They watched Ethan step back from the table, trying to look calm.
“He’s really into it.” Robi’s voice cracked.
“You don’t gamble?” Angelica asked.
“Yeah, I’ve gambled. I’ve lost everything and tried to get more to make it all back.”
“I couldn’t do it.” Angelica sighed. “I just couldn’t lose money like that.” “I’ve lost money. Shit, it wasn’t that bad. It was just stupid.” Robi sat forward, his cheek lightly against the stucco pillar. “I lost $3500 on Blackjack. I just didn’t know when to go to bed.”
“I don’t get it,” Angelica tilted her head.
“It’s just…you’re there and you believe that you will win. It’s incredibly real. It’s faith.”
Anticipation is the pleasure, what might be ahead, the silence, nothing more, thinking I might have that gold in the next hand. It’s the arriving, getting to a place where there is nothing but quiet, losing money for no reason, the calm in that, not moving ahead, not the right way, but what is marvelous, empty and never-ending. 500 coming in. Those words, just like that.
Bogdan Dico’s icon looked at me like an ATM machine, the bald head gleaming.I was lucky and won a big hand. Everybody was surprised by that, except Bogdan. He knew that I would make a wrong move. I rested on my laurels and got distracted by drink and then the people walking past. And then I saw that Bogdan had taken two players out. There were only two of us left. I had an Ace-Eight, and the River produced a matching Ace. Bogdan beat me on that hand. He eliminated the other player and had 80% of the chips.
And then I took Bogdan Dico down. I had the cards, and he never believed it. It ended with a straight. We were both stunned by that. I stared at that glorious little Nine of Clubs until the screen changed for the next game.
I did not heed the advice of my drunk friend from Santa Barbara and continued on to another table, the first one in range, and watched myself lurch, hoping, grasping at nothing but air.
“I’ve built my house on you guys.” The dealer was not one to mince words.
I took that as a challenge, brashly proclaiming, “I’m building my house now,” after the occasional win. And then my money was gone, all of it, and I had to return to the machine, stickered in warnings against gambling ills.I sat down with a trio of Turks and battled on. We won a little and then lost, won a little and then lost, and I was at the ATM again.
And then I was alone; it was just me and the dealer and the pit boss, and they almost seemed to be cheering me on. “Got to get a little something something.”
I didn’t know what she meant, but then I was up a few hundred – losses aside – and she gave me an orange, a $500 chip. I would keep that, no matter what. No matter what.I watched my little stacks deplete and then, sadly, had to throw back the orange; and then it was gone too. I only had $25 left and placed it firmly down. I got a 19. I would build back from that; that’s what I thought.
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.
I finished the third draft of my book just now. “Done and done,” as Crystal says. And now I’m off to Vegas. The painter Francis Bacon was known for painting all day and gambling all night. I’ve always found that idea alluring, throwing caution to the wind, going at it full steam, winning everything or losing it all, not just the money, but the characters too. It’s hard to do though; it can be really take its toll, especially on a Scot. “It can really get a hold of you when you need the money and win. Of course you spend the rest of the time losing it again and God knows how much more.”
Another difference between Francis Bacon and me is that he liked roulette, and I’m more into Black Jack. Better odds. I lose slower. But I’m tempted, I must admit. Lose it all or win everything. You never know what will happen next.