Life In The Roaring 2000’s

When our children cross that magical line between childhood and adulthood, parents often mark the occasion in some meaningful way.

It has been this way throughout history.

In ancient Rome, young men would don a toga, enroll as a citizen in the census and begin their military training.

In the Amazonian Satere Mawe tribe, young men must wear a pair of gloves made of grass that are filled with venomous, stinging ants to demonstrate their strength.

And in Latin America, you see fifteen-year-old girls prancing through the streets in white ball gowns to celebrate their quinceaneras.

I recently read a true coming of age story that took place right here in America which I’m certain would confuse any Amazonian tribal member. It is a story about a dad who took his daughter to a Las Vegas nightclub on the occasion of her 21st birthday.

We seem to ply our rite of passage ceremonies with alcohol in the United States, which I suppose to us sounds more civilized than exposing ourselves to hordes of tiny, stinging ants.

Nonetheless, this father wanted to treat his daughter and her friends to her first big night out on the town. I can see the naivety on his face in the article’s picture – a dad who thought Las Vegas was still a throwback to the Tropicana Hotel era, where Sammy Davis Jr. and Frank Sinatra were still on stage and showgirls were daring if they wore feathers on their heads.

Instead he entered into the twilight zone of million-watt mega-clubs whose only purpose is to take your money.

The lines to get in these clubs are longer than the Great Wall of China, but you can skip the wait by purchasing the right to sit at a real table and chairs while you’re there. For a party of 10, the Henderson parents were told, they’d have to buy two bottles of liquor at $375 apiece for the two tables they would occupy, along with a 28 percent gratuity. Based on that quote, John Henderson expected to spend about $1,000 on the evening.

That dad had a bullseye on his forehead the minute he got to the door.

The doorman wouldn’t show him to his table without a $100 tip (but that explains how some of these bouncers make $500,000 a year).

On the way to his table, he had to tip the hostess and the matre dei – to the tune of $150.

Throughout the night he was charged a total of $120 for the privilege of using the bathroom.

Someone else approached the table insisting that the party needed security and charged him $100. He never saw the guy again.

Meanwhile, every time his daughter and her friends would head to the dance floor, the busboy would take their half-full drinks and replace them with fresh ones.

At some point, Mr. Henderson realized he was being charged $500 a piece for his two bottles of liquor and not the $375 he was quoted.

If that wasn’t bad enough, it wasn’t long before a manager showed up and said the party would have to buy two more bottles of liquor because the club was crowded and they needed his table.

When Mr. Henderson refused, the manager brought a party to his table anyway and insisted they all share the space.

Needless to say, Mr. Henderson left the club with a $2,000 tab.

And he was mad, because there’s a difference between letting the buyer beware and being hustled.

Excess in America like that of Las Vegas can be traced back to the 1920’s, when Americans became obsessed with a new cult of celebrity and wealth.

Today, much like in the 1920’s, we worship opulence, even in the glare of striking inequality of wealth and privilege.

That you can’t take your daughter for a dance and a drink in Las Vegas without mortgaging your home is truly a sign of the times.

You can’t help but like Mr. Henderson – our tragic hero. Hoping to escort his daughter over the threshold into adulthood, he was caught skirting the edges of a world he no longer understands.

“So, we beat on,” F. Scott Fitzgerald wrote in his ending lines of the ‘Great Gatsby.’ “Boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.”

I suppose Mr. Henderson went back to the safety of his humble house and had himself a beer.