I need something that makes sense, that will make me whole. These words, that’s what I want. Need is the word. I think of it as simple, straight, nothing else in my head. It is why I get up, stand in the room, move through the streets, reach out to drink. And while I’m trying to keep the eggs evenly out, this is it: a stream of words, where I’m turning and move like I know, inciting right, others assent and are stirred. It’s not that none of the rest matters but that I lose the sense of what really is, what it might be, important made nothing and nothing jacked up, so that I don’t know what I’m doing and may seem like I’m screwing the wind. Everything else is distraction. Yeah, like I’m doing now, a direction, something clear, words published, understood, stamped forward. Yeah, that’s it. That.
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.
The dealer had Blackjack. “Sorry.”
“Time to go to bed.”
“Get some sleep. We’ll see you soon!”
She could bet on that.
I studied his name tag – Ji-Young – as he changed another $200 into reds. “How do you pronounce your name?”
I tried again.
“60%.” He continued to deal.
I continued to lose. “Yi-juan?”
And then I had a small run going, almost two hundred of money back, but slid again. A new dealer arrived, Dan from Chicago, a fan of the Blackhawks, and I started to win again until Ji-Young returned and with him, my bad luck; I had to buy more chips. It was late, 3 am; the shift changed arrived. My new dealer, Rebecca, was from Korea. I broke even with her and then started to lose again until an affably drunk guy from Santa Barbara sat down. “How you doing?”
“Not so great.”
“I’m drunk.” He looked at his cards; he had a 3 and a 2.
“Should I hit that, Rebecca?”
“Should I hit?”
“You have a 5.”
“Should I hit that?”
She stared at him, irritated her shift had to start with this trouble-maker. “It’s a 5.”
“You from China?”
“Would you hit that in Korea?”
“You want a card?”
He tapped the table. “Hit it.”
“What should I do now?”
“You have a 9.” She was curt.
“A 9? Huh.” He looked at me. “Should I hit it?”
“That’s what the book says.” I always said that.
“Okay.” He tapped the table again.
Rebecca delivered a 6.
He looked up at her, considered it for a moment and then waved his hand. “Stick.”
Rebecca flipped her cards, revealing a 16 and went bust. And It continued like that, the Santa Barbara Drunk giving Rebecca a hard time, only after long deliberation, hitting his 7s and 8s, and Rebecca then going bust. Things began to turn; I was getting my money back.
I couldn’t sleep. I couldn’t read. I couldn’t do anything except stare at the back of the seat in front and wait. I wanted to drink. I needed a drink. I had waited this long, almost four hours, and the plane would be landing soon. I found the stewardess in the back. “Jameson and Budweiser.”
“All right, honey.” The woman folded her magazine and lurched into the tall metal compartment. ”
I offered her a $20.
She shrugged. “I don’t have my machine.”
“I can pay you later.”
“It’s on me, honey.” She went back to her magazine.
I went back to my seat and read and drank. I was finished both in 15 minutes. “Excuse me.” I waved to the stewardess as she passed.
“You want another?” She already had it out for me. “It’s on me.”
“Uh-huh.” She continued down the aisle, leaning forward, like she had had a drink or two herself.
The city appeared out of the dark just as we landed. I had thought about taking the shuttle in but then took the first cab I found. “You mind if I smoke in here?”
The casino was quiet, as quiet as could be with all the lights on and sounds ringing out. And then I was alone in my room, standing there with my can of beer. I waited in the middle, looking out through the sheers at the lights and then the desert. And then I turned and went down. It was time to gamble.
No matter what we know, where we come from, the background we are blessed or damned with, we need to believe, to find a greater truth. We know that what we have is precious; it is what sustains our hope. No matter how we may hide and pretend, that sense of awareness hovers inside, the moment upon waking, lying still, unsure of where we are, that moment in the music, hands suddenly in the air, released. And sadly, that same thing that is bastardized, used against itself, and drives us relentlessly, blindly on.
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.