A paradise for the misbegotten

LAS VEGAS — On a hot, dry day in September, the whole city was breathing and heaving like a tired beast. On the street that controls all the luxurious hotels, cursing motorists were melting down encased in steeled impotence, trapped in a horrendous gridlock.

Shakespeare did not live in the age of malls, but the Bard would have recognized this city in any age, for what it is. A religion, disease, nightmare — a paradise for the misbegotten.  This city of a thousand flashing lights racing on and off, bizarre and beautiful, meant to confuse that there is no time here, no past or future. It is just like having arrived at a palace at the end of the world, with its oversized antiquities, employees wearing costumes, seducing you inside with a game of roulette, crap or Keno.

Behind the glitter and neon posts is an incredible array of colorful characters who enhance its mystique.  The tales are taller, of their winnings and losses in life as well as on the tables, their extreme experiences even greater.

The characters are both real and imagined, famous and obscure.  Whether a writer is looking for the classic Las Vegas known as the temple of the First American Dream (founded by Bugsy Siegel), there is a hidden world beyond its popular image. Ranging from the hilarious to the tragic, many are drawn to the city for the inspiration behind its spirit and character.

This phenomenon and its denizens provide the spark to the writer’s imagination, from Howard Hughes, Frank, Dino, Elvis, Michael Jackson and the rest of the ensemble (gone, but not forgotten). Throw in the world’s best and worst gamblers, ladies room attendants, showgirls, and conventioneers; to a haven of sin and vice, to its present incarnation as lower rollers gambling playground of today.

You start pondering about that cocktail waitress, a tallish woman, in her 40s or 50s with great bone structure and coiffed dyed hair looking like she was once a chorus line beauty, wise-cracking with tired eyes and a smile that happen by reflex.

You know, each one has a story, and that it is something these days to be a story. More and more people don’t — unless you’re the self-confessed paramours of big-time celebrities.

I am intrigued by people who troop the slot machines.  Even as we talked, I could hear the handle of slots. They pulled and pulled, making you wonder where the money comes from.  You even imagine the possibility of the machine incubating their own coins and giving birth to the money, while lights flashed and bells rang!

For some reasons, though, I knew the money could never be mine or yours, even if we had a truckload of coins to spend and pull the same machines all night long until kingdom comes. It will be devoured again and again, the nickels, dimes, and quarters.  It provides for the hungry slot machines, rather than extra cash for the Moonlighter and it seems to me that in some great sky, someone had chosen the lucky and the unlucky, the winner and loser. Luck wasn’t given because someone needed or deserved it, or I’ll be the luckiest one alive!

Vegas is the temptress that seduces, leading the beguiled to wide doors.  But these doors weren’t doors, they were great sucking machines of which money fell out, as well as stocks of chips that grew taller or shorter on green felt tables for winners and losers.

It seduced idiot gamblers with the sound of money, visitors to wear outrageous clothes. On the subject of glaring clothes people wore here, it gave one possibility of dyeing one’s hair champagne pink and gluing rhinestones on my forehead, wear clothes that when my grandchildren saw, they will need therapy for five years to recover.

In Vegas, you can do anything.  Give into that subsidiary thrill, that almost religious excitement before a game, to flashes of insanity and lunar influence. And even against all odds, you’ll get a great night and the greatest thing about that night is that you’ve done nothing to deserve it.

Vegas is value-free.

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