Vacation from Oneself
I’m in Las Vegas, at the Centro bar at the Luxor pyramid. I have my beer (St. Pauli non-alcoholic, because I be crazy, yo), and I’ve just lost $40 in an employee-only poker game that I didn’t know existed before tonight. I heard a couple of the bartenders talking about it, and it turns out they were down a man, so…
Since 2010, I’ve tried to make it to Vegas once a year with my best buddy Jeremy. The Vegas trip is always my idea, and my baby — I do all the work to make it happen, and Jeremy just has to show up. It’s the one time I get to take a vacation from myself, to pretend to be someone else for a few days.
This “someone else” is actually quite a lot like me, except he stays up way too late, eats too much food (what Jeremy as I did to the Luxor buffet tonight ain’t pretty), and plays poker like it’s his job. I get to be the person I might have ended up being had things gone differently, and that’s a great thing, because it makes me appreciate the person I turned out to be.
Thing is, Las Vegas is pretty damned depressing. It’s all fun and wild times on the surface, but if you look at the partying crowds long enough, there’s an undercurrent of desperation. Forced fun. Frustration. Anger. Foot pain. It’s thinly-veiled misery.
People are hoping against hope that they’ll walk out of here with millions. That they’ll hook up with an attractive human of their particular persuasion. That just once, magic will happen to them. Las Vegas breaks people in a very specific and fascinating way, and if you know what to look for… well, this place is a gold mine for writers.
You’ll see every flavor of human emotion, of human experience. You’ll see at least four couples an evening having a screaming match while trying to look like they’re not arguing. You’ll see the faux-gangsta Hispanic accountant from Los Angeles forcing himself and everyone around him to drink more, dammit, because they’re going to have fun if it kills one of them. You’ll see the 22-year-old girls in ridiculously high heels, zombie-walking down the strip in obvious pain, knowing that they look good, but dreaming of a pair of Chuck Taylors and some sweatpants. You’ll see the sad-eyed Vietnam vet in his Da Nang ’69 hat plugging his last $20 into the Wheel of Fortune quarter slots, because he sacrificed his emotional stability defending this country from the commies, and the universe fucking owes him that one good thing.
And you’ll see me, the Vegas Shawn action figure. The guy who’s drawn to this place, to these people, because he knows if he made any of a thousand different choices in his life, he could be one of them. Because they make him thankful beyond imagining for his simple life, his gorgeous and outstanding wife, his goofy-ass dogs, and his three-bedroom ranch in Texas.
This short break from his normal life — this 0.016438356164384 of his year — makes him realize how great he has it. Makes him happy to pay a hooker $17 to go away and stop talking to him. Makes him see that his petty annoyances back home — traffic, getting up early, gas prices — are just that. Petty. Not worthy of even a minor thought.
It also helps that he generally acquits himself well at the poker tables, too.
And Vegas Shawn Action Figure (with waving $20 accessory) will go home and tell his wife how much he loves her. He’ll be thankful for his constant friend and wingman Jeremy. And he’ll write the shit out of some silly sci-fi novels, and podcast with his excellent friend Christopher, because these are the things — these minor, simple things — are the fun and magic everyone else in this town are trying so hard to find.
And he’ll finish his beer. He’ll go get some work done, then crash out and get breakfast.
Good night, all. And may you find the magic in your own lives. If you don’t see it, come to Las Vegas. Sometimes staring into the darkness for a few hours makes the light easy to recognize.