This past weekend I was roped into going to one of California’s Native American gambling casinos, to help celebrate a family member’s birthday with a dinner. [Note: This is not quite the same as donning tux & tails to toss millions down on the tables at Monte Carlo’s Gran Baccarat Salon, but it was probably at least as instructional]. Before I continue, though, let me apologise in advance to any of you who favor games of chance, since what follows was tappity-tapped out on the keyboard bereft of kid gloves, and more often than not with digits lightly dipped beforehand in a finger-bowl filled with Sulfuric Acid.
I myself am not, nor have I ever been, a person of the gambling persuasion. This means that not only do I not normally go to what passes for bourgeoisie California gambling houses, I don’t even buy occasional lottery tickets, or play bingo at Saint Pederast’s Catholic Church. I don’t bet on horses (especially fillies named ‘Hoof Hearted’), engage in football (or soccer) pools, wager in Fantasy Football games, or buy Lotto scratchers at the local newsstand. In short, I am not a person who trusts in fate to deliver the goodies. In that strictly circumscribed context, I am a consecrated, card-carrying inheritor of the Western Empirical tradition, a practitioner of logic, mathematics, and hard science, and about as far removed from any tendency towards belief in the occult arts as one could possibly be.
In light of the above facts, for me to enter a conventional gambling casino willingly and of my own accord (that is, unprompted, uncoerced, or sans obdurate duress) is about as likely as Nicole Smith’s clone wanting to marry me for my bazillions. Thus it was that I suddenly found myself roped unawares, bound, hogtied, trussed up, blindfolded, gagged, and otherwise rendered unable to resist; next thing I knew, I was popped in the front seat of a Lexus with blacked-out windows and forceably removed from my comfortable and accustomed haunts to accompany the extended family to the Thundering Buffalo Indian Gambling Casino.
The occasion was a birthday. The honoree, rounding the full century mark, was being feted with a dinner at this particular casino, after which I was informed some slot machine molestations were likely to be performed. Fair enough, conceptually speaking, but of course it’s hard to resist when a tribe of vicious and only half-civilised domestic relatives have kidnapped you to accompany them against your will and are bearing you away through the jungle of symbolic social iniquities to their favored alter of financial sacrifice.
First, however, we had to navigate the ribbons of concrete riddled with 4-lane exchanges leading to treacherous suburban byways and through endless crackerbox bedroom communities to get to this place and since we were traveling in a new Lexus ‘crossover’ vehicle (note: popular term for a small, stylish 4-wheel drive vehicle that combines the utility of an SUV with the frugal economy of a compact vehicle). I call ‘em SLUFs, for Small Little Utility F**ker, but it helps, you can think of them as a Scandinavian automobile that has undergone a sex-change. Naturally enough we had to use the vehicle’s on-board GPS linked navigational system (a $5000 “available” option).
After a short while I managed to convince them to untie me, since as the only male passenger, there was only myself who was equipped by nature to muddle through any of the beast’s complex mechanistic mysteries without ever having to read manuals or stop to ask for help programming the blasted thing. Thus I simultaneously tried to establish a Vulcan mind-meld with the GPS device as I twiddled knobs, twisted controls, scrolled through sub-menus, and invoked various deities under my breath in order to otherwise make some sense out of how the on-board GPS nav system was supposed to work. Lotsa luck!
In the course of about 30 minutes of serious befuddlement, I learned of a number of arcane businesses, entertainment entities, leisure organisations, and commercial establishments across the country, all with strangely variegated variations on “Thunder Buffalo” (including one particularly amusing place named “Thunder Thighs Weight Loss Clinic” in New Haven Connecticut, and another called the “Thudder Falls” Sky Diving Center in Ely, Nevada). Alas, not a single “Thunder Buffalo Casino” among them. About half way through this electronic maze I began to have strong suspicions that this wasn’t really an on-board navigational system at all, but a cleverly disguised Irish intelligence test!
By the time I finally exhausted all the various program combinations, search entries, and submenu headings, we were rolling onto the massive concrete lake that serves as a parking lot for this gambling Mecca. So much for the necessity of buying expensive $5000 options like this on your new Lexus to help you find out where you are going. Great way to keep the kids engaged, so as to spare ma & pa the usual screeches of background boredom angst, and keep them out of trouble en route, I reckon, but absolutely hopeless in terms of expediting an intelligent (and earnest) search for your driving destination’s geographical whereabouts.
Next came the interesting activity I like to call XX Parking Lot Capers, which involves sitting passively (and helplessly) by while the female driver of the vehicle expends a vast amount of time in a diligent effort to find exactly the RIGHT parking place (in a lot that is simply teeming with empty spaces). This unusual and fascinating game involves driving past a number of likely places because they aren’t close enough to the building, selecting and deselecting other likely spaces for various imperfections (such as being too close to a group of outlaw Harley bikes, having a battered pick-up truck on the right side, bad Feng Shui, saddling a drainage grill, etc.), hoping that by driving aimlessly around in a circle through the lot, someone will leave who is parked 3 feet closer to the entrance, and a whole host of other maneuvers. I have been told, although I cannot vouch with any certainty for the truth of the notion, that one of the chief aims of these parking lots jaunts is to progressively drive the XY passengers on board stark raving mad. Fortunately for me, my last pre-frontal lobotomy redo-job safely extended my sanity limits beyond those we exceeded that evening, and after what seemed like hours, the Lexus—somewhat paradoxically-- finally shuddered to a stop somewhere in the midst of the Porsche Parking Area (the Porsche Parking Area is that area of most remote and distal proximity to any vehicles that look suspiciously older than one year, and is usually found at the opposite polar extremity from the entrance of whatever establishment you seek to enter). It’s probably as well that, while they (the women on board) had begrudgingly removed my manacles (so I could play with the nav system), my gag had been left in situ, thereby stifling any howls of manly frustration or encroaching bellows of male rage that might have otherwise been manifest during this parking-lot-reentry circus act in reference.
At any rate, after the vehicle was finally parked, everyone piled out and I numbly followed the others to the strangely gaudy appearing edifice that comprised the United Auburn Indian Community’s den of addictive betting iniquity (AKA: The Thunder Buffalo Gambling Casino).
The exterior decorations seem to consist of an unholy synthesis between something Frank Lloyd might have come up with (while spaced-out on Peyote buttons) and one of Julia Morgan’s rejected Native American Hunting Grounds tableaus that were originally designed for inclusion at William Hearst’s San Simeon palace. At least it seems reasonable to assume that somewhere between these two polar extremes, a sort of edificial symbiosis MIGHT have been achieved (provided you were yourself suitably stoned out on some good Maui-Wowie pacalolo), but regrettably as I approached, I was absolutely stone-cold sober and as straight as the wrought-iron arrow a nearby concrete Indian was aiming at some passably real-looking grazing deer, made of stucco. I have no doubts in my mind at all that seeing something of this sort bereft of the soothing effects of the strongest grade of Indian Agency firewater might well have prompted Chief Sitting Bull to go on a terminal warpath with ALL palefaces, or possibly even encourage the normally sober Nez Perce Indians to sever all connections with the Crazy Horse Chapter of the Great American Indian Brotherhood’s Temperance League. It surely was a snorter of a sore eyeful, grotesquely bathed as it was in the multi-hued glare of dozens of psychedelic spotlights and what appeared to be WWII surplus anti-aircraft spotlights.
At the entrance, an interesting cluster of individuals were gathered, arrayed in all sorts of postures and engaged in chatting, playing grab-ass, or simply bellowing aimlessly into cell phones that seemed to have taken root in their ears. Most were also smoking, of course, and this should have served as a precursor teaser warning to alert me to the virtual chemical warfare attack that assaulted us as we entered the doors of the place. Talk about ‘going up in smoke’. Gaak! Entering that place was probably not unlike what I would imagine stepping off the 7th level of Dante’s hell into the Inferno must be like, given the clouds of volcanic gas that rolled over us like some ‘pea-souper’ of a San Francisco Bay fog. “Welcome to Hadesl”, I thought to myself.
Along with the green clouds of cigarette fog that grasped us immediately in their roiling smoky clutches, the next most noticeable effect was the overwhelming onslaught of idiot slot machine tunes that together formed a sort of cacophonous and unceasing backdrop drone of white noise.
Immediately we entered, all possibilities of normal conversation ceased, given this antiphonal din. Fortunately, I quickly discovered that exaggerated facial expressions were almost as effective as actual attempts to communicate verbally over all that colossal hubris, but it was clear that at this point it was every sinner for himself and the devil take the hindmost as we walked down the fluorescent neon rows, gaping at the strange graphics to be found on all the slots with luridly cute names like ‘Froggie the Flogger’, ‘I Dream of Jeannie’, and ‘Prescott’s Pendulum’.
Soon we had worked through the main (smoke-filled) gaming area and found the restaurant area where we were to eat. This consisted of a semi-circular arena that filled the entire right wall of the casino, containing at least 9 or 10 individual ‘ethic specialty’ buffets. The idea was that you pay your standard dinner price, after which they seat you. Then they turn you loose on all that food with the idea that you thereupon gorge yourself until you’re sick (in grand gourmand tradition). Not quite as bad as the vomitarium concept that was so fashionable back in ancient Rome, but about as close to it as you could safely approach in modern times, I reckon.
I filled up one plate rather modestly and returned to our table, glancing about at all the wildly dissimilar individuals about us with the unabashed wonderment of a wide-eyed Alice in the court of the Red Queen. On our left we had a group of bikers—not quite real Hells’ Angels (read: doctors, attorneys, stock brokers, and other elite members of economic society who could still afford those wildly expensive cast-iron hogs), but close enough. Despite their lack of authenticity, these were clearly somewhat up-scale bikers, for it seemed that every possible accessory they wore had the Harley-Davidson logo conspicuously emblazoned upon it, including their boots, chaps, headbands, jeans, wristwatches, necklaces, jackets, cell-phone cases, sunglasses, wallets (on chains, naturally), tattoos, and what have you. It wouldn’t have surprised me if the biker molls even wore black denim H-D thongs and had “H-D” tattooed on the inside of their eye lids. When you are as status-starved as folks of this pedestrian caliber are, all this H-D logo stuff constitutes pretty high fashion, y’see. Forget the solid gold Presidential DateJust Oyster Rolex, dudes.....we got Harley watches, yeah!
On the opposite side of our table was seated an elderly couple that looked as if they had just left an evangelical revival camp-meeting. Their physical toothpick thinness and severe aestheticism contrasted bizarrely with the monumental stacks of food slathered on their multiple plates, but that only made the heavy silver crucifix around the woman’s neck more noticeable as they gobbled down mass quantities of carbs, observing the very best of SNL ‘Conehead’ manners. Skinny birds of ‘pray’, perhaps; glutinously hungry buzzards, definitely.
Scattered just about everywhere else were a substantial number of the most morbidly obese couples I have ever seen—either in or out of the hospital clinics. Some of these BurgerKing whoppers who were having it their way must have weighed in at a good 400 pounds if they weighed an ounce. What struck me as truly sad about them was the fact that rarely that evening did you ever see a couple comprising one Skinnifer and one Fattipuff: the norm was more like fat-on-fat. They even waddled together in unconscious synchronization. Perhaps fat attracts more fat in the same manner iron is drawn by electromagnetic force? Perhaps grossly fat people like other grossly fat people, or perhaps it is that when you’re that huge, the only other people who can stand to be near you are also accustomed to a similar body type? Who knows? What was clear was that they couldn’t all be victims of hereditary genetic anomalies! I rather suspect that good old fashioned gluttony was the primary culprit there.
It made me reflect on the fact that any nation in which these ‘all-you-can-gorge-on’ eateries are practically a constitutionally endowed institution (coexisting concurrently on a planet with many other nations in which millions of people were quite literally starving to death for lack of basic nutritional intake, in pandemic famines), was destined to fall as surely as any grand empire the world has ever seen in the past 4000 years of recorded history. The thought of all these incredibly obese individuals obscenely stuffing their faces with enough food for 10 people quite nearly made me nauseous, as I continued to be mesmerized by this massive display of gluttony that was going on around us. The final straw was a 500 pound Petunia nearby who had finished several plates full of food and was now working her way through a plate piled with several slices of New York style cheese cake and no less than 6 crème puffs! Gaak!
Somewhat in the manner that a proper British Colonial Army Officer would have been deliciously repulsed (in a detached sort of way) by the sight of masses of starving people dying on the streets of Calcutta, several centuries ago, I found myself morbidly fixated by all of the grossly excessive carbo-abuse going on about me. It was a scene of American wretched excess that Michael Moore would surely have seized upon for use in one of his book chapters (had he not also been an endomorph with baby blimp tendencies himself!).
Meanwhile I continued to look around at the faces of this mixed menagerie of casino visitors, finding myself wondering at the mean deficit of social fulfillment conferring awareness they possessed that enabled them to think that sullenly pulling slot-machine handles for hours upon end in smoky lobbies constituted actualized personal reward! The faces they wore spoke volumes about histories of divorce, alcohol abuse, hopelessness, cigarette addiction, poor gene pools, lack of education, ambition, diminished lifestyle perceptions, spiritual destitution, and severely limited reflective insight into what is desirable in life and what isn’t.
Cheap, slimy, sleezy, fast, common, inconsequential, vapid, empty—words that would fit all these dregs too well, were it not for the fact that these were all people, all human beings, and all souls not dissimilar to me in their most basic parameters. This awareness made me reflect considerably on the ironies of life and the uniform sadness that all human beings are burdened with, while at the same time I had to try hard to check a welling sense of disdain within me for their collective social worthlessness and their lack of higher aspirations. Yeah, I know…I’m sometimes an extremely snobby and condescending son of a bitch. It’s probably my worst quality.
Finally, the buffet feeding frenzy stopped and ‘the family’ got up to go pull a few slot handles. Once again we wandered about, me feeling more like an alien extraterrestrial taking anthropological field notes on the Earth’s primitive ‘higher life forms’ than a sappy human creature filled with boozy bon homme and out for a good time among my fellow Neanderthals. It didn't escape my notice that a $20 bill I had given to our aging 'auntie' being feted scored a jackpot win of $300 on my twenty. [Contrast this inexplicable good fortune to the last bet I recall ever having made, of $200 on the black & red roulette option: I lost. Odds and outcomes like that are, needless to say, the story of my life!]
It was probably as well that everyone eventually headed out the door when they did, since despite the awesome 30,000 cubic feet per hour of air-conditioning suction generated by the casino’s HVAC system, constantly pulling all that smoke out, after only a brief exposure to all the fanatical nictotine addicts sucking insanely away on their personal air pollution of choice, one can’t help but start to feel a bit like a fortunate soul who has barely escaped a Nazi gas chamber by a scant hair’s margin.
Speaking of that (smoking), I spent the better part of 35 years in the medical field as a technical pulmonologist working with lung disease and its victims. Early in my career I strove valiantly to get the message across that smoking (of any sort, whether cigarettes, cigars, ‘hookahs’, or Cannibus) is a surefire, one-way ticket to chronic lung disease. I conducted public screening seminars on occasion, assessing individuals’ breathing abilities with simple diagnostic lung tests such as the ‘flow-volume loop’, ‘spirometry’, and ‘Forced Vital Capacity’, in order to spot early indications of permanent changes in lung function. I even resorted to somewhat graphic evidence of the changes effected by long-term exposure to pulmonary irritants (read: cigarette smoke, etc.), using frozen sections of actual lung tissue from deceased individuals to make this point (fresh and healthy lung tissue is pink and spongy; severely diseased and destroyed lung tissue is literally carbon-black and riddled with gaping holes). It amazed me to find that no matter how hard I proselytised, most smokers stubbornly still refused to give up the habit, let alone objectively reflect on the hazards of their habit. Finally, I just gave up, realizing that smoking is far too complex a form of self-abuse to be able to rationally coax someone out of, using ordinary logic. Like most self-defeating habits favored by human beings (substance abuse, alcoholism, smoking, gambling, severely deviant sexual behavior, etc.), the intricately convoluted and interconnected psychological and chemical aspects of these practices render them particularly resistant to ‘redemption’ and recovery efforts by ordinary means.
After a certain point in that aspect of my former professional work, I eventually came to regard all those poor smoking souls puffing madly away on cigarettes as convincing circumstantial evidence that Mother Nature is continuously at work in the background, trying hard to clean up the human gene pool. Believe me, I came across some pathetic cases, too. One particular fellow who had end-stage Chronic Obstructive Lung Disease (brought on by years of cigarette smoking) was actually so far gone that he couldn’t survive without receiving constant supplemental oxygen at a rate of about 4 liters per minute. Now, obviously oxygen and a lighted flame are more than a tad incompatible, from a safety standpoint, and even the dullest school boy should know that. This poor patient, however, was so hopelessly addicted to his chain-smoking that he would sneak puffs while the nasal cannula delivering the oxygen to his nose was taped in place. To say he suddenly EXPLODED one day, while sitting there on the bed, is not exaggerating the outcome of that terribly negligent act. It was probably one of the worst moments I’ve ever experienced in all those years of working with acutely ill patients!
At any rate, we finally all headed back to the Lexus smelling like we’d been standing in the midst of a burning tobacco field for days, and again manually vectored home, since the GPS nav system still managed to defy any rational user-understanding.
As I sit here, reflecting back on this experience, I am thankful yet again that I had the fortune to be raised by parents who understood the difference between healthy personal habits and those that are not...moreover, that I had parents who cared about me enough to take the time to constantly teach me by both direct example and consciousness raising about what personal habits and attitudes constitute a positively fulfilled life and what does not. As a consequence, I do not smoke, don’t drink (more than a glass or so with meals, on rare occasions), don’t abuse drugs, don’t gamble, and have a more-or-less kindred regard for the sanctity of all organic life, whether human or non-human (read: “animals” by the conventional definition). My only serious failings are pretty much limited to the fact that I continue a life-long habit of being a sucker for a beautiful, startlingly intelligent woman, and I am still (despite all my painful pseudo-intellectualizations) as much governed by my ‘other brain’ as I am by my cerebral one, heh-heh.
My opinion therefore is that people who smoke, drink to excess, abuse drugs or substance of any sort, gamble, or are mean-spirited for any reason are all a vast bunch of losers that I am better off not associating with. That having been said, if I tend to look down a bit on people who do engage in those unhealthy habits alluded to above, please forgive this critical nit-picking, since I am well aware of the fact that to be human is by nature to be weak, unreliable, unpredictable, frustratingly inconsistent, prone to failed promise, and hypocritical. At least my personal hypocrisy is limited in terms of the damage it can do to my life and physical health! Hopefully to yours, as well!
Be well, thrive, and forget about those (American Indian) gambling casinos that Governor Arnold Schwartzenegger believes will provide the financial wherewithal to bail California out of its grossly deficit budget problems. I can’t think of a worse way to spend time that could otherwise be invested in joyful, healthful life activities.
Oh yes, and in the event you had any lingering doubts about my qualifications for being so effetely hypercritical of my fellow humming beans, I also plan (at some unannounced time and date) to die for your sins and resurrect myself three days later.