Tuesday, March 25, 2008

What a Casino Means To Me

Tomorrow morning I'm meeting my friend Lori in Las Vegas. I've been back a few times since Jimmy died, but I recently realized that a casino represents all the stages of my life. I can trace who I am today and who I was forty years ago by remembering my occasions in a casino.

My first trip to Vegas was with my mother. I was 17 and my father had recently died. He was 57 just a year older than Jimmy was. My mother was much younger. She was a widow at 43.

She was eager to jump back into the dating pool and swim with a younger guy. That was clear to me as she dressed me up to make me look older and legal; her companion and bait. She was like that. There were always strings attached.

Five years later when we were 22 Jimmy and I went to Vegas for our honeymoon. We only had enough money for one of us to gamble. Fresh faced and totally enamoured I stood over him at the blackjack table. As he played craps I convinced myself that I was his "lady luck."

The casino, an atmosphere of chance, excited and energized us. We were grown-ups here; sexy.
He was my James Bond and our incredible life lay stretched out in front of us, a winding trail of pure happiness.

Decades later I'd take note of young couples at the tables with similar body language. I'd smile remembering us. Often there would be an older woman in her fifties, sixties and even seventies, an obvious regular. Both extremes told me I was smack in the middle of life.

I knew the girl's stories but I'd be curious about the older woman. Where was her husband? Did
he leave her beause she had a gambling problem? Had he died? Is her diamond bracelet real?

Soon after our honeymoon we graduated to gambling junkets. Everything was paid for as long as Jimmy played heavy enough. We bet above our means to get a taste of the high life. Once I watched Jimmy play roulette and parlay our last fifty dollars up to nine hundred. Some wives would be horrified. I was proud. "Come on 14. We need a new fence for the backyard" we would yell.

When Resorts Hotel and Casino opened in Atlantic City, just a three hour drive from us, we were practically at the door before the ribbon was cut. Then, we "worked" hard to establish a credit line.

Before long they were sending a limo for us and soon after that the casino offered us 45 minute helicopter rides. This insured we'd get there quicker and spend more money. We knew this but being young and stupid it still made us feel special.

One evening a stormy and fog-filled sky forced us to make an emergency landing. Jackie and Doug were eight and four years old. We made a pact. No more helicopters for us.

But, of course we continued to gamble. Jimmy always played much more than I did. The comps for free rooms, food and transportation were based on his play. We'd begin our gambling day standing on the outskirts of the casino pumped up and ready, like a boxer about to lunge from his corner.

He would hand me cash knowing full well within an hour and a half I'd be down to zero. I'd find him, watch him play a few hands and pretend to be interested. Naturally, I showed up to replenish. Finally, he'd plop a few chips in my hand and I was on my way. I was consistantly unlucky. Jimmy called me his anchor, but not in a good way.

Fun filled trips to casinos with friends and family continued throughout the years. Whether we won or we lost, we always laughed. Of course, we laughed harder when we won.

I assumed we'd be that old couple in ridiculous bermuda shorts strolling hand in hand on the boardwalk in Atlantic City or on the strip in Las Vegas. Instead, tomorrow I'll be sitting at a table aware that a thirty-something girl next to me is eyeing my diamond bracelet. I'll watch her have a run of bad luck. I'll notice her chips dwindling.

She'll sigh as she gets up and she'll wish everyone at the table good luck. She'll walk in the direction of the high stakes pit area and I'll hear Jimmy's voice say, "Back so soon? You're killing me."