It’s the sweet smell of sin, which I believe makes my ears ring. It could have been the calling of the slots, the cutting of the cards, or the rolling of the dice, but the sin is what I like the most. It was the Hard Rock Casino playing floor in December of 2002 that an already rather interesting life took a turn for the….more interesting. I can hear all the sounds and smell all the smells. It is that feeling of mischief, but it’s perfectly legal. Just the thought that there is enough liquor to quench an army provides me with comfort and a feeling of power.
My family and I were in Vegas to celebrate. My cousin Bill was capping off a most successful year as a steer wrestler in the rodeo, and had invited us over to watch him perform in the World’s Championships. Of course there will be some gambling, but the main attraction was Bill and the accomplishment he had made. Now, I have never enjoyed the act of gambling as much as I enjoy the obliteration that comes with it. The conviviality and brotherhood that comes with sharing a winning streak, a couple dozen cocktails, and the feeling of being some sort of Hollywood A-lister or old school cowboy is what the casinos allow you to feel. I appreciate the production and the exhibition of “class” that is displayed in the bright, shiny, and oxygen filled rooms of the drunkard’s paradise. I have always loved the sight and feel of clean glass. Bars filled with mirrors, crisp cocktail glasses, tightly formed ice cubes, and bottles of liquor provide me with an indescribable sensation. For a guy who will sleep on a heap of laundry, wear the same jeans for a week, and drink Taaka with grape juice from a styrofoam Sonic cup and no ice, my fascination with clean glass in barrooms might seem a bit strange.
I had returned to the Hard Rock early in the afternoon, while my mom, aunt, and cousin continued shopping at the largest and most expensive cowboy expo that I had ever seen. My temptations were two-fold as I needed a nap, but wanted a drink. I was starting a landscape business in January, so my finances were tight. I debated as to whether I should grab a quick $100 from the machine, or just go lay down and rest up for the rodeo. I dug through my wallet and discovered a $17 voucher that I won earlier that morning, while my mom and I played nickel slots. “Kiss The Frog” was the game and my mom liked the sounds that the game made. She would get so excited when it gave her attention. She is far from a gambler, but enjoys having fun. I can remember the screwdriver that I drank on that morning, and the happiness that I took from watching mom get excited. I had hit a “jackpot” on that nickel machine that morning, so I was seventeen dollars richer, my wallet was fat.
As I began to feed my $17 credit into the Wheel of Fortune machine in the Hard Rock Casino, I can remember doing it in almost slow-motion. I had no expectations of winning anything other than a free cocktail, but I really wanted that 12-ounce prize. I surveyed the landscape to make sure that there was a waitress in sight before I foolishly allowed the machine to eat my voucher in a winning-less game. She was making her rounds and had already made eye contact, I knew she was coming after she made her necessary stops. I pulled on the handles and I mashed on the buttons, changing up my patterns as if I knew some sort of Konami code. I ordered my Bud Light and I sat there and waited, as my credits slowly depleted, but playing the 3 quarter max with each pull. I was just killing time and unaware of the game. What little attention I have was being devoted to the cocktail waitress and where she was with my beer.
As the waitress approached me I hit one more button, we both stopped and stared at the machine that had froze. I grabbed my free beer so my primary concern had been met. There were no bells or whistles, no sirens or confetti. I guess I could have just as easily gotten up and walked away. There where three “Wheel of Fortune’s” all lined up in a row. I wasn’t exactly sure what that meant, but I felt that I was entitled to a free spin or something like that. In the blue neon area which would normally read, “insert coin”, there was a flashing sign which calmly flashed “see attendant”. I asked the waitress what the flashing sign meant, and it was clear that she didn’t know either, but her excitement was palpable. I looked up to the numbers mounted on the top of the slot. It was a progressive machine, so the numbers were constantly rising, or at least they were supposed to be. It seemed as if the machine had frozen as the dollars ceased to increase. I looked around the casino only to find that all of the machines had froze on the same dollar amount. I felt a great deal of excitement, but also a feeling of malaise. The wheels in my head were starting to spin like the slot reels around me. I felt much excitement, but I also felt sick. There was so much confusion, I had no idea what had happened. I felt as if I had won more than a beer, possibly a stuffed animal. It turns out, I had won me an animal… an animal that would bite.
Within seconds of the cocktail waitress going to find help, I was approached by two casino employees dressed in sharp suits and looked every bit the part of Hollywood actors. They introduced themselves and asked me my name. They were excited and friendly, and seemed genuine and real. We had small talk while people gathered, and they roped off the machine. We exchanged some information, but never once talked about money. I was feeling a little strange when someone tapped me on the shoulder. It was a man with a tool belt, a long beard, and a big phone. He was making his way to the machine, so that he could perform some sort of inspection. As he opened the face of the Wheel of Fortune, the two casino employees cautioned me that Hard Rock doesn’t actually own the machines and that a representative from the company had already been paged to verify my winnings. The security films had to be reviewed to make sure that I had not tampered with the equipment. About the time I was beginning to process even some of what was happening, the gentleman with the tool belt casually slapped me on the shoulder and said, “congratulations, hows it feel to be a millionaire?”. My first thought?
“This is gonna hurt.”
$2.3million dollars was heading in my direction and I could see it coming down the pipes. There was an excitement, mixed with darkness, I was carrying quite a load. Would it change me? Did I want this? Could I handle the burden? It had a head like an anvil and was powered by diesel. We were set to collide, if I chose to accept it. I have learned most things the hard way, and this would be no different. I had been given everything I had asked for…and that can’t be a good thing…..
Peace, Love, and all things Beef related,