The $440 paperclip: Shopping out of my league at Crystals

The exterior of Crystals at CityCenter.
Photo: Sam Morris
Rick Lax

Hanukkah shopping is easy. All you have to do is find the present your mom bought your dad and sign your name to the card that’s attached to it. Then you sign your name to the card that’s attached to the gift your dad got your mom. And then you’re done.

That’s how I did it back in Michigan, at least. But I live in Las Vegas now, so I didn’t have access to my parents’ Hanukkah presents this year. That meant I had to either a) make a donation in my parents’ name (i.e., drive to Kinko’s and print up an official-looking certificate saying that I made a donation in my parents’ name) or b) actually go Hanukkah shopping.

I chose option b—rather, President Obama chose it for me. He told me that we need to “spend our way out of this recession.” He told me, in so many words, that if I didn’t go Hanukkah shopping this year, an impoverished family of five on Chicago’s south side would go hungry at Christmas. Some social worker would stop by their house, but instead of bringing food with her, the social worker would bring a photograph of me. She’d hand the photo to the family and say, “Just so you guys know, this is the guy who killed Christmas.” The youngest child, staring at the photo and tearing up, would ask the social worker, “Why would the bad man do that?” And then the social worker (also tearing up) would reply, “Because Rick Lax hates you. And because he hates America—and the troops.”

Long story short, I went to Crystals to do some Hanukkah shopping.

Crystals, in case you haven’t heard, is the new high-end retail component of CityCenter. According to the CityCenter press release, Crystals “showcases an unparalleled array of the world’s most exclusive retailers and will forever redefine the Las Vegas retail experience.” That sentence alone didn’t intimidate me (typical press release-ese) but Crystals’ numerous unpronounceable store names did: Ermenegildo Zenga, Assouline, Kiki De Montparnasse, Tourbillon—your guess is as good as mine [1].

Then again, when it comes to retail shopping, I’m easily intimidated. On the few occasions I’ve visited Via Bellagio or the shops at Wynn, I’ve felt woefully underdressed. I felt as though the sales clerks were judging me because of it. So, before I headed to Crystals, I ransacked my closet and pieced together the wealthiest/Republicaniest outfit I could muster. Grey pants, white shirt, red tie (with tiny terriers) and a navy blue blazer (with polo horses embroidered on the breast pocket).

It was my first trip to the 17,000,000-square-foot CityCenter, so I wasn’t familiar with the “parking situation.” I assumed I’d be forced to park at McCarran, at which point a bus would pick me up and take me to a tram that would take me to a water ferry that would drop me off within walking distance of Crystals. But I was wrong; one minute I was sitting in traffic on Las Vegas Boulevard, the next minute I was standing inside the mall.

Three cheers to whoever designed the CityCenter parking garage [2].

What it would look like if Bobby Baldwin bought the old Statute of Liberty torch...

...and stuck it in the middle of M. C. Escher's "Relativity."

Crystals opened on December 3, but in a sense, it’s still opening. The place is still crawling with workmen in neon yellow hats and vests, and half the shops have yet to open. There are no gondolas or moving fountains or rainstorms, but the mall has visual quirks. Imagine what it would look like if Bobby Baldwin bought the old Statute of Liberty torch and stuck it in the middle of M. C. Escher’s “Relativity” and you’ll get the idea.

Like David Bowie at the climax of Labyrinth, I walked through Crystals in search of something nice for my mom—a necklace perhaps—and something personal for my dad. The first store I entered was Louis Vuitton, and the first gift possibility I spotted was a simple wooden chess set.

My father would like this, I thought.

“Would you like to take a closer look at the chess set?” the sales clerk asked.

“Please,” I replied.

She removed the set from the lighted shelf and set it down on the table in front of me. I picked up the black knight and passed it from hand to hand. It was heavier than I expected and had tiny golden buttons—about a eighth of an inch in diameter—for eyes. I returned the piece to its slot and peeked under the case for a price sticker.

“Are you looking for the price?” the clerk asked.

“Yeah. How much is it?”

“Let me go check for you.”

The clerk walked to the back room and closed the door behind her. One minute passed. Then two minutes. Then five. Jig’s up, I assumed. They figured out I don’t belong here and now they’re waiting for me to leave of my own volition so we don’t have to do things “the hard way.”

The clerk returned, and told me the price:

“Sixteen thousand, nine hundred.”

I pouted and nodded, as if considering the amount.

“I’m going to think about it for a bit,” I said.

And then I made a beeline for the entrance.

I walked through the mall in search of a more affordable-sounding store, and I came across Tom Ford. I wasn’t familiar with the designer, but I figured that anyone with such a Middle-American-sounding name would know how to deliver a bang for my buck.

An orange robe at the center of the store caught my eye. I could envision a self-deprecating pimp wearing it to a Pimps & Hos theme party, and I could also envision giving it to my dad as a novelty gift. So I checked the price tag:


Still out of the ballpark, but moving in the right direction. I walked toward the footwear section, but before I could ask the sales clerk for help, he looked down and said this to me: “I love your shoes.”

So I walked out of the store.

Lax's Robert Wayne denim loafers

Lax's Robert Wayne denim loafers

Allow me to explain: I was wearing a pair of Robert Wayne denim loafers that I’d purchased at DSW for 35 bucks. That meant either 1) the clerk’s compliment was insincere, in which case he couldn’t be trusted to assist me in picking out a pair of shoes for my dad, or 2) the clerk’s compliment was genuine and my shoes really did look “nice,” in which case I certainly didn’t need to be spending hundreds of dollars on a pair of Tom Ford shoes for my dad.

Walking from Tom Ford to BVLGARI—your guess is better than mine by default; I didn’t even make one—a woman in a business suit approached me and asked me where the bathrooms were. She didn’t say, “Do you know where the bathrooms are?” or “Have you seen the bathrooms?” She said, “Where are the bathrooms?”

I told her I didn’t know. She scoffed at me and walked on.

That’s odd, I thought, and then I walked in BVLGARI. I picked up an ostrich-skin wallet and pulled out the tag. It read, “man wallet Italian with bills,” and it also read “$670.00.” So then I entered Bottega Veneta. Where I found a paperclip-shaped money clip that cost $440. Oh, when I say “paperclip-shaped money clip,” I mean “paperclip.”


From our Guides
3720 S. Las Vegas Blvd. ((At CityCenter)

I doubted I was going to find anything within my price range, so I decided to leave. As I passed by the elevators, another woman flagged me down.

“Does this elevator go up or down?” she wanted to know.

“Both, presumably,” I said. “That’s how they usually work.”

I’m not usually that curt with strangers—only with those I love—but I thought it rude that this woman didn’t preface her question with “Excuse me,” or “Can I ask you a question?” or “Do you have any idea if.”

“What floor are we on right now?” she said. “Is there a floor below us? Or is this the basement?”

“I really don’t know,” I told her.

“Thanks for nothing,” she replied.

What the hell is going on?! Why is everybody being so rude to me?

Before I got my car, I figured out what the hell was going on/why everybody was being so rude to me. It took a little help from the barista at the World News Kaffee [3] coffee shop, where I stopped to pick up a cup of java for the road.

“You work here, right?” the barista said after I ordered.

"I assumed you were a security guard."


“Really? You don’t work here?’

“Does everybody think I work here? Is that it? Why does everybody think I work here?”

“The way you’re dressed…”

“What about the way I’m dressed?”

“I assumed you were a security guard.”


I left World News Kaffee3 with a $3.24 small, regular coffee (!!!) and an important lesson: blue blazer + red tie + casino environment ≠ impression of wealth.

After two sips (retail price: 40¢), the Crystals alarm went off, and a recorded voice came over the loudspeaker: “There has been an emergency reported in the building. Please evacuate by the nearest exit. Do not use the elevators.”

I’ve heard alarms go off in casinos many times before, but I’ve never seen anybody react to them. For whatever reason, though, the patrons at Crystals took the warning seriously and began to file out. I didn’t want to wait in the valet line forever, so I ducked into the garage posthaste and gave my ticket to the valet.

While waiting for my car to arrive, I remembered the Crystals press release. I remembered that the “world’s most exclusive retailers” aren’t economically out of touch; they’re targeting upscale buyers. I wish I were one of these upscale buyers, but I’m not. I wish I could do my Hanukkah shopping at Crystals, but I can’t.

At least, not this December ...

My car showed up within 60 seconds—make it four cheers—and I drove to a place where I knew I could find Hanukkah presents within my price range.

Sub-Adult Ball Python (uh, the adhesive strip has us a bit nervous...)

Sub-Adult Ball Python (uh, the adhesive strip has us a bit nervous...)

Fantastik Indoor Swap meets all of Lax's holiday needs.

Fantastik Indoor Swap meets all of Lax's holiday needs.

Lax's present for his mom: three necklaces for $3

Lax's present for his mom: three necklaces for $3

The Fantastik Indoor Swap Meet on Decatur combines hideous carpet and hideous grammar with gorgeous prices. Take this price, for example: $49.95. Not bad, right? The problem was the item attached to it: Sub-Adult Ball Python. Don’t get me wrong, my father is an animal guy. He might not brush our dog Früvous’ teeth as much as the vet says he should, but he loves Früvous like a slow child. That said, I don’t think he’d go for a snake, even though the woman behind the counter assured me, “The Ball Python makes a great snake for any first-time owner,” and, “Even when he bites, it doesn’t hurt that much; it’s just scary.”

I spent too much time in the snake section. Fantastik closed at 6, and I had little time to think, and even less time to shop. I ended up getting my dad the most personal gift I could think of: a custom-embroidered baseball cap that says FRÜVOUS’S DENTIST. Retail price: $17.95. And then I swung by booth G34 and picked up three necklaces for my mom. For $3 total.

So, in conclusion, I fixed the economy and saved Christmas. I know that I didn’t spend that much on my parents’ Hanukkah presents, but I don’t want you to go away from this story thinking I’m cheap. I’m not. And just to prove it, I made considerable donation to a prominent Jewish charity in my parents’ name.

Really—I’ve got a certificate that says so.

[1]The Crystals shop names I feel most confident pronouncing are those that remind me of law firms or manufacturing corporations, e.g., Van Cleef & Arpels, Tiffany & Co.

[2]If you have the time to read this footnote, Mr./Ms. Designer, you also have time to stop by the Circus Circus parking garage and do a little pro bono work. Remember, Hanukkah means giving.

[3]Kraft, Krispy Kreme, Tastee Freez—why do so many American businesses purposely misspell their own names? Will some marketing guru please explain how this increases business?


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