Wednesday, May 09, 2007

Card and Dice Hustlers

In my final year of University I took three courses that literally changed the way I look at the world. They were all taught by Robert C. Prus, torch-bearer for Symbolic Interactionism and a really entertaining guy. Unfortunately Prus couldn't (or wouldn't) seem to get a handle on the DIFFICULTY of his courses, and would heap us with huge amounts of diverse reading material and then give us really evil tests.

I've got my transcript in front of me. I achieved a C- in "Deviance: Perspectives and Processes," a D in "Social Psychology and Everyday Life," and I actually DROPPED OUT of "Sociology of Marketing and Sales" because I simply couldn't handle it.

Regardless, I look back on these courses as the most significant ones I ever took. After the somewhat rigid, dogmatic, and cocky field of Psychology -- my actual major -- this new discipline really spoke to me: a discipline of flexible patterns in individual behaviour as opposed to standard deviations and multiple-choice questionaires.

Prus wrote many of the books we had to read. One of them was "Road Hustler" (written with pseudononymous professional card sharp "C.R.D. Sharper"), a book about the profession of card and dice hustlers: people who discreetly infiltrate parties and stack the odds in their favour using various means. I didn't read the book when I was taking the course (I barely had time to BREATHE at the time), but I'm reading it now and it's plenty informative, especially if you want to understand why people gamble and how hustlers of all types "get along."

The book follows Prus' typical Symbolic Interaction script: interviewing professionals, sitting in when he can, then fitting the people's actions into a framework he developed. Basically he tries to figure out how people become involved with an activity, how and why they stay, and how they eventually become disinvolved. He seeks out the patterns involved with the activity and presents them in logical ways, liberally interspersed with long quotations from the people in the business. Prus is so methodical in his approach that you wind up seeing every situation from a dozen possible angles, and some of the revelations are striking (often even more striking because they're so just never THOUGHT about it before).

It really is fascinating to read how these people ply their trade, and it would take far too long (and involve far too many digressions) to summarize it all here. But as usual I'm curious about how gender figures in this world of hustlers and grifters.

In short, it doesn't, really. Card sharps seem anxious to avoid women in professional situations except when they can be used as enticements. Speaking about hiring women to entice men into hotel suites during huge conventions:
Like these women, they're always looking to get laid, to make a little extra money. You tell them, "You don't have to do anything but be sociable," and you pay them a good buck, but they always seem to get some guy away from your game... once they see a guy with money, they try to grab him for themselves. If they get him out of the game, that's bad, because we want to beat him in the crap game. But, they come in handy, you have to have the chicks around. Imagine f you didn't, some guy comes up "What am I coming to this room for, there's no women here!"
This viewpoint isn't derogatory, it's the view that professional card sharps seem to have toward any person who isn't part of their "crew"...they can't be trusted, they don't have any regard for the well-being of the entire group, and they're quickly jettisoned when they're no longer necessary.

When it comes to women who aren't hired -- who are just there as part of the party, and aren't "wise" to the situation -- card sharps have different attitudes, depending on the marital status of the women:
Say you go to a convention where they have their wives with them. This is usually not as good, because the wives will hold the men back or the committees will be more concerned with appearances.
When it comes to single women, however
Okay, so you might get near the bar and set up a table and start rolling the dice, sort of joking about it, not getting too serious. Then, you try to involve some good-looking chick, "Come on over here, baby doll, and shoot for me!" And these women will roll the dice for the longest time, because they are the center of attention. They have all these men around and they love it... You don't mention any money at first, but later, as they see all this money changing hands, almost every one of them will say, "Well, what do I get?" So then you say, "Well, see this twenty, or fifty, if you make one more pass, I will give you this." Now, my partner is prepared, and when she rolls the dice towards him, boom, he makes sure she loses... the guys go for it, and once they get started, they get caught up in the betting. Sometimes a crew will pay a good-looking woman a hundred just to have her hang around that table for the evening.


VanillaJ said...

What a coincidence! I signed up for and Dropped Prus' "Sociology of Sales & Marketing" too. It was the workload that scared the shit out of me. I don't think Prof. Prus thought we had any other classes but his.

I have since led a rich existence getting to know what happens in sales & marketing without Prus. Many of my impressions have confirmed by work stories told by my partner, and a book I recently read, "Selling Women Short: The Lankmark Battle for Worker's Rights at WalMart".

What I understand but will never appreciate is how it is acceptable in Sales & Marketing to conduct business or socialize with business associates at a strip club or a place like Hooters. Even if bonding over the systemic oppression of the sexbot class is rewarding in itself, wouldn't you feel a little uncomfortable sitting with a hard-on beside a co-worker or client? That's just weird. What next? Meetings on the toliet? Contract signings at the bathhouse? Yes, I'm sure that goes on too.

Adam Thornton said...

Prus' classes had a high drop-out rate. Instead of realizing that his workload was too large, he sort of said "I warned you" and then explained his concepts again, as though our problem was that we didn't UNDERSTAND the subject. No, the problem was that we DIDN'T HAVE TIME TO READ ALL THE STUFF WE HAD TO READ!

I don't know if he gave your class that speech too. You know, we may have even been in the same class.

Anyway, I tried to find your "socialize at strip club" issue in the TWO VOLUME "Sales and Marketing" textbook, but without an index it's difficult. I did find a section on maintaining customer relationships, with a subsection about "entertainment," but this focused on promotional gimmicks like contests and raffles.

Given your extensive dealings with sales-types, you may have a better grip on the "socialize at strip club" mentality. In my only real brush with sales -- last year's convention in Las Vegas -- there were definitely salesmen taking valued customers out to strip clubs.

It may be a sort of "right of passage" for male customer-sales relationships; they supposedly treasure "down-home" men with "a real man's needs." It's like having a drinking contest, or gambling. If they can all appear to enjoy themselves at a strip club (and many of them probably do), then they solidify themselves as a group of "real men," hence trustworthy and bonded.

These type of men have no problem having hard-ons beside each other. It's a sign of virility. Many of them are so destroyed and stressed-out that a hard-on (real or implied) probably proves that they haven't lost anything more than their hair.

Bathhouses are also virile. Toilets, however, are not.

Anonymous said...

There is a book, first published in 1902, called "The Expert at the Card Table : The Classic Treatise on Card Manipulation" by S. W. Erdnase (a pseudonym).
To this day, nobody knows for sure who S. W. Erdnase really was. "The Expert at the Card Table" is still in print and is considered to be essential reading for card conjurers and card sharps alike.

Anonymous said...

S. W. Erdnase

E.S. Andrews?

Anonymous said...

That's one theory; however, it's never been proven.