Tomorrow, September 6th, is my thirty-third anniversary of starting dealer school. So I would like to pause and give recognition to the skills I learned as well as the ease with which I was placed in a job. Because even though I faced some harsh valleys, the truth is the New York School of Gambling shaped my future and catapulted me to my continuous, successful and on going career...as well as helping to make me, the man I am today. If that wasn't enough, let's not forget the countless characters and adventures (more so in Las Vegas) that made my coming-of-age exciting, interesting and educational. ...but it all came so close to not happening.
In August 1978 at about 2:00AM, fate shined down on me while I endured what would be a thirteen inning, rain delayed, marathon loss by my beloved New York Mets. Those disappointing circumstances, served as the wake-up call I needed to realize that I was wasting away, unemployed and living at home. DANNY DEVITO (right) WAS A LOVABLE LOSER AS, "LOUIE DePALMA," ON THE HIT SIT-COM, "TAXI." WHEN HE FINALLY GOT A GIRLFRIEND HE SAID TO HER, "MY FAVORITE THING IN THE WORLD USED TO BE SITTING IN MY UNDERWEAR, EATING ICE CREAM AND WATCHING THE METS ON TV. BUT NOW, MY FAVORITE THING TO DO IS...SITTING IN MY UNDERWEAR, EATING ICE CREAM AND WATCHING THE METS ON TV...WITH YOU."
Had the Mets come from behind and won that night perhaps my angst would have never come to a head. But their last ditch rally ended when their last two hopes struck out (looking). I was too frustrated to get out of bed and turn the TV off.
I was starting to nod-off when a commercial caught my attention. At that hour, re-runs for beauty, clerical and truck driving schools fill the air. But this one was different...it was for a casino dealer training academy.
This ad wasn't the same old tripe for computer or pastry chef careers. This sparkly commercial was hot and sizzled in production value. Accompanied by fast-paced music and a montage of leggy, exotic women getting out of limos in Monte Carlo, Las Vegas and the Caribbean, the commercial conjured-up visions of how cool it was to be a gambler.
I was twenty-three, in search of direction and I was susceptible to this idea of being glamorous and surrounded by gorgeous women. Therefore I was manipulated into overlooking the simple reality...the school was there to teach students how to serve the elite...not be the elite.
I fell asleep thinking about sugar plum fairies and fantasizing about making such a meteoric rise into adulthood. This mental masturbation wasn't so far-fetched because a friend, I call Mr. K., was a craps dealer, doing well in Reno. He once suggested that I give casino dealing a try. He said, "The gaming industry is in it's infancy. It's like getting in on the ground floor of something big." When I balked he added, "Chances are, you're gonna hate whatever job you have...but at least I have fun while hating it."
The memory of Mr. K's words motivated me to call the New York School of Gambling. The next day, I set-up an appointment to see the facility on Manhattan's West 32nd Street.
The receptionist's name plate read: Linda Gwynette. She was an average looking girl, about my age...doused in thick, cheap perfume. I stood there in that awkward moment before introducing myself as she struggled through her phone spiel...with a cheat-sheet in hand...with another potential applicant. In addition to her unprofessional phone etiquette, I couldn't help but notice her unprofessional, peroxide dyed blond hair and her less professional, overly exposed, ample bosom.
When she hung up, she was extremely courteous. Her smiling enthusiasm made me over look her plain face, oily complexion and chunkiness. But when she wiggled over to the storage closet and bent over in her tight skirt to get me an application, I knew I was going to attend. However, before I could get my foot in the door with a couple of personal questions of my own, she asked me to take the papers in another room...and wait for the next available recruiter.
The dry forty-year old man in a plaid, tweed sports jacket that looked like it came off the reduced rack at Goodwill was nothing more than a salesman. He scanned my paperwork and then through crooked, yellow teeth, he glamorized the gaming profession with phrases from their commercial.
The campus tour was highlighted by assertions concerning the school's global placement program. "We have gotten our people work in Las Vegas, Europe, cruise ships, in the orient and more." He pointed to a slogan; COMMITTED TO EXCELLENCE, that was stenciled, (running slightly downhill), on the wall and said, "Our outstanding reputation has helped our most talented graduates...once they have a little experience, to be in high demand." In a whisper he added, "Some earn six figures." In his normal tone he continued, "So the more casino games (classes) you master, the better your chances will be to land a great job."
His hype was tantalizing me until he made this lame statement, "If you noticed, the school is on the seventh and twelfth floor but we are working on getting enough space on the eleventh floor. Wouldn't that be something, the seventh and eleventh floor...you know, lucky seven, eleven."
That's when I woke up and said, "You're committed to excellence in what way?" He said, "Our job placement is the best around." I should have said; the best, compared to who? Instead, I asked for job placement statistics and evidence of earning potential.
Mr. Yellow Crooked Teeth drew a blank and couldn't help me. He was just a superficial, insincere tout. He probably hurt the school's chances in my eyes but the image of Linda Gwynette out shined all his short comings. I gave myself credit for leaving the building without registering but the whole subway ride back to Brooklyn, I regretted not making my way back to talk to Linda.
I called Mr. K., and discussed the school's brochure. He was definite when he said, "Take craps only! Even if you need blackjack down the road, most casinos will give you free, on the job training. Same thing for roulette but paying for baccarat is a scam because that's a juice job reserved for the creme-de-la-creme...and even if you were a golden-boy, your casino could teach you the ropes in ten minutes." His other point was, "The payments are non-refundable and they offer no incentives." We reviewed their pre-admittance tuition policy and he warned me to pay as slow as possible, just in case you quit."
I called the salesman back. He suggested the first class after Labor Day, Tuesday September 5, 1978. He vigorously tried to talk me into combo classes and paying in full. Despite the misinformation and propaganda, Mr. K's tutelage helped me stand strong.
Unfortunately, my uncle passed away. My family was going to pay our respects on Tuesday September 5th. To save face, in case I screwed-up, I was keeping my big career move from my folks. I really didn't want to miss the first day of school so, I tried to justify not visiting my grieving aunt and cousins by saying, "I went to the funeral, isn't that enough?" My mom would have none of that. She even applied her famous; "this is a command performance," proclamation. Which meant...there was no way to get out of going.
At the school, the perfect storm or should I say, the comedy of errors started at 9:00AM, on Wednesday the sixth. Through the glass door of the reception area, I saw the hideous salesman in the same tweed sports jacket, toying with the chained, charm dangling just above Linda's open cleavage...and from her body language, I could see this was appreciated behavior.
Later, while she completed my enrollment contract, she was as perky as ever. I stole as many lecherous glances at her chest as I could and re-diluted myself into thinking I had a shot with her. But when I said I only wanted to take craps, she got on the intercom and called in the school's sixty-year old director. Like a deer frozen by headlights, he gaped at her breasts the whole time he tried to sway me into at least taking blackjack. But I stood firm.
A minute after he left, Linda buzzed him again. In between cracking her gum she said, "This guy wants to make a down payment lower than what I thought was allowed." I explained to him the loop-hole that Mr. K., found in their payment schedule. The director said, "Lynn, get me a brochure." On her way to the storage closet, he pinched her bottom...she smiled. Then he muttered obscenities aimed at me under his breath as I showed him how their policy permitted someone taking only craps, to put down $74.00, and not be required to pay more tuition for three weeks. He called her Lynn again and said, "Sign him up and make a note that this money is a hardship installment. I'll initial it later. Then remind me that we have to over-haul that section of the booklet."
Bubbly Linda led me into the casino/classroom. Despite all that transpired, I still wanted to ask her out. There were four different classes going on when she introduced me to my craps instructor, Mitch. Mitch said, "Thank you Lynn." She turned to leave and exaggerated her wiggle. To her delight, many of the fifty people in the room said something in sexual bad taste, whistled or made cat-calls.
Mitch was a clean-cut and vital thirty-year old. In a refined and welcoming manner he said, "We have a lot of catching up to do. But first, I want to introduce you to the other instructors." A Natasha Fatale-like woman left her blackjack class. I looked at her beady, black eyes as she growled disgustedly in a Yugoslavian accent, "So you are the wise-ass only taking one game." The gray haired roulette instructor stinking of booze leaned in and said, "Only taking craps, eh?" I caught eye-contact with the gaunt, long-haired baccarat teacher from the distance and he turned away as if to shun me.
Mitch did not introduce me to his twenty students positioned around two craps tables. Instead he gave me stacks of casino chips at a blackjack table and demonstrated the different ways to handle them. I was left on my own to "practice" drop-cutting and sizing-in. This was not coming natural. When a chip fell on the floor, I pretended not to notice...I felt like such a spastic.
I could hear the craps students using a language completely foreign to me while running simulated games. They handled the chips well. All I was doing was arbitrarily dropping them. On a couple of occasions, Mitch came by to see how I was doing. Like a machine, he would systematically set down neat piles of chips; one, two, three, four, five and five again. Then pick them up and artistically, do it again. His third visit was really discouraging because he said, "Make sure you practice with both hands." Then he did the exercise equally well with his left hand.
At 10:30AM there was a break. I overheard one of the blackjack students refer to Lynn as, "Linguini," the world's greatest, "mouth-piece." I knew she had notarized my enrollment contract but I would have never guessed she was a lawyer. Then the other guy gushed, "Yeah, I never heard of a chick so into oral sex." I shouldn't have been crushed, but I was.
It was bad enough that I missed the first day of class and felt like I could never catch on but the girl I was so keen on, was a whore.
I was standing alone as nearly all the students rushed out to the elevators. That's when I pieced together that Lynn's "Linguini" nickname was a combination of Lynn and her last name, Gwynette. This knowledge inspired me back to the reception area. Through the glass door, I saw Lynn partially hidden by a file cabinet. She was in a hot and heavy embrace with the long-haired baccarat instructor. He slid his hand under the front of her skirt...and she slapped it away. He then stuffed his face in her chest as I retreated to the classroom.
I followed a small group of craps students downstairs and up the street, to a coffee shop. Then without a hint of being ostracized by them, I self-imposed a great distance and ordered a muffin and coffee from the farthest table from them.
The service was awful. But the wait gave me extra time to think. Then over a cold coffee and a hard bran muffin, I decided to quit. My subway was on Broadway, so I had to walk past the school to get there. A few storefronts ahead of me, Lynn and the baccarat instructor came out of the Blarney Stone Bar. I was right behind them as he grabbed her butt...and she grabbed his.
They went into the school's vestibule, I went straight. Seconds later, I felt a tap on my shoulder, it was Lynn. She said with her inviting smile, "I was calling you but I forgot your name" She lightly scraped her fingernails down my biceps and added, "Where are you going? You walked right by the entrance." She was quite a seductress. Her touch was so sensuous that all I could blither was, "I must be in a fog."
Arm in arm, we went back in and waited for the elevator. I was about to ask her about her personal life when the doors opened and the school's director, puffing a fat, stinky cigar came out. He grabbed Lynn around the waist and said, "You look like you need a break before you take some dictation."
They advanced towards the exit. She craned her neck, grinned back at me and winked. Upstairs, I went through the reception area and saw the salesman at Lynn's desk. He was enrolling a new student.
Mitch kept me segregated from the other students again while I struggled to handle the chips. I was angry with myself for allowing Lynn's charm to lure me back. Mr. K. was right to insist on paying as little as possible because as soon as I saw an opportune moment to avoid embarrassment, I was going to leave my non-refundable deposit behind and never come back.
Then the salesman entered the casino/classroom with the newcomer. Mitch was summoned over as his welcoming committee of future instructors greeted him. At the same time, I still couldn't understand the craps game chatter behind me. But every time the students strayed off topic, it seemed like someone had another Linguini story. And now it centered on her and the school's director...it nauseated me.
My eavesdropping was interrupted by Mitch introducing the new student, Kevin, to me. He showed the same chip drill to the newbie. I was thrilled that Kevin was as inept as me. We spent a lot of time laughing about ourselves until Mitch led us to an unoccupied craps table. He said, "Whatever you think you know about dice...please forget." He then explained the rules before introducing us to Jay, one of the students. Jay then drilled us on the basics of winning and losing.
Jay was friendly and out going. While we were at it, I confessed missing my first day of class. I was groaning about how bad I felt for losing out on so much material. I then added, "I'm intimidated now because my first day is almost over and I'm buried compared to the rest of the class...hell, I can't even handle the chips."
Jay laughed, "First, we don't call them chips, they are checks. And, we didn't all start yesterday, it's staggered. Mitch teaches new guys separately until they are ready to join the main group. Relax, there'll more new people every few days. And don't worry about the checks, everyone sucks in the beginning."
I felt stupid but relieved. Later, on my way out, with no carnal intentions, I wanted to thank Lynn for keeping me from quitting. When I got to the hall, Lynn was breathing heavy as she came out of the men's room. She had a guilty look on her face as she scurried towards the reception area...while buttoning the last button on her blouse and smoothing out her skirt. Seconds later, Jay and a roulette student came out of the men's room with big smiles on their faces.
It was hard to believe but I out lasted Lynn. A few days later she was fired.
During the rare valleys in my casino career, I have blamed Lynn "Linguini" Gwynette for my suffering. But considering my casino longevity and overall prosperity, as well as the joy that she has given to the masses, I think she should be sainted.