Continued from…

Dazed by the inhumanity of it all, we stumbled away, sick with fear. How could this be? How could such a thing have happened? Did the head office in Las Vegas know what was happening here? What could we do? Tapping reserves of inner strength we barely knew existed, we decided to forge ahead–and get some change for the slot machines. Arriving at the nearest change window, I opened my wallet and placed two new, crisp $20 bills onto the counter.

"How would you like that, sir?" the attendant asked.

"Oh, I’d like that in…" (I carefully watched for her reaction, smiling to myself) "…dollar tokens, if you don’t mind."

I could tell she was impressed by the way she hesitated for a nanosecond before counting out the coins. Yes, she knew I was no ordinary slot machine gambler–nickels and quarters meant nothing to me. Nothing.

"Tell me, sweets–who do I talk to around here to get some comps?"

"Comps?" she asked, furrowing her brow. "What do you mean?"

"You know, freebies–food, rooms, hookers."

"Uh, well, you could try the beverage stand over there. And don’t call me sweets ever again."

Change cups in hand, we made our way to the beverages and were soon treated to an array of soft drinks, free for the choosing. Oh yeah, they knew what was good for them–and making us happy was job #1. We each chose a can of Thunderbolt Cola, which promised to energize us with the power of caffeine and ginko bilboa–this was as close to cheap booze as we were going to get, and it tasted nearly as bad. Now it was time to empty some slot machines.

We slid our way into the nearest aisle, trying to find some open games. Most of them were occupied by senior citizens, each strangely tethered to their machine by a cord stretching from their collars, tautly pulling them close. What kind of odd device was this? Did the management not permit retirees to leave their machines until all their savings were spent? As we discovered, these cords were actually attached to special debit cards, which users tied to their button holes–but the cords pulled out their shirts, making it appear as if the machines were sucking the lifeforce from each individual straight from his or her heart.

Shaking off this troubling image, we proceeded to gamble at the Lock-n-Roll slots, which allow you to spin twice, picking which reels to hold. After losing $10 each doing that, we went over to the video poker machines. After losing $10 each doing that, we went over to the video craps. After losing $10 each doing that, we went over to the compellingly named "BJ Mania," a blackjack system that operated just like a real blackjack table, only with individual screens for each player plus a screen for the dealer. With its robot voice emotionlessly intoning "Make your bets now," it reminded me of that Lost in Space episode with the intergalactic gambling machine that caused Dr. Smith and his brother so much trouble. After losing $10 each doing that, we realized that nearly 15 minutes had already passed by since we had started–and now we were out of tokens. We thereby decided that perhaps we should bet in smaller amounts, if only to savor the act of losing money at a more moderate pace.

After losing $7 each at the quarter slots, we then made our way to the small oasis of the nickel slots, once scoffed upon but now our only hope for redemption with our last $3. Unfortunately, nobody was leaving a machine any time soon–we spent more time waiting for someone to quit than we did actually playing blackjack.

"This is like rent control," observed Zak. "We’re going to have to wait until somebody dies before we get in."

Thus, we decided to quit while we were behind and enjoy some fine Vegas-style entertainment at "Greg Thompson’s Dancin’ in the Streets." Having been to a few genuine Las Vegas song-and-dance shows myself, I knew what to expect: statuesque showgirls wearing ridiculous headdresses, lots of rhinestones, and no tops. Unfortunately, as we were informed at the box office, there were no bare bosoms featured in the show. "It’s a musical celebration that sings and dances its way from the stage right down to your soul," recited the ticket clerk. It’s right about then that I suffered my nervous breakdown.

"Dear God, what’s WRONG with you people?" I screamed. "Can’t you see what’s going on here? This isn’t sleazy adult entertainment–this only has the appearance of sleazy adult entertainment! How in the heck am I supposed to feel temporarily decadent if I can’t indulge my baser instincts in an environment where it’s socially acceptable?! What’s the point of wasting my money then?"

Zak pulled me away before security was called, whispering that everything was going to be okay. And it was, for he steered us into the only bit of bona fide decadence in the entire casino, the one place where we could feel good about being bad: The Range Steakhouse. Once seated within its comforting, faux-campsite scenery, we each ordered a huge slab of bleeding meat and pondered the lessons we had learned that day.

"Only a culture that sees so much worth in making money could dedicate so much to squandering it," Zak said soberly, staring hard into the fake skyline as he thoughtfully scratched his goatee.

"Yeah, and there was no booze to make you forget it, either," I replied, and then we enjoyed our steaks.

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