Monday, December 28, 2009

HERSCHY'S KISSES

Can there be a better way to commemorate the close of this decade than recalling my brush with death at the end of the 1970's?

The tale below, is an excerpt from my short story. "RIDE-OUT, WHITE-OUT AND RIGHT-OUT." Its theme is, the mastery of; people, equipment and directions, in order to keep your Las Vegas casino job...or in this case, keeping your head!

December 31, 1979 would not be an ordinary Monday afternoon. It was the last day of the decade, the last day of the year and nearly...the day of my life.

Shortly before 10:00AM, my dealing craps shift in Vegas' Hotel Fremont was about to start. 
THREE MONTHS EARLIER, GETTING THE FREMONT JOB WAS THE KEY TO MY GAMING INDUSTRY SUCCESS.

To my surprise, a player known only as Mr. S., (wearing a custom-made, thousand-dollar black suit), was standing inside the dice pit, (maybe was he clairvoyant and knew he was going to attend a funeral that day?)

Even stranger, our floor supervisor Teddy Rideout, (in a raggedy, misfitting checkered sports jacket that he got at K-Mart) was giving Mr. S. a two-minute tutorial on how to be a boxman.
MY CRAPS DEALING CAREER AT THE FREMONT SPANNED FROM SEPTEMBER 1979 UNTIL THEY TRANSFERRED ME TO THE STARDUST IN MARCH 1980.

Mr. S. had a reputation as being a demanding, high maintenance player. He hated everyone especially working stiffs (like us) and the penny-ante gamblers that the Fremont catered to.

In his gambling days, we knew him as high-roller "don't come" player.  His action stood-out because he made several three-hundred dollar bets when the rest of out clientele was risking the table minimum (75c) or close to it. More importantly, Mr. S. might have been around craps tables for thirty years, but he had little practical knowledge in aspects of the game that he didn't play...and zero knowledge in supervising it.

Despite being over seventy-years old, Mr. S. was a hulk. At six-foot three, he combined an athletic body that suggested he had done heavy labor his whole life.  His face featured a monstrous scarred, deadpan scowl that suggested that he was no stranger to brawling. To complete his ogre-image, his gravelly voice was acutely intimidating too.

The staff knew he was a big-shot and a golfing buddy of the casino manager. So few people risked their jobs by challenging him. Therefore all of us were reluctant to even look at him and only the bravest souls directly addressed him. If that wasn't enough, there were also rumors that he had ties to organized crime.

Management made a good choice in selecting my floormanTeddy Rideout to indoctrinate the newcomer. Rideout's corporate swag and upbeat, urban personality had as much appeal in the back alleys of his native Detroit as it had in the baccarat pit of his former employer, Caesar's Palace.

While explaining to Mr. S. the Fremont's procedures, policies and boxman duties, he was thorough, patient and professional. Later, Rideout confided in us that Mr. S. couldn't even keep-up with the use of normal craps lingo and that the fossil continually said, "Yeah, yeah, yeah," or "whatever."

Maybe Mr. S. wanted to learn but he definitely didn't want to be taught. That's why I didn't perceive his indifferent to Rideout's assistance as racism, I took it as elitism. More simply, he was used to giving orders...not taking them.

Rideout realized the old man wasn't listening.  He light-heartedly changed the subject to the stool Mr. S. was going to sit on and said, "This antique is busted." He demonstrated the intricacies of raising the seat and adjusting the testy swivel mechanism of the boxman's stool. He added, "It's also bottom heavy. It weighs a ton.  Don't try moving it because the wheels were crushed and fell off years ago. They should..." Fearing reprisals, Teddy stopped himself before implying that the place was cheap. Instead he coughed, "Umm, uh, they should tell newbies that this chair feels like it's bolted to the floor."

When my crew came on duty, Mr. S. rose above his apathy and thanked Rideout.  He shook all the dealer's hands, introduced himself as Herschel Schtiermann and added, "But you guys can call me Hersch." When he got to me, his huge, calloused meat-hook enveloped mine and his vice-like grip felt like every bone in my hand was going to break.

At first, our game was light and Hersch seemed human. The old man took a liking to me because I picked-up on a few of his Yiddish phrases. Soon he told me that he just retired and moved from Peoria.  And, rather than gamble every day, his friend (our casino manager) juiced him into this cushy, part-time job. 

We were getting along well. In a grandfatherly way, I liked my new senior citizen buddy.  He was comfortable enough with me that he shared private information like his wife's latest face-lift, his string of ladies ware factories in the Midwest and the mansion he was having built inside a gated community. Nevertheless, I never lost sight of his reputation for having a volatile temper. So it seemed prudent to let him dominate the conversation.

Hersch's humanity was about to vanish because it was New's Year's Eve, the busiest, craziest day of the year.  Just before noon the crush started.  Soon, we all realized that Schtiermann was buried, (in over his head), when I asked him for a "buy-button" and he barked, "What the fuck is a buy-button?"

Eric, one of the other dealers on my crew was a born-again Christian. Hersch became agitated when Eric's religious sentiments were constantly being injected into the game. Hersch had told him to stop when the game was calm. But Eric ignored him.  When our game became frantic Schtiermann whispered to me, "This schmuck doesn't know who he's screwing with...if this Jesus shit keeps up, he's going to sucking his trafe through a straw...for a long time!"

By 2:00PM, our game was swamped. The party atmosphere had started but we did well to keep the game moving.  The mood was suddenly broken when a redneck in a chewed-up, straw cowboy hat made a claim for a missing, six-dollar place bet.

Hersch pissed the player off by saying, "Six bucks? Tex, don't waste my time with your petty fantasies."

To soften the situation, Eric cited chapter and verse before suggesting, "In good faith, let's give him the benefit of the doubt."

Our floorman Teddy Rideout saw how angry Hersch got at Eric and said, "This is small potatoes. Let's keep the dice in the air. Set-up this gentleman's action and watch him more carefully."

Hersch would have none of it. His allegiance was with the casino's best interest.
He grabbed the dice and stopped the game. Rideout objected. Schtiermann called him, "An incompetent moron," and demanded the pit boss.

The pit boss was a cut-throat little Cuban with hair plugs named Tulio Encarnacion.
Tulio couldn't be bothered by such trivia and said, "Dios mio!  You can't stop the game over bullshit, get a roll."
DESPERATE BALD MEN PAID THOUSANDS OF DOLLARS FOR THE STATE-OF-THE-ART TECHNOLOGY OF HAIR PLUGS.  FEW ENJOYED TRUE SUCCESS WHILE THEY ALL MADE THEIR "PROBLEM" MORE NOTICEABLE.

Hersch wasn't craps savvy enough to understand that he won his case.  He was muttering profanity-laced racism aimed at Blacks and Hispanics just loud enough for the dealers to hear as the redneck shouted, "What about my six-dollar eight?"

Tulio was annoyed and snapped, "I said forget it!"

The good ol' boy's face was as red as his neck as he yelled, "I don't have to take no shit from a dartboard head!"

I controlled myself from laughing as Hersch interrupted the disgruntled player's rant and insisted that the dude apologize to Tulio. The redneck mockingly said, "Yeah right."

Schtiermann lunged from his seat, swiped his left arm at the man and exposed his gold cuff link and matching Rolex.  The good ol' boy recoiled to avoid the attack.  When the argument continued, Hersch leaned forward and spit on him.  Everyone was in shock as Hersh snarled, "Pick-up your shit and get out before I throw you out!"

Hersch looked like he was going to hyperventilate as he plopped back down on his heavy, anvil-like stool, as the player screamed vulgarities on his way out.

Later, our game was a madhouse with ten rowdy players on each side.
Schtiermann had long regained his composure when Eric said, "Steve shorted two from the stick fifty-cents."

In the middle of all the chaos, Hersch tapped my arm and said, "Give that guy half-a-buck."

I stood straight up and smiled. I gestured to the other eight bets I still had to pay and joked, "Don't you think I have more important things to do first?"

I continued my progression until a commotion by the players caused me to peek behind me. Hersch was standing, his eyes ablaze with his two-ton stool cocked over his head like a ten-ounce Wiffel baseball bat. Just as it was coming forward to club me over the head, Teddy grabbed Hersch and the chair crashed harmlessly down.

The whole casino reacted to the thunderous noise. People were rushing over as I noticed that Hersch was seething.  He had white gauze at the corners of his mouth as three other supervisors got between us and subdued him.

I still hadn't fathomed that Teddy Rideout had narrowly saved my life or at least some level of brain damage.  At the same time, Hersch kept hollering profanity while being ushered to the pit-stand. The casino manager hustled into the pit. As Hersch was being lead away, he leered at me and roared, "I swear, I'm going to kill you!"

I sweat-out he rest of the day. I assumed I was getting fired and worried that the old-timer was going to make good on his promise.

At 6:00PM, we were relieved by swing shift. Tulio brought my crew to his podium. I figured everyone was getting fired because of me. Instead Tulio said, "You guys are coming in tomorrow at 8:00AM, right!"

One of the other dealers said, "No, we got New Year's Day off."

Tulio said, "What's the matter, you pendejos can't read?" He pointed to the weekly schedule. In the coveted New Year's Day box, the black, typewritten word "off" had been whited-out. In its place, written sloppily in red ink was, "8:00AM." Tulio added, "You're lucky you all weren't shit-canned. Just take this punishment as a goddamned gift."  When Eric protested him taking the Lord's name in vain Tulio growled, "Shut up and be here sober...at eight!"

Hersch never worked again at the Fremont.
I ESCAPED HERSCH'S WRATH AND DEALT AT THE FREMONT THREE MORE MONTHS.  I WAS SO WELL-THOUGHT OF THAT FOR A SMALL FIFTY-DOLLAR BRIBE TO TULIO, I WAS TRANSFERRED IN MARCH, TO THE STARDUST AND MORE THAN DOUBLED MY TIP INCOME.

Two years later, I saw Herschel Schtiermann one other time.  I was on one of my breaks while dealing craps at the Stardust as he and his wife crossed my path outside the sports-book.
THE STARDUST WAS THE PEAK OF MY CRAPS DEALING CAREER, (THE GOLDEN NUGGET WAS A CLOSE SECOND).

The Stardust was a grind joint on the fabulous Las Vegas Strip.  So Hersch, despite being over-dressed in a tuxedo, still looked like a thug. His wife, trim and elegant for seventy, was wearing a flowing evening gown and looked like a million dollars...in cosmetic surgery. I nodded to acknowledge Hersch.  He gestured me over.

He smirked, "Kid, I had the power to make your life a lot easier. Instead, you hadda be a fuckin' wise-ass. You have no idea how close you came to the kiss of death."

Mrs. Schtiermann gave me a dirty look, grabbed her hubby by the crook of his arm and said, "C'mon Herschy, remember your heart...we came to Vegas to forget that stuff."

3 comments:

Anonymous said...

Loved' "HERSCHY'S KISSES." Being an outsider, it was a bit hard to keep up with the references but I got the gist of it. I never realized dealing was such a dangerous profession. TEA

Anonymous said...

Great story. I think your writing skill has really developed but this one was weaker than usual. Is it ladies ware? Or ladies wear? WTW

Anonymous said...

great story had me laughing quite a bit g