Mourning in Vegas

Travel Stories: Surrounded by the decadence of yet another nightclub opening, Kevin Capp must come to terms with the death of his grandfather

So, when the escalators on the casino floor of the Venetian spit me out near Tao’s entrance on the second day of its grand opening, the cacophony of would-be clubbers clambering for a glimpse of the celebs on-hand, like Paris Hilton, summoned within me a craven dread. By writing about Tao and Vegas’ countless other celeb-crazed clubs, was I contributing to people wanting to have things—in this case, the lives of wealthy strangers—instead of doing things?

The first night of Tao’s opening I had snacked on free hors d’oeuvres of a vaguely Asian origin and downed free cocktails, ogled cosmetically-enhanced women with just enough attitude to make a man feel the right kind of bad, and preened in the access my job gave me to multi-million dollar nightclubs such as Tao.

By the second day of the festivities, however, the assignment had devolved into a pitiless exercise in making it through the night, one born of the reflection my grandfather’s death had dropped on me.

The story had changed in my mind from a piece about an enjoyable, if routine, introductory soiree at the latest addition to Vegas’ burgeoning nightlife scene into one about a grandson saddled with grief and the creeping professional disillusionment it had spawned. In short, I was no longer having any fun.

After I made my way through the mob that had formed near the entrance and found my way in, a red-hot disgust bubbled inside me like lava. Vodka tonic in hand, I wandered the darkened halls, playing bumper-cars with hordes of people rushing about, taking notes in a vain search for a way into the story—a way back to how I’d felt before I learned of my grandfather’s death—while hoping like hell to get out of there. Not even the vodka soothed my anguish.

The bass rattled my brain. My heartbeat intensified. My hands started shaking. My stomach emptied. That was it: My night was over.

To avoid any more contact with the seething throng outside of the club snapping cell phone photos of anyone emitting even the faintest whiff of celebrity, I took a side route that led me down to the front of the casino.

There, I encountered a row of what I discovered were actors dressed like monks. The rubber caps they wore in order to make their heads look bald were no longer smooth but wrinkled with time. It seemed they’d assembled near the valet area for the arrival of the celebrity guests and performed a show in tandem with the opening, but it was over now. All that was left were their misshapen caps and boredom-laced silence.

As I passed by the last “monk,” I realized how my grandfather would’ve perceived the clubs that were spreading disease-like all over this neon-spangled metropolis, and, as a result, how he would have viewed my job writing about them. How could I not? He would’ve hated this blasphemy with the same passion, and for the same reasons Nathaniel West hated Hollywood. It was fake and meaningless and, worst of all, served no purpose except to generate money for people who already had too much of it.

Moreover, the world didn’t need me to justify this paean to conspicuous consumption by writing an article about it in, of all things, the pages of an American newspaper, which, no matter that it was funded by ads for transgender hookers named Donna, was a sacred institution. The profession, in this age of collapsing readership, didn’t need me to demean it any further, he would’ve said.

He wouldn’t have hated me for what I was doing, of course, and he might have even understood, however grudgingly, that, as a neophyte, I had to take what assignments they gave me. But he would’ve hated it all the same.

The thing those shabby monks showed me amid the crepuscular gloom of grief, however, I already knew: I liked this Vegas scene precisely because it was so obviously fake and meaningless. Tao wasn’t pretending to be a house of worship—it was striving to be a house of ill repute. That was its purpose. Hell, that was the whole damn city’s purpose, and I appreciated that about the nightclubs in particular and Vegas in general.

Everything came as advertised. If you visited the Luxor to see what the pyramids looked like, or if you stepped inside a club hoping for a religious experience, then you deserved your supreme disappointment and sense of betrayal.

I had taken my grandfather’s advice after all: My life wasn’t about fooling myself into thinking that Vegas and its nightclubs were important and that I needed a piece of them to be happy; rather, my life was about knowing they were meaningless by experiencing them first-hand night after long night—and that had made me happy. I was doing it, not coveting it.

Trying to process this epiphany, I stopped walking toward the parking garage and turned around to take one last look at that sorry bunch of guys milling around in their robes. I fired up a cigarette, took a deep drag, and smiled for the first time in a day. I wasn’t my grandfather any more than those guys looked like monks, and that was more than okay—that was the way it was supposed to be.

Kevin Capp is a freelance writer in Seattle. His work has appeared in the Los Angeles Times, Seattle Weekly, CityLife and Club World Magazine. He recently published Absinthe-minded and Want Bordeaux with your B-52s?, both for the Los Angeles Times.

9 Comments for Mourning in Vegas

Mark Schoneveld 12.18.08 | 11:44 AM ET

I actually thought this was going to be a post about how it snowed 3 inches in Las Vegas yesterday.  LOL

Terry Ward 12.18.08 | 3:05 PM ET

Great, touching story, Kevin. I really enjoyed it. I think your grandfather would be proud.

Darius Fessahazion 12.18.08 | 7:00 PM ET

Great story about vegas. Like how you touched on the politics dealing with night clubs in las vegas.
I also run a blog about vegas at: Las Vegas Cheap Hotels

Kevin Capp 12.18.08 | 8:59 PM ET

Thanks for the kind words, Terry.

Bryan 12.23.08 | 12:53 AM ET

Great story.  It was truly a touching memory.

Jonas Linh 12.24.08 | 4:44 AM ET

Thanks for nice articles!

Grizzly Bear Mom 12.26.08 | 1:05 PM ET

Kevin, your story shows that you are growing into a man of the character of your Grandfather.  What better way to honor him?!

However, we create communications obstacles, change words’ meaning, and even profane their meaning by using them inappropriately. It can also be disrespectful, as in the name of the above restaurant with its monk show.  I wish people would show more respect.

Dave 12.26.08 | 9:18 PM ET

Really nice piece Kevin. Means a lot more to me now than it would have a couple years ago, and yet what you’ve written still would have put me in your shoes before I ever set foot in a Vegas nightclub, and that’s the way it’s supposed to be.

Caleb 01.12.09 | 6:33 PM ET

Excellent piece.

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