Lessons From Losing My Mind in Las Vegas

Lessons From Losing My Mind in Las Vegas November 17, 2023

As a budding writer, I was drawn to the works of Hunter S. Thompson, particularly to the exploits of his infamous character, Raoul Duke. In my youthful naivety, I failed to appreciate Thompson’s brilliance and instead focused on emulating Duke’s drug-fueled escapades. And that is why I found myself in Sin City, complete with Gonzo garb and journalistic supplies. After witnessing the remnants of the legendary strip and the American dream that Hunter S. Thompson wrote about, I couldn’t help but wonder if “Fear and Loathing” was a warning, a prophecy, or an elegy for America. What follows is a travel log from my “rolling stone” era.  

         Fear & Loathing on the Strip by HJ Sandigo

A man dressed in all turquoise, including his wig, sits mummified in deep contemplation. He’s in the later stage of life, with a look that says “Why am I still here?” The man refuses to blink, shuffling the four hotdog wrappers on the table like playing cards. Vegas has detained his soul.

No somber songs permeate the airwaves, there is only the constant thump of euphoria. In Vegas, excess is king. The atmosphere is strategically inflated to push the energy further. 

This adult Disneyland provides 24/7 access to any and all needs.

At its core, it offers a brief distraction from the inevitability of death. Time seems to come to a still, much like in those movie scenes where everyone except the protagonist is motionless. Casinos are a haven for those looking to forget about their past, alter their present and forgo their future.

Vegas is where you go to decay or attempt a revival. The streets serve as a memento of all vain aspirations. She is Hollywood’s cousin, selling delusions as dreams. One can lose and bury themselves here without protest — a pendulum of highs and lows. The bombardment of lights threatens to induce epilepsy.

My subconscious is fed the promise of sex, art, liberation, drugs, profit, and damnation. The Strip may as well be a game of Russian roulette for the soul. Maybe these cynical vibrations have entered my bones and taken over this pen I clutch like a weapon. Surely, it’s not all bad. Tobacco and hotel rates are dirt cheap. Most venues are kind enough to keep an ash tray by the toilet. Talk about  a royal flush.

Here you can rebrand, you can be anyone. Talk, walk, and eat in character. Texas billionaire? Prestigious doctor? Retired Olympian? Who will you be?  I introduce myself as a blind archer from Kentucky.

Vegas beckons visitors to indulge in their desires without judgment. Do as thou wilt. Cash and credit are your guardian angels. The casino floor is a teeming, chaotic swamp of humanity, with revelers stumbling about from strong drink or drug-induced highs. Every imaginable type of person is present, all drawn by the promise that ‘milk and honey’ can be found in this artificial desert.

Like the Pharaohs of old we strive to secure mammon for the afterlife. Slot machines might be god.

Vegas Diner by HJ Sandigo

Outside, the streets are alive with shutterbug tourists, ambitious street peddlers, vampy showgirls and Pan-like bartenders ready to pour a drink and keep the party going.

It feels so good to be bad
Not worth the aftermath, after that.

Maroon 5’s “Makes Me Wonder” snaps me back into reality. I notice a woman dressed like Cleopatra.  She approaches a group of country club boys.

“Extra cigarette… none of you have an extra cigarette?”
They say nothing.
“All of you are sharing one cigarette… okay.”
I pretend to play hero and offer her a Prime Time.
“That’s a really brown cigarette…You’re scaring me.”

Cleopatra walks away, leaving me standing amidst the chaos of Circus Circus. A sense of foreboding creeps up on me as I take in the garish clowns and fun house mirrors. Seeking refuge from the madness, I make my way towards Caesar’s Palace. What does one still dream for in America? Is this the land of opportunity, or just a playground for the opportunistic?

As I wander through the palace, I can’t help but feel that our country is on a quest for the unattainable.  Our collective conscious reduced to lotto lunacy. My lungs have abandon me. Yet I reach for another cigar.

I am nobody and everybody here.

Is there still a story? Or is the Printer all out of ink?  Claps, boos, and jeers echo like musical notes throughout the casino — too much energy here to even think of sleep. As I make my way to the Flamingo, I am surprised to see that Donnie & Marie are still in business. They certainly must be holograms by now.

At the blackjack table, everyone is in disguise. Crowds begin to form around a Nephilim-sized European fellow in a pint-sized Kimono. He’s on a hot streak, fist-pumping, and shouting, ” Fiat Lux ” as he accumulates winnings. Each time the dealer folds, Mr. Kimono kisses all who lend a cheek. Will he sustain this luck, or will it turn on him? 

A couple fresh from Burning Man, passionately makes out in front of an advertisement for Hell’s Kitchen. The lights flicker, and in the couple’s place two gnarled ravens appear. Three feathers fall from their throats and melt into the pink and turquoise patterns of the casino. The portrait of Chef Ramsey makes me uneasy. 

Come on big boy. Out of the frying pan and into the fire.

My eyes resemble puddles of oil; the flesh has aged 50 years in 50 seconds. As I run for the exit, a man dressed in vintage biker regalia places his arm around his gal and says, “Let’s go to Cuba and forget our crappy life.”

To be continued…

About HJ Sandigo
HJ Sandigo hails from Placerville, California. His decision to exchange his car for a camper van led him to explore the country, hike around Europe, participate in the International Poetry Festival in Nicaragua, visit spiritual communities across the globe, and harmonize with monks while listening to James Taylor. HJ Sandigo is immensely grateful for the experiences, wisdom, and humor that people have shared with him throughout his journey. His work has been featured in Foreshadow Magazine, The Dreamland Review, Forum, and various poetry anthologies in San Francisco You can read more about the author here.

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