Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Real Life Stories 4: The Casino

You can get lost in the slot machines like you can get lost in a forest. Rows and rows of them twinkle identically off into the distance. Each brightly lit grouping is surrounded by its own handful of chain smokers in sweat pants with twenty or fifty or a hundred dollars worth of credits pumped into their machines. The old days of buckets full of nickles and manual arms that you crank yourself are behind us, it appears. Everything is button operated, which takes away the charm for me, but not more so than the tacky bullshit they paste over the front of every machine. A casino is a thing that I don't think I could conjure up in my imagination and fake if had I never been to one. I couldn't make this shit up. Ladybugs and Greek Gods and lions and wolves and Elvis, they're all there in big plastic paintings above computer screen slots. Empty drinks and dirty ashtrays don't last long on the ledges of the machines. The place stays clean like a four star hotel, despite all odds. They are overstaffed to the gills with servers and security and the place runs so smoothly you don't give them a second thought.
Walking through the rows with a whiskey and coke in hand I feel just a touch like Thompson, or at least I wish I felt like him. I am to Thompson what a casino in Battle Creek is to Vegas, so I guess it all fits together. This isn't exactly what you get in Nevada, but it's the same breed of ugliness and desperation. Everyone here is so poor, wearing the kind of old sports jackets that were popular in the nineties that you can only find in thrift stores now. They're overweight and they walk with limps and they have bad haircuts. Where do they all come from? I wonder if some of them plan to make a fortune counting cards or betting big money at this casino in southwest Michigan. One man I see only has one eye, and the other is replaced by blank, disfigured skin, as though it were melted shut. At the same moment I smell something like burning paper and I wonder at the coincidence. Or maybe that rich scent in the air is pure oxygen being pumped regularly into the building every so often, and I just happen to be under a vent. A friend of mine told me they do such things, though I thought it was illegal. Who knows? Who knows what pure oxygen smells like, for that matter?
I like to gamble for a few reasons. One is that the feeling of winning, even just a little bit, is basically unbeatable. When the cards and dice start to go your way, even the most stoically atheist (and I am pretty stone cold on that front) start to feel that some force or energy is working with them. Another is that I feel I'm pretty good at it. I play poker and, though I lose more than I win, I take second more than I lose. I was surprised, beyond anything else, when the blackjack dealer took twenty dollars in three hands, which lasted for about thirty seconds.
That said, I was not surprised when a twenty dollar bet on black at the roulette wheel paid out and I doubled my money. And I wasn't surprised that another bet of the same denomination did the same. And another. And another. Above all, it made sense to me.
When the five of us packed back into the car at one in the morning, only two of us came away ahead. Turning twenty dollars into one hundred isn't a magic trick, but it certainly feels like one.

No comments:

Post a Comment