The Flamingo, one of the oldest casinos in Las Vegas, was founded by Bugsy Siegel in 1946 and was a favorite haunt of the Rat Pack in the fifties and sixties. As with everything else in the world, the situation has somewhat deteriorated since that time. Now, as I look around the casino, I do not see Bugsy or Frank or Dean or Humphrey Bogart or George Raft. Sadly, the only famous character left in the place is me. This presents a rather daunting role for the Kinkster, but fortunately, I’m up to the task.
Like Frank, I usually carry an entourage with me. Unlike Frank’s boys, mine do not usually wear aluminum suits, but they do have colorful names like New York Ratso, Washington Ratso (I’m a two-Ratso man), Rambam, Chinga, Big Mike McGovern, and Little Jewford. All of these, and many other guys and dolls, are fully comped for drinks, meals, rooms, and shows not because they gamble all that much but because of who they know. They’re all friends of “Mr. Keenky,” as the pretty cocktail waitress from the Philippines calls me. What do I have to say about all of this? My name is Kinky Friedman, and I’m a gambling addict.
My executive casino host is Mike Sherigan, an Armenian in his seventies from Detroit who can run circles around even an energetic young buck like myself. I’d like to have two of whatever he’s on. Little Jewford recently called Mike to comp some rooms for an upcoming trip. Mike told him no problem. “Kinky’s play is strong,” he said with a note of pride in his voice. Jewford, of course, was not entirely unfamiliar with this Vegas euphemism. To call someone’s play on the slots “strong” is roughly tantamount to complimenting a monkey humping a jukebox. (They say the most expensive thing in the world is a free hotel room in Las Vegas. I oughta know: They give me a suite twice the size of the Governor’s Mansion. Speaking of which, I’d like to state that I did not set that fire, as has been widely and scurrilously rumored. I think it was Sam Houston’s ghost trying to get the current occupant’s ass out of there.)
I suppose I should explain that I differ from most gamblers in that I only play the slots. I believe all true geniuses are drawn to the slots because they best represent the human condition. They provide the least chance of winning and the only chance of experiencing a rendezvous with destiny. Real gamblers, of course, rarely talk about their losses. Sinatra, for instance, would only say, “I’m winning” or “I’m losing” (the latter being his last words on the planet). I don’t know if I’m a real gambler or not. All I know is that earlier this year at the Flamingo, I won a jackpot of $36,000 on the slots. Unfortunately, I was down $200,000 at the time.
Realizing I might have a gambling problem, I sought the sage wisdom of my personal guru, Willie Nelson. I found Willie at the back of the bus, focused entirely upon the ignition of a joint measuring roughly the length and circumference of the starship Enterprise.
“Willie,” I said, “everybody seems to be worried about me. They all say I’m turning into a gambling addict. They say I have to stop gambling now or I’ll blow everything.”
“Kinky,” he said, “your friends are wrong. Get as much money as you can so you can go back to Vegas and gamble more. Sell or mortgage your house if necessary. Do what you have to do.”
Now, that may sound like rather questionable advice to be giving a person in the grip of a powerful, highly destructive addiction, but it made an odd sort of sense to me. I knew that one of Willie’s favorite lines was one I’d first heard from Leon “Slim” Dodson, a philosopher who washed dishes at our family’s summer camp many years ago. Slim’s advice was, “Find what you like and let it kill you.”
So I took Willie’s advice and Slim’s advice and put my house in Austin on the market. Of course, I didn’t plan on using all the profits for gambling. I figured I’d spend about half the money on gambling, wine, and women, and the other half I’d just piss away. Fortunately or unfortunately, depending on how you look at it, I still haven’t sold the house. When I do, however, the little old ladies on their aluminum Jerry Jeff Walkers better not be standing in the way as I goose-step to the slot machines.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m no William Bennett, the guy who gave us The Book of Virtues and then reportedly proceeded to blow $8 million on the slots and video poker in Vegas. The only things I have in common with him are (1) we’re both slot players and (2) we both had the same girlfriend. (Hunter Thompson and I also once had the same girlfriend—poor girl—but I don’t think Hunter played the slots.) Bennett reportedly was addicted to the $500 slots; I need only about $5 worth of heroin on the spoon. But even at the $5 level, you may severely impede the chances of ever sending your imaginary children to air-conditioning repair school.
If I went to a shrink, he would probably say that I have a transfer addiction. In other words, when I stopped snorting Peruvian marching powder in 1985, I still remained a highly addictive personality. I indubitably became, to quote Leonard Cohen, “just some Joseph looking for a manger.” There even exists a psychological term that shrinks like to use for a guy in my position. It is “a f—ing idiot.”
So why do I do it? As Molly Ivins famously said, “Why the hell not?” Playing the slots has a certain meditational effect on my being. I sit there in the Champagne Slots at the Flamingo (located conveniently close to the dumper) smoking cigars, watching the lava flow, and drinking Mexican mouthwash until I’m walkin’ on my knuckles. The only interruption is that about every two minutes people come up to me and tell me they voted for me. Either they’re all pathological liars or the election was rigged. The truth is, I can quit gambling anytime I want. Hell, I’ll give you eight to five I can beat this thing.