Bright lights. Puerile city. I'm numb to it all by now. The buzzing slot machines. The cocktail waitresses jacked up on valium. The disgruntled dealers chain smoking outside. I pass all of them on my way to work and don't even blink.
If you gave any of the truly desperate gamblers in Las Vegas a knife, they'd happily slit the throats of their own children for a couple hundred dollars. Some would do it for a lot less. Heck, Otis ate two Lupis-ridden Keno crayons for $400. I'm sure I could find some unlucky oaf who would kill one of your co-workers for roughly the same price.
As Michalski succinctly said, "I know a Vietnamese guy who will take care of your problems for $1,500. They are more expensive that the Russians. But they do a much cleaner job."
People forget that underneath the flashing lights of fabricated Las Vegas, the underbelly of society operates in the shadows. The cops out here are trigger happy. They shoot first and ask questions later. Gangbangers running crystal meth roam freely in North Las Vegas and shoot each other every hour on the hour. The skinny crack whores blantantly stroll along Tropicana Ave. near the location of the Redneck Riviera. There are hundreds of immigrants for hire who will install a sprinkler system in your yard or brutally murder anyone on your shitlist.
Living in any casino for more than a week sucks you into looming suicidal tendencies of the Plathian sort. You always hear about the old woman from Arizona who won a $1 million jackpot, but you never hear about the lonely guy who leaps to his death after one last bender in Las Vegas, or the shifty-eyed serial killer who shacks up at the Redneck Riviera with a transvestite hooker before he offs himself with a nail gun to the temple.
For the last two weeks of the World Series of Poker, I lived in the Treasure Island hotel and casino. The first human interaction I'd see when I stepped off the elevator was a blue-haired 80 year-old chain smoking grandma. She'd be sitting a row of slot machines and pumping her entire social security check in a Wheel of Fortune machine.
That's the first reminder from the unlucky fallen angel that has the troublesome assignment of steering me away from danger in order to get back in the good graces of the Almighty. I can hear her whispering into my ears the names of six of the Seven Deadly Sins. As I take my first wobbly steps onto the casino floor, temptation surrounds me everywhere. Behind every slot machine. Behind every deck of cards. Behind every rattle of the dice. Behind every "all you can eat buffet." Behind every stripper pole. Behind every seat at the Hooker Bar and underneath every kilt of the waitresses at the Tilted Kilt. Depravity, decadence, and desperation are within my grasp.
It's so easy to fall in this town. And when people fall, they fall hard. And fast. God's angels are not here to catch you. They stay the fuck out of the Las Vegas valley. Only the Mormons on a mission dare enter Sin City and most of them get hooked on Keno or crystal meth before they head back to Utah.
Just walk through the airports and look around. You'll discover that the people waiting in line to board JetBlue flight #199 to JFK are cluttered with losers. Peek into their souls. Feel what they feel. The hangovers. The indigestion. The sexual indiscretions. The losses. The bad beats. The bad luck. The foul stench of failure keeps the lights shining and the table games going and the free cocktails coming.
Las Vegas is a magnet for the absurd and peculiar. I don't know too many places where you can order a Mai Tai at 4am from a bartender named Sully or find a hooker to take a dump on your chest for $300. Sometimes you can find both at the same bar.
The temptation to gamble at any time makes it difficult for people with feeble minds to live among the endless temptation. And if your gambling addiction is coupled with a penchant for liquor or drugs, you're heading down a rabbit hole of misery and despair. Everyone is entitled to one vice and one fetish, especially in Sin City. Having multiple addictions hampers your decision-making ability and Las Vegas was built on those unfortunate souls and their addictions. Maintaining solid play at the tables takes a tremendous amount of concentration and discipline. But being an action junkie and a drunk or a compulsive gambler and a tweaker makes it impossible to win over the long term.
I waited for my seat at the Red Rock Casino poker room to be called when a sweaty lanky guy in his 30s walked over to me muttering something about the JonBenet Ramsey killer.
"They got the wrong person, man. That John Mark Karr guy is evil but he's copping to a hit he didn't even do. Everyone knows it's not him. Everyone knows," he spurted out in three seconds.
"Everyone knows the brother did it," I said.
"He did. And that guy they picked up is the patsy," he quickly babbled as he wiped a quart of sweat off his face.
"They are giving him three names before he's even tried like all the other serial psychos. John Mark Karr," I added.
He stopped and looked right at me with his shifty eyes. His pupils were dilated as he furiously scratched a rash underneath his unshaven face. He reeked of a slimy chemical aroma and that gave him up. I crossed paths with a tweaker roaming around in a casino ready to piss away every dollar in his pocket before he came down.
Crystal meth sits in your system for up to six or eight hours depending on the purity of the dosage and some folks are up for a week at a time. Unlike other forms of intoxication, inside of five or six hours only 50% of the drug leaves your bloodstream. That leaves hours of tweaking which is that in between phase of being jacked up and crashing.
Some addicts walk around in circles when they are tweaking. Others clean their houses. Some drive for hours on end. Some put all their money in slot machines and Las Vegas is cluttered with those tweakers. You don't see them because they don't like going near the Strip and other touristy areas like the Bellagio Fountains. They lurk in the shadows of downtown or hang out at a locals' casinos playing single deck blackjack or end up offering to trade their rifle for Grubby's TV after reading his ad on Craigslist.
Ten minutes later, the tweaker sat down at my table talking to himself. His playing was erratic as his behavior. I couldn't figure out how he scraped together $220 for the buy-in to play because the guy didn't look like he'd held a job in several months. He probably had been up for over a week without eating or showering.
Deep dark ovals encircled his eyes as he constantly scratched his ashen face. He looked like one of those zombies from The Serpent and the Rainbow and failed to keep eye contact with me when he rambled on about the JonBenet conspiracy. He couldn't sit still and kept repeating, "The brother. The brother. The brother. He did it."
Paul McGuire is a writer from New York City. Excerpts of this originally appeared on the Tao of Poker.