Staring at the metal green sign with white lettering, there was a choice to be made on State Highway 48 at the T in the road. With “Run to the Hills” coming from a small town radio station I happened to pick up, blaring at just under concert volume levels, perhaps telling me tonight I’d better off not going after the Indian casino’s money for the sake of the economy of their sovereign nation (even though I’ve left copious donations their in the past).
The taunting rung in my ears so loudly sleep was impossible. Cracking a book open to study was more akin to staring at the American flag all night back when stations didn’t have enough Ronco rotisserie chicken cookers ads to sell. Little man in a big pond, I received my first real lesson in life about money, popularity, and how life isn’t fair. She died without saying good-bye. I tried to pick up the pieces left of my sanity, but being surrounded by tequila shooters and an asshole roommate along with his friends, I crumbled into bathroom floor shavings hoping to be swept away before it became too disgusting to walk on any further. Instead I pressed to move back home and finish my education rather then taking a header from the third story the dorm room that would have killed the pain of listening to the daily insults. I graduated years later then expected, but I got the piece of paper proclaiming I read a few overpriced books.
Sitting around the bonfire and putting a dent into the handle of Captain Morgan that would leave an equally sizable impression on my liver, was the safe play. Chatting about the pros and cons of Obama-mania, the correct technique for shooting sperm into a cup, and how defiant the girls are now compared to what they’ll be when training bras and boys come into play would cover the base of the perfect evening under the stars. But, instead I traveled out to Hwy. 48 down to the casino to put my meager bankroll into play.
Looking over to the blonde with the short-ish cut and great ass and a slight smirk that never curled up into a full smile, I wondered if she was truly over her ex-boyfriend. Or rather if the abusive boyfriend with a rap sheet, that included things potential employers would rather not see, was over her was a better question. With a gut half-full of liquid courage and no dignity left I decided to take a risk.
Being greeted with The Fonz on a large plasma screen with his iconic thumb being used to lure slot players towards his free spins, I felt safe yet excited to enter the world that seals itself off from the hotel across the parking lot and the row of fast food restaurants promising the coolest new toys with their kids’ meals. Women and men voluntarily feeding the video games with dollars earned or given to them with a rate of return that would make even the worst money manager at Charles Schwab turn his nose in disgust. It’s about the chase, the bonus round, the blinking lights, the jackpot as another twenty goes in and I’m left watching Fonz hit the virtual jukebox to up the amount of free spins Ms. Aqua Net in the Wal-Mart special paisley dress can win since her wallet seems to hold endless amount of rebuys to hit the 4X multiplier bonus.
Cards of condolence came in. Tears flowed for what seemed like days. What did we do wrong, do we bother trying again? Will it hurt more mentally then physically, will our marriage last if another pregnancy doesn’t take to full term? The dark purple couch matched our drab moods for months, barely looking at each other at dinner, watching movies, riding to work. Trying again meant re-opening wounds that might not heal this time, but not trying meant giving up on parenthood, on us. Now there’s three reasons to chase a paycheck and fry up four strips of bacon in the morning, and each day brings another reason to wake up for tomorrow.
After my slot addiction was sedated by the little red WHAMMY! from Press Your Luck who managed to press all his bad luck on my buy in, I managed to find the table games in the new wing of the casino (no doubt they built it from the couple hundred I’ve dumped here on many occasions). Fresh walls, fresh slots, and could it be…
… PAI GOW!!!!
Yes, my digital number flipping friend with the little dragon to signify my new home to drag me from the evil penny slot pit. Buying in with half of what I brought I figured if I lost it was only money and chasing the joker with hopes of a bonus hand was well worth the entertainment coin I was willing to spend. But, those at the table putting out min bet with faces better reserved for the Royal Oak poker room meant playing just the cards. Squeezing out four aces wasn’t even fun, as my shouts of PAI GOW were vaporized like the bankroll of a pro slot player.
The seizures came and hit like defenseman swinging out his hip after dashing down the ice on breakaway only find my lanky body getting spun like a top in mid-air. Selfishness was a daily feeling as sitting on the couch in a darkened, silent room was the only safe thing to prevent the headaches, the spinning, the embarrassment. Hearing my wife shovel the driveway in the bitter cold that a Minnesota winter can bring, yet I’m chained to sitting like an invalid while Maury excites the crowd by proclaiming the 26th guy is still not the father of this women’s baby. Physical and speech therapy daily for a year, plus the will to be a father versus a welfare check, got me off the couch and back behind the wheel of my pimpin mini-van.
The card room would be small by Vegas’ standards, but with the friendly dealers and douchebags telling me that my eight-seven offsuit was a horrible play after I stack another forty row tower of chips when my straight cracks his limped Kings. I give him a wide pass on douchebaggery talk about “trying to trap me” and other poker spiel I have no ear for any longer after listening to his list of accomplishments at the $2/$4 tables of yore. But, since he finally let it go when I started chatting up about the recent Twins victory, I wouldn’t label the faux mustached kid as a douche. Donator maybe, but not a douche. I figured anyone with a Gary Gaetti pin and old school cap would appreciate a little baseball talk, and that shut all the poker talk up with the speed of a life-term prison con finally getting his first lay after getting paroled. No, I didn’t step up to the plate and play the relatively “big game” for my roll, instead opting for the profitable one. Playing in the smaller game and once being a smart gambler for the first time since I took the left back on State Highway 48.
Look at who’s besides you in bed or dreaming of Care Bears and Transformers in the next room or the shiny shoes in your closet and know that the gambler inside of you is the reason those things and people are there. Just never lose the want to hold the dice and throw the red cubes with a soft, feathery touch down to the other end where the result isn’t known.