Monday, April 13, 2009

My Lizard Brain is Amish

A friend of mine pointed out that Vegas is the best place on earth to surrender to your lizard brain. Thus my conclusion above, reached after only a few hours of wandering from Bally's to Paris to the Bellagio to Caesar's Palace. Brain ... can't ... handle ... any ... more ... neon ... lights ... must ... milk ... cow ... and ... raise ... barn ...

We rotate cities for our annual conference, and Vegas definitely pulled in the crowds this year. (It struck me that hosting an animal welfare conference in Las Vegas is a little ironic. Here we are pushing a movement that works to encourage people not to give in to their base instincts—suggesting that there are ideas that trump the pleasure principle, radical ideas like, "Maybe you shouldn't beat your dog, even if it makes you feel good," and "Perhaps you could eat something other than veal, even though it's tasty"—and this year we held it in a city that whose modus operandi is to encourage people to indulge every instinct they've got.)

Here's the most depressing thing I saw in Vegas, familiar to anyone who's been there: On the strip at regular intervals, there are lines of Hispanic adults, mostly men but a few women, none of whom seem to speak more than a few words of English. They stand on the sidewalk, all wearing bright t-shirts that say "HOT GIRLS STRAIGHT TO YOUR DOOR IN 30 MINUTES!!" They're all holding stacks of small cards, and as the tourists pass, they slap the decks against their hands, making a snapping sound to get the attention of passersby. The cards, which they'll hand over in piles to anyone who holds out a hand, are all of oiled naked girls, most of whom will come see you for $35 (Vegas regulars: Is that recession-pricing, or is that standard?). You can get two for $99, though the cards don't specify what these girls will do for those prices. Maybe they'll iron your shorts.

Can we make an Exploitation Flow Chart here? The prostitutes are exploiting the immigrants, the johns are exploiting the prostitutes, the city is exploiting the johns ... I feel a chorus of "Proud to be an American" coming on!

On our way back from a show at the MGM Grand, a friend and I saw a woman who must have been 70 passing out these cards. She was about four feet tall and had more than a few missing teeth, and the kind of wizened, ancient face you usually see in photos accompanying National Geographic articles about lost Amazon tribes. This is the global economy: Instead of selling baskets to Ten Thousand Villages, Grandma's helping sling bargain sex to tourists in tracksuits.

Vegas is like a big red glowing clown nose stuck onto an ancient, craggy, dignified face. From the top of the hotel and from the plane on the way out of the city, I could see the desert surrounding the city—empty, arid, weirdly beautiful. I wanted to be there instead.