Like John McPhee in The Crofter and the Laird, I started this project about gambling with the idea of being an intellectual tourist. A friend went to Foxwoods Casino and returned to Providence, lamenting the wretchedness of many of the Casino denizens. I've never really understood the draw of gambling; it seems far too risky and glitzy and tacky for me. My friend's description, almost a spoken lyrical grotesque, made me want to explore Foxwoods for myself.
In the first few pages of my essay, I try to establish myself as a narrator. I subtly make reference to my social class and ethnic background with mentions of my doctor-parents, my Jewishness, and our family stays at ritzy bed and breakfasts. Hopefully, this makes clear that in part, my presupposed view on gambling is a product of my upper middle class upbringing. We were never strapped for cash, and the idea of making money from gambling would be considered terribly gauche among my peers.
Then the essay shifts into series of found grotesques in the manner of Tom Wolfe or D.H. Lawrence. I describe men and women whom I see at the casino. They are described, though, through the lens of the upper class narrator that is established in the first couple of pages. This section culminates in the description of a "wheelchair woman": a person who is so infirm, she cannot even operate the slot machine herself. She needs a nurse to gamble for her.
The third section of the essay shifts yet again into a mode of confession. Like Joan Didion used fragments to show the fragmentation of 1960s culture, I use confession to show the highly confessional nature of our current reality-obsessed America. I admit to feeling superior to these gamblers; that this need for superiority in part, fueled my desire to visit Foxwoods.
I refer to Confessions of an Ivy League Bookie by Peter Alson to show that one's view on gambling and money and class in general are largely a product of personal experience. I have never been down on my luck. I have lived my entire life in a soft womb of elite education. My superficial similarity to Peter Alson shows that I could fall down the primrose path of gambling after a few wrong turns just as easily as he did.
In the last section, I come full circle. I go back to my original experience with gambling, the grabby claw machine. This time it's different. I know what I'm getting into, and I stop myself before I get wrapped up in the enticing world of triumph.
We're all equal under the seductive eyes of the casino gods. The reader with any luck, will come to this conclusion, too.
The Essay: "The Truth about Girls and Gambling"
Last modified 16 December 2003