CM . . . .
Volume VI Number 20 . . . . June 9, 2000
...I'm immune because I'm awake. I'm awake because my life has spice. What's the spice? No big secret, really. Let me explain. When some people sit, they just sit. No wonder they're bored. No wonder life seems like a never-ending story. Let's say we're sitting in the cafeteria, twiddling our thumbs or pushing slop back and forth across the plate. That is boredom. But say I add some spice. I bet you five bucks that the next person to walk through the door will be a girl. Some might say, screw you, I'm not risking my hard-earned cash, and go back to sliding the slop. But a wise person would reply, you're on, and all of a sudden, we're staring at that door. Like that portal becomes pure mystery and excitement. Who will walk through next? Boy or girl? Who will get the money? This is the buzz. This is the thing that brings the spark, a flame, some pleasure, to the otherwise dull, useless, boring thing some people call life.I can tell you one thing for sure. Having read Dennis Foon's Double or Nothing, I did NOT need the back-up folder of information and magazine articles on teenage gambling addictions included by the publisher to convince me that Foon knew what he was talking about! I was convinced!! Kip, a teen-ager in his last year of high school, has a lot going for him. He's smart; his mother, his uncle, and his teachers all think he's wonderful; college is just around the corner, but...he's bored. Except when he has a bet going. Whether it's lunchtime poker or whether or not the English teacher will belch within twenty seconds, betting gives him "the buzz" that makes life worth living. And he usually seems to win. Then he meets a wonderful girl whose father is a stage magician, an illusionist...and a big-time gambler. He introduces Kip to "real" gambling at the track and the casino where Kip quickly learns to be a big-time loser, first with his own money, and then with his college fund taken from the bank with his mother's bankcard. And the only way to pay back the money is by chasing the big win. It doesn't work, of course. Kip's girlfriend's father commits suicide, she discovers that Kip is also a heart-and-soul gambler who is prepared to steal even from her to get a stake, and she dumps him. His mother discovers the loss of his college money. Down and out. Nowhere to go but up? Maybe. The final chapter has Kip working three jobs in order to be able to finance his first year at college. His ambition? To "do a degree in business, make some connections, get out and become a stock broker. These guys have it made. Why put your own cash on the line when people will actually pay you to lose theirs for them?"
Has he conquered, or even really admitted to, his addition? No way!
This is a difficult book. Kip is, in some ways, an engaging character who, at first, gets his kicks from fleecing his buddies out of their spare cash and then moves on to bigger and more impersonal games. It is so obviously a slippery slope. The question is not whether he will hit bottom, but when, how far down, and how many people he will betray on the way? There are a few - a very few - touches of humour, but, on the whole, this is a somewhat depressing read. It certainly gives strong indicators of the signposts on the way from buzz to addition, however!
Foon's other works on the problems facing teenagers today are mostly plays. (He was the director of the Vancouver Green Thumb Theatre for Young People from 1975 to 1987. This book, in fact, grew out of a play called Chasing the Money which was produced last year.) Plays have an immediacy that is lacking in a piece of written text. Therefore, is this book going to grab a kid's attention sufficiently that he/she will actually read it and think about it? I fear not, though anyone who did would certainly get a powerful insight into the psychology of addictions in general and betting in particular. A good high-school novel-study selection, perhaps?
Mary Thomas works in two elementary school libraries in Winnipeg, MB.
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