This should tell you everything you need to know about my ideas relating to casino games.
Years ago, the missus and I were taken on a Caribbean cruise. (I so wish I had the photo they took of us when we boarded. You see most guys in sunglasses and a tropical shirt and you think of Jimmy Buffet; put me in that outfit and it's more Charles Willeford.) I hadn't slept well in the last few nights, and Vicodin wasn't enough to ease my back pain. I left the missus to slumber on our foam mattress (there is a distinct dorm quality to cruise life at a certain economic level), and went out ostensibly in search of a drink, but was more interested in prowling, in establishing a sense of the territory I'd be inhabiting for the next span of time.
In those days, my preference was a shot and a beer, the shot brown and the beer dark. I found a bar that gave me Knockando and Guiness that was better than any I'd had in my life -- there was no point in comparing it to what I'd had before.
After drinking, I wandered and let things percolate through the tubes. There was a casino on the ship; looking back, I wish I'd paid attention to whether or not it kicked into action on crossing the international line.
This was all very new to me; to exist in these kinds of surroundings made me feel as though I'd stumbled into a Sears catalog from the seventies. It was way disco.
Are you familiar with H.R. Giger? His visions of industrial body shock in which flesh and technology grew together, intermeshed, had previously seemed to me to be most perfectly realized in intensive care wards.
I changed my mind when I saw people working the slot machines.
I'm going to go into this further when I do my little routine on the science of storytelling, but the structures in the brain that moderate pleasure and pain are not the same. It is entirely possible to experience both at the same time, as we all know.
There is one point of connection between these circuits. And that is the structure in the brain that feels significance.
Bitter and sweet. Salty and sour. You get more than one thing involved at a time, and it's more interesting.
The lights were shaded in fake Tiffany (if you don't connect Tiffany with disco, congratulations on having missed the seventies), casting a comforting, olde-time look to things, red and amber and green. The floor was covered in short-pile carpet, the kind you can clean if something wet gets on it.
It was the people on the slots that got to me. If you've ever seen one of Giger's airbrushed paintings of one fetus after another arranged in a tube-fed, machine-gun armed mosaic, their gelatinous flesh rotting at the fringes, the disconnected expressions on their faces those of people on the lip of sleep...
Pull. Pull. Pull.
And because each pull cost money and each pull carried the possibility of plenty, their hands grew into hooks, one arm withered and one arm swelled, their brains were stroked into addiction one tug at a time....
Pull. Pull. Pull.
They were not happy people. They were vulnerable, and they paid for hope one pull at a time. And who's to say they were wrong? Neurological events are our only reality, and living on the cusp of orgasm might not be the worst way to experience life.
But me? I don't play in casinos, but I say you should play poker. It's noisy, the room is full of people, and drinking is the only way to survive. Why play a game you can understand? Hell, look at this guy at the 2012 WSOP -- those crazy fucks are wearing football outfits with headphones. It makes no sense to me.
Here's the thing about enjoying the casino experience. It's about feeling the sense that there's an element of glamor to one's life, that there is music and spectacle and risk. A lot of people I know are into this, and I have no interest in shitting on their experience.
But you have to understand that you're going to lose. How else does the house make the rent? I don't argue with math and I don't argue with physics.
When I gamble, it's not gambling. I'm spending a certain amount of money for a certain type of experience. If there's a payoff, that's something out of the blue.
That's why I like poker. I sort of get the rules, but I don't understand it. And since I don't understand the game, I have to focus on the people around me.
You can break a serious poker person by playing randomly. You shoot out a cascade of chaos that makes it more and more difficult to understand the terrain.
And yeah, every once in a while I get a good hand, and when I do? My crazy betting patterns fit in with everything I've done before. I lose, I lose, but when I win?
It drives them nuts. They HATE it.
And if I lose? I lose wrong, and they hate that too.
Poker, folks. It puts you in charge of the fun.