Friday, June 22, 2012

Nurse the Hate: Hate The Gambling Problem

Yesterday I walked past the new Horseshoe Casino here in downtown Cleveland.  Like all casinos here in the United States, a large group of very elderly people were hobbling in to spend their Social Security money chasing dreams on the penny slots.  Other lost souls that had yet to acquire their oxygen tanks smoked in a penned in area outside, ready to return to high stakes nickel video poker.  Within eye sight was a public service sign.  “Gambling Problem?  Call 1-800-bla-blah” 

If you take a big hit on penny slots, what are you down?  Two bucks?  That’s not gambling.  If you lost less money than it would cost to feed yourself at Subway, have you really risked anything?  Let me tell you what gambling is…

We used to play cards in the van, mainly blackjack where I was the dealer.  The scenario was the same every time out.  I would ask Leo if he was interested in winning a prize that was a big score in the Leo Lifestyle (cigarettes and intoxicants mostly).  I would give Leo ten coins from the change drawer in the van, and those would act as his chips.  Let’s say he would have to buy the chips for a buck each, but if he could win ten chips from me, he would win 5 cases of beer or cartons of smokes.  It would always be a big win if he could score the ten chips.  The carrot was dangled o-so-very-close.

Sometimes Leo would win those chips from The House and score his prize.  Usually he didn’t.  This was the real object of the game from the rest of the band’s point of view.  The real game would start when we had Leo in a position where he couldn’t pay off his losses and he would no longer be able to cover it with money.  Leo would find himself hurtling down the highway somewhere in Indiana into the House (the van) for $40 and having an empty wallet in his jeans.  This would lead to negotiation where Leo could then risk “acts of degradation” to clear his slate.  That is real action!

You haven’t played high stakes blackjack until you have risked having to rub your own feces on your face and sing an Al Jolson song at a rest stop.  That truly makes hitting or holding on a soft 17 a real gut check with that dealer showing 8.  Each hand of cards became life and death, with Leo’s losses resulting in further and further degrading acts, usually imagined up by Bobby and myself.  We always gave Leo a chance to win his way out, but sometimes he had sunk to such lows that he just “paid off” to get himself out of the bookie’s grip.  It was during this time period Leo:

  • had “Matt the Wonder Roadie” fart directly in his face one (1) playing card length while he kept his mouth wide open.  This was after Matt had spent the evening drinking Old Style draft and eating Burger King onion rings.
  • walked into a high volume redneck Speedway location in rural Indiana dressed in cowboy boots, bike shorts, a pink wife beater, and a scarf tied around his neck accented by Elvis sunglasses to pay for our gas
  • had to eat any actual food item we purchased for him in an Arkansas gas station, which turned out to be a pickled pig’s foot he gnawed on like a dog
-          Note:  This was later thrown out of the van when Leo said “I can’t bite through this!  I don’t think you can even call this food!”  It is probably still undigested on the Arkansas roadside.

Maybe the worst situation he found himself in was when he lost and had to piss himself in full view of a party that we attended at Champaign IL.  At one point, he considered risking having to walk into Skins N Tins drum shop, drop to the floor and shit himself.  He would then have had to scream out “Baby Leo has dirty diaper!  Baby Leo has dirty diaper!”.  Since he had a long relationship with the shop owner and staff, Leo didn’t want to risk that scarlet letter being attached to his name.  Instead, he opted to pay off his earlier loss, wetting himself in front of strangers. 

Say what you will about Leo, but he does pay off his gambling debts.  However, when you see a grown man look over at you across a living room and say “It’s time…” and then stand in the room with an ever expanding stain growing in his jeans while people roar in laughter, that’s when you say to yourself ‘I don’t know if this is rock bottom, but it is in the same general neighborhood.”  If there had been that gambling problem billboard outside of that house, I think Leo would have made that call in his soggy urine soaked jeans.



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