I STOOD THERE staring through the smoke of a $14 cigar, the Churchills doing something the man never did - and that's run out, but there was an over-abundance of Hemingway - just like college. I stood there peering and pretending. No one in a casino pretends. I do.
The smoke danced, danced around me in a trance and through the white smoke I watched the gambler's dance.
It's an honest dance.
They press that plastic button, modern-day metal handle, and those electronic eyes spin. Bar, 7, cherries. Press the button. Bar, cherries, Jackpot. Press the button. Money goes up, money goes down, those crazy digital eyes go round and round and the people hooked up by spiraled cord, plugged directly in, gonna make sure and win. Take my money machine, take my money, I'm giving it to you. Spin again, spin again, lips pressed tight, wrinkled chins.
Not many of them drink. Not many of them smoke, but their bodies look like they've had their share - matted hair, white and blue and sometimes the shiny flesh shining through. Someone calls "cocktail" and through that swirl of burned $14 dollar bills I see a green cart pull to a stop. A blonde works behind her bar-on-wheels and shake, shake, shake ice hits plastic, soda bubbles, drops in a stir stick, "five dollars please." Money changers hover with big black bags hanging from big black belts, thin big bills go in, fat little ones come out.
My wife won $800 last night. Tonight the casino will get over a hundred back. "They don't stay in business by losing money" I tell her. She's bummed, in her tight blue jeans and black shirt, low cut (another slot), leather belt dangling at her hips and missing all the loops. "Baby," I say, "this casino lost over $600 just because you walked you through the front door. Don't sweat it." I say. She doesn't want to smoke in front of her parents. How would that look, Mexicana smoking (in front of her parents) tobacco grown in the Dominican Republic from a Cuban seed and drinking from a plastic cup (little black napkins with gold print crinkled in her bent fingers)? Besides, just say no.
I see an old acquaintance. He comes over with his used-to-want-to-be-a-cowboy walk, dip in his lip and tells me he just got out of jail. Wasn't his fault. He was with his cousin who tore away from the cops and he couldn't let him take off with his truck. Year-and-a-half in the pen (probably a lie) and getting married. "Gonna be a show this Monday," he says. I really would like to see him ride one of those bulls. Everything about him seems to do with bull.
I stand in the gift shop and pick a green guitar pick from a plastic blended rainbow of guitar picks and set it on the counter. I reach into my pocket for the 75 cents, but I gave my wife all the money. "Hey dad," I say. "Buy a guitar pick for Lee, he thanks you." My dad pretends in casinos too.
I walk with my dad and his girlfriend to The Green Room and flip open a menu. My wife said the food is supposed to be good. I see Philly cheese steak sandwiches, I expected Beluga caviar. I see coke, I expected martinis. I see young girls in diner style uniforms, I expected tuxedos.
Bob Dylan hangs on the wall, younger and fuller and I wonder what song he's singing. I don't think he's pretending. He's like the people on the slot machines, honesty through and through. It's the end of the road for them and for most, a long, long road it's been. This is a last ditch effort. A last stitch, they've sown all their time, they've saved all their nine, all their dime, all they're ever going to save. It's all or nothing now. And they go for broke. Press the plastic, spin the screen, win a few, lose that green and dump, dump and dump and boy that money goes. And isn't the carpet lovely? Aren't those lights fantastic? And my how the staff is so nice. Like a swarm of spiders, dressed in black and leopard print and right out of a paper dollar store novel and smiles and hellos and black knit hose and so, so nice to all those flies - buzz (old flies about to die). Old, worn out and spent and my wife bent on winning that next round. She smiles at me, God I love her smile. I want to give her more money. Her lips purse to a pout and I look around and without a doubt I think, I watch, I feel, I say, "Baby, we gotta go."
She smiles and says, "I know."