Slots-A-Fun, like the cockroach has survived down through the ages. It was still in operation when I drove by in 2009 and the last time I was inside (1991) that tiny shithouse still only had one craps table, eleven blackjack games and a Big Six wheel. I hope the latter generation of dealers made-out better than I did because grossing $150.00 a week was pitiful, even for 1979 standards.
|MY FRIEND VEGA44 DEALT CRAPS THERE TWO YEARS BEFORE ME AND HE CLAIMS, I HAD IT EASY. THIS MUST BE A CONTEMPORARY PHOTO BECAUSE IN MY DAY, ALL DRINKS WERE A HALF-A-BUCK..|
Aside from the pay, the physical conditions were brutal too. In the photo above, the craps table was just inside, to the right of the opening. That meant that on cold days, (I started in winter), the stickman's back was freezing because it was outside the building, at the same time that heater blew hot air on his face.
Another discomfort was the Riviera Casino's hotel tower across the street. It was all-glass which meant on sunny afternoons (there were plenty of sunny afternoons) the reflection blinded the craps (base) dealers.
If that wasn't enough, a taxi stand was next to the front door. That meant that the fledgling craps staff was bombarded with savvy cabbies who came in to take a quick "shot." These low-lifes were able to pick-up a few dollars by making false claims and purposely causing chaos, in order to take advantage of us.
Unfortunately, complaining about the money and the harsh conditions seems petty compared to the way we were treated. I hope they now have a Human Resource department because we were verbally abused by management whenever something went wrong, (and wrong happened several times each roll of the dice). The work environment was so hostile that the turnover...through quitting and getting fired...was so high that hardly a day would pass without a new dealer starting.
The two main villains were Mr. Broderick Boyle and Willard LaFitte. Mr. Boyle was the casino manager. He hated losing and didn't care how bad he was perceived as he tried to profit from every aspect of the operation. I really think, as impossible as it was, Boyle's constant anger was caused by his disappointment that every gambler didn't leave penniless.
Mr. Boyle, (in my thirty-four career was the only boss that insisted on being called mister), looked like Roger Ebert's evil twin. When he got in your face to criticize you, his fiery bad breath (that stunk of decayed meat) seemed to singe your eyebrows. His manical and delusional drive to have the casino fiscally sound meant keeping the place on a shoe-string budget. He was so commited to this idea that he served as the relief floorman in blackjack and craps. He also gave the bartender breaks, refilled the cigarette machine and once picked up a broom to sweep-up ice cubes when the porter was on his break. Luckily there was never a serious ruckus because Slots-A-Fun was the only casino I ever heard of that didn't have at least one security guard.
The one thing that truly made Boyle unique to all other bosses I know, is that he owned a quarter of one share in the joint. So, he wasn't sweating someone else's money...he was sweating his own.
Boyle's yes-man was a sleazy, moronic, bastard named Willard LaFitte. Willard a rural Louisianan was the lowest life form I ever met. He was a craps dealer when I started but he undermined our boxman in order to steal his ($62.50/a day), position. LaFitte was such a slug that he mocked the poor man after he suffered a nervous breakdown (on the job) in front of his wife and two pre-school daughters.
LaFitte was fat,bald, ugly and always broke...from gambling. He was a white supremacist and hated everyone. On the job, he made it a point to exaggerate any house advantage against the players. Consistent with the movie "WILLARD" he was also a rat. He reported all the dealer errors to Boyle and accused all of us, at one time or another, of NOT trying to beat everyone.
If that wasn't enough, he stalked and sexually harrassed female dealers. He was such an awful person that I made my short story, "THE HEAT IS ON," a murder mystery and used him as the victim. Trust me, the line of suspects would have wrapped around the block twice...and I would have been at the head of the line.
We knew Slots-A-Fun was a shit place to work, (my friends from the NEW YORK SCHOOL OF GAMBLING, CIRO THE HERO and JLOOPY worked there too). But without experience or connections, it seemed impossible to reach out for a better job, (my friends had a big advantage over me, they worked different shifts and weren't exposed to Boyle or LaFitte).
The turnover in craps was so high that I never made new friends. However, I started to hang-out with three male blackjack dealers outside work, (once a week we went to the El Cortez and had the $3.99 steak dinner and shot twenty-five cent craps). Soon we graduated to Jai Alai at the MGM, (you may recall, I was with them when we got kicked out for using a big-shot's name to beat the fifty-cent admission fee). When they all left for better jobs, I was on my own again.
On a cold, stormy, February morning another new face appeared on my crew. It was so raw outside that the usual hordes of customers never showed. For hours, we dealt to one or two people or stood dead (open without players). During working moments, Willard was unnecessarily unkind to the new guy so he didn't speak much. When Willard went on break, Henry Parnell opened up and we established a nice rapport.
Henry was from Buffalo New York. I was familiar with the area and rattled off towns like Fredonia, Dunkirk, East Aurora and Kenmore. Then I made him laugh when I said, "Did you know that Buffalo had more bowling alleys per capita than any other city?" He said, "Well yeah, I did know, I'm on the pro bowler's tour. Well, I was, until I hurt my back. I was making decent money so hopefully I can get myself back together and do it again."
Our new friendship started to bloom as the rain let up to a fine mist. Henry and I were the base dealers so we shared the same view of the occasional passerby. One of them was a haggered bag lady with tattered, laceless sneakers. She had poked her head through a plastic supermarket sack and was using it as a poncho. This woman was also wearing a short dungaree skirt that helped display her unmistakable stream of urine splashing the already wet pavement. Unencumbered by Willard, Henry and I laughed like hyenas and joked about our shared perception that the female anatomy wouldn't allow the derelict to pee without losing stride.
We were still giggly when Willard returned. The idiot desperately wanted to know why we were so happy. Henry and I were on the same page, so like doctors from TV's, "M*A*S*H*" amid all the casino gore we were exposed to in the trenches...we kept our little slice of joy to ourselves.When we saw the effect of keeping the insecure ass hole in the dark, we exaggerated our giddiness. Even when he asked direct questions or made demands, Henry and I talked in circles (as if we had rehearsed it). When players opened up our table, Willard was clueless and frustrated...and therefore dangerous.
|"M*A*S*H*" LASTED ELEVEN SEASONS AND 251 EPISODES. ALTHOUGH A LOT OF THE HUMOR WAS DARK AND RELATED TO THE KOREAN WAR, THIS SIT-COM (DRAMEDY) WAS VOTED IN 2002, TV GUIDE'S 25th GREATEST ALL-TIME SHOW. MY FAVORITE PART WAS WHEN LIBERAL-MINDED HAWKEYE PIERCE (lower center) AND TRAPPER JOHN McINTYRE TALKED CIRCLES AROUND CONSERVATIVE FRANK "FERRET FACE" BURNS (second from right).|
We were about five hours into our shift when the sun broke out. I was basking in the joy of having a compatriot on the game with me but I was also invisioning how to cultivate my man crush with Henry outside of work.
In no time, the crowds reappeared. Two of Henry's players were middle age women. These novice gamblers were both playing a dollar-fifty each on the "BIG SIX AND EIGHT." They won a dollar and a half (even money) each time they won. Then Henry committed a harsh Slots-A-Fun faux pas...he suggested that they could "place" the six and eight, (be bound by the same rules of winning and losing) and receive 7 for 6 odds, ($1.75 instead of $1.50).
This turn of events pleased Willard. Bent on revenge, he ran and got Mr. Boyle. When Boyle comprehended that Henry had transgressed the unwritten law, he was (physically) pulled off the game. The action continued with Henry's base vacant so Willard unprofessionally tossed payouts across the table from his boxman position.
Boyle was yelling profanites and questioning both Henry's intelligence and the legitamacy of his parentage. I was afraid to watch but I caught a quick glimpse and saw Henry wincing from bully's nuclear breath. Boyle got so exasperated that this glasses were slightly askew as white, gauzy spittle formed at the corner of his mouth. Then after a giant cleansing huff, in regard to casino percentages, he rhetorically uttered, "Piss-ant, do you know the difference between playing one-fifty on the Big Six and Eight and placing them for a buck and a half?" Henry was supposed to be submissively quiet. Or plead ignorance and beg for forgiveness. But Henry thought Boyle was as stupid as Willard LaFitte and called the prick's bluff, "Yeah I know the difference, twenty-five cents!" Boyle screamed so loud that I was expecting a plaster shower when he proclaimed, "YOU'RE FIRED!"
Henry wasn't disgraced, he looked relieved as he walked away. Then LaFitte croaked in his heavy Southern accent to Boyle, "And this thisy here one taint no better." Boyle turned to me and growled, "And you, you better stay on your toes." I was smart? enough not to answer.
I was disappointed that a friendship with Henry never happened but I felt worse a few days later when I realized that I would never see him again...and I didn't. I wonder if our choice few hours would qualify us for having the world's shortest friendship?
EPILOGUE - Due to Slots-A-Fun's limited resources, it had no system for extra dealers. When Henry was fired, Boyle used creativity by closing the BIG-SIX wheel and using a dealer I never saw before, (Yung Yune), as a stop gap replacement.
In 1979 Asian dealers were rare. So because of my prejudice, I expected this forty-year old Korean to be an expert.
Mr. Boyle switched-up the dealer rotation and put Yune as the stickman. The first roll was a nine and Yune confidently said, "Nine, center field nine." I was impressed, even if he was shaky in retrieving the dice, but I figured he had to be nervous. So, perhaps I wasn't prejudice after...maybe I just could spot talent when I saw it. Of course I was wrong. The second roll was a seven and Boyle's wunderkind said, "Seven, center field seven." Because Yune could barely speech English and was never exposed to craps before, he spend the rest of the shift on stick and saying "center field" in every call he made.
EPILOGUE - II - I just googled Henry Parnell's real name. And guess what, today, he's a high profile member of the Las Vegas bowling scene. If I get the time and brass balls, I will try to connect with him and let all you know if it's a strike or a gutter ball.