Gambler’s Fallacy

It’s Saturday night so Avram Cluster finds himself sitting in a gold-rimmed velvet temple that glares neon and whistles slogans out the deepest corners — preferable to a sober weekend with his wife, who is off feeding the better part of his paycheck into a slot machine. He spends his time unobtrusively scanning his newspaper for Waldo, and he’s spent so long he’s beginning to doubt the stripy gent is even there. They wouldn’t do that though, right? Whoever designs these little games puts him there every single time, to not do so would be illegal or something. Avram becomes so annoyed he leaves the broadsheet on his seat and wades into the crowd. His coarse polo shirt rubs a few people the wrong way and the portly man clumsily pings around like a bowling ball until he stumbles into a lonely table; craps — not his typical game, but he drops a five dollar note on the pass line and takes 40% of the dice presented to him. With a flick of the wrist so limp his father would have cringed he tosses the dice and they turn up snake eyes. A mere twitch of his brisly lip is all the middle-aged man reacts with, eyes trained on the note whisked away. He gestures for the dice again, and receives them in his chubby palm. He feels the cheap plastic cubes in the fat folds of his hand, the subtle indents of the numbers on each face; the overexposed casino nightmare starts to fade from his mind and the whirling, gurgling, chirp and din of distant slot machines hitting jackpot and coked-up bankers bickering with black jack dealers melds into a deep bright jumble of sight and sound at the periphery of consciousness. The dice feel vivid and four dimensional, the air tastes electric, he can feel each photon falling on his retina and can hear each sinewave squeezed into his ear. Some real funky shit is going on but he’s never felt less afraid and just before he releases the dice he spies out the corner of his eye through a tiny part in the crowd just one arcsecond wide a red and white striped man smiling from behind a lamppost.

“An eleven, very good sir.” The dealer doubles his bet with a thin pink disc. Avram doesn’t even twitch; a statue if people of his body type had statues made of them. He takes the dice again and once more, with a slightly limp wrist, pushes them just enough to bounce off the green felt and turn up five and six. Two pink discs tumble onto the table, the dealer rocking a little on his heels. Avram doesn’t hesitate to repeat the cycle of take, toss, and reap the reward for a third time. “Do you mind if we take a look at those dice sir?” the dealer asks politely, to which Avram shrugs and allows the inspection to take place. There doesn’t appear to be any issue but just to be sure he makes him take two new ones, which he happily uses to win for the fourth consecutive time, a full eighty dollars in little discs piling up at the far end of the table. There’s an audience now, overhearing a potential cheat in their midsts. The dealer is clearly sweating and senses something animal in the peanut gallery. He whispers a stealthy memo into the mic on his lapel and hands the dice to Avram, who tosses another win to a happy shout from the crowd. After some frustratingly bureaucratic exchange of denominations he’s ready to go; he’s still, he’s robotic, he’s sweating but only because he’s fat and hot with not a hint of apprehension on his person. His sixth victory is even more joyous than the last and the crowd had grown to elbowing proportions. It’s this exact wrong moment security arrives to escort Mr. Cluster out with his 6400% return on investment. Avram is still locked in a sensory overload tunnel only dimly aware of the slick jazz filling the hall like a tropical mist desperately trying to rise above the jackpot klaxons, let alone the torrent of violence that swirls around him as the crowd defends their newest spectacle. He wades around like a stunned mullet until the brutality around him dies down and he’s once again handed those little pink dice, ready to throw again.

Five and six turn up once more and an ecstatic fervour overtakes the crowd. There’s something more here than mere celebration at another gambler, it’s a religious passion that’s emerged around this awaiting cardiac arrest. He tosses elevens downtable to a passionate ministry who see through him a glimpse of the divine; a spark of truth and beauty in the numbers on two dice. He isn’t merely kissed by lady luck but has her bent over the table, pulling her hair and turning her cheeks tender. Again and again victory returns, the casino floor a cathedral mid silent sermon, light sax solos and tasteful keyboard arrangements hymns for the gambling faithful. If He were so blessed, why not they too? Encoded deep in the mysteries of Avram’s elevens were the secrets of infinite wealth. Who among them were the diviners?

Avram’s wife, Beluah, stumbles drunk out the bathroom after reexperiencing seven martinis and a lobster bisque to see rows of emptied slot machines. Pulled to the din of a crowd she sees arcane rituals unfolding upon the vodka drenched carpet she can scarcely make heads nor tails of. Dice trajectories are plotted upon chalked up craps tables, the diviners tracing paths off to infinity and scurrying to specific slot machines which occasionally pay big with rainbow sirens; jackpot bodhissatvas descend from the electric rows with jingling pockets to share to rapt followers the particulars of divination. Different flicks of different wrists are hammered out in attempts to brute-force muscle memory, jubilation and disappointment cropping up in equal measure. ⚄ and ⚅ mark the floor in different patterns, different forms, in all shapes and sizes to summon some kind of apophenic demon to haunt the poke tables which appear like communes around the floor. Pockets were rifled through in order to find the Two True Dice which the dealer had taken from Avram at the beginning of his mission. Gaussians are scrawled on sheets of paper as the few death-wish statisticians who frequent casinos watch their worrying rollercoaster ride down the far right of the bell curve. Gematrics desperately try to form words out of only Es and Fs to little effect. In the nexus of all this rank insanity Beluah — head still reeling — spies a bowling ball shaped man dressed in a liberacelike coat and donning a rhinestone ten gallon hat, some kind of opulent showbiz Pope. Elbowing her husband’s acolytes out the way she manages to gain audience with the wagering pontifex, still fixated on his fives and sixes. “Avram? What the hell is going on here?!” she demands, shrill as ever.

“Oi! Don’t speak to His Holiness like that!” a deacon denounces.

“His Holiness?” Beluah is bemused, staring cross-browed at her glinting husband. Her eyes track down the table, to the piles of chips which had stacked up at opposite end — they overflowed and were complimented by coins and notes and gold plate stripped from roulette wheels. Her eyes go wide and her pupils flick to $s. “Avram honey why didn’t you tell me!” she beams, sidling up to her man; it takes only a slight hand signal from the holy man to win her legitimacy in the eyes of his followers.

The night goes on and the fervour doesn’t die down. His streak is unbroken and his prize money — of which the physical hoard of chips and trinkets is but an Earthly refraction of His True Winnings — has ballooned beyond comprehension. By now the whole weight of the world economy bears down on the passline, the rattle of dice announcing the doubling every few seconds. In the slightly humid air, still warmed with glossy solos and relaxed tropical drum beats, a strange change has occurred. A slight unreality, a different sheen to the transparent air — it was as if the casino had become untethered from the Earth and drifted off into space. A vessel, heading nowhere, cordoned off from the rest of reality to carry the Elect to a land of milk and honey. Along with this eerie sense of eschatological demise came a paranoid fear that some among them weren’t elect at all, impostors, black holes into which luck seeped. The failures of the Jackpot bodhisattvas fell into the laps of these suspicious individuals. This came to a head with the appearance of a dreaded heresy.

It wasn’t known who was the first to take this opinion, or why the conversation had come up at all, but that heresiarch had suggested that it wasn’t the same dice which turned up five or six each time, and rather they alternated back and forth. Simple disagreement ballooned to heated debate quickly turned to persecution. Orthodoxy had formed around the same-dicers and a caste of enforcers raided the supplies of the exiled security; walkie-talkiemadas strut around, inspecting scribbles for opposite-dicers scrying the wrong way. Justice is fast and unrelenting, a confiscation of any winnings for the holy table, and excommunication to the distant moneyless hotel. In a quick span martyrs are made and apostates are attacked in orgiastic rituals, surely to draw the favour of lady luck. The statisticians, who always carried a glimpse of doubt, were stripped and beaten with pilfered roulette wheels and pelted with mahjong tiles. False prophets are found in the far corners, playing games more easily manipulated and outside the purview of lady luck; charts of the impoverished underworld are made, with card counters at the very bottom. There are whispers of thieves who would take from the True Winnings, constantly guarded by those most faithful who accept only a pittance from the pile as remittance. This temple had turned paranoid, all the while his Holiness rolls and rolls — his wife enthroned by his side, watching the invisible sum grow.

In the true early morning of Sunday, just as the sun creeps in from the few high windows, there’s an eerie silence to the gambling hall. Faithful sleep at slot machines and gathered around poker tables, with the few still awake unsure exactly what has changed. Dread begins to spread as they realise the rhythmic rattle of the dice has stopped, Avram stands stone still at the far end of the table. Two dots stare him right in the eyes — snake eyes. The humidity freezes in the air, a switch had been flicked and the mystical air that haunted the floor drains out in an instant, leaving a tense vacuum. From beyond the orbit of Jupiter the casino comes crashing back to Earth, leaving a crater as wide as the face of the planet. Trillions upon trillions of weightless dollars evaporate in an instant, the world economy heaving a sigh of relief. Sleeping gamblers rise to a dead silent godless velvet hall, the meaning of the ominous lack of clinking dawning on each and every one.

“A-Avram?” Beluah creaks awake, passed out on her throne. “What’s wrong?”

He’s silent for a few moments, still getting his bearing. The ruined casino worms its way back into his consciousness, the opulent furnishings defaced and vandalised after last night’s fervour. “I lost,” he says plainly. Beluah peeks over and sees two little dots upturned, taunting her.

“You lost? How?!” She’s struggling to comprehend.

Avram shrugs. “Better luck next time I suppose.” He doffs his dandy hat and coat, his sweat drenched polo shifting as he walks away, to the opposite end of the hall. All eyes are on him but no one dares stop him. He grabs his newspaper, fortunately still there, and walks out the door into a blinding holy light. Avram squints, his eyes adjusting to the glare, only for it to resolve into dozens of individual points — flashlights, attached to gunbarrels. Federal agents swarm through the door, others bursting through the high windows and rappelling down. Avram, Beluah, all the gamblers are tackled to the ground and cuffed for their crimes. It’s a swift operation and before long the hall is empty, all the faithful under the auspices of the justice system.

Thus ends the Saturday night of magical thinking.

— TPunchbowl has a Twitter account.

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