The Big Sleazy

👤Rob Sturney 🕔Apr 01, 2012

Las Vegas has long been known as Sin City, but its most effective advertisement for itself is “What Happens in Vegas Stays In Vegas.” This claim is a fantastically seductive come-on, promising that one can act as a libertine indulging in vice wholly unchecked by conscience and the local constabulary. I discovered that the famous assertion is misleading but not enough to curtail the city’s consequence-free party vibe. The scent of debauchery and one’s worst impulses—superheated with opportunity—hangs in the air, suggesting that with the right connections (and adequate cash) it’s possible to eat a baked bald eagle, wager on baby races, and hunt a circus clown for sport.

It was miraculous that I had the occasion to experience Las Vegas. Three years ago I was abjectly unemployed while living on an isolated mountain in the Okanagan. Out of nowhere, a friend announced that he was generously taking me to his regular haunts in Vegas. Checking my passport, I found that it would run out mere days after we returned. Since I was doing nothing more pressing than devouring DVDs of The Wire, I accepted his invitation. It was very spontaneous—a mad dash towards the glitz in the desert.

I’d been a huge fan of Hunter S. Thompson since I was a teenager, but I never had any desire to explore the setting of his most infamous book, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. Vegas always seemed like a modern Sodom—a greasy, garish monument to consumerism and excess. Fortunately, it turned out to be exactly that. I didn’t have money to wallow in my own crapulence, so I treated the three-day excursion as an anthropological outing.

There’s no sign in the Las Vegas airport, or anywhere else in the city, explaining that prostitution is illegal in Clark County, Nevada. One can be forgiven for reacting to this law with disbelief, for it belies the ubiquitous billboards, glossy cards and newspapers promoting “escorts.” Vegas is based on the kind of illusion and sleight-of-hand that one might see at an evening magic show, ensuring that many an incredulous visitor has had the law patiently explained to him or her while being deposited in the back of a police car.

I asked a Metro cop about this sordid topic while a mobile billboard for “Hot Girls!” cruised back and forth along The Strip, momentarily blocking our view of Caesar’s Palace. He helpfully explained the loopholes that allow all the sleazy advertising and subsequent funny business to continue. Discretion forbids this writer from passing them on, not only to protect readers’ sensibilities, but also to avoid tempting them with potentially harmful knowledge. “We arrest guys every single night and they’re usually honestly shocked,” he said, ignoring a fellow who had thrown a plastic Michelob bottle on the sidewalk.

Besides distracting the police with queries about sex-worker legislation and tackling the hotel’s buffet with the gusto of a medieval lord, the only thing I really wanted to do in Vegas was fire an assault weapon in a gun range. When in Rome…

Between instructions on the strict procedures of the range—where all the employees were armed—my handler noted how Canadians were the place’s biggest customers. Ten minutes, 60 dollars, two clips of AK-47 ammo and a very perforated paper target later, I was outside in the high desert chill, stinking of cordite and vibrating with a potent strain of adrenaline.

On our last full day in Vegas a torrential rain descended, chasing everyone indoors and turning the layer of glossy escort cards beneath our feet into pulp. It felt like Biblical hygiene, as if occasionally the city needed to shower after all that depravity. We flew out of McCarran International Airport the next day, weary from mild hedonism, meeting people who had just landed coming the other way, their eyes gleaming with unleashed human appetite.