By David Daniel
Covid Restrictions Easing, Area Casinos Look For Jackpot
– The Boston Globe 5/23/21
1. Christina’s Other World
The elevator on the casino level is crowded when the Wagmans board. “Thirty, please,” Neil Wagman says.
A woman standing near the panel pokes it. “The VIP lounge,” she murmurs wistfully. “Must be nice.”
“We lose a lot,” Neil laughs. At his wife’s jab to his ribs he changes course. “Anybody see Paul Anka tonight?”
“No, was he good?” a passenger wants to know.
“Fabulous!” Tina Wagman says.
“I thought Paul Anka was dead,” someone says.
“It’ll be a surprise to him,” says Neil. “He put on a helluva show.”
When the elevator finally reaches the 30th floor the Wagmans are the last passengers. They walk down the hall on soft carpeting. “It would be nice living here,” Tina says. “A penthouse suite, get my hair and nails done. Take in a show, and ride the elevator home.”
“Lose a fortune at the tables,” says Neil.
“You wouldn’t have to worry about cutting the grass or shoveling snow.”
“But you’d have to deal with people thinking Paul Anka is dead.”
She closes her eyes, remembering. “He was dreamy.”
The VIP lounge is mood-lit, with plush chairs and soft music. Beyond big windows, rain falls softly on the Connecticut countryside. They order drinks. Near their table hangs a print of Wyeth’s Christina’s World. “I always felt connected to that painting,” Tina says. “Maybe because we have the same name. Though it makes me a little uneasy, too.”
Neil studies it. “Yeah? How come?”
“There’s something…I don’t know—troubled in the way she’s looking off like that. And she’s so bony and birdlike I half expect she’ll suddenly flap her arms, like wings, and fly away.”
“She did get away once,” Neil says, contemplating his Sapphire martini. “Not many people know the story.” He has her interest. “Christina was a young farm girl in down east Maine. Met a man from Boston who was there for the summer. When he left, she followed him down to the city, took a small apartment and got a job. Then he got drafted, and he was killed in the war.
“Is this for real?” Tina asks. “I’ve never—”
“She took it hard, naturally. She couldn’t go back to Maine. That life was behind her forever. So she stayed on in the city. But it was tough. She took to drink.” He pauses to sip his martini. “And one day, as she’s crossing the street, bang—hit by a taxi.”
Tina brings a hand to her mouth. “God.”
“Wound up in the hospital with serious injuries.” He nods at the image in the painting. “Now she has to go home. And her folks have to care for her.”
“Are you making this up?”
“Actually. . . ”
“You are too making it up. You had me going there.”
He grins. “It tells good though, doesn’t it? Another drink?”
As they wait for the elevator to arrive to take them down to their comped room on the 25th floor, Tina yawns and leans sleepily against her husband. “Thanks for bringing the mood down with that story.”
He starts to apologize, but she shushes him. “Put your arm around me. I want to think about the good vibe from Paul Anka’s show.”
The one other person waiting with them perks up. “Paul Anka. Is he still alive?”
2. Crappy Diem
My brother-in-law Mickey loves to gamble. In his free time he’s at the track or the casinos. He used to bowl, play softball, work on his lawn, take his wife (my sister) on vacations. But then a big new casino got built downriver from where he lives and that was that. Now most of Mickey’s and Carol-Ann’s vacations and weekends (not to mention their money) are spent there.
Sometimes they invite my wife and me to join them. They always get fancy suites in the hotel. My wife and I don’t gamble, but we like the occasional show, usually some dinosaur rock band that still sounds halfway good, especially after we’ve wined and dined at the skyline restaurant on the top floor, with its dramatic sunset views of the surrounding New England countryside.
Like the classy rooms and the rock shows, the food and drinks are comped by the casino. Mickey likes to live a few sizes too large, my wife says. A plebe with aristocrat’s tastes. He’s always ordering champagne, and then cocktails (with top shelf liquor) and the appetizers and the hors d’oeuvres—meals unto themselves, though the meals come, too, and dessert and coffee and maybe Drambuie.
“This is the life,” Mickey says, mumbling around the jumbo shrimp he has just speared into his mouth. “Eat up, my man, there’s lots more where this came from.” He waves another shrimp like the chairman of the Federal Reserve pointing at an economic forecast chart.
Sure, I’ve had a few flutes of Veuve Cliquot and am working on my second Hendricks martini, but I see a different economic picture. Mickey claims he’s way ahead, beating the house edge, yet he doesn’t see that he’s getting all these bennies because he’s mostly a loser at the tables. He doesn’t quite get that he’s paying for the luxury digs, the gourmet chow, the massages for him and Carol-Ann, the premium booze, and the concert tickets by pissing away sums of money that he can’t afford with the HVAC job he’s been working since high school.
“Eat up, drink up, bon appleteet!” he crows. “Crappy diem.”
I don’t correct his mispronunciations, or tell him his bank account’s moving in the wrong direction. What’s the point? I’ve got the same voc-tech education as he does. What I do get is that we’re all free to live our lives as we want—and that eventually the goose quits crapping out the diems.
But not tonight. “I’ll leave the tip, my man,” I tell Mickey. “Pass the lobster tails.”
3. Area 13
“Here’s the floor I’ve been telling you.” The eagerly smiling woman from customer services ushers me off the private elevator. I’m curious. Certainly, I’ve heard about this, but I’ve never actually seen it.
We’re in the expansive garage at World Casino Corp’s flagship venue, but this floor isn’t accessible to the public. Almost as far as I can see, vehicles are parked—sleek European sports cars, modest compacts, minivans, every kind of vehicle imaginable. Many are filmed with dust. To one side are rows of RVs, even some boats on trailers. Everything here is being held as collateral against debt.
This is the tangible equivalent of the row of file cabinets in WCC’s gleaming office tower where, in drawers, all neatly labeled as to contents, are thousands of mortgages, deeds to property, wills, titles to the vehicles we’re seeing now.
“We’re a people business,” the smiling woman tells me again. It’s her mantra. A nametag on the lapel of her neat navy blazer identifies her as Ms. Skinner. She is my guide as I do research for a magazine article on casinos. She has been remarkably open in projecting WCC’s user-friendly face. She wants me to know that the corporation is “deeply committed” to its customers, as evidenced by the great lengths WCC goes to assure that their “entertainment experience is a fulfilling one.”
Entertainment experience. That’s her phrase. Gambling, gaming, tables, slots—chance, risk, loss—none of these comes up. “WCC has made customer service top priority in giving people nearly unlimited options to continue enjoying their amusements!” she chirps.
Moving back to the private elevator, I comment on a closed-off section of the garage beyond a wire barricade. “What’s back there?” I ask.
For the first time, Ms. Skinner’s smile falters. But almost immediately it returns. “That’s Area 13.”
Since there is no 13th floor in a casino—bad luck—I wonder, is this like the misplaced floor has been tucked away here? “What is it?”
“It’s people,” she says. “You know, wives, husbands, significant others. Eighteen and older—no young children.”
“People.” I’m trying to understand.
“The quarters are very nice—small, okay, but not like cages or anything. And no one’s back there for very long. What’s good is a customer hits a hot streak, they usually go to reclaim them. And there are loans available at a reasonable rate, too. In case.”
My mind is dizzy with this. But she’s on a PR roll. “And if no one does come for them—well, we’re often able to place them in good homes. But enough about that,” she’s urging me brightly into the garage elevator, “I want you to see the recreation area. You’re going to love the swimming pool.”
11 Responses to Casino Tales
These Trinity structures are really working out for you (and us). The Holy Ghost section (or is it Hell?) of this one is particularly powerful.
I enjoyed these tales, but confused about Area 13…must not be thinking deep enough!!
This trio of tales deftly teases out the irony of quarantined inmates released from one vacancy only to enter another. Satire that delivers in spades…
Young Dave spent six months in Trump Tower gathering background for these yarns. Last time I saw him, he was mumbling in Russian and he had a fistful of unlisted telephone numbers in Moscow.. A South Shore upbringing does little to prepare a lad for real life.
Each reveals a little more in a frightening progression.
The seamy side of life in dress shoes and heels. That ultimately can’t fit.
At Daniel’s casino, one never really hits the jackpot, or if they do, they wish they hadn’t. Because who wants to end up in hell? Daniel’s prose continues to bend the mind in fascinating ways.
Here Dave Daniel has us going, playing us like a fiddle, then, whoa, we realize it’s our economic system he’s talking about with the gambling, where our idea of freedom leads that accounts for Putin’s snicker.
The twist at the end is great–I love the name–after the poignant middle tale of the man who can’t see he’s losing. Going back to the epigraph you see it like Charlton Heston: The jackpot is people!
Well done. Ms. ‘Skinner’ indeed. Here’s a little window into the lives of some Casino dwellers, and a neat Area 13 (always a lucky number), metaphor for lives held in thrall by a bad addiction disguised as high times. I never understood the allure, but it’s real.
Dave, your tale reminds me of our big Boston-area casino, Encore Boston Harbor. Except that it’s actually on the Mystic River. But pointing that out is probably against the rules. Like counting cards.
Love these. How could anyone not? The velvet glove of smart, crisp, easygoing storytelling wrapping the iron fist of loss, addiction, greed, you name the human failing. I am a fan, and I hope someday to meet the vibrant young prodigy who will no doubt get his just fame. (Wish I could offer a more learned interpretation like some of the comments but I never really had any English classes, not since high school…and I got bad marks.)