Vegas! Soulless, thrilling, teasing, Vegas!

Got home, slept, got up, went to the airport. Went through security, which was keen on examining my shoes but somehow let my small Swiss Army Knife go through. Quality work, lads.  Wife was also wanded within an inch of her life for some metal attachment to her shirt. Boarded the plane, then sat for a while; maintenance had to fix a light on the wing. Then we pushed off and sat on the tarmac for a while, for no announced reason, and left 20 minutes later. The snack option consisted of a small bar of pressed wood chips and a bottle of saline solution ($9) or a box with Trail Mix (nuts, pebbles, raccoon feces) with a cookie and a picture of a sandwich ($57). I’d bought subs in the airport, and ate them with gusto. (A fine name for a spicy condiment, that. Gusto!) I put on headphones, called up the ambient / sleeping-on-plane playlist on the iPod (it’s Michael Brook, Harold Budd, Roger Eno, that sort of stuff) and slept for half an hour. It was that wretched airplane sleep, though; every four minutes your head falls forward and jerks you awake. I have considered inventing and patenting a device that straps your head to the headrest, because everyone thinks it’s a great idea, but no one would buy it. Even if it worked, no one wants to show up in Vegas with a red line around their forehead.

We arrived in Vegas. It hasn’t changed much:

Actually, that’s from the Perry Mason episode I watched on the way down. Always keep Perry Mason on your iPod; it’s a guarantee of 53 minutes of solid plot, with every non-courtroom scene shot exactly the way. They had a close-up once in 1959, and it frightened people horribly. We got our bags, joined the queue, and told the driver: the Venetian!

This was our second time in Vegas. The first time we stayed at “New York, New York,” which was amusing enough but had cramped smelly charmless rooms. The Venetian, build on the grave of the old Sands, is one a cut above, at least in its pretensions. It’s like a Disneyland theme park for art-history majors. Overkill isn’t quite the word. It makes the rococo period look like Mondrian on a spare day. But that was the style, and I loved it: once upon a time only the elite could venture within such gilded luxury, and now it is available to all. Without a dress code, and with better heating and sanitation. This, for example, is the hall leading to the casino:

I mean, GOOD LORD. A giant compass-fountain-thing greets you as you enter:

These are not the only examples of statuary breasts you will see in town. Above, alarmingly developed twin-ninja cherubs battle it out with throwing starfish:

The paintings were all amusing. They couldn’t swab the walls with religious imagery for obvious reasons, so they came up with this peculiar High Renaissance mélange of subject matter, such as the Archangel Michael interrupting Poseidon's winning moment at the Bingo parlor:

We were shunted to an auxiliary check-in desk, where we were given a room on the ninth floor. I requested something higher up. It’s Vegas, baby! We were moved to the 29th. I requested something with a view of the strip, and once again we were moved. Fine. Off to our room. If you’ve ever stayed at the Venetian, or any place in Vegas, you know that it’s all a rat’s maze, a warren that erases any concept of the exterior world and rewires your brain within seconds, making you unwilling or unable to leave the building. It took forever to find the room; we had to go down the hall, turn left, take an elevator up, then take a skybridge to the tower, then find the elevator banks with a series of identical radiating hallways, then take the elevator up again. You get the hang of it, but I was still finding new ways to get to the casino three days later. I love hotels; I just love them. This was the biggest hotel in which I had ever stayed, so it was all just candy and roses for me. Too bad I don’t gamble.

The room: split level, understated, with motorized drapes. The view:



Trump’s dumb gold bar grew on me after a while, but Treasure Island is an eyesore. Down below, a few of the 96 pools:

We also had a view of the Venetian’s new addition, the Palazzo, which is 174 stories or something, with another casino and 600,000,000 square feet of shopping. If you’ve not been there, trust me: the immensity of these places smacks the gob. It’s just wonderfully unnecessary.

My wife napped; I explored. Right away, drama: a young woman yelled I WANT YOU TO PUT THE MONEY IN MY ACCOUNT NOW at her boyfriend. She was causing a scene and she didn’t care who saw it. I looked around for the obligatory burly men touching their ear and talking into their shirt cuffs as they moved in, but the couple was leaving. At least she was leaving, and he was trailing. YOU SAID YOU WORKED HERE, she spat. YOU COULD GET FIRED FOR GAMBLING HERE.

I wanted to say “Miss? They prefer the term ‘gaming’” but thought better of it.

He offered up something about how his shift was over; she said she didn’t believe ANYTHING HE SAID and she NEVER WANTED TO SEE HIS FACE and EFF YOU. Up the escalator they went. He was four steps below. He got out his phone. Flipped it open. Looked. No messages. He put it back in his pocket. Failure and sexual humiliation flowed from him in sodden purple waves.

Upstairs I explored the shopping arcade, which has its own canals. With gondolas. The twisty passages are lined with high-end shops, culminating in an interior courtyard modeled after an outdoor courtyard. San Marco’s Piazza, I think. It’s the magic hour, 24/7. It’s always a half-hour before twilight. There are restaurants and crowds and noise and laughter, and it’s just a delight. All fake. Who cares?



I left the faux-square, took a faux-alley past the faux-canal and found a gen-u- wine bathroom. On the way out, a man and two security guards were running in. “There’s a purse in here,” said the man.  Before I reached the end of the corridor the man was back, sprinting past me with a purse. He delivered to a lady pushing a stroller, and she pawed through the bag: her money was gone, she wailed. (The shade of Steve Wynn shrugs: never bring a stroller to Vegas, lady.) This was totally wrong, because she had intended to lose that money over a longer period of time.

I’d been in the hotel half an hour and I’d seen a domestic argument, a thief, and a perpetual sunset.

It’s good to leave home and see new things.

Back to the casino. I got a seat at the Oculus, a bar in the middle of the room devoted to video poker, bought a drink and played. It’s the only thing I’ll play. I don't know if this will make sense, but I really like video poker, which is why I never play it. Plus side: You have some control, you’re not losing fifty dollars every time you blink, your peers are not taunting you with superior knowledge of the game and references to games past, and the machine does not propose arcane games in which 3s are wild and Jacks are cross-dressers. Minus side: so addictive it makes crack look like dusty circus peanuts.

The lady next to me had $430 on her machine, and was slapping the buttons like she was playing Whack-A-Mole. No particular joy seemed involved in the process. Me, I took my time. When I finished my drink I was up five dollars. That’s where you order another and go down ten, right? I cashed out and walked around. Looked at the other machines. This one seemed rather ill-advised:

Then again, it probably won’t. Three face-huggers in a row? I won! Of course, later in the evening over dinner, Joe Pesci bursts from your stomach and skitters across the table.

I found another video poker machine and fed it my five-dollar winnings. After a while I was up $29. I cashed out and left the room with head high: I was a winner. In fact, I looked at the sparsely populated room and wondered how they made any money at all. The overhead on this place must be tremendous. I worried for them, in a way. What with the new addition, they must be nervous. C’mon, people! Get in here and lose! Help them out! This isn’t a charity, you know.

We had an early  dinner. At the adjacent table was a very attractive young woman dressed in a provocative-yet-sober style, tapping on a Blackberry and syncing data with her laptop. Student? Management? Escort? Could be all three: that’s the thrill of Vegas!

Tomorrow: part two, the architectural glories. Plus the bartender who took pity on us.

Incidentally: the picture at the top of the page is only slightly photoshopped; I looked up at saw the word BLEAT and waited for five minutes to see if I'd imagined it. I hadn't. There wasn't any spacing on the message, so the words AVAILABLE AT gave me a perfect BLEAT. The picture below shows another view.

It's better at night.




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