Saturday, May 29, 2010

First light,Vegas: A Love Letter

The sun stumbles over the horizon in his wrinkled suit and pukes up dawn onto the Strip. A suffocating cacophony of traffic is in the air, as if it has forever been, like prehistoric birdsong. You squint against the bleak, sun washed streets. All is anticlimax outside the casino. A siren cuts through the air, opening a psychic wound: someone somewhere is dying. Humanity's pulse never fails to beat. This is a rude understanding in the land of suspended reality. In daylight, the high life appears to the eye like ordinary, pathetic debauchery and excess, so you retreat into the sanctity of the casino's perpetual night.

It takes battalions to cater to the whim of wealth and fantasy. Those who work here are from somewhere else, like those who come to play, to risk their wages and transcend the labor it took to earn them. Nothing makes a man feel less bound to debt and wage slavery than to lose money with impunity on games of chance.

As in the penitentiary, you meet no one's eyes here. To look at the eyes reminds the dead of life, threatens the resolve and perpetuation of fantasy, and, as the aborigine fears his soul stolen by a camera's lens, here people are afraid you’ll take their luck. All are wary. Suspicion is constant: a handshake, a nod, a smile is the prelude to a con, a ruthless seduction, a threat.

The sterile casino air dries the pores and sinuses and is infused with extra oxygen to give the pep to stay awake longer and lose more money. There are no clocks, no natural light, no unmanufactured fragrance. Without question or complaint, patrons wait on line to feed on acres of mediocre buffet food containing more preservatives than nutrients, served beneath sneeze guards.

Gluttony, avarice, sloth, vanity, lust, wrath, pride can be sated for a price, but for all the money one throws down or away, only imposters of love, empathy, trust, brotherhood are on offer. Despite this, because the city cultivates the rash, the impetuous, and the ill-advised: many marry impulsively here in one of quickie wedding chapels built alongside adult video boutiques, peep shows, and strip clubs.

Many come here to escape their normal lives, to act as children with adult desires and capacities. This is the danger. This city encourages the worst impulses and desires of the inner child: immediate gratification, constant entertainment and stimulus, an unrelenting attention to want. As long as the money holds out, the puerile fantasies and fixations and impulses need not be checked. Those who are able strive to extend the mechanical pony ride for as long as the quarters hold out. Even for a lifetime.

Do you submit to the fantasy--the fantasy that you are king of the city as you look out from of your hotel room of Bally's, as if from a penthouse of power? You are expected to do nothing here but feed the beast. You are not expected to work, to think, to strive, to build, to care. Only to eat and drink, sleep, and spend. Smoke or screw 'em if you got 'em. Fill your senses with the junk food of lights and chips and booze.

You walk away from the casino with a crank addict's hop and buzz but your body is exhausted. Your instincts about numbered spots-of-cards, dice, flashing slots are sharp and heightened. You can figure the odds of thrown dice or spinning wheels. You understand the odds of your actions here, but the statistics of your other life are a mystery: What are the odds of dying in an automobile today? Of hearing a kind word from someone you care about? Of losing a loved one? Your lover lies sleeping on the hotel bed behind you. When she wakes, what will be her words? Her desires? Her needs? Will she want food or sex or kindness? Solitude or society? No way to know, no way to predict. She might wake, pack a bag and never see you again. She might invite you into the bed.

These are the subtle but profound statistics that reveal the games of chance in the casinos below as the mere child's play that they are.

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