My Trip to Las Vegas

Morning makes a timid entrance into Las Vegas, insinuating itself with silver modesty among the thousand-watt spires, signs, and billboards, waiting until the master switches of the hotels are thrown, until the neon blinks off and natural daylight is officially allowed back into town. This twice-daily electric convulsion is the only concession to the normal marks of time made by the casino owners, powers who forbid clocks or windows in their gambling rooms so that day and night pass by uncharted by anything more precise than vague degrees of desperation or euphoria, and time becomes something privately carried in the mind of each gambler, a quiet or needling companion creating its own idiosyncratic clock.

During my first night in Las Vegas, time had been subdued. It was now morning and I had not slept, had not even felt the slightest pull of drowsiness. Everything—my arrival, my baccarat victory, my memories, my golden whore—coexisted in a sharp, exhilarating present that refreshed itself over and over again. Everything in the room, from the artificially vermiculated furniture with ancien régime pretensions to my own abused but satisfied body, became joyful and vital presences that produced in me the sensation to which the subtlest saints and most cloddish heroes have testified: namely, the feeling of pure being and total pleasure.

It seemed I had finally managed a weaving of thought and action that left no room in the soul’s fabric for irony, self-parody, or any of the other impish, civilized reflections by which mortal life is divided, weakened, and kept in its place. It mattered not at all that what I had won was no fortune, or that what I had tupped was an infantile whore: I felt I had, at the beginning of my voyage, gambled and won a moment for myself in which I could, if need be, live forever without complaint. And this allowed me to sit quietly through the Las Vegas sunrise and feel, with atavistic exultation, that everything it revealed complemented me.

Still, I made myself grow sober. I had, after all, promised that I would not be a fundamentalist about gambling, that I would respect all of its formal intricacies. To win finally and decisively, of course, would mean a moment of uncalculated insight, an unexpected tolle et lude at a craps or card table. But even the most ardent rebel against analysis, which I am not, needs some form in which to put his spiritual explosions, some steps of humility whose order provides an outline for the spirit to follow, as rational progression comforts the mind in logical reflection.

I had chosen a rigid system of accounting as one of my spiritual disciplines, partly because I enjoyed setting down the equivalence in numbers of all the complex twists in a night of gambling, and partly because a plain record of arithmetical truths keeps one from rounding off wins and losses, from slipping into imagined sums that exist only in the conditional modes of recollection. I took…

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