Thursday, February 14, 2008

All that Glitters

When I'm not lamenting Mother Nature's elemental wickedness -- I pulled a groin muscle closing the gate at the plant this afternoon doing involuntary calisthenics on asphalt galvanized by ice -- I'm lamenting everything else, like the loss of Las Vegas.

Dad took M and I (or rather, we took him) to the Peppermill's Fireside Lounge when we rescued him a few years ago, stranded with his Cadillac by the internal bleeding that plagued his ice blue eye, which would turn the same troubled green as the stormy Pacific as blood darkened the back of the iris. We stayed at the gritty, honest, $20-a-night Ogden House off Fremont Street (where we always stayed, where I stay even now if I'm alone and don't have to cater to my fellow travelers' sensibilities) and ogled Liberace's candelabra bedecked Rolls Royce, among other famous and infamous cars, at the Silver auto auction. At the Peppermill M and I ordered Bacardi Silvers, but we drank gin gimlets in his honor (he was a gin and tonic man) two weekends ago. The first of this month would have been his 65th birthday.

I loved Vegas cheap and dirty, the way it was before the misguided attempt to make it kid-friendly which some band of marketing fools perpetrated in the 90's. Nor am I impressed by the posh turn it's taking; I don't have much interest in haute cuisine or clubs or Celine Dion. With Dad, we saw Lance Burton perform his borderline X-rated magic show before the guy was even shaving, over twenty years ago. (We also saw the child-appropriate Robin Williams/Dustin Hoffman Peter Pan fantasy, Hook, in Vegas.) We charmed cocktail waitresses into letting us stay on the casino floor while he played the slot machines. To this day I love the sounds and sights of a casino. We jumped out of the way of bicycle cops and kicked piles of cards littering the dusty gutters, ignoring the scantily clad women. We were not in the least degenerated by these experiences. Mostly I was just hypnotized by the beauty of neon, which is surpassed by few man made phenomenons. (I also love graffiti. And subway posters. And scrolling marquees. And sidewalk artists.)

So I'm halfway through Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, which my gallant Brent quickly mailed me after I lamented Uinta County's deficit of Hunter S. Thompson. And through the protagonist's drug-addled haze I keep getting fascinating glimpses of what Vegas was even in the 70's, when it would have been hastily morphing into the seedy wonderland that was just disappearing when I met it. Before that I suppose it was seedy by the day's standards, but what were the Rat Pack and mobsters of the 50's compared to the horrors of
the entertainment world and organized crime today?

Nevertheless, I love Vegas. In any of its Technicolor incarnations I will adore it, and not because of what it once was. I love most that Vegas changes, that every decade it seems to crash and burn on the desert floor and rise like a Phoenix, an all-new production of the same tried-and-true profusion, compelling and seductive to the masses. Except that it happens so subtly, for a place that exists on such garish extravagance -- ignore it for a year or two and suddenly Vegas is boasting a new sequined, feathered costume, better odds, and bigger, more over-the-top-than-ever hotels and gambling emporiums. And it's all done so artfully that you almost forget to miss what's gone. Except that I do, if only as an ideal frame for some of my favorite memories. But I also like new, so nothing will ever be able to remove Vegas from my list of favorite destinations, not even its own preposterousness.


Blogger a572mike said...

Sounds like you should go rent the movie Casino as well...

February 14, 2008 at 10:39 PM  

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