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GAMBLING BEARDING THE GODS OF CHANCE


Date published: 10/6/2012

Barbara Holland (1933-2010), a Washingtonian, moved to Bluemont (pop. 200) in Loudoun County in 1993 and wrote "Endangered Pleasures: In Defense of Naps, Bacon, Martinis, Profanity, and Other Indulgences." A manifesto for enjoying the unsung, out-of-fashion, and slightly disreputable joys of life, the book was a defiant rejoinder to the Puritan spirit that variously possesses religious crusaders and radical feminists, fitness fanatics and subdivision covenanteers, vegans and workaholics, and all the other grim tribes of Scold Nation whose purpose is to make us feel bad about feeling good.

With the permission of Barbara Holland's publisher, we are excerpting chapters from "Endangered Pleasures" on this page each month.

We do not necessarily endorse every indulgence profiled by the author. But by golly she does make them sound good.

--Ed.

TACITUS noticed that the Germanic tribes, even when cold sober, would gamble themselves into slavery. In China, a dedicated gambler might wager his own right hand, though it's hard to know what use this was to the winner. Emperors Augustus and Nero set up state lotteries to fatten the national treasury; so did Queen Elizabeth I. In America, snobs who wouldn't be seen dead with a lottery ticket play the stock market.

We like to gamble. Winning, we have closed our eyes, leapt across the yawning abyss, and landed knee-deep in daisies. Even losing has a certain gloomy glamour: The gods of chance are worthy opponents; we have engaged them in hand-to-hand combat and though we lost, at least we shrank not from the contest.

Naturally the higher the stakes the more exciting it gets, and some hold that it can't be called gambling at all if we can afford to lose. Risk--the depth of the abyss--is the champagne of the bloodstream. The thrill is also deepened when, instead of merely checking numbers in the paper, we have a personal, hands-on relationship with the matter; kiss and throw the dice ourselves, or howl as our horse drops behind in the backstretch. Buying more lottery tickets than we can afford simply doesn't provide the same quickening of the pulse, not like slapping the deed to the house on the table among the chips and drawing to a busted flush. It helps to be there.


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