Blackjack in Atlantic City (Part 4)

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01/05/2013 by Don Quijones

blackjack

A Personal Account by Marcus Peyrera. 

Petrona smiles. I don’t know if it’s in response to the cat story or because a supervisor has appeared with a new deck of cards. It doesn’t really matter. The important thing is that together with the new deck comes Lisa, a croupier clearly trained in the dark arts of taking all our money.

Croupiers, it must be said, are people to fear. They are, in many cases, players with a long gambling history and are capable of cleaning you out in a minute. A study by the University of Chicago showed that 25 percent of casino employees have severe gambling problems. Needless to say, it’s a sickness that is useful to the industry.

As for Lisa, she’s ferocious. With her running the show, the cards fly and so do our chips. Everything happens so quickly that before we know it, we have fallen victim to a blitzkrieg massacre. Our winnings disappear in a flash and I get up from the table stone broke.

*

I have no idea what time it is but I’m so tired that I make the final yards to my hotel room on all fours. I crash out on the bed and turn on the TV. On one channel is an episode of the Jerry Springer show. For those who don’t know, Springer is a TV presenter who became famous for being the mayor of Ohio who paid a prostitute with a cheque — reason enough to lose him his job as a public servant and win him a new one as a TV star.

“If I could play with cheques, perhaps I would still be down there, sat at some table,” I say to myself. And that is my last thought before falling into a shallow sleep.

Three hours go by and I wake up with heartburn, a pounding headache and an image burned into my mind. As I light a cigarette, this is what I see: I am five years old and walking around some Columbian city with my parents. We go into a place with slot machines. It’s hot and we are happy; life is good. My parents begin to play.

“Marcos, put in a coin,” says my father.

I do as he says, pull the lever and watch as it sets off a kaleidoscope of colors and an orchestra of metallic sounds. There’s a sudden rumbling and coins begin flying out. So many are there that they begin to overflow and fall to the floor. People gather round to see, their eyes transfixed on the showering coins – all except my parents who are looking down at me, smiling.

I make a note in my notebook under the title “Origins?.” Then I leave the room.

*

Downstairs, sat at the same table that I left hours ago is Petrona, or at least what’s left of her. She is still playing. Clearly she never made it to her complementary room. Her face is wracked with exhaustion, but even so she seems happy to see me.

“I was waiting for you. Now we’ll show them,” she says with the weakest of smiles.

But no such thing happens and little by little the boredom begins setting in. I have slept a little and am younger, so should be in much better shape than Petrona. But she has one thing over me: the need to play. That gives her a clear advantage. I decide to smoke my last cigarette before getting on my way. But before putting it out, a waiter brings me a coke and a new packet.

“Courtesy of the House,” he says. I thank him, feeling powerless against the all-seeing, all-knowing Casino. I am watching the cards but they’re watching everything (and everybody). The feeling saps what’s left of my energies and for the second time I make a decision: in five minutes I will leave, but this time for real.  I begin to play with the mental clarity that comes from knowing that I will not be coming back in a long, long time. Time passes. At some point Petrona gets up but she is soon replaced by three black guys in hearty spirits.

“I have four jobs because I have four girlfriends to maintain,” says one, and we all laugh.

They bring me a coffee and I down it, even though I don’t need it. I’m wide awake, fresh as a morning daisy and I begin to win. I’m wearing a Ralph Lauren polo shirt and the guy with four girlfriends starts calling me “Polo Man”. One of his friends asks me my name and I tell him. Before I know it I am “Marco Polo” to everyone round the table. I begin to forget that I have to leave.

This has happened to me many times before. When I got married I went on honeymoon to California and as it was only a stone’s throw away, we spent a night in Las Vegas. We went to a show and then to bed, but at two in the morning I went down to the casino on my own. My flight was scheduled to leave at 12, and at 11:15 I felt a hand on my shoulder. It was my wife, who had packed our luggage, put them in a cab and finally found me at a Blackjack table.

Today my wife’s not with me, but I still somehow make it to the bus station.  I feel shattered. I barely notice my traveling companions. All I know is that behind me there’s a little kid who can’t stop kicking the back of my seat and next to me there’s a guy with huge headphones and a massive tub of fried food.

“Any luck?” he asks with his mouth full. I manage to summon up a friendly gesture, but I don’t know what to say. On getting home, I put down my bag and settle on the sofa. I close my eyes and try to relax. The sounds of the casino are still in my head but slowly they turn into a monotonous, metallic drizzle: falling coins that little by little put me to sleep.

Amidst the rhythmic patter, I smile.

*

Translated by Son of Seitan

Marcos Peyrera is a lawyer and writer. His novel Te sigo, published by Libros del Zorzal in 2012, was highly acclaimed by critics.

front cover, orsaiHis article Blackjack in Atlantic City was featured in the 12th issue of Orsai magazine. To see more articles, illustrations or comic strips from Orsai (in Spanish), click here. 

You can also read an interview in English with the magazine’s co-founder, Hernán Casciari, or his children’s fable on the economic crisis, Papelitos (also in English). 

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