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
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 wiped his nose 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
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 busses when they stop. 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.