When I was a kid I watched the Rat Pack version of Ocean’s Eleven. It was pretty much the coolest thing I had ever seen. I soon became obsessed with Sammy Davis Jr who is pretty much the coolest man who ever existed, and got to spend his time with the respective second and third coolest men who ever existed (Steve McQueen is a close fourth). What amazed me about the film is that nobody noticed what was clearly going on around them, that they were able to pull off a heist of that size and that they all understood all of the rules. Knowing I was heading out to Vegas, my head span with possibilities of what I could do there and what it would be like.
It was five in the morning and I was sat at a blackjack table. I was drunk, full of Subway and shouting at a dealer. It turned out that none of the four people on our side of the table knew how to play blackjack correctly. Carlos, the poor little croupier was very patient with us. It also turned out you were allowed to smoke at the tables, spilling your ash all over the baize in the process as long as you kept gambling. In addition, if you’re at a table and you’re deep in a game you can order a drink and they won’t charge you. They’re on the house. They want to keep you there. They want you to keep handing over dead presidents in exchange for plastic circles. They get something out of that apparently.
It’s part of the Vegas experience. You have to go there and gamble. Even people who don’t gamble decide to gamble when they are in Vegas. That’s the way it works. They welcome clueless idiots like the comments pages on tabloid newspaper websites.
Somehow I started winning hands. I didn’t fully understand what was happening but ordered another four whiskey and cokes. I kept putting hands down and I kept being given more chips until I realised I had doubled my money. I got up. There was no way I was going to miss this opportunity.
‘Where are you going!?’ shouted one of my accomplices, drunk and furious. He seemed to silence every other table in the hall.
‘I know when to quit’ I said, blowing a plume of smoke over my shoulder like I was swishing my tail before going to cash in. By the time I got back to the table two of the guys were screaming at Carlos again. In those precious seconds they had both got about $200 up before losing it all. They walked off in a hump with another whiskey and coke.
Some time later we were at a roulette table with an old, bald entrepreneur from Scotland called Ian. He was covered in tattoos and talked to us like we were his pet dogs. He had a camp delivery that made me wonder if he was looking for a good time. He was very good at gambling. None of us were. We were getting pretty good at drinking.
‘Hey, One Direction’ said a security guard who in the film of my life will be played by a hologram of John Candy. He was talking to us. He was making jibes about how young, handsome and talented we were. I thought about where “Being pissed and broke in a casino” would come in a game of Top Trumps. It would definitely score high on the Excitement category. ‘I’m gonna need to see some ID boys.’ he said We all threw our licenses down on the table for him to examine.
‘Hmm’ he said, obviously annoyed he couldn’t pick any of us up and boot us out the door, ‘enjoy Las Vegas.’ We played on. Losing more money and shouting tactics at each other which would never have helped.
‘Guess what I do?’ said Ian, the Gollum in his character shining.
‘Aye, ye ain’t even close’ he said, throwing some more of his cityscape of coloured chips down on as many numbers as he fancied.
‘I own three hairdressers and I sell bags. I’ve got tattoo parlours and I also have a bar.’ I don’t know what Ian’s intentions with us were but the One Direction comment appeared to spur him on. We promptly left.
At six I was in the lift on my own. Walking through the casino one last time had been too much for me. It was still as it had been when we checked in. The air was constant and the music played and the machines rolled. I couldn’t stand it anymore. I propped myself in the corner of the lift and hoped nobody was going to try and get in with me.
My experience of Las Vegas wasn’t the same as any I have heard. There were some high points but there were some moments where I was waiting for a screen to descend, a boom to appear in shot, a prop to fall down and knock the back wall, revealing the fact that everything is fake. There’s nothing shiny and new about Vegas anymore. It’s all a vision of how things were supposed to be in the future from a bizarre viewpoint somewhere in the middle of the last century. It’s actually quite sad to see people sat yanking on the handle of a slot machine like it’s going to answer their dreams. It’s hard to tell if anything you see or feel is real. It’s all the same, all the time. It feels like a setup. It’s like Stockholm Syndrome on Xanax.
It’s somewhere I would recommend visiting, for the spectacle more than anything else. It’s the kind of place where it’s possible to find anything to do at 3 in the morning, as long as it isn’t sleep. I was offered girls, I was offered cocaine and I was offered a cab ride home and a foot long. You can imagine which I went for.