LEISURE LETTER 45: WINNING SOME, LOSING MOST
As I’m beginning to make preparations for a hefty leisure letter about marshmallows, something nice and juicy, full of fluff, a modern day short story epic in its own right, I figured I would jam something out as quickly as possible, if anything to appease the overlords up on Floor 109. The last thing I need is those dragons breathing down my neck and, as it stands, now would be a terrible time to lose funding. Those marshmallows deserve to have their story told, after all. For the moment, I’ll edify the masses with a brief account of gambling. These skills have been acquired at the cost of great loss, within the framework of a personal career spanning just over one decade. Here’s the scoop.
First things first: Pick your poison. The world has much to offer. In my early days I was crazy about the lotto scratchers. What can I say . . . I had the itch. I must have scratched my way through thousands of them, always looking for that fifty, sixty, seventy thousand dollar hit. When all was said and done I probably lost over a million. It was great. But that’s small time stuff, the little leagues. What we’re looking for is the grand slams, baby, the real-deal Babe Ruths.
Las Vegas is perfect for this kind of thing. In fact, the mafiosos designed it for this very purpose. It’s the type of place you can show up flush, feeling like a hero, lose it all in a matter of hours, hit the road a zero. And you’ll be back for more in no time. Those mafiosos were smart men. There’s the slots, blackjack, poker, roulette, sports bets, betting on the ponies, craps, you name it. The main thing is to pick a game you know close to nothing about and just go for it.
Then there’s Wall Street. Not as exciting as Vegas but still pretty good. It’s run by some really fine people – ivy leaguers – who happen to come from the most powerful families in America. Efficient men with a narrow, laser focus. They wear plain looking, expensive suits. You can either let one of them manage your loss or go about it your own way. That’s what I do. I pick a penny stock roulette style; something with zero fundamentals, no inventory, no income, a lot of overhead and loads of debt. And I go all in . . . never look back. I’ve found that it’s best to do as little research as possible before investing in a stock. Just go with the flow, baby. Who knows? You might get lucky and lose everything.
OK, let’s change the pace here. We don’t want to lose; we want to win! Win big! The world can be our oyster. Vegas isn’t for everyone, to be honest. And Wall Street just ain’t cutting it these days. Allow me to divulge my own story of loss, gain, heartbreak and tribulation. It all began in Palm Springs, California, on one of those oven-hot days the lizards love so much. You could almost see Little Apollo flying his tiny chariot across the sky, followed by a long smoking trail of fire, ash and brimstone. I could feel something in the air.
“Should we hit the casino tonight?” I asked Octane, wiping some of the excess tanning oil off my face with a paper towel. “I’m feeling something.”
My friend Octane had been kind enough to let everyone stay at his expansive villa in the old Hollywood neighborhood that sits at the base of the mountain range. It was built way back in the golden age when Hollywood stars drove out to the desert to escape the doldrums of Los Angeles. I believe Audrey Hepburn had been one of the previous owners. Or was it Humphrey Bogart? Alas, I forget.
Anyways . . .
There I was by the pool trying to wipe off all this excess tanning oil, when I proposed the idea, or rather inquired, if we should not hit the casino tonight? I was really feeling it. Sure enough my friends were all in alignment with my casino dream – I had sold it well enough, it seems – and in a few hours were all cleaned up and dressed and making our way downtown at sunset. By then I was working with a pretty nice tan; and Little Apollo was still flying his tiny chariot somewhere out near the Hawaiian islands. Farewell, Little Apollo! Wish me luck!
The downtown casino is about as good as any. It loses no time in taking your money. I was at the ATM the moment I walked through the tinted glass doors, withdrawing everything I had, with exception of a measly sixty bucks in case of emergencies. Pretty soon I’d be a high roller; money was the least of my worries.
I was dressed the part too: pleated black slacks, scrappy black cowboy boots, a snakeskin jacket I pawned off a snake from Singapore, and a well-worn black cowboy hat I had swiped from the head of one of the scraggly faced, drunken good-for-nothings at the Palm Canyon Roadhouse off Palm Canyon Drive. Thus, with the looks of a bandit prince, I did a few circles around the floor, got the lay of the land. I knew I wanted to play blackjack. You get up fast that way. As we walked, Octane kept imploring me to start off at the five dollar tables, take it slow, get into the swing of things. “Nonsense!” I told him, storming off in the direction of the hundred dollar tables. I sat at the one with the slick looking dealer, a true villain. He looked at me skeptically, practically sneered as I sat down in my arrogant way, all puffed up like a marshmallow held over the fire.
I lost it all in five hands. POOF! It was devastating. That sorcerer of a dealer got the best of me. I couldn’t even look him in the eye. I felt like the victim of a huge conspiracy. For a moment I sat there shell shocked, in an upset daze, blinking up at the overhead lights, somewhat nauseous and dizzy. Broke down, busted and betrayed. Finally the dealer made me get up and leave, as I had no more money left to play. This made me furious. Moving toward the entrance in angry sweeping strides, I stopped for a moment and let them all have it:
I’M COMING BACK YOU THIEVES! AND WHEN I DO I’M TAKING YOU ALL FOR EVERYTHING YOU GOT! I’M THE SINGAPORE SNAKE, BABY, AND NOBODY GETS THE BEST OF ME!
Nobody heard me except for the doorman, who looked really confused. I was practically invisible. So I walked back to the villa. All I remember from that walk was that it felt like the whole world was laughing at me. Even the automobiles giggled as they sped down the main drag. It was pitiful. And it wasn’t any better when I got back. I slept like a demon – sweating, gasping, tossing and turning all night. I kept having these awful nightmares. The only one I’m able to recall goes something like this: I’m driving this slick car along a dusty old desert road at sundown, I’m really punching it. I’ve got somewhere to be . . . If I can just get there I’ll be . . . – when all of the sudden this great big snake goes slithering across the road way up ahead, a serpent of death. I jammed the brakes, SSCCCCRREEECHH, swerved to the left, the right, the left again, spun out a few times and smashed into a cactus grove, in a big mushroom cloud of dust and smoke. The crash didn’t kill me because I kept right on dreaming. I dreamt that I sat by the side of the road all distraught, not knowing what to do about anything. So I called my mom. “Hey mom. I crashed my car in the middle of the desert. Think you could give me a ride?” She told me to beat it.
The next day we took it nice and easy: More tanning oil, croquet on the lawn, splash in the pool. Salami, provolone, white wine and oysters au gratin.
“You going to be OK?” Octane wanted to know, picking a piece of salami out of his front tooth.
“I’m OK baby. I’m a million and twenty bucks. I’m going back into that joint tonight and I’m taking them for all they got. After tonight I’m flying to Monte Carlo . . . I’ll break them as well. The world is my oyster!”
“Didn’t you spend all your money?”
“I got sixty bucks left. For emergencies.”
Later that evening we went back to the casino. Pleated pants. Boots. Hat. Snakeskin. ATM. Sixty bucks withdrawn. I went and sat at the fifty dollar blackjack table. And guess who was dealing? I’ll give you a hint – he was mean looking, beady eyed, and about as greasy as a pan of bacon. Yep, that’s who . . . My old friend the dealer . . . that slick old dog . . . he started dealing. And I hit. BOOM! I hit again. BOOM! AndI kept on hitting, baby. One hundred, two hundred, three hundred, five thousand! BOOM BOOM BOOM BOOM BOOM! I was on Cloud 9. I was walking through the fields of Elysium. And before I knew it I was walking out the door with a bag full of cash in my right arm and a runway model in my left. I don’t even know where she came from, nor do I know her name. She just kept giggling.
“What’s it gonna be doll?” I asked the model. “Steak dinner? Swordfish?”
“You tell me baby . . .”
“Swordfish it is!”
And we walked to this wonderful restaurant off main street, happier than two clowns at a circus.
When I woke up the next day I wondered if it was all a dream. If it was, that’s some cruel trick. But it wasn’t. There was the bag of cash. There was the runway model. I put on my speedo and way too much tanning oil and I went for a dip in the pool. Then it was more croquet, salami, provolone, oysters and white wine. At 4 PM Octane was packing his bag by the gazebo.
“Where you goin Tane? You got business?”
“Puerto Rico. What about you?”
“I’m thinkin about stayin in Palm Springs a few more nights. Grab a room at the Viceroy.”
“Sounds nice. You’re looking pretty flush.”
“Well good luck brother. Make sure you lock the door on your way out.” And Octane left just like that.
Around sundown I went back to the casino. I was really feeling it. I sat down at the five hundred dollar blackjack table and the runway model stood behind me with her arm resting on my shoulder. I ordered two mezcal negroni’s. We were swimming, and I was still winning. Then something very strange happened. The dealer I was working with, a really nice guy, was getting off his shift for the night and they brought in this new guy. I’ll bet you could guess who it was . . . My old friend, that dirty chump, THE DEALER. I lost my entire bag in seven hands. POOF! The model slapped me across the face and stormed off. I was flabbergasted. Shell shocked. I couldn’t even remember my first name. This European guy sitting next to me, a guy in a bright yellow tuxedo, was simultaneously patting me on the back and waving this giant oriental fan in my face. I was that gassed. Slowly, carefully, I stood up and started limping toward the payphone. I bummed twenty-five scents off a waitress and called the only person who’s ever loved me. She picked up the phone:
“Hey Mom. I really need some cash. Think you could help me out?”
She told me to beat it.