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Great Moments

Rolling with the Karma
Jeff Greenfield
From the Print Edition:
Kevin Costner, Nov/Dec 00

 "How about coming to Vegas with me?"  

It was about the unlikeliest offer imaginable. We had met and fallen in love only a few weeks earlier, in Santa Barbara, California--a place as spiritually removed from Las Vegas as the outer moons of Jupiter. And, as a source of recreational diversion, neither of us would have ranked Vegas all that far above root canal.  

Sandra was a child of the late 1960s, not an ashram-dwelling, crystal-waving New Age acolyte, but someone for whom a walk on the beach or along a mountain trail held far more appeal than the casinos and spectacles of the Strip. As for me, my appetite for gambling is more than sated by an occasional stab at the lottery. I have yet to grasp the rules of the craps table, and while I once fantasized about a turn at the blackjack tables, as smooth and suave as Sean Connery playing James Bond, reality was a different story. The sheer speed with which the cards were dealt and my chips vanished turned me into a sweat-drenched Don Knotts.  

So why was I going to Las Vegas? For the only reason I ever go to Las Vegas: someone was paying me to speak there. I had long ago made my peace with the town: every time I went there, I would leave a tiny portion of my speaking fee in the slots--the one form of gambling I understood. I had come to think of it as something between a transaction fee and an offering to the gods of the desert. "Here," I might have been murmuring. "Take this small gift, and exempt me from Wayne Newton and David Brenner."  

The trip to Las Vegas, I hastily explained to Sandra, was not my way of providing her with a glimpse into our future together. Think of it, I suggested, as something in the way of an anthropological field trip, a concentrated Salute to Wretched Excess.   "OK," Sandra said, "as long as we don't have to spend a lot of time in the casino."  

"You're on," I said.  

So it came to pass that a few weeks later, we were walking through the lobby of one of the high-rise palaces on the Strip. The scene was familiar: the low-intensity clamor of the casino, the lights, the bells, the occasional orgasmic eruption of joy at a winning hand, the furrowed brows and baleful stares aimed by one spouse at the other, who has just placed the rent money at high risk, the endless lines snaking back from the buffet restaurants and reservations desks. We quickly decided we did not wish to book the floor show, a low-key spectacle that featured either the sinking of the Titanic or the bombing of Nagasaki, and set out instead to check out New York­New York. The just-opened hotel was Las Vegas at ...well, most

To enter, you walked over an East River, across a Brooklyn Bridge, hard by a Statue of Liberty. The huge hotel offered side-by-side facades of the Empire State and Chrysler buildings. The casino was dominated by a classic Greco-Roman entrance that proclaimed, in a prescient parody of the famous Wall Street landmark: New York Slot Exchange. I started to lead Sandra inside, ready to make my traditional high two-figure offering in the form of several hundred quarters.  

"No, not yet," Sandra said.  

"What's up?"  

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