Today, I will discuss how my entire professional destiny hinged on a bad choice. But due to laziness and the lack of convenience, I was prevented from making that crucial error.
|I CAN RECALL THE EXACT MOMENT WHEN I CAME THIS CLOSE TO HAVING A COMPLETELY DIFFERENT FUTURE.|
This pivotal point in my life came to mind earlier this week. At work, I found out that my friend EEBEE and three other coworkers are being informally taught how to deal craps. I admired him because with little exposure, (without the benefit of classroom training and actual equipment), he seemed unusually well-versed. I was confident that EEBEE, a twenty-two year veteran dealer of other casino games, was dedicated to learning this specialized craft. He further impressed me when he referred to himself as "anal" in regard to the challenge of becoming a craps dealer. So because he is in no way an up-tight individual or someone prone to drawn-out explanations, I concluded; he meant that he pays excessive attention to detail which in craps, can be a handy trait to have.
|BEFORE DE-REGULATION RUINED ATLANTIC CITY, (IN SO MANY WAYS), CRAPS STUDENTS WERE REQUIRED TO ATTEND A 240-HOUR CLASS. NOW, ALL YOU HAVE TO DO IS LEARN ENOUGH TO PASS A CASINO AUDITION.|
I volunteered to help EEBEE. I said, "You have a good foundation as to the theory of the game but you need to understand the practical, full-speed application of what you know." He accepted my pledge because I not only have 36 years of dealing experience but because I once owned a dealer training academy, taught tons of students, prepared instructors on how to teach and contributed in writing how-to manuals. So it really didn't matter that I also got a ringing endorsement from his sister Kim, who was one of my students, in 1987.
Even while I lived in Las Vegas, I got satisfaction from helping my friend Dick Paynlewski teach his craps class. One of his students, LTJEFF, I later introduced to my boss. LTJEFF not only got hired on my recommendation but he became my coworker, a lifelong friend and regular MGTP reader.
The twisted irony of my long and successful gaming career can be traced back to my first exposure to being a craps student. Because if not for my laziness and NOT listening to the sober, well-thought out opinion of my inner sabotaging demon, I would have quit within the first hour.
If you've never attended a continuing education class, you're pretty much stuck in the mind set that all schools start in September, (or January). So in August 1978, it seemed normal that the craps class I selected at the New York School of Gambling (West 32nd Street in Manhattan) was starting right after Labor Day.
Unfortunately for me, my uncle died right before class started, (it was of course a lot worse for my uncle). Tuesday September 5th was the first day of class. But in a freaky scheduling clash, it was also the date of my uncle's wake. I didn't want to dig myself a hole by getting behind in my schooling but my parents insisted that I attend this family function.
On Wednesday morning, I was edgy on the subway and more so on the elevator up to the school's seventh floor mock casino and classroom. I took comfort when my instructor, MITCHM, didn't hassle me for missing the first session. Instead, he welcomed me with open arms. Oddly, he didn't introduce me to the others. He brought me to a secluded, unoccupied blackjack table and gave me two stacks of twenty casino chips. Mitch demonstrated how craps dealers are expected to manipulate them. The other fifteen students (spread out around the room) were doing similar "warm-up" exercises. So I fit right in.
Mitch was a whiz. He "cut" the chips, "sized in" and "drop cut" them like a machine. But at no point did he tell me how difficult it might be. Before leaving me to practice on my own he said, "It's critical that you learn how to handle the checks first." Checks? So while piecing together that "checks" are casino-speak for chips, I set out on my journey, working with the chips (checks).
This critical talent wasn't hard for me to do...it was impossible! I struggled just to hold all twenty chips in one hand. Far worse, the inner-most check kept irritating me and blistered my palm.
The instructor had organized drills designed to develop speed and accuracy with the chips. From afar, the others were getting a high level of satisfaction while sharpening their skills during friendly competitions. While segregated, I became frustrated by my total ineptitude.
I heard Mitch's commands. From his earlier description, I could picture what the class was doing. I couldn't imagine catching up to them in four hours but I was determined and kept at it. My comfort zone suddenly disappeared when their ten-minute hand calisthenics exercise ended and they all gathered around a craps table.
From my isolated station, I saw that the class had been given a written homework assignment. I might have been sharp enough to pick-up that chips were checks, but I was 100% clueless what the hell they were talking about. I thought my brain was going to burst through my skull when Mitch called out, "Three each high-low?" A student cried, "Eighty-seven!" "Jesus H. Christ," I murmured, "how did they learn all this shit yesterday?"
I made zero progress with those stupid chips...checks...whatever you want to call 'em. Plus it was boring. A conspiracy theorist might have thought working with the chips was a clever way to weed-out the bad apples who didn't have what it takes to join the craps army.
Mitch noticed that I was distracted and stopped cutting the chips. He broke my concentration by calling across the room , "Remember to work your left hand too." Left hand? I couldn't even do this with my right.
In a combination of feeling sorry for myself and eavesdropping on the perceived upbeat activity, I got lost in another daydream. That's when the checks squirted out of my hand. A couple rolled off the table and fell on the floor. I was too embarrassed to bend over and retrieve them until I realized that I was so invisible that nobody gave a rat's ass enough to turn away from their lesson.
The students loved Mitch. Like a powerful preacher, his flock heeded every word, especially when he added a humorous anecdote to a specific point he was reinforcing. Unfortunately for me, the grand old time they were having served to spur my insecurity. But my self doubt really skyrocketed when the homework review ended. That's when they started to run a simulated craps game.
I was shocked how much material the group mastered in their first meeting. They must all be geniuses I concluded...or far worse...I was an idiot. I had no idea what was going on but everyone knew what to do. While everything was going along so smoothly over there, I was aware that I hadn't cut one chip or properly sized-in. And drop cutting! That was so fruitless that I rubbed the chips like a magic lamp and wished a genie would appear and bestow the check handling gift I needed.
|MY TASK WAS SO DAUNTING THAT IN LESS THAN SIXTY MINUTES, I WAS FANTASIZING ABOUT DIVINE INTERVENTION.|
No genie or holy roller of any kind came to my rescue. Instead, in a language as strange as Hungarian, the class under Mitch's tutelage continued to run their own craps game. I was depressed by what I missed in one friggin' day. I was so buried that I was willing to walk away from the hefty down-payment I paid. I thought about an exit strategy. If I didn't have to run the gauntlet and walk past Mitch and my "classmates," I would have sneaked away with no regrets.
With each spike of laughter from the group, I felt more trapped. It was clear that I was out of my element. I seriously looked at the open seventh floor window as an escape hatch as my panic hit a zenith. While I was gazing around the room, Mitch slipped away from the class. In that instant, I would have felt worse, if I noticed that the class was smart enough to happily take care of their business without an overseer. I was internally cursing my lack of manual dexterity as Mitch mysteriously appeared at my side.
I was tongue-tied as I failed to express that this class wasn't for me. Mitch ignored my bumbling and smiled, "Now I can get you up to speed." I groaned, "I'll never be able to handle these chips...I mean checks." Mitch said, "Be patient. Nobody becomes a clerk over night. It takes sacrifice, dedication and practice." It didn't set right in that "clerking" meant being an outstanding craps dealer but the concept of success not happening overnight excited me. Still I whined, "The class started yesterday and these guys are pros."
Mitch put my mind at ease and said, "Learning to deal dice is fun." In a short time, in an upbeat manner, he taught me the basic rules of craps while schooling me on what he called, *"staggered student entry."
Mitch said, "Our class size will never be over twenty. Right now, including you, we have sixteen. So forget about the course structure you're used to. New people might join in tomorrow or next week. Plus some of these guys are graduating in October. Remember this school is a business." He pointed towards the office with his thumb and in a lower voice said, "The owners out there don't down turn down anyone's money. If you want to start now, you start now. Or next week or only on Thursdays...whatever " I said, "So I didn't miss anything by not being here yesterday?" Mitch was so friendly and calming as he avoided my question, "Stick with me. I'll have you in with the others by the end of today." And...he did. Maybe Mitch was the magic genie I wished for?
* Staggered student entry became a valuable asset when I owned my dealer training facility. That's also when I realized that Mitch wasn't really a saint. He was probably motivated into manipulating me to stick it out because earned a commission for each head that paid their full tuition.
Looking back on my first day of dealer school, I showed no sign of being well-adjusted with no patience or flexibility. I wonder what my life would have been like if I managed to sneak out that day.
I don't always love casino work. The serving the public lifestyle, extreme conditions and crazy hours are a major drawback to this overwhelmingly under appreciated, dead-end job. But as my accountant once said, "You made the system work, when so many others have failed." Loosely translated he meant; I'm a dinosaur. While most casino workers get chewed-up and spit out fast, I made a long career from what most burn-outs look at as, mission impossible.
MGTP readers can thank my indecision back in September 1978 too. Because without it, so many of my best casino adventures would never have happened.
I'm looking forward to telling EEBEE this story. Now that I have the teaching spark, I'm also anxious to share more ideas with him. I'm just hoping when the training throws him too many of life's little curve balls, he doesn't get frustrated, drop-out or look for an open window.
It's a good thing that EEBEE is flexible and mature. But like I said, even the best of us get caught-up. In the near future when the curtain rises on his craps dealing career, I hope he keeps his cool when the shit hits the fan (and it will).
I shouldn't worry about EEBEE but...not everyone has a magic genie...and I know he has access to the building that houses New Jersey's tallest non-profit organization. With so many levels to choose from, a swan dive from thirty stories up, could get messy.