I still had some finishing touches to do for my next book so, to cut down on the distraction level; I went my parents in the hinterlands of Pennsylvania for some uninterrupted work time. It’s like a writer’s retreat on the cheap. My parents make sure I’m fed, sleep decent hours but otherwise leave me alone. And since there are no other writers around to annoy me it’s perfect.
Going to the country turned out to be one of the smarter decisions I’ve made because I was able to focus on my work and get it done quickly and ahead of schedule. Job done, my Dad suggests we drive over to the casino that opened up on the site of the old Mount Airy Lodge in the Poconos.
If you are of a certain age you remember the old Mount Airy’s cheesy commercials – the ones that showed some gold-chained swinger dude hopping into a champagne hot tub with a blonde chick wearing way too much mascara. Basically, the place was a sex resort. So much so that one comedian wagged, “The food was lousy, but it was a legalized orgy…I used to say, ‘If you break the mirror above the ceiling, you’ll have seven years of bad sex.”’ The strange thing was the honeymoon haven basically used that same old commercial until mildew and utter lack of coolness forced them to close their doors in 2001. And the tag line jingle to that old commercial? Beautiful Mount Airy Lodge!
I never got to use the Champagne hot tubs during Mount Airy’s libertine days. But that’s okay. As my friend Jeff Johnson wrote in his book Tattoo Machine, “a Jacuzzi is basically a dick-pussy-ass Frappuccino: if you’ve ever wondered what that foam was, now you know.” So my urethra dodged a bullet, but I sure hope those maids in the 80’s swabbed those hot tubs out with industrial strength bleach. Sometimes it’s not fun to swap DNA with other people.
But as Dad pulls his SUV into the casino’s parking lot I see all remnants of the old Mount Airy are gone – replaced by a modern casino and hotel. As we walk through the front doors I wonder it they kept some of the old hot tubs as some sort of homage. Probably not. After I register and walk onto the casino floor I’m disappointed. The casino’s games are all slot machines, video poker and virtual blackjack machines where big boobed computer-generated vixens beckon you to lose large amounts of money. I don’t gamble much but I’m disappointed there are no table games staffed by real human beings. When I was in Vegas half the fun was watching people losing their shirt and shit around me. Oh well.
“They’re going to have table games here soon,” my father says, noticing my annoyance. “I heard they’re interviewing dealers.”
“That’s okay Dad. I’m not in the mood for serious gambling.”
As my father settles behind a 25-cent video poker machine I try my hand at the dollar slots and immediately lose forty bucks. And as I look for a cocktail waitress I realize, other than the staff, I am the youngest person in the entire place. And by younger I mean by thirty or forty years.
As an old man on a scooter with an oxygen tank whizzes by I decide to go over to the virtual vixens and play some black jack. The table minimum’s ten dollars and I have the machine to myself. I guess ten dollars is too rich for the fixed income penny slot players relentlessly pumping coins into machines that promise much but deliver little.
After I win back my forty bucks back I go over to my father. He’s up fifty and having a good time.
“You gonna become a degenerate gambler now?” I ask.
Dad laughs. “Not yet.”
We decide to take a break and walk over to a faux diner to grab some lunch. As we pass the old people feverishly feeding the slots I notice none of them are pulling the anachronistic handle on the side of the machines.
“You notice that the people are only pushing the buttons?” I say to my father.
“Because it’d be too physical for most of these oldsters to pull the handle. And if all you have to too is push a button that means you’ll just spend your money that much faster.”
“Never thought of it that way.”
“Trust me,” I say. “These casinos have figured out every angle.”
After a quick lunch Dad and I walk back out onto the casino floor, passing by a poster advertising that the Village People are performing a concert on May 1st. My Dad used to have an eight-track of their music and I can still remember the lyrics from their old hit “Sleazy.”
I’m your every fantasy.
I am what you want to be.
Get down on your knees with me and get sleazy.
Sleaze with me down deep inside,
It brings out feelin’ satisfied.
I’ll take you for a nasty ride,
Yes I’m sleazy.
I laugh inwardly. Back in the Seventies that band would’ve felt right at home in those DNA frothed hot tubs. I wonder how that old cop and Indian look right now.
Dad goes back to his poker machine and I decide to hit up the black jack machine again. As I’m hitting and doubling down I scan the casino floor and indulge in my favorite casino pastime – spot the hooker. When I was in Vegas I sat at bar in New York, New York and watched as the working girls hovered up the horny drunk males at 3:00 AM. As I talked to a few of them (Research only!) I learned many Vegas hookers like getting paid in chips, so if the authorities asked about the money next to the dildos and whips in their purses they could say they won it gambling. Of course the “eye in the sky” could verify that fact but prostitution, while technically illegal in Clark County, is basically ignored with a wink and a nod. Most of the cute miniskirted young women in Vegas carried small party purses that held only essentials. But the sex workers often hefted large purses to haul around their “equipment.” Little tip for ya.
But unless there’s a vending machine dispensing Viagra, something tells me the hookers at Mount Airy will find slim pickings amidst the elderly one-armed bandits on a Monday afternoon. I don’t see a single working girl. Maybe on the weekends.
After a few minutes I make back most of what I’ve lost and decide to bid my virtual dealer adieu. But when I find my Dad he’s up 230 bucks.
“Quit now!” I say, hitting the cash out button.
“Why?” my Dad exclaims. “I’m up.”
“You won’t be up for long. The longer you stay the more you will lose.”
“I guess you’re right.”
“Besides,” I say. “You made 230 off of your initial 40. Show me a mutual fund with a track record like that. Take your winnings and run.”
After a relatively boring two hours my Dad and I walk over to the cashier cage to cash out our tickets. As we wait in line a cute cocktail waitress carrying a tray of coffee sashays past to caffeinate the penny slot chain smokers. Thank God. Someone born after 1930.
“Now Dad,” I say, “You have to tip the cashier at the cage.”
“Huh,” he says. “You have to tip them?”
“You did well. A couple of bucks.”
My Dad is like most people – ignorant about tipping. He’s great with waiters but his knowledge of the gratuical arts leaves a bit to be desired. Hopefully he’ll read my next book.
When it’s my turn at the cage I hand over my $63 ticket. After it’s cashed out I leave the cashier a single. “That’s yours.” I say, being the Diamond Jim Brady that I am.
“Thank you, sir!” the cashier says loudly. “Thank you very much.” My Dad gets the same exact reaction when he tips the guy two bucks. The cashier’s enthusiasm probably has less to do with the chump change he received and more with guilt tripping the other people on line to follow our example.
“Did you see that?” my Dad says as we walk away. “He put that money into a tip jar.”
“Yeah,” I say. “The workers will divvy it up after the shift.”
“But it was empty. We must’ve been the first people to tip them.”
“Probably,” I say, surveying the cashier line. ‘Most people don’t know they have to tip the cage.”
“Is that in your book?”
My Dad and I get into his car and head for home. As we drive out of the lot my father points to the Catholic retreat house lying squat and incongruous next to the temple of jingle and sin.
“I’ll bet a lot of people go in there to pray,” my father says. “Oh God! What am I going to tell the wife?”
“Thank God gambling’s never been a problem in our family,” I say. “We’ve got others, but not that one.” And we’re lucky that way. Booze, drugs and smoking usually take their sweet time killing you – but gambling can destroy you in a single day.
“You gonna tell Mom about the money you won?” I ask as we drive out the front gate.
“Dad,” I sigh. “Don’t be stupid.”