By Hunter S. Thompson
Page 2 columnist

It is no accident that this column is titled "Hey Rube." That is what's called my "Standing Head" in the arcane jargon of Journalism, and it will not change anytime soon.

"Hey Rube" is an old-timey phrase, coined in the merciless culture of the Traveling Carnival gangs that roamed from town to town in the early 20th century. Every stop on the circuit was just another chance to fleece another crowd of free-spending Rubes -- Suckers, Hicks, Yokels, Johns, Fish, Marks, Bums, Losers, Day-traders in Portland, fools who buy diamonds from gypsies, and anyone over the age of 9 in this country who still believes in his heart that all cops are honest and would never lie in a courtroom.

These people are everywhere. They are Legion, soon to be a majority, and 10,000 more are being born every day. It was P.T. Barnum, the Circus man, who explained the real secret of his vast commercial success by repeating his now-famous motto, "There's a sucker born every minute" in this country, and his job was to keep them amused. Which he did -- with a zeal that has never been equaled in the history of American show business.

Barnum knew what people wanted: Freaks, Clowns and Wild Animals. The Barnum & Bailey Circus only came to town once a year, and those days were marked as sacred holidays on the John Deere calendars of every Rube in America. ... Those dates were Special; Many schools closed when the Circus came to town, and not every student returned when the public frenzy was over. "Running away with the Circus" was the dream of every schoolboy, and the nightmare of every mother with a bored and beautiful daughter.

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Ah, memories, memories. They are not always good for the brain -- so let's get back to Rubes, and the fact that I am still one of them, on some days, and the final round of the Masters was one of those. I was lured, tricked and then Fleeced without mercy by my trusted old friend, John Walsh -- now the Senior Vice President and Executive Editor of ESPN -- who is also a lifelong observer of the gambling scene.

I was not ashamed. The Fleecing Instinct is strong in the gambling fraternity. It is an irresistible urge, even for the few Rogues among us who call themselves "Gentleman Gamblers."

My own firm rule is that I MUST WIN TWO OUT OF THREE. That is the Mandatory minimum for any gambler who plays with Real Money. Anything less is Unacceptable. If you can't win Two out of every Three things you bet on, it is time to quit the business.

Tiger Woods
Tiger Woods stayed just far enough ahead of his challengers to keep his win safe, but still Interesting.

Gambling is an Acceptable Vice for most people, but a Fatal Addiction to others. ... All medicines are deadly and dangerous, if taken repeatedly in large doses. A pound of pure Aspirin will kill a whole busload of young athletes. A craving for french-fried potatoes can make you swell up and stink like the rotting corpse of a whale.

These things are mathematically certain -- just as sure as the fate of fools who make too many bad bets with sports-bookies, or those millions of hapless Rubes who got fleeced in the Day-Trading racket. They got trapped in the flaming remains of the TOO MUCH FUN CLUB. They stayed too long at the party. They knew it was dangerous, but they stayed anyway.

That is what happened to me last week. I bet against Duke in the NCAA final, and I bet against Tiger Woods in the Masters. Both bets went wrong from the start, just as I knew they would -- even though I had Eight (8) large points against Duke, and a reasonable-looking 2-stroke edge against Woods. ... Ho ho. Never bet against the Smarter team in a major championship game. Especially when the pointspread is so short as to fall "within the margin of error."

Those are dangerous numbers. The Vegas line finally settled on Duke (minus-4½), and that was clearly not enough. Duke could have flogged Arizona by 22, if necessary -- but it was Not, so the Blue Devils mercifully wasted the clock. I admired them for it -- just as I admired Tiger Woods for the graceful Dominance he showed by staying just far enough ahead of his challengers to keep his win safe, but still Interesting, in the Chinese sense of the word, which is ominous.

"Interesting" is Fun, but it is the wrong way to bet, for any gambler who wants to stay afloat in these times of Risk and Confusion. The world is getting weirder and weirder. Huge things are happening at speeds too high to measure, or even fathom, in the brain of a normal human. We are like moths in a blizzard.

Dr. Hunter S. Thompson's books include Hell's Angels, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail '72, The Proud Highway, Better Than Sex and The Rum Diary. His new book, Fear and Loathing in America, has just been released. A regular contributor to various national and international publications, Thompson now lives in a fortified compound near Aspen, Colo. His column, "Hey, Rube," appears each Monday on Page 2.