Okay, so I did gamble. A little. At the end of the first night I put ten dollars in an I Love Lucy machine. An odd choice, since I don’t. After a few whaps of the SPIN button I was up $14.60, and decided to end it right there.

I’d say more, but I have to save it for the Sunday column. As it is I’m pressed for time; this is a column night, and I’ve no time to rewrite or proof or carve off the lameness. Here it is, and here we go:

Saturday we had breakfast late; it was expensive. This surprised me. I’d long believed that rooms and food were cheap in Vegas, because they wanted you to spend your money on the tables and the one-armed brigands – where were the $1.99 buffets? Answer: downtown, in 1967. So I ate ten-dollar French Toast, drank as much coffee as I could hold, and kissed my wife farewell: she was off to the spa for extremity-buffing. I hit the strip with the Giant Swede to look at the various casinos. Impressed? No. Not really. The main drag is a mess – nice tall palms, complex traffic management, behemoth structures with no relation to one another interspersed with small busted cheap trinket shops, helicopter ride stands, car-rental joints, sticky-table restaurants ($1.99 breakfast buffet! Damn) and some true urban oddities like six-lane roads rezoned and abandoned. It looks great at night. In the day, it winces like a hungover vampire. We paused at Monte Carlo, which has a spectacular Renaissance presence – giant fountains, massive sculptures flanking the entrances, a spectacular collonade. But each entrance came down to a row of small mirrored doors, and you felt like a rat scuttling into a cave. Barbary Coast: last rehabbed during Jack Lord’s heyday. The Bally Whatever – an interminable ride up and along a conveyor belt through a round tunnel; very Logan’s Run. Once inside the building you went down to the gaming floor, and by then you were so exhausted you didn’t want to leave. We’re stuck here; might as well gamble. Maybe they come by at midnight with grappling hooks and drag people out. The Bally connected to the Parisian, which was lovely in a fin de siecle way, but the faux streets were gimcracky and, well, French. I’ll admit that it’s the only place on earth where you can see the Eiffel tower pierce the roof of the Gare De Nord, but that only goes so far in my book.

Off to the Coca-Cola store, the Temple of Brand Solidification. Logos logos everywhere, AND a drop to drink: cold Coke dispensed at the bar on the second floor. Amazing place, much better than the old New York Fifth-Av version; I almost expected to see Coke-branded marital aids. I bought some coasters decorated with a 50s Coke ad. If I hadn’t been short on suitcase space I would have bought 189234 other things. And I’m a Pepsi man.

Back to the hotel. Nap. Oh, a glorious nap. Dinner at Gallagher’s, which is a New York steak house; I ate there last month, in fact. The waiter’s wife was a Minnesotan; he came here yearly for Christmas. Well what do you know. What are the odds. Imagine that. The meal was so good you almost wanted to open your wrist with the big heavy knife, lest any subsequent meal disappoint. Then we wandered over to the Grand to meet the rest of the crew for the evening’s show.

Killed time at a bar, watched the crowd. Lots of young folk hyper-uber-hammered at 9 PM. Lots of young women who simply did not know how to dress, and lots of young men who couldn’t have cared less. In the old days one would tell a lady that her slip was showing; now you feel compelled to point out that her thong is in danger of not being visible. The Giant Swede appeared, guided us to the rest of the group; cab; Bellagio for the fountain.

Water pressure + computers + well-timed lights + Italian aria = tears of joy. One day I’ll go back and film the faces lined up along the balustrade; everyone was rapt, their faces frozen in the posture of ecstatic gratitude. So secure was the fountain’s grasp on the crowd that a bunch of drunks could stumble down the walkway laughing, drop a bag full of bottles, shout FUCK THAT WAS MY FUCKIN BEER, FUCK! and no one was dislodged from the moment at all. Vegas may be high-gloss philistinism all the way, but in the center of it resides this spectacular work of art. Four times an hour. Free for all.

Inside to see O, the Cirque de Puree’s water-themed show. Very popular. Very pricey. Packed. The theater was built exclusively for the show – can’t really see anyone staging “Our Town” here unless George and Emily drop from the ceiling on wires. It began inauspiciously, with clowns. A tall gangly guy and a classic Auguste, wandering around the room while the house lights were up. Water was deployed. Patrons were moistened. Genial indulgent chuckles. Then! It begins! A fellow is chosen from the audience to read the no-cell-phone-no-cameras bit, and the audience seems to think he’s actually a paying customer. I am highly suspicious, since he is A) funny in a doltish sort of way, and B) is built like an acrobat, and C) too casually dressed, and D) French. At the end of his speech he vanishes up into the rafters. As Marge Simpson said: they always choose the one with the wire. A gaunt scowling Phantom of the Opera type bolts from behind the curtains, gestures as the drapery, and the bright red curtains –

Well, usually curtains rise, right? They go up at the start and down at the end. These curtains were sucked into the back of the stage, and they took the audience’s breath with them. Revealed: a field of red fabric. Now the fabric is pulled back, and we see that it covers a vast shallow pool of water. O, you see. Eau. People walk across the water; they cavort, splash, dance – and finally someone falls from a great height and vanishes entirely. You realize that the pool is made up of several segments, and they can raise and lower the depth as the show requires. You look up, and see huge complicated machinery above. Ah. This will be fun. Illusion and spectacle seamlessly married to . . . to . . .

Ah, crap: married to pretentious European symbolism, that’s what. When you see a bunch of guys in cardinal-red waistcoats and powdered hair running around the lip of the stage swinging censors, you know Western Civ’s going to take it in the shorts tonight. The show had a plot, I suppose – there was a Bride Archetype, a Young Stalwart Lover archetype (the guy who read the no-cellphones speech, as it turned out), the Noble Savage Who Liberates Us archetype, etc. None of this was didactic; if you didn’t want it to mean anything, it didn’t. I wasn’t about to ruin this spectacle by finding Deep Meaning in it, so I just put a pillow over that part of the brain and enjoyed it. As a celebration of athletic ability and choreography married with technology, it was really an extraordinary thing to behold. As drama, it was banal, but the theatricality of the event overrode that deficiency. The music was unremarkable, and seemed to be sung in some sort of secret ur-Romance language tongue that Europeans use when English-speaking people aren’t around. Just on a geek level, the machinery and coordination involved was astonishing; this entire theater had been custom built for this event. Even your practical brain was overwhelmed.

Worth the trip. Experience of a lifetime. A stunning achievement. I sat there thinking of the weekend’s diversions, the dinners, the spectacles, the fountain display, and I thought: these things were available once only to kings and princes and consorts and queens. This must have been what it was like to be a member of the royals in the days before the French Revolution – except that I would have known everyone in this theater, and would have suspected a third of them of plotting against me.

I imagine that cuts into your enjoyment.

Tomorrow: heading out.

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