Alice in the Casino

Friday, 16 October 2020 00:00


My Alice never fell down any rabbit hole. Instead, she went to the casino to play roulette. She was a very curious girl, and although some claim that she hoped to win money and others that she did it for the thrill, I believe she went there out of scientific curiosity. The era of great inventions was long gone, but still one has to invent herself. My Alice was fascinated by the idea of a perpetual motion machine and although she knew that newtonian physics wouldn’t be of much help in building one, she decided in her search for inspiration to see an example of Blaise Pascal’s efforts up close. One can’t blame her, for it is one of the peculiarities of youth to find the idea of always staying in motion intriguing.

It was curiosity that led my Alice to the roulette, and not the wish to win. But as with all Alices, her casino ride wasn’t meant to be an uneventful one. Impressionable as she was, it didn’t take long for her to start spinning with the ball. Passing over each new number opened another, and yet another, set of possibilities and brought with it a new point of view, a new point of reference. One moment the world was a scary place and the next it was a playground. Even worse, and as the fate of Alices demands, as the world around her changed, so did she. Alice would not be the same person she was half a second before or the one she would be half a second later. One moment her hair was short and brown, the next long and purple. One moment she spoke English, the next Chinese.

“But what does it all mean?” she wondered, like a pure Alice. You see, it was the first time that her sense of identity felt like a joke. It was the first time she couldn’t take herself seriously, because “her self” seemed to be a simple prop in an otherwise elaborate play. Before long, the inevitable question arose with an underlying hint of panic, as she realized that stopping a ride that you don’t enjoy is a difficult, if not altogether impossible, task: “How long will it last?” Perpetual motion seemed fun, but not for eternity. It was hard to keep up with the spin, because motion means change, and constant change, as all Alices eventually learn, can wear you out, and one doesn’t need newtonian physics to know that. Could she eventually rest on friction to do the job? Feeling quite nauseous and dizzy, she turned to the seasoned player next to her, a somehow distant figure chewing on a pipe: “Can you make it stop, sir?” The Caterpillar raised his brow: “Once you start spinning, you can only roll with it,” he said in a matter-of-fact tone.

“I’m not a spinning ball,” Alice reasoned within herself, looking at the aerodynamic drag behind her. “I just have to find something to hold on to”. With all this movement, of course, nothing seemed to be in place. Caterpillar, enjoying himself, was humming a tune, very well known to Alice. “That’s where I’ll hold on to!” she thought. Trying to sing along, she discovered that she had forgotten the lyrics. “That’s odd. I probably need to search deeper,” she decided, too stubborn to give up. “Who am I?” She questioned herself. Patched up memories and stagnant remnants of old feeling came to her in the form of alternate song lyrics to the very familiar tune that Caterpillar was humming provocatively, feeling at home in the casino. Alice, still spinning, still changing, wanted then to cry out in frustration, unable as she was to string the right words together, since everything, including herself, kept on changing. Where would she find an anchor and where would she cast it?

She moved, and the movement turned her present into a photograph, a relic of the past, speeding, the one moment holding it as her truth and the next having its ashes run through her fingers. Seeing herself going fast above all those possibilities, with nothing more certain than her own instability, unreliable as she felt in her spin, finally she managed to grasp the frailty of identity.

“If life had thrown me in a war, I'd probably have picked up a gun. If it had thrown me in an orchestra, I might have picked up the violin. In any case, I’d do my best with what would be given to me” she told herself. “All the things that define me, mean nothing in a new context” she decided. “And when my old anchors are gone, I drift / and the bigger the paradigm shift the bigger the drift / and as I drift I search for or recreate familiar patterns to hold on to / like the tune of that song I used to know and I’m singing now too”. Then she paused for a moment – or for as long as a spinning ball can pause:  “But I’m not sure what to fill these patterns with, when all I have about me is an assembly of loose ended rough patches: A tuft of purple hair here, an old sense of commitment there, all belonging to the past. The wind blows and I’m naked, empty”. And then, the ingenious Alice came up with a solution to her problem: “Let it blow through me, then, and carry away the stale stench of resurrected memory!” She exclaimed and let herself go, becoming a living perpetual motion machine.

And just as she was starting to get the hang of it, just as she grabbed the pipe out of Caterpillar’s mouth and puffed, just as she made an art out of spinning, the ball began to lose momentum. Alice figured out in dread that she was about to fall, that the spinning would soon stop. “Will I end up bald? Will I have a moustache? Will I be too thin or too thick to fit in the world?” All that she said out loud, and the Caterpillar burst into laughter, just as all Caterpillars are prone to do: “Now now, dear” he said. “Worry not. The croupier is quite experienced, and he has performed the same gesture at least a thousand times, and in fact knows how to spin the ball. There is an approximation. No matter how many times you play, you will find that you seldom fall far from your circumstances. And after all, it’s just a game”.

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