Riding the Pine: With Joe Clyne '16 and Henry Arndt '16

by Henry Arndt and Joe Clyne | 1/20/16 7:00pm

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by Eliza McDonough / The Dartmouth

We were running down the road, trying to loosen our loads and we had just one thing on our mind.

Ninety minutes from home, we were nearly smack dab in the heart of Belmont and its little slice of heaven on Earth known as the Lakes Region Casino. With just 10 minutes until our encounter with destiny, the car went silent, and we pulled off the highway, panicked and in a cold sweat. We needed to take a breather. We also needed to take advantage of the incredible McPick 2 menu at McDonald’s. $4, a large iced coffee and 970 calories later, we had no choice but to reflect — how had we put ourselves in this situation yet again?

The story of our gambling addiction begins a mere two months ago on a starry night at the illustrious Makasa Sun Hotel & Casino in Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe. While our friends and family naively believed that we were visiting Africa to spend quality time with dear friends and grow to understand and appreciate a foreign country, we were going for one reason and one reason only — high stakes gambling. It is for that reason that we sat down at a blackjack table with a $5 minimum bet and proceeded to lose every single dollar that we walked in with. Though we left Zimbabwe with no money, we left with something far more precious — a crippling obsession with gambling. Two weeks into winter term at Dartmouth, it was time to feed the beast.

Unluckily for your correspondents, the moronic New Hampshire state legislature has imposed rigorous constraints on gaming parlors across the granite state. The powers that be recently rejected a visionary plan to allow casino gambling in-state, so we were forced to find the best alternative — a casino nearly an hour and a half from campus that only allowed a $4 maximum bet and donated all its proceeds to charity. Regardless of the seeming constraints, we were all-in (figuratively of course — we were actually betting $4 at a time, every time, because the minimum bet was also $4).

After an all-too-brief respite at the Golden Arches, we made our way directly to the house of chance. It was time to pay the ferryman and cross the River Styx. We were entering the pits of hell. We would be leaving heroes, or we would not be leaving at all.

From the moment we walked through the doors, we knew we were outsiders. The house wanted us to lose. Every gambler in the room wanted us to lose. And sad though it is to say, we wanted each other to lose as well.

Though the casino had just two rooms and a single blackjack table, it still took us nearly 15 minutes to find our seats. We could sense the electricity in the air as we finally found the nerve to place our first $4 bets. However, we still couldn’t tell whether the current would reanimate us, saving us from our dull realities, or whether the shock would be too much for our fragile systems, electrocuting us and leaving us paralyzed.

Right off the bat, the cards were coming our way. Our false identities as University of New Hampshire students who were double majors in math and economics endeared us to our dealer and our fellow patrons as they sought the advice that only our analytical minds could bring to the devil’s game.

As the hours passed, our stacks grew higher and higher. $60 had turned into $100. $100 had turned into $130. We had turned our city into an empire. There was no way we could lose.

Suddenly, from the sports bar room adjacent to the blackjack table, strode our worst nightmare.

“Denise,” a decrepit old man muttered. “It’s time for your break. I’ll be dealing now.”

Our friendly dealer had been given the hook and instead we would be forced to battle against a geriatric incompetent named Walter with all our financial assets on the line.

Walter is the kind of dealer that hits blackjack when you have 20, the kind of dealer who doesn’t bust when he’s showing six, the kind of dealer that makes you want to buy insurance. Without the advantage of a friendly dealer, we were forced to grapple against the house using only our own god-given intelligence. We were doomed to fail.

Three hours later, we had each lost every cent that we had originally placed on the table. We had lost $20 more playing craps. We lost $30 more than that playing roulette. After six hours in that godforsaken hellhole, we were down $100 bucks apiece and had nothing to show for it but an order of fries comped by the house in a desperate attempt to keep us at the table so they could keep taking our money. We walked into the casino thinking we could lose nothing but the money in our pockets. We walked out having lost that and far, far more.

We lost our money, our dignity and another ephemeral moment of our ever-fading youth, a beautiful glimmer that we will never grasp again. We walked into the casino beautiful Adonises, shimmering and shining in the late afternoon sun, rich as Croesus and proud as Icarus. We left wizened paupers, poorer even in spirit than in material wealth. Perhaps the most precious thing that we lost to the casino is our belief in our own humanity.

We are mere beasts, animated not by noble moral impulse nor by conscious rational thought. We scurry like rats in a maze, in a constant pursuit of the next cheap buzz, the next sensual thrill.

Our final hope to escape the spinning wheel of pain and pleasure is in our P.E. class, “Relaxation and Meditation.” Perhaps by retreating from the constant physical demands of the body, we will be able to soothe our tortured minds. Perhaps not. Perhaps it is already too late.

(Carolina over Arizona, Patriots over Broncos.)