Thirty-one stories over Las Vegas, I’m in the Will Smith Suite at Planet Hollywood, my iPhone pressed against a panoramic window. To the west the sun is setting over craggy red mountains; snow is evident on a farther range. Down on the Strip the lights have begun to twinkle; the fountains across the boulevard at the Bellagio erupt resplendently every 30 minutes, after which I crave a cigarette. Classic rock thumps percussively from hidden speakers, mixing in the overly conditioned air with the permeating nicotine haze and the cloying scent of industrial room freshener. I feel kind of light-headed and nauseous, a little bit out of sorts. No wonder everything that happens here stays here. As soon as you roll past the landmark “Welcome to Las Vegas” sign, it’s as if you’re infected with a weird sort of neurological malaria. Look around: Everyone is glistening.
My phone is set to a horizontal format. The foreground is framed by the faux Eiffel Tower on one side and on the other by the colorful faux Montgolfier hot-air balloon that stands guard at the entrance to Paris. (To include the skyline, I exclude the faux Arc de Triomphe.) In the middle distance are the colossal white towers of Caesars Palace, one of the grandes dames of the Strip, refreshed and reinvented over the years, cosmetically enhanced, like so many who come here, hoping to experience the fabulous and expensive things they’ll likely want to forget… or to remember forever… or to post on Facebook or, possibly, YouPorn. In Vegas, everyone’s a star in their own movie.
The sidewalks below are already crowded. Cleavage and high heels; fluted, foot-long drinks with straws; the scents of perfume, hair gel and pheromones mixing in the neon dusk. Trampled underfoot is a carpet of paper handbills for escort services, handed out every few feet by socially marginal minimum wagers. On this visit I have noticed a new phenomenon: An inordinate number of women traveling together in groups. A hungry, yet overfed, gleam in their eyes, they seem intent on taking back the night—Bridesmaids meets The Hangover meets Thelma and Louise. Everyone is looking hot hot hot, dressed as if they’re hoping at some point to undress in a hurry.
The first time I came to Vegas, I stayed in an RV campground behind Circus Circus in my cat-shit green VW pop-top van. This was just after college graduation; I was driving across the country with my girlfriend, a hot little blonde I’d managed to keep since high school. The camping facility was entirely asphalt; the VW’s air conditioner didn’t work while parked. I remember vividly waking up at four in the morning. The temperature outside was 104 degrees. I felt like a turnover in the oven. Whatever else happened to me in Vegas stayed there. I don’t think we stuck around long; I was in a hurry to get back because I was scheduled to start my first year of law school. I remember putting a quarter in a slot machine, losing and feeling unmoved. It was the last time I ever gambled. Nothing wild happened. I’m pretty sure I didn’t get laid. It was too fucking hot.
Thereafter, up until now every time I’ve come to Vegas I’ve been a father and married man. Because I travel for work, I’ve never been on a boys’ trip. I’ve never hired a hooker here, though I know guys who do so regularly. In fact, all but three of the previous times I’ve come here have been for work; the rest were with my wife and kid—we never got the babysitting thing figured out when it came to vacations. But I’ve hung out with some cool people here. Kobe Bryant and the U.S. Olympic basketball team. UFC impresario Dana White. And Oscar Goodman, the former mob lawyer turned beloved mayor. His term limit expired. Now his wife is mayor. I flew here once to interview another guy named Mike Sager. Oh, and I spent the longest two weeks of my life here, doing daily interviews with Mötley Crüe’s Vince Neil so I could write his autobiography.
I can honestly say I’ve never done one thing in Vegas that had to stay in Vegas. (Most of it was for media—I revealed it to millions.)
But now I’m divorced, and my kid’s a freshman in college. My nest is empty, as you might know. I’m in Vegas in a suite, but I’m not working.
I take my snapshot of the fountain. I text it to my son. I let him know I’m here and that I’m meeting up later with my comedian friend, Warren Durso, for his show at the Plaza Hotel.
I can’t remember ever having “the talk” with my father.
Then again, Dr. Marvin Sager was an ob-gyn. There were “family planning” books to be found all over the house—if you figured out where to look. When I was in middle school, in the late 1960s, my dad was a member of the Board of Religious School Commissioners at my temple. His first assignment in this liberal era: Bring sex ed to Sunday school.
And so it was that my dad was standing in front of the room, drawing diagrams and showing films, teaching us our Xs and Ys. He had this goofy little adage: At our age, the best birth control was boys keeping their hands in their pockets and girls keeping their legs crossed. My dad was a warm guy, a good teacher. It was the only class in Hebrew school I was ever good at. (I went three days a week for many years.) In fact, I was darn enthusiastic about the topic—one of the few academic courses that had ever seemed truly relevant.
When it came time to have The Talk with my own son, child of the Internet age that he is, it felt as though I was playing a scene from a sitcom. There was an assembly scheduled for the fifth graders. Parents were encouraged to introduce the coming attraction. But the fact was, he’d been reading my Playboys and surfing the web without supervision for years. He knew what was up and kept trying to avoid sitting down with me.
When we finally did get around to broaching the subject, the theme that emerged organically was this—The Talk will always be ongoing.
And so it has been.
Three years ago, my wife left me. For a long time afterward, I wasn’t much interested in a social life; or if I was, I didn’t know where to begin.
Being somewhat advanced into his teens at the time of the breakup, my son eventually conspired to live primarily with me. Things being what they were, I was overjoyed to be able to devote myself to him. If I did date, it was never within his sight or on his time. If ever I went out, I was usually home and fast asleep long before he was. Though I have many fond memories of putting my little boy to bed, there is nothing so vivid as the memory of my big boy coming home late at night and kissing me goodnight.
“You’re always home,” he once teased, implying that I had no social life.
“And you like it that way,” I teased back.
Mr. Grown-up nodded yes, unabashedly, a rare show of teen openness.
Nowadays, with him away at college, we communicate mostly by text. I feel at once close and far away. I kind of know what he’s doing. And I kind of don’t. I wonder what my own parents must have been up to when I went away to college. I called home every Sunday from a pay phone and talked about myself, I’m sure. Somehow we all managed to survive.
The sky outside the panoramic window darkens. I take a swig of my rye and lemon iced tea on the rocks, something I invented this summer. A mannequin dressed in a hooded tracksuit, once worn by Will Smith in a movie, glows headless in a glass case behind me. From the direction of the bedroom, I hear the squeal of a metal faucet, the splashing sound of cascading water.
And then the wall, the part just beyond the glass case holding Will Smith’s tracksuit, begins to slide slowly sideways, revealing…
A large Grecian tub!
“Come on in, the water’s great,” my female friend calls out enticingly.
Down below I can see all the little people, swarming expectantly like ants. Everyone is looking hot hot hot. The fever of Las Vegas is upon them.
My iPhone dings.
“COOL VIEW,” my son texts, referring to my iPhoto.
“GOING OUT TO DINNER SOON,” I text back. “I’LL TELL DURSO HI.”
I switch keyboards to emoticons, choosing a fist and a kiss.
I press send.
And then I undress in a hurry.