Welcome to Fabulous
For the first few days of this week, I find myself in, of all places, Las Vegas, NV. My wife is attending a conference here so I tagged along for a short getaway. It’s nearly 45 degrees Celsius here during the day. It “cools off” to the mid 30’s at night. Walking outside is like stepping into an oven.
And, of course, Las Vegas is, well Las Vegas. I’d only been here once before and it’s pretty much exactly how I remembered it. Lots of lights and noise and impressive shiny looking things screaming for my attention and my money, lots of sunburnt tourists stumbling from air-conditioned hotel lobby to hotel lobby, lots of “neon-encrusted temples” and “catalogues selling concubines,” to borrow a few lines from a song by Brandon Flowers. Welcome to Fabulous Las Vegas.
A friend and I were wandering around one of the labyrinthine hotel complexes yesterday and I stopped to try on a pair of shoes. The salesperson inquired as to my plans for the evening. Where was the party? I shrugged and mumbled something about having a bit tamer tastes than those offered up by Fabulous Las Vegas. He laughed. “Man, you came to the wrong place for tamer tastes. This is the playground for adults.” Indeed.
I spent a good part of yesterday just watching people. I saw an angry young man with a megaphone and a sign on the street corner, outlining the fiery torments of hell that awaited “faggots and masturbators.” I saw hordes of tourists clutching their expensive purchases, posing for their photos, lining up for their buffets, gawking at the endless delights served up by this artificial paradise. I saw one older woman riding through a hotel with a selfie stick perched precariously out in front of her little scooter, capturing every precious moment of her trip through the smorgasbord of desire. Incredible.
I saw another older woman—probably close to the same age, standing out on the sidewalk in the oppressive heat lethargically flogging cards with naked girls on them. She looked hot. And tired. I wanted to weep for this dear old woman, reduced to selling young woman to greedy men. I wanted to weep for a world where this was possible, for a place where ravenous human desire can so thoroughly destroy and degrade.
Later on, I was waiting in some kind of a central concourse area in some ridiculously huge hotel while my wife looked in one of the shops. I saw a young couple walk by, both meticulously put together, he with perfectly coiffed hair, she with the impossibly tight and short skirt that is the dress code for young women here in Las Vegas. Everything looked young and fun and fabulous.
All of a sudden they stopped in the middle of the concourse. She looked up at him, and she just started to cry. He took a step back and looked awkwardly away from her, but she just kept crying. Pretty soon makeup was streaked across her pretty face. She looked so sad and alone and defeated.
I watched her for probably five minutes. All around were the lights and the sounds and the happy people chasing after desire in the adult playground. But here was this young woman, standing in the middle of it all, crying. I wanted to go give her a hug. Maybe to tell her that she didn’t need to try so hard. Maybe to tell her that chasing after desire can get pretty exhausting, and it’s ok to say so. Maybe to say that the playground can be a pretty harsh place for some. Or maybe just to tell her not to be ashamed to cry, even in the middle of all the lights and sounds and happy people.
I didn’t do any of that, though. After all, what did I really know? Maybe she had just gotten a text that her mom was sick or that her dog had died. Maybe her stomach hurt from something she had just eaten. Maybe she was just really drunk. Maybe those tears didn’t represent quite the existential crisis that I was pleased to construct in my mind on her behalf. Maybe all of my fanciful projections on to her sad countenance of the contradictions and dead ends served up by Fabulous Las Vegas were utterly misguided. Probably.
But the image will stay with me. This beautiful young woman crying in the middle of the playground while all around the other kids were having a riotously good time. This beautiful young woman standing in the middle of this desert paradise, tears smeared across her face, failing at fabulous in Las Vegas.