Monday, April 11, 2005

Sushi 4 Your Nails, Vampires, and Other Vegas Memories

[There's no Python or even programming-related content in this post, so if you're only here for that kind of thing you should just skip this one. Also, it's Not Safe For Work.]

It was just a trick of the light, of the way the signs were arranged, the shape of the building that stepped out its stores in a zigzag pattern. "SUSHI 4 YOUR NAILS" was the combination of two signs, one for a sushi restaurant and the other for a nail salon. It made us laugh, and we joked about what it might mean to offer sushi for your nails, like we had joked many years before about a Texas restaurant whose sign proclaimed "Drive-Thru Yogurt". Was the yogurt supposed to prolong the life of your tires, perhaps?

I've been coming to Las Vegas for just shy of 20 years now, and I've lost track now of how many times I've been here. But I know how many times I've gambled: zero. Most of my trips have been for business rather than pleasure; I think that Leslie and I have come here on vacation maybe twice.

I hadn't actually thought about how long I've been coming here until I saw the sign at the Riviera boasting that the show "Splash" has been running for 20 years, and it occurred to me then that I had seen the same marquee on my first visit to Vegas in the late 1980's for the annual convention of the National Association of Realtors (NAR). It's interesting to see the changes in the city since then. That year, the NAR convention was held at the Las Vegas Hilton's convention center, as the city's convention center was still under construction. In later years, the convention center existed, but was nowhere near the gargantuan construction that it is now. I imagine the huge growth of Comdex and CES over the last two decades drove the growth of the center.

This is also the first time I've stayed in a non-casino hotel. Well, there was that time I paid the manager of some tiny motel $15 so I could just take a shower. I had just arrived in Vegas on an overnight bus ride from L.A., and I had a morning appointment, to sell some software or some training, I don't remember which. In the LA bus station I met this "Wild Man Fischer" guy while I was juggling, and we talked about business and finance and motivation, and I tried to talk him into setting goals. He said he was going to try his luck in Vegas, and I told him he was crazy. I wrote about this odd encounter in the journal I kept in those days, in an entry I titled "City of Losers". Now that I'm thinking about it, I sort of want to post it here, but the physical journal is of course back in my house in Florida right now. I'm not really sure whether that was my first trip to Vegas, or just the first one I made on my own. Everything that far back's a little blurry now.

Las Vegas is a weird city, full of contradictions about its own sense of morality. Huge billboards promote "erotic revues" that are in actual practice about as sexy as cold toast. Leslie got us tickets to see "Bite" last night, which is this supposedly sexy show about vampires, but mostly consisted of skeletally thin women with artificially inflated breasts "dancing" to old rock songs that were supposed to tell a story, but were really just there to provide a loud enough noise to prevent you from having enough brain cells left to notice that there was no story.

I have pretty much concluded that the driving force behind the Vegas topless show phenomenon is nothing less than plausible deniability. It allows people to "go to a show" and see breasts without having to admit that that's why they're there, maybe even to themselves. This peculiar desire for deniability is reflected even in the layout of the city itself: over time the ramps and overpasses of Las Vegas have been developed and restructured such that you cannot accidentally drive past a "gentleman's club". You have to find just the right obscure off-ramp to take you to the streets below. Las Vegas itself has created its own deniability. Strip clubs? What strip clubs? There aren't any on this street. Or any street. What's that down there off the overpass? Pay no attention to that unmarked off-ramp!

But I digress. "Bite" wasn't actually that bad, one of the less egregiously stupid shows of its kind that Leslie and I have seen over the years. It was almost worth seeing just for the male-female acrobat duo, who had remarkable grace, strength, and chemistry. Sometimes seeing such performances makes me wish I had that kind of strength and flexibility, and I get an inkling as to why Leslie likes watching them. (She used to be a gymnast.) Of course, she's also into the "vampire romance" subgenre of novels, so between vampires, acrobatics, and breasts, we had three of her interests right there, and of course she had to get us tickets.

I used to be into the idea of vampires when I was a teenager; vampires are of course the epitome of cool. But the romance of the idea waned pretty quickly, and it was killed for me altogether when I actually met a vampire, or more precisely someone who had chosen to live as a vampire, to the point of getting fangs surgically implanted. Interestingly enough, it was not one of those goth-y waif chicks, but a tough and stout black woman, who later wrote the book "Dhampir, Child of the Blood". I say black because that was the politically correct term in those days, and also because I have a hard time imagining her keeping a straight face if someone called her an "African-American" or insisted she call herself one.

But anyway, after hearing her talk a bit about her chosen lifestyle, about "feeders" and "food" in a vampire coven, how the blood is collected and all sorts of other squicky details, any remaining notion that vampires were cool was completely dispelled for me. It was interesting to watch the hypnotic effect her fangs had on some people, though. Men, women, straight, gay, it didn't matter; she'd flash those fangs and mouths would open slightly, faces become flushed, their eyes fixed and pupils dilated. That's how she could identify "food", she said.

Of course, modern vampire-subgenre romance novels mostly skip those pesky, squicky issues of blood and fang, and focus instead on the advantages of having a lover who will never die, can read your mind, and has old-fashioned values about chivalry, while nonetheless being a handsome hunk who's cooler than any mortal could possibly be. The perfect man, in other words.

But none of that stuff was in "Bite", so it pretty much came down to breasts and acrobatics, and the acrobatics came out far ahead on entertainment value, unless perhaps somebody was just dying to see some breasts. (In which case, they could have seen better for less money, were they willing to give up the veneer of respectable deniability that a "show" provides.) But maybe I'm biased by the fact that Leslie has a habit of critiquing porn stars' boob jobs on the video covers at the store, to the point that I'm now entirely too jaded to care about looking at breasts for their own sake, if they're not attached to somebody I know and like.

It probably also doesn't help that I still ache all over from the flight here, and the complete lack of moisture in the air, at least compared to Florida. On the brighter side healthwise, Leslie found me a lovely manual juicer that's easily stowed in one's luggage, and makes it really easy to get a glass of vegetable juice made, without needing to find a local juice bar or whatnot. The aptly-named Healthyjuicer is surprisingly easy to assemble, use, break down, and clean, compared to our big twin-gear electric juicer at home. I wish I'd had it for my PyCon trip, but at least I've got it for this trip and my trip to OSAF next week.

So much to say, so little time! There are still topics from before this trip that I want to write about, but it's not likely I'll get around to them before the next trip is done. And maybe somewhere in between there'll be some Python stuff for me to write about again.

(Oh, and P.S... thanks to everyone who's helped get this blog up to the #1 position on Google this month for "Phillip Eby" and "Phillip J. Eby". Thanks for the links!)