Thursday, February 17, 2011

What happens in Vegas...

I heard that advertising slogan again the other day, "What happens in Vegas stays in Vegas." I attended a conference several years ago in Yalta. One evening a game of "truth or dare" broke out in my hotel suite (I managed to luck into a suite with a living room) while I wasn't there, and when I got back I found a young Slavic scholar seated on the stomach of a sleeping attorney as she sang "on the good ship lollypop." I ordered the party out of my room, and learned the next day that the game went considerably down-hill from there, with a now well-known political scientist wandering the halls naked with his glasses perched a couple of feel lower than is customary. On the train back to Kiyiv, a normally prim and mature sociologist commented, "I guess we took a vacation from our morals."

You can't take a vacation from your morals, and what happens in Vegas doesn't stay there. It goes home with you. That's because our morals aren't a coat we can wear or take off at will, but a distillation of who we are. I'm not talking morals in the narrow sexual sense, but in the broader sense of our code of right and wrong. I don't care what you believe about premarital sex or treating sleeping attorneys like pleasure boats, but rather what you believe is the right way to behave. If you don't behave that way, it changes you. The man who abandons his morals in Vegas goes home a man who's abandoned his morals, period. If you can slip out of them, they aren't yours.

Taking a vacation from your morals is like taking a vacation from yourself, an impossibility. Leaving your indiscretions in Vegas is only sneaky and covert, not a free pass on life. The person you are in Vegas is the person you brought with you, and the person you are in Vegas is the person you take home to Iowa or Maine or Mississippi. As I think about it, that advertising campaign is a vile lie.

Las Vegas is like old age; it just lets you be who you really are.


  1. What a wonderful article! So well written that in a few paragraphs you covered the whole subject. I'm going to share it with my children and grandchildren.

  2. So true. So true. In my opinion, the problem people have with understanding this is that they harbor, explicitly or not, a belief in original sin. They believe there is an ideal and that we are not it, and are unwilling or unable to view all aspects of life as simply part of who we are.

    Ditch the original sin and you can recognize both Vegas and Sunday dinner at the in-laws as two outliers that miss the mark of happy stability.