The closest I had ever been to a casino prior to Saturday was my twice-yearly reading of Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, so when we stepped onto the floor of the Tropicana I half expected a neon carousel full of lizard-people to greet me.
It would have been better than the real thing; shabby carpets whose patterns snaked from side to side as they stretched across a hazy room filled with a fleet of leggy middle-aged waitresses in weird black corsets and hundreds of chain-smoking, hollow-looking gamblers, with a few cigar-smoking rotund gamblers thrown in for good measure.
I suppose I could have inferred the haze and the zombie-like patrons from Hunter, but i had been hoping for something more psychedelic.
In Vegas, maybe, but the nine of us were in Atlantic City. Wes and Karen sat down for winning streaks at black jack while I milled back and forth, nearly having my legs broken when i mistakenly wandered into the service-space between two active craps tables.
It occurred to me that there was really no instruction for the beginning gambler; I couldn’t have even sat down at a black jack table, let alone craps or some poker variant. While the hollow-cheeked undead of Atlantic City elbowed their way past me to get a closer look at the craps game I wondered if they all just expected me to buy some chips and lose until I understood … until I realized that anyone who spent any amount of time wondering about that wasn’t fit for gambling in the first place.
Eventually the more serious boys headed to poker while the rest of us made a pass at the slot machines, where I spent my first (and perhaps only) $3.25 on gambling before declaring that the fleet of corseted grandmothers were not going to keep me inebriated enough to make my gambling cost-effective.
We retreated towards the sports bar and, as the whir and hum of the shabby casino room faded behind us and as the ceiling gave way to rows of wicker fans and then impossibly-bright false-clouds, I thought that perhaps I liked casinos very much so long as I didn’t have to go into the casino part.
Either that, or calculate just how much I had to gamble in total to have my drinks and roomage completely comped and spend exactly that hour-by-hour over the slow course of a day. Because I’d rather spend my money on a steady and sure flow of Southern Comfort than whip it away on the whims of an eight-deck shuffler.
Eight hours later and we were all thoroughly drunk (some of us already hung-over) and mourning our poor Eagles while singing karaoke, me and Gina and our entire table screaming back the pitches of Bohemian Rhapsody at the pitch-deaf lump who had the (intentional) misfortune of selecting the song, and then carrying our scream-singing into the cool night air and back to Philadelphia as i sang the pitches i still could with my husk of a voice.
It took me the better part of Sunday to recover from the experience – just sleep and water, no speech or food, until finally this morning I felt as though the rest of me had returned from AC, where it had somehow become entangled in the hazy air on the casino floor.