Las Vegas. What hasn't been said about it already? It appears to be the joke about capitalism that everyone is in on. It is supposed to be playfully crass, and venal on its own terms, and if you don't like it you can get the hell out and leave your money behind.
We know how it works: No clocks anywhere. Keep the lighting dim, perpetual dusk, keep the atmosphere charged with music and noise to keep you awake and alcohol to keep you a bit off balance. The only place to sit and rest is a place where you can reach for your wallet and give the House more money.
But why does it work? The town works . . . well, commercial gambling . . . works on a phycological principle that the ego is stronger than reason, and the ego believes that each of us is special. So special that we believe for us the odds accrue.
This is not my strong suite so bear with me. The commercial gambling business is built, (I've been told) on the belief that people will keep gambling if they win at least once out of eight times. One in eight. Those are your basic chances on any roll, flip, tip, whirl, chuck, wiggle, spin, what have you. Across the board. Not in every game not in ever turn but basically this is what keeps the business going. If, on average, the customer didn't win at least once every eight times they (the gambler) would slip the hook and walk out. More winning than that and it's not so profitable for the House. Now the Ego of every human thinks I've lost in love, I've lost in my job, I lost my dog growing up. I lost my keys , ect... I have lost way more than seven times, so this time, I HAVE THIS COMING to me. The Ego tells every one of us in one way or another You have suffered enough. Today you are a WINNER.
This is what I think makes this town work, and in Vegas the employees either work at taking your money or they work at making you feel special as they do it.
But of course odds don't accrue. The odds always stay exactly at one and eight. It dosen't matter if you lost all seven pulls before, or one of them, or them all, each pull or flip is just the same. Now, the odds always stay and will remain irrevocably at one in eight even on that eighth pull . . . or throw or card, or flip. Whatever. We don't get luckier. (unless something else changes) All the odds tell us is: over time if we pull that lever, make that throw, we predictably WILL LOSE, seven out of eight times over time, and our ego has no influence over that outcome no matter what luck ritual, or pretty human being blows on those dice.
So here is what I learned in Las Vegas: God doesn't owe me a damn thing. And I don't know how much I've suffered yet. And I'm sure as heck not a natural born winner, so I'm not an instinctive gambler. And as far as numbers go... show me to the dyslexic special Casino with the extra big numbers and the nice ladies who explain the games REAL SLOWLY.
I also miss the old time slot machines where the coins come pouring down out onto the laps of the old ladies in the wheel chairs who wore the golf gloves so their hands wouldn't get blisters.
I hate the new machines that pay in tickets saying have won 25 cents. This is like spending your time playing a boring video game that, when you lose, says: "Fuck you, you cheapskate!"
I like coming to Vegas during the opening of the National Rodeo Finals because during the opening days the young guys and the stock contractors get to come to the casinos, These are the guys that work in the back and bring the animals to the show. They are dirty and they smell bad, and I know they sometimes bring whores up to their rooms. When they take off their straw hats they have pure white foreheads with dirt lines where their hat bands rest. I saw one kid roll a cigarette and drop it. The blond girls in short skirts giggled and he tipped his hat to them and bent down very slowly in the front salon of the MGM Grand and picked up his cigarette as if he were picking a wild flower from his saddle. Now I don't know enough about whores in Las Vegas, having only met one in my life. I don't know about those girls but I know that kid picking up that cigarette was a drunk cowboy.
I do like that the people who work in the hotels and the casinos seem generally nice, which must be difficult when their jobs must entail things like cleaning up a lot of cowboy puke. We were walking back late at night with a couple of cowboys who had passed through the YEE- HAA stage of rowdiness on into the completely unintelligible language stage of some kind of bro-yelling . . . until they got on the people mover sidewalk, which was apparently too much. The one who needed the most help, lost it all on the mover and the carpet which seemed a hard thing to clean up. But the next morning it was spotless. And everybody was still smiling.
The cowgirl fashion includes a lot of fake leopard skin. This I don't quite get. But I like it. Better than real leopards.
When I was a young man I worked with stock, and I wore the hat and boots. I loved the work, but I was a terrible rodeo rider. I rode in three country rodeos. I got bucked off on my head each time. An old time cowboy told me I would have to ride about 75 horses before I got any good at it, and I knew right then that I would be a quadriplegic, changing channels with a mouth wand by the time I rode 75 bucking horses. So that dream died in the crib. But I have rodeo cowboy envy. I only won one buckle in my life and it was for a mule race. The favorite that year was a young woman who was a better mule rider than I was, but I drew a better mule. Anyway, I won, but the buckle was a tiny silver thing. Shit. It simply would not do in Vegas this year. Some of the buckles on the waists in Vegas are as big as boogie boards. I wanted to take pictures of them but it was awkward asking, and doing it on the sly was even more awkward.
I also learned that I am not a Vegas baller or High roller, who can throw money around at the tables without a care.. Neither is anyone in my family. I had planned this trip. I had a check coming from the royalties for Cold Storage, Alaska. I did not know how big it was going to be. I did not ask for a big advance, so I figured it could have been . . . something. Anyway it was something. Finn is working on his own. Jan works, I work a good job. I planned to save the money but a part of it I wanted to share with my family. So the trip. I also wanted to eat at this fancy restaurant in Vegas (more on that later). The check turned out to be . . . lets say enough to make a down payment on a nice American car. A nice check but not crazy rock star money. So, I gave Finn, Emily, Jan, and Myself some mad money for gambling. They were thrilled. They were grateful. It was excessive. I was a high roller, a baller.
Until they went to the black jack tables that were crowded with cowboys and cowgirls: big buckles and leopard skins, hats pulled down, Hee-Hawing. It was TWENTY DOLLAR minimum bets at all the tables. All of a sudden these were Cow women, and Cow men staring at us frightened children with our lunch money from Alaska. "Damn Kid,s are you here to PLAY or WHAT?"
"Ah... no.. sorry. We are looking for the five dollar tables." and a big round of motherly cowgirl laughter rose through the air like air freshener. "Honey you haven't been here since the sixties, have ya?"
We were not Ballers.
That's fine. I learned that I would rather give my money away to people I know than lose it. I started buying crap to take back. Jan met a cow woman in the elevator (these elevators BTW are freakishly efficient - 38 floors - push the button and "bing" it's there) who was getting married and tried to buy her a wedding gift. I also started tipping like Tony Soprano. That too is an ego thing, but I don't care, it's my mad money. I give the pool guy 20 bucks for showing me where the pool is. Why the hell not? I hate losing money to the Casino, so I'm giving it to the help. "Hey Sharon, how are ya, here ya go." I can tip like a baller.
We leave tomorrow. I loved being here. Mostly because I was here with people I love so much. But also too, Las Vegas is a town where you come to contemplate the unknown forces. I know Finn and Emily did. It really is a religious town. It is a place where you go and whether you admit to it or not if you are involved in it's major industry: gambling. You are asking yourself, "Oh God, what can I bring to the table? What can I do to increase my odds just a bit? "
planes lifting off
over a hundred
jhs-- Las Vegas.