Monday, December 29, 2008


I had a "Dickens-like" brush with death on December 31, 1979.

A few years ago, invisible to the world, I stood along side the specter known as the Grim Reaper. He had me re-hash the consequences of being a wise-guy and disrespecting my elders. His message was so clear that I included that episode into a passage in my short story, "RIDEOUT, WHITE-OUT & RIGHT-OUT."

Even if "death" is an exaggeration in this situation, the dire nature of that afternoon at Hotel Fremont most certainly would have caused me a higher level of brain damage than I already possess.

Hersh Schtiermann was a robust hulk in his early seventies. He had recently retired and re-located to Vegas. A few times a week, Hersh came into the casino to play craps, (from the DON'T...which means, he bets for the shooter to lose). A powerful man of stature and will, he liked to gamble among the sea of penny-ante players. Schtiermann's hundred dollar black chip bets, stacked three high, stood-out against the ubiquitous yellow twenty-five cent chips that cluttered the rest of the lay-out.

The dealers and supervisors at the Fremont shuddered when Schtiermann approached and hoped he wouldn't land on their table. Even worse, regardless of the high-level of pampering he received, Hersh was still a demanding, impatient and volatile "stiff," (didn't tip). He was even more of a high-maintenance nightmare because he was chummy with our casino manager.

It was a shock to me and my co-workers when on December 31, 1979, we saw our floor supervisor, Tyree Theodore Taylor, a.k.a., "T," orienting Schtiermann to the finer points of being a boxman. "T" was pointing out that the bottom-heavy boxman's stool was broken and seemed attached to floor. He was demonstrating how to adjust it when I took my position next to Hersh.

In a gravel-voice that matched his tough facade, Schtiermann was surprisingly pleasant. Soon, in a brash yet sophisticated manner, he even confided in me that his friend the casino manager, had "juiced" him into the job so that he could stay around the action without gambling. During the early part of that shift, everything on our table was light and easy. The time flew by and in a grandfatherly way, I began to enjoy Hersh's company...especially when he whispered condescending comments about the small-time gamblers.

After noon, the holiday crowd increased and our game's pace picked-up. It then became obvious that Schtiermann was "buried," (clueless to all aspects of craps that didn't pertain to the DON'T). My first hint that proved his lack of game knowledge occurred when I asked for an "OFF " button and Hersh snapped, "What f--- is an off button?"

Later there was a lost six-dollar place bet. The player based his claim on incompetence but Hersh wouldn't listened and blindly supported that dealer.
When the player became livid and demanded satisfaction Schtiermann adamantly said, "No!"
"T," our floor supervisor said, "Hersh, set the bet up, pay it and keep the game moving."
Hersh said, "He's a liar."
"T" said, "That's okay, we'll just watch him more closely."
Hersh growled, "No! I'm not giving that cheapskate, s---! Get the pit boss."
The player said, "Who does this jerk think he is?"

Schtiermann was so muscular that when he slammed his fist onto the table you got a sense that he had worked hard his whole life. Enraged, he rose-up, ranted profanity, leaned forward and swiped his bear-claw hand at the player's throat. The spry player jumped back. If Hersh had gotten a hold of him, I think he was angry enough to have strangled the poor bugger.
From a safe distance, the guy then taunted Hersh. Schtiermann seethed in frustrated.
When the man eased back to his original position, Hersh found the range, spit in the fellow's face and hollered, "Give that low-life all his money and throw him out."
The player gathered his chips and left.

By 2 o'clock, with our craps game was out of control, Hersh was back to his jolly self . We were getting along great as he shared more and more personal information with me even though my side of the table was crammed with ten players (six is usually considered full). After plowing through my succession of field, don't come and come bets, I began to pay my place bets. I was halfway through that progression when the stickman pre-maturely told me, "Give this player fifty cents change."
I didn't respond, adhered to my procedure and continued paying place-bets.
Schtiermann with no idea of dealing sequence pointed across the table and said, "Give that piss-ant half-a-buck."

Incorrectly thinking I had reached a certain level of simpatico with the man, I stood straight-up, gestured to the mass of place-bets that still had to be paid, dipped into obvious sarcasm...that I thought he'd appreciate and said, "Don't you think I have more important things to do first?"

When I got to last bet, I heard the crowd hush. I looked up and saw the bewilderment in the player's eyes. Instinctively, I turned around. Schtiermann, with veins bulging from the side of his liver-spotted head, had already stood-up and picked-up the stool, (remember that was the one that was so heavy and cumbersome that everyone joked that it was welded to floor). His face contorted and looked crazy as he cocked it back, like a baseball bat ready to crash down on my head. In that second, "T"came-up from behind and knocked the chair out of his hand. The loudness of the crash turned every one's head in the Fremont. White foam formed at the corners of Schtiermann's mouth as "T' got between us. He repeatedly cursed me and interwove, "I'll kill you," countless times before the pit-boss and a security guard were able to subdue him. Moments later, Hersh was led away by the casino manager and replaced.

At 6 o'clock, my crew was relieved by swing-shift exactly on time. The pit-boss called us over to his pit-stand and told us, "Report for duty at 8:AM tomorrow morning.
One of the other dealers said, "Hey, we're off!"
The pit-boss pointed to the schedule and scoffed, "Don't complain to me, there it is in black and white."
We looked down and saw that the typewritten word "OFF," for New Year's Day, on our weekly schedule sheet had been painted over. On top of it, handwritten in red ink was, "8:AM."
The pit-boss leered at me and said, "Don't squawk, after what you knuckleheads (he didn't really call us that) did today, you're lucky to have jobs.

In one of the shortest casino supervising careers in history, (five and three-quarter hours) Hersh Schtiermann never returned to work. The next (and last) time I saw him was two years later when he walked through the Stardust with his wife. After I gave him a polite hello, he took me aside, squeezed the life out of my forearm and stated, "You're a f--king wise-guy and always're lucky I didn't have you killed.
God bless us...everyone. Have a lets hope 2009 is a HAPPY NEW YEAR for all of us !

When ZYMBOT reads this I hope he appreciates that Hersh Schtiermann's name was made-up. And more importantly, this blithering is for his (everyone's) entertainment and although there might be a 5% embellishment factor, this, and all such material concerning my experiences...unless otherwise specified, are true.

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