What makes a good person snap? How can a well-adjusted, intelligent, God-fearing, friendly, generous, caring and confident individual soar so high...only to suddenly fizzle, crash and burn?
We are learning more about the evil inner demons of depression and what can spark the internal downfall of someone who seems to have their act together. Where might it start? Getting betrayed by a lover? An untimely death in the family? Disillusionment at the workplace or money matters? Certainly any one of these could mess someone up...but more than one or all, especially condensed into a short period of time would test the will of a saint. From the outside looking in, a perfect example might be comedian/actor Robin Williams.
I met a universally beloved man (Nick Tucker), in 1978, while attending the New York School of Gambling, (West 32nd Street off Broadway). Our original relationship was cemented into a friendship when three years later in Las Vegas, we became coworkers at the Golden Nugget
Tucker (five years older than me), fooled me into thinking he was the world's finest human. I once introduced him to my wife Sue (before we were married) as, a true gentleman. He was of course flawed. One of his shortcomings was to say to Sue, "Pardon my language but..." And then he'd use the harshest profanity that would make a longshoreman blush. He also thought it was funny to brandish a switchblade on people. When he did it to Sue and I, I cracked, "Are you a Shark or a Jet?" His response started with, Pardon my language but..."
In those two rare instances, Nick's nastiness came off as cute, so it was a shock later on, to discover that Nick had a disturbing, dark side, (Nick Tucker appears in several of my pieces, which among others includes the short story, "NO HELP'S HALL," and my blog from June 30, 2014, "NICK TUCKER: A PUZZLE THAT WOULD BAFFLE CHURCHILL AND FREUD."
In each case, Nick takes on the hero role. But, we find out that he was a twisted bastard who carried vendettas and thought nothing of hurting the people who he perceived had hurt him. It was only after Nick abandoned his position at the Nugget, (December 1983) that I found out about this double life.
In the beginning at dealer school, our student body, like a caste system, had a strict, social status hierarchy. While our craps dealing class wasn't in session, the jet-setters like Nick Tucker hung-out together. Regular low-key guys like me, remained in our "good-people" crowd. While the nerds cast themselves off to the furthest shadows. Despite the social separation, Tucker stood out as unique because unlike his elite brethren, he was friendly and kind to everyone.
Tucker's running mate at school was John Crotty. Crotty, was a narcissistic asshole. Even in the early stages of dealer school, his upward mobility mindset defined his future as a casino games dealer, as a "temporary obstacle" on his way to upper management.
The heart of Crotty's coolness was based on the Vegas connections he bragged about. So to anyone beneath his strata who didn't get high the way did or go golfing with bigwigs was nothing to him. So unless a nobody could do something for him, his personality was epitomized by aloofness, shallowness and materialism. At no point at school did he and I share a spoken word that didn't relate to our course. However, he was famous for repeating one phrase over and over again, "You don''t shit where you eat."
My first interaction outside class with Nick Tucker was during a mid-morning break. While Tucker thought everyone left the building, I returned to our seventh floor mock casino, to get extra practice.
I found Nick near an open window tying plastic straps to a burlap bank sack. I had no idea that he was in the process of stealing ten stacks of non-value casino chips. Down on the street, John Crotty and jet-set wannabe *Barney Kush, were waiting for Nick's signal to stop pedestrian traffic so the missile-like booty could be tossed down "safely."
*Kush's story was blogged on January 27, 2014. It was called, "THE COCKAMAMIE KID."
Nick called out as I entered the casino-like classroom, "Hey you, lay chickie for me." Unwittingly, I became the lookout for the robbery. Later, I was invited to practice with those stolen chips and hundreds more, on the craps table John Crotty built in his Elizabeth New Jersey garage. I might have taken Nick up on his offer but the harsh glare from Crotty made me feel acutely unwelcome.
In my five years in Las Vegas, I saw Crotty only three times. I ducked him the first two times but the point of this story centers around our third meeting. However, first I must introduce you to Mateo. I doubt Mateo and Crotty ever met.
I was hired as a craps dealer at the Las Vegas Golden Nugget in August 1982. Nick Tucker was already dealing dice there and took me under his wing. In no time I was traveling in the inner circle clique which included Mateo.
Mateo and I gravitated to each other. He gave me background on Nick which made Tucker God-like. He said, "Nick proved his generosity many ways including: counseling another dealer and taking him by the hand to a Gamblers Anonymous meeting. Nick spent several nights off in a gorgeous blackjack dealer's apartment and helped her study and soon gain her GED, (he declined her offers of sexual compensation). To a pit boss on the verge of disowning his fourteen year-old, drug addicted daughter, Nick spoke so highly of a supreme being and convinced the man to speak to a priest." He also mentioned that he once offered Nick a hundred dollars to drive up to Utah with him and help roll a cement mixer into the bed of his truck and bring back to town. Nick went but refused the money.
Nick Tucker was also famous for using up favors to set up parties and other outings for our group, (oddly, he never stuck around for them). I know now that root of Nick's deeper problems laid in the fact that despite being a social butterfly at work, nobody knew his address or phone number.
Mateo ( a craps dealer), had juice in the Nugget's executive office. So he had access to the employees personal information. This influence was so strong that it arranged supervisor pay for him. The bean-counters didn't catch on to Mateo's bonanza, (an extra $40.00 a day for two years). His connection also saw to it that this "oversight" was swept under the rug.
In November 1983, Nick didn't tell anyone and went on vacation during Thanksgiving. Nobody knew where he went and two weeks later it was apparent that he wasn't coming back. That's when Mateo found out that in Nick's file folder, he used a post office box for an address and provided the casino with a phony phone number.
A few days before Christmas, I bumped into John Crotty at the Meadows Mall.. He was wearing an expensive suit and had an unnatural orange glow from a tanning bed session. I was afraid he was going to bend my ear about how set for life he is. Instead he asked, "You still at the Nugget?" I was impressed that he knew I was there as I said, "Yeah.' He said, "Where's Nicky? It's like he disappeared." I shrugged, "Dunno. Nobody does..."
Crotty started talking...and at no time did he speak about himself. At one point his saddened voice cracked, "I thought I had the best friend I always wanted in life...but Nicky was more skitzo than 'Skitzo-Al.'" (Skitzo-Al was a regular guy from dealer school who hid the fact that he was deaf in one ear, resulting in an erratic personality).
Before long, I would hear the all highlights of John and Nick's friendship. Apparently Nick got to Las Vegas a couple of months before Crotty. In that time, to minimize costs, Nick became roommates with a kid (Dale) attending UNLV. When Crotty came to town, he and Nick got a place together. Crotty said, "Nick's tongue really flapped when he was drunk."
Crotty and I sat on a bench as he shared Nick's life story:
"First! Nick's real name is Lonnie Orlando. Nicky must have really fucked-up because he bought fake ID. He wanted to go off the grid...and picked Vegas. I bet whatever put him on the run was a combination of shitty circumstances. First, he was an only child. He was about twenty, still living at home when both his healthy but elderly parents died a month apart. He inherited their-turn-of-the-century house, in a beaten-down section of Newark...the back of his property touched the tall barbed wire fence that surrounded Newark Airport's freight terminal."
I patiently listened as Crotty continued, "Nick became a high school business teacher. Which meant for $9,100.00 a year, he was stuck teaching non-college bound juvenile delinquents how to type."
"Soon he married a grade school teacher named Annette and she moved into that house. They were broke, so he wouldn't let her refurnish or decorate the place to her liking. Plus, it was the only house left standing on the whole block, in the middle of a slum. She hated being isolated without convenient shopping and never feeling safe. In the name of love, she might have made do but the icing on the cake was that Nick had an insane phobia about going too far from home. So forget romantic vacations, they hardly left Newark."
Nick life didn't seem so tragic to me. When I pretended to yawn, Crotty spoke faster and his voice went up an octave, "Nick wanted to teach history but there were no openings. He dedicated himself to instructing his misfits. Through care and understanding, he got enthusiasm from kids that usually don't give a rat's ass."
"Towards the end of March, Annette felt so neglected that she left him. Nick told me, her leaving made him so depressed that he considered killing himself. Then in June, he won the Teacher of the Year Award. On the last day of the term during a fond farewell with his students, some silliness got personal. He argued with his pet and lost his temper. They cursed each other. He was losing the battle of wits and felt the urge to physically attack her. Instead he quit on the spot, walked out the door without taking his best teacher trophy,clearing out his desk or picking up his last check."
"Wow," I said. Crotty kept talking, "I don't know if he ran because he did something to that girl or if it was something else. But your buddy Lonny Orlando saw a TV commercial for our dealer school and soon signed up as Nick Tucker."
I said, "That's crazy. Did he harm his wife?" Crotty said, "No. He didn't even contest the divorce. But did you ever notice he always took vacations at Thanksgiving?" I shook my head as he forged on, "He picked that time of year because Annette and her family followed the same ritual. So he knew exactly when and where she was. Then he'd travel incognito back to Jersey and harass her." I said, "No way. He was such a great guy, he could never hurt her." "Well, he felt betrayed by Annette. Before that, while still mourning for his mom and dad, she wanted to remodel the only house he ever lived in...and, erase the memories of his folks."
"Financially, he screwed himself royally by turning his back on his career and giving up half of everything he owned, even his parent's house." I said, "I can't believe it. Nick was so smart, he knew right from wrong, he went to church..." John cut me off, "He NEVER went to church out here!" "Well," I added, "He was a funny man, caring, generous and so confident." Crotty said, "I'm telling you, he snapped and became schizophrenic. He was usually normal but when pushed, he was capable of doing terrible things." "No. You don't think he killed that teacher pet's of his?" He said, "I can't rule out anything."
John said, "Nick got to Vegas before me and lived with a college kid named Dale. When we got our apartment together, he told me that he and Dale didn't get along. Nick was dealing on graveyard at the El Cortez and wanted to sleep from eight at night till two in the morning. But it was Dale's place and he thought nothing of blasting music and partying all the time. They clashed over the noise. And when it finally got quiet, Dale had taught Thor, his Norwegian Blue parrot to screech, "NICKY'S A PRICK, NICKY'S A PRICK..."
|THERE IS NO SUCH BREED OF PARROT NAMED THE NORWEGIAN BLUE. DALE CALLED THOR A NORWEGIAN BLUE, AS A HOMAGE TO THE MONTY PYTHON, "DEAD PARROT" SKIT.|
John Crotty sighed, "To get even, Nick doused the birdseed with Tabasco Sauce. Thor's shit was blood red for a couple of days...until he died. I'm no animal rights guy but what Nick did was criminal. Whenever he told me that story, he included lines from the Monty Python sketch. It wasn't funny." I said, "Parrots live like forty years..." John said, "That's right. It's like a member of the family. So when Dale attacked him, Nick kicked his ass, trashed the apartment and bolted." "Did the guy press charges?" "No apparently Nick gave Dale a different phony name when he moved in and quit the El Cortez, so he couldn't be tracked down."
Seven years after moving to Atlantic City, (1991), my wife Sue and I had a Vegas vacation. We telephoned Mateo and met him for lunch. I asked if he knew anything about Nick. He said, "Months after you left, my connection in the executive office sent me a Xerox copy of a November 1983 arrest report from Ionia New Jersey. He (Nick) had slashed the tires of his ex's new husband, broke into their house, trashed the place and smeared his own shit on wedding and honeymoon pictures. Then on the morning of Thanksgiving, he broke into her parent's house. He was holding his own crap and was about to do the same thing to that house when cops burst out of closets, the basement and attic." I said, "I thought Nick had no family or real friends so nobody would miss him?" Mateo said, "You're right. The police got his true identity from Annette and were able to trace him back to his fingerprints, on his application for a Nevada casino dealer license."
I sighed, "That boy needed professional help." Mateo huffed, "He had too much pride." I said, "He needed to be on meds...sounds like he went off the deep end and could have become one of the weirdos that goes berserk and drives up on crowded sidewalks and mows down strangers."
Mateo was shaking his head as I continued, "One of Nick's friends (John Crotty) was right, you shouldn't shit where you eat." Then I shared with him a lot of what Crotty told me. When I finished with the parrot story I said, "Nicky really was a prick.'"