Children and casinos

two2six-pile-cards

This is an odd title for a blog post, I know. But stick with me for a minute.

Villain, my second nonfiction/memoir/essay collection, will be available for purchase through Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and other locations on May 15. However, there may  be a pre-order opportunity for those who are interested. When and if that happens, and if you pre-order a digital or paperback version of Villain, I will send you some cool, free swag. Want in? Keep checking this blog every Thursday for more details!

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It’s been a while since I’ve posted an excerpt from the collection of essays, and this time, I’m choosing to share one written by Carmen. Carmen is a thirteen-year-old personality who loves children, cats, and… well, casinos. And while she’s faced her fair share of trauma, she has a true love for life. She’s honest, funny, and engaging.

That love of life particularly comes alive when she’s in her element – gambling. While I try to make sure she never comes around to do so, sometimes, she slips out. And that is what happened in 2004, when I took a trip to Atlantic City. Below is an excerpt containing some of her actions.

The question is, as always, is this right or wrong? Am I wrong for allowing this to happen? Is she bad for coming out to do what she loves? Or is it not that simple? Nothing about DID ever is, but where is the line?

That is what I want you, as the reader, to decide.

*

Before I asked if we could go to the casinos, I changed. I didn’t like what the host was wearing – it was too fancy, kind of – and the day before, I’d had a lot of success with that “badass” look. I found a black halter top and a black and green checkered skirt in her bag of clothes and got changed really quickly. And I pulled on the boots. When I stood up to look at myself in the mirror, I did look like a badass. The woman I’d met was right. And that was good, because if I was going to beat all of those adults, I had to be taken seriously.

“Why did you change?” the host’s mom asked. “You looked pretty in your dress.”

“That was for dinner,” I said, hoping my lie was close enough to the truth. “I wanted to wear this to the casino. For – something different.”

“OK. Let’s go.” She didn’t seem happy with me, but she wasn’t upset, either. I had a really hard time reading the host’s mom, and I knew it was because their relationship was rocky at the time. I tried to stay out of that. Ruby could handle it, Madeleine could handle it, and even Lucy could handle it, but I couldn’t. I didn’t know how.

We walked down to the hotel casino, and once again, I was amazed at all the lights. But it was later now, and there was a different feeling in the casino. Something was – not bad, but just off.

It took me a minute to figure it out, but as I started to wander around, I realized that the day before – that afternoon before – there weren’t as many people, and it had only been three p.m. Now, it was nighttime, and people were drunk. And not just like, funny and tipsy. I mean stupid drunk. I could feel it.

My nerves weren’t going to get to me, though. I told the host’s mom that we were going to play blackjack tonight, and she agreed. I found a table with three other players – all males, because on this night, there were a lot of guys and not a lot of girls – and the host’s mom and I sat down next to each other.

“Ladies, welcome,” an older guy said. He was sitting next to me. “I think you’ll enjoy our little game here.”

“I know I will,” I said. He just stared at me for a moment and looked at my outfit. Then he winked.

“Aren’t you sexy tonight?” he said.

“Eww.”

I heard the host’s mom laugh after I said that. It didn’t deter the guy, but it was really nice to hear her laugh.

“OK, let’s get going again with our new players,” the dealer said. “You all know the rules. But just in case, the game is twenty-one. I’ll shuffle ‘em out and deal, and you gotta get twenty-one on your first two cards or ask to be hit. If I deal and you go over twenty-one, game over. If you want another card, say ‘hit me’ again, and we’ll keep going until all bets are final and we reveal. We good here?”

He was looking right at me, the youngest player at the table.

“I know how to play blackjack,” I said in my meanest voice possible. “Watch me.”

The man next to me snickered and I saw him shake his head. I was going to eviscerate him and he had no idea. And that kind of made it more fun because he was such a jerk.

The dealer let the cards shuffle through the machine and he dealt them to each of us, including himself.

“Dammit,” I could hear the host’s mom say quietly. She wasn’t a good liar, at least not to me, so I knew what “dammit” meant. She had low cards. If she’d had two aces, she would have been fine, and a king or queen with an ace would have won her the whole thing. She had nothing – maybe a nine and an eight at the best-case scenario. That gave her seventeen, and most people hold at that point, but it’s a tough call to make.

People are terrible liars when they play cards, especially blackjack, which is why I don’t lie. I can tell when someone has a bad hand or a good hand. People who have bad hands either rub their foreheads, wipe their noses, or act as though they have a great hand and sit up straighter with a smile. People who have good hands pretend they have bad hands but then don’t do much about it. They may look like they are forcing more chips into the pot after the initial ante, but they feel pretty secure about what they have.

I looked at my cards and my face stayed exactly the same, because that’s what good card players do. They don’t show anything.

I had an ace and an eight. Therefore, I had nine, or I had nineteen, and I definitely was going to take a hit if I wanted to play soft (use the card as a one and not as an eleven). But first, I wanted to figure out what everyone else had even though, at that moment, I had a great advantage either way.

There’s a system that people who count cards use, and I don’t know if I used their system or something I worked out on my own, but I assigned point values to the known and unknown cards. But it was still early, and I only had about twelve cards to figure out at that moment. Everything basically had a point value of zero with the exception of a few cards. It wasn’t enough to break into the heavy calculations.

The guy beside me placed a bet and took a dealt card – a seven. He quickly cursed, and he was out. But he stared at me as I tried to ignore him, and I looked at the dealer while placing a moderately high bet.

“Hit me,” I said, and tapped my cards.

“Do you know what you’re doing?” the host’s mom asked me.

But I shut her out with a nod. I was working. I couldn’t be a kid then. I couldn’t be a daughter. I couldn’t even be a protector. I was there to win money and I needed to think.

The dealer placed a card in front of me. It was a two.

The ace could therefore act as an eleven, and I had an eight and a two.

And I hadn’t had to do a thing. Sure, I was judging what other people had and trying to count what the known quantities were, but in that hand? It didn’t take much.

The host’s mom and the guy beside her held, and the other guy took the hit. He held onto his cards and stared at me.

“Final bets?” the dealer asked. I shook my head. I was in for more than one hundred dollars for this first game. I had twenty-one. The game was mine.

We all exposed our cards with the dealer, as always, going last.

“Blackjack!” I said, uttering the words before anyone else could say anything.

Everyone else had seventeen to twenty, including the dealer, who had exactly twenty. He smiled with his lips closed, nodded toward the chips, and pushed them my way.

“Well done,” the host’s mom said. I smiled and thanked her, and then anted up again.

These people didn’t know it, but they were in for a long game.

*

–For more excerpts from Villain, as well as other information, please visit this blog every Thursday at 10 a.m.

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