Know when to run

Having grown up with pinball machines and a clunky TRS-80 microcomputer, I never acquired much affinity for video games. They existed, of course, mostly as plain text adventures and jerky MS-DOS before stand-alone arcades became a thing, and in nostalgic hindsight seem rather quaint. Their pings and light bulbs and Courier typeface showed thoughtful – and quiet – charm.

I mention this not to get PlayStation or Wii off my lawn, but only in contemplating my adoration of a good casino. There is nothing charming about a casino. Even the best of them reek, either of the grimy desperation and sullied decisions boredom and addiction breed, or the tacky splendor of a stained freak show tent. The Rat Pack days of glamor and excess, when men sported suits, women wore mink, and cigar smoke curled around a Manhattan, have vanished. The only excess in most casinos now, gambling aside, is in white gym shoes and oxygen tanks.

By all means I should despise casinos, yet desire wraps itself around my greedy little vices and I find odd satisfaction among the epileptic frills. I like that at any hour of the day, a casino will be popping with bells, sirens, and grave-digging sighs. Booze is plentiful, as it should be, to balance and fuel the polluted elegance.

Attitude helps, of course. My guy and I enter a casino for entertainment over payout. Stepping past the largely computerized games, the ones with touch screens and 3D graphics and absurd themes like “Coyote Moon” or “Karate Pig,” we find the older dollar machines with mechanical reels and splintered levers. This throwback to my pinball days accommodates my perpetual bourbon buzz and inability to complete simple arithmetic.

This is mostly why I shied away from table games. When Yahtzee can confuse me with its formulas and number calculations, the likelihood of my ever grasping something like craps is slim. The same can be said of Blackjack, another game where my mathematical shortcomings will obliterate a table in an instant. Sitting at a slot machine, I can perform illogical luck rituals in relative private and feel confident in knowing that the number seven is never a bad thing.

But then my guy introduced me to three card poker. The game plays simple yet nuanced enough to make me feel adept, despite all it taking to win in the most basic situation is one card better than the dealer. Players at the table can cease to exist entirely or become temporary companions without ever having relation to another’s win or loss.

We sit and play for an hour’s stretch, drinking in easy comfort and holding court. My guy exudes unflappable confidence and humor, bantering lightly, while I let my deceptive constraint convince the table I’m not holding a straight flush. For that hour I am my own idea of me, at once decadent and deliberate, a full song and not only the fiddle carrying the melody.

If only my games of Oregon Trail had played out so well.

 

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