Casinos are a waste of space. They prey on the middle class and the poor and the gullible. They provide no benefit for the money you spend. You can waste your time any way you like, and most methods give you something back. You drop $15 at a movie theater, and you get to see a movie. You spend $10 at a deli, and the deli gives you a sandwich. Even strip clubs: you spend a few bucks at a hoochie bar and you get to look at some drug addict's beaver.
Casinos aren't like that. You spend money at a casino and get nothing back except a dose of psychological manipulation that persuades you to spend more money to win back the money you just lost. Pointless fantasy.
So Nik & I went to Foxwoods.
It's a "resort casino," a huge Disneyland-like place in The Middle of Fucking Nowhere, Connecticut. We'd never been before. Within a few minutes of arriving I was confused, mainly because the layout of the place is (by design) maze-like. It felt like there were booby traps everywhere. I didn't know where to park the car, or where to go afterward, and I got the impression that if we stood by fake waterfalls or statues too long someone would come by and beg for a quarter.
Mostly, we were impressed by how closely everything resembled lazy stereotypes from movies. The cliches really are true -- all of them. There really are a fuck-ton of senior citizens and mean-looking Asian ladies in high-waisted white pants at the casino. There really are wheelchairs and Rascals and walkers and disabled-person-locomotion-apparatus of every type crowded by the banks of slots. You really do sometimes see these same people walk just fine without those devices. The place really is full of monstrously obese people. They really are lining up outside the buffet. People really do talk to the machines. Every surface really is glittery. There really are groups of people, some in cowboy hats, crowded around craps tables while some lady blows on the dice. We really did see clusters of obvious bachelors greased up and strutting, and really did see throngs of Woo Women on a Girls Night Out drinking some kind of clearly pomegranate-based cocktail. There really are people sleeping on benches. There really are middle-aged couples fumbling at ATMs with shaky fingers.
Having entered rooms, we couldn't find our way out again because everything was the same everywhere. Foxwoods has several mini-casinos inside, each with some vaguely Indian name designed to give the place a faux-historical context, but fuck if I could tell the difference. Each one has the same slot machines, the same tacky carpet, the same signs advertising whore-like the "Loosest Slots in Connecticut," the same elderly people in loose-fitting dry-wipe clothes tooling around on scooters and mindlessly feeding SSI-check money into uncaring machines. This is the fucking robot apocalypse, I thought. Man is slave to machine. No joy in their faces. I was suffocated by tackiness, despair, and cigarette smoke. I forgot what it was like to be inside a building where they let people smoke. Remind me to give you a lecture someday on why cigarettes are a tool of the wealthy to keep the underclasses sick and poor.
We played some slot machines to see if we could figure out the appeal and lost $15 in less than 3 minutes. Eventually, after I breathed into a paper bag for a while, we tried a few other machines and actually got lucky for a while -- then we'd lose that, too. All told we lost $65, but at no point were we ever ahead of that figure. We'd lose most of it and be on the brink of losing all the cash, then win back about half, which teased us (me, more like) into playing more and eventually losing the rest of it. Logically, I know that slot machines have the worst payoffs in any casino, and that you're more likely to win back money at the table games. But those were intimidating, the stink of hopelessness wafting off the players more pungent, the (imagined, by me) threat of pickpockets at Orange Level. Behind us at one point, I heard a lady shout "All right! WOO!" I turned around and saw that she was looking at someone else's video screen and was cheering because that lady just won five free spins. Holy shit, I thought. "WOO" means you get to watch someone else be stuck in front of a machine hitting a button five more times? THAT'S what you're clinging to?
There must've been hundreds of different slot machines with differently themed reels: fish, mammals, dinosaurs, tropical fruit, seasonal fruit, decks of cards, gems, lobsters, Monopoly, The Godfather, Sex and the City, Lord of the Rings. We stuck with your standard cherries-sevens-and-bars three-reeler machine, mostly because they had physical reels and handles instead of video screens and Spin buttons, and that seemed more fun because it was old-timey.
We looked around and Nik said, "You know what's weird? Nobody looks happy here." Everyone I saw was just sitting there hitting the "Max Bet" and "Spin" buttons one after the other like it was repetitive factory work. Couples looked silently upset for some reason. But strangely, even surrounded by all this fucking financial and emotional agony and $65 down, Nik & I had a great time. I'm a depressive miserable fuck, but I can have a great time with my wife anywhere doing anything. Instead of using two machines, we both stuck to the same machine and kept switching off when one of us started losing. I didn't see anybody else doing that. Mostly because it's goofy. Also, it was like being an astronaut and landing on a planet home to a thriving civilization partially merged with technology to supplement people's atrophied limbs and where the inhabitants subsist on a steady intake of nicotine, ethyl alcohol, false hope, and oxygen delivered in tank form. I find that fascinating, the way kids like ant farms.
We didn't end up at Foxwoods to study the psychology of gambling. We went to see comedian Marc Maron at Comix, the comedy club there. I've followed his stuff on and off since he hosted Short Attention Span Theater on Comedy Central in the '90s. He hosts the podcast WTF, which is essential listening if you like comedy (or the creative process as it applies to any artistic medium). His set was pretty brilliant, and included a bit about how he feels about casinos -- which as it turns out is exactly the same way we do. After the show I was tempted to step up and tell him this, but decided I didn't want to bother him -- a reflex I have with almost all celebrities since this one time in college when I met David Mamet and said, "Uhh!" and nothing else.