The Continuing Adventures of Matt in Anger Management Land
It makes sense, though. It's barely one a.m. and I'm not ready to go back to my small, dank room and wait for morning and Gary Preston to come. I prop myself up on my elbows, head cradled in my hands. The dealer pushes a tall stack of whites and four reds to me. "Good luck, sir."
The other players are a sparse gang of deadbeats and retired men in satin jackets ostensibly given to them for winning jackpots, but mostly for losing more than they could ever hope to get back. The ceiling in the Circus casino is low. And like the hookers, stale smoke hangs around for weeks and years, smelling worse and getting thicker. It's not a clean casino, and all the surfaces that were once white are the same nicotine yellow as a smoker's teeth.
The men at the table aren't enjoying themselves. The dice quickly move from one man to the next, and the only guy making money is the big creepy clown who owns the place. At a dollar, with double odds, my chips bleed away slowly. It is slower than it should be, too, because I forget to place a couple of bets. I can't remember everything, exactly, just that one minute the dice are rolling, and the next a cocktail waitress hands me a beer I didn't order.
The stickman pushes the dice to me. I think whether I want to throw, because to throw means not having one of my arms to prop up my head. "How high can I throw them?" I ask.
"I don't care as long as you don't hit the ceiling," replies the table boss, who is more interested in sports scores being fed to him by the rotating dealers. The answer is music to my ears and I pluck the two prettiest red cubes off the table. To make like I'm a hotshot, I double my line bet to two bucks.
Then I chuck 'em. Soft as a catcher's mitt full of butter, I "hang'em high," and those gem stones toss and turn through the air, rising above my head and tumbling down the table. They hit the back wall and stop.
"Seven, winner seven," the stickman drones and the dealer nearest me gives me two more dollars. I watch the table boss for a reaction on my height, but there is none. I'm safe in the "Lucky Zone," that rarefied air above my head where winners are produced.
The dice come back to me and I send them up the ladder again, higher this time, and they hit the back wall in flight. Six.
"Hard six," begs a degenerate as he scatters chips on the table. Other people toss out bets, all white dollars, slowing the game while the dealers stack and sort them. I back up my bet with a red chip and then let the dice go.
I nail the six, soft, creating a grateful stir among all the players but the degenerate. They grab their winnings before someone finds a mistake. One old-timer at the opposite end of the table squints through thick glasses under a greasy "World's Greatest Grandfather" cap. He's sizing me up, calculating just how good I am and how much of his prescription drug budget he should lay out there. With some difficulty, I pull myself together and stand up straight with my shoulders back. I'm winning and almost sober, but I'm still dog-tired and hungry. Plus, I think I look a little fat. I try to wipe the drunken glaze from my eyes.
The old-timer and I know I don't control the dice, and nobody but Lucky Ned can predict the outcome of the next roll. We know that it's the people who think they can beat the casino who pay its bills. But we only truly know this when we aren't at the table. At this moment, the fun is in believing we do have control. I want this old guy to think I can overpower common sense. I want him to bet on me, to like me. We stare at each other for a long time.
"Wake up, buddy!" the stickman raps my hand with his stick. "We're playing craps here."
"Oww," I tell him as I fish out two of the five dice, place them flush against each other and pick them up with my lucky thumb and somewhat less lucky middle finger. With a backspin flourish, I toss them higher than before. They go so high they appear to hang for a moment before coming down, another winner.
The stickman brings the dice back to me and barks, "Let's keep 'em down." The table boss frowns and asks, "What the hell difference does that make?"
"What if I hit the ceiling?" I ask.
He laughs, "Then you have to bring them down."
I like this game. As I continue to win, more players join in and nobody leaves and soon enough the table is full. I'm more sober now. Partially I have perked up from second-hand nicotine intake, and mostly the liquor from earlier has been diluted by refreshed blood cells. I'm hungry, I know that, but I won't give up a hot roll for a lousy three dollar steak.
I place a couple of bets for the dealers and in exchange they give me the freedom to do what I want. Over and over, as I toss the dice higher on each roll and my winnings pile up. So do the dealers and they become warm and friendly. "Where you from?" Colorado. "How long you here for?" Just tonight. "What do you do for a living?" Train fighting chickens. "Does that pay well?" Only when they win. I've never had one win. I give them good advice, but the chickens won't listen. "Aren't cockfights illegal?" Yes, but the cops usually only go after the winners. "You're pulling my leg..." No.
I finally hit the ceiling, or at least the table boss says I did. The dice may have grazed it, I agree, because some dust flutters down onto the table, but I didn't "hit" it. He warns me to keep them down and on the next throw I promptly seven out.
As the dice are pushed to my neighbor and I acknowledge the applause of the other players, I also feel my adrenaline-high come crashing down. The hunger reasserts itself, but not as much as the tiredness. I'm so tired I can't believe I'm standing up.
I begin to scoop up my chips, but there are too many and I can't hold them all. "Would you like to color up, sir?" asks the dealer.
It takes a moment for me to register the question. "You're not trying to rip me off, are you?"
"No," he's defensive, "It's just that you look like you're having trouble-"
"I'd rather have trouble with these chips than with your grabby little hands." I know that's a particularly harsh insult because he does have small hands. Rather than let him touch my winnings, I untuck my shirt and create a pouch, into which I dump my winnings.
After cashing in my chips, I take the indoor walkway back to the Silver Legacy. It is above the casino and winds around the circus midway.
It's nearly three a.m. My progress to the silver Legacy is a floppy, foot-dragging mess interrupted by many breaks to sit down, either on chairs or the floor. My head is clouded to the point that all I can think about is getting to my room and Kim, that painfully beautiful bartender. I wonder if she is thinking of me, and if she is, what I am wearing in her thoughts. I hope it's something sexy.
The Circus Circus midway is a creepy ghost town full of empty plywood game booths, beeping electronic games and vacant-eyed stuffed animals. The restaurants and buffet are closed, but the smell of boiled fats and industrial cleansers heavily hang in the air. The only other person on the fake cobblestone walkway is the guy who buffs it in a little car that smells like an electrical fire.
At the Silver Legacy, I show my driver's license at the check-in counter and the clerk kindly reminds me which room I'm in. After making only one trip up the wrong bank of elevators, I find my room. The light on the phone blinks. I have one message and I know what it is, it's the security guard from Fitzgerald's leaving Kim's phone number for me. Kim will be so surprised, and delighted, to hear from me this evening.
"Hey, Big Guy," I don't recognize the voice. "It's Gary Preston-" my stomach turns "- and I'll meet you in the coffee shop at 8:30. Get a good night's sleep, Big Guy, because tomorrow's the first day of the rest of your life."
He called me "Big Guy" twice. How am I supposed to learn how to control my anger by hanging out with a man who calls me Big Guy? Maybe I can beat him until he gives me my certificate.
I lie down, stretching out. I feel like I'm 800 pounds of corn meal unable to move if I needed to. But in the center, my stomach is twisted in knots. Not because I'm drunk, but because Gary Preston's voice replays in my head. He says "Big Guy" over and over in his insincere tone, so much that it drowns out my mother's voice saying, "Your father and I are very disappointed."
It doesn't take long to fall asleep, but it's an uneasy, light
sleep and I wake often, imagining that Gary Preston is standing
over me saying "Big Guy." What's more is that the Fitzgerald's
guard never called me, even though he promised.