King for a day
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I’m not alone in observing that Vegas is nothing less than America distilled to its essence. We’ve taken everything America stands for, super-sized it and squeezed it into four glittering miles of fabulous excess: big and brash, flashy and trashy and chock full o’ big-titted blondes. But what really makes us American is our egalitarianism: Old or young, male or female, fat or thin, black or white — if you’ve got the money, honey, we’ve got the time. In Vegas, as in America at large, anyone with a few bucks can be king for a day.
Recently, I worked a few gigs that really drove home the hyper-Americanness of Vegas. Last week, I worked several days at an NBA tournament, and I have to ask: Is there anything more all-American than a stadium full of greasy-mawed lardasses heaving their cheese-filled bulks to a standing position, hats in hands and hands over hearts, while some lady with a bad weave belts out the national anthem?
Over the days that I worked the event, I was subjected to multiple renditions of the “Star-Spangled Banner,” by performers with varying degrees of patriotism, as measured by decibel level. Never mind that 95 percent of these histrionic American Idol wannabes have zero idea what the archaic lyrics actually mean — that song hits some high notes, and, by golly, shattered eardrums are as American as apple pie! Especially when they’re being shattered by a beleaguered tyke in a mariachi costume. But no matter who’s shrieking it, hearing our anthem instills a momentary sense of pride: We may be cheese-filled lardasses, but we’re still on top. We’re still the kings of the world.
The only thing more all-American is the game itself: In the NBA, regardless of race or economic upbringing, if you just practice hard enough you, too, can be King (a Sacramento King, anyway). Any genetic mutant can dribble his way into a multimillion-dollar contract and a Bentley with a long-legged, high-maintenance ho in the passenger seat. And regardless of brains or breast size, with short-enough shorts and enough determination, you, too, could be that high-maintenance ho. America, truly the land of opportunity.
After that gig ended, I worked at a 7-Eleven convention, and the same principles were on display: While owning a convenience store might not make you a king, anyone with enough cash can buy a franchise and mark up enough processed food and plastic crap to at least put his kids through ITT Tech. The trick is figuring out what specific crap your customer wants — and that’s just what these franchisees were here to shop for: beer and blunt wrappers, powdered donettes and potency-enhancing pills.
Best of all (and playing into every stereotype), there was a substantial number of Indian and Middle-Eastern franchisees at this convention. These guys out-Americaned everyone, having taken the classic immigrant route to the pinnacle of the Dream. While they placed orders for beef jerky and bubblegum, their children got hopped up on Slurpees and ran around collecting free samples of Frosted Flakes.
But the most heartwarming display of the efficiency of the melting pot came at the end of the convention, when all the exhibitors began packing up and getting rid of the inventory and samples they’d brought, giving it all away to greedy retailers who rushed around in a sort of frenzied game of adult trick-or-treat. One booth featuring cheap Chinese tchotchkes, ranging from wiffle bats to plastic tiaras, announced that everything must go — and within seconds, the booth was engulfed by a writhing mob of grabbing hands. The sheer intensity was insane, like a stampede at a Brazilian soccer stadium. But, sickening or no, it was an egalitarian mob — brown and white, young and old, male and female. Everyone wanted a piece of the pie!
Finally, a third gig I worked summed it all up perfectly: A Japanese corporation filming a commercial on Fremont Street needed actors to portray that most American of all Americans, the most Vegas of all Vegans, the King of all Kings: Elvis. Because who better to sum up our ethos than a fat man in a bedazzled jumpsuit with bacon grease in his sideburns?
After an extensive casting process, they had narrowed it down to 30 Elvises … and we were, truly, a magnificent sight as we marched in formation under the neon canopy of the Fremont Street Experience, swaggering in matching jeweled jumpsuits, leering into the camera over the tops of our gold-rimmed sunglasses.
And the best part?
We were all Kings — but we were all different. They had hired some traditional Elvis look-alikes, but they also hired a black Elvis, an Asian Elvis, an obese Elvis and a long-haired-hippie Elvis. They had an old Elvis, a little kid Elvis and a bearded Elvis. And they even had a female Elvis, yours truly, who, in the finest Vegas tradition, got to be King for a day.
SARAH JANE WOODALL reigns over the blog Wonderhussy.com.