Bad Vegas

That time of year again. The season where convention and tradition insist we evaluate how good our lives have been despite setbacks and denials.

What’s particularly irksome is hearing all those sanctified savants who’ve proclaimed they’re “blessed.” As if leading patently unfulfilled or marginal lives is a wonderful condition, one that beats the alternative.

As the ancients knew, and modern mankind has forgotten believing technology has insulated us, there are fates worse than death.

Indeed, the prevalent notion prefers having flat feet on the grass rather than be toes up beneath it. Is there any shortage of pilgrims who’d argue struggle without reward still confers nobility? That there should be no more to our lives than just drawing breath being its own end? Isn’t that existing rather than living?

Shouldn’t we aspire to be more than merely advanced fungus? Or shall we simply predicate our lives on survival? And maybe even longevity?

There’s something which should be aspired. Becoming old, bent, cripple, and mindless. Yet “blessed” by such states.

Las Vegas is the least festive place between Thanksgiving and Christmas. Oh, New Year’s Eve eventually arrives and yanks the Big Mayberry from its dull tinsel doldrums. Only the rodeo which enlivens this city’s first 10 December days provides a glad respite. The cowboys and buckle bunnies who attend and compete make up for the less than pleasant or purposely inconsiderate conventioneers and visitors who filled Las Vegas’ coffers throughout the preceding year.

Certainly people working outside the hospitality industry and its adjuncts have little to no idea of the torrent of thoughtlessness and selfishness hotel, casino, and service personnel must contend with from guests. While nowhere near as arduous as harvesting produce as a migrant laborer, there are visitors who consciously and unconsciously do their utmost to make staffers’ tasks as grueling as possible.

The rodeo, the people it attracts, can be a considered a balm.

Otherwise, the dusty weeks leading up to revelers congealing on the Strip and Downtown boulevards to gape at fireworks and indulge in partying which either gratefully bids farewell to the old year or anticipates a better new one can be excruciatingly listless.

Of all the stupid questions heard regarding Las Vegas – “Does it have churches? Does it have schools? Does it have parks?” – the one query which would require active brain cells has never been asked.

“Does anyone take stock?” Of him- or herself. Anybody here examine their lives? Or seeing this locale as the shallowest in America (sorry Los Angeles, Las Vegas is No. 1 in that disrespect), does anyone who’s bought into the superficiality brought on by the Mojave Mecca’s transient nature even bother scratching deeper into the self?

Seeing the occasional godscreamer billboards around the city elicits decent laughs. People come to Las Vegas to escape that shit. Here, Jesus must search for you; otherwise, He won’t be met. And, no, that guy with the Son of God hair, beard, ripped robes, and whip marks across his back gaped at along the Fremont Street Experience is a street performer. The King of Kings doesn’t work for tips.

Yet I do enjoy what those entreaties are juxtaposed against. Often, rather than standalone appeals they commonly share billboard space or cheek-by-jowl proximity to another. So, an achingly earnest plea to save one’s soul could rise beside a direct to the id one advertising “Girls to Your Room!” Or a dispensary. Smoking or eating any of those substances is possibly the surest way of truly encountering Him in Las Vegas.

That the good people, or people who believe they’re good, or at least better sinners than everyone else, think they can stride into this den intending to reverse tides considered perverse is foolhardy. Wastes of time and energies which could be better and more successfully expended solving mortal woes on our plane than anticipating rewards in the Hereafter.

Whenever that appellation brushes my ears, I always recall the doggerel which runs “If you’re not here after what I’m here after, then you’ll be here after I’m gone.” Can’t remember its authorship. Hank Williams? Jerry Lee Lewis? Wolfman Jack?

Knew a pair of esses during my Arizona undergraduate days 40-plus years ago who put those words to the test. We resided in the same dorm. Booboo and Eraserhead. One Tucson night they snapped up two chochas who gave off every vibe about sharing their wavelengths regarding a desert party.

Settled, or so it was thought, the quartet hightailed out of town into the Sonora.

There in the Southern Arizona void, doubtlessly the vehicle’s cassette stereo rolled out quiet storm music under a chilly night sky. The stars must’ve winked above. A cozy campfire also probably spit and sparked. Indian blankets spread, the boys’ ever-ready cooler handily availing cheer, their female guests pulled an unforeseen brake. They’d changed frequencies.


They declined going any further by coming across. This stanza was not contained in Jennifer Warnes’ song.

Talk about a record skipping!

Aware of the vast differences between persuasion and assault, Booboo and Eraserhead did not press their disgruntlement. The party over, those boys packed up then extinguished the fire.

If the “dates” were somehow disappointed, that became dismay PDQ. Booboo and Eraserhead would not let either reenter the vehicle. Doesn’t take much imagination seeing whoever drove peeling out and kicking up dirt plumes whose dust hazed the immediate vicinity.

Next morning furious bashing on their dorm room door interrupted the esses’ Z-stacking session. Never mind who answered the door. Two Furies greeted him upon opening.

The girls had no luck hitching any ride back to Tucson. They hoofed it.

And the funniest part – well, if you were then a male of that era similarly inclined as Booboo and Eraserhead – was the girls accomplishing their trek barefooted. Their footwear the night before had been party shoes rather than essential desert gear. Shitkickers.

If one wants to prepare a self-congratulatory spot in the Hereafter (the theological realm), shouldn’t deeds on earth build that account? As I’ll never tire of stating, practicing is a surer confirmation of devotion than simply proclaiming piety.

What might be one of the most genuine, okay, graphic, examples of taking stock occurred here just before Thanksgiving. Driving to work one black night while cursing the city’s habitually out of sync signal lights, I spied a pyre in an empty parking lot by the Union Pacific tracks. Not a bum fire by which pallets had been broken up and sacrificed into a barrel to warm the rummy supplicants of the great demon Hooch. No, instead a bonfire that raged suspended in a shopping cart.

It burned bright enough to be mistaken for a beacon.

Work be damned. This was worthy of a gawk.

Wheeling into the lot, a slow half circuit revealed a body laying behind the conflagration. Needless to inspect any closer. Familiarity indicated him irrevocably dead. Amazing. I’ve seen more corpses after nine years in Las Vegas than I did after a lifetime in Metropolitan New York. And back East one of my summer home from college jobs included a few cold shifts inside a morgue.

The quiet was never bothersome. Just the occasional unexplained noises.

Anyway, the freshly departed was one of the countless chronically homeless wretches any long-time Las Vegas resident ought to accustom him- or herself to looking through. Flames danced along his glassy stare. His mouth agape as if caught in mid-sentence while giving his “final answer.” Matted hair. Scouring pad beard. Rags passing as clothing. Only one foot shod in a floppy shoe.

His demise through suicide or exhaustion? Probably a convergence of the latter backtracking into the former. Presumably an OD into infinity was his last trip. At least he ended on his terms. The cart fire proved this. If it’d been a fatal bum fight, the winning scavenger would’ve plucked what he could’ve from “the trove.” Through this he also would’ve scattered possessions around the pavement. He wouldn’t have wasted an instant torching the pile. Save that for abandoned buildings.

Unfortunately, there wasn’t any African or Arab or Eastern European mug around to fob the discovery off on and have report it to the police. Emerging from where these “new Americans” do, who better to handle indifferent authorities and readily misfiled paperwork?

Given the intensity and plentitude of contents in the cart yet to burn, I knew a curious citizen would eventually drive by. Let him or her alert the local constabulary. A slow night, the remains could’ve then gotten a wholly unnecessary quick response.