts of Nevada, my brain still locked up for a couple of minutes, and the asphalt was starting to make me hallucinate. I’ve always thought that this kind of stuff was for guys who didn’t want to put the hours into a relationship. It was something to be hidden away and kept in the dark, even from those who indulged. But here it was right out in the street. I didn’t know what to make of the Papa John’s pizza or factory-direct prostitute service. It stuck in my frontal lobes like either the culmination of a monstrosity or the ultimate in capitalist civilization. How would socialists have treated the entire issue? Would they have organized distribution centers and ration cards so that everyone would receive his or her fair share? Would there be forms to fill out and long lines? The place was starting to get to me, growing on me, and I figured that if I stayed much longer, it would all look normal.

To be continued…

Gabacho– according to the Dictionary of the Spanish Royal Academy– is derived from an old Provençal word “gavach,” meaning a person from the foothills of the Pyrenees who spoke incorrectly. These days, it means “outsider,” somebody who just doesn’t fit in.

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