ONCE A MONTH or so, The Weeklings editors are each required to respond to a single cultural question in this wildly popular parlor game. Music, movies, television, books, dance, sex, sports, art, and death are all up for grabs. There are no correct answers, no political correctness allowed, and only one rule: sheer, brute honesty.
As always, please, no wagering.
So tell us about that time you were in Vegas.
SEAN MURPHY – As I semi-stumbled to my elevator too late one night at a surpassingly reasonable hour a dude with a large tattoo of a heart on his neck approached and amiably offered me some coke. Politely, I declined. On the plus side, you seldom fear for your life in Vegas: there’s ample security and there’s too much money at stake, for all involved. On the less positive side, even if you survive you still have your soiled soul to contend with. And that’s best case scenario, assuming you remain semi-secluded in one of the nicer properties. Once you’ve been to Vegas more than ten times, it becomes the same trip. In part because you’re always there for business, or else why would you have been there so often? (If you’ve been there more than ten times and you’re neither rich nor part of the Rat Pack, it’s time to ask yourself some uncomfortable questions. Adult Disney? Maybe in the ‘90s. Now Vegas is the playground for wanna-be playas, catering to the nouveau-riche or soon-to-be-in-debt D-bags. And families too! The only place in America where smoking is not only still permissible but encouraged if not obligatory. And those are only a few of our favorite things. As we know, Hunter S. Thompson did some heavy lifting here, but even he, in another lifetime of narcotic nightmares, could never have imagined the ways this city has super-sized itself into a human happy meal. It’s less a city and more like a million-pound pig that had a small ocean of cheap yet toxic perfume dumped over it, dropped from helicopters piloted by Donald Trump clones blaring Fat Elvis singing “Viva Las Vegas” (duh). Put another way: did you know Donnie and Marie were still alive? Did you know they still have a running gig here? So horrific, so perfect. So Vegas. I’m already fear&loathing my next visit, when Housekeeping brings up my self-portrait that they keep, Dorian Gray style, in the catacombs beneath the craps tables. See you there?
JANET STEEN – I was 12 and my mother and sister and I were on a Western bus tour–mostly California, but they tacked on Vegas, too. Lights, tawdry glamor, busloads of gluttonous tourists. I wasn’t quite old enough or jaded enough to value all the kitsch. I was half in love with our tour director, Mike, so that’s where my focus was, and Mike, the charmer, seemed to be hooking up with a different lady at every stop. Many ports in the storm for Mike. So that one night in Vegas I wanted mostly to stay in the hotel room until we could get moving again. But my mother had sprung for an extra treat: an evening with Mac Davis. Mac “I Believe in Music” Davis. Mac “Baby Don’t Get Hooked on Me” Davis. He of the tight curls and impossibly white teeth. This was not good for my preteen reputation. But really, no one would have to know, and as long as Mike didn’t, I still had a fighting chance with him. But the next morning, there was my mother, waiting to get back on the bus for the next leg of the trip, chatting with Mike and telling him where we’d been the night before. All chances, now lost.
SEAN BEAUDOIN – Vegas is the fucking best. People who make tired analogies about the evils it purportedly stands for are also those who refuse to dance at weddings, or spend entire shows complaining about the sound guy. Vegas is physics. A karmic balance. The utterly dead air of a Christian Science Reading Room in a mall outside of Topeka exists, so by the laws of Inverse Proportionality, Vegas also has to exist. It’s like bitching about hydrogen. Don’t like it? Don’t breathe. Against gambling? Then move over, rube, I wanna throw down six G’s on red 13. Anyway, in the picture below, my friend and I are sitting in the audience of Crazy Girls, which bills itself as “Las Vegas’ Premier Nude Variety Show,” which really just means topless women do a few dance numbers, and then there’s a musician, a juggler, and the world’s least-funny comic. It’s the kind of utterly witless and embarrassing spectacle that Vegas not only excels at, but manages to make hilarious and fun. Afterward we went and shot machine guns drunk. Dangerously, giddily drunk! Pay to play, baby, worry about the lawsuit later. In a pawn shop window I saw a Raymond Weil watch. It was red and black and cost $1,200. It’s just the sort of oddly contradictory thing that I tend to get obsessed with in The World’s Best City, in which I suddenly desire something with the intensity of a thousand burning suns, matched only by the fact that I don’t care about it at all. I don’t even wear a watch. But I’d swilled a fair amount of cheap bourbon and that shiny fucker was sitting there like a dare. Acquire me! Don’t have the cash? Figure it out, genius! Monday Night Football was about to start. Dallas (-14) at Buffalo. An ugly spread. All the dumb, drunk money was riding on the Cowboys, as usual. “God love ‘dem Cowboys!” yelled the guy in line next to me, smelling like hot dog water and piles of lost cash. If both he and God were on Dallas’ side, they were doomed. So I slapped $400 on the Buffalo money line. They won outright. Paid 4-1. The last time I took that watch to get the battery changed, the jeweler offered me $3,800 for it on the spot. I guess it’s collectible or something. No way I’m selling the bastard, it’s going into the ground with me. We went to the Caesar’s Palace spa to celebrate. They actually have attendants in togas pouring wine and feeding people grapes. You’re just laying there naked in these decadent pools, sipping Merlot while some guy plays a lute. It feels right. Sure, I’d never have been king, but I could have been a viscount or something. At midnight we toweled off and went to the Peppermill for scorpion bowls. Rarely a wise move, and yet, also the wisest. The next morning, at a country-themed diner, I had scrambled eggs and a ham steak with the bone in. I kept saying “I’d like it with the bone in,” with this dumb southern accent. My friend kept laughing. The waitress did not laugh. She was poured into a nylon uniform and had seen it all twice. I tipped her $80 on a $60 check. Near the exit she kissed me on the cheek and said, “Thanks, hon. You’re the best.” The thing is, until the very second we lined up at the boarding gate, she was right.
GREG OLEAR – Las Vegas is built upon a false premise–namely, that it’s inherently fun, someplace you go to let loose and release your inner id. In fact, it is a tarted-up police state financed by the financial losses of the small but unfortunate percentage of the population with gambling problems. Think Vegas is all about freedom? Try not handing money to the dealer instead of putting it on the table. Try waiting on the wrong line. It is a tragic city in drag.
So at one point, when I was doing a lot of go-go dancing, I got the chance to dance in Vegas. It was some new club. As often happens when things are too good to be true, the first details were great, then a little less promising, then went downhill from there. They needed a lot of girls — great! They wanted to do a kind of retro theme: Ann Margaret, Beehive wigs, crazy 60s lounge au go-go — also great! But then it turned out it wasn’t exactly in Vegas, it was near Vegas. And the name of this club? Snatch. And it was run by Russians. Mobsters transplanted from Moscow who had a loose concept of a shtick but really it was just about tits and ass and snatch. Still, a job is a job. But then I got news that I’d be boarding in a house with some other dancers, and the woman who managed the house had been a dancer but was now a coach. (Nowadays there are people who annoit themselves go-go coaches, but back then, not so much.) Also, the woman apparently had pet rats. She had pet piebald rats and white rats and mahogany rats and they all had French names, like ‘Ectore. I am not making this up. She told me, I keep a few in each room so none of them feel alone. In cages? I asked her. Don’t tell them you said that, she said, rats are very sensitive. Also we have a medical scale in the bathroom, she said. Okay, I thought, fair enough: at that point, I had the metabolism of a racehorse. Then she said: And I hold stretching classes every afternoon. And that’s what did it. I had this image of all of us practicing splits with all these French-named rats crawling around the floor, and I just couldn’t go to Vegas. That was the beginning and end of my Las Vegas dancing career.
CHLOE PANTAZI – It was the summer of 2009. I drove to Vegas with three of my friends for the weekend. Shortly after we arrived at Caesar’s Palace (I have fancy friends who earn big $$$), we went up to the roof — which has an incredible view of the Vegas skyline, btw — and toasted to being best friends forever, and to making that night one we’d never forget. The next morning, I woke up on the hotel room floor with a throbbing headache, the taste of stale booze in my mouth, and no recollection of what had happened the night before. Our whole suite was trashed. Champagne bottles were strewn across the floor and the hotel furniture had been knocked over. Then I heard a scream from the bathroom — my friend ran out, slammed the door shut, and calmly explained that a tiger was using our bathroom. Shortly after that, Mike Tyson came after us, and said he wanted his tiger back.
HENRY CHERRY – The air was piped in. The sound was piped in, the hookers too. But everything else was self-serve unless you sat at the tables or the slots. Then, a lady in a severe push-up bra would come, dressed as some casino theme branded damsel and she’d ply you with booze. By then, I was done with that part of the journey. I played cards and slots. I went to a strip club where a woman with boobs bigger than my head laughed at a silly broken joke of mine. There was a band in town someone said was kind of drone-like but drone-like on speed. I went to see them. Too much hair and too many sunglasses. At the AA meeting, everyone had climbed so far down the ladder rungs, they’d completely lost even the ambition to maybe one day be ambitious. House painters and blast furnace waitresses lost to any future advancement. It was close to the Thai place, and Gourmet said it was the best of the best. So I swung in there, though my mind remained intact. I lost some money. Not enough to shy away from the slots at the airport before the plane came to take me away. Turns out, Vegas’s friendliest odds are at the departure gates. In that one regard, I came away a winner.
ASHLEY PEREZ – I’ve been to Vegas twice. Both trips combine would barely make 24 hours total. The first trip, I must have been around 11 or 12 and my dad and I were on a trip to Kingman, Arizona on a Greyhound bus aka Satan’s Porta-Potty. There was a pit stop in Vegas. We walked to a casino/hotel that was definitely “off the strip” not that I knew what that was at the time. The concept that things stayed open for 24 hours in Vegas was mind blowing to me at the time. We went into the restaurant and ordered steak and eggs. You would have thought I had discovered the secret to life. I could not fathom that we had just ordered steak and eggs and were only paying $6! I think my repeated phrase was, “You know how much we would pay back home for this? More than double!!” I’ve been told on more than one occasion that did not count as a trip to Vegas. The second trip consisted of a (less than) one day turnaround for my friend’s bachelorette party where we went to a pool party club, several dance clubs (where I had a full blown panic attack), and a skeezy male strip joint. I was more impressed with the steak and eggs.
JAMIE BLAINE – My best friend’s grandfather owned a chain of Vegas skating rinks. We spent a week there riding indoor roller coasters and eating ludicrous buffets. One thrill ride sprawled over the lip of the Stratosphere which at night, looking over the Strip, was pretty darn breathtaking. There was no liquor and not one bit of gambling. On Sunday, we went to church right off Tropicana where a former stripper sang a song about how God had lightning in his fists and everybody cried. As Vegas stories go, mine might be a little bizarre but actually, we had a good time.
JOE DALY – It was 1998 and my band, Dutch Oven, and I had flown in for the AVN Awards, being held that year at Caesar’s Palace. History would reveal that two other writers were in attendance that year – David Foster Wallace and George Plimpton, the former correctly writing off the proceedings as “predictably vulgar.” I noticed Plimpton in the pre-awards buffet line and, garrulous after a tongue-loosening bucket of Jack and Cokes, approached him. “George!” I roared, extending my hand. “Joe Daly – I did Costas with you in ’91,” I continued, as he shook my hand, his mouth agape. In fact, in 1991 I was in Rockefeller Center to attend a taping of Late Night With David Letterman, and I noticed Plimpton in the lobby. I later found out that he was there to tape an episode for Bob Costas’ talk show that evening. “Crazy deal here, huh?” I persisted, intentionally denying him the opportunity to ask any questions. “Well, I have to run. Let’s catch up or something. Take care!” With that I peeled away, not looking back until I reached my table at the other side of the cavernous conference room. Like Lot’s wife, I was unable to resist one last peek, and I turned around to see Plimpton standing precisely where I left him, mouth still open, balancing a plate of food in his two hands. That night, I would later party in a suite with Herbie Hancock and a group of award nominees, win $2000 in blackjack and run into Roger Clemens in an elevator, but the Plimpton hustle remains my proudest Vegas moment.