*Originally posted April 7, 2009*
“Let’s keep this party polite,
Never get out of my sight,
I know the way you’ve treated other guys you’ve been with,
Hey Luck, be a lady tonight!”
-Frank Sinatra, Luck be a Lady.
After eating a slice of pepperoni pizza with extra chili flakes, combined with a stop for a Quarter Pounder with Cheese or two, and walking across icy sidewalks for two hours, the first thing on anyone’s mind will be a good toilet. The time alone is important. Time to put yourself together. Gather your thoughts. The night is just starting, got to make plans. Calm yourself. Breathe deep – you’ve made it now. And indeed I had. Outside my stall, the casino buzzes.
One thing you notice, spending any serious time in gambling houses, is that the handicapped bathroom stalls get more traffic than any other facility. And why shouldn’t they? Chairs, canes, crutches, walkers – they litter the main lobbies and slot sections. In the wild, the first to be eaten are the weak and the sick. Casinos have everything a cripple – both the physical and emotional kind– needs. Video poker offers pure, uncut, lowest common denominator entertainment. Slot machines flash with hundreds of bright flickering lights, blaring sirens and bells, promising treasure and thrills…and that Big Win, always just one game away. Please Try Again. The slots are especially appealing because you only need one arm or stump to play them. You can sit right down, prop your crutches against the side of the glowing box, and play your night away. Club Regent even has a McDonalds built right into the lobby, next to the bathrooms (always a huge line). The entire casino is a glittering prison oasis. You’ll never have to leave.
I pull out $60 – a laughably small amount – from the ATM. There’s no ATM inside the casino of course, that would be irresponsibility on the casino’s behalf. You have to walk down one hallway, to the attached hotel complex and use their ATM. Sixty dollars bankroll will not bring me much cash even on a good night, but the small withdrawal also guarantees that the casino won’t bleed me out of cash tonight…
Back onto the floor, I find myself skirting a bingo tournament, the players surrounded by cheap slots. Ignore them all. Stare at the floor, blend, shuffle past these hollow people. Walk through the giant glass hallway/aquarium, stop to admire the fish. Emerge into a second pool of VLT’s, more bodies, and a talking animatronic pirate skeleton. I quicken my pace to avoid talking with the animatronic pirate skeleton. The last thing I need right now is to engage in forced small talk with a corpse. Besides, if I wanted to, they are in abundant supply this Friday night.
At last, I reach the card tables. Save for the bar, the only place I am comfortable in a casino is right here. Tables, at least, have a social atmosphere to them. There’s emotion at a table – drama, excitement, tension! And there are always familiar characters if you know what to watch for: the old drunk making side bets on every hand and mumbling to himself, packs of pimply-faced barely-legals asking the dealer what to do with their hands, the Filipino woman screaming “Lucky, lucky!” or “Monkey!” or “Big card!” on every hand…and then of course, there are kids like me. Kids with half a brain for numbers and some mad delusion that we can come out on top any time we want; get in, earn our money, and get out. Despite all the obvious evidence walking around the casino floor, something makes us think we have an edge…each time you walk out of the casino with enough extra cash to pay for your gas, your drinks – hell, anytime you earn more per hour than you would at your day job – you get a little more confident. Ignore the cripples losing life savings on the slots, and the drunken fuckhead playing roulette over in the corner. You are not like them.
The night progresses slowly. My bankroll gradually rises, settling at $110. I check my watch. Ten o’ clock. The party started an hour ago…better see what I can do about getting a ride to Paul’s birthday. I stand up, walk out to the lobby, and make the call.
“Paul? Rob. What’s up man?”
“Rob, why aren’t you here yet? The party started an hour ago.”
“I told you hours ago, I’m at the casino. I thought you could hook me up with a ride.”
“Oh, yeah, I can…um…this girl, this girl I know, she’s coming, she lives out there. She can give you a ride. I’ll call her first, lemme give you her number…”
“Great, see you soon.”
Hang up. Paul is now the ticking time bomb of my night. I have to rely on him to get the logistics of this evening all sorted out before tequila shots start coursing through his veins. I have major doubts about the plan so far. Still, I have a name, and a number to call for a ride. I call the number and…no answer.
Be patient. She’s gonna be here. Paul won’t let you down, he’s good people. I decide to wait it out at the casino a while longer. I can think of worse places to be forced to go camping. And since I’m here, and I’m still ten dollars short of doubling my bankroll…
Let it roll? Let it roll. I amble back to the tables.
My chip count goes down and up all night. Up, then down, then up, then down, and down, and finallygone. After a few hours of play, I get sloppy, can’t see the trends anymore. A bitter defeat. No matter, sixty dollars is not a lot of money. Career wise, I’m still in the green. Still, it does sting.
That is the nature of the Beast. She will tear off your skin if you give her the opportunity. Of course, some of us have a hard time swallowing our pride. We can’t go running off to nurse our wounds. No, for some of us, the only option is to come back in a month, or a week, or twelve hours, because wehad it. We were this close to that Big Win. Letting the Beast triumph now is completely out of the question, not to any self-respecting gambler. No, the Big Win is coming, and when it does you know that you are going to laugh in the face of your beaten and battered enemy…after just one more game…
…In Manitoba all the casinos are owned by the provincial government. The government also runs the Addictions Foundation of Manitoba. The AFM places big, government-funded booths about gambling addiction in the big, government-controlled casinos. Sometimes I wonder if guys from those two departments ever get together after work for drinks. I like to think they do.
I check my watch. Two hours have passed…wait, what? Two hours? How did that happen, and where the fuck is my ride? I get on the phone again.
“Paul! Did you call up that girl yet?”
”ROOOOOOOOOBBBBB!!!! WHY…why aren’t you here?”
“Because you told me to wait for a ride at the casino. That was hours ago. Did you call up that girl yet?”
“What? No, no, um…Rob, you have to come here. I want you to be here, ROB, I WA –”
Hang up. Paul is now an impenetrable wall of drunk. Continuing this conversation is going to be a waste of both our time. Better go back to the bank machine, pull out a little extra cash, see if I can get change for the bus.
WITHDRAWAL – $60.00
WITHDRAWAL – $40.00
The bank machine begins to take on the shape of a slot machine.
No…Okay, okay, it’s alright. You hit a cold streak, but you should be able to hit this next one.
WITHDRAWAL – $20.00
“Come on, big win! Let me see the win!”
Please Play Again.
Let’s recap our situation. I am standing at the coat check of Club Regent to claim a jacket and backpack. My personal assets now include one jacket, one backpack full of homework, two cigarettes, one Dr. Pepper, and fourty six cents in loose change. There is a party across town, too far to walk, especially now that the sun has set. Not enough change for bus fare. I step back into the cold air of early March, light the penultimate smoke and glance sideways at the glittering CLUB REGENT sign.Breath deep. I make my way back to Regent Avenue, and just keep walking that way, out to wherever, out from nowhere, my mind squirming.
To be continued…