People watching is the best show on earth...

Aug 23, 2008

Lady Luck Gets Hosed

. Aug 23, 2008
18 Whispers

I feel my ankles swell as I stand on the outdoor escalator gliding my friends and me into Bally's casino in Las Vegas, our home base for this trip. I am sure we have walked 10 miles today, having repeatedly fallen for the Strip's mirage that everything is so much closer than it really is. The air is heavy with dry heat and it muffles sounds in my ears, which feel like they're stuffed with cotton. We cross the hotel entryway and welcome the beautiful sight of glass doors. In Vegas, the other side of glass doors means air conditioning.

The coolness blasts my face and I am happy once again. The jingles and clinks of the casino instantly energize me and I decide to do a once around before heading upstairs to bed. The table games are fairly empty; only one craps table is open with a handful of subdued players. Most people sit mesmerized by the twirling reels of slots. Some players' eyes are nearly shut with sleep, others are wide with anticipation.

I come upon a very large video slot decorated like an Egyptian sphinx. A young couple is playing the $5 a pull machine. Their credit balance reads $27. A few others watch them and I join in, intrigued by the fancy animation and sounds of the big machine. The young man pushes the button while his girlfriend cheers him on. Three pulls in and the machine gives up nothing.

With $12 credit left, the young man tells his girlfriend to push the button. She hesitates, but with a kiss and a nudge from him, hits the spin button. The reels turn extra slowly, it seems. The couple leans forward, his arm around her shoulders. The first reel stops with a King Tut symbol on top. The second reel does the same. The third rests with another King Tut on the top line and the girlfriend gasps. The fourth and the fifth reel bring two more King Tuts to the first line and the machine explodes with sound. It plays the "Walk Like an Egyptian" song and all the King Tuts' mouths open and close with gold coins flying out. The win box says $2500.

The girlfriend jumps up and down and claps. Gasps and "Oooohs" come from the onlookers. The young man kisses his lady while holding her face in both hands, "I told you", he says to her. An attendant soon arrives, talking into a radio. He pushes buttons on the machine's panel and congratulates the couple:

Attendant: Who's the lucky winner?
Man: We both are! But she's lady luck on this one!
Girl: I was so scared to spin, but I'm happy I did!
Attendant: First trip to Vegas?
Man: Yeah, for both of us. Our first night here, too.
Attendant: Okay folks, that's great. May I see your IDs, please?

The young man quickly produces his wallet and while removing his ID, suddenly snaps his head to his girlfriend. She is frozen, biting her bottom lip, hands gripping the sides of her shorts:

Girl: Um, I don't have my ID with me.
Attendant: I cannot pay the jackpot to you without ID, miss. You spun the machine on this win, correct?
Girl: Um, yes, I spun it, but it's his money.
Attendant: Folks we can't prove whose money it is. Whoever activates the machine is the player. And we do have tape to verify that if it's unclear.

The girl's face reddens and her chin quivers as she looks at her boyfriend, who looks to the ceiling.

Attendant: Miss, I 'll leave the machine locked if you can retrieve your ID quickly.
Man: No. Forget it. She's 19. We're celebrating my 21st birthday here. I was spinning the whole time, doesn't that matter?
Attendant: Sir, I'm really very sorry. The young lady is under aged and I cannot pay the jackpot to her. The winnings are void if the player is not of age. It's the law.

The girl cries openly. Someone yells, "That's bullshit, man!" from the small crowd. The young man takes his girlfriend's hand and leads her away.

Aug 7, 2008

The Pea Questions the Pod

. Aug 7, 2008
12 Whispers

I am enjoying an afternoon off work by baking at the community pool. A handful of children splashing in the water remind me of summer's carefree days outside my cubicle walls. Cries for moms to watch this and that ring out repeatedly. Accomplishments include jumps into the deep and submersions without holding noses.

A pair of young girls play with water noodles near the pool steps. They are perhaps four. Both wear bikinis, one in light pink with ruffles on her bum and the other in bold orange with white bows on top and bottom. They try to sit on their noodles, which keep sliding out from under them. "Mommy!" one says to the woman sitting on the pool edge in front of my chair, "Help me!".

The woman steadies the noodles and both girls quickly straddle the bright green tubes. They shriek and laugh, then suddenly one is quiet. I look where she is looking. Three young women are walking toward pool chairs with their bags and towels. All three wear bikinis. One is about eight months pregnant.

The little girl stares open-mouthed at the woman's protruding bare belly, which commands even more attention with three colorful butterflies tattooed across it. The other child now sees what has captured her friend's attention and points while drawing in her breath. Her mother gently pulls her arm down:

Ruffles: Mommy! Look at her tummy!
Bows: Yeah! Look!
Mom: Yes, I see. Don't be scared. It's okay. Her baby's in there. Growing until it's time to come out.
Ruffles: When will she come out?
Mom: Probably soon, she'll be ready.
Ruffles: Before we go home?
Mom: No! Not that soon. It will be a lot more days from now.
Bows: Who put the baby in there?
Mom: Um, well, the daddy.
Bows: Why didn't he put it in his own tummy?
Mom: Ha! You know honey, that's a very good question. Why don't you ask your daddy when you get home.

Aug 2, 2008

The Golden Rule

. Aug 2, 2008
14 Whispers

Tonight I am picking up our dinner at a local smokehouse. I called in the order - two tri tips with mop sauce, barbecue beans and honey cornbread that you just want to be all alone with. The restaurant is on a street packed with all sorts of eateries. It's always a bear to find parking here. All the spaces are metered, either street side or in parking lots, and they're full at dinner time on Friday night.

As I inch into the short intersection with my big car, traffic is so heavy the light turns red before I can complete my left turn. Honks blast at me from behind, in front and the side. The man's face in my rear view mirror is all scrunched up. I leave the kind words he mouths behind as I squeeze between cars and into the parking lot.

As I look for a spot, my shoulders tense. I am already late getting home. I crack the window for fresh air and the sweet aroma from the restaurant's smoker curls in to greet me like an old friend. All this logistical aggravation will melt away with my first bite of tri tip. After 10 minutes of idling in the parking lot, a man walks my way in my rear view. He passes my driver's side and glances over. He is an older gentleman, a little bent with years. He smiles and points to a sedan to my right. Happy day. I'm in.

I back up a bit and flick my blinker on to lay claim. People around here take parking spots very seriously. As the man approaches his car, another vehicle enters the lot from the driveway in front of me and slowly approaches. Here we go, it's on, I say to myself. The jeep shines its lights into my windshield. Very clever, he's a blinder. I'm about to launch my SUV brights at him when he exits the jeep holding something.

Under the glow of the streetlight, his uniform becomes clear. He is a parking control officer. The meters here run until 9 p.m. and a quarter only buys 15 minutes. He quickly walks to the meter blinking a little red light next to the man who's leaving, checks it and goes to the read the car's back license plate. What a shame. Someone's weekend begins with a $50 parking ticket.

The man I'm waiting for closes his car door again. He approaches the parking officer and motions to the meter. The officer shrugs his shoulders. The man nods. He extends his arm and shakes the officer's hand. He walks to the stranger's expired meter, reaches into his pocket and fills it with coins. Spontaneously, I lower my window and shout, "You're awesome!" He waves at me, smiling, and gets back into his car. As he pulls out, I read his license plate frame, "Matthew 7:12".

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