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04/07/2011 09:47 am ET | Updated Jun 07, 2011

The Strip Diary, Day Three: Absinthe Makes The Heart Grow Fonder

Day Three: Circus Circus ($29 a night)

"I read the Vegas article and I think it's great. I run a site called [name of casino site] and if you link to the site in your next article (you can always mention how people can now play online casino games online instead of traveling to vegas). I would be happy to pay you for your time writing the article." - Email

The poor old Sahara. In a little over a month, the icon of old Vegas (opened in 1952) will welcome its last guest. But the hotel is already brain-dead, barely clinging on to life with the help of strong drugs and a machine that goes 'beep'. The roller-coaster has stopped running, the elevators have been stripped of their mirrored paneling and the casino halls are all but deserted.

Gone are the hotel's glory days as a rat-pack hangout, where famously Abbott and Costello played their last gig. According to Wikipedia, the hotel has also played host to Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, Sammy Davis Jr., Judy Garland, Marlene Dietrich, George Carlin, Liza Minnelli, Shirley Bassey, Bill Cosby and Bobby Darin.

Today's last straggling guests can enjoy Striptease: The Show, starring Aspen Reign who -- the poster proudly reminds us -- is the only "four times winner of Miss Nude World". As I say, the poor, sad old Sahara: when Ruth won $75 at Roulette we both felt bad taking the money, not least because $75 was cheaper than the combined cost of our rooms, including the "resort fee".

I was all geared up, then, to write the third in a series of anti-Strip diatribes, bemoaning how tacky and overpriced the whole sorry street is -- and how all the people who visit it are drunk and bloated and loud. This despite the fact that voluntarily coming to Vegas and complaining about the commercialism and the drunks is like voluntarily going to Iraq and complaining about the sand and the road-side bombs. And this also despite the fact that my plan to choose my accommodation by price -- starting with the cheapest hotel and following the deals until I've stayed along the entire strip -- means that the start of my month-long trip was always going to be something of a crapshoot.

But then something odd happened. After brunch at Hooters (somehow the words "Hooters" and "brunch" don't belong in the same universe, let alone the same sentence), Ruth and I headed to Circus Circus. We knew what to expect. Of course we did. And yet.... Well, Ruth's sitting right here --

Paul: So. What happened?

Ruth: I fell asleep in the lobby next to a large Mexican family, you queued for an hour to check in, we expected this place to suck penis, and actually -- it's kind of cool. Our rooms are cheap, clean, bright and comfortable: not the kind of rooms you want to snort cocaine offa someone's tits -- but hey, that's fine --

Paul: Actually, I think I can snort cocaine off someone's tits almost anywhere, much like -- apparently -- you can sleep anywhere. But yes, we paid $29 for the rooms -- there's wifi, that really works, it's clean, the beds are comfortable and -- did I mention the room was $29? And then it got better -- we went down to the "Adventure Dome", and suddenly I was Tom Hanks in Big, magically transformed into a hyperactive ten-year-old boy. The roller-coaster in particular -- indoors and kind mealy-mouthed as it was -- made me forget that I'm supposed to be a cynical recovering alcoholic. This place is like the land that cynicism forgot.

Ruth: It's the kind of place which makes me cringe and want to hate-screw a rich white man in the Bellagio. And then I see hook-a-duck, and I know that I too can win the stuffed hamburger, and I feel complete. Remember that teeny little Mexican girl who hooked a PowerPuff doll in those hook-thing machines? Her face was just so happy. Everyone in Circus Circus was smiling, come to think of it. Everyone in the Sahara looked like they'd been exhumed earlier that day. That whole 'family entertainment' bullshit does tend to translate in my head as obese middle-Americans with man-tits straining to roam free from their 'I love boobs' t-shirts, sporting beer breath and a semi as they stroll down to Crazy Horse after a night with Barry Manilow. And yeah, that's part of Vegas, and I'd be lying if I said it didn't disgust me, because I'm a liberal snob. But then there's the absolute childlike wonder that plastic crap, a few bright lights and going upside down can create. And that's Circus Circus. I think I'd kind of forgotten the consummate professionalism of Vegas because I was so distracted by being in the dying shadow of Sahara. And going to see Absinthe afterwards was perfect. Tell them about Absinthe.

Paul: Oh. My. Lord. It was just an email out of the blue. I've had a thousand damn emails since I arrived in town -- do I want to meet the mayor? (yes) do I want to spend the day with a cop? (yes) or an Elvis minister? (yes) or some random Vegas girl who just emailed me and I can't tell if she's asking me on a date or wants to sell me something (yes/no). Frankly, the Absinthe one didn't leap off the page -- come and see our show at Caesars Palace; it's like a grittier Cirque Du Soleil. I'd probably have ignored it, but I wanted us to go to Zumanity tonight -- take a former stripper to a sex-themed show kinda thing -- but it's "dark" on Wednesdays and Thursdays. So I figured between the description and the name -- given neither of us drink any more -- it could be a nice stand-by. Again, though, I wasn't expecting much. For me Caesars equals Barry Manilow and Cher.

Ruth: And yet...

Paul: And yet, it was amazing. First of all, they've build a whole tented village thing on the side of Caesars Palace -- with a big top and circus rigging for the aerial stuff. But the show itself is the thing: it's BRILLIANT. I'm going to put that in caps when I write this down. It's BRILLIANT -- it opens with... was it three or four Russians at the beginning...

Ruth: Four. 'Atlantis' I think they were called.

Paul: Right. These four Russians who did just the most mind-blowing acrobatic act -- throwing themselves around, throwing each other around; just incredible. And then the two hosts -- the guy who looked like John Waters and the ditsy girl who was both hot and hilarious, which is a Loch Ness Monster rare combination. They were just...

Ruth: I loved them. The stuff they did with the audience -- picking out the Mexicans and the Republicans and the various groups. It's the kind of humor they don't do any more in England because they're terrified about offending people. And that's what I love about the cliche of Vegas -- but wasn't expecting to find -- that ability to laugh at everything, and itself. I think that's something that the rest of America needs to learn too. Britain certainly does. Bunch of uptight c...

Paul: I probably can't write that word on the Huffington Post.

Ruth: I don't know, I've never tried. I put twat down before.

Paul: Anyway -- the show.

Ruth: You see this kind of stuff on TV all the time: acrobats, burlesque, tightrope walkers, whatever. You grow up with it: on Saturday Morning Kids TV to whatever shite Bruce Forsyth is presenting on prime-time. And it completely undermines the magic of live stage acts: the proximity to the performers, the camaraderie that's created between the audience and the cast. I love Absinthe because it reminded me of why you need to get your ass AWAY FROM THE TV. AWAY FROM THE TV LADIES AND GENTS. And -- again that word -- professionalism. Vegas is promoting excess and indulgence, and then you see a show which is performed by professionals who -- well, even the fat tightrope walker couldn't have sported a hangover the way he hopped across the wire. Professional fun. No one does it like the yanks and their taut, toned Eurotrash circus acts. I felt the same when I went to see The Magic Castle in LA. Magicians? Who gives a shit. Girl on roller-skates hanging onto boy on roller-skates by a toe going very fast? Who gives a shit. And then it happens five feet away from you and it's awesome. Now you need to talk.

Paul: Actually, I felt something similar when I saw ELEW live for the first time. Have you ever seen him?

Ruth: No?

Paul: You have to. But not on YouTube. He's amazing on YouTube, obviously, but live -- I almost can't describe it. He's a pianist, but that word doesn't do him justice. He plays the inside and the outside of the piano at the same time; these incredible 'rockjazz' -- that's the word he uses -- covers of stuff like Nirvana and even Coldplay. You see it on YouTube and you're like "ok, this dude can play the hell out of the piano", but you see him live -- all energy and these contorted facial expressions and noise and fury and it's suddenly more a case of -- I think my life just changed measurably for the better. I wrote something along those lines about him for the Guardian years ago. People like ELEW -- and shows like Absinthe -- are why the Internet will never kill live performance.

Ruth: Exactly.

Paul: And moreover, as you say, it reminded me of what's great about Vegas. The magic of it all; I'd basically assumed that was all gone now -- killed by rampant commercialism -- or that it never existed. I have to say, between Circus Circus and Absinthe, I've almost done a complete 180 on the Vegas Strip. I'm really looking forward to spending more time there; almost as much as I am to meeting the mayor, or shooting a gun or whatever my inbox will suggest tomorrow.

Ruth: The Erotic Heritage Museum! Pool parties! Cirque du Soleil! Strip clubs! Our whole conversation actually reminds me of why strip clubs exist. I always get that question from people: why do men go to strip clubs? Apart from the glaringly obvious: because they're sad fucks who can't get laid and never get to flirt with girls in the real world, the answer is because strip clubs are the performative version of Internet porn, which is kind of boring. It's CELINE DION LIVE as opposed to Celine Dion wailing on a scratched CD. I got so caught up in hating stripping, and hating the New York scene, I forgot the reasons why I got into it: because I loved performing, and I loved flirting, and I loved money. And I kind of think that's what Daisy and G-cup [please, please don't click on either of those links at work] said in our conversation, which I think you're going to write about tomorrow, while I slog it back to Los Angeles and my mundane existence as the kept woman / madly-successful-but-incredibly-broke bitch of ONOFF boyfriend. ONOFF just texted me to say hi to you by the way.

Paul: Tell him I said hi back. Yes, tomorrow's diary is going to be all about strippers; specifically the Flipcam interview I did after the show with you and your pals Daisy and "G-cup" about the correct strip-club etiquette and the worst behavior they've experienced from clients. I love "sweatpants boner guy."

Ruth: Where are you staying tomorrow, by the way?

Paul: I should probably figure that out. Hang on..

[Click click. ]

...is Bally's on the Strip?

Ruth: Yeah.

Paul: Ok. Perfect.

Ruth: I'm looking at their website: they have "The Price Is Right Live".

Paul: Book it! Book it now.

To be continued...

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