Tuesday, February 17, 2004

A Night at the Casino

It was 11:00 PM, I had work the next day, and I was sitting at a hazy table looking at my cards. Next to me sat Marty, next to him, David. On the opposite end of the table sat a dead ringer for Edward James Olmos - who had the tired, desparate and sad look of someon who had spent too long in the casino. Next to him sat a frumpy, 50-ish woman who's perpetual scowl was higlighted by the cigarette hanging from the corner of her mouth.

I was slowly losing my allotted money for the night. David and Marty were doing a little better, and we listened to the scowling woman dispense advice on how to win the big bucks.

"You gotta play the bonus. Otherwise you're wasting your time," she said, looking at me as she fingered her chips.

She was disgusted with me because I refused to place a $5 side bet, where if I had a hand higher than a straight, I would win a payout. She had just won $300 by betting the bonus.

"I wonder how much she's bet over the course of the night," I whispered to Marty between hands. We looked over as the pit boss asked her how everything was going. I'm thinking she might have been there before.

Three hours earlier, Marty called and asked if I wanted to join him and Ben at the casino. I called David and off we went to play a little Pai Gow Poker and have a good time.

Now, the four of us sat at the table, the scowling woman left, and I moved to a new seat to acomodate Ben. Meaning I sat next to Lt. Castillo. The smell reminded me of my high school calculus teacher -- too much coffee and too many cigarettes. Between hands, he held his heads in his hands, as if he couldn't stand to look the dealer- or anyone else - in the eyes.

I finally hit my personal loss limit, so I stood up. My eyes burned and I was tired. In six hours, I needed to wake up and go to work, so I needed to go home. Somewhere between the time I left for the bathroom and returned, he took some sort of interest in David. Talking to him about the cards in his hands and just generally making noise.

"Winner," the dealer said, "Winner. And . . . we're not supposed to say loser, so I usually don't say anything."

Standing behind Marty and Ben, I cracked up and started saying, "Winner. Winner. And you." That drew me a dirty look from the dealer. Apparently I'm not as funny as I like to think. It was time to go, not to mention Lt. Castillo started arguing with the dealer. Something about his straight should have beaten her flush. I'm no expert, but I think he may have been wrong. As he grew more heated, I grew worried. I quietly suggested we leave, lest he notice me and kill me where I stand.

We headed out towards the long tunnel leading to the parking garage, passing people impatiently waiting to get their loss-limit cards to board the casino. Gamblers wandered the lobby in ones, twos and threes. Strangely enough, I'm pretty sure I wasn't the only person there who had work the next day, but I was headed home.

I paid for it the next day, but I enjoyed myself. But I have to wonder what draws someone to sit at a table alone for a whole day, blowing money he probably doesn't have, barking at dealers and talking to strangers.

As I crashed early last night, I reflected that while I may not have everything I want, I have more than I think. And that's better than most.

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