[Look for your weekly fix from the one and only Henry Rollins right here on West Coast Sound every Thursday, and come back tomorrow for the awesomely annotated playlist for his Sunday KCRW broadcast.]
I’m in Las Vegas. I will be in and out of the city for several days. Before anything else, the heat. It is incredible. Walking around in 106-degree air makes you question your sanity. Yet here we are out in it — that is to say, myself and countless other insaniacs. We pack the sidewalks, cause lines in large restaurants, drink, yell, gamble, etc.
I am sitting outside the Westin, where, mercifully, several small spigots jut out from an overhang, sending out water spray that evaporates almost as quickly as it comes out, which cools the air slightly. All around me are hotels: Bally’s, the Flamingo, Caesars Palace, the Platinum, the Hilton Grand Vacations. All of them look large enough to house an entire county’s worth of people.
I am waist-deep in irony. Besides those who work here, I am surrounded by people who saved, planned and then came here for what I really don’t understand.
I have never understood the concept of gambling. The idea that a hotel run by the likes of Sheldon Adelson is going to let me go home with more money than I came in with is sheer lunacy and goes against every sensible thought I have. A “high roller” is nothing but a lamb for the slaughter. The common folk in their shorts and sandals getting stripped of their dollars are fiscal kamikaze warriors, but hey, it’s a mission they signed up for. In a country that is in tough economic times, I don’t understand the Thelma and Louise treatment of their bank accounts. But here they are, thousands of them.
In many ways, Las Vegas is the ultimate statement of Homo sapiens. Not Coltrane, not NASA or literacy. This assault on nature is one of the most obscene attempts to tame the wild. It is a massive concrete, steel and pavement tantrum, a mantrum if you will. Walking in incredible heat, only to be blasted by freezing air from a restaurant that cranks the air conditioning with such force that it keeps the outside diners cool, is almost amazing for the sheer amount of waste. But a few yards up the sidewalk is the knockoff Eiffel Tower and you realize it’s just amateur hour for chumps.
It seems that the visitors don’t get enough nakedness back home. Images of surgically enhanced women are on the covers of newspapers, on cards littering the sidewalk. Small stars barely cover their pudenda. Billboards for male dancers are here and there, but for the most part, it’s all about naked women. I guess they don’t have them in Nebraska? Is all this computer-cropped pulchritude a response to years of too much decency and moral rectitude in the more upstanding parts of our wonderful country? Is all this so overwhelming that a citizen can only stand it for three days every two years after he or she has forgotten how sneeringly cheap and boring it was by the second night?
My line of work has provided me with decades of hyperstimulation so I am unable to cleanse the jaundice from my eyes. Perhaps this is the version of the “big life” for the cubicle set.
Las Vegas fairly screams, “We’re out of ideas! All is lost!” It is America’s end of the Nung River, where Col. Kurtz waited for Capt. Willard, the errand boy sent by grocery clerks to pick up the bill, to terminate his command. An 18-wheeler just went by, its entire side an advertisement for Donny and Marie Osmond, who, unbelievably, are still out there working it.
You know Guy Fieri, that porcine man with the spiked, peroxided hair on television who eats high-calorie food for a living? He’s on the roof billboards of taxis all over the city. That guy must laugh his ass off every day. It’s the end of the world and he knows it.
The Photoshopped face of Britney Spears is like wallpaper everywhere. Her show is called “A Piece of Me.” She and other ageless stars like Céline Dion and David Copperfield are faces of the apocalypse.
As I sit here, the sky is dark with storm clouds. Bolts of lightning are coming every several seconds. The sudden sound of thunder just sent a woman running and screaming from her table. The wind is gusting and it is going to pour down very shortly, like a pronouncement from that senile fuck Pat Roberts.
Several minutes later. The skies opened at 1946 hrs. The B on the Ballys neon sign started blinking on and off. It’s a fake city, so I’m not surprised.
What I don’t understand is that, when you have the chance to build a place in the middle of nowhere so you can do what you want, this is apparently what you want — to eat at the same chain restaurants, to drink the same alcohol that you can get anywhere but with the added bonus of getting fleeced by professionals.
I don’t get lonely anymore. Not for 20 years, at least. It’s not a tough-guy thing, more like a circuit that has burned out. I do, however, get a feeling of hollowness now and then. A Camus/Beckett/Céline sense of futility that makes me want to walk forlorn like Harry Dean Stanton in the opening scenes of Wenders’ Paris, Texas on some kind of emo-quest for meaning. Las Vegas gets me like that now and then. I also know that I should not take things too hard and loosen up a bit.
I am able to find one redeeming thing about Las Vegas, and it’s a big one: The industry creates a ton of jobs. About 4,000 full- and part-time jobs created by Caesars Palace alone. Two words that sound great together: employed Americans.
Beyond that, the Bob Costas one-liner “Look, it’s a wacky business. Who cares?” seems to apply perfectly to Las Vegas.
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