Like so many young women before me, I had trekked to Las Vegas
to hand out free T-shirts at a porn convention. There was a decent paycheck involved,
and I got to keep my clothes on, so it seemed like a good deal.
That is, until I actually got there. The men who attend porn conventions are not, as a general rule, known for their chivalry. They are a loud and rude crowd. I suspect many of them had troubling relationships with their mothers. They wouldn’t stop pestering me to take my top off no matter how many triple-extra-large shirts I threw their way. It was sort of like working at the Gap, a soup kitchen and a Hooters all rolled into one.By the end of my first day of work, I hated everything and everyone. I was muttering to myself while waiting on the sidewalk for a shuttle to take me back to my hotel. He was waiting for the same shuttle, and he took my sputtering as an invitation to chat. I still don’t know how he did it. But through some kind of miraculous combination of wit, grace and charisma, he made me smile. He made me laugh. He charmed the hell out of me, and when I got off the shuttle, I went to a show with him. Then to a bar for some drinks.There was an easy intimacy between us, and we talked until late. When he asked if I wanted to leave to go gambling, I demurred. I didn’t know how, and besides, I didn’t believe in giving my money away. I’d suffered too many jackass pornographers to earn it.Oh, but winning was easy, he assured me. He would teach me. How much money did I want to win? I shrugged it off. As a general rule, I try not to encourage delusional thinking. But he wouldn’t let it go. Just pick a number, he said. Choose an amount and we’ll win it.Okay, I agreed. Two hundred dollars?That’s not enough, he laughed. “Let’s make it two thousand.”He walked me across the casino floor to the salon, where the high-stakes tables were located. It was a world apart from the loud neon madness on the other side of the door. A series of quiet, tastefully decorated, nearly empty but well-staffed rooms. He sat me at a baccarat table, signed a couple of pieces of paper and stacked $20,000 worth of chips in front of me.Baccarat is the easiest game in the casino, even easier than slots. The word baccarat translates to “nothing,” which is the sum skill you need to play. It’s purely a game of chance. Just put your chips on yellow or red. Player or bank. Double or nothing. There are two hands of cards, and the high hand wins. Nothing more complicated than basic arithmetic, and most of the time I didn’t even bother with that. The dealer could add faster than I could.The most important lesson I learned that night was that it is easy to win $2,000 if you’ve got 20 grand to play with. We did it in about 15 minutes and I was hooked.We played every night for the rest of my time in Vegas, and I won every time. I made more in three days than I had in six months at my secretarial job. I couldn’t understand why I had spent so much time Xeroxing and making coffee for slave wages when the casinos were just giving money away.Winning is a high, a buzz, a rush. It never feels random, even when it is. You’re special, the chosen one, the fucking prom queen. Add to that the thrill of falling in love, and I was on one serious roller coaster.Because we lived so far apart, travel was a vital part of our courtship. We visited each other’s cities, but most of the time we met up in Vegas. It was home to our romance, familiar without being dull. We knew the territory without having to reveal to each other the mundaneness of our daily lives. This was the honeymoon phase of the relationship, where my eagerness to win more money was matched by his desire to make me happy. We were in a town where happiness equaled excess, and he behaved accordingly.We stayed in opulent hotel suites larger than the average house. We ate at four-star restaurants, saw the biggest shows on the strip and indulged in exotic spa treatments. I got to know the salespeople at Prada and Versace. Back in L.A. I lived in an apartment without heat, while in Vegas I had a butler. Luxury perks weren’t things I’d ever cared about before, but he wanted to indulge me, and I loved it.And we both loved baccarat — the perfect game for new lovers. There’s so little thought involved, it affords plenty of time for flirting and canoodling. And winning is a powerful aphrodisiac. Our affectionate displays were enough to get us kicked out of most public places, but no one at the baccarat table ever batted an eye. I wasn’t a particularly gifted gambler; I was just careful. I knew the odds, I never got greedy, I quit when I was ahead. I didn’t get rich gambling, but I did get middle-class. I moved to a neighborhood without gangs, bought a new car and washed my hair exclusively with fancy shampoo swiped from the casino hotels.This seemingly timeless run lasted two years before the tables started to reclaim their losses. The first time I lost big it was a shock. I’d been down before but never so deep. I knew it could happen, but I wasn’t prepared for the sting of it. Within an hour I was 30 grand in the hole. My lover tried to shrug it off, saying he didn’t care. And it was certainly true that he didn’t need the money. But he was in a sour mood for the rest of the trip. Our luck had run out, and it was an ugly feeling.The next couple of trips were dedicated to digging ourselves out of debt with the casino. It wasn’t a game anymore; now it was work. We were wasting what little time we had together stuck at the tables, playing cards and cursing. Canoodling was at a minimum. The stench of failure is most definitely not an aphrodisiac.I did the only sensible thing — I quit while I was still ahead. I didn’t mind going back to my old life as much as I thought I might. I still knew how to make coffee, and the dry Vegas air had been wreaking havoc on my skin. We started meeting at my home in Los Angeles. The amenities were few, but so were the distractions. The honeymoon was over. Real life could finally begin.

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