Much as I enjoyed myself at the Las Vegas Corflu, I am never going back to Las Vegas. The enjoyment came from the people: it was Corflu, a con full of people I know and like, whether in the flesh or from their zines, and a chance for four days of good conversation. Also, Las Vegas fandom is very hospitable: from Thursday night at the Katzesí, where we went through three turkeys, to the "Weird Food" event in the con suite Sunday afternoon and the takeout barbecue that evening, they did their best to keep us fed.
I am never going back to Las Vegas because I found the city, once I left the con suite, very disorienting. It was almost impossible to go anywhere without running a gamut of slot machines, usually with lots of mirrors. The problem with slot machines isnít that they take your quarters; after all, sometimes they give them back. The problem with slot machines is that they flash, whether anyone is playing them or not, and they make clanging noises every time someone wins. Itís all deliberate: the flashing lights arenít needed to make the equipment work, and the coin tray could be padded or made of plastic instead of hard metal. I donít handle flashing lights well. I never have. I had to avoid a party in my own dorm room once because my roommates had borrowed a strobe without checking with me. I canít even watch MTV because they cut between images so fast in many videos. So Las Vegas is not the place for me. I was warned, by Andy Hooper, but only after Iíd booked my plane tickets and bought my membership. In a sense it doesnít matter: not being actually epileptic, Iíd probably have gone ahead anyway, if only because itís hard to convey in words how overwhelming the experience is.I thought working in Times Square, a neighborhood whose zoning requires at least a minimum number of bright lights on all new buildings, had prepared me for Las Vegas. I was wrong: Las Vegas has no such zoning, and needs none. They put the lights up because they want them, because they think it will lure the tourist in or deter the gambler from leaving. The absence of windows and clocks in the casinos--and the fact that the hotel lobby was a casino--is secondary. [At that point, I hadn't fully gotten used to the brain I'm currently living in; Las Vegas was part of learning what I can and can't currently deal with comfortably.]
My first impression of Las Vegas, flying in via Phoenix, was of how dry it is: brown mountains set among brown plateaus, with snowcaps the only visual relief. This isnít entirely true: the water table under the city itself, while not much good for drinking, allows fountains and delightful gardens. One of the real pleasures of the trip was Joyce and Arnieís garden, with huge roses in bloom, some of them purple and all of them smelling wonderful, at least two months before I expect roses in New York. We had a mild winter here, so the grass stayed green, but the transition from 29 degrees and wondering if the daffodils would be killed by frost to 87 and roses in a single day was startling.
In a way, Las Vegas is the most science fictional place Iíve been: the largely artificial and alien-seeming urban area dropped in the middle of a desert. Iím not sure what it means that I found myself uncomfortable with it. Not, I hope, that Iím losing my sense of wonder. Maybe that I want a Heinlein or Clarke moonbase, or a fully realized future culture from Le Guin, rather than cyberpunk flash, confusion, and meaningless activity. All those flashing lights are of value only if you find them entertaining; nobody in Las Vegas is building spaceships, trading with extraterrestrials, or making perfectly round ball bearings or zero-gee pharmaceuticals. Maybe Iím tired of futures that feel like the 1950s speeded up, where all the food is rich and bland and nobody thinks about providing a vegetarian option, represented by a town where weddings are a major industry and the wedding chapel in the con hotel has a sign warning that no rice in any form is permitted anywhere in the building.
"4/7 circa 6 a.m. Pacific Time. Hunter Thompson was right--this is not a good town to be stoned in. Hanging out talking and smoking and hot tubbing and noshing was fine, but the ride back to the hotel, with Woody Bernardi, his friend Eric, and Eric Lindsay, past all the flashing lights, was a different matter.
And I woke at 5, with the sky still dark and the land covered with light. Now that itís day, I can see honest mountains ringing the city, and the freight trains moving, and am reassured that, for all its surrealism and attempts to hypnotize, Las Vegas is connected to the world by more than an airport. The scary thing was when I found myself considering turning on the TV to get something closer to reality."
Things started to pull together again that morning after Iíd found Elaine Normandy, eaten something, and gone for a walk with her. I found the gap between the all-night activity of the casinos and the empty streets and closed stores a bit strange; in New York, 24-hour places are likely to be diners, grocery shops, or gas stations, and the purely recreational activities take at least a few hours off. Once upon a time in New Haven, I had access to a 24-hour bookstore, but I havenít lived there in a decade, and Bookworld is no more.
The high point of my vacation was later that day, when Ken Forman led a group of about 15 people on a visit to Red Rocks, a nice piece of high desert. Ken is a wildlife biologist and knows quite a bit about the local plant life. It had been a wet winter, with three inches of rain in January, so there were many wildflowers: pale, waxy yucca; sweet primrose; bright-red desert paintbrush; Joshua tree; barrel cactus; and what Ken referred to as "damned yellow composites," saying that even the botanists donít bother trying to sort out species among them. I was pleased to see plants I only knew from books, like scrub oak and manzanita; the manzanita had flowers and berries on the same bush, and red branches. The high desert is a lot greener than I had expected: somewhere in the back of my mind, thereís a cartoon Sahara saying "nothing lives here" and forever being surprised by reality, either in person or by more realistic written descriptions. The most surprising thing, for me, was a bit of open water, surrounded by mud and full of algae; Ron Bushyager drank a bit and found it harsh but tolerable. I was a bit worried to find that I was one of only two people who had brought drinking water along on the trip, but it was a cool day and we were only out there for a couple of hours, so no harm was done. At the end of the walk, I passed my water bottle around, and got it back with water still in it. I also shared sunscreen with those who hadnít brought any, balancing what Lise Eisenberg had done for me at Corflu Ocho, in a much brighter desert. Aside from humans, the only animal life we saw was one lizard and a few circling crows. The place is called Red Rocks because a layer of bright-red sandstone comes to the surface in those mountains, in between the limestone. The limestone was lying around in little pieces, which Bill Rotsler picked up and doodled on. He handed most of them to Ken to auction off for Corflu, where they brought truly amazing amounts of money: Peggy Burke paid $100 for two small rocks, each with a cartoon on them. If Rotsler could get that kind of hourly (or piecework) rate on a regular basis, heíd be a millionaire. Las Vegas fandom seemed to have a lot of money to spend on the auction, perhaps because they werenít paying plane fare and most of them didnít stay in the hotel.
Saturday morning I somehow found myself on a New York team for "fannish feud," a game modeled on the TV show "Family Feud," using the answers to a questionnaire that all the Corflu members were sent, and about half of us filled out and returned. I was surprised both that I enjoyed it and that our team won, which got us the dubious privilege of having to be back from dinner that night in time for the finals. Most of the meals I ate that weekend were rather haphazard, in any case: Las Vegas restaurants seem to be set up for people who want to get fed quickly at any hour, rather than for people who want to sit with their friends or family over a pleasant dinner for an hour and a half. Itís great if you want cheap protein, and Corflu went through a lot of shrimp cocktails, but not so good for conversation. We lost the second round, amid much laughter, to the Las Vegas team; by that point everyoneís energy for the game had flagged, except for Arnieís, which didnít help because, as MC, he already knew the answers and couldnít participate.
Sunday was the banquet, of course, with decent food and enough of it; we all agreed that Lucy Huntzinger can run next yearís Corflu, in Nashville, with the help of a far-flung cast of dozens. (March 15-17, 1996.) Later that afternoon, Las Vegas fandom presented "weird food" in the consuite, ranging from things that some of us grabbed with delighted recognition--shrimp chips, which look like styrofoam but are quite tasty, in the same crisp and salty class as potato chips, and familiar to anyone whoís spent time in New Yorkís Chinatown--to such unusual but pleasant foods as fresh prickly pear fruit, to the gelatinous mutant coconut [sic]; basically, theyíd gone shopping and bought whatever seemed strange. I wonder what the cashier thought. By evening, those of us who were still at the con were sitting around the con suite, being very silly indeed on group energy and probably sleep deprivation, the sort of gathering where everything is funny: we spent a lot of time calling out popular culture lines as labels to be printed on condoms, and giggling. Somehow, Jeanne Bowman and Ellen Klages used all this to raise money for TAFF.
Monday morning I woke early and spent a bit of time playing blackjack, which was about as interesting as Iíd expected: in about half an hour, I won a little, lost a little more, and cashed in my chips without regret. I then packed, checked out, and shared a cab to the airport with Suzanne Tompkins, Jerry Kaufman, and Stu Shiffman. We got lunch there and had a couple of hours to talk, quietly and for the most part out of sight of the slot machines, one of the best parts of the weekend.
This is a slightly edited version of what I wrote in the paper version of this fanzine; this version is copyright 1995, 1997 Vicki Rosenzweig.
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