Vegas, Viva Las Cancer.

Vegas is the place least likely to find an Amish in the world and so I thought I'd go there and look for one and though I searched extensively through the bars and Casinos my entire mission was fruitless.

There were 128 slot machines between the plane and the baggage retrieval so in theory you could loose all your money by the time you got to your luggage, left only to catch your return flight.

I had no time for feckless folly; I was on a mission,

I was in Las Vegas to perform at a gig for a major tobacco company,

to dive headlong into the moral vacuum and paddle about the evil taking sidelong glances at the depravity and recording what I could so that my life, at most, could serve as a warning to others.

The airport at Vegas is right in the center of town (no time to waste, holidays in haste.)

I caught a $5 taxi to the MGM Grand, which is one of the gargantuan hotels in the area, with casino, shopping center and around 5000 rooms, (it has a chapel right next to its amusement arcade).

The hotel is so vast that carrier pigeons are used to send in-house memos and trained to operate lifts.

I was sailing blind into a gig having flown myself across America the day after a 14 day engagement in Chicago on the strength of a couple of e-mails and phone calls (and the night before the gig I was told with less than 24 hours notice that the theme was middle eastern.)

Cause for misgivings:

One-- no reservation in my or anything approaching my name. I pay myself.

Two--I have been told that I am to work roving a club from 8 till 9. I receive a call from front desk for assistance in a booking 15 mins before my scheduled showtime.

Validation of misgivings: The people I confronted at the front desk, I quickly opinionised, would have collective difficulties negotiating a pedestrian crossing let alone a gig.

A gaggle of seemingly-stunned, goth gypsies, a sort of spinal tap meets the Adams Family meets One Flew Over the Cookoos Nest, type of visual scenario.

I went into shock... Stumbling numbly back to my room 18330, to get my stilts and costume I was shadowed by a vocally hyperactive member of their group, a seemingly endless cascade of gobbledygook issuing in the lift, in the corridor, in the corridor again, in the lift again.

My impression was darkening. Back to the lobby, then out to the carpark where my equipment and I were stuffed into a rare cavity inside an old VW that then had to be push started, I noticed that it had no breaks apart from the hand brake. I still knew nothing; where we were going, when I was performing, how long I was working.

I was far from chipper. I asked from the back of the van,

"Could someone please tell me what's going on?" There followed an eerie silence, I followed up, "Alternatively you could pretend I don't fuckin' exist."

"Wow--Thats harsh." mumbled a particularly skeletal goth hybrid with mystical patterns etched on his cheeks.

Apart from that, silence and darkness for 10 minutes as I fumed, folded into some lightless crevasse in a V-dub full of lost children.

We pulled up and there, in the twilight, was a perfectly ordinary nightclub.

Grabbing my gear I went in while the others comprehended the carpark.

This was the first of three gigs I had for Camel cigarettes.

This benevolent multinational that has given some of us raging addictions masking as a lifestyle choice and to the greater public has gifted annoying elderly wheezing in the back of public transport, had looked out over its shrinking domain until it found a source of indifference to health that mirrored its own...

The liquor industry.

And so, with a guile reminiscent of Stalin on a heavy-handed day, it had fashioned a scheme wherein a tour was organized with DJs, dancing girls, free bar and big name acts like Run DMC.

This was targeted at bar staff. Those minuscule few bar staff, whose work environments already hung heavy with a cancerous vaporous broth, who themselves didn't smoke, were now invited to an open-bar with scanty cigarette girls brimming with three choices of camel.

I walked into the bar staff meeting; the boss was just explaining that there would be two small monkeys walking round on leashes, one was cute and one a little grumpy but not to worry as they'd both had their teeth pulled.

I took a seat.

There were cigarette girls with sparkly high cut Vegas costumes and false eyelashes that could paint an aircraft hangar at half a bat.

There were Turkish belly dancing women, chewing gum, and all on the unkind side of attractive.

There were the bar staff, ironic really that on the only night of the year where bar staff get shouted, these guys had to work.

I looked at them and they looked at me and the world shrugged and the boss went on about how this night was strictly no sex, no drugs for the staff, he was sorry about that but thats the policy; any sex, any drugs they'd be fired.

He then touched his nose and sniffed suspiciously, I thought.

At this point my new friends walked in; the morphing gypsy vampiress followed by the generic buff long haired Adonis fire-guy with smirk and leather followed by the hyperactive masseuse followed by an oriental cowboy followed by the anemic henna tattooist followed by a dominatrix wearing token gypsy-isms followed by an ingratiating Buddha goth.

The boss glanced up briefly and continued,

"This is an open bar and some of these people are going to hit it pretty hard. There will be security and if you start getting pawed or assaulted, let them know and they'll deal with it." He then put on his best smile and said, "But most of all, remember to have a good time." He reminded me of a famous officer in the Boer war who climbed to the top of his trench and said, "Come-on chaps, they couldn't hit an elephant at this dist..." before collapsing with a hole in his head.

The meeting was over.

I quickly double checked to see if I was having a good time yet.

I looked for a leader amongst the group I'd arrived with and settled for the most comfortably vague one, the ingratiating Buddha goth.

I tried to convey to him that, while I was mindful of the fact that he had just spent hours careening in a virtually brakeless van from LA to Vegas, in the company of what with grace could be called other multi-celled objects, I had spent the day traveling across the country at my own expense to get to this gig and my mood, at present gangrenous, was not likely to improve until some measure of confidence could be given me that this was actually a job with a beginning, an end and a fee and not some demented projection of my own as a career mashocist.

There was a short pause, during which I had a vivid mental picture of this individual and a solitary plankton fighting it out on mastermind.

He spoke; he said "Far out."

I realized with startling clarity that it couldn't get any worse.

The morphing vampiress gypsy was close at hand and the ingratiating Buddha goth called her over.

"Do you have his money?" he asked. I felt so cheap. She reached under the folds of her gypsy lace and gave me an envelope. The contents were the relief I'd been seeking; I thanked them and went to get ready.

I still felt cheap but the difference between cheap and a complete loss is what's made me what I am.

I went to the boss and introduced myself and got permission to focus on the earlier part of the night with its measure of semi-coherence as opposed to later on when brain stems would dictate.

The boss thought I was funny because I wore a t-shirt that read "can't sleep, clowns will eat me" in repetitive and diminishing type. He cut me some slack.

The place had three main areas, each enhanced with life sized glow-in-the-dark plastic camels.

There were screens which silhouetted the back lit belly dancers, there was a massage tent where the hyperactive masseuse would basically have an epileptic fit on top of prone off duty barmaids. There was a guy with a couple of hookas that contained various tobaccoes, there was me and a fire show.

I thought that the evening had the potential to be a little underrealized but then relaxed as the punters started coming in. They were corporate event virgins; you could tell because they all acted really cool and just nibbled a little and drank a little for the first hour and a half.

Dead giveaway; they acted like they thought experienced people acted at these events little knowing that any seasoned corporate has a trained nurse to induce vomiting every twenty minutes and that unless you chain some work mate or competitor to a chair and sexually assault then flay them there is little chance of you embarrassing yourself in a room full of people who make fortunes by differences in decimal points and who are duty bound to exploit for greeds sake, anything offered them for nothing.

I roved about ignoring people and entertaining myself (which is my specialty) and it was all comfortably ordinary when my flabber was well and truly ghasted by the sight of the monkeys on leashes.

The monkeys were about the size of a bread box, funnily enough, and were connected to two obese Americans wearing fez hats and caftan like arrangements.

I couldn't tell which one was cute and which one was grumpy.

It's 1am, you happen to be a monkey, you happen to be in a nightclub next to speakers that are pumping dub strong enough to dislodge bananas off trees back where you used to live.

You're a monkey whose idea of a good night is a quick hump and a comfortable branch who is instead strobbed and lazor lighted to distraction, yanked round by a lead, patted by inebriates and to top it off, your masters have made you a chain smoker.

Both monkeys had cigarettes clutched in their cute primate hands and were sucking on them like people do next to Greyhound buses.

Nicotine addicted tooth pulled monkeys - a cruel metaphor if ever I'm short.

(It takes scenes of cumulative sadness on this scale to allow me even a chance of comparative self esteem.)

I called it a night, went back to my hotel and wondered what tomorrow would bring as I traveled to LA and spent more time with my new friends.