I feel like it’s cheating a bit to return from a week of no posting with nothing but fluff, but I’m still coming down from vacation mode, so fluff is what you shall get.
And this week’s fluff will, naturally, be Vegas-themed.
So. As Penn Jillette is fond of saying, Vegas is “a town built on bad math.” That’s probably why I like it so much; it feels like home. But I realized something the other day: it’s also a town built on natural egoism and magical thinking. Bad math only gets you halfway there. For an entire city — one with more hotel rooms on a 3-and-a-half-mile stretch of road than there are in any other city in the world — to thrive the way it does on the backs of gambling tourists, you need a combination of bad math and each individual’s deep-down belief that no matter what the odds are, s/he will be the special one who hits the jackpot. Which kinda reminds me of something else, come to think of it. Hmm.
I, of course, fancy myself above all this. I play slot machines for 5 minutes at a time, when I’m on my way to do other stuff, and I play pretty damn conservatively. I plan on losing everything I put into the slots, which is usually not much, and I don’t even know how to play any other casino games. Before we left, people kept asking why we like Vegas so much if we’re not big gamblers, and the best answer I could come up with was, “It’s really shiny.” I like neon lights and bright colors and enormous chandeliers and reflective marble and redonkulous swimming pools and indoor waterfalls and the world’s largest LED display and all the Christmas decorations of downtown Chicago, times 100. And on top of that, I like terrible classic rock and the bleep-bloop-ka-ching noises of casinos and the din of a million different conversations going on at once. Somehow, while a simple trip to Ikea is an ADD nightmare for me, Vegas delights me by overloading every damn one of my senses completely. I can stand still in one spot and find a couple dozen different things available to see, hear, smell, taste*, and touch. (And drink.) All that — plus amazing shows** and good food and no pressure whatsoever to be having a homey family Christmas — is plenty to keep me going back.
And yet, I’ve got a gambling story. On Christmas day, I was fucking on fire at the slots. I’d sit down just long enough to have a smoke, put $5 in with the full expectation of losing it, and walk away with $30. Or $40 or $60. All day, I kept winning far more than I lost, and by the end of the day, I was up $120 — my ticket to Spamalot and a pre-show martini were paid for! Merry Christmas!
Can you see what’s coming here? Naturally, I got cocky. About my ability to play the slots. You know, those machines that require zero skill whatsoever and are designed expressly to take your money? Yeah. I started thinking I was really good at them. I obviously had some natural, quasi-psychic talent for picking ones that would pay out, on top of the good sense to bet very little and cash out every time I won back more than I’d put in. I had a system.
The next day, Al woke up with a horrid man cold and told me to go have fun without him. (I must say, he did sound and look absolutely awful — still does, actually — and since it happened halfway through our vacation, the boy earned at least one heartfelt “Poor little bunny.”) Since we were staying downtown, I had two options. 1) Spend a bundle on a cab to the Strip, where I would then spend another bundle on lunch (everything on the Strip, including sandwiches, is a gazillion times more expensive than downtown, hence our decision to stay downtown), probably go shopping and spend another bundle on clothes I don’t need, maybe ride the roller coaster at New York New York, which would doubtless be another bundle, and then get a cab back. Or 2) stay downtown — which has absolutely nothing but casino hotels, cheap food and drink, and tacky souvenir shops — and put a lot more money than usual into the slots.
Since I’d won so much the day before and probably would have spent just about that much hanging out on the Strip, I decided to go with option 2. At first, I was only going to put in $20 and see what happened. What happened was, I lost $20. So then I said all right, I’ve got a day to kill, and I’m still up $100, so fuck it. I will keep playing with that $100, and quit when I’ve either lost it all or –MUCH more likely, natch! — doubled it.
Go ahead and guess what happened.
That “system” I had for being “good” at slots? Was strictly a 24-hour fluke. The following day, I had no luck whatsoever, and I lost that $120 with sickening speed, without even a new top or a roller coaster ride or a full belly to show for it. And of course, the more I lost, the more desperate I was to keep putting money into the damn machines, because my luck had to change some time, right? I couldn’t lose all day, right? Yeah. I was a total Vegas cliche — except perhaps for the part where I actually did stop after losing the $120 I’d set as my limit.
But you know, as brutal as it was to watch all that money go down the drain (in nickels and quarters, no less) it was a really good lesson for me. Not about gambling — intellectually, I know damn well the casinos couldn’t afford all the shiny lights and redonkulous swimming pools if most people didn’t lose their shirts — but about my own continued vulnerability to magical thinking. If I’d stopped playing after the Christmas day winning streak, I seriously would have gone home believing I have some sort of mystical slot luck that normal people don’t have. SLOT LUCK, y’all. Not poker or blackjack skill, slot luck. Because, you know, I am just that goddamned special.
And it certainly bears repeating: that was very much how I felt a year out from my first major diet, when I was still maintaining a 65-lb. weight loss. Sure, I knew the statistics said that 5 years was the magic number, but that only meant I had to do what I’d already done 4 more times! And since I’d already kept it off for a year, I’d clearly made that all-important lifestyle change that would lead to permanent thinness! I would be in the 5% who kept it off forever! Because I was just that goddamned special.
And the worst part of that was, unlike my slot streak, I didn’t think good luck was the driving force of my “success.” I thought it was effort, skill, sacrifice. I thought it was hard work and determination. I thought I had taken control of my body and would never let myself get fat again, like those chumps who eventually gained it all back. I thought it was all up to me, and I had a system.
Yeah. And I totally have a natural gift for playing the slots, too.
Aaaaanyway. Back to the fluffiness. Shapelings, I want to hear your stories about luck, good or bad. Have you ever won something big? Lost something? Stumbled onto a terrific opportunity? Stumbled out of one? If luck was involved one way or another, tell us all about it.
As for me, I did have one tremendous stroke of luck in Vegas: I did not get Al’s cold, and so far (knock wood) don’t see any suggestion that I will get it. Thank the fates, and the makers of Airborne, for that. It’s a Christmas miracle.
* I actually ate, for the sole purpose of blogging about it, a deep-fried Twinkie. Do you see what I do for you guys? It was, shockingly, not as gross as it could have been — because they batter the whole thing, so the outside was just like a funnel cake. And I enjoy the funnel cakes. But the Twinkie part? Was pretty fucking nasty. Also, they put so much powdered sugar on top, I was seriously coated in it, head to toe, by the time I gave up on the thing halfway through. (Which might have had something to do with standing in the street, eating it with my hands, drunk off my ass. Though it seems to me that’s the only acceptable way to eat a deep-fried Twinkie.) Neither Al nor I had a camera with us at that point, which is a shame, because that might have been the greatest Stereotypical Fat Girl moment of my entire life: standing on Fremont Street, stuffing a deep-fried Twinkie in my face, with a light dusting of powdered sugar all over my body. I don’t think I will ever top that.
** Cirque du Soleil’s KA — which I ended up seeing with one of my high school BFFs, who lives in Vegas, because Poor Little Bunny was down for the count at that point — was fucking MINDBLOWING. Not only worth every penny, but worth at least twice as much as we paid for it. And that’s the kind of thing that makes Vegas awesome even if you’re not a gambler. As aforementioned HSBFF — who lived in Manhattan for a decade — said, you can go to Broadway and fight the crowds in Times Square and see an impressive production in a very nice theatre, or you can go to Vegas and see a fucking SHOW. If any Shapelings are headed out that way, I highly recommend KA (though I will warn you there’s a female character in a fat suit who’s portrayed as being clumsier than the others, which naturally annoyed the shit out of me, but the rest was so friggin’ good, even I was willing to overlook that).