Tuesday, August 31, 2010

A Break With Reality

We were in Las Vegas. Never mind where, because the weekend was such a blur of flashing lights, shimmering heat, and synthesized slot-machine noises that I can’t always remember what events took place where. (And I’m not exactly trying to recall something that happened in my childhood. This was less than a month ago.)

I think we were at the Bellagio Casino. It was somewhere between New York, New York, where we’d picked up some theater tickets, and the Mirage, where we wanted to see the tigers. We were attempting to get from the South Strip to the Mid-Strip without taking a cab and without dying of the heat. (The TV news said it was 106 that day, though Pipi talked to a local woman who said that the news lies all the time and that her car thermometer read 115. I’m not a conspiracy theorist, but I am a complainer, so I believe it.)

At the probably-Bellagio, we passed through a courtyard full of fanciful plants. Some were clearly real, like the palm trees that shaded the area. Some, like the giant wooden mushrooms labeled “fungus humungous,” were obviously pretend.

But a lot of the shrubbery fell somewhere in between. In the middle of the space, for example, there was a large bed full of what looked like very short sunflowers. Each one was exactly the same shape and barely a foot tall. They were growing (if that’s the right word) through greenery so thick I couldn’t see the ground they were planted in. They looked live enough, but each flower was so uniform, and the roots seemed so deliberately hidden, that I’m still not sure if I was looking at a real field of bonsai sunflowers or an elaborate hoax fashioned from trimmed, store-bought stems.

But Vegas is kind of like that. It strips you of your ability to tell fact from fiction. (Also inside from outside, male from female, and appropriate from inappropriate. It’s perhaps the least binary place I’ve ever been.)

Friday, August 13, 2010

New Passport

I received a puzzling, official-looking envelope in the mail today. In it, to my surprise, was my new passport. I’d renewed it long enough ago that it wasn’t at the front of my mind, but not so long ago that I’d begun to worry about it.

I’ll miss my old passport, which had some really cool stamps (Mongolia!), not to mention a very fresh-looking photo of me taken 10 years ago. But the new passport appears to be made a little more durably, and has some interesting new design features. The frontispiece has a quote from “The Star-Spangled Banner,” and a facing page reproduces the preamble to the constitution, for the benefit of citizens who didn’t commit it to memory watching Saturday-morning television as children. Later pages have watermarks including patriotic quotes from all the usual suspects and some I didn’t see coming, like the Mohawk Thanksgiving address.

Best of all, the last page notes that, “This document contains sensitive electronics.” I’ve been chipped! Knowing this makes allows me to work up a good head of liberal paranoia while still feeling like I’ve got the latest gadget everyone’s talking about, a real Bay Area perfecta.

My new photo’s not great. I think I look a little haggard (especially compared to my old passport picture). But doesn’t everyone look a little rough after an international flight? I expect to breeze through customs for the next decade.