“But our trip was different. It was to be a classic affirmation of everything right and true in the national character. A gross physical salute to the fantastic possibilities of life in this country. But only for those with true grit… and we are chock full of that, man.”
–Hunter S. Thompson
After we left Turks and Caicos, we caught a flight heading west. The Grammy Awards were going to be held in the Mandalay Bay hotel in Vegas, and that was where we were headed. If there is anything that sums up this entire trip it is the single word: psychosis. No, I am not talking about the violent and scary, axe-wielding psychosis, just the mild-introspective insanity that wanders the streets looking the new-age Apostles, high-class transcendentalism, Deepak Chopra, and the homeless babbling about the imminent apocalypse. What most people don’t understand about psychosis is how close we are to it; in fact, it’s all around us if we ever took the time to notice. Most people thing that psychosis occurs when contradictions run amok, but they have it wrong. Contradictions are all over the place, and it’s the psychotic that comes to terms with them, accepts these contradictions as connected. The so-called normal people are just able to repress the connection, laugh at the absurdity of the contrasts and convince themselves that there are borders that keep everything nice and neat. And, this is what I mean about how close we live to it. There are few places that bring out the insanity like Las Vegas.
A lot has been written about Vegas over the years, and it’s probably cliché to describe it as a tar-pit whorehouse in the middle of the desert, but few words—other than slime hole or pus bag– can describe it accurately. There should be a sign stating “mutants only” at the edge of city limits, but then, I wouldn’t be writing this now, would I? Officially my wife was attending another one of her meetings, but we had also been told that Las Vegas is the Disney World for adults. So, we were there to combine a little work and pleasure. But I have to say that I have never been a fan of Disney World. It’s fine when the kids are small—and I deeply believe that the Winnie the Pooh ride in the Magic Kingdom is just a metaphor for the gay lifestyle—but Epcot is intolerable. Why? Because people actually believe that they are visiting the countries. When it first opened, I visited it with my brother. Since it was noon, we hit the make-believe bistro in “France” for as many Kronenbourgs as we could down. Only problem that day was that it was damn cold and the only seating was outside. There was concern that temperatures around Orlando would drop below freezing. So, we asked the waitress if she could lower the awning to block the wind. The Midwesterner with his family in the next table opposed the idea, stating that it would obstruct his view of Paris. My brother, seriously over par with the Kronenbourgs, said, “Hey, asshole, you’re in Florida, not far from the everglades!” By three o’clock the waitress, who was French, told us we had to leave, but wanted to hook up and party with us once she got off work. Things got ugly later that afternoon when my brother started up with one of the chipmunks, trying to lift up its tail to see if it was male or female. In any case, I am getting off track.
Las Vegas, however, wasn’t anything like Disney: I must have missed the strippers running through the Magic Kingdom. There weren’t any cartoon characters: no giant mouse, goofy dogs or loud quacky ducks. The place is a Chucky Cheese on steroids. Once when I dropped a hit of acid at Chucky Cheese, I had this strange idea that the ball pit was full of downers, and that parents secretly put their kids in there to sedate them. I didn’t mind the arcade games; they actually made sense. It was the classic “kill or be killed fantasy.” The only difference was that the arcade and video games were a lot more expensive, and there were a lot more allusions to expensive sex. This wasn’t cheap trailer-park sex; it was the costly, fantasy, soft-core kind that ran up a big bill on the credit card. The place was a mix of life and death, Donny and Marie right next to Frank Marino’s transvestite show, idol worship and fallen angels, bad karma and divine intervention, lady luck and the great whore of Babylon. You could also order bondage on the side or play naked golf, if you wanted. It was a major flashback; almost enough anxiety to make me want to hide in the bathroom in a semi-catatonic state. What was I doing here? Why had I come? Was I trying to find something? Or, was I just passing through? I didn’t know; I had to meet it head on. I had to resist, get above it–so to speak–take a critical perspective and detach myself. I declared a moratorium on alcohol and immediately began to search for other mind-altering substances.
As soon as we got off the plane, we saw the slot machines. The look like big video games and people play them for hours smoking cigarettes and drinking scotch; they start early and stay late. Generally these are low-rollers who are playing a penny-a-pop, but there are other machines that are for higher stakes. If you’re not careful that can put a serious dent in your finances. You can either charge it to the room or use the ATM. As soon as we got our bags we headed out into the desert heat to get a cab. It’s not like the Midwest; there isn’t any humidity, but it is still like putting your face in an oven. My wife’s company sent the limousine for us: complete with champagne on ice, glasses, neon lights, mirror tables, television, and satellite radio. It’s like being trapped in Saturday Night Live disco. We headed for the hotel, where we could recover from the trip. I asked the bell captain to help me with the bags, and he sent a short Sri Lankan who was suffering from a terrible skin disease that turned him white over time. He reminded me of Sammy Sosa, the former right-fielder for the Chicago Cubs.
The place is stunning. It makes you ask what kind of fantasy was behind it. For me, it was unrecognizable. My fantasies don’t involve black leather, tattoo parlors and all-you-can-eat-buffets. The place was a monstrosity: miles and miles in the middle of the desert. It had it all: a beach, 5000 room hotels, casinos, theaters, shopping centers, upscale restaurants and sleazy dives. Most of the tourists go to the south end of the strip these days. The Luxor has recreated the Great Pyramid of Egypt and the Sphinx. Maybe someone should ask the damn statue why people flock to this place; it’s hotter than hell, it’s unsanitary, and people are badly dressed. It must be the final remnants of our pagan heritage, something that draws us toward ritual human sacrifice, and the adoration of strange gods that speak in a language of numbers, credit cards, and interest rates.
To be continued…
True grit, indeed. Just reading about the place makes me want to take a shower. Whatever it is that appeals to people about Las Vegas is unfathomable to me. It’s like they took everything that’s wrong with the culture and amplified it many thousand times. As for the brilliant marketing campaign (“What happens in Vegas…”), I’ll tell you what STAYS in Vegas, Jethro: your money.
Looking forward to the jump, Jimmy.