So, it appears that in drunkenness, I’ve struck upon my first recurring theme. It wasn’t intentional, actually: the last time I was drinking and writing was because a visit to my future in-laws provided a difficult reminder that the second law of thermodynamics applies to people in a way that is frighteningly concrete. Watching the runners lope along Lake Michigan from the third story of the dementia ward, it was apparent, as it has been many, many times before, that God may not be entirely predisposed to mercy, and that whoever attached “growing old” to the adverb “gracefully” should be put on trial for libel, convicted, then sentenced to care for the billion counterexamples. That’s where I was last time, in Chicago, which brought me to Baudelaire, and the other “drunks” I mentioned, because suffering’s not new, and neither is its remedy: the eventual tragedy of you-and-me is best turned to celebration, then compassion. At least, that’s what I take the remedy to be. That’s why there’s a feast before the crucifixion–first we party, then we weep.
Afterwards we remember–if we’re lucky.
That brings us, naturally, to Las Vegas, which, truth be told, I’ve never liked. It’s certainly not the drinking and the smoking, the gambling and the debauchery; unsurprisingly, I am happy to engage in all of those activities to a variety of degrees. The autistic materialism, the sexual bludgeoning, the vapid celebrity, none of that bothers me. They’re just the common characteristics of masturbating monkeys, swollen to prime-time proportions. That wasn’t a side-swipe, by the way. Vegas appeals to our basest instincts; we all know that. Going to a lecture on the history of sexuality doesn’t change the magnetism of crotches; it just rationalizes it. What I don’t like about Vegas is the faux history, the kitsch elevated to an aspiration–“what happens in Vegas stays in Vegas.”
Vegas is like the Whispering Glades cemetery in Evelyn Waugh’s, The Loved One: the conspicuous emasculation of history is everywhere present in Vegas, as death’s emasculation is in Waugh’s fictionalized Forest Lawn. Vegas is a graveyard, haunted by the living. A pyramid here, a palace there, a country and a city and the mythological birth of a monarchy, all within a tram ride. It’s what happens when a gelded army of Disney animals decorates a brothel. Staying in Vegas is like aspiring to cultural pedophilia.
The hard thing about all of this is that I’m drinking and writing against it. I’m trying to celebrate myself out of the morass. Trying to bring you along, whoever you are, whenever you are. Whether I was lucky enough to meet you long after I’m a footnote–buried like Ulysses’ oar in a book on some forgotten shelf–or whether it’s just you murdering time at work, stumbling upon this, or just you, my family, my friends, my love, who read for kindness and kinship, I want to bring you all out of this. You are so generous to give me your time. You are. Sure, you might just be bored, doubling down on the wager you already made in following this link, or you might be splitting your aces, hedging your bets, covering your odds, but you’re playing with time, and I take that very seriously.
So let’s start again, even though that’s impossible and not actually the point, since if I really wanted to start again, I’d be starting again, with something like… I spent the weekend in Vegas playing Craps and a merciful form of poker called Pai Gow, and although I’ve never been much for that kind of gambling, I made an effort to be drunk. Three doubles into the evening, and working on my fourth, I noticed that the women from New Orleans sitting next to me had grass stains on their white sneakers. I thought it was strange, in the desert, to see grass stains, and it made me think about the Herculean tasks required to bring lawns to the desert, not to mention fountains, and air conditioners, and a giant glass pyramid that shines 42 billion candles into space, which attracts so many moths in the springtime that when they assemble in the light, they look like falling snow.
Several winning hands later, I followed the grass stains on those shod New Orleans’ feet further, to thoughts of Walt Whitman, who told us to look for him under our “boot-soles”–not in the stars, not born aloft on seraphim wing, but in the mud. And so, six doubles in, drunk on hearts, not a spade to be seen, diamonds melting in my pockets and the deuce on my mind, I spotted that old cad grinning in the dirt, yawping in the waste; with the noise and ruin spread 130 miles wide, there was Whitman, shooting up out of the shit like a weed in the compost heap. There were millions of us there that night, and more–the millions before us and the millions after. We were in it together; everyone against the house, hoping, maybe even praying, we wouldn’t have to cash out early.
At some point, well after midnight, the women from New Orleans walked away from the table $600 up, and I walked away $300 heavier. That’s not a metaphor, by the way; it’s true, and although I’m sure winning made it a little easier to follow the grass trail, the point is that sometimes you do win, even if Vegas was built on the losers.