Comment, Comics and the Contrary.
I wrote this story some time ago, and Chris Haizlip was kind enough to provide the five illustrations. Chris can be e-mailed at chris*at*cyberspace-market*dot*com. Please leave a comment; advice, criticism and topical links to debt-management services are all welcome.
It seemed inappropriately beautiful, he thought, as the red plume met the clear warm water falling from the tap to fill the mock-porcelain basin. Billowing haematological clouds. He appreciated the abstract magnificence in the image of his life-blood smoothly leaving him. These musings on the artistic quality of his suicide did not last long. He broke from this sentimental study of the aesthetics of death to recommence his researches in mathematics, his professional vocation. Applying the inverse square root law of diffusion to the interface between the clear stream and clouds of scarlet and incorporating his rough knowledge of human biology, he attempted to calculate the amount of time after his expiration at which the liquid in the sink would be of a uniform colour. Practising the one craft he truly understood seemed an appropriate way to end his failed life.
After struggling to push his college cufflinks into place he decided that he would take both bow ties; the clip-on and the traditional tie-it-yourself. Adjusting the strap on the easy to fasten tie, he slipped the other into his pocket, keeping it available for later that evening when the louche image partly afforded by an untied bow may be required. The remainder of that image will be completed by the consumption of fine wines and spirits.
The doorman whose frame obstructed his path took his ticket with a grunt, tore it in half and returned a stub. Open sesame; the massive bulk moved to reveal the glittering treasure cave filled with fortune seekers and thieves.
A cold beer was needed to settle his nerves, its crisp flavour offering definition to the confusing array of sensations that greeted him. First came the light, as always; neon and filament; reflected and direct; decorative and functional. Sound followed shortly after, filling his ears; the vulgar beeps and whistles of machines; the dull, inexpressive drone of lounge music; the chatter of drunken excitement. Finally the smells crawled up his nostrils; sweat and alcohol; the subconscious stink of adrenalin.
A second beer relaxed him. He resented the cost, which was at least twice as high as in the rest of this over-priced city, but knew that the numbers on his bill would be meaningless by the end of the night.
It is all a numbers game, all mathematics. The descriptive language of the physical universe; a method of writing without ambiguity. His failure to manage the nuances of his native tongue accentuated his self-imposed isolation. Alone, he sought safety in numbers.
For tonight at least he has become part of a crowd; a multitude with some understanding of his of his world. Numbers rule their lives to some degree, but they see this world through a clouded vision, confusing the perfect illustration provided by numbers with the impressionistic portrayal from the sensory perceptions.
With this understanding he is able to tame his arrogance, producing a domesticated virtue from that vice. So restrained, he preferred to think of himself as educatedly confident.
His chosen game was a simple one; a game of unadulterated chance. Placing wagers on the final resting place of a ball on a spinning theatre of seats, the monetary return is determined by a simple calculation of the odds. Minus a small slice, the cut for the House. It is a game in which it is impossible to be a good player, only a lucky one. His return for the first few spins was purely hormonal, a chemical high as he placed his stipend at the mercy of providence. Providence provided the House with a few months worth.
He had deployed none of his advantages; that would require a greater degree of detachment. Accepting free alcohol as a paltry compensation, on the House, for his poor luck he took a step back, watching the others as they gradually lost their money. A man, younger even than he, placed profligate bets. The man dressed smartly, though that is no guide to wealth, as even he, a comparative pauper, could be a dapper dresser on temporary terms. Perhaps a more accurate measure of wealth is the pleasure taken in the act of losing money, though this is probably not how it is regarded. It is money well spent in the assertion of status. Animalistic; like the purported proving of robust genetics by the taunting dangerous predators; all to impress the hereditary subconscious of prospective mates. Humanly, it seems to work; this man had a flock, a gaggle, a whole school of eager females. Perhaps as these women issue invoices for the time spent in their company the collective term should be pride.
There were so many stories to watch he should count the dramas as innumerable, if he did not know better than to indulge such laziness. It was an odd theatre, more a cast than an audience. Perhaps it was am-dram. There was the senior gentleman, as it was put politely by his colleagues, who played the wise man act, introducing his junior charges to the games. But he lost his money nonetheless.
Somewhere under liberally applied makeup an ancient crone managed to win some money. Too old to be a punk, her pink rinse and spectacularly rouged cheeks were perhaps a stylistic inspiration. Even the over ornate costume jewellery could have been taken straight from a Vivienne Westwood collection. Perhaps the predatory House was softening up this prize, tempting her to overplay her hand.
The croupiers were part of the same grand production, but belonged to a curious classification, both actors and educated spectators. Staging their elaborate ritualised routines, they also play the role of critics, analysing the patterns found in the performance of the players.
There were bigger patterns than the personal to be seen in this arena, and these configurations were his speciality. By definition there are underlying patterns in all systems, and humans have the natural capability to perceive these. On occasion the human mind will see arrangement where there is none; it will divine images in the stars and the future in eviscerated entrails. But beyond over-enthusiastic pattern recognition, the human mind is also able to reason. This unique tool can be used to construct theoretical and physical aids towards arrival at a more conservative result. Access to these was essential to the realisation of his personal research; an investigation into methods of fool-proof wealth creation.
The observation of the outcomes of games played allowed him to determine the particular phase that the pattern had arrived at, indicating the point at which to enter the game. This was no sure thing, the pattern he had derived from the data was loose, but financial need had trumped the desire for further refinement and so this was a case of playing the percentages. Nevertheless, the pattern was true, and the bets he placed began to pay dividends. Increased available capital allowed him to explore the edges of the mental configuration, reaping ever greater rewards. Wins were interspersed with losses, but wealth accrued, its Sterling value represented on the table by coloured tokens. A representation of a representation, but an extremely useful one regardless; this abstraction being one that can buy you many things.
As the streak of success continued, he heard the crowd that had gathered whisper of 'luck'. He would like to have explained exactly how little of a gamble all this was, though such a philanthropic attitude towards public education would have had a personally impoverishing effect. Rather, he revelled in being the main player, the attraction of the night. Warming to this attention, he quickly learned how to entertain while achieving financial reward. Placing wagers that could not produce a result, he introduced an element of uncertainty, for the audience at least. They gasped as the House gathered in hundreds of counters on a single spin of the wheel, and despite their envy there was a ripple of applause each time he took back a sizeable pile. Though his balance was increasing over time, he decided that this story needed a dramatic conclusion, and began to set up the conditions of his big play.
Exploiting a curious feature of the pattern, he lost a series of bets, drawing sympathy from the crowd. By now he was a high roller, a big player, even though he had brought with him a relatively modest amount; his total worth. This status afforded him personal attention, with staff to steward the audience looking on, an attentive waiter and the duty manager to play the role of his private croupier. The more reckless he became in losing his money, the greater the attention he garnered.
But these wagers were simply the riding out of a dip, the nadir of which he had passed some spins of the wheel ago. Now the pattern was on the upturn, though he did his best to keep this hidden, holding his hand until the absolute peak; the biggest payoff. He would place all that remained in a complex spread of wagers. The tension that drew the crowd in around him did not stretch to include his own state of mind; he was confident in his ability to read the pattern. And this assurance was well placed. Now it was time to ride the pattern right to its zenith, to clear out the House and fill his account. There could be no other consequence but the one he saw, a consequence determined by what had gone before. There was a collective intake of breath as he slid his worth in its entirety onto the red square; he looked up at the duty manager. The croupier looked away, down at the carefully placed wager, hesitated, and began to spin the wheel.
The ball bounced, rolled and settled, impossibly, into a black seat. The sudden rush of adrenalin almost overwhelmed him, and he felt his hands reach out to take back his lost wager. His eyes met the warning gaze of the croupier, issuing a silent caution. His hands reached the counters nonetheless, but before they could drag any riches back they were restrained. In an uncultured accent that was as much an affectation as his own educated tones he heard hard words whispered in his ear. Quiet compliance was impressed upon him, but he urged to rail against it.
"Cheat!" At least that was his impulsive intention; what emerged was barely a squeak as it forced itself from his throat. The mass of the crowd splintered, the collective becoming individuals; schadenfreude being a miserably divisive happiness. With no money to support his residency he was evicted from the House, tossed materially into the street. The realisation of his loss had left him with little means to oppose the be-suited bouncer's physical manipulation.
As he flexed his fingers in the tepid water he disturbed the scarlet clouds. He balled his hands, forming weak, ineffectual fists, blood pumping from his neatly sliced wrists. His drained mind watched as his action disturbed the sharp image, forming a new pattern to replace it. The effect of an actor on the play of events; he saw this after a few clouded moments. The answer to his frustration; he had not been misguided, only, secluded in his ivory tower, he had failed to take into account the actions of the individual. His preferred view of people was that of simple irrelevancies, but that did not alter the reality that it was not so. The forces they exert make them integral parts of the configuration, some deliberate and reasoned inputs, some reckless and instinctive. His system was not fool-proof; he realised that no fully formed drama is devoid of its jester. Racing, his mind concluded that it would not be a simple matter to recast the pattern to include a structure of interacting idiots, but it would not be impossible either. He had to clear his head; he had some theorising to do, some calculations to make, more games to play. Now where are those bandages?