Sex and Power Versus
Sobriety and Blamelessness
in the Endless Casino.
October 4, 2002
Las Vegas, Nevada
On the night after the arrival of a cold front, trees knocked to the ground, rain in rare sheets falling on the desert, but not enough, never enough, I slipped into one of my nice white shirts, Ulysses cufflinks, and walked from my rented suite on Valley View Drive to the famous Vegas Strip.
The wind: calm now, but with autumnal coolness floating on the soft breeze. The rain: passed away in a mocking shortfall, a tenth of an inch here, rumors of almost a half inch in the west of the Valley, maybe four inches total for the year, not nearly enough to quench Mother Earth's deep thirst. The sun: fallen behind the tall Palms, under the edge of a dark grey western sky and three thousand miles behind me.
What value could wind, rain, and sun retain in the depths of Glitter Gulch? Tonight I was thoroughly removed from nature I was headin' the other way to who knows what but another erratic episode, maybe a fraudulent outburst of intimate confession, maybe a genuine expression of wickedness and angst, but likely more of the same styptic balm on the passions.
Plunge into the Boulevard of Action.
My walk to the edge of The Strip, briskly paced and wary, covered three-quarters of a mile of pure concrete and asphalt, as hard and expansive as the city it girds. The path skirted the north edge of broad and manic Flamingo Avenue. In the dark beside the speeding chassis of steel and plastic, the footpath for good reason was a road less traveled, you wouldn't want to go there if you thought long 'n hard about it, especially on the way home at midnight Boo! Ninety nine point nine percent of the beings of the night rode, but I couldn't be bothered it was time to pump the heart and stretch the legs, breathe the night air and plunge afoot into the Boulevard of Action with the capital Vegas A.
Cars, trucks, busses, and white limousines as long as any you'll see on the planet, polished limos with fine folk inside, saucy lacy ladies with clinging gowns and tightly drawn ambitions and secrets to reveal to the highest bidder, and high rollin' gents with long lines of credit and polished black oxfords and power to apply in abject cravenness (well really, I'm not jealous) — all of it all of them flashed by, the headlights a yellow blur, the taillights streaky red, the engines a roar — and into the skies towered amazing structures, the blood crimson, royal violet and sky indigo colors on the curving surfaces of the forty-five story Rio, closeby to my left; the Romanesque columns and creamy richness of Caesars Palace, rising like an empire just ahead; the pale blue beacon light from the obelisk of the Luxor, far in the southerly distance; the curving backside of the graceful Bellagio — I was drawn to it all, even if the confused skyline was like a mockery of substance and style, even if I was not a player, even if I strolled briskly alone into the fiery mainline.
Ramjets, Cosmic Whirls of Heat.
In the ruthless grip of sobriety, the absolute constriction of harsh psychic discipline, I had determined ruefully, gratefully, in the customary bittersweet mix of emotion that Las Vegas Nevada USA cannot be embraced, nor understood, nor rightfully written about unless the man (the woman if you choose, if that's your inclination, your preferred gender) is ridin' a ramjet of a passion, the kind of cosmic whirling inner heat that some time ago passed me by anywhere outside the security and blamelessness of Cricket Song. Dispassionate in this late venue, I become unduly unqualified, so disregard the rest quit now if you wish it's all the forlorn joke and a tarot fool's lament, a controlled dive without booze and the thirst, the material thirst; without whoring and the chase, the libidinous chase; without fistsfull of cash, ready rolls of dollars for the games of chance and ecstatic liberation; no skin on skin, no jackpot, no rush of alcohol and nicotine through the veins.
Flamingo Avenue's pedestrian path crosses over the Interstate highway in a covered walkway, a cage to keep the bodies from crashing onto the racing vehicles below, then spills onto Las Vegas Boulevard between majestic Caesars Palace and the impeccably elegant Bellagio. Winding up at such an intersection after so many steps of dark sidewalk and dark shadows - well, what can I say other than it was delightful, delightful indeed.
Through Circular Doors onto Marble.
I turned south, not so much because Bellagio was more alluring than the Palace, but purely on a utilitarian whim — the walkway over Flamingo Avenue led that way. To reach the innards of Caesars, on the other hand, would require some more navigating, I was ready to get on the inside of something, get outta the last glimmer of the natural world, so through the circular swinging doors I strode onto the marbled floors of Bellagio.
Someone was singin' "I'm gonna git me git me git me a job and git outta here, git outta the degenerate culture," but they were singin' about some elsewhere, somewhere else not here, this was not a degenerate place, if you called it such the goons would crack your knuckles, but rather a mecca, storehouse and sower of the accepted coin of the realm, with high-dollar shops on both sides of me — Giorgio Armani, Gucci, Prada, Fred Leighton — and thin mannequins in trendy garments of subdued colors and pale lines, how could I ever be that thin? and wide isles with room to stretch, to spend, but before I could think straight I was sucked into the casino, the wheels of fortune towering above me, the melody of slots, everywhere wheels spinning, and
...Aces 'n Sevens, One 'n Five, Twenty-Five...
the Vietnamese poker master, Mr. Throng, said sure look around, come back and sign up for a game, and the players at the dozen or more tables were dressed quite nicely, outwardly cool, inwardly intense, the aces and sevens were flyin', a red flush at the front of me, a full boat queens over threes to the left of me, the quiet clink of thick chips, the flutter of shuffles from dealers in French cuffs, and I spied the poker player, a handsome old chap with a sleek maverick 'stache and finely combed hair, sitting at an abandoned table, awaiting Mr. Throng's call to the game of his choosing, he had to wait it was a popular table, Texas Hold 'Em or something like that I wasn't taking notes I can't exactly remember — said, "Sure. What do you want to know?" (now you tell me where to put the comma) said it's not that complicated, "Poker's a lot more about luck than you might think," said he retired here from Texas, said , "It's my hobby, cheaper than golf," said he set no limits himself, just played the hunch, and I could tell he was cool under fire, and he nodded in the direction of a table, seven card stud, the one-five game, table stakes with a twenty-five dollar buy-in, said, "You ought to give it a try, can't lose more than twenty-five dollars," I said maybe but I like to scout things out first, he said "That's a smart idea," I said farewell I hope you win big tonight, and walked toward the seven-stud game thinking about the incredible flexibility of the language, how gracefully the words can be tailored to satisfy the specifics of any situation.
Ankhs, Lost Zeroes, Pretend and Pop.
What if I won a thousand barking bucks, three thousand greenbacks, ten f**kin' grand? I might find the Royal Road leading to the cat paws of the Sphinx, but if I did (and I did) I'd be at a loss (and I am) to interpret the hieroglyphics, which appear mysteriously behind the face of the impassive desert creature, symbols without context, carved by master masons into the east-facing walls of the Luxor, rising on slabs like scrolls of sanctioned graffiti, the too-cleanly chiseled ciphers of the ibis and Thoth, of the all-seeing eye and the jackal-headed Anubis, of Isis and the ankh like a broken mobius loop — if I went down that road, I'd just rattle on and on, like the henchmen with their sabers and their shields, I'd go as far as the lines will carry me, up the mock elevators to the Chrysler Building, 'round 'n round in the yellow cars of the roller coaster, but I just want to get through this, see the narrative to its merciful end, leap off the Brooklyn Bridge into the Hudson, the fireboats shootin' their water cannons above me, but I'm trapped in an endless casino, Bellagio becoming the Monte Carlo becoming the New York New York becoming the Excalibur becoming the Luxor, and knights with long lances on their steeds beside the whisky bar, and long-legged cocktail waitresses in mini-skirts striding with purpose across the acres of carpet, and a great wizard in the turret tossing magic spells on the lucid acolytes below, and the passersby, buoyant couples in their thirties, the women lithe and nubile, the men muscled and imbued with self-conscious stamina, and the tired old hags with their tired old geezers, the occasional beaten down loser, the young lasses in pairs as pals on the make, the knots of aimless young men hoping against hope for the score, and cops on bicycles and skaters on roller blades, and the free agents, mostly men, with eyes shooting everywhere, but passersby all, and legion — they were the bit players in the cast, floating bits of the throng, lost zeroes and ones, unwitting sharers in the closet drama, playing out the string in someone's heart. Could it be his heart, that emotive organ in the breast of an omniscient narrator? Nah, it's merely another flatulent biography. Anyone cudda seen it coming. Can you make the connections when the usual conjunctions are removed? Was he just an old fiddler with a complimentary pass, or did the busty showgirl actually extend the invitation, or should the violinist present herself to her lesbian lover in a formal black gown why not loose jeans and a short halter? He couldn't connect the dots, he was just another blog in the crowd it didn't make much sense to him either, he didn't remember the Eiffel Tower being so golden in color, the Statue of Liberty so green, the Great Pyramid behind the Sphinx so sleek of line and agate black. (Bigger than life, not big as life, big not big enough.) He wanted to go back to the Bellagio, the comfortable Keno lounge and choose some more of those unlucky numbers, dream of the three-grand payoff, listen to the Hong Kong kewpie doll call out the twenty spots of the next game, but he chose instead to stay the course charted for the night, so he maneuvered across the ten-lane boulevard to the White Sands, the Tropicana, the grand ballroom casino of the MGM Grand, where the rock 'n roll girls were singing pop covers on a too high stage, with their too red too green wigs, their abalone bellies just a little bit plump and their shiny go-go boots just a touch too shiny, it was the unintended parody, the pretend look and the structured feel of pop,
...Otherwise Liquid and Seductive...
and in another scrumptious room, this thin wired guy just in front of him at the Paris Hotel and Casino, he looked like one of dem Russian green-card goons with his scheming Slavic beads for vacant eyes and a face dat looked like it wuz squeezed at birth by a good comrade pediatrician's steel forceps, his cheekbones collapsing back toward a misshapen skull, and he wore an open shirt with too wide collars and a polyester jacket with big pockets, and he was on the prowl for loot and mayhem, which was a pity because the scene there was otherwise liquid and seductive, with starry blue light falling on the darling young things at the bar, twenty-something explorers in search of a promise and an adventure, and the hot-to-trot wives with their daring husbands ready for an invitation, and the feet of the Eiffel Tower plunging through the ceiling, the cutie pie cocktail servers in blue tails over tight hot pants, the smooth and sassy lounge combo performing Papa Was a Rolling Stone, wherever he laid his hat was his home,
...A Tube like Extruded Expressionism...
and outside, Bally's hopeless conveyor belt squeaked and rolled like extruded expressionism, crept through a urethra tube of curved neon, the curves merging at their bases into slanted concrete spillways — I mean, the Bally's men had to overcome the misfortune of an architect's delusion, a set back; I mean, the joint is a city-block distant from frontage on the Boulevard, so they sought, I suppose in the Sixties — it's like a set from the movie Barbarella — to mollify the craving for instant gratification with this tube, like it fell from the mind of Woody Allen, and you have to ride into the casino as a mark on a moving sidewalk, slow slow, with the water falling in a thin stream, gurgling on both sides of you, and I rode anyway, grateful for the respite, rode to what I thought was the end, and the couple behind me were talking about the pictures of steaks and shrimp on the walls, they were ravenous for a snack, but when I got there, there was a cavern to descend into, and a taxi lane to navigate, I could see it at the bottom of the stairs, and management had turned off the escalator, and I was just too weary to stumble into the next tower of amazing wonders, I knew by now I waudn't gonna get none, no jackpot, no wild woman, no magic elixir, but I could pretend I did, I could make it up like Henry Miller or DH Lawrence or Anais Nin made it up, and spin an erotic fantasy like a glistening web, and fall into bed with everyone, and claim winnings galore by the bucketfull like the gamblers do back in Arkansas after the drive to Tunica, they all win, every time, I wonder how the casinos stay in business, but why bother it all been done with previous imaginings, and anyway the mistress of the hacienda would be worried, thinkin' I was steppin' out, she was tender that way, so I climbed the stairs leading from the sidewalk to the east-west pedestrian walkway over the Boulevard, it would carry me back to the Bellagio. I crossed over, ogled the hot little Tokyo lass emerging from the swinging doors, eyeballed her outta the corners of my baby blues, I didn't wanna stare, but she was delicate and stylish, lithe and eager, and they were everywhere, the girls from Asia with their barbarian escorts, and their exotic auras, I was nearly snared now, it was obvious the naked and intoxicating power of The Strip was clouding my judgment, so I looked at my pocket watch, four hours had passed, I needed to find an exit, a way out, but in the shadows next to the last swinging door was an alluring little number in the style of a wayward Junior Leaguer, her eyes searching, her little heart pounding, smoking her cigarette and pleading to be taken away, I was certain of it, but I'd come full circle, back to the walkway over Flamingo Avenue and I waudn't gonna be transformed into a dirty old man, would not allow it the late coming indignity, the arrival of the unrepentant lecher, not yet not ever, especially not twenty minutes before midnight with the last leg ahead of me, the long walk through the darkness beside the raceway of Flamingo Avenue. I strode fast and weary over the freeway, past the still bright Rio, past the titty bar and the Blimpy's to my quiet little suite on Valley View.
Give me twenty grand and a time machine going backward, and I'll give you a different tale of the Vegas that money and lust can buy for a swan's song, but the thick roll of years has hewn a lean wallet, a leaner mind, and I'd just as soon write about the idols of sex and power as chase them tonight on Las Vegas Boulevard.