Sunday, September 30, 2007

A story and some thoughts.

Play this song. It's fun.

Jens Lekman

Now here's the thing. Gambling is the ultimate obssessive compulsive behaviour -- the ritual is exactly the same each time -- pull the lever, push the button; put down chips, ask for cards, see who wins, lay bets, spin the wheel, etc.. The repetition, along with slightly varying results and occasional big wins gives a suspense/resolution/gratification cycle that's downright addictive.

The other thing is, once your luck turns to the downside, there's that constant, just-beyond-the-fingertips hope that maybe the next hand, the next roll, the next spin, will be the one that turns your luck around. That's how people get in deep.

“Money is a terrible master but an excellent servant”
- P.T. Barnum

I went to a casino last Saturday night. It was a singularly unique experience.

I've never seen such weird energy in a room. Usually, with most leisure activities, and the places where they are done, either 1. it's really low key, all around: people are low energy, and low effort (sitting in a coffee shop or wine bar) or people are active and high energy (sports, etc.). At places like drinking holes or beaches, you can see some of each -- some lazing around or chilling, and others getting excited.

At the casino, everybody was extremely engaged -- their attention was rapt and really focussed -- yet glum and joyless. Usually, if a room is that high-energy, it's because there's some kind of great party going on, and there's a lot of shouting and laughter; at the casino, it was really high energy, yet a little desperate, almost hungry, like foragers in a scrapyard -- not happy, but intent. And people do this as a leisure activity! I think it's because they were all A. sucked into the obsessive-compulsiveness of the thing, and B. had money at stake -- as soon as money's at stake, everybody stops smiling.

It's an amazing racket they run at casinos -- they take your money, pat you on the head on the way out the door, do the Jedi mind trick, and say "You had a good time tonight" -- then they tease you with the good ol' "Maybe you'll get us next time" (but the house always wins).

If you don't have a good sense of when to quit, casinos are a REALLY bad place to be. With alcohol, you'll wreck your body, but it's pretty hard to spend more than $130 on a night of getting trashed, even if you're really ambitious, start early, and drink fancy drinks. Not to say $130 is chump change, but with gambling, there's literally, NO ceiling to how much you can lose in one night (other than your bank card's withdrawal limit + credit card limit).

Also: it reeked of cigarettes.

This was the first time I'd ever been to a casino. Never really felt the wish, and don't really want to return, but it was interesting to add that to my reservoir of life experiences. I'll add it to the list of behaviours that could easily addict me (along with playing EA Sports NHL Hockey videogames and visiting YouTube and social networking websites -- damn facebook!)

But this time, I went with Matt and James, his good friend (a top-shelf, quality guy). They played blackjack for a while, which didn't appeal to me whatsoever, but, after circling the room people-watching, James came to me and suggested we try roulette. Now roulette is a game of purest pure chance -- no skill whatsoever. I decided I was willing to put a small amount of money down for the sake of having the experience of placing a bet (I'm usually not in the habit of throwing my money away, unless I get something delicious in return). I put in 20 000 won (about twenty dollars) and Matt and James each put in ten. Then, I sat down at the table and bet very conservatively, betting a lot of odds or evens, red numbers or black numbers (each bets with about 50/50 odds and a double-your-money payoff -- not much by roulette standards, where guessing the number where the ball lands will give you a 30-1 return) but I wasn't there to blow everything on low-odds betting, so we played small and conservative, and suddenly, went on a tear!

Behind me, Matt and James were getting free drinks (of COURSE a casino gives you free drinks while you're sitting at a table and gambling) standing behind me and laughing and joking, cracking me up while I placed bets, and I rode my beginner's luck as far as it went, laughing all the while at James and Matt's silliness. We had a few really spectacular rolls where we got returns on almost every bet we placed, and Matt and James got into the action by laying chips on the table once we had a bit of a lead. Later, when our luck ran out, we figured out that it was turning JUST in time, before we started blowing the big stack of chips we'd accumulated. It was fun as anything, and, while we started with 40 000 won, we peaked at about 230 or 240 000, and then started losing regularly enough to decide it was time to walk away while we were ahead (the hardest thing to do in all of gambling). We cashed out at 190 000 won, nearly a quintuple increase!

So, I've decided I'll never go to a casino again, because there's just no flippin' way I'll ever manage to equal the fun, and the return I had, on my first night, so why bother, really, especially when you're risking hard-earned money.

After we walked away from that table, we went to another one, starting out with another forty, and lost it in about five minutes: we'd obviously rode my beginners' luck as far as it would go. Fair enough.

But it sure was fun as heck, for that one time.

We just had the five day Chuseok vacation: Chuseok is Korean thanksgiving, and it's awesome. Matt and I hiked three mountains during the break, and I got myself addicted to a MUCH better, healthier compulsion: the desire to be on the mountain whenever I have free time. I climbed another mountain today with Matt and his wife Heyjin, and we had a great time. The peak was in a cloud. Fun.

Also, my wonderful lady, Girlfriendoseyo (info about her will be sparse and hint-laden, just because it's fun to be a tease) got back from her conference in New York, and it was sure nice to see her again. She's great. Even when she's exhausted and jetlagging.

PS: just saw this. Ruud Van Nistelrooy, the Dutch soccer star, proves that American basketball players don't have a corner on trash-talking and getting in each other's faces. This made me laugh out loud.

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