In less than four years, the casino business got the best of me. I was so burnt-out by 1983 that I put my condo in Las Vegas up for sale with the idea of going back to Brooklyn At that time, the country was going through a bit of a recession so the bottom of the real estate market had fallen out. Only two people looked at my place in thirteen months. Luckily, the second one bought bought my place. But even better that year delay gave me a chance to experience some great moments. One could say that my last year out west dealing craps at the Golden Nugget...was golden.
One of my favorite extra memories from that period was craps dealer, Earnest Terrell. Earnest's charm made him the darling of the players. Management highly regarded him because his welcoming manner resulted in a gigantic following of returning customers. The other dealers held him in high esteem because he was entertaining to us while he raked in big tips.
It seems impossible to imagine but in the casino environment, he had no enemies. Earnest was a shining star and one the best, most interesting and fun people I ever dealt with. He set himself apart by being so human in a sea of transient opportunists. Therefore, weaker individuals (like me) gravitated to his qualities of sincerity, respect, tolerance and unconditional love. We frequently dealt together until he was one of the thirteen people who were unjustly fired, in what became called the, "Nugget's Reign of Terror." I wrote a short story with that incident in mind called, "A GUMMY CONSPIRACY." (However Earnest had a minimal role in it. So this column, is his story).
Earnest did not like nicknames. Even something simple like Earnie annoyed him. So when the movie, "E. T." became popular, he didn't like being called by his initials either. More importantly, when he heard what we called him behind his back, he most definitely hated being called, "Yum-Yum."
The Yum-Yum name came to be because Earnest was a chick magnet. He looked like a perfect, twenty-five year old version of actor Gene Wilder. The only aspect of his looks that trumped his handsome face, wavy blond hair and sky blue eyes was his constant brimming smile. Female coworkers hit on him all the time. So did customers but he gently turned them down even when they stopped to gape at him or made aggressive sexual advances.
Earnest was no Puritan. He was spoken for and earned his "Earnest" name by being completely faithful to Jen, a third generation American girl of Thai heritage. Those of us who knew him were envious when they saw Earnest and Jen together, because they were the ultimate power couple. They reminded me of Nick and Nora Charles because they always were on the same page as they happily gallivanted everywhere together.
An outsider might have thought that Earnest had it all but those of us who he confided in, knew he had many psychological and physical flaws. It was these emotional and hereditary demons that prevented him from marrying Jen, co-habitating with her and most importantly...forced him to avoid pregnancy.
Earnest Terrell was born in rural Michigan. While he was in kindergarten, he was stricken with a prolonged, life threatening disease. His folks soon became financially drained. For several years, his town held fund raisers, to assist in paying the astronomical medical bills. Even when he recovered, he had a difficult time catching up to same-age kids that were three grades ahead. Matters worsened when his dyslexia went undiagnosed and his small town doctor treated him temporarily as if he had brain damage.
Earnest was afraid to bring a child into the world. It was sad to hear him say how embarrassing it was that every spring, advertising signs for his annual benefit (with his picture) would pop-up all over town. For that reason, he didn't want to risk his genetic burden on Jen. But he especially did not want any kid of his to go through what he did and then be branded "the unfortunate charity case from Otsego Street." To his credit, through hard work and determination, Earnest did catch-up scholastically, conquer his dyslexia and later receive a BA from a local community college.
When he was twenty-one, his feather in the wind destiny started when he bought a used VW micro bus and decided to drive to Tijuana Mexico. As fate would have it, he never made it when his clunker died on him in Las Vegas. Earnest felt no need to go home. He settled in town and became a craps dealer.
Beginning in 1982, he and I dealt together at the Golden Nugget. I was in a clique that included another friend with heavy-duty casino influence. This friend used this "juice" to keep our "fantastic four" together as a permanent craps crew. This arrangement pissed-off nearly everyone else except Earnest because he was always the substitute when one of us missed a day. (It has been said that juice is a terrible, unfair thing...unless it works in your favor. Please note, I went through the proper channels for six months and failed to get into the Nugget. Then one day, I stumbled through drunk and a friend had me hired on the spot).
Before the Nugget made the big changes, Earnest was working with us one night. During a lull (standing dead), we got on the topic of the crud that forms on casino chips. We concluded that these greasy, gummy, black berries were the result of sticky dots of liquor combined with humidity and human perspiration that picked up every kind of filth imaginable.
|INTERNET PHOTOS OF CASINO CHIPS ARE FROM COLLECTIONS OR FOR SALE. SO I COULDN'T FIND SHOTS OF THEM WITH BLACK FILTH DOTS.|
When talking about dirty chips got old, Earnest told us how a Canadian school teacher in a short skirt was stalking him on his first two breaks. "I tried to be considerate of her feelings," he said, "I told her I had a girlfriend. But she kept telling me what she wanted to do to me. When I came back from break, she sat on a slot stool and when I looked her way, she exposed herself. She cornered me when I went on my next break and wouldn't take no for answer. That's when (fellow dealer) 'Meat-Bone' walked by."
Mike "Meat-Bone" Fleischbien was an obnoxious womanizer...and because he was a virtual mirror image of Earnest, he was overwhelmingly disliked by his coworkers, (in, "A GUMMY CONSPIRACY," he was a major character). Earnest introduced him to this woman and then ducked into the break room. Later, Earnest told us that "Meat-Bone" said, "What was with that Floozie, I talked to her for a minute and she ran away."
Earnest was on a roll. He then told us hilarious stories about the traditions in his WASP upbringing. Then, mixed into his descriptions of gravy boats full of mayonnaise, overly well-done Thanksgiving roast beef and pitchers of room temperature milk, he also said that he invested in a small apartment complex on Cartier Street in North Las Vegas. He joked that his first million will be earned from being a slumlord.
Six months later, the when the Nugget's rebirth was complete, it was a palace. It was so beautiful that it was hard to remember how chintzy the old, dark Western motif was, as we worked in the bright, lavish, white and beige Victorian-themed high-roller heaven. That meant all the old tables and equipment were also replaced. Even better, the dealer's income more than doubled. But attached to that monetary joy was the ugly head of favoritism. Then the powers that be, (influence peddlers) terrorized the staff and had blocks of employees (mainly dealers) fired for flimsy or invented reasons so that in exchange for payola, they could hire their own people.
On a night that Earnest didn't work with us, my crew basked in our nouveau-riche attitudes, while his table had no players. At the Nugget when a craps game is idle, the dice bowl is set on top of the chip bank until it reopens. Earnest's table stayed open but his crew was sent home an hour early, (with full pay) and replaced by another crew from a different dead game.
When that game started back up. The boxman (the immediate supervisor who sits between the dealers) noticed something under the dice bowl that was now positioned across the table in front of the stickman. Everyone laughed because a sticky, hundred-dollar chip from the old regime had strayed back into the bank and was now stuck by the filth berries, to the underside of the bowl. Then the boxman found the missing spot in the bank where the chip belonged and harmlessly replaced it.
The boxman thought it was so funny that he innocently shared the odd circumstance with the floorman (the next supervisor up, in the chain of command). These were the days of the reign of terror so the misguided floorman figured that "they" might be testing him. So in order to be perceived as diligent, he reported this nonsense to the pit boss. The pit boss in turn made the mistake of telling his superior (the shift boss) who was unfortunately an influence peddler.
This shift boss seized the opportunity for a big pay day. He even went through the pretense of drawing up an incident report. To further cover up his impending impropriety, he ordered an investigation. He then went through the time, energy and casino's expense, to have the "suspects" individually interviewed and administered lie detector tests. No one admitted anything and nobody implicated anyone else. The casino claimed that with the case at a standstill that they were obligated to nip the problem in the bud. So they fired all eight dealers, two boxman, two floormen and the pit boss...even though nothing was stolen or missing. One of those dealers was Earnest Terrell.
Out of sight, out of mind. Earnest's feather in the wind destiny blew him so far away that I didn't see him for years. Later that year, (December 1983), I found out that Earnest was still out of work. Plus his dream of being a wealthy slumlord wasn't panning out either because his tenants infrequently paid their rent on time or in full and a couple didn't pay at all. So to save money, rather than move in with Jen, he took one of his unoccupied units.
When the holidays rolled around, I got his new address, bought a big box of chocolates and scribbled out a season's greeting card with a supportive note. On the afternoon of Christmas Eve, I delivered it, in the hope of brightening his day with my surprise visit. It was a windswept, rainy day in the high forties. He wasn't home. I was afraid I wouldn't have a chance to return so I left my gift inside his storm door.
Two days later, I had the second person come to see my condo and he but in a bid. Despite the reign of terror being long over, the Nugget being a great job and having a tons of friends, my level of casino burnt-out was red-lining my BILE-O-METER. Therefore, I agreed to the buyer's outlandish terms and a week later, we went to settlement.
My last work day at the Nugget was January 9, 1984. The next morning, I moved back to New York and by December, I was working in Atlantic City. Seven years later, my wife Sue and I went back to Vegas on vacation. I saw many of my old friends but nobody knew where Earnest was until I bumped into Mike "Meat-Bone" Fleischbien. He said, "I heard that Yum-Yum just got hired as a boxman at that shit-hole, the Imperial Palace." Sue and I drove over there. It shouldn't have been too hard to find him because that cheap clip joint only had two craps tables.
Earnest wasn't there. We waited for the next break rotation. When we still couldn't find him, I asked the floorman, "Is Earnest Terrell working today?" Maybe we looked like idiotic tourists but we definitely didn't look like a couple of collectors from the mob. Still, this floorman sternly stared me down as if I had two heads and said, "If you saw this Terrell, would you recognize him?" It sounded like a stupid question but I politely shrugged, "Yeah..." Then the chubby boxman started laughing...it was Earnest. We had some preliminary chit-chat until the floorman graciously gave Earnest an extra break so we could talk.
Sue and I couldn't believe how much he changed. In addition to the extra weight, his thinning hair was much darker and he was less smiley. At the same time that I noticed his name tag read: EARNIE, Sue pointed to his wedding ring. Earnest coyly smiled and said, "Oh yeah that. You know life's a gamble...look what we do. I rolled the dice of life and won...me and Jen are married six years." Then he took out his wallet and he showed us a photo of Kimmy, his five-year old daughter. I said, "Adopted?" He was shaking his head as Sue marvelled at the tyke's Amer-Asian features and said, "She's beautiful..." Earnest interrupted, "And she's in perfect condition. I only wish that when the time is right, you enjoy the same fulfillment." I pounded him on the back and Sue kissed him.
We told him about our life in Jersey and then a few minutes later he said, "I gotta get back to work." Along the way he said, "I wound up making a ton of money off my apartment complex after all. I was barely hanging onto it when a casino development outfit made me an offer I couldn't refuse." Then his familiar smile returned to his face when he added, "But first, I had them sweeten the deal...by a lot."
We were saying our goodbyes when I said, "Speaking of your apartments, did you try calling us after you got our Christmas chocolates? Because two weeks later, we moved." Earnest laughed, "That was from you? Me and Jen were visiting her folks in San Francisco. We didn't get back till after the New Year. I thought it was a prank from an ignorant tenant. By the time I got it, it was a mess. Everything melted, there were a gazillion ants everywhere and the writing inside the card was all messed up." We all laughed. Then I'm almost positive Earnest said, "Life is like a box of chocolates..."
Yes, you never know what you're going to get, Earnest's wish of fulfillment to us came true three years later when our blessing, my son Andrew was born.
So gentlemen, always remember:
- Count Your Blessings
- Understand the Importance of Being Earnest
- And Have a HAPPY FATHER'S DAY !