Having recently embarked upon what is surely the most foolhardy experiment of my existence, the result of which you who visit me here in this place shall no doubt live to pass judgment upon–I find myself alternately elated, defeated, and terrified. I awake every day gripped by the impulse to flee this place and every night I wrestle with the same urge before sleep takes me.

Yet I have committed myself: I must stay. For Jeremy’s sake if nothing else, mad as that sometimes seems. The few mortal companions I have entrusted find me at times infuriatingly capricious, and I must admit I sometimes take a kind of sadistic delight in this, and at others I feel shame at my own pettiness in this regard. As a result I occasionally find I must take my leave for at least a few days, usually unannounced, with nary a word to those around me other than an unspoken promise to return within a relatively brief span.

This last month I found myself overcome with just such an urge. As I made my preparations for bed in the evening, alone at last after an exhausting day of explaining myself yet again to doctors and skeptics, I was overcome with the urge to bury my identity and disappear. I knew if I did nothing to stop this urge I would be gone, and gone for good: one more needle prick and I would surely kill someone.

So there in the dark of night, long after midnight, I crept from our home–my home with Jeremy, as I will always think of it–and left only a brief note near the door: “Back soon. Z.”

I struggled to remind myself that “soon” meant at best a few days, at most a few weeks. A month would be rude; a year, a betrayal; ten years, a disaster. For some reason, only thoughts of Jeremy made me think it necessary to avoid disaster (Such a frustrating man he was!).

Entirely on impulse, I found myself at the airport buying the first convenient ticket to any destination not requiring a passport, seeking some place I had never been to. It happened to be a small city in Louisiana. I have been to beautiful, savage and deadly New Orleans, a city marred by recent tragedy but which has seen far worse. Yet instead I chose a place in the northern part of the same state, Shreveport, some hundreds of miles away, near the border with Texas.

Upon arrival I found that it is not much of a town, although strange in its own way: half New Orleans, half Texas, half its own entity. A nearby military base, a large university, and casino gambling.


I confess that gambling has never held much fascination for me. It has often seemed the close cousin of whoring: at its worst those who run the game ply their trade preying upon the weakness, desperation, failures, frustrations, and even the loneliness, of those whose lives never became what they had imagined or hoped for in their youth. Yet at its best gambling might simply be a pleasant distraction, a simple way to wile away time, which even the short-lived sometimes find themselves compelled to do.

I found myself on, of all things, a riverboat: a riverboat in Shreveport Louisiana, in the early 21st century. I was at turns amused and beguiled, for these modern “riverboat casinos” would have been the spectacle of the world only a century or so in the past. Walking about this “boat” I was impressed by how it seemed no different than any other miraculous modern building: one could not tell it was afloat, the floors were so solid.

And there came the downfall, and the bit of disappointment: intellectually I knew I was on a ship, and yet there was no feeling of being on a ship. No smell of salt, brine, or river; no luscious shift and ho at the ankles. It was just another modern concrete and steel construction, identical in most ways to the many marvels of modern men: clean, airy, roomy.

Yet I could still marvel at the design. This was a casino easily the match of anything found in the fabled Riviera or the living legend that is Las Vegas. Indeed it possessed all the marks of the modern casino: the ample but soft lighting that made room for the bright blinking lights of the gaming machines with the constant buzz of bells and music creating a constant din, yet none of it loud enough to hurt the ears. There was the very slight smell of alcohol and tobacco, yet it was never enough to overpower the nose or offend the eye, even as smokers and drinkers could be seen everywhere; and everywhere were the machines holding their mesmerized patrons, tables and wheels surrounded by men and women all convinced that if they waited long enough, the Manna from Heaven would arrive for them.

I prefer my games to be personal, a contest between willing opponents, yet I sat down to a solitary game. Not wanting company, I chose an electronic machine, an altar to the Gods calling itself “Pick’em Poker.” It would generously accept most any sacrifice I had to offer, so long as it were numbered $1, $5, $10, $20, or $100. I absently shoved five copies of Benjamin Franklin’s face into its eager maw and began to play. I had learned the game of Poker before anyone present in the entire establishment had been born, and was mildly interested to know how this mechanical beast would interact with me.

Gambling at its worst is an exercise in predation. At its best it is a game of mental agility not unlike chess. At its most mediocre, it is mindless repetition. After some time worshipping at the altar of “Pick’em Poker,” I began to realize that it was a game somewhere in that sadly uninteresting middle.

As I was about to give up, having lost $300 of my $500, a soft baritone voice to my left said, “You aren’t playing it right.”

It was a male voice, but not at all flirtatious or aggressive. I turned to find it possessed by a man perhaps in his early 30s, dark haired and fair skinned, with a slight paunch but a pleasing face and an unassuming demeanor.

“You’re just trying at random,” he said. “You aren’t thinking about how the game works.”

He was entirely correct. I did not much care if I won or lost. I only enjoyed the mindless repetition of the soft bells and tones and the occasional win amongst the far more common losses.

Although I could tell he was not stupid, I chose to play the part of the clueless female. “Oh really? Could you explain it to me?” I asked.

I could tell that he responded immediately to my flirtation, but not in any overt manner. Instead, he launched into a lengthy discussion of the most intelligent way to play with the “Pick’em Poker” machine. Over the last four years, he came to tell me, he had been playing this particular game two or three times a week for two or three hours at a time.

“In all that time,” he said, “I’ve won a lot but not too much, I’ve lost a lot but not too much, and mostly come out just a bit ahead,” he told me proudly.

The snarling and nasty part of me silently opined that he was inordinately proud of having spent so much time while achieving so little. But the more forgiving part noted there were far worse ways to spend your time and money. He was a light drinker, a light smoker, and a light gambler, and he had managed to become neither predator nor prey. Given the circumstances there was something to admire in that.

We chatted amiably as I allowed him, in his male way, to teach me more of the finer points of the “Pick’em Poker” machine: and how to play it (as he calculated it) by losing no more than 99 pennites out of 100. He also tried to teach me how to game the casino system so if you played constantly they would consider you a “high roller” and give you all sorts of perks, including free meals, free show tickets, and so on.

“By days I’m a pharmacist,” he said. “I’ve been playing this game for four years, and in that whole time I’ve lost no more than a thousand bucks a year. I had lots of fun doing it, and gotten lots of free meals and shows and stuff for the whole thing,” he said. “I love coming here; it’s the only place I get to relax.”

This was when I learned his dark side. He was an inveterate gambler, yes, but he never gambled too much. He enjoyed coming to the casino, but it never became the center of his life. But then when I asked him his name, he said it was “Moe.” Suddenly I noticed something strange in his demeanor.

A kind of honesty had developed between us, and I instinctively said, “Moe?”

He looked at me a bit sheepishly and said, “Well, technically it’s Moishe.”

I smiled and looked around us. No one was paying the least bit of attention so I leaned into him a bit, grasping him by the elbow, and whispered softly in his ear, “Would you like to have a little fun, Moishe?”

3 Responses to “Shreveport”

  1. Tease! (Not Moe; us). ::ggl::


  2. Patience, my dear…

  3. I have been trying to do some research on the consequences of a Roman Citizen being killed or seriously hurt by a non citizen, I remember reading something to the effect that the entire village or town of the offending person would be razed. Can you point to any documentation on the web? Thanks

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