Relativism, Las Vegas, and Inappropriately-Placed Fingers. No Seriously.
Upon returning from this weekend's Vegas extravaganza, I couldn't help but reminded of some things I learned in one of my philosophy classes as an undergraduate. During one class, we werw discussing different theories on truth, and the professor brought up Relativism, which holds that conceptions of truth, emotions, and moral values are not absolute but are relative to the persons or groups holding them, or that all criteria of judgment are relative to the individuals and situations involved (thanks dictionary.com). Huh? Essentially, there are no absolutes - everything is relative to somethign else. So you might be thinking, "Is this guy a jackass? 1+1=2 no matter who you are, asshole." And honestly, you are probably right. But because I am quite possibly the biggest dork on the planet and couldn't help but think of this as I was driving down the I-15 yesterday trying to drown out the latin pop music my roommate/car companion was playing, I thought this notion of relativism* applies when it comes to Vegas, and especially when it comes to gambling. Let me explain.
A little while ago one of my former roommates set President's Day Weekend as the day our entire draw group of six dudes, plus a few other great college friends, were going to go to Vegas and catch up on good times (and maybe gamble a little or something). Sweet. After a long, painful drive courtesy of some freak rain storms, our contigent (me, my current roommate, and my former roommate/current grad student in music) viewed the bright lights of Vegas, specifically the shining beam emerging from the Luxor, as we approached the strip. A short while later we arrived on the strip, starting at Caesars to grab some dinner, because for some reason the Subway we got in that mecca of civilizatino known as Barstow, CA just wasn't cutting it. Since there was an 80 minute wait to be seated, we hit the casino to let the festivities begin. Rather than jump straight for the tables (which might take a while), I decided to just throw a few bucks on roulette to kill a little time before dinner. I arrived at one table, ordered my Long Island, put ten bucks on red. And lost it. Put ten bucks on red again and won. Then I lost it again. Then I was down to the ten dollar minimum for that table, and as my drink arrived the nice dealer guy said I could just finish it out, so I put nine bucks on red and one dollar on 22, which is my lucky number (and also the number of the day of my birthday...which is also this month...which means my birthday is tomorrow...cough cough). Anyways, it hit 22. I actually won. Holy crap. Granted, that put me up a whopping 15 bucks, but I actually hit 22 with my last gasp of the original cash I put down. To help the philosophy along, you could say that, relative to your average Vegas money-loser, I was feeling pretty good about myself.
Post dinner, we gambled a little more, and nothing eventful happened until the night got later and we ended up at Barbary Coast, that fine repository of smoke, sleazeballs, and 5 dollar blackjack tables nestled comfortably between much classier hotels. Needless to say, I fit right in. I gambled for about two hours at a blackjack table and ended up down ten bucks, but up two Long Islands, so I was feeling good. Towards the end of the night, I lost some money on blackjack and then got 20 dollars in chips and, courtesy of the 1 dollar minimum roulette tables at this fine gambling institution, I played red and lost again. I was down to my last few bucks, and I put a dollar on 22...and it hit. You're freaking kidding me right? Relative to your average Vegas money-loser, I was feeling pretty fucking good about myself now.
Fast-forward to Saturday night. The whole crew is finally assembled and it's time to go nuts. And by go nuts I mean gamble what little pittance of money we all have, given that we're all either students with huge debt or currently unemployed. We show our Vegas-virgin friends a few classy hotels, lose a little at the Flamingo, and then meet up with a friend who was playing poker at the Aladdin. I begin by playing a little roulette again, somehow coming away up two dollars on a ten dollar minimum table (I defy anyone to explain how that happened - I still have no idea how the math worked on that), and then move on to play blackjack. I doing alright, and then I'm dealt two aces. Split. Dealt a 5 and...another ace. Split again. Dealt a 9 and...another ace. Split again. At this point the entire table, and the people watching, are all cheering me along. Dealt a King and a Queen. Holy shit. The crowd erupts. The dealer shoves a crapload of chips in my face and I get up. Relative to your average Vegas money-loser, I was now feeling very fucking good about myself.
A short while later, I go to a different table. About twenty minutes into it, I have proceeded to win about $150. I'm also working on my 4th Long Island of the night. Relative to your average Vegas money-loser, I was feeling VERY FUCKING GOOD about myself compared to your average Vegas money-loser. So naturally, you know where this is going...
By this point, another friend arrived, and we decided we had to just go balls out and make a big wager (for us) - $100 on red or black. Last year when we did something like this and got destroyed, so naturally we decided we had to do it again. After all, my gambling momentum could not be stopped, right? Right. We find a table that feels right (whatever the hell that means), put our $100 chips on the table, and hold our breaths. The ball is rolling...rolling...and...well...it hits black. In the words of one of my favorite classmates, "Awwww HELLLLLL NAWWWW!". Relative to your average Vegas money-loser, I was feeling like shit. Not your average shit. I'm talking the fiber-induced smushy kind.
Nerves rattled, still a little shocked, we stay at the table and I cash in a lot of money for chips to start trying to make a little money back. I lose betting on colors, and then, as I put twenty bucks on red (as an aside...seriously why the fuck do I bet on red? I'm such a fucking moron. What's that you say? It doesn't matter because the odds are the same? Fuck you. I love it how all logic goes down the toilet in Vegas.), the lady spins the ball and my roommate comes by, saying "Fake Doctor, what are you doing?!? You should put this on 22. You've already hit it twice! C'mon. It's your lucky numb-".
Well. I imagine you can guess what happened next. The ball dropped, hit 22, and I lost all will to live. In case you're curious, the payout is 35:1 and I would have walked away with $700. Which comes out to 140 Baja Fresh Bean and Cheese burritos with black beans, pico de gallo, enchilado style, in case you are curious (which is the only way I can quantify anything). Relative to your average Vegas money-loser, I felt like the roulette lady just chopped off my penis. Except about a million times worse. On the bright side, which there really isn't any, my $200 Long Island finally arrived. Three Long Islands later (for a total of 7, I think, for the night), I returned to our condo, a poorer but wiser man.
Wiser, you ask? What lessons can you take from this? Well, for one thing, Vegas happiness is all relative - I was feeling great, but I realized that this was mostly because I knew that on average just about everyone around me was losing, because the actual amount of money I was winning was pretty small change in the grand scheme of things. Then I was feeling awful, because I knew that no one in my income demographic (i.e. negative income) had lost that catastrophically not betting on a number I should have been betting the whole time that I had won on twice before. And I had never blown that much money in a span of about ten minutes without at least getting some totally useless set of medical school textbooks in return.
But there's a lot more. I think of how this weekend compared relative to what my life would have been like in the alternative universe where I had I gone to that medical school in Boston. If you know me at all, you know I have agonized about this decision on an hourly basis. I realized that I would have never had a chance to do this - spontaneously go to Vegas with all of my college buddies and have great times (gambling tragedies aside) if I was the only one that was on the other side of the country. Sure, I might have avoided the freakshows I comment on here and there (and here...and there, here, and here), but they would have probably been replaced with even bigger freakshows, because lets face it, who goes to the Big H anyways? Freakshows. So relative to that alter-Fake Doctor, I have to be really grateful for being close enough to all of my college friends that I can actually see them in person and hang out on a regular basis, and that's the kind of stuff that really matters. Not to mention the great people, however small the number, I've gotten the chance to know in medschool here.
And just in case you think I've gone soft (notwithstanding the idea that depending on who you ask, which is almost everyone, I'm already a big pussy), there are always other great ways to apply this philosophical doctrine to Vegas to make me feel better about myself. Sure, I may have lost a shitload of money in a catastrophic manner, but relative to the slime in Vegas, I'm doing very well for myself. How do I know this? Well let me share with you the conversation I overheard at a food court restroom adjacent to the MGM Grand at 3AM:
Sketchy MIddle-Aged Hispanic Dude: Man, seems like you and that girl were hitting it off.
Sketchy Middle-Aged White Dude: Ya man, it's pretty sweet.
Sketchy MIddle-Aged Hispanic Dude: She's got no titties though.
Sketchy MIddle-Aged White Dude: Doesn't matter. When we were on the dance floor, I finger-banged her in her ass!
*I should add that my recollections of this theory are incredibly vague and most likely incorrect, so please don't think what I am saying is at all reflective of what Relativism is all about. I would like to thank my undergraduate education for making the previous sentence possible.