Guardian staff decadent and depraved

    3:56 a.m., Feb. 20, 2005 — The slot machine in front of me is fading in and out of focus, making it hard to slide my crumpled dollar bill into where it needs to go. But I have to play it cool and function through the haze — this is a dare, goddamnit.

    “So, I saw you earlier at Deja Vu,” I slur toward the girl at the machine next to mine. “What do you do when you’re not there?”

    She leans over to me with a long look. “I’m an entertainer, baby” (with such a smooth voice …). I fumble for a response, trying to talk to her and look interested in the game going on in front of me so as not to be obvious. But my “credits” are dwindling faster than I can keep track, and I already forgot her name … I’m losing on both fronts. And things are starting to go blurry again …

    6:37 p.m., Feb. 18 — You can see the light for miles. It shines on the overcast nighttime sky like the fires of hell, layers of gray and orange and yellow and black writhing high above for half an hour before we come down into the valley that holds Las Vegas. Even if we weren’t stoned — a modest transgression, considering the task at hand — descending upon Sin City by night would have been an awesome experience. As we are, it is overwhelming. The pleasure dungeons of the Strip rise up, ablaze in blue, green and yellow, with glass walls of lascivious luster. On the ground, a clattering serpent of traffic creeps down Las Vegas Boulevard, spitting neon offers and cheap pollution from hidden speakers and chrome exhaust pipes. Waves of pedestrians wander by the lake of motor vehicles with only the inebriated kind of abandon, moseying across three lanes while taxicabs aim straight for them. This is chaos incarnate. We are overjoyed.

    Chaos, after all, is what one would expect on an infamous trip that tries, with considerable effort, to pay homage to the events of “Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas,” Hunter S. Thompon’s famous depiction of the outer edge of American hedonism. As dedicated and upstanding young journalists, we Guardian staffers hit the Flamingo Hotel and Casino — Thompson’s lair of choice — with resplendent recklessness every year to practice the basics of gonzo journalism as professed by the originator himself. No one had a “briefcase full of uppers” or “a salt shaker of cocaine,” but we pressed our most ill-conceived plots into action and had a great, if not memorable, time.

    There was just one thing: We bore the rainy return from Sin City only to find that Dr. Gonzo himself committed suicide on the last day of our pilgrimage to his greatest work — O, irony, what order has our bestial errand undone?

    11:13 p.m., Feb. 18 — I’ve read “Fear and Loathing” enough times to know that “depraved” is not an original word to use to describe anything relating to Las Vegas. But no other word so perfectly describes the look of the plastered partygoers passing into view from all directions of this insane city. Depraved are the casino leeches, eyes glossed over with neon, a Marlboro 100 in one hand and slot box lever in the other. Depraved are the Bud Light brutes, hooting and hollering at every semi-vixen in range, spoken for or otherwise! Depraved am I, pockets stuffed with cans of Pabst Blue Ribbon and lungs choking from hits of contraband vapor, sprinting with toothy overconfidence toward as much stimulation as a broke 20-year-old can get!

    But in that glorious orb of profanity, where American consumption is elevated to Dionysian indecency and big-box volume, attitude is what matters. Vegas is a mental city, not a physical one; you have to check your better reasoning at the front gate if you want full access. Thompson understood that most of America, from the Kentucky Derby to the Hell’s Angels to even our most exalted carnival, the presidential election, was the same way. Instead of trying to report on it, as most journalists do, with dispassionate, unbiased accounts, Thompson wrote about America as he experienced it: firsthand, fucked up and soaked from gutter to Oval Office with corruption. He called it gonzo journalism, and it won him a reputation as a dubious counterculture bard, official spokesman for the paranoid, the underground, the stoned. Thompson saw American life a little cockeyed and a little hungover (as he was), and if not exactly factual, his reports were always honest. Gonzo journalism works to indict its creator as much as its subject, and Thompson never tried to make himself out to be better than the slobs and cheats he wrote about … except when those slobs and cheats were named Nixon and Bush.

    1:08 a.m., Feb 19 — I can see the bulbous pink and cream lights of the Flamingo from here (although I don’t know if I’m in New York or Paris or Rome or Egypt) and they seem punishingly far away. Every drunken step is a marathon, every energetic reveler blocking my way cause for the immediate demolition of this wicked place. I don’t know if I’m alone or if I’m lost … (Or where I can get more of something, always what we’re after.) The madness lanterns are reflecting more brightly now off the blood in the streets, or is that rain? The neon balloon of Paris is wrong, profoundly. Too much cursive — how will we (I … ?) ever make it back? Shiny traffic pummeling through the streets; is that the howl of a V8 or a bachelorette? This is over, done for. I look at the slimy gutter and it seems comfortable. We’ll never survive. Might as well just lay down and …

    We don’t know why Thompson took his own life. He suffered from back pain, a replacement hip and poor health (the consequence of covering a corrupt life firsthand), and he always joked about taking his own life one day. But the king of subjectivity deserves to be judged by his own standards. America is a depraved land, its cities aglow with fear and loathing still. Thanks, HST, for pointing that out so goddamn well.

    I can see the bats! Can you see the bats? E-mail [email protected].

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