Addiction is one of those things that big thinkers have a lot of theories about, each one usually the complete opposite of the idea before it. For example, my latest idea is that people who aren't dependent on something — smoking, heroin, anonymous sex — are placing a severe strain on their bodies. It's much more work to be abstinent. And, since so many people have some sort of addiction, wouldn't it be easier to say that they are normal and the straight arrows are the ones with the deviant behavior? I mean, isn't that what Anton LaVey was really saying? But noooo, you'd have to off Betty Ford and defame Bill W. before the recovery-industrial complex would ever let that happen.
Another thing worth pointing out about addictions is that some are just cooler than others. For my money, gambling is at once the easiest thing to get absorbed in and the stupidest. If you're addicted to cocaine, you probably have a decent sense of fashion and know your way around a singles' club. But gamblers? Well, just look at Kenny Rogers. He may know when to hold 'em and know when to fold 'em, but he really doesn't know a very good haberdasher, now does he?
Recently I journeyed to the Page, at Page and Divisadero, and witnessed some serious, and seriously depressing, gambling going down. Only this form of gambling was legal and offered no reward to the winner. I'm sure there's some theory of addiction in there — the idea of no real reward from repetitive, destructive behavior.
The Page is your typical neighborhood dive, with red Pizza Hut lighting and cozy Naugahyde seating. There are two pool tables and even foosball, and the bar has a digital jukebox thingy with which you can summon hundreds of songs (it's basically an oversize iPod). What I love about the Page is that the bartenders are more than happy to hand you the remote to the TV, and they serve more than 20 beers on tap. There's also this contraption at the end of the bar, and herein lies my story.
The machine looks like a flat-screen computer, and it holds several different touch-screen videogames. When I first walked in I ignored it, focusing mostly on the Daily Show's attempt at skewering Samuel Alito. When are we going to learn that if someone looks like an asshole (Dick Cheney, Ari Fleischer, Richard Hatch) he probably is? Anyhoo, I was chuckling at the television when I realized that I was sort of lonely. Then, in walked three youngsters. (They were immediately carded, seein' as they looked about 15.) They ordered drinks, programmed the jukebox, and pulled up seats right next to me. They were all gathered around the strange computer-game thing, and I was intrigued. They could tell, so they invited me to pull up a chair and join them. Yay!
I was expecting a long evening of sharing stories and laughs, but very soon we all became caught up in what can only be described as visual smack. You see, reader, there is a videogame called Erotic Photo Hunt. Those of us who remember the kids' magazine Highlights will appreciate Erotic Photo Hunt, because it's kind of similar. You're given two seemingly alike pictures, with which you play the “one of these things is not like the other” game. In Highlights, you may have had a farm scene: In one picture the pig has a ribbon around its neck and in the other it doesn't, or the farmer is wearing suspenders in one but overalls in the other. Well, this game is just like that, but instead of ribbons and suspenders you get asses and titties. Women are on all fours with their booties in the air, or a naked lady (well, except for a bikini bottom) is reclining in a deck chair sucking on a string of pearls, or a gal is spread-eagle on a bed with her head back. The differences usually entail, like, a bit more labia poking through the underwear in one picture over the other, or the chair the woman is sitting on has five legs rather than four. It costs a dollar to play three games, and there seems to be no prize for winning (at least not for the heterosexual females in the room).
“You get to put your name on the high score!” said the only guy in the group, proudly. Apparently there is also a series of photos of naked men, and I encouraged them to show me those. “Nah, we never do the men,” said one of the young ladies, who looked like a hipper version of Amy Fisher. Jeez, these were seasoned pros. Give them 20 more years, and it's marathon bucket-o'-quarter slots in Reno every weekend.
I sat next to them for two hours, and they never stopped playing the game. Who knows how many dollars they plugged into that machine. They didn't talk to each other, they just pointed at the screen and tried to beat their score. Like any hand-eye game, Erotic Photo Hunt was fully absorbing to the persons participating in it, and completely baffling to those who watched from afar.
As for myself, I did gain something nice from the experience, and that was the happy realization that there was thankfully an addiction that I didn't have. Yet.