Nobody Gambles Alone

May 8, 2012 by

As gamblers caught up in the chase we tend to forget about those around us. We are trapped inside our own pain and don’t want to think about anyone else. I sure didn’t want to deal with anyone else.

Today’s guest post is what gambling looked like through William P.’s eyes as a child. He shares with a brutal honesty that will hopefully open your eyes to another point of view.

Please keep in mind that our habits, addictions and actions affect others as well. Contrary to our common belief, it’s not all about us. Blessings as you go forth and honor those around you.

Nobody Gambles Alone by William P.

Mine was not a particularly religious household growing up, but even I knew there was such a thing as the Devil, and in my house the name of the Beast was video poker and it had my mother by the throat. Let me say that again, Video Poker. The capitalization is not an accident.

It’s such an innocuous thing isn’t it? They look like those old video games – the stand up machines you used to find in the back corners of 7-11s or at the grocery store by the check out aisles: Ms. Pac Man or Asteroids, one of those. Only unlike a video game, the places we haunted paid out for winners under the table. It was a pretty sweet arrangement – if you weren’t me.

Even today the smell of a Red Baron pizza baking in a tinny, behind-the-bar oven or the sight of a maraschino cherry bobbing in a coke laced with grenadine (we called them Roy Rogers when I was growing up) is enough to send a little shiver down my spine. Really, I cannot overstate just how much of my childhood was spent (some might say completely wasted) in dimly-lit, smoke filled rooms populated with all the detritus of humanity that the 1970s and ‘80s could produce. The mullet wasn’t a hairstyle choice – it was a requirement at the door.

When I tell people about this I invariable get a comment like, “How bad could it have been? How long can someone sit at a video poker machine?”

You might as well waive red cape in front of a cartoon bull. How long can a gambler sit in front of a video poker machine you ask?

How big is the ocean?

How many doobies have been smoked by hippies listening to Phish?

Once, when I actually bothered to time my mom, we arrived at one VFW at around eleven in the morning and left at one o’clock – the next morning.

Believe me, there’s only so much playing with the two Star Wars actions figures you thought to bring along that the ten year old version of you can do. On the other hand, it was in places like those that I received a first rate education in the misery of the human condition. Professor “Town Drunk” and professor “Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder” were diligent teachers if nothing else, and I was an attentive student.

If I was really lucky we’d end up in some dive with a video game machine like the ones I mentioned earlier. Sometimes though, like when ‘Nam vet hears a car backfire, the flashbacks come and it’s like I’m there again, standing in front of Pac Man with a sweaty, fist-full of quarters. You weren’t there, man. You don’t know what it was like.

And this was the pattern of my childhood. When the need was on her we’d head off for some godforsaken hole-in-the-wall where my mother would while away the hours. And if I asked when she thought we might be going home I’d get the same responses over and over again.

“It’s going to come around and start paying off again – just a little while longer and then we can go.”

You can add that one to, “No new taxes” and “There’s weapons of mass destruction over there”.

Finally we reached a breaking point, my mother and I. On a flimsy pretext of driving out to California to visit family we hit the holiest of holies, the gambler’s Mecca, that oasis of sin in the desert known as Las Vegas.

This was not the Vegas of Dino and the Chairman of the board and the rest of those Rat Packers and it was certainly not the shiny tourist extravaganza it has become today with glass pyramids and Blue Man groups. No, this was Vegas of the 1980s.

The Excalibur was only just being built at the time and Circus Circus was about the best you could hope for in the arena of family entertainment.

I knew we were in trouble when we made it there in what had to have been record time from our departure point in Eastern Colorado. Honestly, I didn’t know you could push a 1964 Pontiac Catalina that close to the ragged edge and survive.

I suppose the little penny slots in every filling station we stopped at should have given me some idea of what I was in for, but I was young and at night Vegas is almost pretty – almost.

Forget the strip, which even then was at least whore not too far past her prime. Oh no – my mother set her sights on Sam’s Town and that’s when I learned that Video Poker had a partner in crime: the Slot Machine.

And that weekend is reason along with so many others is why I had the privilege of attending a Community College that prided itself on being top in the country – in turf management.

For three days I watched my mom get up in the morning, drag me down to the extremely questionable buffet, and then head over to a row of slot machines for a hard day’s worth of pissing away what little money we’d had with us when we rolled into town. I, in turn, was set lose to wander around a third rate casino for the next ten to twelve hours with a pocket full of quarters for the video arcade and a few bills for lunch.

The gold rush motif was entirely lost on me, though I did think it was slightly odd that to get to the bowling alley I had to go down an escalator made up to look like the entrance of a mine.

All in all we spent six days (you didn’t think we just drove past Vegas on the way back did you?) in that neon Hell and two in sunny California visiting my grandma. And when we made it back home? That’s when I really became a latchkey kid.

You might even say I insisted on it.

And that’s my story. It’s not really over yet, my mom still gets the urge and she still succumbs to it, but it doesn’t involve me anymore. Sometimes she mentions winning this or that, but those stories don’t interest me because they haven’t changed. They’re the same ones I lived through when I was a kid and my single mom worked three jobs to support us and her habit. And even though I never turned into a gambler, I got to live the life up close and be a part of.

I rather wish I hadn’t though.

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