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On the long list of things I just don't get in life, gambling occupies a position near the top. It isn't that I have some moral objection to gambling, I just don't get the attraction or why anyone would consider it a good time. It is obvious to me that it is a mathematical black hole and if the odds were not overwhelmingly stacked against you casinos would not be such a profit making business and crime syndicates wouldn't be so fond of them. I once met a police officer in New York City who told me that all bookies drive fancy cars and send their kids to college. There is a reason gambling falls under the Vice Squad.
Considering that I find gambling such an incomprehensible waste of time, it surprised me when a group of my friends asked me to join them one evening for an outing to a small casino. I was somewhat confused at the invitation until someone mentioned the fact that I also don't really drink. Clearly, they wanted a designated driver who would be not only sober, but also didn't lose their shirt and get so depressed that they drove into a ditch. It was actually a pretty good plan on their part but I politely refused, pointing out that as fond of them as I was, I didn't exactly relish the thought of sitting around in a noisy casino for hours drinking iced tea while they got happily hammered and lost their money. In the end they played the friendship card, which I thought was a bit like cheating, and I agreed to be their designated nanny for the evening. When we arrived at the casino one of them handed me a 20 dollar bill and told me that they had decided amongst themselves that the way to deal with the fact that they were feeling a little guilty about blackmailing me into an evening of boredom and misery was to give me the money to gamble with. Then, all smiles and clear consciences, they headed into the den of iniquity.
The casino was like all casinos, crowded, noisy, lit up like Satan's version of Christmas, and decorated by someone they had sprung from an insane asylum for the weekend. Miraculously, I was able to purchase a cup of tea in the adjoining restaurant and I took it with me to the darkest, quietest corner I could find to vegetate until my friends became poor or lost the ability to stand upright, whichever came first. I took out my little notebook I always carry in which I sketch interesting things I see or write down my impressions of things while they are fresh in my mind and began to scribble in what I thought was solitary peace. I suddenly noticed that something large and dark was looming above me and looked up to find a man roughly the size of Mt. Etna blocking my view of pretty much everything. He had one of those ear bud things stuck in his ear with a wire that disappeared into his suit. He looked exactly like what he was, a thug in a nice suit. I wondered briefly if the resident thugs had a wardrobe mistress. The mountain spoke.
“Excuse me, Mam,” he rumbled, “I'm going to have to ask you to surrender that notebook.”
I was momentarily perplexed. What on earth was the gorilla on about? And 'surrender' my notebook? Really? Who wrote this guy's dialogue.
“I get it.” I said, all wide-eyed innocence. “You think I might be working out some brilliant mathematical formula to count cards or that I'm drawing a schematic of the casino to give to George Clooney so he and his buddies can use it later to rob the joint. Good thinking,” and I handed him the notebook.
He looked through it carefully, his enormous brow furrowed with concentration. When he developed a small frown I assumed that he had read the part where I said that the décor of the casino looked like some alien had eaten Louis XIV and Elvis and then vomited up the result. He handed me back the notebook and told me that I would have to put it away. I smiled at him sweetly, put the notebook back in my purse, waved my $20 bill at him and said that I felt so badly about worrying him that I was going to immediately go and voluntarily throw my money into the money-sucking vortex of the slot machines just to show how sorry I was. Oddly, the plan sort of backfired on me since no matter how hard I tried, I kept winning and walked away $80 dollars richer. Weird. Even weirder was the fact that after I sat down with my modest profit, I suddenly made some friends I didn't even want. Three people came and sat down with me at different times, a young woman, a really handsome guy, and a lovely old lady who looked like someone's grandmother. They were all friendly, talked about how much money they had won, and attempted to convince me to go back to the machines and double my winnings. I knew that casinos hired these kind of undercover operatives to entice people to go back and gamble more, but for $80? That's cab fare to these guys. I decided that the walking cruise ship in the nice suit was just mad at me for being a smarty pants. It didn't work. In the end I took my $80 and my inebriated and poorer friends, went home, and spent some of my winnings on a nice new notebook.
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