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Seething Las Vegas: California Seething [BEST OF FaN]

While reviewing my posts from the past year in an effort to find my favorite, I discovered two important things about myself:

  1. I am an angry, hateful and occasionally deeply unpleasant person to be around.
  2. I had a great time in Vegas this year!

So- here’s my personal favorite post of the past year, chock full of Vegas travel tips for the non-gambling, Cirque-hating, outdoor drinking and bowling enthusiast.

Just don’t tell my dog I picked this one. Or my Drunk Dad. Or my new floor.

Originally published 03/14/11

We were somewhere around Barstow on the edge of the desert when the urge to make a gratuitous reference to Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas began to take hold. And suddenly there was a terrible roar all around us and the sky was full of what looked like huge bats, all swooping and screeching and diving around the car. So we decided to stop for lunch. We chose The Mad Greek Café, world famous for gyros, date-shakes and pointless statuary. The gyros ranked somewhere between “Daphne’s” and “ass,” but the date shakes were loaded with enough sugary goodness to obliterate any of the unpleasant healthy feeling that goes along with eating fruit.

And the statuary — well, suffice it to say that the Mad Greek has the finest reproduction of Michelangelo’s David ever to be placed between a Yield sign and a fire hydrant. Oh, and, by the way, Michelangelo was Italian, morons. I guess “Idiot Greek Who Flunked Art History Café” didn’t have the same ring to it.

So, right, uhm Vegas. Here’s the thing, I hate gambling. Well, maybe hate is too strong a word. I don’t understand gambling. Then again, I hate all the things I don’t understand (Cirque de Soleil- what the fuck?), so, hell yeah, I hate gambling! I’m glad we had this little talk. Call me a walking stereotype, but if I pay for pleasure I want to be sure and get my money’s worth, so I prefer to buy my artificial happiness by the ounce, pound or bottle.

It’s a Money Market approach to hedonism. I invest a certain amount of money and number of brain cells in something bad for me, and after a fixed period of time life becomes 5 – 7% more beautiful. None of this high-risk, high-reward maybe I feel like the king of the world or maybe I end up at a pawn shop selling my gold fillings for a bus ticket home and a used pair of flip-flops malarkey. It’s a fiscally sound approach to self-destruction that has served me well over the years, despite a few dime-bags of tree-trimmings in Washington Square Park and a particularly expensive ounce of chanterelle mushrooms bought at a Bob Dylan show and years of underwhelming performance in my 401k.

Anyhow, so Vegas — I never really had much interest, but my wife had to come out here for a conference at the Bellagio and, being a supportive, loving husband I decided to make the ultimate sacrifice and come stay for free at a five star hotel. I’d been here before, back in the Before Cirque Era (BCE) and wasn’t particularly impressed, but I discovered via the “internet” that there were all sorts of new and exciting things to do here that didn’t involve the typical Vegas recreations of gambling, seeing overpriced “theatre” and losing your home to foreclosure. So, I came up with a list of objectives for myself to see if I could get in the spirit of this ridiculous place.

1. Make myself at home

Las Vegas is a great place to be yourself, if yourself happens to be a raspy voiced short-haired female retiree with a pink be-dazzled tank top, a no-nonsense attitude towards playing slots and undiagnosed emphysema; a drunk bachelorette’s chunky best friend who’s boobs are flopping out of the dress she starved her way into screaming out the tinted rear window of  a stretch Hummer while she pretends to be happy for her best friend (aka skinny bitch); or an extroverted blowhard in a knock-off Knicks jersey with chest hair, beer gut, goatee, and baseball cap who is not ashamed to wear his sunglasses perched on the back of his neck (though he should be.) Since I come closest to matching archetype #3, I dug the form fitting Knicks Larry Johnson jersey out of the closet to show off my man-curves, slapped on my Kirk Douglas Theatre baseball cap and headed to New York, NY — Home of the Walking Cliché. I couldn’t do the sunglasses thing, cause my glasses are prescription and my mom wouldn’t let me (I called her.)

New York, NY is just like New York City, except that it’s dark, dingy and smells like smoke. Run-down tenement facades with boarded up windows look over the casino floor, as a light hearted reminder of pre-Giuliani urban poverty. Basically, New York, NY is like the NYC display at the Empire State Museum only with booze and gambling. Or for those of you not from Albany, imagine the old-school set of Sesame Street, only Big Bird and Elmo are shooting craps and Mr. Hooper is a Blackjack dealer. It’s comforting to see that Vegas has saved a piece of authentic New York while New York itself has turned into a bad knock-off of Vegas.  I can’t wait for the Williamsburg casino with 3-D virtual artists’ lofts, animatronic hipsters, and a stoop behind glass to display Puerto Ricans in their natural habitat.

The highlight of this casino is the roller coaster- which allows one to corkscrew and spiral wildly through the NYC skyline without all the carnage involved in a derailment of the B Train. As I approached the entrance to the roller coaster, a stereotypical goombah brayed at me from every passing flat screen monitor like Big Brother in a track suit to “keep youse hands in da ride at all times” and “youse betta not ride dis ride if youse gots a heart condishun or somethin’.” Unfortunately, I was so busy thinking of ways to mock this idiot that I didn’t pay attention to the announcement to “put all youse personal belongin’s in one of dem lockuhs” and so I spent the entire ride desperately clutching my glasses to my face like the bedwetting nerd that I am, hoping I wouldn’t have to spend the rest of the trip looking for a casino optical shop that takes VSP. Still, pretty fun though.

2. Live Dangerously

Las Vegas is full of opportunities to do this. One can shoot machine guns, dive off the Stratosphere Tower, race exotic cars and fly helicopters. I chose to do the most dangerous thing of all and go swimming less than half an hour after I ate. As any good Jewish boy knows, this will most certainly lead to drowning, death and marrying a Shiksa (done!).

I chose to perform this feat of derring-do at the Bellagio pool. This is basically a regulation Olympic sized pool for Olympic rowing and wind-surfing events. Evidently, the architects who design casinos follow the same basic design principles as used car dealers do when picking the color of inflatable gorilla for the roof of their lots: more spectacle = more suckers or, as Diddy famously said “mo’ show, mo’ dough” (OK, he never said it, but he should have. I can’t do everything around here. Jeez.)

It was 74 degrees and breezy — warm, I suppose by the poor-bastard-state standards, but Uggs and scarf weather for Californians. The only people actually in the pool were children, who are genetically incapable of being within 500 yards of a pool and not going in. Unfortunately, the sheer size of the pool meant that even all the children couldn’t warm it with their urine, so I had to brave the icy 70 degree waters. I swam around a little bit, sticking close to the walls, of course, in case I got a cramp from eating so recently (I’m not a crazy person, you know.) After a few minutes of failing to enjoy myself, I got out, grabbed a drink, and joined the rest of the grown-ups by the side of the pool sunning myself until my teeth stopped chattering. So, there, I braved death and lived to tell the tale. Take that Mom! Next time I’m here, I’m going to run down the strip with scissors.

3. Exploit Wild Animals

I’m not sure how aware lions are of their surroundings, but if they have any semblance of consciousness, I’m pretty sure the three suicidal depressed lions at the MGM Grand are praying to Aslan that MGM would switch its mascot to a tiger already so they can get the fuck back to Africa. And who can blame them? They lie around all day in a glass box no bigger than a telemarketer’s cubicle while well-fed slow moving tourists who would make a lovely afternoon snack in the wild, line up to take pictures with their iPhones.  Maybe I can find some lions in a real zoo and make an “It Gets Better” video for them. Anything to get those poor kitties through the day. Note to MGM: the lions would seem a lot more dangerous, if they didn’t have three guys hanging out in their cage casually talking about their March Madness brackets. Just saying, yo.

4. Enjoy Family Fun

Those of you who think of me as a surly old cranky-pants may be surprised to hear that I happen to be a big fan of family fun. Not that I like children or seeing my family — let’s not go nuts here. But I do enjoy the gamut of traditional family fun activities: Alpine sliding, Go-Kart racing, mini-golf and, most of all, bowling. This is not to say that I’m any good at any of these things. I took bowling for a semester in high-school and the only thing I learned how to do was work the Change Score function on the computerized scoring console so that I could fake showing improvement (if only that worked in Calculus, I might not have been waitlisted at SUNY Binghamton. Sigh.) Nonetheless, to prove that this town wasn’t just for party animals who drink before noon and retirees spending their reverse mortgage checks (instead of giving out a new Corvette at the slot machines, they should be offering a Rascal or an artificial hip — or did I just give away the GOP’s new Health Care Plan?) I decided to find a casino where I could go bowling.

I ended up at the Orleans, which is located in that magical wonderland of “Off The Strip” a wondrous land filled with $1 beers, $6.95 Prime Rib and motels that charge by the murdered hooker. The Orleans is an old-school, local casino — a place where good, hard working folks can blow a good week’s pay. The bowling alley did not disappoint. While the quality of the lanes gave me unpleasant flashbacks of recent home-improvement projects and my fellow patrons were doing nothing to convince me that Vegas wasn’t just a place for retirees and alcoholics, the games were cheap, the people friendly and the beer cold and cheap at the snack bar. So I’m pleased to report that, yes, Vegas is a great place to have fun with your family. Particularly if you want to get wasted before noon while you do it.

5. Pamper Myself

There are a lot of opportunities to do this in Vegas: spa treatment, manscaping, mani-pedi, facial, blow job and eyebrow sculpting. I didn’t feel like spending money on any of them and, since even the cost of a shave at the Bellagio exceeded my grooming budget for Fiscal 2011, I settled for getting a haircut and beard-trim at the Orleans. It worked out well since I kind of needed a haircut. I can always tell it’s time when passer-bys start giving me loose change when they see me on the street waiting for the bus and, while I enjoy riding for free, it’s probably not good for me to look that way from a professional standpoint. As you can see, the barber did a fine job on me. He is also proud subscriber to the “You Better Believe I’m No Faggot” series of Salon Calendars for Men.

6. Indulge Shamelessly

This is where Vegas all started to come together for me. I was at the CVS on The Strip, picking up a 2 liter of Diet Coke when suddenly, I had a revelation. I could buy a beer! More to the point, I could walk out of here with said beer and OPEN IT, and no one could say a damn word. I got out of the line I’d been waiting in for approximately three months, grabbed a Bud Light tall boy and returned to the back of the line, giggling with delight.

In line ahead of me were two guys from Texas with Bud Light tall boys of their own. One asked the cashier for a small brown paper bag, giving her a knowing wink. She looked at him, confused. In an effort to clarify his intention he looked at me and said “I bet this guy wants one, too” and winked again (or maybe he had a tick.) She still looked confused by his request. Finally, it dawned on me. I looked at my brother in Budweiser and said “Dude, I don’t think anybody here gives a shit.” The guy behind me piped up cheerfully, “They don’t” he said, waving his pint of Christian Brothers Brandy in the air like a Libyan waving a banner of freedom “Nobody cares! Long as you spendin’ money, it’s all good.” We bought our beers, undisguised and unabashed, walked outside and opened them proudly under the bright desert sky, toasting this remarkable place where anything goes so long as it lowers your impulse control and loosens your wallet.

So, right, uhm Vegas. Look, this is a stupid place. It’s a soulless morally bankrupt hub of rapacious corporate greed, mind-boggling waste and systematic mass exploitation. It is like a Cheesecake Factory for lazy travelers, serving up simulated versions of every great destination from around the world in oversize, flavorless portions. But it’s perfectly designed to be fun.

It looks like fun is supposed to look: a hazy blur of brightly colored signs whizzing by like a montage in a black and white movie. It sounds like fun is supposed to sound: jingling change, hoots and hollers from the craps table, blaring club music and tinkling piano bars. It smells like fun is supposed to smell: trace notes of liquor, smoke, cologne and sweat. And, if you have a couple of beers and try not to think too hard, it can be a lot of fun. I mean, hell. Vegas is what the American Empire will leave behind. The ancient Egyptians built pyramids to honor the dead and we build ours to celebrate life. Doesn’t that make us kind of awesome? In 500 years, when the lights have all gone out and the sands have filled up the dancing fountains, I’d like to think that our horribly mutated descendents will look at this place and think of us fondly, shaking their heads and smiling ruefully at what a bunch of utter dumbshits we all were.

So, come to Vegas, grab a yard-sized margarita in a plastic Eiffel Tower shaped cup and toast with me to the downfall of the wicked and wonderful American Empire. If I learned anything from the New York, NY roller coaster, it’s that the fast way down is a hell of a lot more fun than the slow climb up.