Bhob Stewart challenged me to "review" the COMdex computer fair as theater, but I really can't. Some people were indeed pitching new products with tiny stage-presentations, but they were hardly theater. Putting three cheerleaders on either side of a pitchman to wave pompoms and cheer whenever the product is mentioned is hardly a theatrical innovation. Most of the pitches were from eager-faced hopefuls, standing expectantly beside a counter with their wares on display, beaming at the indifferent hordes blundering blindly by. They were eager to trade jargon with people who knew a liquid display screen from a vdt or a mousepad from a motherboard. "I no speek Computer" was all I had to offer.
COMdex is the nerds' County Fair. Booth after booth displayed the Newest or the Smallest or theFastest the way the Allamakee County Fair displayed the biggest pumpkin, the crispiest pie, the prettiest heifer, the fattest pig. The truly astonishing aspect of it all was its size: the catalog of companies buying display space was as thick as a book, the number of people shuffling past the booths with badges dangling from their necks would have filled all of Allamakee County itself several hundred times. And every one of them could "speek Computer" fluently. They knew what most of what they were looking at did, understood the shorthand and the CompuSpeak and the jargon at least enough to ask intelligent questions, and they knew enough to seek out what they needed to know about and to ignore the rest. To me it was one identical, incomprehensible blurr, with no real theater breaking the monotony.
Outside of those two two-storied acres of hype and salesmanship, though, stretched The American Soul --- Las Vegas, Nevada.
Like America, Las Vegas is continually under construction. Hotels "at the edge of town" have been engulfed and eclipsed by new construction in only a year or two. Mile after mile of identical tract-housing villages are gobbling up what once was desert like runaway lichen infestations. In the center of town the entire elaborate lion-faced entryway to The MGM Grand, the newest and biggest casino/hotel on The Strip, was deemed a demographic flop and demolished to make way for a newer, bigger, gaudier one. Caesar's Palace is now the old Caesar's Palace, while both The Bellagio and The Venetian are in a vast construction-craned competition to see which one will first fill its massive Italian canals with a percentage of Lake Mead up behind Hoover Dam. The New Place is filled with impatient nay-sayers waiting for The Next New Place to open.
Scale everywhere is larger than life, like the headline-sized heiroglyphs inside The Luxor's green-glass pyramid, or the breasts of the mermaid figureheads on the pirate ship outside The Treasure Island. The turrets of The Excalibur's entryway castles out-Disney Disneyland, and the only things that are life-sized were larger-than-life to begin with: The Luxor's cuter-faced sphinx, or Ceasar's' exact replica of Michaelangelo's collossal David --- nine tons of the same marble as in Italy. There's a rush to re-cycle all the styles of the past, only a little bigger. The classical world disgorges statues of Augustus and Minerva, or neo-Bernini's, Circus-Circus features aerielists and wire-walkers doing a new act every half hour, while pirate ships broadside each other several times a night until one of them sinks, and every hour the volcano erupts in front of The Mirage as though it were a Young Faithful.
The whole thing is huge. Even The Strip is spread across the map so that you really must rent a car to go casino-hopping --- and since self-parking is plentiful and free, why not? A "casino" is a whole football-field crammed with one-arm-bandits and Black Jack tables and Roulette Wheels, under an elaborately chandelliered cieling held aloft by absolutely nothing: not a column anywhere to interrupt the flashing, noisy, neon vistas. The hotels soar straight-edged twenty-five and thirty stories in sheer, unbroken walls of windows, and two or three new ones are under construction at all times. And most of those rooms, even in November, must be filled, because most of the tables and the machines in most of the casino's are filled most of the time most of the day, most of the night.
In those casinos, money itself is a plaything. There are dollar chips, and five-dollar-chips, and you can set your own value per chip if you'd like. I watched a man sit alone at a Black Jack table playing $5,000 per chip, until he walked away after dropping sixteen thousand dollars. Ten minutes later he was back, signing chits for ten thousand dollars, and paying them off with his winnings after four hands. But you needn't buy chips to play. Good old coin-of-the-realm is the busiest, noisiest currency on the floor. Under the poker-machines and one-arm-bandits the metal catch-plates make a loud "dang-dang-dang-dang!" to call attention to every one or two or twenty or forty coins you have won, while the bigger payoffs are signaled by hooting police-sirens. On the last spin, I won thirty-six dollars for the one dollar chip I'd placed on 36 at a Roulette table in The Rio --- but I had played forty dollar-chips to do it. And that is the secret of Las Vegas, the gimmick that builds thirty-story hotels out of quarters dropped into slot-machines: I didn't "lose four dollars" --- I "won 36 bucks at roulette!" The dang-dang-danging quarters coming out let you ignore the quarters going in, and once your stake is gone you can play with those winnings, and remember only that you won and won and won, though you go to bed with empty pockets.
If you're playing, the coctail-waitresses will get you an unlimited supply of free drinks all night long. A breakfast buffet costing three dollars and twenty-one cents offers all you care to eat and a limitless cornucopia of succulent choices, and you can go back repeatedly. The fountains and lagoons and stream-splashed tropic forests and the yet-to-be-filled Venetian canals all insist there is water enough to squander. There are neon towers tall as a five-story building that are nothing but advertising-signs. The electricity powering even one football-field of quarter-machines would light a small town, and that merely lighting the gaudy lights on top, a bigger one. The singers and the wire-walkers and the drinks and the water are all for free, the food is dirt-cheap and its all paid for with quarters, but --- dang-dang-dang-dang --- listen! Someone's always winning somewhere, aren't they? Aren't they???????? Someone's Always winning, somewhere......
It's not called "disposable income" for nothing.
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