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Posts Tagged ‘gambling’

The Will to Believe

October 8, 2014 | by

Sitting in on the 2014 Objectivist Conference in Las Vegas.

Las Vegas, Nevada, USA, The Venetian

The Venetian. Photo: Dietmar Rabich

Even on a Monday morning at eight A.M.—an hour ripe for sober reckoning—the greatest lie of Las Vegas endures undiminished: if you keep playing, you’ll eventually beat the house. As I strolled through the Venetian, I saw the familiar ring of mostly young men crowding the aprons of a long line of craps tables. If any moment in Vegas should lend itself to second thoughts for these men, it would’ve been this one, the morning after a boozy weekend of debauchery. Yet the only concession to the occasion were the mimosas hanging pendulously over the Pass Line.

I was late for a different sort of spectacle, so I didn’t stop to watch. The Venetian, by some measurements the largest hotel in the world, had set aside a tranche of its 289 “meeting rooms” for the annual summer conference of the Ayn Rand Institute, an organization founded in 1985, a few years after the death of its namesake, with the express mission of fostering “a growing awareness, understanding, and acceptance of Ayn Rand’s philosophy.”

Open conferences are admirably egalitarian, which makes them something of an awkward format for discussing Objectivism, the name Rand choose for her canon of unalloyed elitism. “The man at the top of the intellectual pyramid contributes the most to all those below him, but gets nothing except his material payment, receiving no intellectual bonus from others to add to the value of his time,” her avatar, John Galt, declares in Atlas Shrugged. Meanwhile, “the man at the bottom who, left to himself, would starve in his hopeless ineptitude, contributes nothing to those above him, but receives the bonus of all of their brains.”

One need not be an honors geometry student to understand where on this pyramid most of us must fall. Throughout her writings, which began with allegorical novels and evolved into a miscellany of short works—speeches, essays, newsletters, and even, for one year, a weekly column for the Los Angeles Times—Rand was an evangelist for an aristocracy of talents. She characterized her aesthetics as “a crusade to glorify man’s existence” and the essence of her philosophy as “the concept of man as a heroic being,” descriptions which, if they mean anything, would lead one to believe an assembly of her acolytes might resemble a cross between a meeting of Phi Beta Kappa and an afternoon among the bodybuilders at Venice Beach. Read More »

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The Jimmy Winkfield Stakes

June 12, 2014 | by

A racetrack in obsolescence.

Racetrack2

Photo: Ilya Lipkin

Every year on the third Monday of January, the Aqueduct Racetrack, in South Ozone Park, Queens, runs a six-furlong race in honor of Jimmy Winkfield. The choice of date, Martin Luther King Day, is not accidental. Of Winkfield’s many accomplishments, which include winning the Russian Oaks an incredible five times for Czar Nicholas II, he is best known as the last black jockey to run a winner in the Kentucky Derby, in 1902.

To be black in the world of horse racing was no easy thing in the early part of the twentieth century. Winkfield, born in Kentucky, had enjoyed a storied career in Russia and France, but when he returned to America he was forced to enter a reception held in his honor through the hotel’s service entrance, with the bellhops and the kitchen staff.

Because of the raw January weather, attendance at the Jimmy Winkfield Stakes is usually rather sparse compared to the bigger events at the height of the racing season. This year, my older brother Ilya and I saw the race completely on a whim—we thought it might be fun to trek out to the Aqueduct like we used to when we were younger. Back then, if the weather was fine, our father would drive us to the track out in Ozone Park, a favorite destination for the unattached men in the neighborhood. Edik from the dry cleaners down the street was a fixture there, as was Pavel, the bartender at the Pennant Sports Bar on Northern, and Parsons, whose brother was an orderly at the elder-care facility where our grandfather died. To me, gaining admission to that world of working men was no less exciting than the races themselves. I watched with great interest as they quaffed beer and studied the odds on the board and cursed when they invariably lost their money. Being a bit older, Ilya had a better sense of what was actually going on. He nagged Pavel until the bartender showed him how to decipher the near-hieroglyphic racing form. The one time my father let him place a bet, we won eighty dollars. It proved to be a red-letter day, because that same afternoon, I fed a carrot to Cigar, the Hall of Fame thoroughbred, just before the first big win of his career. (The Aqueduct now runs a race in his honor as well.) Read More »

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Blinded By the Light

June 9, 2014 | by

The Boss comes to Mohegan Sun.

Bruce Mohegan Sun 3

Room 704 at Mohegan Sun, a gleaming casino and resort hotel on an Indian reservation in Connecticut, has a phone in the bathroom, right next to the toilet, and it’s hard not to wonder what kinds of calls might wriggle down the line. Are they orders for room service? Broadcasts of wins and losses at the slots? Wheezing pleas from depleted souls in search of a semblance of breathable fresh air?

The big picture windows in the room, which is appointed with a luxe king bed and an authoritative TV, are of a type that cannot be opened, and any attempt at Mohegan Sun to venture outside among earthly elements is met with a kind of bewildered disdain. The best you can do is to sit out on a bench by the carport, where valets prevail. If you have a car, they will gladly park or retrieve it for you. If you want to simply sit and take in the evening air, they will look at you as if you’re insane.

The valets had a lot of cars to tend a few weeks ago, on the occasion of a pair of concerts by Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band. The Mohegan Sun arena, a two-hour bus ride from New York City, has become a regular tour stop for a long list of momentous musical acts: Prince, Bob Dylan, Jay Z, Taylor Swift. The roster goes on, with more of a caste otherwise accustomed to playing settings bigger than a ten-thousand-seat room.

The Boss very much among them. “Did you lose your money?” he asked upon taking the stage on Sunday, the second part of his two-night stand. “You must’ve lost your money. If you didn’t lose your money, then we wouldn’t be here.” Springsteen, coming clean with the ways casinos use show-biz happenings as a loss-leader for all the other entertainment they shill, somehow sold this as a winsome arrangement for all involved, with a beneficent grin signaling a sense of solidarity that was convincing in spite of the usurious logic at play. “Either way,” he continued, “we’re going to make you feel lucky tonight.” Read More »

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Memoir of Memoir of a Gambler

October 1, 2012 | by

There were few places on the ship less conducive to reading than the library. In the summer of 2000, in my early twenties, I was stationed aboard an aircraft carrier. The library sat directly beneath the flight deck, which means that in addition to the thump, rattle, and screech of the planes as they landed, there was the heat from the catapults and their fuel, a heat so thick it invaded your respiration like some perniciously odorless fume, trespassing on your psyche and then inhabiting it. Reading there was out of the question, but we weren’t on the ship to read. Which is why it always surprised me how many great books they had in that library.

I found one of the greatest purely by chance. I knew neither the book, Memoir of a Gambler, nor its author, Jack Richardson. It was the title that hooked me. Our ship would soon be returning to San Diego, after a six-month cruise throughout the Pacific Ocean and Arabian Sea, and so I knew I would soon be gambling again. Having already become a devotee of the sports-gambling culture of San Diego—or, more specifically, its adjunct playground of Tijuana—I needed little encouragement. But in the book I now held in my hands, I would find plenty of encouragement anyway.

On the cover, this Jack Richardson struck a classically arch pose, arms crossed in a subdued brown sport coat and vest, staring self-importantly into the camera; beside him, on a circular bar-table sat a gleaming, thickly cut glass ashtray, a lone cigarillo perched on its edge. The back cover featured a blurb from William Styron (a notoriously selective blurber, even on behalf of friends), proclaiming, “Jack Richardson is a wonderful writer and his book is a powerful portrayal of one man’s obsession—sad, hilarious, erotic, and, above all, pitilessly honest. I read Memoir of a Gambler with fascination and delight.” The bio inside the back flap revealed that the author was a distinguished playwright who had also written for many of the magazines I cherished most, and then, on the copyright page, a partial explanation for why I did not recognize him from any of those magazines: “Copyright ©1979.”

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A Week in Culture: John Swansburg, Editor, Part 2

April 14, 2011 | by

This is the second installment of Swansburg’s culture diary. Click here to read part 1.

DAY FOUR

I slip out of the office around noon and walk over to SoHo to check out an exhibition of photographs taken on the Paris Metro by Chris Marker. I am an enthusiastic straphanger—I’m known in the Slate offices as a staunch defender of the MTA—so I was looking forward to seeing Marker’s project, but the photos fail to move me. Marker has captured the drudgery of commuting and the diversity of Paris’s commuters, but the photos are almost uniformly glum; they fail to register the vitality a packed subway car can have. (I’ll never forget the time I saw a guy with Four Quartets and a critical text perched on his lap on a crowded C train. Come on, Marker, where’s the wonder?) A few of the shots juxtapose faces Marker has photographed on the subway with faces from masterpieces of painting. Some of the likenesses are impressive, but it feels like a silly trick; I don’t need to be shown that this woman looks kind of like Mona Lisa to care about her. The Marker exhibition leaves me wanting to see what Bill Cunningham would do with the assignment of spending a week riding New York’s rails.

I have dinner at the bustling John Dory Oyster Bar—yes, more oysters, I swear this week is not typical—with my friends from Port Washington, Long Island1. Among other things, I’ve learned that citizens of Port Washington harbor ill will toward the neighboring hamlet of Plandome, which, despite its tiny size (population 1,272) and proximity to both the Port Washington and Manhasset stations, for some reason has its own Long Island Rail Road stop, unnecessarily adding two to three minutes to the Port Washingtonian’s commute each morning and evening. Weary passengers have been said to exhibit countenances akin to Munch’s The Scream upon pulling into the Plandome station.

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Annotations

  1. My college roommate grew up there, and I’ve since become close with several of his childhood friends and have been granted (by them) de jure citizenship in the town.

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John Williams, Writer and Editor, Part 2

July 8, 2010 | by

This is the second installment of Williams' culture diary. Click here to read part 1.

DAY FIVE

Photograph by Justin Lane.

9:30 A.M. I read a profile of novelist David Mitchell by Wyatt Mason in The New York Times Magazine. I try to read anything Mason writes. He’s always sharp, and he was among the few critics who gave one of my favorite novels (It’s All Right Now by Charles Chadwick) its due. As for Mitchell, I want to read him in theory, but I’ve yet to feel inspired to actually pick up the books. I’m most interested in Black Swan Green, his semi-autobiographical novel, and by consensus his least formally inventive.

11:00 A.M. I read an excerpt from David Grossman’s forthcoming novel, To the End of the Land, at The New York Review of Books site. The novel is one of the fall books I’m looking forward to most.

11:45 A.M. I go back through several publishers’ catalogs to firm up a list of titles that I hope to assign for review on The Second Pass in the fall. I add Dinaw Mengestu’s sophomore novel, How to Read the Air, and the list is now sixty-five books long, which seems ambitious. I may have to prune it a bit.

4:35 P.M. I read the first few pages of The Art of Losing, a debut novel by Rebecca Connell that appeared in the mail last week. It’s being published in October, and I add it to the list for review. I realize this is the opposite of pruning.

11:00 P.M. The Criterion Collection recently released Make Way for Tomorrow, a 1937 movie directed by Leo McCarey, who also directed Duck Soup, The Awful Truth, and dozens of others. I watch it on my laptop. It stars Victor Moore and Beulah Bondi as an elderly couple who lose their home to foreclosure. None of their children are able to take them both, so they’re separated. Legendary character actor Thomas Mitchell is great as George, the son who takes in his mother. Made in the wake of the Social Security Act of 1935, the movie, without being overtly political at all, unfolds like an argument for the importance of social safety nets. There are moments of real humor, but the overall mood is melancholy. Read More »

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