Theirs Ain’t No Mudd Club

The normalization of bad behavior is costing us all.

Witnessed this the other day: a young man procured a service inside a Las Vegas Strip establishment. Receiving this one would’ve believed him having agreed wholeheartedly to accepting the price demanded. Instead, at the conclusion of business he became indignant at the agreed-upon cost. Rather than fulfill his end, he decided only to pay what he thought deserved.

Forget his sense of entitlement. He was outright brazen during his flouting of civility. Could his misconduct have been any more SOP in his self-reflective view of himself in our world and our being in his orbit? It was all about him. He’d excluded the mildly bemused of us watching what transpired.

Easy to call him arrogant. More precise to label him insolent.

One of two things could’ve happened. The first was extracting proper payment. The second, deciding exertion not the worth the trouble so just let him abscond. No. 2 won out. The clerk dealing with the irritant deemed his theft unworthy of escalation.

Anyone observing knew, that is anyone observing who possessed enough worldliness knew, that somewhere down the line, he’d pull the same stunt. Yet in that future instance would result in his equilibrium being realigned, readjusted, if not outright mangled.

Indeed. Someone out there waits to do just that.

Needlessly, the deadbeat was told never to enter the premises or request its services again. The admonishment unnecessary because the skiver was a visitor Las Vegas will be seeing less and less of, will find its upper end less inviting, as the city widens distance between Covid and post-Covid conditions.

Pre-Covid, that sort of thief wouldn’t have dared such a stunt, much less been in proximity to swank. He might’ve gawked. After yanking his nose off the window, maybe he could’ve summoned enough courage to enter, and fantasized. But obtained?

Tacit intimidation alone ought’ve kept him in check. Of all the city’s absences, that’s one which will be gladly welcomed back.

Low visitation from Covid had Las Vegas’ vital industries resorting to Business 101 practices. Discounts that lured some kind of trade. But the cuts were so steep they attracted visitors intuitive enough to know these their likeliest hours of ever swanning in luxury.

Casual observation revealed few, if any, bothered ramping up comportment. They dragged in hood rat rules behind them into town, then displayed lowbrow behavior which debased the many pleasures experiences the epidemic’s circumstances had availed.

Next year, 2023, Las Vegas is predicted to have shaken off its Covid lethargy, its anemia. Anyone working in the city’s main industries, their ancillaries, hopes so. But how much of that will now depend on events roiling our world beyond the Mojave?

During the same span that presented a mundane hiccup at a merchant’s, its polar opposite grinds out in Ukraine.

Sometime in March, naturalized Ukrainian-Americans had come to Las Vegas. A late-50s/early-60s bunch, each one’s Iron Curtain edges had been sanded and curved by sweet soft American living. Clearly their visit scheduled well in advance of the Russian invasion.

Easy to imagine the choice: remain home and agonize alone or huddle with people sharing precisely the same anxieties. A single synapse threaded their impulses.

Las Vegas is a central, easily reached destination. This vacation should’ve allowed relatives, close friends dispersed throughout our country to resume intimate contacts among themselves. There’s only so much humanity capable of being shared through technology. Face-to-face, the human touch, exchange immediate tomes about ourselves.

Instead of comfort, this gathering became a misery circle. The city’s distractions, when they could be indulged, perhaps only momentarily displaced ballooning worry.

What landed American can imagine how grim news is from Ukrainian to those who’ve immigrated here? For us, it’s inconceivable, no?

Although most of the visiting party had resided as citizens in the United States for three or four decades, home will always remain from whence they’ve come. That’s so clear, it doesn’t require explanation.

An outsider should have no idea how jubilant they might’ve behaved had their former world not been pulverized. Perhaps we might surmise there would’ve been airy lightness and rolling laughter reflective of springtime, rather than potentially crushing gravity among them. Nor would the conversations have been fraught, the topics truly life and death.

Without war, wouldn’t joy have surged among them? The light opera/farcical drawing room kind naturally. Instead, being here in safe, secure, and sane America bestowed a kind of heaviness. Luck of the draw. Or fruition of determination. Turning right instead of left years ago, choices which led to life in the United States, those fateful steps avoided the prospect of facing the terror now besieging shattered Ukraine.

It wasn’t desertion. Just opportunity realized and taken.

Nonetheless …

Theirs is a recognizable reaction or confusion or conflation. They didn’t run. This is just where life led. Same as those in Ukraine. They remained. And today is what life delivered. Faultless on both sides.

Again, congregating in Las Vegas was to have been a happy getaway to get-together. Here, familiars who hadn’t seen one another in however long could recouple, renew, and rebind in the most without care city in America. Not sorry, New Orleans. Rather than a temporary refuge from real life, to them Las Vegas became an intersection where all the weight of their agony met.

In ordinary times, their baldly visible profusion of cell phones ought have been seen as epitomizing bad manners. Although these days paying greater attention to a handheld device than the human being in front of you is nevertheless becoming more and more commonplace. If they had been Americans doing the same, especially younger ones, the focus of this piece would be digressing into a screed against discourteousness.

But the Ukrainians weren’t mindless and unmindful Americans. Between snatches of stilted conversation that couldn’t detour too far from painful thoughts squeezing every mind with the same dread, flaring tootling screens often alerted devices’ owners of incoming texts. The assembled hushed. They awaited hearing news. The chain offered three answers. Inquiries from acquaintances in America or globally regarding what had been learned about someone in the war zone. Learning someone in Ukraine who’d been in clear peril had recently alerted another he or she or theirs still survived. And that last, being informed the Russians had further diminished them by one or more.

The first set in motion hurried further inquiries. Somebody in the party always knew of possible sources elsewhere to query. The second elicited grim joy. That third, issued raw slurries of anger, suffering, and futility. The kind no amount of cursing at the loudest from any throat’s farthest depth could ever salve.

Instantaneous communications. A bane and boon.

In the end, when American life needed tending again, farewells were unrestrained. These partings were simultaneously effusive yet laden with sorrow.

Undying declarations were spoken in unabashed tenors. Hugs started with arms as wide as possible before steps joined bodies. At these junctures both sets of limbs entwined torsos. Cheeks merged. They shone with mixtures of tears from how many eyes? The Ukrainians held onto one another not only for the longest, but tight enough to draw and store essence; tight enough in the vain hope time could be stopped.

Its effect reached strangers.