I’m sure it seems that way.
Yes, I abandoned Happy Valley and its 20+ inches of rain since the first of June for Las Vegas, to see my friends Tracy and The Other Rick, and enjoy a few days of sunshine and 100 degrees of dry heat. Sometimes you just need to be reassured that the sun really does exist and that you still know how to lose money in a video poker machine. This was one of those times.
Getting anywhere from State College is a two flight business for the flush and a drive to the big city and a direct flight for the thrifty traveler. I wasn’t feeling that flush, and so drove to Pittsburgh where I left my car—with the driver’s window (accidentally) all the way down—in section 17A of Extended Parking. I was fortunate my car wasn’t filled with water on my return!
As a thrifty but demanding traveler, I sprung for Early Bird Boarding on Southwest Airlines. My $15 got me position B29, which sounded only slightly better than Boarding Group Z. After I tagged Southwest in a grumble tweet about my purchase, I was contacted by a very nice customer service representative who asked me to wait until the return leg of my trip and to let the company know how things worked out. If I wasn’t satisfied he offered a full refund. Yay Southwest!
I snagged an aisle seat next to a leathery couple--leathery as as in too much sun on the golf course rather than regulars at the San Francisco Eagle--who could not even offer up a hello. Not even one word. Perhaps I should to pay to upgrade my deodorant rather than my boarding position!
Las Vegas Premium Outlet Mall. It’s the site of one of my best Las Vegas experiences ever, buying green Ralph Lauren trousers embroidered with martini glasses and shakers for $9.95.
Like a heroin addict chasing a high, I return to the outlet mall every year looking for the perfect pair of party trousers. This year, I settled for garden variety khakis at the smaller-than-it-used-to-be Brooks Brothers. There’s nothing festive about them and they weren’t even close to $9.95. Oh well, maybe next time.
Over at the Ralph Lauren store, party trousers were likewise nowhere to be found. However, Ralph was selling camo jeans with a matching fatigue jacket for well north of $200. Presumably they were someone’s idea of BDUs for Operation Checkbook Emptying.
Shoppers looking for a slim fit Polo shirt in size XXL were in luck—there were tons of those. I think the outlet stocked up expecting a Marfan Syndrome convention. Who else would want a slim fit shirt in a 2XL? Tracy found some things, and in a shopping first, a coupon Ralph texted me (it could have been Ricky, they're old, they might share a phone) saved Tracy actual money.
After our shopping adventure it was time for a little R&R around Tracy and The Other Rick's pool. The pool guy, an earnest fellow named Grant, came by to do whatever pool guys do—adjust the chemicals, skim out the crud, and so on. I asked if he’d ever fallen into a pool in the line of duty and he said no, but his phone had landed in the drink once. He mentioned the difficulty of finding a professional looking swimsuit with a pocket for one’s phone. (Ralph, if you're listening...can you whip up something...maybe in camo?) Grant had the good sense not to hear me when I pointed out that in porn, pool guys wear Speedos.
Saturday evening, Tracy, The Other Rick and I went to THE Steak House at Circus Circus. Yes, the THE is in caps. The (lower case) Steak House must be someplace else.
Our waiter introduced himself as Richard. The Other Rick and I introduced ourselves as Richards as well. So, a three Dick night. Yes, I chuckled.
The food lived up to its billing. The wedge salad was the perfect old school accompaniment to a big honkin’ steak. When Richard brought my steak, I was reminded of the scene from the credits of the Flintstones where Fred Flintstone orders ribs at the drive-in restaurant and they’re so big that they tip over his car. My steak wasn’t just huge, but it was also cooked to perfection…over a wood fire, no less.
THE Steak House isn’t for the faint of wallet, but the food was fantastic.
Sunday was time for more R and R, lounging and loitering by the pool and whatnot, enjoying the 100 degrees of dry heat.
Late in the afternoon, we morphed into looky loos and visited the model homes on the other side of the wash/gulch/draw/arroyo or whatever that vacant depression of desert behind The Other Rick and Tracy's house is called.
We put on our moderately good bib and tucker and arrived there shortly before the end of business hours.
According to the builder’s website:
The builder thoughtfully placed what museum professionals would call “didactic materials” (i.e. labels) on certain features of the houses so that you would know how special they were.
Frankly, my Life Tested--Registered Trade Mark--Dream Closet had better include a lot more than ample shelving. I’m thinking shirts with collars that never fray arranged in perfect Roy G Biv order, 32” waist trousers that still fit, and a sock drawer arranger who will come on schedule, like Grant the pool guy, to ensure that my dress socks, argyles, Smart Wools, no-shows, and miscellaneous socks stay arranged by color, length, expiration date, and so on.
Jerry Lewis clips on your iPhone, you are flat out of luck.
Prices at Blackrock start at $485,880 for the 2,100 stripper square foot Stella model. That means no white wall tires, no factory air, no am/fm 8-track tape deck and no Life Tested--Registered Trade Mark--Dream Closet. Your building lot, of course, is not included. Blackrock’s pricing brings to mind Captain Kangaroo’s disclaimer about Schwinn bicycles: Prices slightly higher in the west and the south.
OK, maybe I would like to live at Blackrock. But I’d need to have some work done—lipo, some Botox, dye job. And then I’d need new clothes (black, browns, and grays), new furniture, (black, browns, and grays) and new whatnot (guess what colors?), not to mention a new car. Nothing but a Lincoln Compensator, as big and as costly as an aircraft carrier will do. Alas, there's another Vegas dream with little chance of coming true!
The Neon Museum for its show Brilliant. If you have not been to The Neon Museum, the next time you’re in Vegas, go! It’s great.
Brilliant in its North Gallery, a collection of unrestored signs that’s across the street from the main body of the museum. Though none of these 40 signs actually light up, using a technique called projection mapping, light is projected onto them so that they look as if they’re lit. It’s way cool.
The next day I rented a car and drove out of town to see some stacks of painted rocks in the desert. Yes, I paid an obscene amount of money to rent a car at the hotel so that I could go out into the desert to look at painted rocks. Guess how hot it was?
Seven Magic Mountains, which translates into plain English as Seven Day Glow Phallic Symbols Out in the Middle of Nowhere. The work was created by a Swiss artist named Ugo Rondinone. The phallic symbols, I mean magic mountains, are stacks of “locally sourced” rocks painted in presumably non locally sourced dayglow paint. The stacks of rocks are roughly 30 feet tall; they’re scheduled to be on display for two years starting in 2016, so run, do not walk, to see them.
The work was funded by the Nevada Museum of Art and the Art Production Fund, though if you drill down on the website, you see that its sponsors also include Aria, a Vegas hotel/casino; Banana Republic, the clothing store in better malls everywhere; Warhol Superstar, Jane Holzer, and Nevada’s top highway builder, Las Vegas Paving Corporation. Strange bedfellows indeed.
According to the work’s website, the artist, Ugo Rondinone, was born 1964 in Switzerland but now lives in New York. (I’d like to see him get those big rocks in a New York apartment!) He has “long embraced a fluid range of forms and media” which “creates the conditions for an expansive emotional range”. Presumably if I were to be more fluid in my embrace I would have more than a limited emotional range. Yet another thing to work on in therapy!
The website goes on to say that Rondinone’s work is “recognized for its ability to channel both psychological expressiveness and profound insight in the human condition and the relationship between human being and nature. Referring concurrently to the natural world, romanticism and existentialism, his works encapsulate a 'mental trinity' that has underpinned his art for more than twenty years.”
That’s pretty much what I thought too.
So in my rented RAV4, a car which I’ve never liked since I didn’t know if it's pronounced RAVE 4 or RAV 4, I headed south on Las Vegas Boulevard, past Caesar’s Palace, Bellagio, Mandalay Bay and even the Welcome to Fabulous Las Vegas sign. I drove past an outlet mall, some locals casinos, plenty of discount liquor stops.
Even on a Monday morning at 11:00 am, in 100 degrees of dry heat, there were about 40 people there. They were mostly photographing each other or taking selfies. I didn’t see anything that looked like a human or animal sacrifice and if anyone was praying or taking celestial observations, I missed it.
One of the funders called the work “a modern-day Stonehenge” and pointed out that it “has its own sense of purpose and spirituality”
Carhenge, maybe. I’m not sure I’d go as far as Stonehenge, even the faux Stonehenge in Odessa, TX. And what’s with the “sense of purpose”? Since when do inanimate objects have any senses at all?
I enjoyed the Magic Mountains, but my enjoyment came from watching the other folks take pictures, point and yammer, and try to make sense of a bunch of locally sourced boulders painted in non locally sourced day glow colors on a you know how hot day in the desert outside of Vegas.
I wondered if the form of the thing mattered at all. Would any bit of giant photogenic stuff dusted with some art history hokum drawn a crowd? I think so.
Was it a religious experience for me? No.
Sure, I loved it, but had a driven a few miles longer, I would have loved the World’s Largest Chevron Station. I'm fickle like that.
When I think of the word Crypto, its surname is Commie. That’s right, I’m a child of the Cold War. Duck and cover, y’all. Somehow, I found the intestinal fortitude to pass on the crypto currency even though it could be so big that a modest investment might allow me to move into Blackrock, rich enough that I could demand that they install an Executive CEO King of the World Bidet.
Absinthe, a comedy/variety show in the Spiegeltent on the Roman Plaza.
spiegeltent is a wooden and canvas tent, decorated with mirrors and stained glass that is used as an entertainment venue. So, it’s a little different from the less tent-ish mirrored wretched excess that makes Las Vegas fun.
According to its website the show was recently named “the #1 greatest show in Las Vegas history”. Leave no superlative unturned, it goes on to claim that the “ridiculously talented and sexy performers from across the globe mix outrageous comedy with jaw-dropping feats of virtuosity and danger.”
This I had to see.
Absinthe is a variety show, with an emcee, his sidekick, and a bunch of brief acts by jugglers, trapeze artists and so on.
The emcee, known as the Gazillionaire, and the sidekick, aka The Green Fairy (a nickname for absinthe), have a hilarious comedy act that includes teasing every possible cultural group in the audience not to mention plenty of references to every kind of bodily function nice people don't talk about at the dinner table, not to mention, yes, circumcision. If there’s a less PC show in Las Vegas, I can’t imagine what it would be.
I laughed until my stomach hurt and then made a note that if we ever have a family reunion in Las Vegas, I’m getting everyone tickets. It’s a very Bryant kind of an evening, kind of like Cards Against Humanity with a side order of The Ed Sullivan Show, only more so.
OK, the copywriter was correct about the ridiculously talented and sexy performers. Run, do not walk. to see Absinthe.
If I take the plunge and book a ticket, you'll be the the first to know.