Ahh, the big fake sights and the big fake sounds!In the dead of night I made the mistake of turning off the air conditioner in my hotel room here in Las Vegas and it is currently 90 degrees inside. The city is hot, asshole hot, and all of the lies about “dry heat” are just that. The thousands of fountains and pools in Vegas just ooze moisture into the air like the whole place is an open sore, and the streets are painted black to radiate heat long after the sun has set. The town is a flamethrower, a torch wielding mob, urging you with violence to retreat to the cool safety of one of the many casinos. I am here for “Gooncon 2k4”, a gathering of hundreds of antisocial nerds loosely affiliated with Something Awful. The nerds are okay for the most part, Las Vegas is not.
It’s a trap made from light and concrete shaped to look like a Roman Goddess’s tits, an inescapable maze where every wrong turn drains your wallet and saps you of your will to lead a free life. The Strip is literally designed as a funnel, with confusing walkways and escalators everywhere that arc over the top of traffic-choked streets and send you shuffling into casinos before you even realize it. You often find yourself walking through entire casinos to get to other casinos and those of you who have never experienced a Las Vegas casino have no idea what this is like. You picture some rows of clanking and buzzing slot machines and some card tables, maybe with a theme where guys dressed as Batman come out and try to get you drunk.
The truth is much more sinister. Every casino is arrayed to entrap you in a vortex. There isn’t a room full of slots, there are ten rooms full of slots, staggered and winding to make finding anything as difficult as possible. The idea is to disorient you so much that your only sense of bearing left functioning – your only genetic path finding ability - is the one that draws you towards the flashing lights and buzzers of the row of “I Dream of Genie” nickel slots. Maybe a GPS unit would help, but even that seems unlikely because they build the casinos out of plates of metal to block cell phone calls. Cut off all access to the outside world, become lost in a nightmarish realm where Batman really wants you to drink another Long Island Iced Tea and would just love to bring it to you while you try to get Major Nelson to finally pay up.
The abyss changes you.I’m staying in the Imperial Palace, a hotel I am told was run by Nazis, and after staying here for two days I’m willing to believe it. I picture some camp guard at Dachau fleeing to the desert with millions in stolen gold and buying a casino.
“Build it in the shape of a Swastika!” He exclaimed, and they did.
“Hide the elevators, only have the minimum number possible,” he pounded his fist on a table at the architect’s office. “They will eat sawdust and mealworms, they will drink processed urine and they will kiss my rings for giving them that.”
Even if he wasn’t a Nazi, the sadist responsible for this run down ghetto of a hotel was certainly laughing when its doors opened. Even without the red arm band he was still wiping away a mirthful tear as he watched the first retirees filing in to become lost in the slots, shaking his head with mock sadness and mouthing the words “I’ve got them now”.
The Imperial Palace doesn’t even have a clear theme, which is actually something of an oddity here in Vegas. Caesar’s Palace has the Roman thing going for it, Aladdin’s a fanciful Arabian Nights theme, and the Imperial Palace is just a vomited jumble of mixed costumes and iconography. There are Chinese characters on the walls in places, but all of the dealers are dressed up like mobsters and the rooms have five dollar framed posters of fish and bed spreads that look like someone sneezed blood on them. The hallways leading to the rooms are narrow and dim, which might be the best indication of the real theme here at the Imperial; despair.
It's assisted living care for those who can't afford it!The human sump gave up at the doors of the Imperial Palace, and besides the throngs of shy nerds shouting “Internet” at each other the clientele is geriatric and pathetic. People come to die at the Imperial. They come because they have nowhere else to go and maybe, just maybe, the retirement money they squandered buying stuff from those “awfully nice” telemarketers can be earned back by dropping quarters or even pennies into the jangling slot machines. Walking past the card tables I saw that they had celebrity impersonators dealing. A confused looking Rodney Dangerfield was flipping cards at the blackjack table and I think the guy with the giant black birthmark on his face was supposed to be Rickey Martin. A little entertainment to mask the death rattle.
The rest of Vegas has been equally depressing, but for different reasons. It’s like a giant Disneyland for retarded adults. A playground for people who take pictures of pneumatic fountains synchronized to fire jets of water into the air accompanied by “Rock You Like a Hurricane”. After sunset the sidewalks are covered with a thick carpet of nearly pornographic cards advertising prostitutes. In a previous article Frolixo mentioned the Mexicans who work on most corners, standing in groups, snapping the cards to make almost insect-like calls to you as you approach. Why yes Mister Juan Cicada, I would like to know more about Celeste and where she would like me to put it. Three girls for 99 dollars you say? I feel like a winner already.
At the Gooncon functions I found myself almost always backing away from a group of people. 400 people, no matter how nice, are fucking terrifying. Most were drunk, some were already lost in the crushing cycle of Las Vegas. One guy told me that a friend had called an escort the night before, paid her $400 for a blowjob, and then ended up ushering her out the door without achieving orgasm. Stories like that are heartwarming. Unapologetically Las Vegas creates its own self-describing parables. If you want to spend a lot of money and never cum, then Las Vegas is the town for you. Me, I’ll just keep drinking, and dream during my fitful sleep of the flight that will get me out of this place.
You Know What? FUCK Your Band.
The honorable self-proclaimed chairman of honest music criticism has once again blessed us with his profound wisdom.
Way back in the days when music critics listened to albums with the none-too-generous expectation that they wouldn’t be completely fucking terrible, Led Zeppelin got mostly unfavorable reviews. However, sometime in the eighties, when the rock and roll well had almost entirely dried up, Led Zeppelin’s critical reputation was somehow transformed; critics went back and re-discovered them, realizing that while they were objectively terrible, they sucked about ten percent less than the new stuff that was coming out.
If you feel yourself getting angry your should probably read what Dr. David Thorpe has to say about Classic Rock.
Are you concerned that you may be a character trapped in a Tom Waits song? Be smart and learn the warning signs before it's too late. Also, it's too late. It has always been too late.
I'm haunted by a recurring vision of a skeleton flipping me off. To avoid seeing this terrifying image in bumper sticker form, I pay someone with a blank bumper to drive in front of me at all times.
The Something Awful front page news tackles anything both off and on the Internet. Mostly "on" though, as we're all incredible nerds.