Monday, August 6, 2012

THE LESS YOU BET...THE MORE YOU LOSE...WHEN YOU WIN

This blog is based on excerpts from my short story, "LOOKING DOWN AT LAS VEGAS."  It's a mosaic I patched together from observations, the principal character's drunken admissions and other bits I heard.

This past week, I was waiting for the dental hygienist to come in when I noticed the poster of smiling young adults with pristine teeth.  Their teeth were so perfect that it seemed unnatural. It didn't take long before I realized that even after my cleaning, I could never have that gleam unless I went to Benjamin Moore and bought some White Antiseptic Hospital paint.

My mind wandered as I got comfy in the chair, to my childhood dentist.  By the time I was ten, the dental experience was always painful.  Then in junior high school, I earned the privilege of keeping my own appointments.  The three city-block walk home from school was bad enough but Dr. William Riis had his office on the other side of Canarsie.  So to add insult to agony, I had to walk six short streets and six city-blocks, in the opposite direction.

For a while, Riis made a fortune off me.  During my adolescence, I had so many cavities that by ninth grade, I ran out of healthy tooth space.  To make matters worse, I stupidly refused anesthetic.  I guess it was because Riis was a fellow New York Jets fan and I wanted to come off like a tough guy.  So it became a tradition for him to give me a few tissues for me to squeeze as his drill tortured me.

Today's dental awareness is eons ahead of the 1960's. But I can't make excuses.  I knew what had to be done and due to laziness, it infrequently got done.  However, in my defense, Riis and probably many dentists provided a bowl full of sugary lollipops for their victims patients.  This substantiates the fact that due to poor education all around, kids like me were victims of circumstance.

You my recall that back then, sugar was advertised as an energizer.  Just on the level of breakfast, the idea of kids eating candied cereal like Trix, Frosted Flakes and Fruit Loops was not only approved but it was considered something that would better prepare students, to be alert in school.  Hell, I had friends that added sugar to their Lucky Charms, Apple Jacks, Cocoa Puffs etc.
I ERODED MY TEETH WITH SUCH BYGONE, HEAVILY-SWEETENED CEREALS AS; "RICE KRINKLES," "CRISPY CRITTERS" AND "PUFFA-PUFFA RICE."  WE WERE ALL SO BACKWARD 40 YEARS AGO THAT THE ENRICHED GOODNESS OF "SUGAR POPS" WAS ANNOUNCED BY INCLUDING SUGAR IN ITS TITLE.  RECENTLY I NOTICED THAT  "QUISP" HAS MADE A COMEBACK.  IT AND IT'S MIRROR PRODUCT "QUAKE" BEGAN ROTTING TEETH IN 1965.  QUAKE DISAPPEARED IN 1969.  THEN IN 1976 QUAKER TRIED TO RESURRECT A NEW SISTER PRODUCT, "QUANGAROOS," (AN ORANGE-FLAVORED SUGAR FEST SHAPED LIKED KANGAROOS), BUT IT DIDN'T LAST.

My hygienist and I had some small-talk before she started.  Then my mind wandered to a friend in Las Vegas, Jeff Holland.  I remembered meeting him in 1981 at the Valley School of Gaming.  Another friend Dick Paynlewski had gotten a job there as a craps instructor.  Dick encouraged me to come down when I was out of work, to maybe get a job there.

At the school Dick was reading the DAILY RACING FORM as his students were left on their own to correct one another.  It was like the blind leading the blind until someone had the audacity to disturb Dick's "research" with a question.

Dick saw me, sprang to attention and yelled nonsense at his students.  He said the owners weren't there but he got me an application.  When I finished filling out the paperwork, he introduced me to Jeff Holland.  Jeff was ready to graduate so Dick asked me to take Jeff aside and give him a workout.

Jeff, (a year older than me), was a high-rise window washer looking for a career change.  He was  trim, good-looking and resembled a young George Peppard, (except Jeff's hair was much lighter and prematurely gray at the temples).
GEORGE PEPPARD BYRNE JR., a.k.a. GEORGE PEPPARD (1928-1994) WAS A MOVIE AND TV ACTOR.  HE SPECIALIZED IN HEROIC ROLES.  I BEST REMEMBER HIM IN FILMS LIKE 1959's , "PORK CHOP HILL," 1961's "BREAKFAST AT TIFFANY'S," 1964's "THE CARPETBAGGERS AND 1966's "THE BLUE MAX."  HIS VAST LIST OF TV CREDITS INCLUDED 1956's, "BANG THE DRUM SLOWLY" AND "THE A-TEAM." 

I gave Jeff some pointers during my drills but we were strictly business.  Jeff was nervous but remained polite as if I was a prospective employer. He also was over tired and apologized for yawning so much. When he did, I couldn't help but notice he had no fillings in his teeth.  Then when he smiled, I noticed his teeth were immaculate.  So when our practice session was done, it was oral hygiene that broke down the walls of formality.

We became friends.  When I got hired at the Vegas Club, I tried to get Jeff in too but they didn't need anyone else.  Dick Paynlewski was still at the Holiday International but he said the casino had a strict policy of not allowing students to work with their instructors.  Also, the school didn't offer a placement service so I took Jeff to a few of my old casinos, to try landing him a craps dealing job.  We had no luck.  In the lowest depths of the casino minor leagues, I couldn't even get him an audition.

I didn't know anyone at the Jolly Trolley Casino but it was a break-in joint so we tried anyway.  They weren't hiring.  I got bold and asked the pit boss, "My friend is a good dealer but he has the jitters.  Could you give him an audition just to give him a taste of live action?"  The man looked at me like I was crazy, "Please, don't waste my time."

To drown our sorrows, we had the famous Jolly Trolley 49c hamburger.  I knew where to sit so we were aligned with the curtain and the stage. So every time someone went in or out of the showroom, we got a few seconds of cheap thrills from the nudie show. 

While there, I got the inspiration to take Jeff to the Holiday International.  I realized that casino applications don't ask who your instructor was, so as long as Jeff didn't mention Paynlewski, he wouldn't be breaking any house rules.

At the Holiday, I received a hero's welcome.  My old pit boss Paul "Shag" Darrow didn't hesitate to give Jeff an audition.  Jeff went as the stickman first.  He got off to a bad start by calling the wrong number.  I saw him struggling so to reduce his peformance anxiety, I went to the pit stand to chat with Shag.  Shag got me up to speed on the guys I used to work with.  He then said, "That idiot Dick Paynlewski is still here.  He's always broke, so he got a part-time gig as a craps instructor...his students suck so bad, I told him not to bring any more here."

Jeff was dripping in perspiration when he rejoined us.  Shag left us to confer with his under bosses.  "I did shit.  What an embarrassment I am," Jeff whined, "I'm not ready.  I gotta go back to school and practice more."  I didn't say anything because Shag was coming back...and he wasn't smiling.  Jeff was staring at the ground when Shag said, "You were a little nervous, eh?  And you have some rough spots that need to be ironed out..."  Jeff was shaking his head as Shag continued, "But we're willing to take a chance on you."

A couple of weeks later, Jeff's window washing friend Rocky met us at the Ambassador Inn.  Jeff cashed his first casino pay check ($96.00) and to celebrate, we all played a little blackjack.  Rocky kept asking about Jeff's girlfriend Loretta.  After Jeff said, "She's a cool lady in the living room and a hot bitch in the bedroom," he became annoyed and clammed up.  Rocky suddenly left.

Jeff was getting his money's worth from his three-dollar bets as he swilled one double Dewar's after another.  He was winning but I stopped because I was running out of money.  I occupied myself on the nickel slot machines but after I while, I wanted to leave. 

I wanted to tell Jeff but he was on a roll.  I didn't want to jinx him, so when I saw he had big stacks of chips in front of him, I decided to leave him alone.  I couldn't even go because we had taken Jeff's pick-up truck, so I retreated back to the nickel slot machines.

An hour later, Jeff yelled my name across the small casino and said, "This is the first time since I got back that I am winning!"  Jeff was wasted.  He slurred his words and had trouble putting his money into the betting circles. I did a quick scan of his messy chips and estimated that he had over a thousand dollars.  I said, "This is the perfect time to leave.  Color up and let's go."  He burped, "Okay but I wanna make one more bet.  What's the house max?"  The floor supervisor said, "One hundred."  Jeff pushed an arbitrary amount forward and said, "A hundred goes."  The dealer neatened the pile and handed back the excess.  A horde of bigger bosses gathered to stand over the game and stare at every move Jeff made.

I said, "Jeff, a hundred, you're crazy."  He said, "My girlfriend Loretta told me, 'the less you bet, the more you lose, when you win.'"  It took me a few seconds to figure out the Yogi Berra-like wisdom of his statement as the cards were dealt.  Jeff won the big bet. The drunkard gave the dealer a $54.00 tip after she "colored him up" and handed back $1,279.00.

Jeff almost fell when he got out of the chair. The pit boss wanted a shot at recovering some of what Jeff had won. To keep us there, we were offered a meal ticket to their dinky coffee shop.  The boss saw we weren't interested in two, free, $3.99 steak dinner specials so he upped the ante by saying, "I could give you a room for the night, even the honeymoon suite..."  As sloshed as he was, Jeff still laughed as he said, "No thank you sir."

A security guard came over and propped Jeff to a pillar while I cashed out his chips.  The guard also helped me take Jeff to his truck.  Despite being intoxicated Jeff had to give me instructions on how to drive a manual transmission.  We were bucking and bouncing east, on Flamingo Road when Jeff said how pissed-off he was that he failed to become a fireman.  Next he told me about his near-death experience as a high-rise window washer in New Hampshire, plus the inability to sleep it caused and the nightmares.  Part of his psychological recovery included a trip to Las Vegas.  As an aside, he mentioned, "That's when I met my girlfriend." 

I was still bouncing at fifteen miles per hour when he went into vivid details describing Loretta's insatiable libido.  I had just turned onto Tropicana Avenue when he screamed, "Stop the truck."  In front of the Liberace Museum, by the bright glow of the white neon sign, he stuck his head out the window and vomited.  He finished his thought with, "My girl, little Loretta Logan, can suck the porcelain off a toilet bowl..."  Then he passed out.

When I worked at the Stardust there was another craps dealer, an admitted wife-beater, named "Hostile" Artie Logan. The possibility that Jeff was seeing this asshole's ex crossed my mind but Jeff was twenty-eight and Artie had be twenty-five years older.  So I had to figure that a studly young buck wouldn't be seeing a fifty-year old...besides, Logan is a common name.

I was shocked to later find out that Loretta was indeed "Hostile" Artie Logan's thirty-seven year old ex-wife.

I knew Artie well from the Stardust.  He was a street-wise New Yorker but his harsh Brooklyn accent and talent for misusing bigger words made him come off as dopey. I had few direct dealings with him so at first I thought he was decent.  However, to most others, he was nothing more than was an arrogant, bullying hooligan.  He looked tough, talked tough and was tough.

Logan had been a decorated fireman.  His career ended when he had to be dragged out of a burning building.  Artie had cheated death and was receiving a sizable pension so dealing craps at the Stardust was a walk in the park for a man who wasn't afraid of anybody or anything.

In his private time, Artie hoped to open a bar on Catalina Island with some of the Los Angeles King hockey players he knew.  He also liked body building and golf but his true passion was being a motorcyclist.  He liked to tell people that he was going to join "Hell's Angels," when he retired...and when he died, he wanted to be buried with his Harley.
THE HELLS ANGELS IS AN OUTLAW MOTORCYCLE CLUB THAT WAS FOUNDED IN 1948.  THEIR MOTTO: WHEN WE DO RIGHT, NOBODY REMEMBERS.  WHEN WE DO WRONG, NOBODY FORGETS,  EPITOMIZES ARTIE LOGAN.

At work, the permanent damage to Logan's lungs left him with a monstrous, gravel voice. He used it together with cutting sarcasm to intimidate craps players into tipping, scaring fellow dealers into soliciting tips and preventing the lower bosses from ratting him out.  Artie was a brawler, if anyone got in his way, he verbally or physically knocked them down.  Nobody I knew ever saw Artie lose a fight. Even if someone was stupid enough to go through the proper channels and turn him in, Artie was protected by upper management because he was long time golfing buddies with them.

Artie's home life started to evaporate when he increasingly failed to achieve erections.  His wife Loretta became frustrated and began cheating on him.  Artie wasn't smart enough to handle infidelity any other way, so he beat her.  Artie even bribed a window washer named Rocky to spy on Loretta at work.  Rocky continued his covert activities even after the Logans divorced.  So when Jeff and Loretta took to each other, Rocky befriended Jeff and reported her carnal improprieties to Artie.  Rocky hoped Jeff was just bragging because the caliber of Loretta's sexual desires were so extreme that Rocky downplayed the lurid details because he was afraid Artie might kill somebody.

Unfortunately for Loretta, she was Artie's prime target.  But she had been unfaithful so many times when they were married that towards the end, she wasn't always sure which transgression she was getting beaten for.

I thought our night at the Ambassador Inn was over when I dumped Jeff on his sofa and went home.  But when I saw him in the hospital a few days later he told me, "I was playing possum."  Apparently, after I left his apartment, he rose up from the dead, staggered to his truck and fate led him to the Silver City Casino.  Silver City was directly across the street from the Stardust and was the number one after hours hang-out, for their casino workers.

Jeff went to the blackjack tables.  He continued drinking scotch as he lost all the money he won at the Ambassador Inn.  He also lost the money from his first paycheck as well as whatever else he had on him.  When he was penniless, they cut him off.  Jeff went berserk.  He cursed the dealers, management and security officers.  Security was waiting for an okay to evict Jeff when the shift change across the street brought in the first few Stardust employees.

Just outside the store front casino's entrance, the intense vroom, vroom of Artie's Harley signaled his arrival.  When Artie advanced to the bar, he stood next to Jeff.  When Jeff slammed his palm down on the bar and cried, "I just lost two-grand in this shit hole and you won't give me a damned fifty-cent beer!"  Artie caught eye-contact with Jeff and smiled, "Don't take no bull from dese scumbags.  Give 'em hell Harry."  Jeff lashed out at Gene the bartender, "I'm not Harry!  Do you who I am?  I'm Jeff Holland..."  A rush of anger bolted through Hostile Artie as Gene called out, "Security!"  Artie handed-off a twenty dollar bill to the bartender and growled, "Gino, he's just a little inebre-ized, I'll take care of dis kid."

Artie took Jeff aside.  Rocky had told him that Loretta was screwing a new guy at work with the same name. But he wanted to quiz Jeff before making a big mistake.  "I know you.  Ain't yuh da winda washa?"  Jeff hiccuped, "No! I'm a craps dealer."  The tension ran out of Artie's face until Jeff added, "I'm a craps dealer but I used to be a window washer."  Artie's eyes turned a demonic red as he said, "I see.  Yuh know dese pricks ain't givin' yuh no more booze but I got an ice chest fulla beer right outside."  On the way through the door Jeff said, "Once I started losing, I remembered what my girlfriend always says, 'The less you bet, the more you lose, when you win.'  I did what she said and I was down to nothing in no time."  Artie fumed, "What a co-winky-dink, dat's exactly what I used to tell my whore of an ex-wife."  Jeff's eyes completely opened.

Hostile Artie jammed his hand under Jeff's armpit and hurried him along.  Behind the building, Artie cold-cocked Jeff.  Jeff went down like a rag doll. Logan then kicked his steel-toed motorcycle boot twice into Jeff's ribs.  Artie heard his name being called as he readied another kick.  The other three men from Artie's craps crew grabbed him and led him away.  Artie pulled free for a second and wailed, "That candy-ass piece of shit has been spodomizing my wife..."

When Jeff recovered, he returned east and never came back to Las Vegas.  Whenever anyone asks him about it he says, "Vegas is not a nice place to visit and you definitely don't want to live there."

Like many people who relocate to Las Vegas expecting their lives to be a continuous vacation, Jeff was chewed up by the town and spit back out. In 2010, FACEBOOK reunited us.  Jeff told me that Loretta filled in the gaps of the  gory details ...even the coincidence of them being in the same hospital, at the same time.  It's too bad neither of them prosecuted Artie.  But to his credit, today, Jeff Holland is a little more than a year away from retiring as a lieutenant in the Hanover New Hampshire fire department...and, he still has all his perfect teeth.

5 comments:

Anonymous said...

Interesting study on Las Vegas. I've been to Monte Carlo and the weak are not attracted to it.

To better your story, you could have put a Loretta picture in.

Thanks for including my countryman Marcel Marceau in your quoting area. Did you know his clown name is "Bip?"

Maybe next time, you can use a Jerry Lewis statement --- BLIGOO (MARSEILLE FRANCE)

Anonymous said...

I've heard that, "The less you bet..." line before and now that you mention it, it does sound like something Yogi Berra would say. OUCH ! I'm glad your story had a happy ending. --- GMan the Devils Fan

Anonymous said...

I love your Vegas stories. FYI - Your dentist made his fortune off you, the same way my optomitrist retired off me. These days considering that I work for a dental company, my coworkers think I'm crazy to call my procedures, torture appointments. As you aptly but it, what a co-winky-dink, my dentist's name is Dr. Szell...is it safe? --- SLW

Sol said...

I'm just wondering .......Artie gave Jeff quite a beating and would have left him for dead had those three craps guys not been there to stop the fight. Artie may even have knocked out some of Jeff's pearly white teeth or at least loosened a couple when he cold-cocked him. Jeff most likely wears dentures today. But then and again, only his dentist would know for sure.

Sol said...

Jeff would have had more than just a few bruises on him had those craps guys not come along in time to save his life. It's a miracle that Jeff's pearly white teeth were left intact. In all probability, he currently wears dentures, a result of the beating he got all those years ago. But, then and again, only his dentist would know for sure.