Vegas is the glistening grime stuck to the bottom of your shoe, the spent condom peppered in glitter that you picked up crossing Tropicana Avenue.
Vegas is the brightset of whores, whose crows feet and saddle bags deepen by day. At dusk, she transforms into a painted dream, an evening peacock with auburn hair, her fan tail blooming open under the shimmer of a billion points of light. Under those rainbows, you forget that her pores sag large underneath her makeup, that bruised eye sockets lurk just beneath the layer of concealer, that her puffy eyelids will expand like balloons after she guzzles one whiskey too many at 3 a.m.
Red like rubies, mouth-watering, juicy–her lips swell to meet you, sucking you in with the taste of orange, the sweet fruit that entices you to drink something poisoned and sick with temptation.
In that twist of a moment, she has you. Your once impenetrable wall collapses and you become the thing you’d swear you’d never be: your inhibitions annihilated; your shirt unbuttoned; your billfold open; your wedding ring spirited into a pocket. When she sees this, she strikes.
Vegas is a cougar reborn in a short red miniskirt, a peek-a-boo wedding gown, the awkward gait of a coltish teenager, and the guile of a seasoned temptress. Her fingers tip-tap flirtatiously down your chest to your waist, nicking your wallet without drawing your attention; O Holy Las Vegas, Picker of Pockets, Queen of Thieves.
Once extended, the orb of her fairy magic reigns. Wincing against the thunderbolt of morning light, dry-mouthed with a head full of hammers, she lets you sleep late to restore your energy so you’ll meet her in the evening again. Room after room, “Do Not Disturb” signs form rosaries for penitent sinners, curled up and crippled in bed, begging for mercy.
Those who rise before evening take shelter in her dark, cool casinos—Cathedrals of Chance that block the harsh truth of day. Inside, an incense concocted from cigarette smoke, beer belches, and oxygenated transgressions—a nearly odorless tinge only remarkable in its aroma of nothingness. You can’t quite discern it, but you know it’s there, transforming you into a zombie, incapable of leaving your seat at the slots, confused by the swirling patterns on the rug that never lead to an exit. In your stupor, her show tunes become your siren song, her stage acts your mass.
Vegas is the striptease that goes too far, warm and sweaty on your lap as you push her off unconvincingly before you allow her to devour you—first your secret desires, then your dreams, and finally, your naievete. There is no leaving Las Vegas the way you came: we arrive to be deflowered. We can’t bring ourselves to ask for it, but we silently hope to be taken, to be forced; with force there is no guilt.
She paints herself with our surrender.
For her cascading fountains, we give our savings and our weddings. For her rouge, our divorces and 21st birthdays. For every twinkling light, an orgasm—a city powered by millions of “little deaths,” as the French say—inculcate with our tears, our laughter, our failings, and most certainly, our weaknesses.
At showtime, she pulls on a technicolor trenchcoat atop her lingerie, woven from the very stuff that makes us human: our vulnerabilities. A blush of shame rises like the mark of Cain as she passes us on the street, yet we don’t look away: as much as we are revulsed, we want to see her wearing our insides on her outside.
That’s what remains when we go home—and why we are drawn to return again and again, no matter how much we claim to abhor the vice, the cigarette smoke, the pitiful parodies of Venice, Rome, Paris, and Egypt—even the Yellow Brick Road.
We know what we leave behind is the very thing we can’t have outside Vegas: the permission to show our basest selves, and still believe that we have a chance of winning the big prize.