Reportage / 11 March 2019

Hoover Flags

Postcard from glossy Las Vegas, volume 3

Every cent I’m earning for each character in this postcard has been swallowed by Las Vegas.

Yet, everything had started off well. We wanted to win bigly, as the president had promised his people, didn’t want to get tired of winning. We had already won a month when we landed in Las Vegas around 10 pm on February 28th: in cold Bowling Green it was March 1st. Slot machines were blinking at the gates, above the luggage claim hung an enormous Rolex. A young taxi driver from Ethiopia took us to the strip, past Caesars Palace and Bellagio, past Flamingo and Mirage. It was fairly mild, around 20 degrees Celsius. Palm trees consoled my cold-wretched mind. The Doge’s Palace, the Eiffel Tower and the Statue of Liberty within walking distance were to be booked as a touristic triumph.

Four years ago I won at black jack in Toledo, Ohio, after having lost next to everything within minutes at the craps table. I was proud of my first and so far last casino visit. I was even prouder to have taken my chips and cashed them out at the right time. I was, I’d learned, at risk. On my first night in Las Vegas I was smiling again when I scooped my miraculously multiplied chips over the counter and received beautiful fresh dollar bills in return. My steps were light as I walked back to the hotel. It wasn’t called Treasure Island for nothing. Looking out of the window at the Strip, I saw a high rising tower with the president’s name on it.

I probably should have been warned by the fact that I lost my winnings the next morning at black jack. I should have been warned when Paris was burning, while we were having lunch at Mon Ami Gabi. The sun stood high above the Eiffel Tower, half naked musclemen were having their pictures taken with tourists, 20 dollars a shot, half naked police women were enticing tourists with lots of silicone, when sirens went off. In the surrounding frenzy, we didn’t pay them much attention. Yet, our steaks didn’t arrive. After an emergency, the kitchen was without gas, the waitress informed us, something that hadn’t happened since the restaurant’s opening. We were compensated with shrimp. We were winning again.

The brief alliances at the craps table; getting hugged by a stranger for rolling the dice well for him; the animosity when others bet against you or rolled miserably; the dealers’ gloved hands that collect your chips or put won chips next to your placed ones; your own hand hitting the table to get another card, or whisking above it to not take another card, while really performing for the cameras above that might need proof in case of an argument; the real players’ yellow and black chips next to your ludicrous red and blue, maybe green ones – I don’t want to elaborate on this. The Seven, though, is a wicked number. When I returned my chips that night the man behind the counter looked at me briefly. I know the feeling, he said.

The next day we stopped at Hoover Dam. The gigantic barrage between Nevada and Arizona produces the very energy that made Las Vegas, as we know it, possible in the first place. The skies were blue, the Colorado River glittered. On the other side of the dam, it was an hour earlier. People blamed Herbert Hoover for their poverty, a friend told me, which was why pants pockets turned inside out were called Hoover Flags. With the New Deal and the renaming of the dam, that notion had faded away. I turned my Hoover Flags inside out.