In the bar on the 107th floor of the Stratosphere hotel and casino in Las Vegas I asked a waitress why the building was shaking. At first she said it was because of the wind. Then she corrected herself and said it was because of the rides two floors above on the roof.Then she said that the rides weren’t running because of the wind. Then she said, “The whole time I’ve worked here, I’ve never asked.”
About twenty minutes before that I had inadvertently called a very polite and extremely attractive Russian waitress a racist, but that was mostly due to a misunderstanding. Her name was Rosy and she was never going to fall in love with me anyway. Probably because I apparently call strangers racists, which she is just not down with.
Anywho, I recently went to Las Vegas. Rather than try to travelogue it for you (which my English degree makes me want to do, so very badly), I’m just going to catalogue the fun bits - whiskey-flavored memory shards that they may be - and you can figure out how and when they fit together (this is me going all “Ulysses” for those of you who come here because you too have an English degree and a lot of time because of how limited your job prospects are).
Things to know:
1) I was dragooned to Las Vegas by my friend The Director and his brother the Kracken.
2) We stayed Downtown on the Fremont because unless you’re a 19-year-old blonde girl from Nebraska, you should have figured out by now that the Strip is a giant mall and the real Las Vegas is Downtown. A good rule of thumb: if the place isn’t at least a little bit sticky, then you’re not in real Las Vegas.
3) The Director doesn’t drink as much as I do and Kracken is a Le Cordon Bleu-trained chef with a motorcycle-accident gait that goes away the more you appease him with whisky. He’s basically the John Watson of drinkers (BBC bitches!)
4) Due to reasons both economic and hilarious, we stayed at a hotel called “The D”. When I was a younger man it was a cheesy Irish-themed casino called “Fitzgerald’s” but it has been awhile since I was a younger man. In the intervening years it was purchased by yet another rich, kinda fat, white guy (all these guys are fat, rich white guys). This one was from Detroit, hence “The D”. (If my mother is reading this, I would really appreciate it if someone would explain to her why staying at a place called “The D” made for a whole lot of - what seemed at the time - very pun-y jokes.)
Fremont street is about a mile north of the Strip. Its modern incarnation is about three long blocks long and closed to cars along its length. It is bisected a couple of times by thru traffic, but mostly it is a haven for stumbling drunkenly from one place to another. Above the tourists strapped into their four-foot-tall plastic margarita glasses there hovers an arching white canopy of steel and lightbulbs. During the day it helps to blot out the sun, but at night it is a light show like you have never seen. I’ve never done LSD, but more than once I have had a few drinks too many and watched that tacky-ass, super-bright, too-loud lightshow and I have to imagine it is about the same. Funny thing about it. I have been there drunk and amazed. I have been there sober and in love and happy. I have been there young and I have been there old (last week). I have watched that stupid fucking cacophony of light while sitting on my ass too liquored-up to do anything but marvel, and I have also watched that thing while in such clean and clear love, with my arms wrapped around someone else, that I could smell the electricity, because you develop those kinds of superpowers when you’re in love.
There’s a story I’ve been told more than once, that the engineer who designed that light canopy did it for free, just for the fuckall love of doing it. I believe that story. Because sometimes we do things just for the fuckall love of them.
So next do you want to hear about the drum player with no arms, or the worst stippers in the world? You know what? I will write the next few paragraphs, but number them backwards, then you can read them in whichever way your OCD wants you to.
FOUR If you walk out the front entrance of The D., then you are looking across the Fremont promenade at one of the older casinos, called The Fremont. The Fremont is remarkable for only two things and one is not that remarkable: 1) For the money it has one of the best-value buffets in Las Vegas. Is it the best? No. Is it the absolute cheapest? No. Is it kinda in that sweet spot where you’re willing to pay twelve bucks and then throw your hands up and say, “Good enough”? Yes. Yes it is. That sweet spot is The Fremont’s jam. But even better than that; 2) it has $1 margaritas 24 hours a day. PRO TIP!!!: the marquee makes it seem like the place has a million bars and people can barely stand up because of the rivers of cheap margaritas. This is not true. The place has precisely one bar and there are no rivers of margaritas. Believe me, I brought a flotation device and went looking. But if you are like me and you wake up at more or less the same time every day (Vegas, or no), then you can amble out of The D. at around 8 in the morning and go across to The Fremont and get a $1 margarita for breakfast. PRO TIP!!!: go in the morning. Only. In the morning they pour tequila into a margarita slurpy concoction and it is quite good. At night they spray margarita mix into a plastic cup and season it responsibly with tequila. Also, at night, there is a very bitter bartender who is kind of a dick and he says the sort of things to margarita-orderers that makes one think this dude’s finest days were making fun people in high school gym class. Imagine Colin Quinn, but fat and sad (That was a joke! Because Colin Quinn is already both fat and sad and is also probably the dick bartender at The Fremont).
THREE If you walked out of the front entrance of The D. along with me last week - on our way to get a slushy breakfast margarita - then you would have seen what I saw. Let’s digress here for a moment. I would like to say that I do not generally make fun of disabled persons. In fact - being a lefty liberal - I think they should be able to park wherever they want. Not just in the handicapped spots, but in the lanes, in the aisles, in the mall for all I care. Also, the editors here at Standardkink have required that I mention that my brother The Kinesiologist - who works day in and day out with the disabled (because he’s a better person than I am) was not consulted regarding this paragraph and that none of my stink should get on him (As silly as this blog is, it can get radiation on the people I care about, which is why I lie to you about their names. Like you seriously think I know a guy named “Kracken”?). Anyway, I have no idea if that last sentence is even close to grammatically correct. So. Last week we walk out the front entrance of The D. (does that ever stop being funny?) and as we are crossing to The Fremont at 8 in the morning for our breakfast margaritas, there is a little dude there sitting between us and the sweet, sweet, margarita-having Fremont. But then, we realize, he is not actually a little dude. He is a man only slightly smaller than me. He is sitting on a little box and he is drumming on a white, upturned 10-gallon plastic bucket. What is remarkable about him though - and what makes me think he would be hanging out in the background of a Velvet Underground video, if only the Velvet Underground had made videos - is that he does not have any arms. He has hands. And thumbs. He could play ‘I’ve Never’ with the best of them, he just doesn’t have the part between the shoulders and the wrists. This is probably a very common thing and I don’t mean to make fun, I just mean to tell you that a little guy with no arms was drumming the shit out of a bucket at 8am in the morning on Fremont Street last week and I wouldn’t have even been sure it was happening except that you took me by the arm and led me around him and when we finally got to the bar in The Fremont you were all like, “Just because the world occasionally seems incredible doesn’t mean that it isn’t credible.” You were very smart that morning.
TWO For reasons passing understanding, Kracken and The Director felt that the best time to drive from Los Angeles to Las Vegas was 2am on a Monday morning. This was acceptable to me because I’m an easy-going guy and you would probably be astounded to discover the multitude of things which are acceptable to me. We drove through the night and got into Vegas about 6am. We drank at Main Street Station for an hour because its breakfast buffet opens at 7am and because one of the men’s bathrooms there has chunks of the Berlin Wall (behind plexiglass) behind the urinals. And who doesn’t want to pee on the Berlin Wall? (PRO TIP!!!: Pee on the Berlin Wall in Las Vegas.There is a pretty cool slab of it in Manhattan but they get all arrest-y if you pee on that one). Funny story, in a previous (re: younger) life I went hunting for this Berlin Wall bathroom. Me and a couple guys and a girlfriend. In the dead of the night we found the correct bathroom (It’s down a long hall off the main casino) and we men went in and did our business (Ich bin ein Berliner!) and then the Girlfriend wanted in on the business. In retrospect, it is silly how seriously we took cordoning off that bathroom for her, but these are the things people do when things like the Berlin Wall and - you know - FREEDOM are at stake. Last week when we rolled in, I was a little bit amazed by the amount of food they had ready to go so early in the day. I had eggs and bacon and such, but I also had a waffle on top of a chocolate cookie, drizzled in maple syrup and more bacon. If you’re like me and you often find yourself shoving cookies in your available pockets, then check out the breakfast buffet at Main Street Station.
ONE This is totally disingenuous because the story I’m about to tell you did not exactly or entirely happen on this last trip, but it did happen and some of it did happen recently. It all relates! I promise! There is one strip club on the Fremont. Do not go there. Unless you are a 19 year old blonde girl from Nebraska, in which case it will seem like a Greco-Roman orgy. We tend to all have hazy memories of Las Vegas and that’s the way Las Vegas likes it, but the fact of the matter is that it is a physical place and any physical place can only contain X amount of strip clubs. The place on Fremont is called “The Glitter Gulch” and I love it only because it appears in one of my favorite books. In “Amnesiascope” by Steve Erickson it is called “The Golden Garter” and even the protagonist doesn’t have a good time there. I’m not going to be a bad Yelp reviewer here and explain what a floating lap dance is, but I’m just going to say that this is not a good strip club. But strip clubs are a funny thing, especially in Vegas. Halfway between Downtown and The Strip there is super-cheap strip club that is staffed by the extras from The Walking Dead. Just off The Strip on South Industrial there is a Deja Vu (the McDonalds of strip clubs) and that is where one of my favorite ever stories took place. Again I was with a couple of guys and somebody’s Girlfriend. Girlfriend was aggressive about wanting to go to a strip club. We popped into a few (there are many on Industrial) and finally we went into the Deja Vu, which looks like the inside of a blue moon lamp. The bouncer told us it was $15 each and the Girlfriend thought that was too much and started to walk out and that was when the most amazing thing I have ever seen happen happened. The bouncer was a guy in a black t-shirt, but the floor manager was a guy in a suit and he rushed out in front of Girlfriend and said, “Hey there! Is that too much? How much do you want to pay?” and Girlfriend said, “Nothing” and so then the floor manager said, “Okay. Nothing.” And so then we went on in and I’m not entirely sure how to explain what was happening inside. Imagine something like American bandstand, but it’s all strippers. I don’t want to be inopportune, but it was the sort of place where strippers descended the weird scaffolding of the stage and showed up pressed against your thigh and I’m not saying that Girlfriend got a lap dance right there, but if she did, it was the kind of place where it happened right there in front of everybody.
What I cherish about that is the face the floor manager made. It must have been his first day, or a seriously slow night, because I have never seen any doorman beg people to come inside so desperately.
Also, not that anyone cares, but I have been to Los Angeles and New York and London and Paris and St. Louis and Chicago and Seattle and Salt Lake City and San Francisco and Albuquerque and the best strip club I have ever found is in Bakersfield, California. I’m not saying I have a VIP pass to that place in my wallet, but I’m not saying I don’t, you know?
Right now I would like to point out how far our lofty goals have fallen. This blog was once supposed to be a showplace for my writing, but now it is just a place where I tell you about which strip clubs are the most topless (Las Vegas) or which have the most interesting conversation when your life is falling apart (Bakersfield).
You know what though? If W. G. Sebald didn’t have all of that WWII German guilt on his shoulders, then he probably would have been writing about strip clubs on his blog too. I often try to explain to religious people that - given the opportunity - Jesus Christ would be hanging out with me, because I know all the tax collectors and prostitutes. We never seem to get along very well after I point that out.
But let us return now, to the the 107th floor of the Stratosphere. Imagine I’m dressed like Don Draper. I wasn’t, but I want you to think that’s how I dress (I was wearing nice suit pants and a vest). The 106th floor of the Stratosphere is a very fancy reservation-only restaurant. It revolves, which is to say that it makes one revolution about every 120 minutes. During the length of a nice dinner the floor will rotate you 360 degrees around the slender tip head of the Stratosphere, which means that you will see all of the Las Vegas Valley, all of its water-sucking suburbs, all of its jagged, unforgiving desert hills, all of its ridiculous urban sprawl. If you ever want to bum yourself the fuck out about Las Vegas, then check out a writer named James Howard Kunstler.
I was not bummed the fuck out though, when we left Las Vegas. I know that it is an unsustainable hole in the desert, I know that it is also an irreparable tear across our Protestant-American psyche. I know that I want to go back because the roulette dealers at The D. are also go-go dancers, I know that I want to go back because dangerously young women outside The El Cortez wanted me to buy them booze. I know that I want to go back because there is something about me that finds it interesting how places and people and societies and town and countries and cultures choose to collapse. Las Vegas always feels like the high water mark of some personal tide. I guess that’s what it does for us; it makes us feel married, or happy, or dirty, or complete, or under-fucked, or blissful, or zen.
If I can offer no better advice: during the week, the 107 bar at the the Stratosphere hotel and casino does not charge for the elevator ride during happy hour. The drinks are two-for-one and if you see a really very attractive Russian brunette waitress called Rosy, then DO NOT call her a racist! She does not find it funny.