July 27, 2006

Things About Las Vegas That Suck

Ah, yes, now we get to the fun part. Although, for anyone who knows me and wonders why I have't written, like, you know, a novel or something, note how much better the "unhappy" entry is than the "happy." Yeah, I can only make good stuff out of misery and I'm not ready for a novel's worth of misery. Then again, I've been hoeing (and very occasionally ho-ing) the row of grief my whole life, I oughta quit just picking a few off the vine and harvest the whole motherfucking crop....

1. No Decent Pizza
Let's get this one out of the way right now. If there’s one cliché thing that transplanted New Yorkers bitch about it’s that no other city has pizza as good as back home blah blah. Even if we went to Italy, we’d bitch about the pizza. Well, I’ve been to Italy and I’ve had their pizza and, sorry, but I’ll take Sal’s of Orchard Street any day. Because nowhere can you get a slice like a New York slice, and Las Vegas is no exception. Even the pizzerias run by people from NYC taste nothing like it. “It’s something in the water” may be yet another cliché (Did you know Dorothy Parker had a poodle named Cliché? It’s also the title of an inferior song from a superior Sebadoh album.) but I can’t help but think it’s true. The same reason NYC tap water is better than most bottled water may also be why it makes superior crust, the most upper of crusts, if you will, hmm, yes....

2. 24-Year-Olds
There was a time, a time not so terribly long ago, when if you had told me there was a town full of 24-year-old boys, I would’ve asked you for the directions to heaven. But, now that I’ve been here a while, I realize it’s a much hotter piece of real estate. Which, given that I began dating younger men when I was twenty, is something akin to the Pope deciding the saints are full of crap. But it's odd: I've been coming here for the better part of a decade now, but whenever I find myself asking some seemingly charming creature, "How old are you, sweetie?" the answer is almost always "Twenty-four." It doesn't even seem to matter where I meet them or what they're doing. Still, when I was that age--and even for a good five years afterward--one used to be able to count on them for at least flashes of idealism or naiveté, but who are now the most cynical of creatures and bone-deep jaded is not that adorable on someone who’s still relatively immature. A certain degree of juvenile also makes the narcissism easier to cope with--it's one thing for someone to not consider your feelings because they're only discovering such things exist, it's another thing to have someone not consider them because you don't even register as a human being. and their vanity is no longer the kind of cute vanity of someone who "wants to look cool" so they work on perfecting their haricut and find some cool shirts at the thrift shop. No, now it's a creepy metrosexual, gyms and tight T-shirts "how many people can I get to want to fuck me" thing.
'Cause, damn, they’re all way too into porn, which is sort of amusingly perverse at first, but becomes real tired real fast when you discover that most of fucking for them is just imitating what they’ve seen on TV. Fine as a starting point or an augmentation, but once you realize you’re simply being put through the DVD paces, it sort of kills the buzz a bit. Of course, none of this bothers the chicks they hook up with on MySpace or in the chat room or any of the other STD clearinghouses available on the World Wide Web (after all, their whole lives are based around "how many people can I get to want to fuck me"). Ah, Jesus, the internet, that’s another thing: None of them can spell, punctuate or use grammar worth a damn, you get messages like “I NeeD 2 GiT goIN *tALk* 2 u latR ;)” Okay, okay, I fully acknowledge that I myself often type emails entirely in lower-case letters and we all make the occasional spelling error when typing at Thompson-gun speed but breaking the laws of grammar doesn’t exactly make you Che Fucking Guevara, ‘kay? Doesn’t make you e.e. cummings or bell hooks, either, but you’ve never heard of them anyway. And let us not even go into the music favored by the youth of today, their tendency to overload on bad hip-hop or bad aggro-metal and if I hear one more mallgoth band led by a boy in eyeliner, I’m gonna…. I have no idea. Puke? Die? Tear my ears off and rip my eyes out? Change the channel? Something, just make it go away....

3. Fucking Taxis
I have nearly missed planes because the taxi was an hour late. I have missed planes because the taxi never came. I have had people spend three hours and go to four locations to try and get a taxi from near my house—which is a whopping ten minutes from the Strip. You can call as many companies, as many times as you want to, and they’ll promise you whatever but, face it, they are not coming. Ever.

4. No Place to Shoot Baskets
Of course Las Vegas, being western and suburban in its conception and construction, is missing most of the finer points of urban living: foot traffic, food stands, window shopping, bike messengers and basketball courts. I know I was spoiled living down the block from a 24-hour court (Yay midnight basketball!) for almost a decade, but there is no place to play here. No longer can I assuage my insomnia by going out to shoot fifty baskets at 2am (really, it works) or meet up with a friend to do our bullshitting over bounce passes rather than vodka cocktails. The schools here keep their courts locked up 24-7, many of the parks don’t have them at all. I can use the ones at the university, but they’re only free for about ½ hour a day and, well, they’re indoor, which means a) it’s a whole different bounce and b) the vibe is just wrong. The only pleasant place I’ve found is to go in the later evening hours to the one near the Anthem skatepark: You get some distant city lights, activity over by the playground, etc., but far enough away that it’s not distracting. However, it is kind of far from where I live, among other things.

5. Meth, Meth Everywhere
It’s a West Coast thing, I just don’t understand. Junkies, well, junkies can be pretty fucking annoying, but give ‘em their dope and they’ll slink off to a corner and keep quiet for a while—and even if they do bother you, all you have to do is wait about 30 seconds until they nod off again. Cokeheads, oh, they’re spastic and twitchy and often babble endlessly about nothing, but they can occasionally be incredibly entertaining, as demonstrated by some of the great comics of the 80s or certain acquaintances I have made.
But meth heads are annoying when they’re high--which lasts about 12 hours--when they’re not high and every moment in between including while they're asleep. They’ve always got to go somewhere, they can never tell you where or how long they’ll be gone. And they’re always pretending they have no drugs/money/clue, in an effort to get some off of someone else, some that they can then add to the hidden hoard. As the great Lester Bangs noted, speedfreaks always lie because no one can keep shooting off their mouth that long without running out of truth. Word.
And it’s not just a matter of coming home to someone slumped on the couch or spazzing around the living room but coming home to find all the lights out, all the shades drawn, all the cutlery hidden, the clock ripped out of the wall and someone crouched by a window, frantically whispering “They’re out there. Didya see ‘em? Didya?” And then you’ve got to go in and turn the lights on and find all the knives and then hide 'em again and try to fix the clock all the while nonchalantly talking down one very crazy motherfucker with stories about nothing and plates of hot dogs. Although, of course, if it’s been going on for more than a month you run over to the other window and whisper “Yeah, that Honda has been sitting across the street since I came in,” because, yes, apparently paranoia is a social disease. I could go on and I could get personal, but I won’t. Me and my fucking decorum.

6. Teardowns
So, I thought New York City was the capital of things disappearing in a day. However, at least back there, the building would still be in existence, just repurposed into a martini bar or a Starbucks or a pet boutique. But out here, entire strip malls will be gone in a day. Like how they ripped out two trailer parks within one week, boarded up the Bond-Aire the following week and tore it down the week after that. Oh, lovely, lovely Bond-Aire, how I miss you and your bewitching neighbor, the neon sign for the Tropicana Mobile Home Park, now torn down to make way for some kind of “replica” of “New York’s East Village.” Which would be great if it was going to be a bunch of crumbly tenements and pierogi diners and punk rock bars with flamboyantly attired Puerto Rican girls lounging on every doorstep; the Bond-Aire would’ve fit perfectly into 1983-1998 East Village. Unfortunately, they will be replicating the current MTV/Sex in the City/May as well be Indianapolis East Village of today and, well, let’s just say none of the people who lived/hung out there before 2000 go to that neighborhood anymore—we don’t even talk about going there, we just look at each other and shake our heads and mutter something about sorority girls and fratboys and the good time we used to have.
But really, anyone who reads any of my seemingly endless stream of bar columns (And, really, who doesn’t? Uh-huh.) may have noticed that “everything is disappearing” is a recurring theme. But, given that fine places such as the aforelamented Bond-Aire and the Venus Lounge and the Ukelele Lounge and Heiney’s have departed and soon everything delightful in the Stardust will also go, I think I’m justified. And don’t even get me started on all the fabulous old motels that are dropping like flies for luxury high-rise developments that will never go up because, well, there aren’t 100,000 people looking to buy a million-dollar vacation home on the Strip. And what will happen once they tear down all the older casinos to make more $250-a-night hotels, knowing that not every person who comes to Vegas is willing or able to spend like that? Besides shit, if that’s what they want, the Vagabond Inn was a genius piece of mid-century modern design and the Peter Pan is a perfect example of a vintage bungalow motel, either of which would have made brilliant boutique hotels with naught but a little renovation, some new neon, and a few truckloads of Ikea.
Still, Vegas has mastered the rejection of its past so completely that they can even tear down the non-corporeal. I speak of the fact that slot machines no longer give money when you win, but rather little slips accompanies by a digitized "arpeggio"—yes, along with the Sands, the Dunes, the Hacienda, the Desert Inn, the Mint and all its other great symbols, Vegas has even destroyed the sensation of an avalanche of winning coins rattling into the metal trough of a slot machine, perhaps one of the greatest sounds and sights in the world and the one that most exemplifies this town. I’d say “For shame,” if anyone here had any.

7. Segregation
I don’t want to go into it, because I’ll just start hurling invective that I’ll then keep altering ad infinitum in a futile attempt to make it more articulate but if you’ve been to Vegas—and I mean beyond the demilitarized zone they created for the tourists—you know that, like the laundry, whites and colors are kept separate. Again, I know I come from a place where I’m used to seeing all races, creeds and colors jammed into the same subway car, but I still find it weird how everyone is so freakin’ separated down here. (Then again, the bouncer at Gilley's was quick to insist that this place I come from is not part of the United States, perhaps that is what he was referring to.) The only place I see everyone a' minglin’ like they did back home is the appropriately named New York Bar.

8. Dead Cats
If Las Vegas has any lasting symbol for me, it is not a neon sign but a dead cat. I’ve had to deal with three of them already. The first was the mighty Blix, known to all who knew him as The Greatest Cat Who Ever Lived. Really, he was near-human in his socialization level, emotional perception, comforting skills and desire for a good time. Actually, he was better at those things than a lot of people. I brought him out to Vegas to live out his golden years and, at the age of 17, the cancer finally got too bad and I had to have him put to sleep, which means now I know what it’s like to hold someone I love in my arms and watch them die. And then wonder who the fuck is going to console me now? Answer: No one. You’re on your own, kid. Where do you ever get these dumb ideas that you're not?
So I got a kitten, because lots of cats need homes and I had a home for a cat. Went to the shelter, got adorable little black-and-white boy kitten, much like Blix. Named him Buster Dinkins for his propensity for pratfalls and my favorite NYC mayor. But Buster seemed to be ailing and we made some trips to the vet. To get to the inevitable sorrow, I wake up at 4am to find a kitten with rigor mortis on my kitchen floor. Well, at least I made his final days as full of adoration and soft spots and tasty food as I could. Then I got DeeDee Dinkins, named for my favorite Ramone and my favorite NYC mayor and my late lamented kitten. Despite being antisocial with strangers, she's big and healthy and loud as hell. Phew.
Well, not quite. More easily than I made human friends in this town (we lost the stutter by age 10, but the fear of sounding stupid lingers forever), I assembled a quartet of abandoned cats in my apartment complex. They were always happy to see me—sure, they’d take off for a few days, but they’d always return, running across the sidewalk to greet me and be petted when I came home from school. Little Pie, the black one, Puddy, the calico, Fuzzy, the fuzzy one and MiniDeeDee, who looked like a smaller DeeDee. I swapped feeding duties with the neighbors, put out the occasional pile of catnip, called their names and hugged them when they let me and generally tried to make them feel like they belonged to someone.
And then today I am driving to the pool, and there’s MiniDeeDee, who was meowing at me for kibble and a cuddle three days ago, splattered all over the intersection at the end of my block. I managed to hold off the bursting into tears for about 15 minutes, which may be some kind of record.
Sure, I’m a fucking cat lady in training, so what? Who else is going to keep me company when I’m 45? And I’m fine with them eating my corpse once I die and it takes two weeks for the smell to alert the neighbors. And go ahead, you can say whatever you want about me crying over a stray cat hit by a car, what with Armageddon coming down in the Middle East and people starving in Africa and the whole world sinking ever deeper into its own stinking pile of shit, fine. But I have very little to care about out here (hell, anywhere) and it's easier to care about animals. There is not a person alive who, for the right price (usually a pretty low one) won’t stab you in the back. Hell, I’ve had people shiv me right through the soul for fun and/or practice. Pretty much any human being deserves whatever happens to them. But not MiniDeeDee. I hope she’s gone someplace with a warm cushion and her own bowl of food and a nice human who will never leave her behind. It’s more than most of us get....

Posted by lissa at 05:27 PM

July 17, 2006

Things About Las Vegas That Don't Suck

Well, it had to happen eventually. Well, not that eventually: Like most things that go up here, it sat semi-completed on my hard drive for quite some time (long enough to be moved from one hard drive to another as a mttrafact). And I’m not going into the obvious advantages—the lax regulations pertaining to smoking and drinking, the temperate winters, the well-stocked thrift shops. Rather, herein I shall mention a few of the things that have made life here more bearable. Besides, once I do this, I can get to the "things that really suck" entry, and you know that'll be fun.

1. High Concentration of Beauty Supplies
You’d think that between the ladies of the Upper West Side, the ladymen of Chelsea and those painted and vulpine creatures that work for Conde Nast, New York City would be our nation’s beauty product capital. Not so: The confluence of showgirls, strippers, trophy wives and high-grade drag queens mean that Las Vegas has more makeup, hair and nails then anywhere else.
There’s a Sally Beauty Supply or a Fantastic Sam’s in seemingly every other strip mall, right next to the Walgreen’s or Rite Aid or CVS with the doublewide cosmetics aisle. If that’s not enough, we have two Sephoras, three Purebeautys, three Macs, three Avedas, two L’Occitanes, two Freshes, a Clinique, an Estee Lauder, a Shisedo, ten places to buy Avon and twenty outposts of Mary Kay cosmetics (I even parked next to one of those “saleswoman of the year” pink Cadillacs outside the Big Lots the other day.) Then there’s nearly three dozen wig shops, typified by Judy’s Fashion-Girl Wigs, Vegas Girl Wigs and the mighty Serge’s Showgirl Wigs. You know Serge’s is the shit because not only is it within walking distance of three tranny bars—a stiletto-heeled walk, it’s so close—but “celebrity hair stylists” come all the way from Hollywood to buy hair there.

2. Drive-Thrus
Well, the car thing has taken some getting used to, and I still wouldn’t say that I like it—driving being the only way to get to and from the bar, being stuck in traffic, shelling out vast sums of money for auto repairs, all make me long for the carefree days of easily accessible public transit. Still, there are two things that make me love having finally acquired a drivers’ license: cruising down the Strip at night cranking Public Image Ltd. (Try it sometime--it synchs up perfectly, the way the drum machines match the lights’ pulsation and Johnny Rotten’s cynicism perfectly fits the faces of tourists and casino workers and guys handing out porno flyers.) and going to the drive-thru. In-n-Out, Fatburger, Carl’s Jr., Jack-in-the-Box, Sonic, not to mention your usual round of Mc Donald’s and Burger King and Wendy’s and....
In-n-Out vs. Fatburger has long been a point of contention, with the two coming out about evenly matched in burger supremacy. In-n-Out has the handcut fries and the simple glory that is the double-double (although you need not stop there), yet Fatburger does offer an amazing array of toppings, a choice of fry widths, the mighty sausage-egg-and-cheese that rivals those of New York, and the best goddamn onion rings around. See, most places have the minced onion onion rings, which are like flavorless nothing. You need to have the whole ring of the onion, kept whole, breaded and deep friend, so that when you bite into it, the ribbon of onion slides out of the fried shell…
Yes, ahem, anyway, Carl’s Jr. is also a tasty late-night snack, though I love them less now that they took the chicken-bacon-guacamole sandwich off the menu. Jack-in-the-Box’s mascot kinda creeps me out, but they do have the heart-attack-inducing ciabatta breakfast sandwich, which involves ham and bacon and hollandaise, and you can get it 24 hours a day, none of that “no breakfast after 10:30am” shit. Sonic—well, I’ve never actually been to Sonic, but they have my former co-worker, the fabulous Brian Huskey on many of their commercials and I’m all for that. Very funny man, Brian Huskey. Always was.

3. Cadillacs
One way in which Las Vegas still lives up to its old-school rep is in the abundance of Cadillacs on the road. Indeed, the appropriately named Cashman Cadillac must be the leading retailer of its kind—their 40’s style metallic logo is affixed to half of the Caddies in town. Even when a Cadillac is fender-dented, primer-spattered, sun-bleached, chrome-peeled, and generally beat to shit, it’s still got a certain grandeur, like a deposed monarch. A king who waits tables is still a king.

4. Power 88
Sure, al the kids love the Area 108, but the hippest radio station in town is indisputably Power 88. Power 88 bills itself as “the people’s station” and fuck me if it ain’t. Within any two-hour period, you’ll hear the Ohio Players, the Notorious B.I.G., Larry Graham, En Vogue, Cee-Lo, Smokey Robinson… it sounds like a summer Saturday at the Fort Greene brownstone of Dave Chapelle’s coolest uncle, the one with the incredible record collection.
It was via the auspices of Power 88 that I originally heard Marlena Shaw’s “Go Away Little Boy” right after my dear friend Ben told me about it and that it had reminded him of me. It also provided me with the “Wha?” moment we all shared upon first hearing R. Kelly’s “Trapped in the Closet.” (All that free-verse melisma dialogue and then “It’s a man.” “Wha?!?!”) And, since Power 88 is owned by the EOC, it means the only advertising is bought by sponsors meaning that instead of some idiot braying about strip clubs or gibbering about weight loss programs, we hear voices of Isaac Hayes-smoothness intoning the excellence of Prestige Janitorial Services or Community College of Southern Nevada.

5. Lee’s Liquors
Or, as I like to refer to it, The World’s Greatest Liquor Store. Or, as a friend calls it, “Disneyland for drunks.” There are those who swear by LeNell’s of Red Hook, but I’m sticking with Lee’s. For starters, not only do they carry Abita beer, but you can choose from three kinds. They have vodka, citron vodka, lemon vodka, lime vodka, orange vodka, apple vodka, peach vodka, pear vodka, melon vodka, watermelon vodka, strawberry vodka, raspberry vodka, cranberry vodka, blueberry vodka, coffee vodka, cappuccino vodka, chocolate vodka, vanilla vodka, merlot vodka, pepper vodka… all this and so much more on the vodka aisle. Yes, there’s a vodka aisle, right next to the gin aisle. Aisles: not shelves. Not even shelving units: aisles. And whether you want to spend $5.99 a bottle or $69.99 a bottle, you can find it here. Even, $1500 Erte Courvoisier. Finally, they have a frequent shopper card, just like at the supermarket. I mean, is that cool or what?

6. Random Elvis Impersonators
We all have things we gotta do to get through our day: park our cars, pick up our dry cleaning, go to the supermarket, sit at stoplights picking our noses. And often we do these things on the way to or from work, wearing our work clothes. However, in Las Vegas, it is the work of many men to be Elvis Presley. Thus, the not infrequent and always edifying sight of a fellow in white jumpsuit and sideburns riding a mall escalator, or walking through a casino parking lot (To his undoubtedly impressive ride. No Elvis drives a Honda. No Elvis drives a car that weighs less than two tons.) or buying kitty litter, or leaning out his window at the McDonald’s drive-thru. Hey, it’s just a job. A job with godlike overtones, but a job nonetheless.

7. The Museums of Tropicana Ave.
New York City has its museum mile: the Metropolitan Museum, the Guggenheim, the Whitney. We have Tropicana Avenue, home to the Liberace Museum and the Pinball Hall of Fame. The Liberace has expanded in the past few years, finally providing a suitable home to the world’s biggest rhinestone, the mirrored Rolls Royce and the patriotic sequined hotpants outfit. And, well, come Christmas time, the gift shop can’t be beat. Then, of course, we have the Pinball Hall of Fame, a far greater addition to our fair city than any flashy new casino. Hell, most of them time I spend not being there is wasted. I could be making myself insane getting wired on HyperBall or trying to get on the good side of the tempestuous Mata Hari machine or wondering at the strangely sex toy-like vibration of the Cosmos or continuing my futile attempts to get ghost car more than a mile down the matchbox highway on the Roadrunner.
While the Vegas history museum at the Tropicana itself recently closed, the notoriously gross “Bodies” exhibit recently opened, so the Trop is keeping up their end (to the end, apparently). I suppose their Titanic exhibit could also be considered a form of morbid fun, but whenever I hear the word “Titanic,” I think of Dion and DiCaprio and there ain’t nothin’ cool about that.

8. Big B’s Record Store/Zia Record Exchange
There is probably some complicated theory of psychic magnetism or at least real estate demographics that explains how I wind up residing within easy walking distance of two good record stores. Actually, it used to be three, but Balcony Lights finally closed, unfortunate for a vast amount of reasons, not the least of which was that it was one of the few places in Las Vegas you could walk into and have no idea you were in Las Vegas.
Regardless, Big B’s is something of an institution. Essentially, it’s your typical record store where you can buy the new Snow Patrol and the Cramps’ back catalogue and a three-foot-by-five-foot poster of P.J. Harvey and, if you want it, even—gasp!—an actual vinyl record, as well as peruse the poorly balanced table’s worth of flyers for the next three weeks of shows. So what sets this place apart? Well, every other record store I’ve been in where you could acquire the abovementioned items is staffed by, well, oh, how shall we put this… you know the kind of people I mean: record store clerks. But, unlike those supercilious creatures, the folks at Big B’s are actually friendly and helpful—when I recently went in to buy the latest … Trail of Dead CD, one of them actually went over and looked through an entire A-section’s worth of discs to find me a used copy. And they’ve done it more than once.
While the staff at Zia isn’t as out-of-their-way helpful, they’re still nicer than the average bear-like creature (In temperament, certainly not in physique: looks like a muskrat, thinks it acts like a recently awakened grizzly, really comes off more like the smallest member of the hyena pack.) ringing up your copy of In Between Days. Although the local musicians stocking the shelves in full stage regalia, fittingly, remain mute. Their used selection is vast to the point of ludicrousness and they’ve got a good-sized array of T-shirts and DVDs. Also, they have shows occasionally—nothing huge, but a fair reason for a late-afternoon stroll down to the shop.

Posted by lissa at 11:58 PM