I knew one of Vegas's residents, one of the many recent transplants. I was hosted by my high school classmate Jill, a lithe, porcelain-skinned blond who had been an Art History major in college before becoming a lawyer. Jill had a big grassy backyard by Las Vegas standards. She was out near the hills west of town, and the sloped hill at the back of her yard acted like a raked stage affording her a view of the low scrub, phlox, palm trees, and citrus trees planted there. A half-wall of dusty tan cinder blocks separated each house in her gated community, which had identical stucco facades, low slate-tiled roofs, and big front picture windows.
She had a barbecue out back with a built-in mini-fridge, and we were joined for a cookout by a man she had recently met at a party. James had moved to Las Vegas five years earlier from Northern California. He was a young wine salesman with close-cropped hair, a ruddy face, and big nose. He inhabited a crisp black shirt and ironed jeans. Over cocktails around Jill's backyard pool, we all discussed my question.
"I think it depends," James considered, "where you live, and it depends what you do. I have a very social job. I sell wine for a living. I'm all over the Las Vegas area. When it comes to different areas, there's always different types of liquor stores and wine shops. It's primarily all Italian wines I sell. People are only looking for the five liters of Carlo Rossi in the big jug. People make fun of it, but that's how it is in Europe with a lot of the wines. You're in Chicago where there's a huge Italian population. Here, it's building but… The town's only like sixty years old, really."
"I passed a sign today," I told him "that said 'Welcome to Little Italy Las Vegas,' but rather than a neighborhood, it was an empty lot temporarily overrun with tents for the San Gennaro festival."
"They actually do the Feast of the Assumption here," James sat up. "There's a lot of people from Cleveland. It's really weird. I donated some wine to it. It wasn't really busy so I was sitting there kind of bored, but these guys are like all into it. But they were all really nice people, really friendly, and they were explaining it to me. So with what I do [for a job], no, I don't really feel isolated."
"In Hopper," he mused, "I've noticed the seating. In Nighthawks, they're not next to each other. There are two that are close in the painting but you really can't tell. Do they want to be together? Do they not want to be together? Are they together? Are they not together? It's just so ambiguous. That's like classic of him," James noted, "to have a couple people but they're not interacting at all."
"Hotel Window," Jill offered, "at the Bellagio is a beautiful example. She's just sort of floating alone, waiting. For what? You know, searching for what?"
"I wonder," she pondered, "how much good art work went down with the World Trade Center. I would think some of those big offices maybe had galleries."
James shivered, "I couldn't even think of that, looking at the Strip. If I'm a terrorist, then Las Vegas would be a target."
"At the millennium," Jill went on, "Bin Laden said he was going to bomb some of the casinos. Everybody's forgetting that. He had named, at the millennium, certain points he wanted to blow up, and Vegas was one and the Bellagio was one."
"Vegas," Jill lamented, "is a town that's much more concerned about surfaces than depth. As someone from the East Coast, I have trouble finding anyone who shares similar values. Everybody here smokes; most of my friends have had boob jobs."
"And it's all about gambling," James reminded us. "There are slot machines at the grocery stores here, and I've seen people buy groceries and go play the slots and take food back to get more money for the slot machines."