More About Jack Du Soleil
“God, help me, I know I’m supposed to despise this place, these hideous people — look, over there, a woman with dyed orange hair, two fat drunks sporting Georgia Tech sweatshirts swilling blue Margaritas from three-foot plastic tumblers. Day after day I tell myself, I know I’m supposed to despise this place, Las Vegas, Nevada, so crude, so disgusting. I wasn’t raised for this place. I was brought up on Liszt, Brahms, at the lowest Gershwin. I studied Latin, Botany, Keats. For crying out loud, my mother was on the board of the Whitney.” So begins my novel, “Jack Du Soleil,” the ultimate fish-out-of-water story. Biographical? Mostly, minus the lofty upbringing that I felt necessary for throwing a top-shelf character into a world of bottom-feeders. What Jack and I had in common was that we both moved to Las Vegas to write a book, to finally discover the truth about the place, to break down the myth, sweep away the murk and expose its solid ground. Like Jack, the longer I stayed in Las Vegas the less I understood. Over time I wangled my way into the inner circle of gamblers, thieves, casino heads, district attorneys, prosecutors, priests, rabbis, cops, dealers, pit bosses, mobsters, listening intently as each opened up to me, then going home to realize that everything they confided made absolutely no sense (I met regularly with a distinguished corporate executive, three-piece suits, charming, level-headed, only to discover that a year prior he came home from work and lit his wife on fire). When I lived in New York and Los Angeles, people considered me sharp, street-smart, difficult to pull one over on; when I moved to Las Vegas I began to feel like an utter rube, a turkey ripe for plucking. You’d think with my family background I’d have been ready for it. I am descended from quintessential immigrant Jews, Germany, Poland, Russia, Ellis Island, Hester Street, Brooklyn, Weehawken, New Jersey, tradespeople by day, gamblers by night, mostly horse-racing but equally proficient in gin rummy, Jai alai, and greyhounds. One of the highlights of my youth was sneaking downstairs and peeking through the kitchen door to watch my father and his cronies, dressed in pure rayon bowling shirts, playing poker after their Tuesday night league. My father was, to state it gently, not a man of great patience when it came to his son. He never taught me how to tie my shoes, wash my face, he even paid an older neighborhood boy to show me how to throw a baseball. However, there was one prized skill my father taught me with dedicated concentration and diligence, how to read a racing form and accurately handicap horse races. Speed figures. Workout patterns. Track variances. Unfortunately, my father only taught me how to handicap thoroughbred horses and not trotters that were running at Monticello Raceway’s harness track. I’d been working that summer as a boat boy for a camp in the Catskills. Their policy was to save young men’s paychecks until the final day. The instant I got mine I was literally off to the races. Two of my buddies came with me, hopeless novices about horse racing, fools placing their hard-earned money on a horse’s clever name, or silk colors. Me, I studied the racing form like it was a medical exam and placed my bets accordingly. At the end of the day my buddies, relying on nothing more than sheer dumb luck, won money while I lost my entire summer’s wages. Every penny. Fortunately, my pals didn’t charge me gas money, so I lucked into a free ride home. The lesson learned was obvious: Yes, I can continue gambling, but never wager enough to lose the house. For years afterward, I was a regular in pool halls, Gardena card rooms, Vegas junkets, legal casino poker tables, underground in New York. All in all, I did pretty well at gambling thanks to the lesson I learned via my disaster at Monticello Raceway. Bet small. Bet very small. Don’t be swayed by the roars from high-stakes crap tables. Don’t be cajoled by big-time gamblers, many of whom I knew and heckled me in vain into joining them at the no-limit tables. Play it smart. Play it safe. Conversely, there was a segment of my life where I gambled to the hilt, betting the house, never hesitating to go, in modern gambling jargon, “all in.” When I was thirty, I had risen in the advertising business to Vice President/Creative Director of a world-renowned ad agency. My future was engraved in stone, stock options, pension plan, guaranteed salary; however, I wanted to take a shot at the high-stakes world of Hollywood. With few prospects, and no money in the bank, I walked away from the advertising business and tossed my hat into a bad-bet longshot, screenwriting. It took a few years struggling to make rent and alimony payments by landing freelance script assignments. Finally, I was in a position to roll the dice. My agent, a seasoned hardball killer, called me with a significant financial offer. I was staying in a motel because I couldn’t afford a hotel. I asked my agent, “Is there a chance they’ll pay me more?” My agent leveled, “Only if you tell me to take their offer off the table. But I warn you. Once it’s off the table, it’s off. Chances are the deal is done. And I can’t match it at any other studio in town. It’s a lot of money you’ll be turning down. I don’t have any clients that would walk away from this. The decision is yours.” I took a moment to stare at the chips laid in front of me. Indeed, it was more money than I ever imagined. One deep breath then another, then I instructed my agent, “Take the deal off the table.” It was ten hours later, the whole time staring at the walls of my motel room, when the phone rang. It was my agent, “Congratulations, they went up thirty percent.” Then my agent added the ultimate Hollywood compliment, “Gary. You. Are a Player.” Jack Du Soleil? How did the character in my book about Las Vegas fare at games of chance? Beautifully. With the myriad problems Jack encountered while bumbling his way through Sin City, gambling was not one of them. Risk averse, Jack Du Soleil, as his creator mercifully created, never dropped one nickel into a slot machine.
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