Sunday, May 04, 2008

Fear and Musing in Las Vegas

I'm accounting for myself and my absence.

I've been in Las Vegas for two days. The major, beckoning event was a relaxed and playful wedding on the 109th floor (or was it the 106th?) of the Stratosphere Casino and Hotel.

Highlights and musings:

Took in "Love," Cirque du Soleil's tribute to the Beatles, the night before the nuptials. The French acrobatic troupe gave yet another meaning to Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds. (Sodden thought: in the packed house of 3,000 or so, I was among the few who were the same age as the Beatles.)

Watched the dancing fountain in front of the Bellagio. Lawn sprinklers on steroids.

Tried to relax around the casino's roof-top pool (see photo) but was driven off by bombilating rap "music." What happened to Sinatra and "Fly me to the Moon"? Why is rap today's musical default?

Thunka-thunka-thunka-THUNK etc.!

Visited with extended East Coast and Midwestern family, (by my son's marriage). Anchors of sanity in a maelstrom of cacophony and bling.

Hung out with son at the Hilton's sports gambling lounge at 8 a.m.. He bet on British soccer; I watched and wondered at the millions hanging on a diving save, a photo-finish or a two-run homer in the ninth.

As millions starve, I ate my marmalade and toast, hash browns, ham slab and scrambled eggs and wondered. Walking back, we debated the morality, or immorality, of it all.

This morning, at the Vegas airport, clogged with the Sunday home bound and hungover, I bought Hunter S. Thompson's "Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas." The airport Borders had several copies. In 1998, they made a movie of it. The manager said he hadn't seen it. He was afraid they had botched the book. "Loved the book," he said. He meant it.

"Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas," was written in 1971 as a novel posing as "Gonzo journalism." It is Vegas seen through a miasma of drugs. A lot of drugs. It chronicles the hallucinations of Thompson, aka Raoul Duke, and his "attorney."

The big deals in 1971 and in the book were icons like Circus Circus, the Sands, The Flamingo and the Rat Pack.

Things have changed. For starters, in 2005, Thompson put a gun to his head and checked out of the big casino called life.

In 1971, none of the major casinos existed. Dancing fountains? A scaled-down Eiffel Tower? A Nordstrom? Neiman Marcus? A dolphin pond? Gondolas floating by Rolex shops?

No way.

But what next?

Who knows? The place is out-of-control booming. Construction cranes are everywhere. Welders work round the clock. The unchecked growth is sucking the Colorado River dry. Brown fumes hang over the desert city.

America gone amok. Bad craziness, as Thompson put it.

Flying home to Portland and normalcy, reading "Fear and Loathing," I hit this passage somewhere over Bend:

"I hate to say this," said my attorney as we sat down at the Merry-go-Round Bar on the second balcony, "but this place is getting to me. I think I'm getting the Fear."

"Nonsense," I said. "We came out here to find the American Dream, and now that we're right in the vortex you want to quit." I grabbed his bicep and squeezed. "You must realize," I said, "that we've found the main nerve."

"I know," he said. "that's what gives me the Fear."

I don't know if it was zoned-out slot-jockeys, the Strip's exhaust-belching gridlock, beefy bouncers in black suits, or ostentatious cleavages slicing through the glitter, but I shared the fear.

Could this be the American Dream?

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