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July 26, 2001
The Deal With Las Vegas

ARTS & ENTERTAINMENT

The Deal With Las Vegas

When Rotten Dot Com informed me I was going to Las Vegas on a gonzo journalism assignment, my first reaction was: didn't Terry Gilliam and Johnny Depp already cover this material?

My duties were like a woman: loose and unstructured. I'd touch down around noon, get the scoop on Sin City as it exists in the year 2001, and make a clean getaway. I'd have exactly four hours to find a story, because later that evening my editor needed me back home to pull weeds from his front yard. Neither gardening nor travel writing is a task I recall signing up for, but life is always more enjoyable when risks are involved.

First, I collected all my spare change. My slot machine budget. Under the couch I searched, inside pockets of coats I hadn't worn in five years, and mom's purse. She changed the locks on the front door, so I had to break a window and tiptoe around a little bit. I managed to scrape together nearly thirty dollars in dimes, which I placed in a paper sack. This was going to be great!
As my plane taxied along the runway, I scribbled a devastating introductory outline of my time in Las Vegas. Or as I like to call it: Lost Wages!! Get it? Sure, I hadn't arrived yet - but who cares. Gambling, prostitutes, Siegfried and Roy. The end. Throw in some Hunter S. Thompson quotes and you're fucking finished. I'd start my exposé with a series of jokes about airports and airline food. Like, isn't it nutty how they give you that tiny bag of honey roasted almonds? What's up with that? And how come planes are always full of fat people? Have you seen these things?
Once airborne, our stewardess Denise delivered a crushing blow. We were not given peanuts, not even mixed cashews - but a delicious Nutri-Grain bar made with wheat, whole-grain oats and real strawberries! ROCK ON AND WORD UP! Luck be a lady tonight!

The journey had only just begun, and already my trip was careening out of control. I tried to imagine the dynamic corporate synergy between Kellogg's and National Air which must have taken place to facilitate this multi-billion dollar crossover experience. The hawkish, violent conference calls. The massive, coiled reams of legal paperwork and sheer, deal-making bravado. I could never make airplane jokes again.

Three billion bars on all domestic flights! No - two billion bars on flights to Europe and within the contiguous fifty states!

I explained my astonishment out loud to Denise, who informed me I had a "thing" on my lip. She gave me a napkin, and when our fingers touched I asked for her phone number. Turns out she's a complete snot bitch.

My favorite in-flight activity is reading Hemispheres from cover to cover. It's the in-flight literary resource for world-weary travelers. Don't let the sassy, Gen-X fonts fool you; it's stuffed up the nuts with lesser-known non-touristy spots, custom tailored to your proposed destination. How they construct a different issue for each city in the world every day of the week is a mystery to me. How does Hemispheres even know where I'm going?

When I flipped to page 48, I nearly had a seizure.

My chair jerked back and forth several times before returning to its full and upright position. My eyes popped from their sockets, honking like horns, inflating to the size of grapefruits. Appearing in Las Vegas for a limited time only and sponsored by the good people at Coca-Cola was something called M&M's WORLD, an internationally acclaimed museum exhibition dedicated to the history and culture of the miniature, multiracial chocolates of the same name.

I almost stopped breathing. Having enjoyed candy my entire life, I determined M&M's World would be an excellent place to spend the bulk of my time. My fingers were trembling.

There was suddenly so much to learn. Do corporations really share their trade secrets with the public? I guess they do! I couldn't sit still. I wanted to unbuckle my safety belt, yank open the emergency door, fling myself from the cabin like a Mountain Dew commercial. I had to get there now! NOW NOW NOW!! I sort of recall my editor insisting I do a feature about Defcon, an ongoing hacker convention. Sounds like a pantload to me. I'll skip it. When the plane touched down, I hailed a cab.
-- CRUNCH CRUNCH CRUNCH --

-- HOMPTH SMOOSH STUFF SLURP --
If you think casinos are greedy, check out the cab drivers. They will not shut up about gambling. They're walking, talking slot machines, and once you're trapped inside, they're eager to "personalize" your Las Vegas experience with all the charms of a Gap employee.

G'morning! How are we today? I'm Lucciano Oompaloompa from Chicago, Illinois! How's the winnings? Having any luck? Playing the ponies? What's in the bag? Doing some shopping?

The odds of securing a quiet, efficient driver smart enough to take the freeway instead of plodding along the congested boulevard in the broiling sun are five hundred million to one against. Drivers deliver nonstop Jeff Foxworthy monologues about poker and craps, along with irksome observational commentary.

It's a hot one! Lotsa cars out today! Give me your e-mail address and I'll see to it my pointless rants and raves are sent directly to your inbox every day of the week! The rear doors are locked for your protection!
Each remark is punctuated by intrusive questions about your current financial status, preventing even a single moment's rest or relaxation. Are you carrying big bills? Do you need me to stop at a cash machine? Do not respond, you'll only encourage further conversation. Helen Keller had the right idea.

He drove past the sixty-four dollar a night Oasis Motel, where NBC's Suddenly Susan co-star David Strickland was found dead in 1999. Strickland threw a bedsheet around a ceiling rafter and hung himself for no discernible reason. His body was discovered barefoot, toes dangling above six empty beer cans. Hey, real mature.

This detour might have created a memorable photo opportunity, but the driver's crinkling Krispy Kreme wrappers distracted me. Our voyage across the street cost me about ten dollars.

I gave him two fistfuls of dimes, which turned out to be the Las Vegas equivalent of dog shit.

Hotels and casinos are happy to cash in your silver dollars, your half dollars, your quarters and nickels - but nobody will touch your dimes. So much for getting a hooker. Twenty-five cent video poker and nickel blackjack boxes are available in every church confessional booth, but ten-cent slots appear to be the ColecoVisions of modern gambling technology. Dimes cannot be exchanged for another level of currency anywhere you go. Ask employees in any casino why this policy exists, and you'll hear diverse answers like I don't know and no idea. At Bellagio, the most luxurious and well-facilitated hotel in all of Las Vegas, the cashier told me I should try Jamba Juice across the street. Or Denny's. Or Starbucks. I weighed all three options.

HELLO, I'M A CHILD NO TAKEY DIMES!! YOU GO DURRRRRRRRR
Dear dumbshit: I'm not going to hop in another cab and drive twenty feet just to make your lives easier. I took my heavy, jingling dime bag and flushed it down a $200,000 solid gold toilet in the hopes of yielding catastrophic plumbing damage equal to or greater than my initial investment. And hey - time to lean means time to clean, am I right? Hop to it, farts! I've got M&M's to visit!
If you think video games designed for children are idiotic, consider the bulk of coin-op machinery intended for adults. These things shriek WELCOME TO LAS VEGAS, STUPID at the top of their lungs.
Slots have moronic themes, tired visuals like those you'd expect to see at T.G.I. Friday's, and incredibly lame skins which piggyback on the limited success of preexisting corporate entertainment products. The concepts behind these attractions are indecipherable. What kind of fucking fool is drawn toward the Family Feud slot featuring voice-over narration by a larger than life animatronic Louie Anderson? Or the Dirty Dancing game which plays looping video clips of Patrick Swayze?

The older you get, the farther away you drift from the center of anyone's attention. Less and less thought is directed at keeping you entertained. This pattern hasn't stopped in a million years. Casinos, like advertising firms, sit back and wait patiently for twenty-somethings to become thirty-somethings. That's just enough time to forget about something shitty, isn't it? And then we can bring it back in a wave of nostalgia?

Hope you're looking forward to hotel elevators with piped-in Muzak versions of Eminem, Autechre, Mouse on Mars - and slot machines encouraging you to get all five colored iMacs in a row. Eventually you'll be a senior citizen, and all you'll need is a blinking light or repetitive sound effects to keep you busy. Just put a gun to your head and take the Pepsi Challenge.

-- DING DING DING DING -- WE ALL SUCK DICK -- DING DING DING DING --

There's a scene in the film Snatch, where Benicio Del Toro's character flashes back to his weekend in Las Vegas. It's a split-second montage of perspiring faces smeared with cocaine, hundred-dollar bills in clenched fists and random, anonymous tits. More accurate would have been a rapid-fire sequence of dazed families wearing balloon animal penis hats, children choking down chili-cheese corn dogs, and grandma left abandoned in her wheelchair.

Las Vegas is dumber than Disneyland and equally sanitized. Oversize tourists with no predetermined destination walk at a snail's pace, wide-load asses undulating mere inches in front of you. They gawk at anything that sparkles, glitters or spurts.

The elevators, the escalators, the hallways, the moving sidewalks are utterly fudge-packed with herky-jerky dipshits screeching to a halt at unpredictable intervals, forcing you to spill coffee down your shirt again and again. Good luck taking a picture. The pain you feel in the back of your neck is a tingling hatred for humanity, and it all takes place at a hundred and five degrees in the shade.

Frank Sinatra blares with such force from hidden speakers on every street corner, people can't hear your exasperated sighs. They won't see you melodramatically rolling your eyes or extending your middle finger. Your frantic Basil Faulty arm waving all goes unnoticed. Go ahead, give it a scream. OUT OF MY WAY! DO YOU PEOPLE KNOW HOW TO FUCKING WALK? It's of little use. They don't know you're there. Nobody's hearing aid has fresh batteries. All you can do is stand on somebody's air hose for a few minutes, and step over him when he collapses.
And Christ, if they're not shambling down the lane, they're eating. Good LORD do these people pack it away. It's not like this food is cheap either, just abundant. Las Vegas is second only to New York in terms of costly brunches or buffets. Were you looking forward to a $2.99 all-you-can eat pancake breakfast? The average sit-down-and-get-served experience costs $28 per person. Maybe I can hail a time machine and go back to 1971. I hope I don't disrupt anyone's otherwise bright future.

Slot machines and buffets aren't universal passports to pleasure, but one game anyone can pursue is Who's The Whore.

Is she a whore? Is she a whore? Every girl in the great state of Nevada is automatically considered an "escort" until she proves herself otherwise - preferably in the ol' sackarooni. It's legal, you know!

Age is of no consequence. A thirteen-year old wearing a Paul Frank monkey shirt is a call girl. A seventeen-year old wearing an Orbital tank top, lollygagging ten paces behind the rest of her family is a punch-drunk squirt guzzling prostitute placed there for your own amusement. Even if she's thirty-four in a Chanel suit, Wall Street Journal folded sideways, PowerBook G4 leather satchel slung across one shoulder, sitting in a conference room talking on a cel-phone, peering through wireframe spectacles at a colorful projection of quarterly earnings - you can very well guess what she does for a living.

None of you girls fool me. You're all whores in Las Vegas. You're strippers, showgirls, topless cabaret performers, lap dancers. My ATM card sings the most beautiful, heartbreaking music you've ever heard. When a woman is walking through the lobby of a casino, it means she's spent the entire weekend with her ass in the air or she's just about to. No wonder they all wear dark sunglasses and somber, pensive expressions. They're tired of monotonous dildo shows. They want to go back to school and get their degrees!

Is that Zara Whites over there? Is that Rocco Siffredi crapping out at the high-rollers table? I'm sure I wouldn't know!

Thousands of photography shoots and porn movies are filmed in the safety of Las Vegas casinos every week. These hotel rooms provide directors with some of the most elegant, sophisticated interiors ever captured in the background of an extended blowjob. They're safe, neutral locations where producers and hired help can congregate in peace for a day's work.

Why isn't room service like this available in all fifty states? Why couldn't Webvan make a series of modest adjustments to its business model and get its shit together? Isn't it time to wake up, America? Don't make me stand in the sizzling hot sun of a Safeway parking lot with a bucket of patriotic buttons and a clipboard petition.


Above: Lion testicles Inset: Lion


As I contemplated all this, I found myself sidetracked by the MGM Grand Hotel. They have a six-thousand square foot, $9 million dollar Lion Habitat. Admission is free. It's a facility dedicated to safeguarding the preservation and long-term care of a more or less endangered species.

The arena is a rotating showcase of six lions, who take turns napping on the bridge above the pedestrian tunnel. Bring several extra rolls of film, because these lions' enormous testicles can be seen in plain public view, smooshed against the plexiglass.

Next year's Christmas card, maybe?

Or, why not set your phasers on DUH and check out Paramount Studios' Star Trek Experience at the Hilton? Here you can boldly go to the toilet in the Deep Space Nine food court.

It's populated with your typical assortment of Ferengis, Klingons, eighteen-year-old members of Starfleet with Riker beards and skinny toothpick arms, along with other losers-in-uniform leftover from last year's Renaissance Fair. Possibly the San Diego Comic Convention. The DS9 bar makes no mention of Quark, but serves up drinks like the James “Tea” Kirk. Who the fuck is that?
By and large, the experience lives up to Gene Roddenberry's proposed vision of the future. You walk through this environment fully understanding why words like store and snore rhyme with each other. This place is what happens when an Ebay warehouse explodes.
What's the difference between gawking at this idiotic merchandise up close and seeing low-grade snapshots of it online? This is the kind of shit you can buy from PBS for a ten dollar pledge.

Who knew there would be so many price tags in outer space? Can we turn the god damn replicators off yet? I was disgusted by the milieu. The incessant, exaggerated commercialism. The overblown, dollar-driven pomp and circumstance surrounding a sci-fi product near and dear to maybe a handful of individuals around the world was relentless and downright unpleasant.

Is this what the 25th century holds? The only thing worse than enduring this nonsense might be sitting down to watch the television program. Never in my life have I been more interested in committing suicide.

SO THANK GOD I FINALLY MADE IT TO M&M's WORLD!!!

If you've ever wanted to grab a gun and blow your head off in a public place, do it here. M&M's World is a ridiculous exercise, a towering four-story indoor theme park stretched around the threadbare premise that M&M candies are somehow able to extend their miniscule entertainment value above and beyond the flimsy plastic bag you bought them in.
Nevada police officers supervise the proceedings - possibly keeping an eye out for school-skipping teenage gangs adorned with opposing M&M headbands. The presence of law enforcement sends a strong message. This is not an environment capable of being wrangled by even an elite Pinkerton or Wackenhut security squad. Anything is possible here at the World.

An epileptic might be rushed to the hospital after becoming overwhelmed by the light bouncing off colorful candy shells. A sightseer from Switzerland might suffer a stroke after underestimating the wasabi-like powers of single American peanut at the center of rich milk chocolate. These cops are serious and prepared to beat down anyone who doesn't have a credit card.

I'M RETARDED I COCKSUCKING CHONG BONG FART
Dazed Japanese tourists who look as though they'd much rather be loading up on Hello Kitties and Pokemons grudgingly fill their baskets with whatever obscure American bullshit their relatives back home might find fascinating or hard to come by. For this reason, the M&M's brand lends itself to every product, trinket, slogan, and killer application ever conceived.
Feel like jerking off? Dispense your lubrication of choice from this twenty dollar easy-to-squirt porcelain ejaculator. With a jaunty expression and a pair of eyes that never close, this character just wants to keep you company during your lonely, private moments. Lotion melts in your hand, not all over the keyboard.

The majority of this merchandise is showcased in obscene piles or racks reflecting little or no attention to artistic structure or detail.

Left, a yellow M&M with diarrhea appears somewhat embarrassed to have spontaneously contributed to the problems of overpopulation.

Right, in perhaps the most appropriate display, an assortment of unwanted M&M abortions are collected and disposed of in a trash can. Hello, is this high school prom night? Do I need to bring the police officers over and show them my gruesome discovery?

M&M's World is a personal, private in-joke between you and yourself. It's a colorful experience, to be sure. But can you really say it's educational?
Fuck yes! M&M's World is acting to silence those blubbery activist moms on television - the ones who clomp around in big noisy shoes about how our children's schools are unsafe. How classrooms are cold, how toilets explode, how there's not enough asbestos per student, how black people run around unattended. Why do these parents spend so much time lugging their concerns to elected officials? They might as well complain to a doorknob. The United States government has nothing to gain by flipping a single penny toward remodeling our tumble-down public school system.
Mom & Dad should get down on their hands and knees and pray to God corporations like Microsoft, Old Navy, Coca-Cola, and the good people at M&M's World step in with billions of dollars to save our children, because quite frankly I don't see anyone else giving a shit. There's nothing two sticks of Twix can't fix, and these inexpensive math books prove it.


Study the elegant construction of this revolutionary textbook edutainment, suitable for use in public or private schools: the familiar faces, the primary colors, the straightforward illustrations. These smiling, all-American icons are more than capable of insinuating themselves atop even a toddler's own developing brain.

Hey folks - am I learning or playing here? I can't tell anymore! Long division has never been more delicious. And here's the best news: these resources are also available in español for our Puerto Rican friends. ¡Yo quiero Taco Bell!
I would have bought a souvenir, but like I said: nobody takes dimes. In no time at all, a wave of sheer boredom crashed over me. I was dehydrated and constipated at the same time, if such an ailment even exists.

I glanced over at a girl in a wheelchair, and each of us sympathized with the look of weariness on the other's face. We were both sick of M&M's, sick of our pushy tightwad mothers, and sick of Nevada. I wrote my phone number on a scrap of paper and stuck it in her thermos. Don't know if she got it.

Then the clock struck five, and I realized my opportunity to write an extended essay about about Las Vegas had come to an end. I made it back to the airport, and reassured myself that offering my editor no story at all would somehow be better than nothing.

Passengers on their way to Las Vegas are chatty and excitable; those returning home are not. These folks are broken, bruised, defeated. They have no money, nothing to look forward to except another work week. Gambling and pornography carved this miniature civilization out of the desert, and none of us will ever see a penny of it.

Us coach class dopes will never look up at a Bellagio ceiling mirror and see three high-class call girls licking our dicks at the same time. Our personal, private weather forecasts forever remain the same no matter where we travel: uncomfortable and expensive.

I'll be on this flight for hours, listening to people snore like Big Bird. We'll shit-squirt along at 28,000 feet like there's a cab driver at the helm. Out the window: dull, dry landscapes of mountain ranges, Area 51s and patchwork quilts of dusty farmland.

Who lives out here, anyway? Have they ever been to Las Vegas? Could I stay at their house for awhile if I volunteered to do some simple chores? I picture clumpy fistfuls of angry, snarling weeds like those I'll be yanking from my editor's front yard later this evening. I think about the plane crash sequence in Cast Away.

A small Asian boy across the aisle grabs a Game Boy from his sister's Powerpuff Girls carry-on and plays Pokemon Puzzle Challenge at full volume, squirming in his seat while mom circles items for sale in Hemispheres with a thousand-dollar calligraphy pen.

So I didn't hit the jackpot. Big deal. Above my head, the word EXIT glows in bold, dangerous letters. To my left, three round portholes and a flimsy sticker of a red arrow directs my attention to a long silver handle marked pull.


( Posted by Rotten Staff )

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