Saturday, April 19, 2008

The Degenerate's Diary: And the Devil said, "Let there be Vegas, Baby..."

In Vegas, they’ll bet on anything. One casino was ready to let me bet on whether I’d win or lose there.

As I've chronicled here, I'm a degenerate in the same way reformed alcoholics say they are still alkies. I'm sure I would have been skinned alive under Stalin for any number of things, but if it's one thing that chaps my ass about this country is its rampant hypocrisy.

Take gambling.

I've been mulling over the thesis for a long rant about "gambling and life." It goes from the concrete to the theoretical and back fairly easily, for example:

1. All investing is gambling - no exceptions. Whether you're buying a house, government bonds or 100 shares of Sirius, don't fool yourself - it's GAMBLING.

2. The reality is that every one gambles, every day. For example, if you drive, you're gambling that someone in oncoming traffic doesn't have a death wish and, a'la Chris Walken in Annie Hall, just plow head on into you.

Then I get discouraged and think, "nah," cuz in the end it just comes off as more of my curmudgeonly ranting, which of course, it is.

But goddamn me, I love gambling. It's just so much fucking fun. The patron saint of degenerates, Artie (Lange) once put it so on point: "If you're bored, just put a couple bills down on whatever game's on. It's instant fun."

Now, part of the blame must be shared with pops, for I'm the son of a degenerate. Hunter S. Thompson said: "For a loser, Vegas is the meanest town on earth." And Vegas was mean to pops.

One of the bennies of LA is not only that it's one of poker's capitols, but it's a hop-skip to sin city. In fact, LA's Vegas' #1 cash cow. There was talk at least a decade ago about putting a bullet train between us and them, but the nimby-ists ("not in my back yard") won out. In some ways, I'm glad...

Anyway, one of my earliest memories was of driving there with my parents before the strip was the happening place. I'll never forget driving onto Fremont and seeing the big neon cowboy with his arm cocked, saying, "Howdy, partner". The place had an instant fascination for me mixed with foreboding, and that's a psychically volatile concoction.

Pops pulls over to the curb (can't do that now) and leans on the door: "Wait here." He disappears into the Golden Nugget. About an hour later he comes back, climbs in and doesn't say a word, but I know something's wrong.

Pops was not only a degenerate, but he suffered from one of the most lethal forms of dilettantism: gambling. Although I never talked to him about it when I got older, I'd wager he never even understood the raw basics of gambling.

It's that basic lack of understanding that has made guys like Steve Wynn billionaires. It's rather nauseating, when you think about it: Vegas is founded upon the principle of extracting money from the uninformed. Those who catch on are excluded, like card counters in blackjack. (Poker's an exception because you're not playing against the house, which makes its money on the rake)

I've never been to Amsterdam, but it is of course legendary to Libertines. But I have a hard time imagining how Amsterdam, or any place for that matter, could top Vegas. It ain't called sin city for nothin'.

A weekend in Vegas without gambling and drinking is just like being a born-again Christian.
-Artie Lange

There is always a sneer in Las Vegas. The mountains around it sneer. The desert sneers. And arrogant in the middle of its wide valley, dominating those diligent sprawling suburbs, the downtown city sneers like anything.
-Jan Morris

Someone asked me why women don't gamble as much as men do, and I gave the commonsensical reply that we don't have as much money. That was a true and incomplete answer. In fact, women's total instinct for gambling is satisfied by marriage.
-Gloria Steinem

A man's gotta make at least one bet a day, else he could be walking around lucky and never know it.

-Jim Jones

The urge to gamble is so universal and its practice so pleasurable that I assume it must be evil.
-Heywood Broun

I've been on such a losing streak that if I had been around I would have taken General Custer and given points.

-Joe. E. Lewis

It's a corny old gag about Las Vegas, the temporal city if there ever was one, trying to camouflage the hours and retard the dawn, when everybody knows that if you're feeling lucky you're really feeling time in its rawest form, and if you're not feeling lucky, they've got a clock at the bus station.

-Michael Herr

Italians come to ruin most generally in three ways, women, gambling, and farming. My family chose the slowest one.

-Pope John XXIII

Man, I really like Vegas.
-Elvis Presley

Life is a gamble at terrible odds, if it were a bet, you would not take it.
-Tom Stoppard

Don't gamble; take all your savings and buy some good stock and hold it till it goes up. If it doesn't go up, don't buy it.

-Will Rogers

Vegas means comedy, tragedy, happiness and sadness all at the same time.
-Artie Lange