Las Vegas, Nevada -- A 7-year-old girl with a fat tear glistening in the corner of her eye held tight to her 14-year-old brother's hand. They were sitting on a ledge in the Arcade Mall at the MGM Grand, Las Vegas, waiting for mom and dad.
The time was midnight. The Arcades were closed. A sign overhead said: "Youth Activities Center/Cash Machine." The Youth Activities Center was closed. But the Cash Machine blinked happily open. Straight ahead was the (closed) entrance to the MGM Grand Adventures Park, where they had spent the day going over the Grand Canyon Rapids, watching two pirate ships fight, going deep into the Haunted Mine and Going Over the Edge on a huge slide. Now they were bone-tired and kept staring in the direction of the open maw of clinking and rumbling that was the gate to the Casino.
To get to the slot machines and poker tables you could go through Oz, but Oz was closed now. Earlier, they had gone up the yellow brick road and seen Dorothy, the Scarecrow, the Tin Man and the Cowardly Lion hover animatronically under a changing sky that went from blue to stormy.
But now all there was was Casino, and that's where mom and dad, who said that they would meet them at midnight, were.
Eventually they would come, mom complaining about her sore slot-machine arm and dad drunk, and broke. And this was only their first day in the "new," "family-oriented Vegas," where they had come instead of visiting grandma. They still had Circus Circus, the Guiness Book of World Records Museum & Gift Shop and The Liberace Museum. And mom and dad still had slots, poker, keno, sports-book, booze, Tom Jones, cash machines, credit -- and cigarette smoke, lots and lots of it.
The new Vagas, like a tender skin wrapped around a blinking old demon, was giving grandma a hell of a run for the money.
Andrei Codrescu's new book is "The Blood Countess."