All My Money Certainly Stayed in Vegas

Last weekend I stayed at the Venetian in Las Vegas for a friend’s bachelor party.

As someone who has been to Venice and who actually considers it one of the top ten coolest cities in the world, the Venetian is a horrible superficial copy.  Besides the “like new” look of a 1000 year old city, they actually perfume the air in the lobby (which drew the remark “the lobby smells like strippers”). I think that pretty much expresses the ulterior motive of the Venetian.

Which is really the motive of everyone and everything in Vegas: to take your money in whatever way is appropriate and/or possible. The first day or two that you are there, you try to spend money conservatively and make wise choices. But the non-stop barrage of insanely overpriced food, drink, and entertainment eventually wears you down to where you finally become detached from reality and begin to spend freely. From our female waiter at Delmonico’s giving us the number of a “friend” who ran a car service who could hook us up with whatever we needed, to the taxi driver who not-so-subtly offered us hookers and drugs; everyone was hustling.

Now, never really having been in Vegas before, I couldn’t say whether this was the normal state of the town or if this was a recent phenomenon (either caused by the economic crisis or something else).  I realize everyone has to make a living, but you also have to make the customer believe they got a fair value for their money otherwise they’re not going to come back and they won’t recommend you to others.

The CrazyFather and I were actually planning to go to DEFCON next year in Vegas for our annual trip, but now I am really hesitant to go because of the recent experience.

On the other hand, while I don’t feel like I get fair physical value for my money ($14 gin and tonics anyone?), I might have gotten fair spiritual value for my money.

I try to run my life fairly tightly and disciplined these days; mainly because the key personal resources of my life (time, money, energy, and sleep) are in short supply and I still have quite a bit I want to accomplish.  So an occasional shakeup to pull the stick out of my ass at least a little can radically change my perspective.

One of my mental tricks to keep me from becoming excessively depressed is the “at least I’m not that guy” game.  You know the game, you’re walking down the street and you pass a homeless person or some ignorant looking redneck, and think to yourself: “Well, things may suck right now, but at least I’m not that guy.”  Probably not the most compassionate trick, but it does serve to remind me that compared to 99.99% of the people on this planet, I’m living the life of a king.  And while I may be stressing that I haven’t posted on my blog for a week, at least I’m not stressing that I haven’t eaten for a week.

There is however an ugly flip side to this, which really reared its head in Las Vegas.  It’s the “Why can’t I be that guy” game.  Yes, we all know that game too.  Some guy in designer clothes with the supermodels on both arms and a full head of hair (when you’re losing your hair, you start to notice when people have a nice head of hair).  And you think to yourself: “That guy’s an idiot.  I’m smarter/funnier/more talented than him, why can’t I be that guy?”.

This of course is exactly what Second Noble Truth (the Origin of Suffering) of Buddhism is talking about.  Buddhas said that the reasons for suffering are desire, passion, ardour, pursuit of wealth and prestige, striving for fame and popularity.  Longing (especially unrealistic longing) for these things and ideas will only bring suffering.  I will never be a rock star.  I will never be a movie start.  I will never be the life of the party with hundreds of friends to hang out with on a whim.  And I will never have a full head of hair again (unless science gets off their ass and does something).

It’s tough when you’re sitting and watching all the beautiful and seemingly happy people around you, wishing you could be just like them while you know that the wish is completely unrealistic and is only going to make you feel worse about your life which is really quite terrific taken on whole.

The only problem I’m still having with embracing Buddhism is that I find it hard to know where the line between healthy ambition and longing is.  Is working hard for a promotion so you can have a little more money and a little more control over events at work an unhealthy craving/longing?  Some of the greatest leaps of mankind have been brought forth by people with unrealistic longing who suffered for their creations.  If everyone was happy with what they had and did not long for “better” things, would we all still be living in caves?

Well, probably would be better than staying in Vegas.

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