Stephen Paddock, the 64-year-old reclusive multi-millionaire who spent much of his "mysterious" later adult life in one-on-one relationships with casino poker machines, is everywhere labeled an "enigma." That's the consensus from every quarter. New York Times reporters put together a sketch of who this guy was.
"Stephen Paddock was a contradiction: a gambler who took no chances. A man with houses everywhere who did not really live in any of them. Someone who liked the high life of casinos but drove a nondescript minivan and dressed casually, even sloppily, in flip-flops and sweatsuits. He did not use Facebook or Twitter, but spent the past 25 years staring at screens of video poker machines."
Stephen Pddock and his girlfriend Marilou Danley, right, with her sisters
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He had a house in Sun City, Mesquite, one of a number of Del Webb gated, "active adult communities," this one 90-minutes from Las Vegas. Plus, he owned other houses and properties; at one point he owned two airplanes and, to facilitate his lifestyle, bought cheap houses near local airports in Nevada and Texas where he parked his planes. He spent hours and hours as a "high-limit player" working the $100 poker machines in specially designed lounges for such cherished players, distinguishing them from the peasant riff-raff working the dollar machines. He was encouraged to continue gambling with free meals and free hotel rooms. "Gambling made him feel important," the Times reporters wrote. He counted on the attentions of "high-limit hostesses" to get him food and refreshments and to fluff him up when his spirits lagged. He exhibited impatience if these hostesses were slow in delivering what he wanted. Other services were private matters.
Everything was done to cater to Stephen Paddock's needs and whims -- just keep him gambling. He became so close to one of the high-limit hostesses -- Marilou Danley -- she left her casino employment to be Paddock's steady girlfriend, one of the few close human relationships he seems to have had. And it seems to have been a good relationship; he traveled with Danley to her home country in the Philippines for one of his birthdays and met her sisters. His brother Eric has only nice things to say of him; especially, that he was generous. His tenants all told the Times Paddock was fair and responded to all their needs. And, of course, he collected dozens of very expensive, very lethal weapons. In a social sense, he was a misfit and could be curt, but in the very American context of being smart enough to figure out how to exploit the real estate market and to accumulate money and property, he was a winner.
No one will speculate why Paddock did what he did. Glimmers of "why" do appear in the Times story in an indirect reference to "a law enforcement official" being told by his girlfriend, Marilou Danley (now an FBI "person of interest"), that "he seemed to be deteriorating in recent months both mentally and physically. ... To the few people who knew him well, it is the only plausible explanation." The problem is the FBI is a tight-lipped organization that shares with the public only the information that fits the legal narrative it's pursuing and information that makes them look good. One thing that's clear about the follow-up coverage of Paddock's actions is that there is a narrative rule: "law-enforcement" and "first-responders" must be heroes in the tale. Also, as the political right emphasizes ad nauseum, "it's too soon to get political about the story." Too soon? Tell that to people like the President of the United States who Tweets on things like this before most of us get up in the morning. The fact is, as the great Leonard Cohen song goes, "everybody knows" the story is really about guns and the National Rifle Association.
Paddock established a dubious record for mass murder with an incredible collection of AR-15s modified to fire on full-automatic. Through two sealed windows broken with a hammer, he fired incessantly for over 11 minutes into panicked country music fans 32-stories below him. In a predictable follow-up, President Trump articulated the safe national consensus: Paddock's behavior was "an act of pure evil" that was "sick" and "demented." No argument there; it was a rare moment of consensus with the American people for a narcissistic president whose approval ratings are at 32 percent and dropping. All government and mainstream media sources demurred when it came to speculating what this man's motive could have been for gunning down 58 and wounding almost 500 people. Some argued he should be declared a "terrorist," which is one of the most abused and meaningless words in the English language. While there was a flaky rumor of an ISIS connection, the fact is, he wasn't Muslim, so in the current climate of craziness in America he couldn't be a terrorist. One website exhibited a photo of a man in a "p*ssy hat" at an anti-Trump rally, suggesting it was Paddock; that did not seem to get legs. Alex Jones predictably suggested it was a "false flag" operation.
So what was Stephen Paddock's grievance?
I'm going to wade into this and go out on a limb (mixing metaphors along the way) to speculate that Mr. Paddock's motivation for such an unspeakably "evil" act lurks in plain sight, in the details of a control-obsessed, soulless existence that festered under the protection of a cocoon of money in a culture fixated on money in a city known for selling fantasy. I have nothing against Las Vegas and have friends who like to go there to relax. That the sight of this outrage was Las Vegas, a city founded in the Nevada desert by gangsters and businessmen seeking profit from ordinary people's fantasies and greed, should not be surprising. The city even markets itself as a unique and amoral place where anything goes: "What happens in Vegas stays in Vegas."