Goodbye to All That

The thing about farewells is they’re much more pleasant when you know where you’re going next. But when, like a lumbering drunk, you break the furniture on the way out and step into the void of what’s next, it’s hard to relish the sweetness of goodbye. The Sahara is gone, the building is staying up, and not even the owner of the place, Sam Nazarian, can honestly tell you what for. In the phantom fever-vision future (where certain things, like local stadiums, forever reside), the Sahara site is home to a slick SLS Hotel that simultaneously embraces what Nazarian calls “the new Vegas” (whatever that is) and the classic Vegas of the Sahara’s heyday, which ended about 45 years ago. In reality, though, the old hotel will remain for some time what it’s been for the last several years—a cicada husk with a monorail stop.

The week was full of such strides from an anxious present to a shrouded future. The great Jerry Lewis surrendered his spot behind the mic at the annual Muscular Dystrophy Association Telethon, leaving a fading Vegas tradition even further diminished. UNLV’s graduation on May 14 was an invitation for both the university and its erstwhile students to wonder whether Nevada can bear the burden of their continued presence. Meanwhile, a Senate ethics probe forced John Ensign to continue his endless farewell media tour of the stations of the upside-down cross, proving that there really is payback for neglecting at least 20 percent of the Ten Commandments.

In the May 15 issue of the Las Vegas Review-Journal, another farewell was issued with well-aimed venom by an elementary school teacher named Justin Brecht. Three weeks after being named teacher of the year at Mendoza Elementary, Brecht found out he was being laid off, and he used the occasion to fling a poison dart at a tenure system that sends newer teachers packing because, well, they’re new. Elsewhere in the paper, though, tenured teachers argue cogently for the need for a sense of stability in a profession that’s never been big on remuneration. (And then there’s the question of whether the acuteness of student bubble-filling skills is any better than seniority as a way to decide a teacher’s continued employment.) The real issue is that in a state ranked dead last nationally in quality of education and No. 48 in funding, we really can’t afford to send good teachers packing, whether they’re young or old.

But sometimes when a person says farewell, he really does want you to fare well: Timothy O’Grady—a UNLV visiting professor of creative writing and one of the finest novelists to reside in Vegas—is doing the only practical thing and decamping for a small town in Poland. But the morning of his departure, he picked up the phone, called a reporter, and for 20 minutes described his dream for the future of literary Las Vegas. Then he had to rush off to the airport, leaving behind a fond vision and a fine example. The rest is up to us. Stay tuned.

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