Until someone actually hands you $602,400 in cash, you can’t quite understand how special you feel. Let me tell you: Pretty special.
The money doesn’t weigh much. Ten bricks of $10,000 in $100 bills for each 100K. And then 24 hundreds in a paper clip. You keep feeling like there should be more, like perhaps they forgot the rest. But after you count it five or six times, it finally hits you: $602,400. In cash.
Well, actually, $602,300, since, as anyone who has ever gone to the desert knows, you’ve got to tip people—even the smiling casino employee who rushes to your slot machine when the buzzers and lights start to go off. Of course, these people haven’t really done anything to deserve the gratuity. It’s not like they had the wisdom and vision and perspective to select the absolutely right machine at the absolutely right time and pull the handle at the absolutely right moment.
No, that was me.
Me. Mr. Platinum-level VIP guest.
Everyone has their crazy theories about the best way to pick a slot machine. The strange and moderately scary thing is if I would have subscribed to any of these dumb-ass ideas instead of relying on my own fabulousness, I might still only be a Bronze.
Take, for example, my former secretary Carol, who in addition to knowing every extra-marital affair and drunken spat ever conducted by a Major Star, is a big gambler and a big fan of the desert. She takes most of her vacations, her furloughs, out here. (But not at the Nirvana Hotel and Casino, not in a million years. I think she stays at the Zoo World Resort, the one that’s supposed to look like Africa.) Carol swears that the only machines to play are the giant ones with pull handles the size of a baseball bat. She says because they’re so big, they pay “big money.”
Jerry, another decent but unremarkable guy from the office, used to regale me with tales of slot-machine triumphs. These far-fetched fables generally involved smooth Jerry sweet-talking some homely change girl, one of those ladies forced to wear a horrendous uniform and push around a cart filled with rolls of coins, which they then dispense to angry gamblers. According to Jerry, with the proper kind of flirtation these change girls would then reliably lead him to the “hot” machines. “They know which ones are set to pay out, which ones are ready to be plundered,” he told me with great certainty. (He didn’t tell me this once, either. I heard this story at least four times. Jerry didn’t remember telling me previously, I guess. Or maybe he was just very excited by slot machines.) He was quite convinced this was how the average guy, a man with no expertise in odds or anything like that, could arrive in the desert with his hoarded spare change and depart a few days later with serious dough. Which he intended to spend on “really sharp” gold jewelry. And which I swear he never purchased, thanks to inexplicable runs of bad luck that had absolutely nothing to do with prescient change girls.
Whenever I pointed out to Jerry the strangeness, the incredibleness actually, of an $8-an-hour employee possessing the keys to the kingdom, he just waved his hand impatiently and told me I didn’t know what I was talking about. “Insiders know this,” Jerry insisted, and since I wasn’t one of those elite gamblers with the secret change girl information—well then naturally I would think it was all horseshit.
A girl I dated once a long time ago, shortly before I met my wife as a matter of fact, pulled this kind of thing on me. Her name was Janey; Jane, actually, but she thought Janey was cuter. Janey’s special knowledge wasn’t slot machines. It was saints—or angels, or some such crap. Things normal people can’t see but anointed ones—elite insiders—could detect. When I told her I thought maybe she was smoking too much dope, and that I definitely didn’t see these saintly angels perched on the hood of my car or hanging from the ceiling, or wherever she claimed they “manifested” themselves, she got really angry and refused to sleep with me for a week. We broke up shortly thereafter, and then I met my wife. I don’t know what happened to her—Janey, I mean. Actually, I don’t exactly know what happened to my wife, either. But that’s another story—and an old boring one at that. But no matter what happened to Janey, I’m sure she would have liked Jerry. His outlook. Hell, maybe they’re married now, playing slots together and spotting angels on top of change carts.
My wife. The Nirvana Hotel and Casino is the kind of place where it’s very easy to forget your wife, even if you’ve been married to her for three decades. There are so many magnificently wonderful things to look at here—exclusive sculptures, famous paintings, girls with firm breasts and long legs—that I don’t want to dwell on cellulite and dirty looks. But, I’ve got to give her credit: my wife had her slot machine theory, too. And it worked—well, at least once it did.
A long time ago, when we were younger and still thought we might turn into a glamorous Matt and Mindy Roberts type of couple, we took a vacation out here to the desert. This was back in the days when the desert was primarily a place to gamble and see a few washed-up stars enjoying their last moments in the public eye. (We saw Gino Genutti here, drunk out his mind, unable to remember the lyrics to songs he had probably sung a thousand times. Very entertaining in a macabre way.) Back in those days, there weren’t any Zoo Worlds or roller coasters or, for that matter, Nirvana Hotels and Casinos. There were just gambling joints: cheap rooms, cheap food, cheap whores (I’m told). The fabulousness quotient was much lower, sure. But a guy didn’t need to take out a second mortgage to afford a holiday here. We’d go maybe once every other year—this was back when the wife and I genuinely looked forward to vacations together, when the thrill of a strange bed in a strange room was something of an aphrodisiac. And all the way there—we drove sometimes, 14 hours through the Plains, eating at truck stops, loving the freedom—my wife would talk about her crazy theories.
The primary one, the one that I recall producing the largest cascade of nickels, involved machine placement. The only thing that really mattered was where a machine sat in relation to high traffic areas. Near was good. Far was bad. According to my wife, machines on the ends of rows—particularly rows that abutted a major walkway through the casino—were set to pay out more than ones squashed into the interior. “The outside machines attract attention,” my wife theorized. “They’re like advertisements for the other machines. People see and hear these machines paying off like gangbusters, so they sit right down, except all the other machines. . .” she would always pause dramatically at this point in her tutorial “. . .are set to pay out less.”
“Loss leaders,” I would say, blithely tossing off salesman lingo.
“So if you only play the outside machines, the ones near entrances and where people pay attention,” my wife would continue, ignoring me, “well, then you’re going to win more!” Then she would shrug emphatically, as if to say, “Simple, see?” and encourage me to drive a little faster.
We never broke the bank or anything using my wife’s Outside Rows technique. But I do recall winning enough nickels once to buy a pretty snazzy pair of sunglasses in the casino gift shop—identical in style to the ones Gino Genutti wore in all his Steve Parker spy pictures, before the booze wore him down.
Anyway, she’s not here.
Once I tried a method I read somewhere—it might have even been in Rear View, in one of those articles everyone supposedly looks at after perusing the pictorials and wiping off his fingers. I think I actually did read this particular story. It was, I don’t remember exactly, “Ten Top Tips for Winning Big,” or something of that nature. At the time money was a little tight—this was before I got my promotion and settled into a nice 20-year stretch of writing the same orders every year and getting fat. So I was always on the look-out for sure-fire ways to boost my discretionary income, most of which, even then, went toward dirty magazines and once-a-month (and later once-a-week) visits to Asian massage brothels.
One of the Top Tips that caught my eye involved finding “hot” slot machines, ones that were literally warmer than all the other machines surrounding them. The way the author explained it, if a machine was noticeably hot, that meant someone had been playing it a lot and it was pregnant with coins just waiting to burst forth. It was ready. For the briefest moment of doubt, I wondered why whomever wrote this article for Rear View was wasting his time tossing away valuable inside information like this to millions of masturbating readers when he could easily be employing these secrets himself, ensconced in a penthouse suite in the desert, getting filthy rich. But the skepticism quickly passed, because, frankly, I wanted it to. The Top Tip made sense, sure. But even better, I found the laying of hands upon hot machines to be vaguely comforting and, I don’t know, weirdly life-affirming. They were no longer inanimate coin-suckers hell-bent on extracting all the spare change I had hoarded for a year; now they were breathing organisms with a heart, a very warm center, who would gladly give up their fruits to those compassionate enough to merely lay a knowing hand upon their belly and feel the fire that burned there.
Sometimes that’s the way I myself felt. If someone would just lay a kind hand upon me, they would understand things about me that the rest of the world constantly ignored. And my rewards would burst forth, like a jackpot.
But, anyway, it all turned out to be a big lie, like many other things I’ve known. The hot machine tip never worked—not for me at least—and I ended up donating most of my money to machines that had previously gorged themselves on other unwitting fools. All I did was make those slot machines hotter for the next guy.
The parallels I recognized between greedy slot machines and certain ex-girlfriends I once dated made me angry at the slot machines and the ex-girlfriends. I gave so much to both of them; they spurned my gifts and allowed some other man luckier than I to enjoy all the fun.
But later I’d realize it was all just dumb luck. Like so many things are. When you get older this becomes clear to you.
Luck is funny—and, believe me, if you hang around in the desert for any length of time, you tend to have deep brooding meditations on the subject, whether you want to or not. Me for instance: on past visits I would usually start my annual week in the desert believing luck was doled out equally to every one with a big enough heart to have it. But after three or four days of losing, no matter how many warm slots I touched, I’d catch myself wondering if it was just “luck” that prevented me from winning monster jackpots or if maybe—and this was something I didn’t want to acknowledge; nobody does—I was somehow cursed.
This would in turn lead me to wonder if it was just “luck” that caused Elaine Podney to be a supermodel and Dirk Fredericks a cross-over superstar, or was it because they had somehow been blessed. Furthermore, was I just damn unlucky to have been born not particularly beautiful (or gorgeous, or attractive, or “hot,” like a frequently visited slot machine)? Or was my luck just stored in a different place, waiting for me to discover it?
These things cross your mind when you’re feeding a steady diet of coins into the rapacious gullet of a never-quite-sated slot machine. You start wondering why you’re you and not, for instance, a fabulous person. Like my man Bobby.
I’m frequently wondering this, of course. Yet, since I floated out of the Office Prison, when I walked away from my other life, the bad one, I haven’t wondered this at all, hardly. I’ve made peace with myself, and, to some extent, those who have done me wrong. (They just didn’t know any better. Let’s leave it at that.) I’m different now. Better.
But, yes, I admit it. When I first depart the Nirvana Hotel and Casino VIP Guest Services Lounge, I’m pissed at my VIP host Johnny Kim in particular and the Nirvana Hotel and Casino in general. Not because they’ve done anything wrong, but because they’ve inadvertently reminded me of things I don’t want to be reminded about. Like, for instance, that I’m a Bronze-level VIP (with a mercy upgrading to Silver) and not a Diamond.
So as I traverse the Nirvana Hotel and Casino lobby, ignoring the Street of Dreams shopping arcade and all the must-have items beckoning from behind glittering glass, I’m a little cranky. I jingle my new Nirvana Silver card in my pocket, feeling the edge of the cold plastic colliding with two warm quarters in the depths of my pants.
Two warm quarters. I don’t know how they got there, or why some force greater than any of us decided that I should have them there, at hand, beside my Nirvana Silver card, at the precise moment in the history of the universe when I’m walking—admittedly a smidgen ticked off—across the immaculately polished floor of the Nirvana Hotel and Casino lobby, heading toward the elevators, with a million unlucky thoughts racing through my mind.
But there they are. Some things can’t be explained.
Get on one plane, you arrive home safely; take another one and it crashes into the sea. Stand under an oak tree and watch the thundershowers pelt your lawn; stand beneath another one and get electrocuted by lightning. Buy one lottery ticket (or a hundred of them), nothing happens; buy a different one, you’re rich.
How these things work I don’t know. You could call it luck, I suppose. But I’ve got to believe there’s a higher power at work, an omnipotent force—God, a Minister of Karmic Justice, whatever—that makes sure fortune is doled out properly, to those who deserve it. For instance, hard-working and honest people who never hurt anyone.
Or, for example, the patient ones like me who couldn’t blend—refused to blend!—but never killed anyone in the meantime. Sure, I could have taken out a President or bombed a televised Dirk Fredericks concert, or done any number of attention-grabbing exploits that, you could argue, would have been justified to some extent. But, no, I didn’t. I was good. Nobody knew my name. I wasn’t famous. But I was good.
And good things happen to good people, supposedly.
Or maybe it’s just luck. I don’t know.
Two warm quarters. Funny how these things work sometimes.
When you’re facing the gold-trimmed elevator banks at the Nirvana Hotel and Casino, on the left there’s a rare statue—an abstract seashell with legs? a minor celestial comet?—done by some old master, procured for many millions from some bankrupt European museum desperate to liquidate. (I wouldn’t have paid two cents for the thing; it’s not even made of precious metals, and you can’t really tell what it’s supposed to represent.) People sometimes take funny snapshots with the statue—pretending to kiss it, etc.—and there’s usually a guard nearby, with a radio tucked into the waistband of his nightgown thing, and he discourages unwashed hands from defiling this great masterpiece. (Art. What do I know?) Anyway, on the opposite side, the right side, standing directly across from this priceless blob of enamel, is another art form dear to the desert: a bank of progressive jackpot slot machines.
For some reason, while I’m waiting for one of the Nirvana Hotel and Casino’s ultra-exclusive elevators to take me back to my room, where I figure I’ll order a pizza at full retail and watch a jerk-off movie on the pay-per-view, I can’t stop turning to my right. The famous statue on my left may as well be an ashtray. I don’t even know it’s there. Because to the right, to the right—my body starts turning involuntarily. I can’t stop it: My shoulders and then my hips and then my feet do a slow swivel. And now I’m looking right at them.
Down at the end of the hallway, right where the carpeting (hand-stitched in Bangladesh) changes colors, from royal gold to royal purple, you can clearly make out the outside edge of the Nirvana Hotel and Casino’s world famous, Top-Rated casino. And sitting there, on the fringe, a little lonely you might say, are a bank of beautifully lurid slot machines, red and white and yellow lights, with a big digital display sign flickering red and black above them.
I’m not insane. I know this doesn’t happen. But I swear – and I’ve got $602,300 in cash to back me up on this—those machines start calling to me.
Oh, BAH-be! Hello? Baaaah-bee.
Ba-Be! Ba-Be! Ba-Be!
Bobby, Bobby, Bobby, Bobby, Bobby.
When I try to turn back toward the elevator, they call louder.
What am I going to do? Run away from a slot machine? No, this is silly, I tell myself. Stupid.
But, no kidding, I can’t, I cannot turn away.
I look around. The guard is giving a young woman wearing a sequined dress that hugs her ass like a girdle directions to Salt, the Nirvana Hotel and Casino’s Top-Rated seafood restaurant. Another guy in a sport jacket—copper skin, Middle Eastern maybe—waits for the elevator, nervously kneading a few gambling chips in his palm. People come and go, chattering about a million things. Not listening.
But I am. And that quite possibly is the big difference. The $602,300 difference. The Nirvana Platinum difference.
Bobby. They won’t stop, these machines. They insist.
I take a step toward them, and then another. And then they quit calling for a second. So I stop, feeling like maybe I’m the target of an elaborate trick, the sucker at the center of one of those hidden camera television shows. But when I try to turn back toward the elevators, they start again, louder and maybe a little aggravated. Bobby!
I look at my watch, the same watch that used to tell me how many more hours of drudgery I had to endure before I could depart the Prison. The same watch that told me another day had passed without me doing something important and memorable, something worthy of coverage on Gossip Tonight! or, forget the lofty ambitions, even the local newspaper. The same watch that told me every day I was getting older and fatter and running out of time to make my mark. Now my watch—an unspectacular silver thing, not the kind of item you would ever find in the Street of Dreams—is telling me it’s nearly Midnight desert time. The day, a most memorable and important and you might even say historical day, is nearly done. In a few minutes the cycle will start over, and I’ll still be an upgraded Bronze with a free buffet ticket.
I ask myself, Is this why you walked away from your job? To sit in an (elegantly appointed, ultra Top-Rated) hotel room, with a half-eaten pizza and a glowing video screen to keep you company?
No, I did it to take a chance.
To fix everything that was broken and wrong.
Why not? So people will call me a fool. They’ll laugh. So what? In my darker moments, when I stare at the bedroom ceiling, waiting and wondering, I do it myself. I laugh—not out loud, but inside my head, where it’s even louder. I laugh at what a hash I’ve made of my prospects, dim as they might be without the helpful head-start of good looks or a family fortune.
I can take whatever scorn a national TV audience will heap upon stupid me, the high-roller big shot who actually believed slot machines could summon him to collect his just reward. Of course I can. If I could bear 30 years of slow torture, watching my best years evaporate like dew on a morning rose, I can surely bear whatever indignities America’s entertainment directors have in store for stupid, foolish, unbelievably gullible me.
I turn my back on the famous and expensive statue and march right down that exquisitely carpeted hallway, directly to the sirens calling my name.
When I step over the seam where the carpet changes color, officially out of the Nirvana Hotel lobby area and into the Nirvana Casino area, the slot machines stop talking. I chuckle. Very clever.
I stand before them, alone. It’s a Tuesday night, and the Nirvana Hotel and Casino, despite being the most magnificent and highly lauded resort on Earth and possibly one of the two or three greatest construction accomplishments in the history of western civilization, seems quiet to me, as though the majority of VIP guests were already tucked into their astronomically high-thread-count sheets, or strolling lazily down the Street of Dreams, trying to find that special something to buy, that ineffable hand-made, one-of-a-kind item that will give the immediate pleasure of being beautiful and the everlasting pleasure of announcing to everyone who sees the bauble that its owner has the means to procure such a singularly wonderful example of good taste.
I see a few other gamblers scattered around the casino—which, as everyone knows, is universally regarded as the loveliest gambling pavilion ever built. Lots of silk imported from Thailand and leather from New Zealand and wood from Scandinavia, all sorts of interior design details that I’m probably too vulgar to fully appreciate but which aficionados of such things instantly recognize as the best money can buy. Very impressive. Feels like a museum, only louder.
Hardly anyone plays in this distant corner of the Nirvana Casino. They’re all clustered at tables and machines close to the bar, which serves as the epicenter of the Nirvana Casino gambling experience—and where it’s widely known but never officially acknowledged, some of the desert’s most beautiful and talented professional companions come to meet the men who will pay their hourly fee. Back in the corner, near the elevators, it feels like only me and the machines, regarding each other. They blink and wink at me. So I do, too.
I count eight of them, a solid rectangle of lights and buttons and signs and silver trays, arranged four by four, two staunch quartets with their backs pressed against each other, facing outward in opposite directions. Splashed across their bellies, where I assume the treasure chest of coins is kept, is the inscription COUGH IT UP! and a cartoon illustration of a humanoid slot machine. It’s got legs and arms and eyeballs where the numbers and fruit would usually be, happily vomiting forth a stream of money.
The same logo appears on the digital sign perched above the four machines facing me. Across the top it screams COUGH IT UP! Progressive Jackpot!!! This sign is like an odometer. It shows a monetary figure—$602,396.80—with the last two digits spinning upward every few seconds, like one of those anxiety producing meters they’ve got downtown showing how many acres of rain forest are being destroyed every minute. Spinning, spinning, spinning—and now there’s more than $602,397 in the jackpot.
I lean in to see how one might avail himself of this loot. Seems you’ve got to line up certain symbols to get paid. Three COUGH IT UP! logos in a row, played with “maximum coins in” wins the dough.
I’ve heard of this concept, and, in fact, have discussed the finer points of it with several gambling experts, meaning people who play slot machines a lot more than I do. The casino – all casinos, not just the Nirvana Casino, which is famous for taking extremely good care of its guests, better care than any casino has previously imagined—the casino wants people to put as many coins as possible into their slot machines. So they make it a requirement that you’ve got to play more than a single coin to win the big jackpot. If you put in one quarter and get three COUGH IT UP! symbols in a row, you win $14,000. But if you put in two quarters—the maximum—you’re now eligible to get the top prize. Clever! Now people put in double the money, because they don’t want to take a chance of hitting three COUGH IT UP!s in a row and not collecting the monster COUGH IT UP! progressive jackpot.
My wife once explained to me that this was all a big con job. She said that the only time three COUGH IT UP!s would appear was when you put in one coin. “If you play two coins,” she expounded, “the machine knows it, and it won’t give you the jackpot.”
I remember thinking about this for a second. We were driving through corn fields at the time, big oceans of corn, trying to find a radio station that featured something other than stern warnings from God delivered through his desperately-in-need-of-money broadcasting partner. My wife’s theory seemed reasonable at the time, except for one thing: If the machine always knew when someone put in two coins, how come the progressive jackpots on these things wasn’t, like, $214 million? Someone had to be able to fool the machine into thinking there was only one coin in, or else no one would ever hit a jackpot, right?
My wife shot me a dirty look and sighed with contempt. She said, “Well, the people who win aren’t you.”
I’m thinking this—the people who win aren’t me—as I stand before the Nirvana Hotel and Casino’s COUGH IT UP! machines, fingering one coin and then two, one coin and then two.
The people who win aren’t me. Arguable, but possibly true.
One or two.
One or two.
Tumbling around in my pocket, the coins make a perfect sandwich, and I clack them together, like clam shells. Then I inadvertently pinch the top of my thigh with the coins, catching a bit of hair through the lining of my pockets, so I stop.
A perfect sandwich. Two coins, rough-edged circles with a face and a bird and some Latin. They seem so insignificant, so unremarkable, so unworthy of attention or adulation. Which, for a long unhappy time, you might have said about the man who possessed them.
And the reason why is because I didn’t listen to everyone else. I listened to myself, to “my heart,” like merchants in the self-improvement racket say.
I stand on the exclusive carpet of the Nirvana Hotel and Casino and I listen to myself. And I’m rewarded. There’s a lesson there.
Two coins, not one. Fuck the wife and her theories.
An inside machine, not an outside. Stupid woman.
Hot machines, my ass.
And just to prove it, I place my palm on the fiberglass belly of all four machines facing me, and then the four on the other side. They’re all more or less room temperature, though a couple of them seem a mite warmer than the others, as though someone has been blowing cigarette smoke on them for the past hour. But on my second circuit, employing the tactile sensitivity of a healer, or at least one pretending to be, I find the coldest machine, the one who has been neglected and misunderstood and unfairly ignored. And I silently tell it that I understand.
No, I mean I really do. I understand. Truly. And I extract two coins from my pocket, two warm quarters, to make my point.
The machines have long since stopped calling to me, so I’m startled to hear a voice. “Don’t waste your money.”
Turning, I see a brassy old woman, probably about my age, wearing one of those tent-like tunics fat women prefer. It billows down to her knobby knees, two cantaloupes encased in stretchy black tights. “They’re no good,” she says assuredly. Her voice is husky and dark, like an old jazz singer, a two-pack-a-day carouser. Her hair is colored blondish; her fingers are adorned with sparkling rocks of myriad colors; her face has been surgically lifted and stretched. Her lips, though, are what I can’t stop seeing: big and flappy, like vulva. They’ve probably been injected with something, I surmise, to get the desired resemblance to exposed genitalia.
“You think?” I say flatly.
“Hah!” she says, not laughing at all. “I know. I was working that one machine, that one right next to you, for an hour. Nothing.”
“Working it,” I say, both repulsed and attracted to her mouth.
“Hard. Boom. Boom. Boom.” She pulls an imaginary handle in the air. “Nothing.”
“Well,” I say, thinking of the appropriate platitude, “they say these things go in streaks.”
“Honey,” she says, with far more familiarity than the situation warrants, “my streak’s been going on thirty years now.” She laughs heartily at herself, crinkling her nose. Her forehead doesn’t wrinkle. “Thirty years,” she repeats. I can hear the smoker’s phlegm welling up in her larynx. “Anyway.” She makes a demure wave at me, with just her three last fingers, the ones heaviest with jewels. “A word to the wise.”
I nod my thanks and watch her waddle away, digging in her white leather purse for a lighter. Her voice lingers in my ears, and all I can think is, “cough it up.”
The jackpot meter spins. The machines blink—or wink, perhaps. I don’t know anymore. I don’t know anything. Yet—and here’s the lesson—I don’t give up. If I were the special guest on Bertha, and she asked me to say something inspirational to her audience of bored housewives, I would smile confidently, look her in those famously dark eyes, and say, “Bertha, I urge your viewers to never give up.”
“Never give up,” she would repeat, maybe starting to cry.
“That’s right,” I would say. And then maybe we would hug, and the studio audience would applaud and she would turn to the camera and say, “We need to take a break. Stay with us while we explore ten ways to spice up your dinner table and still keep the weight off.”
I wonder what my wife would think if she saw me on Bertha. Surprised, I imagine. And probably very sad that she wasn’t able to keep me.
Especially now that I’m rich. Yes, rich. The $602,400 COUGH IT UP! jackpot seems like a lot of money, particularly since all it cost me was 50-cents and a hell of a lot of courage and determination and character. But that’s just the start. Walking around money.
Everything is relative, I guess.
One day you’re a bitter wage slave. The next day you’re in the same league with Matt and Mindy Roberts. Nothing versus Special. Which would you rather be?
Special. A VIP. A Nirvana Hotel and Casino VIP. Specialness taken to another level.
And why? Because I got lucky? No.
Because I followed some stupid slot machine selection system? No.
Because I never gave up and I listened to myself. I had a plan and I believed.
End of sermon, Bertha.
And the truth is, funny as it sounds, as though I’m making it up—the truth is that I knew what was going to happen when I put my two quarters into that lonely, cold slot machine. Oh, yes. I knew.
Well, I didn’t know 100% for sure. But I had a pretty good idea. I mean, after a certain amount of time—and it’s not a fixed period or anything, like a jail term—you know that you’re finally going to get what you’re entitled to, what you deserve. Which is what I think people mean by God.
I don’t know what I’m saying. When I’m happy silly things come out. Perfect example: As I dropped one warm quarter, and then the other, into the eager orifice of my chosen COUGH IT UP! machine, I actually said—and it’s a little embarrassing to admit it, but what the hell—I actually said, “Thank you, God. Thank you, God. Thank you, God.” I wasn’t talking to a deity with a white beard, or some emaciated hippie nailed to a stick. More like the power, the force, that makes sure justice is sometimes doled out fairly, whoever He or It may be. The custodian of righteousness.
“Thank you, God. Thank you, God,” I said, and I pulled the handle of the machine—my machine, the one that had called to me, the one I had heard with compassionate ears.
And just like that, the way I planned it: COUGH IT UP!, COUGH IT UP!, COUGH IT UP!, in a neat row.
A buzzer went off, like an alarm. And then everything froze. The meter stopped spinning, stuck on $602,400.00. A light on top of the machine started flashing. And not a single coin came spewing out. For a second I thought maybe I hadn’t won a thing.
But then people started racing over to me and my machine from all directions. People in official Nirvana Hotel and Casino uniforms, clutching walkie-talkies to their mouth. Smartly dressed VIP patrons (who, I can only assume, did not believe or listen as well as I). A security guard.
And everyone was looking at me like I’ve never been looked at in my life. Awestruck. Friendly. Admiring. Almost like they were about to break into a cheer celebrating my greatness.
They were all looking at me and my machine.
I said nothing. No whooping or shouting, or jumping or dancing. Just an assured smile. Specialness incarnate.
They were all looking at me and my machine. And I liked it very much.
* * *
This is Konik’s first novel, the mordantly funny story of an American Humbert Humbert whose motto is “Don’t Blend,” and who becomes one of the highest of casino high rollers in this satire on living the American dream.
Becoming Bobby explores the powerful secret fantasies of those not blessed with riches, fame or fabulousness. It simultaneously celebrates and eviscerates the Vegas high roller within us all. The cover art is by Joseph Watson.]