I was a month shy of my nineteenth birthday when I found myself strapped to a seat several thousand feet above ground, listening to Ryan Adams’s “The Shadowlands” on repeat. The airline ticket I held in my hand told me that I was en route to Nice, France, but that wasn’t my true destination. The truth was, I hadn’t the slightest idea where I was going. All I knew was that what I truly wanted was to return to the giant metropolis of New York City as a brand new person. I hoped that the trip would help me to reinvent myself. Frankly, I didn’t have a clue what the concept of “reinventing” oneself even meant.
To backtrack, I was going through a rather rough period. My older friends joked that I was going through a quarter-life-crisis six years too early. In actuality, I was simply being melodramatic over not having been accepted into the school of my choice, The University of Chicago. The thing was, I had my entire life mapped out. I intended to graduate with a B.A. in philosophy, to join the Peace Corps upon graduating, and then finally settle down with a job at EF Tours. Everything seemed to go according to plan until it all fell apart.
In the months following my letter of rejection, I turned down school after school until there was not a single institution left for me to turn down.
Months later, I found myself dragging a hefty grey suitcase out the door.
Upon arriving in Southern France with thoughts of reinvention in mind, I looked forward to spending my days in French monasteries, churches, and on the beach. I was told as a child that nothing in the world heals the soul quicker than sitting by the ocean and watching waves ebb and flow.
That all changed when I had an epiphany four days or so into my trip. I was thousands of miles away from home and all that I knew, unable to speak more than twenty words of French, and I felt no different than before. I needed a change and I needed one quick.
And so, shortly thereafter, I found myself an hour away in Mote Carlo, Monaco. I can’t tell you why I thought that spending time in a casino could help remedy the problems I had at hand. But my life has not been the same since.
Have you ever wondered about those individuals slumped over casino tables at three in the morning? Or those who are pacing back and forth along the expensive casino carpet? Have you ever studied such people’s expressions? I have, and I must say that they are the most intriguing lot—a fountain of untold stories regarding addiction, heartache, defeat, loss, and triumph can be found.
There I was taking every bit of this in and wondering why I had not discovered this before; especially when I, admittedly, spent much of my childhood in the hotel rooms of Atlantic City. And so I sat at a table observing those around me, my eyes hardly ever on the stack of multi-colored chips laid out in front of me. I shamelessly loved every minute, every second, every millisecond of it. I loved the saturated colors—the reds, greens, yellows, and blues—that surrounded me and how it made me feel out of my element. It was as if I had been cast in some movie and I was simply playing a part. I loved the piercing, indecipherable sounds that filled the air, and my ears that helped to shut out my thoughts. I even loved the smoke lingering in the air that filled my lungs.
Overwhelmed by it all, I found myself standing out front on the steps facing the Hotel De Paris moments later. A stranger and I struck up a conversation that ended with him telling me that he no longer feared hitting rock bottom, but rather, his fear lay in how many more times he has to hit it.
As I stood there alone, I couldn’t help but think of everyone else who had been at the green felt table with me. How many times did the man with bloodshot eyes who sat next to me hit rock bottom? How many times did the other native New Yorker hit it? How many times did the woman who willingly imbibed one too many elixirs hit it? And how did they hit it? Why? When?
I knew then and there that these questions had to be answered. That every part of my being ached for their stories and the stories of every other living soul. And it was only in that moment that my trip had truly begun.
Weeks later, when I opened Final Draft for the very first time, I found that I already had words in mind.
INT. CASINO – DAWN
DAVID paces along the expensive casino carpet, a glass of Macallan in hand.
[Monica Lo is a Visual and Critical Studies major, class of 2015.]