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Home Sweet Home

15 March 2004

I was an official resident of Las Vegas. Three weeks after hitting town, I landed a job shilling at the Pioneer Club and now I was moving into a studio apartment in the sticks with another shill from work named Diane. The apartment was a real dump, everything piled in one big room, along with a tiny bathroom we shared with the people next door.

There was something else about the place that turned me off. No air conditioning. Here we were, in the middle of the stinking desert, and the house didn't even have air conditioning. Instead, there was some noisy contraption called a swamp cooler blowing hot damp air through one tiny vent in the wall. It was like sitting in front of an electric fan in a sauna bath. I wasn't complaining, though. The price was right.

I lugged my big black and white television into the house, and Diane clapped her hands in excitement. "Oh, great, a TV! I've been saving up for one. Just put it down over there on the card table." I lowered the television carefully, then searched around for a wall plug.

"Turn it on," she said. "Let's watch cartoons."

I looked closer at the TV. Dammit, the selector knob was gone! Somewhere between Texas and Vegas, somewhere between the trunk of my Mustang and Diane's apartment, I'd lost my selector knob. This was just great, another slap in the face by the hand of fate. Maybe it doesn't sound like a big deal to you, but for me half of everything I owned was now missing a selector knob.

It got late and we went to bed. Diane slept on one side. Wearing blue jeans and a sports shirt buttoned to the collar, I slept on the other side. It was almost like being back at the Pioneer, her betting $5 on one side, me betting $5 on the other side.

We ate peanut butter sandwiches for breakfast and headed back to the casino. She wanted to walk, which was fine with me. My gas tank was on empty, and money was at a premium right now.

Sunday was one of the busiest days of the week in the casino racket, every redneck from here to Tucson trying to get in one last bet and one last beer before getting on the interstate and killing someone. I'm not exaggerating when I say there must've been $30 worth of bets scattered all over the dice table. I was standing there, betting my $5 on the don't pass, remembering how my life used to be before I moved to Vegas – living in a tropical climate where the temperature never got over 100 and where it rained once in a while, wearing a suit and tie, working in quiet and peaceful surroundings, making $150 a week. I'd have to put in almost two weeks at the Pioneer Club to earn what I was making when I left Texas! Here I was, a year and a half of college to my credit, making $11 a day in Vegas. Things couldn't get any worse.

Suddenly here came Mop Top. His real name was Artie and he was the assistant day shift boss. With that black toupee on his head, though, he was ripe for a nickname, so I called him Mop Top. Under my breath, of course.

"How's it going, kid?"

"Fine, sir."

"Go over there and take out Shorty on second base. Let's see how you handle yourself on a live game."

Oh my God! I was getting a chance to deal on a real game to real human beings. I gave Diane a glance as I strapped on an apron. (I know they're funky but you've got to wear them.) She looked at me with pride and adoration. She couldn't have been more proud if I'd just returned from the war wearing a Purple Heart. Here I was, two weeks of dealer's school under my belt, and I was already in the big time.

I tapped Shorty on the shoulder. "Take a break," I grunted.

The players across the table never even looked at me, which was fine. I was busy concentrating on the table. There were checks on the big eight, the pass line, the come, behind the four, in the field. I stood there, ready for action, and here came the dice.

"Loser seven," the stickman bellowed. In one whirl of frantic movement, I scooped up every single check in sight. Suddenly sheer bedlam erupted at the table. All the players on my end were hollering, and pointing, and hollering some more.

"Get him out of there!" Mop Top roared, and here came Shorty again, taking me out of the ball game with the bases loaded.

"What did I do?" I asked him.

"Just forget it. Get back over there and start shilling."

I glanced at Diane. She was looking at me with pride and adoration.

For dinner that night we had peanut butter sandwiches again, this time topped off with warm Kool-Aid. I'd rustled around in the refrigerator while she was in the bathroom, and it made Mother Hubbard's house look like the garden of Eden. The freezer was empty, not even an ice cube tray, and if it hadn't been for a gigantic jar of peanut butter in the refrigerator we would've been on a liquid diet. It's a wonder Diane didn't have scurvy, for crying out loud.

I took her out to dinner the following night, some hole-in-the-wall Italian joint buried off the Strip behind a Conoco station. The atmosphere wasn't that great, but the lights were so dim it didn't make any difference. The waiter recited the specials. Eggplant parmigiana, shrimp scampi, veal scallopini, lasagne.

Diane ordered the veal, which kind of turned me off. I'd never eaten veal in my life, and never planned to. My dad said that veal came from baby calves, kept in pens so small they couldn't even turn around, then they were slaughtered and cooked before they even got a chance at life. If there was anything more barbaric than that, I didn't know what it was.

"Just bring me a steak," I said. "Oh, and another bottle of that Chianti."

I got to work Tuesday, my head buzzing from all the vino. Mop Top saw me and motioned me over to the snack bar where he was loading his coffee with sugar. "You got to get yourself a phone, kid."

"Why, what's up?" I wasn't afraid of being fired. In fact, I was hoping I would get fired. Maybe I could collect unemployment insurance, which would probably come to about one dollar a day.

"The place is dead so I'm giving you a couple days off. Come back on Thursday."

I told Diane about it. Poor thing, she'd been working in this toilet for God knows how long, and here I got a two-day vacation after one week on the job.

There were a million things to do in Vegas, but they all cost money – unless you wanted to stand around gawking at a million dollars in cash on display at the Horseshoe Club. As broke as I was (less than 50 bucks to my name), I might try to grab one of those $10,000 bills and then spend the rest of my life busting rocks in a penitentiary somewhere. So I hitched up my pants and started walking back to the apartment. Who knows, maybe I'd find a quarter on the sidewalk.

Barney Vinson

Barney Vinson is one of the most popular and best-selling gaming authors of all time. He is the author of Ask Barney, Las Vegas: Behind the Tables, Casino Secrets, Las Vegas Behind the Tables Part II, and Chip-Wrecked in Las Vegas. His newest book, a novel, is The Vegas Kid.

Books by Barney Vinson:

> More Books By Barney Vinson

Barney Vinson
Barney Vinson is one of the most popular and best-selling gaming authors of all time. He is the author of Ask Barney, Las Vegas: Behind the Tables, Casino Secrets, Las Vegas Behind the Tables Part II, and Chip-Wrecked in Las Vegas. His newest book, a novel, is The Vegas Kid.

Books by Barney Vinson:

> More Books By Barney Vinson