Monday, July 25, 2011


My four and a half years at Brooklyn College...a.k.a., thirteenth grade only served to prolong my childhood. WHILE ATTENDING BC, I HAD MANY ADMIRERS WHO LOOKED UP TO ME. OF COURSE MOST OF THEM USED THEIR GREAT EDUCATION AND WENT ON TO LEAD PRODUCTIVE LIVES.

When I graduated, (June 1977), my protective, zero-responsibility umbrella called schooling, closed up. It is safe to say that the next fifteen months of my weltschmertz-filled life was not a smooth transition into adulthood.

By August 1978, the pressure of dim horizons were crashing in on me. Until a glimmer of hope poked through my gray clouds of uncertainty during a weekend in Atlantic City. While visiting a friend of a friend, I stumbled across a stray casino supervisor's pay stub. When I focused on this boxman's "gross pay" field, the allure of money swayed me.

The gaming industry was a burgeoning infant, on its way to becoming a global giant. Economic forecasts suggested that long-term careers in this suddenly corporate, (respectable), business included, plentiful opportunities, good pay and generous benefits. If that wasn't incentive enough for me, there was also the convenience of a dealer training academy on West 32nd Street, in Manhattan.

I remained non-committal for several weeks. During this period of idling, I noticed what seemed like everybody I knew, either already gone from my neighborhood or leaving. I dreaded being left behind. I consulted a friend, Mr. K., who left Canarsie two years earlier to become a craps dealer in Reno. He painted a rosy picture of casino life and encouraged me to take the plunge.

Even with the support of my local friends, I still wasn't able to pull the trigger. Until destiny exploded in my face between late night episodes of, "GILLIGAN'S ISLAND," and "THE TWILIGHT ZONE." It was a sexy commercial for the, "NEW YORK SCHOOL OF GAMBLING." I was smitten. I visited the facility and without hesitation, signed up.

The school's student body could be lumped into two main categories. Three-quarters were seeking employment in Atlantic City and the rest in Las Vegas, (with a minute faction heading elsewhere).

I hung-out with the Vegas-bound bunch. The personalities in this group was a microcosm of high school. It was easy for me to avoid stoners, criminal wannabes and weirdos. Of course the jet-setters wanted no part of me, so I gravitated to the earthy, regular guys and jocks.

My clique was a solid ten-man group. Slowly, the one's who preceded me, graduated and moved to Las Vegas. Ciro, my closest friend made his move in November. He took my phone number and said he would call when he was settled.

I landed in Las Vegas the first week of January 1979. The school's free, job placement service set me up to work at the same place as Ciro, the Slots-A-Fun Casino. When I contacted him, Ciro invited me to sleep on his floor until I got on my feet.

When I got to his tiny place downtown on South Tenth Street, my first impression, (from outside), was that it was a hovel. While knocking on the door, I guessed that the inside was a pigsty.

Ciro ushered me in. From noon's bright sunshine, I entered his dark, stinking lair. Through a thick gray-blue haze of stale cigarette and marijuana smoke, I saw his frat-house-like two-bedroom apartment. My eye gravitated to the sink full of dirty dishes. Then to a cockroach scurrying across the counter between a crushed Olympia Beer can and a generic scotch bottle laying on its side.

I was there twenty seconds and I already sped-up my mind in reverse to recall reading the Stardust marquee, advertising eighteen-dollar rooms. Ciro interrupted my daydream and said, "You're in luck. The Chief, (his roommate Bob Bailey from school) was hospitalized with alcohol poisoning." When I raised my eyebrows he added, "That means that John Heaverlo can sleep in his bed, LUPY can now take the couch and you can push these two chairs beats the floor."

The school had placed Bob Bailey at the California Club. John Heaverlo started at the El Cortez the day before and LUPY got hooked-up at the Lady Luck, (but he took one look at that dump and struck out on his own...with no success).

Ciro offered me some instant coffee. I refused as he led me to the sofa. He pushed aside an over flowing ashtray and a non-value stack of poker chips before setting his mug on the coffee table, (a slat of wall paneling propped up by two piles of Popular Mechanics Magazines). He told me that even though Slots-A-Fun was on the fabulous Las Vegas "strip," it was still one of the worst jobs in town, (but slightly better than the Lady Luck). He said he took the city bus to work and added that the others walked to their downtown casinos.

John Heaverlo was a little older than the rest of us. He was married and planned on sending back to Poughkeepsie for his wife when he established himself. John was also the only one of us with a car. So Ciro thought it would be a good idea to borrow Heaverlo's 1971 Buick Skylark and give me a guided tour.

John agreed as long as we didn't mess-up the back seat and trunk because even though they were packed solid with his stuff, he knew exactly where to find everything.

Once Ciro got the okay, the first thing he did was leave his apartment in his ratty, light blue, terry-cloth robe wearing black socks. Three minutes later, he came back with two (stolen) newspapers. From each, he ripped out a Silver Nugget Casino coupon, for an eight-ounce beer and a cup of chili for twenty-five cents.


Ciro drove to Slots-A-Fun first. He suggested that I check-in with them...I refused. We drove the length of strip. Along the way, he gave me an estimate on how much the craps dealer made in each place. Caesar's Palace and the MGM were tied at the top...alone at the bottom was Slots-A-Fun.

At Tropicana Avenue, we got on the freeway and returned downtown. Back in the low-rent district, we cruised Fremont Street. Again Ciro told me how much tip income was generated at each casino. He put Binion's Horseshoe at the top, (less than half of Caesar's) and the Nevada Club neck and neck with the Lady Luck at the bottom of the dung heap. Only this time, he added the extra dimension of telling me the who's who of our schoolmates and where they were working.

A few blocks up, Ciro pointed out John Heaverlo's casino, (the El Cortez). He said, "Hal Mair works there too. They average twenty-two dollars a day." At the corner of Las Vegas Boulevard, we turned left. In a few streets, we crossed Bonanza Avenue and entered the next town, North Las Vegas.

The Silver Nugget was a clean and modern casino with a big empty parking lot. Like walking into a cathedral, you could hear a pin drop on the spacious, low-limit casino floor. We did a superficial loop of the property and saw few customers. Ciro encouraged me to take my first shot on their craps table. After I timidly refused, he led me to their southwestern-themed, Wagon Wheel Cafe.

The large restaurant was bright, cheery and completely empty. We waited at the sign that read; PLEASE WAIT TO BE SEATED. A young, stuttering, redhead with a Kayla, TRAINEE name tag greeted us. When she dropped the lamented menus, a much older hostess named Dixie bolted out of the kitchen.

Dixie's deeply wrinkled face and liver-spotted arms coupled with the most unnaturally dyed blond beehive hairdo made her look like she was a hundred. In a coarse southern accent that suggested that she gargled with lye, Dixie reamed-out Kayla for her lack of eye-contact with us and the angle of her elbow while handling the menus.

Teary-eyed Kayla was humiliated and stormed away. So aloof Dixie escorted us to a table. Ciro asked her to wait as he emptied his pants pockets onto the table. He placed down John Heaverlo's car keys, a box of Marlboros and a book of matches from the Dunes.

Dixie said in a huff, "Well..." Ciro said, "Wait...," as he put his apartment keys, glasses case and wallet down. He looked puzzled until he said, "Oh, I have them here." That's when he took the two coupons out of his shirt pocket and said, "We should show you these first, right?" Dixie looked at him with contempt and rasped, "What else will you gentlemen be having?" Ciro pushed his menu an inch closer to her and said, "That's it."

When she was gone I said, "Boy, what a sourpuss, she was disgusted with us." Ciro said, "Yeah, the Wicked Bitch of the West...I could tell she really hated careful, she might spit in your chili." I gave him an uneven smile and said, "She wouldn't...?"

We watched from thirty feet away as the menus slipped out of Kayla's grip as she greeted three women. Luckily, this time she managed to grab them before they hit the floor. She looked over her shoulder but Dixie was nowhere to be found. Seconds later, Kayla's serious, freckled face smiled when Ciro gave her the thumbs-up sign as she lead her party by us.

A minute later, sobbing Kayla came out of the kitchen with our order. She set down two Silver Nugget, Wagon Wheel Cafe napkins with caricatures of chili peppers in sombreros. Then without spilling a drop, she cautiously put our coffee cups filled with chili on top.


Kayla's voice quivered as she said, "W-w-will there be anything else?" Ciro said, "Are you okay?" She said, "I-I'm supposed to be a hostess but my boss is so mean that the waitress just quit. I don't know what I'm doing and now Eddie the cook saw her go into Mr. Atkinson's office. She's screaming about firing me too. But I don't care...I'll just go back to McDonald's." She took a deep breath, put our short beers on the table and said, "Will there be anything else?" Ciro said, "If it isn't too much trouble, how about some more crackers and some Tabasco sauce too." Her broad smile revealed a mouth full of braces as she said, "You might want to try the chili first."

When she came back Kayla set down our 53c check with the coupons stapled to it. Then she put down a basket of Saltines, the hot sauce and two glasses of water. Kayla said, "If you're fixin' to put more Tabasco in that, you'll need all these." Ciro slipped her two dollars and said, "You'll be okay whatever happens. Trust me, you're very nice." Seconds later Dixie's voice boomed from up front, "How long are you gonna make these good folks wait for a table?"

Ciro and I were done "eating" in a minute. But his mouth was on fire. He gobbled up all the extra crackers and doused the fire in his mouth with the rest of his beer and both of our waters. So it surprised me that the first thing he said was, "Where's that $%#$&! Dixie?" I said, "I don't see her." Ciro said, "Let's dine and dash." I said, "Heh?" He said, "That girl is getting fired anyway, c'mon, let's beat this toilet for the check." I wasn't in Las Vegas twenty-four hours and after refusing many of his other suggestions, I was ready to become a felon. I said, "Okay."

Ciro worked around the piles of spent Saltine wrappers and gathered his possessions as Dixie came in from the casino and went into the kitchen. We could hear her screaming at Kayla as Ciro said, "Let's go, go, go."

Ciro and I walked fast, left the restaurant, crossed the casino and continued outside. We were laughing at John Heaverlo's car as the smile vanished from Ciro's face. He started emptying his pockets on the hood of the Buick. The one thing missing was Heaverlo's keys. Ciro cursed and went back in. He wasn't smiling when he came back and said, "That $%#$&! Dixie was waiting for me. She was twirling Johnny's key ring on her middle finger when she said, 'forget something, low-life?'" I said, "What did you do?" "What could I do? I gave her a five and grabbed the keys."

We were about to pull out when Kayla exited the casino. Ciro called her over and asked, "Did Dixie fire you?" She beamed, "Hell no, I quit!" Ciro said, "That sucks. But hey, give me your phone number and we'll go out and have a good time." Kayla said, "Go out with you? Go to hell, low-life."


Anonymous said...

What a coincidence, I was just telling my version of your, "DINE & DASH," story last week. Except I think you under-exaggerated how nasty Derleen (not Dixie) was. PS - The real Bob "The Chief" Bailey, still drinks like a fish and still craps deals downtown. --- CIRO

Anonymous said...

Dine and dash, Brooklyn-style...a party of eight, full dinner and cocktails at the Foursome Diner in Gerritsen Beach...1975 !

The Remsen Boys