Alberto Moravia’s The Woman of Rome offers an almost dispassionate first-person account of a woman who consciously turns to prostitution to find herself. A distant sound in the city or the creaking of some furniture in the room gave me the ludicrous and almost delirious awareness of my existence. I said to myself, “Here I am and I might be elsewhere. I might exist a thousand years ago or in a thousand year’s time. I might be black or old, blonde or short.” I thought how I had come out of endless night and would go on into another endless darkness, and that my brief passing was marked only by absurd and trivial actions. I then understood that my anguish was caused, not by what I was doing, but more profoundly by the bare fact of being alive, which was neither good nor evil but only painful and without meaning.
How strange to find these words uplifting.
I am reading on the train to Newark. A woman wheels on a plastic-covered baby carriage, a crumpled bag of McDonald’s balanced on top.The story is the thing, the arc, the bread crumbs leading on to eat. She is solid, her hair braided thick down her back. She keeps her phone in her back jean’s pocket. There is a solidity to her, a permanence. She blocks out the light from the window, only a glimpse of it between her elbow and waist. There is a man too, her husband perhaps, who she does not acknowledge, and a teenage boy. They are all thick in their coats. Her phone rings, a deep bass and growling voice. She answers. “I’m here.” She pauses. “That’s not going to happen.” She slides the phone back into her jean’s pocket. The sun comes through the window, bright, almost majestic. There is something magical about the New Jersey light. Industrial. Hard. Clear. We have arrived.
It’s best to start your Las Vegas weekend with a sense of economy. Have the taxi stop at a liquor store away from the Strip where alcohol and snacks are cheap. Many of the best deals – including helicopter tours and tennis court bookings – can be found in the publications conveniently displayed throughout the lobby and your room.
This is the moment to be savored, drink in hand, the famed Strip shimmering beneath your hotel window, the weekend waiting to unfold, a feeling of serenity washing through.A long stroll may now be enjoyed, breathing in the desert air, watching the volcano erupt, the fountains dance, the pirates do battle and the people scream from a roller coaster high above, after which a cheap and gluttonous buffet may be enjoyed at any of the hotels. It is now – buzzed, bloated and only $25 out of pocket – that the white bing-bing-bing noise of the casino floor can no longer be ignored. Black Jack is a popular game because it’s easy to learn and offers seemingly good odds, the house having 2-3% advantage. The dealer is important – pleasant, relaxed – as are the players – friendly people who know how to play the game – as it is where to sit – some like the first seat, some the last – but there’s no rush. The night is long. The first $100 bill slides out nicely, crisp, folded down the middle; a neat pile of chips reds and greens, are given in return. The waitress takes your order, and it’s free. Bets are small at first; $5 and $10, the occasional $20. The money goes up and down, down and back up. There are no clocks, no windows to the rest of the world. There’s only the cards, the free drinks and oxygen pumped in to keep your spirits high, no matter the luck. Several drinks and maybe even a cigar into the evening, and the stakes begin to rise. Whether you’re almost bust or have already doubled your money, the idea of getting another Blackjack on a lousy $5 bet cannot be tolerated.$20 becomes the new minimum. A streak means you’re up $400 just like that, money out of nothing, sheer guts. And then it’s gone, on a pair of Aces doubled down. Unbelievable. Un-fucking-believable. The bathroom is hard to find. The bank machine is not. The trick is setting yourself a spending limit. The second trick is not being too hard on yourself when that limit is surpassed. The third and biggest trick is to ensure that you do not have access to all of your savings. Crisp $100 bills pop out of the machine. You’re back at the table and on another streak – a pair of 8s doubled down this time, and the dealer goes bust. That’s what I’m talking about! A pile of chips is set aside, the money that you came in with. Incredibly you’re back on par. You allow yourself $200 to gamble. Once that’s gone, it’s back to the room to look at the view. But another $50 on top of that doesn’t matter that much. Nor the next. And on. You go back to the bank machine and the fight begins anew. The hole is deep and dark. A rally is imminent, but there’s nothing left, nothing. It’s all gone. You know that you stashed a reserve somewhere but can’t find anything. The dealer, your fifth of the night, watches and waits. It’s time to get some sleep. It’s a long walk home. You ask a cheery jogger for the time. 7:30 am. It doesn’t matter. There’s still the booze in the room and budget, a very strict budget for the next three days. There are some basketball games in the afternoon, easy bets. Make two or three of those, and everything changes. And there’s always the slots. With a bit of luck, everything could change. A jackpot even, imagine that.
It’s hard to fall asleep. Cards pop out of nowhere, impossible permutations – a 5 on the dealer’s 16, your Aces split with a 4 and a 3, thousands and thousands of cards, click, click, click. The body cries out against the abuse. Guilt rages. Someone has to be called, a confessor, a loved one. The woman at the tennis reservation desk will have to do. Your court time has to be cancelled.
American Hustle is a con. I don’t mean the film is about a con – which it is – but that it’s a con of a movie. Promising a story with actual characters and plot, it’s a meander through moments, some of them okay, that are glued together by obsessively iconic ’70s music and deep cleavage.Christian Bales’s performance is wasted as are some intriguing scene with Jennifer Lawrence. Much better con movies have been made, including The Sting (1973) and The Spanish Prisoner (1997).These films have an actual plot and don’t bludgeon you to death with vacuous morality at the end. So see them instead.
The idea of HBO’s sports documentary 24/7 is enticing to hockey fans – especially those of the Toronto Maple Leafs and Detroit Red Wings. Advertised as an inside look at each team’s personnel as they prepare for the Winter Classic, the show promises to offer insights into the people who will play in the big game.The payoff is disappointing, offering little more than vacuous reflections on what it is to play for “a storied franchise” and boys pretending to be grownups, driving fancy cars and wearing fine clothes. And there’s a whole fucking bunch of swearing. They have that vocabulary in common with the coaches. Instead of details on strategy, style or even on their personalities, it’s a lot of “Let’s (fucking) go, boys!” It’s not that much should be expected of these characters in this format – they are hockey player after all – but HBO could certainly do less of the epic music and close-ups of skates and actually make an effort to tell a (fucking) story.
My blog had minimal interest when I started 16 months ago – maybe a dozen visits a day, and most of those by my loving partner. And then I blogged about Hurricane Sandy and interest spiked, up to 80-100 hits a day. I tried to keep interest up with my thoughts on gun control and my Top 5 Lists. Interest slid back to 10-20 hits, and I reminded myself that the purpose of the blog was to focus on my writing process. And so I stuck to that.Interestingly enough, people have been visiting more over the past few months – with hits exceeding the days of Sandy, not that this means anything, especially when I admit that most searches are the same: Kesha naked, Nadine Velasquez and Jane Fonda Barbarella.