It Takes All Kinds

a Few Stories and Profiles by Erik Hedegaard
mainly from inside the pages of Rolling Stone
(with additional commentary and folderol provided by the author aka Charlie, sometimes)

Me, Professional Gambler

Posted on | February 4, 2014 | No Comments

The other day, I spent some time checking out the ads in the back of Technical Analysis of Stocks & Commodities. I love the ads in that magazine. They’re sexy. They promise awesome stock-market riches for almost nothing. For instance, for a mere $1,500 I could buy a “low risk and exact timing” trading method that would make me $500,000 a year. Wow! Of course, only a fool would buy that system when just $38 buys a method that promises $14,975 a week, or $778,700 per annum. Double wow! On the other hand, I’ve been around the block, and one thing I know is that if something sounds too good to be true it probably is. I þipped the page and was suddenly faced with an ad that had nothing to do with stocks and commodities. “casino,” its little headline blared. “Imagine…yourself as a ‘professional casino gambler’ consistently making $1,000 per day….I do and I can teach you. Call me now.”

As instructed, I eased back in my chair and imagined myself making that kind of dough as a professional gambler. I felt good. I wasn’t like the rubes from Des Moines. I was a winner. I had a spring to my step. I þipped a chip high into the air.

Around and around it spun. I didn’t have a mortgage. I didn’t have orthodontia bills. In fact, I didn’t have a wife and a kid. I had a sweet brunette 20 years my junior on my arm. I gave doormen $100 tips. Life was simple and sweet. I didn’t catch the spinning chip but simply let it fall to the þoor. Who needed it? There were plenty more where that came from.

“What the hell is going on in here? Is that disaster one of ours?”

That was my wife. I put down my magazine and looked at what she was looking at: a chart of one of my mutual funds on a computer screen. It showed the Lexington Troika Dialog Russia Fund. I’d bought it a few months earlier, and it had gone straight into the crapper. So far, I’d lost $6,000 in the stinker. I was deeply depressed, of course–though I still had certain of my wits about me.

“No, naw, thank God that’s not one of ours,” I said to my wife. “But look how low it is. I’m thinking of buying it. It’s due for a real good bounce. In fact, it’s ripe!”

My wife snorted. She said she and the kid were headed for Bloomingdale’s, and they were going to spend big on resort wear. The trip to Disneyland was coming up. She said she and the kid wanted to look good. Then she laid the bill for the plane tickets on me. And said that she’d been inspecting the house: The wooden frames around most of the windows were rotting. They had bugs. The bugs were freaking her out. Get rid of the bugs. Call the window guy. Call him now.

When she was gone, I didn’t call the goddamned window guy. Instead, I called the gambler guy. I had a plan. My plan was to start gambling small, with $3,000. I would double that, then come home and dump the $6,000 into my Russia fund, thereby averaging down my overall purchase price and cutting in half the increase in price necessary to make my position profitable. It seemed like a fine, devious plan, one that I could use in the future with my other dismal mutual-fund purchases. The guy on the phone said þy on over to Las Vegas. He said bring him $3,000, his fee. He said that I would love what he taught me and that, as an added bonus, he would show me the lifestyle of the professional gambler.

A week later, I was there.

From my room high up in the monte carlo resort & Casino–a huge, cheesy, overblown joint with 3,002 rooms and 90,000 square feet of þoor space devoted to separating the common folk from their money–I couldn’t really see a thing. I couldn’t see the MGM Grand under construction across the street, only the jaws of one crane. I couldn’t see the Strip down below me, though the bleatings of the car horns sounded close enough. All I could see in any direction was air. Waiting for my teacher, I was antsy. I wanted to get going. I opened a tourist magazine and read that 30.5 million people visited Las Vegas in 1997–and altogether lost $6.15 billion. I was wondering about the wisdom of publicizing those numbers–in a sense, they baldly, even proudly stated just how many people had been robbed here last year and precisely how much they had been robbed of–when there was a knock at my door.

His name was Steven Patterson–Steven, not Steve–and he eased on in wearing shorts, sneakers, and a colorful casual shirt. He was young, not quite 34, and looked like a cross between Tom Cruise and one of the Baldwin brothers. We went through a few formalities, which consisted mostly of my signing a release, not so much absolving him of blame for any gambling losses I might incur but saying that what he was about to teach me–he called it a “technology”–was for my use only and not for resale. I scribbled my signature and handed over his fee. Flipping through the bills and sucking on an Altoids mint, Patterson said, “I’ve spent millions and millions of dollars developing this technology. This $3,000 fee of yours is a drop in the bucket compared to the value of what you’re getting. It’s cost me ten years of my life and two ulcers. I’m talking without exaggeration. It’s no cakewalk to get this type of information.”

“All-righty-o,” I said blithely–as well I could, since that particular $3,000 wasn’t mine. It belonged to the nice folks at this magazine, who wanted to see how I’d fare in Vegas. They weren’t about to grubstake me at the tables, however. That money would have to come from my own pocket, which suited me just fine, since that way all the money I won would be mine to dump into my Russia fund.

Patterson started off by telling me quite a bit about himself. He grew up in Toronto. He dropped out of high school one credit shy of a diploma, already knowing what he wanted to do. He wanted to be in “the financial markets,” as he called them. In short order, he became a stockbroker for Prudential-Bache. This was during the roaring 1980s, a time when he drank tons of booze and snorted tons of cocaine (neither of which he does anymore) and sometimes made $150,000 a month. At his firm, he said, he held the record for the number of cold calls made to potential clients in one day–280. He’d get up at 9 a.m., be sipping his first scotch by 11, run a few lines of coke, speed through the day–on any given day, he said, “I’d screw a friend over for a percentage point”–and then party all night long. “I’m moving huge amounts of dollars,” he said. “There’s women, too. The whole nine yards.”

But after three years of this, his body shut down on him. He woke up in a hospital bed, having technically died and been brought back to life. A while later, just for fun, he took a trip with some friends to Vegas. He’d never been before. He brought $10,000 with him, which at the roulette wheel he quickly turned into $40,000. His friends returned to Canada. Basically, he never left.

I sat there fairly mesmerized. What a life this Patterson had lived. In comparison, mine was duller than dishwater. I’d gone to college, gone to graduate school, gotten a job, gotten married, had a kid. I was 43. Like many people around my age, I’d once in the dimly remembered past hoovered a few lines of cocaine. But I’d never dropped out of school, never had a near-death experience, never in one weekend turned 10 grand into 40. It all sounded quite freewheeling and glorious to me, and I knew right then that I’d lucked onto the right man to teach me how to gamble and to show me what the professional gambler’s lifestyle was all about.

“Life in Vegas is about change on a rapid scale,” Patterson said, prepping me for the experience I was about to undergo. “Some people go through their lives being depressed for a year, then happy for a year, then depressed for five years. Vegas, you’ll be depressed for two days and then be þying for a week, then depressed for a week. It’s life at an accelerated pace.”

I buckled up my seat belt, put myself in Patterson’s hands, and left all thoughts of my wife and daughter–my former life–far, far behind.of all the games offered in las vegas, none is simpler than baccarat. After you place your bet on either Banker or Player, the dealer deals two hands, one representing the Banker’s, the other the Player’s, and the hand that comes closest to adding up to nine wins. In a nutshell, and excusing a few inviolate rules, that’s it. All you can do is win, lose, or tie. I’d never played baccarat before, but that was the game Patterson proposed to teach me. It was a glamorous game, he said: The Asians loved it; Caucasians generally found it inscrutable; James Bond, playing an upscale variation called chemin de fer, had made it famous; $200,000 was the usual bet per hand played by a baccarat-loving high roller named Akio “the Warrior” Kashiwagi, who once won $19 million and sometime later was found hacked to death. Beautiful.

We rode down in the elevator with a bunch of fatties probably from the Midwest. They smelled like hot dogs, and their pockets and purses bulged with loose change. They were but slot players, and I smirked at them.

The doors opened on to all the hideous sights and sounds–the tourist brochures call it “the glamour…the excitement!”–everyone has come to associate with casinos. There’s the ringing of the slot machines, the whoops and cries of the winners, the scantily clad babes, the lines at the cash machines, et cetera, ad nauseam.

Patterson spread his hands. “Let’s take gambling and all of its glitz and glamour and lights and oxygenized air and the girls and the cleavage and the drinks, and let’s take it down to its lowest common denominator. What is gambling? Gambling is simply the process of decision making. Do I bet here, or do I bet there? Do I gamble today or tomorrow? How long do I gamble for? Do I bet a red chip [$5] or a black [$100]?”

We sallied forth. Patterson pointed out a few things that only the true professional would know. Take the carpets. The carpets were designed so that if you happened to drop a chip it would blend into the pattern and be nearly impossible to find.

“Holy moly,” I said. “How much do you think they rake in from that?”

Patterson shrugged. “Whatever,” he said and went on to note a further purpose of the carpet’s intricate pattern–to induce a mild form of anxiety in anyone who happened to be looking down at it, thus causing the eyes to lift and to see what the casino mainly wants a gambler to see. “The slot machines! The craps tables! Blackjack! Pai gow poker! Ways to lose your money!”

Patterson exclaimed, chuckling, and I chuckled right along with him, feeling good, feeling in-the-know, feeling that my life was about to get very sweet indeed.

We threaded our way through the hordes to the baccarat tables. Big-shot baccarat players sat in a room off to one side; we went to the mini- baccarat tables, for people placing minimum bets of $5, $10, and $25. The tables were kidney shaped, with room for seven players. Next to each table was a lighted tote board showing who had won–Player or Banker– the previous two dozen hands. Patterson handed me a scorecard, and I began filling it out with the past results. His theory was that the decisions often ran in streaks and that if you could hop on one of those streaks, using the scorecard to show you the way, you could leave a winner with some consistency. And you always wanted to leave a winner, even if you were up just one dollar, for only in that way could you develop the necessary winning attitude. As I sat down, Patterson came up close to my ear and whispered, Obi-Wan-like, “Go with the þow.” I nodded, tossed out $300 in 20s, and collected my chips.

I began playing according to a money-management strategy Patterson had taught me up in my room. It involved pressing–or adding to my bet–any time I won, up to three wins in a row. Whenever I reached that point, or any time I lost, I started back at the beginning, playing one unit. I had a win point–if I made that much money, I had to walk away–and a loss point, which was similar, only in the other direction. I slid some chips out onto the green felt, onto Player. The dealer þipped over cards. “Player wins, eight over seven,” he said, and paid me off. I doubled up and, following the þow, stayed right where I was. Cards out, the dealer said, “Player seven and stands. Bank nothing. Player wins.”

I took my winnings and stacked them up on Player once again.

The dealer said, “Player six, Bank zero. Player wins.”

I was astounded. I’d just won $70 in less than three minutes. My hands were shaking. My wrists, right at the radial artery, vibrated. If I kept winning at this rate, I’d be up $1,700 in an hour. And I was playing only five-dollar units. “Sweet Jesus,” I muttered, and narrowed my eyes in concentration. Already I felt smart enough to play $10 units. But I held back. I maintained discipline.

“You do good!” some Asian guy in a baseball cap said to me.

I shrugged nonchalantly and turned to Patterson, who was chatting with a cocktail waitress. Then he started to play, too, and immediately lost $300. I wondered why that was, why I won and he lost. I thought that maybe, for some reason, I had gambler’s blood in me and that it had gone unnoticed for 43 years, until now. That struck me as a possibility. The way there are natural-born ballplayers, maybe I was a natural-born gambler. I felt slightly dizzy with the possibility, as I won a bit more and Patterson lost a lot more.

Afterward, Patterson clapped me on the shoulders and said, “Isn’t it great?”

“Yeah,” I said, wobbling forward. “I can’t believe it. I can’t believe how great it is.”

Later, Patterson told me why he’d lost. For one thing, he wasn’t playing seriously, because he gambled seriously only when he was alone. (As a kind of corollary, he also never told anyone what he did for a living, clients and a few girls excepted, though not excepting his mother, who, he said, probably thought he got all his money from dealing drugs or pimping.) For another, he’d recently broken up with his girlfriend and was in a bad head. His head, he said, was thoroughly messed up.

As it happens, though, the head business is mainly the business Patterson is in. Money-management strategies you can get in a six-dollar book at the Gambler’s Bookstore out on Reno Avenue. Not so strategies for handling your emotions. Patterson knew this firsthand, since after winning big at roulette that first time, he spent the next two years engaged in a furious losing streak–$20,000 one night, $40,000 another night, until he’d depleted all the money he’d made as a stockbroker, plus the money he’d borrowed from girlfriends and guy friends. At rock bottom, he went in search of answers. He read books by motivational gurus such as Richard Bandler and Robert Dilts, by such seekers of truth as Carlos Castaneda and Deepak Chopra. He pored over books on hypnosis and ancient Indian trance dances. He read the Bible eight times. He studied life in the casinos–“how people react when they are ecstatic, sad, angry, full of fear, full of ecstasy.” And finally, admixing everything together, he came to certain conclusions about how, when it came to gambling, a person could manage his emotions. Patterson labeled it “state management,” borrowing from the Tony Robbins vocabulary, and the hard-earned lessons thereof were largely what his $3,000 fee bought his clients.

But not even Patterson, as he cheerfully admitted, had his emotions mastered completely. “I have the best money-management strategy in the world,” he said one day, “but when my heart was broken by this girl, ask me if I could think to follow it for one second. I couldn’t. You know what I’m saying? And it ended up costing me $20,000. That’s what I lost at the tables after we broke up.” I whistled.

Patterson shrugged. At this point, to him, $20,000 was chicken feed.

Over the next few days, he filled my head with his philosophy of state management. I learned mantras like “The more I win, the more I’ll win.” I heard various anecdotes in support of the rule that if anything bothers you while you are gambling–anything, the color of the dealer’s nail polish, the stink of fear in the guy next to you–you must stand up and walk away. He had me swear on penalty of losing big time that on the days I gambled I would avoid all carbohydrates and eat only fruits, vegetables, chicken, meat, eggs, or fish. He made me promise to start a gambling journal, in which I would jot down notes on my day’s play, how I fared, how I felt. He drummed it into my head that before gambling I must close my eyes and ask myself if I saw myself winning. If yes, go; if no, get the hell out of there.

“What you want to do is move toward something, not away from something,” he said. “Like I keep saying, go with the þow. Whatever you resist will persist. The trick is not to resist anything.”

Sometimes, after this, I’d go to the baccarat table. I was winning, maybe not a lot–$50 here, $100 there–but enough so that I knew I was filling myself up with that winning spirit. It was fun, readying myself for the moment when I would go for the big score. Plus I was meeting some interesting people at the table.

One day, I met a ruddy-faced guy named Greg, an acquaintance of Patterson’s, who played baccarat 350 days a year and was a real loser.

“I don’t know if I’ve had a winning day in six months,” he said that afternoon. A few hours earlier, he’d lost $100,000 at the Mirage. He moaned and sighed. “How could anyone lose 20 days in a row?” he asked the table.

“How about by playing 20 days in a row?” the dealer said.

“How about 15 years in a row?” Greg said morosely. He had his chips in two piles, one next to the other. Draping his hand over the stacks, he lifted from the bottom so that the chips shu±ed together like a deck of cards. It spoke of many years at the tables and was most impressive.

“I’m going to do something stupid and bet Bank,” he said and slid forward $300, which he immediately lost. “That’s enough for today,” he said. “And I’m not coming back.” A moment later, he placed $1,000 on Player, lost it, jumped up like a bee had stung him, ran from the table, ran back, slapped $3,000 on Player again, lost again, and bolted.

Into his damp seat scooted David, the Asian guy with the baseball cap from my first day. David carried his money in a fanny pouch and dipped into it almost constantly. At one point, after I’d had a particularly good run, he said, “What’s your system?” I smiled mysteriously. Later, he caught up with me near the slot machines. He told me he was working on a system to beat all systems. He gave me the particulars in English so fractured that I didn’t catch a word. Speaking more clearly, he said, “Don’t tell anyone about this system. If you want to be a rich man, keep your mouth shut. You win too much, live too loudly, they kill you, shoot you, maybe hire an assassin.” He paused and looked around. Then he put his hand on my shoulder and suggested we become partners. I’d be the seed money; he’d be the real genius. I said I had to go. He said think about it.

I felt way superior to both Greg and David. Greg, obviously, was an addict and more deserving of pity than scorn. But the more I won, the more scorn I felt. I didn’t know what David’s real story was. I didn’t really care, either. Both of them were losers, suckers, bums, clowns, fools. Upstairs, I called my wife. She complained endlessly about the rotting windows and the bugs. The bugs were giving her fits. I listened patiently for a while, then told her to deal with it as best she could. I was busy, I told her.

I went to the window that looked out on only air. It was black out there, though on occasion the spotlight beams from the Luxor, 40 million candlepower strong, cut through the sky. I’d heard you could see those lights from as far away as Los Angeles. I’d also heard that about 7,400 people a month were moving to the Vegas area, most of them coming in on Interstate 15 with California at their backs. I had an idea. Maybe what the Luxor was shooting into the sky was some kind of rube-sucking tractor beam. That struck me as pretty cool and pretty funny. I laughed out loud. I didn’t miss my wife and daughter at all.

At night, patterson and i lived the life of a professional gambler. We ate prime rib. We greased the palms of various doormen–$20 per–at various establishments. We came out large at some happening joint atop the Rio Suite Hotel & Casino, scooting right by the hoi polloi standing in line.

One night, cruising around in Patterson’s super-cherry 1965 Grand Prix– he bought it from a cash-strapped gambler for $5,000; the last offer for it came in at $18,000–we stopped by a number of places where the girls traipsed around half naked. Patterson’s ex-girlfriend had once been a dancer at a club called Paradise, and on the way in there, he said, “I’ve met several girlfriends here, some who still like me and a bunch who don’t. So if I get slapped, ignore it. And if I get molested, ignore that, too.”

“Really?” I said, somewhat nonsensically.

“Whatever,” Patterson said. “That’s the only thing you need to get along in Vegas. Whatever. A whatever attitude. It gets you through everything in this city.”

“Whatever,” I said, and we both laughed our way through that club and on to the next, a place called Olympic Garden.

Inside Olympic Garden, I averted my eyes and spent quite some time chatting with a very nice, somewhat philosophically oriented girl about her previous life on Ram Dass’s commune. Meanwhile, Patterson was cozying up to a dancer named Trisha. Every once in a while, Trisha would take off her top, straddle Patterson, and sort of move around on him. One time as she was doing this, he caught my eye and winked. I smiled and lifted my glass of ginger ale in salute.

At the end of the evening, Patterson asked Trisha what he owed her. She said $100. Patterson þipped her $500. They seemed smitten with each other. He whispered something in her ear. She said maybe she’d call him later–maybe they could get together.

Outside, I high-fived Patterson.

“You know,” he said, “you could have done the same thing yourself.”

The valet brought up the Grand Prix, and on the way back to the Monte Carlo, Patterson allowed as how it didn’t matter too much to him whether Trisha called later or not. It was all part of the game of living in Las Vegas. I asked him why he gave her $500, which was $400 more than he owed.

“If we do go out, I want her to know who I am,” he said. “If I start out showing her no money, it’ll mean dinner and a few movies. It’ll mean I have to show her I’ve got the capability of making money. But the nice thing about throwing out money like I did is, it covers all those bases very quickly, and she goes, ‘Wow, the guy can blow that kind of money that easily? Oh, this is a big deal!’ And 500 bucks is nothing to me. It’s like a McDonald’s meal. Anyway, the only thing I spend money on other than my rent and my food is women. It literally is my hobby.”

At the hotel, I went for a Coke at a bar where I’d made friends with a bartender named Artie, from New York. Tonight, Artie told me he’d once tried his hand at gambling, but after rapidly turning $1,350 into $36– “Enough for a meal and two packs of smokes”–he’d given it up. Now he was into playing the futures markets, based on the teachings of get- rich-quick commodities guru Ken Roberts. He thought that was safer than gambling. Currently, he had a position in orange-juice futures that was heading south, but once the position turned around, he’d be very well off indeed.

I took the elevator up to my room, thinking, What is life but love and money? I wondered if Patterson was right, if there was a girl like Trisha out there for me. I wondered about that for a good half hour, then fell into a fitful sleep that was basically no sleep at all.

The next day, i took a drive out to the gambler’s Bookstore, which is in an industrial-park-type setting across the way from McFadden-Dale Industrial Hardware and Synthetic Systems Inc. The Gambler sold books like Baccarat Money Management, Baccarat System Tester (1000 Actual Casino Dealt Shoes!), Baccarat Made Simple, How to Play and Win at Casino Baccarat, 72 Days at the Baccarat Table & 45,000 Decisions, Winning Baccarat Strategies, Facts of Baccarat, and The Basics of Winning Baccarat, none of which I needed, since I already knew all I needed to know. There were also about a thousand other gambling titles– as well as, oddly, some issues of Popular Mechanics and the Home Handyman Encyclopedia and Guide, both of which probably contained information about repairing rotting window frames, though I didn’t bother to check.

Bill, the manager of the Gambler’s Bookstore, was a friendly, bearded fellow wearing shorts and a paisley shirt. Himself, he didn’t gamble. “I’ve lived here and seen what it’s done to people,” he said. “The wife and I just bought a new home, and I’d rather pay for that than donating my money to the casino.”

Another loser. I thanked him for his insight and went back into the heat and drove to a pawn shop. At the pawn shop, I could buy a metal detector, VCRs, televisions, a LeRoy Neiman ladies watch, necklaces, a carousel horse, hundreds of gold hearts and religious crosses on gold chains, a violin, a saxophone, a number of Ping golf clubs, an old sword for $59.99–or, if I was down and out, I could sell that kind of stuff to the rat-faced fellow behind the counter. A greasy dude with a Fender guitar was talking to him now. Rat-face said, “I’ll give you $50 for that piece of crap.” Greasy handed it over. Behind him was a pock-faced guy with a Mitsubishi TV, waiting his turn to get the shaft. He kept glancing at the sword for $59.99. He really seemed to be longing for the sword. Maybe he was thinking he could effect an even swap, TV for sword. That’s what it looked like he wanted. I didn’t want to see it, though, and left before any such transaction could take place. I went to McDonald’s and ate a Big Mac, with a hot apple-pie pastry for dessert. All around me were losers and more losers. It wasn’t even noon.

Once, I heard Patterson postulate that most losers were people who, in their everyday lives, just to get by, ripped other people off in ways big and small. If they sold cars for a living, for example, they gouged unnecessarily. As a result, they came to Vegas not to win but, on an unconscious level, to lose, to get cleaned out. Because in the process of getting cleaned out they found redemption for their big and small sins, such that by the time they got home again they were both penniless in the wallet and clean in the conscience. And then they dirtied themselves again. And then they cleaned themselves again, with the casinos being the only beneficiaries from the cycle.

“In our Western society,” Patterson asked, “have you ever heard the phrase ‘I got cleaned out’? How about ‘taken to the cleaner’? How about- -and this is my favorite one–‘filthy rich’? Just words, right? But those words reþect our society and our culture: If you have a lot of money, you have done something wrong with your life, and you are a bad person.”

Mainly I thought this a pretty cheap bit of psychologizing. But who was I to argue with Patterson, who had spent millions and millions of dollars learning that technology of his? Anyway, what difference did it make? All I knew was that I had more money in my pocket than when I’d arrived in Vegas. And I was a winner.

I hopped a taxi to go to patterson’s place. the driver’s name was Ramon. A girl in fairly short shorts weaved through the cars on the Strip, making her way from one side of the street to the other. She looked to be not much older than my daughter. Ramon said, “How old do you think that little bitch is? Jailbait. Looket her ass sticking out.”

“Whatever,” I said.

Patterson drove Trisha and me to a Chinese restaurant for dinner. By this time, only two days after meeting Trisha, he was deep into his relationship with her. Life was indeed moving at an accelerated pace. Earlier, sotto voce, he’d said, “I’m not bored with her yet, but I’m at that stage where I’m going, ‘Okay, where does this go from here? Are we going to get closer?'”

Trisha wore painted-on black pants and a see-through camisole over a low-cut bustier. Her breasts were large and right out there. She had curly, spilling, brownish hair and a considerable number of pleasing freckles. Her eyes were neatly made up. She was sizzling hot. Ordering a Seagram’s 7, she said, “Call me a lush,” and laughed gaily. Then she began fiddling with that low-cut top. “I’m pulling more cleavage together,” she explained happily.

After dinner, I sat in the backseat of Patterson’s car and listened to Patterson and Trisha talk. Patterson: “I’ve had Ferraris, Porsches, BMWs, Lamborghinis, and Mercedes, but the one I felt the best about was the Corvette, of which I’ve had six. But I think maybe my next one will be a Hummer.”

Trisha: “I can’t say I agree with you there. What about a Rolls?”

Patterson: “I want a Bentley Continental R.”

Trisha: “Well, why don’t you get one?”

Patterson: “Honey, we have to buy a house in Malibu first. Anyway, the Rolls is $370,000.”

Trisha: “And your point is?”

Patterson: “For the past four days, that fellow in the backseat has been asking me how much money I make. I don’t answer questions like that. It’s personal.”

Trisha: “I know. I know. I haven’t asked.”

Patterson: “It’s like asking me to describe sex with a woman. That’s personal. That’s my soul, what I put into making love.”

Trisha, meltingly: “Ohhhh.”

Patterson: “I enjoy your company, Trisha.”

Trisha: “Thank you for enjoying my company.”

Patterson: “Believe me, there’s a lot to enjoy.” Trisha: “Oh, gosh.”

“You know what I like about this woman?” Patterson said to me. “She doesn’t ask me anything about my past.”

Trisha groaned, humorously. “I don’t think I want to know,” she giggled.

Later on, at a concert at the Hard Rock Hotel and Casino, Pat-terson went downstairs to buy some Halls Mentho-Lyptus drops, and I chanced to spend some time alone with Trisha. She lit a cigarette and told me what the other girls at her club had said to her the first time she met up with Patterson. They said that she was just so lucky to be sitting with him, that they knew him, that he was a real high roller. Trisha must have been tipsy, because she’d already told this story once before, in front of Patterson. At that time, she said she had told the other girls she didn’t give a hoot about Patterson’s money. She just knew that he was a nice guy.

Now, stubbing out her cigarette, she frowned and said, “I used to be able to sniff money. I don’t know anymore. So, just out of curiosity, how much do you think he makes a year?” Just then, Patterson reappeared. He said he’d stopped by the roulette table. He said he’d just won $1,700.

Trisha had a great big happy smile on her face.

Patterson’s apartment, the apartment of a professional gambler. In his fridge, he had a jar of mayo that belonged to his ex-girlfriend, some Louis Rich pressed turkey that belonged to his ex, some of his ex’s aloe-vera gel (“for her boob job”), his ex’s jar of guava nectar. The only thing in the fridge that really belonged to Patterson was a six- pack of Labatt beer and a container of whipped cream.

On the countertop were some paper plates and some plastic cups.

The cupboards were empty.

Besides the disposable dishware and the beer and the whipped cream, about the only other things Patterson could call his own in his place were his clothes, a TV, a VCR, and a stereo. He didn’t have any fishing rods. He didn’t have a barbecue grill. No pets. No pictures of friends or loved ones. No bookshelves filled with prized, dog-eared books. No wife, of course, and no daughter. No paintings on the walls, no nothing on the walls, nothing anywhere handed down from generation to generation. He didn’t even own any furniture. What he had was rented, $250 a month.

“I really have no friends out here,” he said. “I have people I see from time to time but no friends.”

“Do you think you and Trisha have a future together?”

Patterson snorted and his eyes goggled. “No way.”

Then he told me about the roofer from New Jersey who’d recently called him regarding his services. A lot of people, Patterson said, “all they can see are the babes and the lifestyle and the dollar signs þashing in front of their eyes. I got the feeling this fellow was ready to leave his wife, leave her the business, take his savings, and live his youth again. A huge mistake. I tried to knock it down. I said, ‘This lifestyle is very lonely. I don’t have any good friends. I spend a lot of time by myself.’ He said, ‘Perfect! I don’t like people anyway!’ He kept asking questions like, ‘How much is the rent down there?’

“It’s guys like that,” he went on, “that really make me question what I’m doing.”

“What a jerk,” I said. “Yeah,” said Patterson. “Yeah.”

Patterson and i sat in his car in front of the Monte Carlo on the day before I was due to leave town. He said he was happy with me and the progress I’d made. “Out of all my students,” he said, “you got it. Other people pick up the strategies, but you got the real meaning, what I’m going for, and I know you got it. It’s not about the lights, the women, the lifestyle. It’s about this. It’s about reality. And I’m very confident that if you continue to do this you will be extremely successful at it. Are you going to continue?”

I said I was sure I would. Why wouldn’t I? We shook hands, and I went back inside the casino, right to the baccarat tables.

I saw Greg, who had just lost $5,000, and remembered then his place in Patterson’s life as a gambler. The way Patterson himself played baccarat was considerably different from the way he taught most of his students to play. It was much more advanced. He played off of other people. If they were winners, he bet the way they bet; if losers, the opposite. “I’ve learned how to be a predator, and I’ve learned there’s a reason why God made predators,” Patterson told me. “It’s about evolving the species. With someone like Greg, my first choice would be to try to help him. But then, other people’s misfortune might as well be my fortune. You’ve got to clean up the garbage.”

Greg turned to me and said, “I promised myself I wouldn’t come to this casino again. Well, that promise lasted 24 hours. I’m going to get back my $5,000 and not come here again.” I studied him closely. His face wasn’t exactly ruddy. It was dry, so dry that the skin had turned þaming red and was peeling off in strips. It looked þayed. I don’t believe I’ve ever seen a more pathetic individual in my entire life. It made me nauseated, he was so pathetic. And this was a guy who had money to burn. I wobbled into the men’s room, splashed myself with water, and placed my head in front of the mirror. Looking good, I thought. My eyes were the dull, off-white color of a cue ball. I bared my teeth. Looking good, I thought. Nonetheless, that þayed, red skin on Greg had me really spooked. I stood there thinking about it. It was one of those things. I couldn’t get it out of my head. It was giving me nightmarish fits and did so until I realized who was doing the þaying. It was Patterson, he of the hollow, purposeless, predatory, loveless, garbageman’s life here in Las Vegas. And it occurred to me then that if I kept on going the way I was going, one day I’d end up being a Patterson or a Greg or some awful, freakish cojoining of the two.

In the morning, a few hours before leaving for the airport for my þight home, I hit the tables one last time. In a matter of minutes, I lost everything I’d won and everything I’d come with. I violated all of the Patterson rules that I could. I did this with a kind of directed fury. By the time I got to the airport, all I had in my pocket was five dollars. I broke that into quarters, hit the slot machines, and lost that, too.

“How’d you do?” my wife asked me as I unpacked.

“Cleaned out.”

“How much?”

I refused to tell her. A few hours later, Patterson called me for a post-trip wrap-up on what I’d learned. I told him about my last-minute crash-and-burn, hedging on the reasons and fibbing only when it came to how much I’d dropped, toning it way down. After that, my wife stormed back into the room and þung in my face a few of the shirts I’d worn in Vegas. They had perfume on them. She wanted to know where the perfume came from. I told her it had come from Patterson’s girlfriend, Trisha, who was a huggy sort of woman, but my wife wasn’t buying any of that. It was quite some row we had and included talk of divorce.

Tears came to my eyes. “Sweetie,” I said, opening my arms to her.

She wasn’t having any of that, either, and shortly thereafter took my daughter back to Bloomingdale’s, where they shopped with a vengeance.

I called the window guy and made an appointment to get the rotting window frames fixed. He told me I’d also probably want to call a bug specialist, since he himself didn’t do bugs, so I made that call as well. Then I took a peek at the chart of my Russia fund–bad news, of course–and spent some time reþecting on my Vegas experience.

All told I’d lost $3,700. But that $3,700 was a drop in the bucket compared with the value of what I’d learned. The experience had cost me one week of my life and nearly cost me my marriage. I’m talking without exaggeration. It’s no cakewalk to get this kind of information. But, please, don’t get me started. I’m a husband and a father and a player of mutual funds. I’m really not cut out to be a professional, Las Vegas– type gambler. 


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