|THE NOW DEFUNCT STARDUST (1958-2006) WAS A GREAT EXPERIENCE FOR ME. IT DEFINED MY BLOSSOMING GAMING CAREER AND WAS THE CONDUIT THAT TRANSFORMED ME FROM A SNOT-NOSED KID INTO A SNOT-NOSED ADULT.|
While unemployed, doors to upper echelon casinos weren’t opening for me. Soon, I lost momentum. I tried less and less. Then as the reality of failure sunk in, I was overcome by depression. I reduced my high and mighty standards, and tried looking for work anywhere, including downtown. During this process that would eventually take six weeks, I still limited myself to the better minor league places. When I finally ran out of options, in desperation, I walked into a bottom-feeder dive, The Vegas Club. My luck wasn’t with me that day either, they DID hire me.
|LAS VEGAS CASINOS ARE LUMPED INTO TWO GENERAL CATAGORIES WITH THE STRIP BEING THE MAJOR LEAGUES AND DOWNTOWN, THE MINORS. (above) DON'T LET THIS FLASHY, CONTEMPORARY PHOTO FOOL YOU, I WAS IN THE VEGAS CLUB A FEW YEARS AGO AND IT'S STILL A TOILET.|
While I worked at the Vegas Club, it was a break-in joint. Nearly all the dealers were novices and most of the supervisors had been promoted in-house…which meant, they were buried too.
The tiny casino only had two craps tables. That meant only a four-way boxman rotation was needed (a boxman is the immediate supervisor who sits between the dealers and oversees the game).
One of the Vegas Club's boxmen was decent, one was a tyrant and the other two were insignificant. The tyrant was named Ralph Winters, (he appears as the villain in my July 28, 2014, “AGNES CARMICHAEL,” blog). He was a know-nothing, do-nothing asshole who took pleasure in creating a hostile work environment by bullying the dealers and threatening their jobs.
The decent boxman was Ukrainian Larry. He was a laid back guy who was supportive of the dealers but like Winters...wasn’t in touch with the subtleties of his position.
I immediately clashed with Winters. I reminded him that his scare tactics won’t help a new dealer improve. They depend on a good boxman to learn. So the faster they, “get-it,” the easier YOUR job will be. The moronic egotist wanted to be a big fish in a little pond and scoffed, "Mind your business!"
I stepped-up my watchful eye on him and exposed him as an incompetent every chance I got. Winters didn’t like getting picked on. Nor did he like hearing me laugh off his threats but he wasn't mentally equipped to challenge me. He ignored me after that and never verbally abused another dealer in front of me.
The dealers heralded me as a savior. The most out-spoken was a tiny nerd named Lon. He was from somewhere in Massachusetts and constantly whined about missing his ex. He had honeymooned in Las Vegas and loved it. But when he flunked out of heating and air conditioning school, (after his divorce was final), he diluted himself into thinking he could permanently lead a vacation lifestyle in Vegas.
Lon couldn’t deal craps. Even without Winters harassing him, the players jumped all over him because of the frequency of his basic errors. Lon made things worse because he had a dull personality and would limpy snap at the players. In response, the customers would get personal and besiege him with uncomplimentary comebacks about his height, less-than-masculine Bostonian accent, ratty attempt at a handlebar mustache and of course…his intelligence.
Outside work Lon was a loser too. To douse-out the torch he was carrying for his ex, he perused a topless dancer. Everyone knew he was out of his league except him. But when this drug-crazed woman lost her job, she accepted Lon’s invitation to move in. However, she made it clear…it was strictly as friends. So while Lon treated her like a princess, he waited for the opportunity to jump her bones.
One day, Lon came home and discovered that she had stolen everything out of his apartment, (except his tools that were kept in an exterior, locked storage closet).
|THE "L" FOR LOSER HAND GESTURE WAS POPULARIZED BY TWO 1990's MOVIES, "ACE VENTURA: PET DETECTIVE" AND "SANDLOT." IT LOOKS TO ME THAT WHOEVER CAME UP WITH THAT IDEA KNEW LON'S NAME ALSO STARTED WITH AN "L."|
A week after that, my wife Sue informed me that our washing machine was leaking. I had to leave for work, so calling a repairman would have to wait till morning. During my shift, I vented to Ukrainian Larry. He said, “Lon is a mechanical wizard. He fixed my sprinklers, installed shelves in my closet and repaired a fifty-foot extension chord that I was going to trash.” I said, “Does he know about motors?” Larry said, “Before I bought my Ranchero (Ford) last month, he examined the engine. He saved me ton when he spotted a leak in the air-conditioner, bad shocks and worn-out brakes. He got the salesman to knock off a grand. Since then, Lon took care of the air-conditioner and put in new shocks. On his next day off, I’m getting all new brakes…which is good because my fiancé’s mother is flying in from Indiana and we’re driving my new baby out to San Diego for a few days.”
|THE FORD RANCHERO AND THE CHEVY EL CAMINO WERE NICKNAMED COWBOY CADILLACS. ABOVE IS A FULLY RESTORED 1958 RANCHERO. I DON'T KNOW WHAT YEAR LARRY'S RANCHERO WAS BUT I KNOW IT WAS EXPENSIVE.|
Lon accepted the job and came to my condo. Sue let him in. She looked like Mt. Everest next to this five-foot two, a hundred and thirty pound milquetoast, (with a ratty mustache). Still, the mouse roared and ordered Sue around. She laughed it off because he was doing us a favor. Later she confided to me that if Lon spoke to all females that way, it was no coincidence that he was lonely.
Before I came downstairs Lon had already said, “Suzy, this is what I need before I see the patient, put up a pot of strong coffee. I’ll need six sugars for each cup and I go through half and half like a demon. Also, I like Bavarian crème doughnuts, so if you don’t have any, there’s a Winchell’s (donut shop) down Decatur.”
Sue went to Winchell's because we couldn’t fulfill any of Lon’s creature comforts. But before she returned, Lon finished what he called a Mickey Mouse job. He lingered with me until she returned. He sucked down a twenty-four ounce coffee, ate both Bavarian crèmes and started the second giant coffee. Then he demonstrated that washer wasn’t leaking any more.
Lon announced, “Suzy, pencil and paper.” He scribbled all over the back of a power bill envelope. He muttered things like; my time and gas plus wear and tear on the car. I shrugged at Sue thinking the cost would be high and that we might have been better off with a professional. Lon was writing more and more numbers. Suddenly, he feverishly erased something and said, “Oh yeah, parts!”
I had watched over the whole repair job and I didn’t recall him using ANY new parts. Lon covered the envelope with numbers. Then he flipped it over, made one last notation and circled it with a flourish. While he took a big gulp of the second coffee, I read upside down the final figure he had written. Then he exclaimed, “Three bucks!” I said, “Three bucks?” Defensively, in that nerdy voice he said, “Well yeah. But when we take into account the eats, I guess I owe you a buck.” I said, “No. Here’s a five. I think you did a great job.”
A few days later, I found out that Ukrainian Larry totaled his new “Cowboy Cadillac” on the way to Southern California. Everyone was bruised but nobody was cut-up enough to be hospitalized. The culprit was Lon. After doing Larry’s brakes, apparently the little genius didn’t tighten the lug nuts well enough on one wheel. According to Larry, he wasn’t at the state line yet, doing eighty, when his tire fell off, (wow, Larry also starts with an "L").
I brought my distrust for backyard mechanics to Atlantic City. In 1992, my wife and I were planning a drive to Niagara Falls. I asked my auto mechanic to inspect my Chevy Corsica. He told me it wasn’t wise to go that far on an iffy serpentine belt. When I heard the cost, my eyes bulged out.
At work, I asked around and everyone agreed that the price seemed ridiculous. They suggested I get a second opinion. Several of them recommended “Hot-Rod” Rory Dwyer.
Dwyer (same age as me, 36) was a fellow craps dealer but not a friend. He was a nice guy but a slob, a poor dealer and if you weren't talking about cars, not especially bright.
Hot-Rod Rory was also an amateur auto racer and a diehard grease monkey, (it wasn’t unusual for me, on the way into work on the White Horse Pike, to hear the vroom of his souped-up Mustang as he dangerously wove through traffic and passed me, well beyond the speed limit).
The year before for Halloween, I had dressed-up as him. I wore auto mechanic cover-alls, put a greasy rag in my back pocket and wore two home-made signs. One was a “Hot-Rod Rory” name-tag and the other read; beware of toxic garlic, coffee and cigarette breath. I thought he might be insulted but to him, wearing costumes was stupid, so he didn’t care.
I asked Rory about looking at my car. He invited me to his apartment, in the next town. He took a look under the hood. We went inside and he made a phone call. Rory told me where to buy the part and said it would take less than a half hour to install. The total price was less than half my mechanic’s charge. Even when my Vegas memory of Lon’s automotive exploits was triggered, I rationalized that this was not a similar case…THIS was Hot-Rod Rory Dwyer!
Our appointment was a week later. The big day fell, the day before Sue and I were going to Canada. At noon, he phoned to let me know me that he had to take his wife to the doctor. So even though we both had to work that night, it was no big deal to start the short project after 4:00PM.
The procedure of weaving the serpentine belt into place was far more complicated than Rory thought. While watching him struggle, I had plenty of time to be mad at myself for contradicting my “no more backyard mechanics,” decree. It was going on 5:30PM when chain-smoking Rory properly zig-zagged the belt through the maze of pulleys. Then he started cursing when he discovered that he needed a specific tool to stretch the belt before setting it in place.
|SERPENTINE BELTS WAE NOT UNIVERSAL. IT TOOK A MILLION TRIES BEFORE RORY GAVE IN AND READ THE DIRECTIONS...AND A MILLION MORE FRUSTRATING TRIES, (FOR BOTH OF US) UNTIL HE SUCCEEDED.|
The sun was setting as a chilly breeze made standing outside uncomfortable. That’s when an older woman, (I guessed his mother) stuck her head out of the window and shouted, “Roar-Ree, Roar-Ree, why don’t you and your friend come in for hot chocolate and brownies.” He yelled back, “No! We’re busy.”
Five minutes later, the matronly woman I thought was his mother waddled over carrying a tray with two steaming mugs of hot chocolate and a dish of brownies. Rory triumphantly called out, “I got it,” as he snapped the belt into place. Then he introduced me to his wife who must have been in her mid-fifties…if not older. Luckily, I took a brownie first because his blackened fingers greedily grabbed up two others. While he was pigging-out she said, “If you’re done, say good-bye to your friend...” She stopped in mid-sentence, wet her thumb and wiped a brownie bit off his chin before adding, “Because you have to get in the shower and go to work.”
I was in shock the whole way home. All night at work, I told my friends how weird it was to be around him and Mrs. Hot-Rod Rory Dwyer. But deep inside, I was dwelling on the belt needing a special tool to install and the fact that he did it with his bare hands. That night, I was worried about the quality of his worksmanship and got little sleep.
To save face in the morning, I didn’t mention Rory’s backyard mechanics to my wife. Nonetheless, I sweat-out every strange noise I heard as I imagined Ukrainian Larry’s near-death experience when his tire fell off. At the first service station on the Garden State Parkway I said, “I should have asked Rory to check my oil.” While the hood was up, I whispered to the attendant, “How’s that new serpentine belt look? I had a friend pit it in.” He yawned, “Looks okay to me.”
For the next few hours, I was still haunted by the possibility of Rory’s work going haywire. We had just crossed into New York near Binghamton when we hit highway construction. We were forced into an unpaved lane and rode at a slower speed. The car bounced and rumbled for several miles. The anxiety of the belt getting dislodged overwhelmed me. So without confessing my angst to Sue, I pulled in for gas outside Johnson City. While she was in the ladies room, I had the attendant check the belt. He assured me that everything was fine.
What a loser I was, for the rest of the trip, I was consumed by imagines of burnt bodies and other fatal scenarios. Even though that belt lived a long life, after that trip, for many months, I remained on edge, (nine years later, it had out-lived the car). But how could I blame Rory for being a dummy when I was the schmuck who enabled it.
Rory soon left my casino. New gambling venues were sprouting up all over the country and he got a better job in Boosier City Louisiana. He and his wife packed their belongings into a U-Haul with his Mustang in tow. They made one last stop here, at a drive-through ATM, in Absecon. To prove how lucky I was that that dunce didn’t ruin my engine by mishandling that serpentine belt, Rory ignored (forgot?) the height of his rented truck and crashed into the roof.
|THE ATM'S OVERHANG THAT RORY BASHED IN WAS MUCH MORE FLIMSY THAN THE ONE ABOVE.|
If I carelessly crashed like he did, I certainly would have been smart enough to avoid advertising my shortsightedness. In Rory’s case, he was smart enough too…except the newspaper put his picture on the front page. In the snapshot's foreground, Hot-Rod Rory Dwyer is sitting on the curb, in despair. In the middle ground, you can see the top of the truck is crushed with a hole in it. In the background, the half-fallen awning is mangled and in pieces. Lord knows how fast our hero was going when he had the accident?
|THE NEWSPAPER PHOTOGRAPHER CAUGHT THE ESSENCE OF RORY'S LOSER IMAGE, BY CLEARLY CAPTURING THE PHRASE ON HIS T-SHIRT, (stock photo above).|
Twenty years later, few of the old-timers at my job remember him by name…but everyone remembers that picture, (it was hung on the office wall and stayed there for ten years).
Since then, I’ve paid full price for every automotive problem I’ve ever had…the discount doesn’t justify the potential for severe psychological problems.