The machines, row upon row, rank upon rank, beep, jangle, whir and whoop. I’m in a large city in the western hemisphere, on a continent of the First World, a developed nation, an advanced civilization, so I’m told, a wealthy democracy where the vast majority are literate, with access to libraries, to the wondrous resources that cyberspace offers, to a centuries-old legacy of high culture. And I am in the entertainment capital of the world. Like 19th century cotton mill operatives, the folk here look done to death, as though their lives depend on the coordination of hand and eye, on actions repeated robotically, minute upon minute, hour after hour; they sit still as cadavers, in the hypnotic trance they call being ‘in the zone’. The whims of luck or fate roll out, cartoon images fall into place, lights flash, bells ring, dice tumble and land, cards fall from the dealer’s hand. Cocktails, two for the price of one! Pretty servers prowl the slots and tables. A casino worker told me that a few weeks back a man lost all his money, went lunatic, tore his clothes off and dived into one of the neon-lit ornamental pools to frantically scrape up coins from the cement bottom. Be-jowled, facial skin yellowed, moribund; obese, appareled in ill-fitting knock-down casuals — elasticized for easy toileting; liver-spotted folds of flesh hang from neck and limbs; the halt, the lame and the blind. Well actually not the blind. You don’t need to function well on most dimensions, but you’ve got to be able to see to stay in this line of recreation.
I am not describing you. No. Not at all. You are the exception. You are svelte, youthful, sophisticated. You are slumming for a few days. You can afford to lose and don’t care if you win or not. But you usually win, or break even. You broke the rule book. You glow with health. You shun the escalators. You can run up the stairs. You are the stand out in a swarm of sad sack, pensioned-off, age and sun raddled picked-over semi-invalids. Or you are a voyeur: the kind of person who slows down at a pile up and wonders if the shapes on the stretchers are fatalities; the kind of person who takes a trip to Las Vegas out of morbid curiosity and writes about it.