It probably says something strange about my psyche that, unable to sleep as late as I could before departing for home, I had to get out of bed and write down the post percolating in my head. At least it speaks to why I would choose to visit Las Vegas to hang out with a bunch of guys (and several of their lovely, lovely wives) who spend their time writing for a political-ish blog. In any case, I wanted to preserve my fleeting impressions in amber before they faded too much into mist.
I’ll start with both the easiest and most important part. Meeting everyone has been a total blast. Up until now, I’ve existed in an odd limbo in relation to my colleagues at the League, where I pretty much considered them friends, but hadn’t met them in real life and so felt a little weird about calling them that. It is wonderful to be able to erase the qualifiers and simply say that they’re my friends. These guys are great, as are the spouses I was lucky enough to meet. Seriously, just the smartest, nicest, funniest guys. I don’t know why it was a little bit jarring to realize that nobody really looks like their Gravatars (I don’t resemble mine particularly closely), but once I got over the fact that Burt isn’t really yellow everything was just fun and easy and relaxed in the best possible way. I really hope I get to spend time with these people again. (Special tip of the hat to Jason for giving me an interpretation of “2666” that, if it doesn’t make me like it per se, at least lets me hate it less. And to Scott for having theories about “Infinite Jest” that would never have occurred to me in a million, billion years. And to Pat for explaining to me what a “point spread” is in a way I understand. And, of course, to Burt for making it all happen in the first place.)
I am so lucky to be part of this group.
With that said, I can move on to my thoughts about Las Vegas. I had never been here before, and… wow. After several years as a New Yorker, I developed a deep aversion to being mistaken for a tourist. (At least I think that’s a New Yorker thing.) That sensibility is completely pointless in Vegas. Everyone knows you’re a tourist. There’s no point in being here if you’re not a tourist. So go ahead and gawk at the rococo gaudiness of it all. That’s what it’s there for.
Las Vegas does over-the-top in a way I couldn’t ever have imagined. Everything is covered in layer of hard candy, festooned with blinking lights and surrounded by speaker pounding out dance music. People wander around with giant open containers of frozen neon intoxicants nearly as tall as they are. When on Friday night we asked our waiter where we could find a nice bar for everyone to meet later where it wasn’t loud and people could talk, he was genuinely confounded. It’s loud everywhere, and why would people want to talk in a bar? This city is like the world’s most glorious migraine.
What makes Vegas so remarkable for me is its utter, utter shamelessness. Numerous times I said “hello” and smiled politely to someone on an elevator or something, and they’d return the greeting and ask matter-of-factly “are you partying later?” in the manner of “how are you?” It was… disconcerting. It felt rather like meeting Queen Elizabeth and saying “Gee, sister, those jewels you’re wearing sure must cost a lot.” Well, yes. But we don’t really talk about it, do we? In Vegas, talking about it is like talking about the weather.
My thoughts cycled rapidly between “I can’t believe they have X here” and “Of course they have X here.” A Parisian arrondissement? But of course. A miniature, Crayola-colored New York skyline? You bet. A multi-story wine tower up and down which stewards rappel on cables? Check. A gigantic chandelier in which is found a bar? Right this way. Ad infinitum.
This jumble almost seems to make its own kind of sense. Almost. When strolling through the streets of an ersatz Paris, one might encounter a gigantic slot machine with a Batman theme right next to a couple of go-go dancers atop a bar. (It was my first time seeing real, live go-go dancers. Ok, fine… real, live female go-go dancers. I had the strange impulse to blush and avert my gaze.) What that has to go with France is anyone’s guess. And so it is with the sphinx, which is next to Camelot, which is across the street from the Statue of Liberty (and roller coaster!), and so on. It almost manages to seem comprehensible.
And yet, despite the relentless good cheer of almost everyone I encountered (which really didn’t seem at all forced) (with the notable exception of the waiter in LVH’s Paradise Cafe, who gave me the look of death for having the temerity to ask for a glass of water) and despite the energy devoted to fun, FUN, FUN! it began to have the opposite effect on me. It just began to make me feel weary and melancholy (the latter relieved by regular doses of wonderful company), and whatever vestigial introvert dwells within me began to come out. It couldn’t have helped that I missed my husband and son, or that I didn’t sleep well or enough. But even so, I wonder if my temperament is really suited to this kind of leisure. I vacillated between finding the whole place outrageously awesome and deeply repellant, and I wonder if with more time I’d have become a drag on the people around me.
I am so glad I went. I am deeply happy to have met these friends of mine, whose company I cannot wait to share again. I am delighted to have seen this place with my own two eyes. But it’s time to go home.