I feel like part of my Jewish birthright is to be wealthy. And somehow I’m letting everyone down. Or they’re all letting me down. I can’t tell which. Being rich was really important to my dad. He worked hard at it. First he married rich. Not my mother, the woman before my mother was super rich. Her dad had a yacht. But my dad said it didn’t work out because he didn’t love her. Like that matters. After that he decided to try to become rich by playing blackjack. Growing up we used to joke that when we couldn’t locate my dad at his job during the week that he must be at his “aquatic office” which was our codename for the riverboat casino in Hammond, Indiana. I’ve since learned that if you’re not sure if your dad is at work or a casino, that’s called a gambling addiction. But somehow he played if off like he was fucking James Bond on some secret mission to secure us a better life. It was probably the suits. My dad knows how to kill a suit. I never went to the riverboat casino. It wasn’t my aesthetic. But I did join the family for pilgrimages to Vegas. 11 times before I was 25. Until recently, I had never crossed the Atlantic but I’d seen the fake pyramids at The Luxor. The fake Roman ruins at Caesar’s Palace. The fake Eiffel Tower at the Paris Hotel. And I had a 100% real authentic black suede bag from GUCCI (until I gave it to a #psychic as a sacrifice...) See that was the thing. When he lost, we all suffered. But when he won, we got to buy some cool shit. Which when worn the right way, made us all seem rich. But feeling it… that was another story
Let's talk about #comps. Comps, as they function in Vegas, are awarded according to the amount of time spent on the casino floor. Meaning you could lose $50,000 on one spin of the roulette wheel and not receive so much as a free keychain from the hotel gift shop. But if you did your time and wagered enough to make it worthwhile, you were looking at free dinners, show tickets, tables at the club, cabanas by the pool, a penthouse suite. Hell, one time they even reimbursed our airfare. But nothing was guaranteed ahead of time. You had to shell it out first then the bill was settled at the end. And the tone was set when we arrived and saw the condition of our room. Depending on my dad’s play during the previous trip, we would either be in this massive suite with two-story ceilings, four bedrooms, limestone floors and a butler. OR… adjoining regular rooms with a sectional couch and a berber carpet. When we showed up and got the regular rooms with the carpet, I could feel my dad’s chest tightening. He’d get on the phone with his host, Elmo, to complain. "My hands are tied," Elmo would say. "You gotta give me more time." And so it would begin; in almost always the same sequence. On the first night, he’d spend a few hours before dinner playing blackjack and be up a few thousand. He’d bring his chips with him to the restaurant for dinner and play with them in his hands at the table. He’d be happy and we’d all say, “Let’s go home!” He’d laugh and say, "No, no. It’s fine. I won a little. I don’t need to play anymore. Fuck Elmo and fuck that berber carpet."
The next day, my mom, brother and I would head for the pool. My dad wouldn’t even be in the room because he’d still be playing from the night before. He’d come join us outside around 3pm to smoke cigarettes. He’d say he was thinking abut booking a massage to relax. He can’t stand the casino, he’d say. He can never sleep here, he’d say. Stop ordering so much calamari, he’d say. Don't we know how expensive the calamari is? Can’t we see how much pressure he’s under? These were signs that my dad was now losing. He’d leave after about 45 minutes. I’d look to my mother who’d glance up from the pages of her romance novel and say half-reassuringly, "He’ll win it back. He just needs some time. This is how it goes."
We don’t see my dad again until dinner. He’s got a sunburn and he’s sweating through his white collared shirt. He put on his gold Rolex. That’s his nighttime watch. His don’t fuck with me watch. His give me your best table watch. We’re seated next to a group of rowdy men, five bottles of Chianti deep. They’re laughing. How dare they. Don’t they know we’re in a tragedy? Every time they make a sound, my father’s hands grip the table. He complains to the waitress, the hostess, the maitre’d. Don’t they know who he is? They don’t. They all apologize and offer him another table but he won’t take it. This is his table now, he says. I order dinner but I can’t eat because I’m too stressed. The other men are winding down. It seems like they might even leave. Thank god, I think.
But then a dropped wine glass shatters on the floor and the men burst into guttural laughs. No: guffaws. That’s what they’re doing. They’re GUFFAWING and it’s like all of their joy is magnifying all of my dad’s pain until he leaps out his chair, to do what I don't know, but I turn just in time to grab his shoulders and say, “This is just like the Apple store. This is just like the Apple store.”
One time my dad threw a huge fit in the Apple store and made me return the computer he had just bought for me and then right after we left, he gave me his credit card and told me I could go back the next day and buy it again.
His eyes are glazed over but somehow he hears me and the story registers and he sits back down and we finish our meal. After, my brother and dad go back to the casino tables. My mom and I go to our rooms. Neither of us can ever bare to watch. I go to sleep and pray to the gambling gods for a break. Just get him out of the hole so we can feel safe. I will forego any shopping. I understand that when I benefit from the wins, it makes me complicit in the entire cycle. My Gucci will never be clean. Okay, I GET IT.
The next morning I wake up to an opulent spread of room service breakfast on the dining table. I love room service breakfast. My dad is pouring everyone orange juice. I can tell he still hasn’t slept but I can also tell he’s manic now. In this scenario, that’s good. It means the gambling gods have answered my prayers and we are now winning. My dad puts a pretend sad look on his face. Like a four year old who’s hiding a giant stuffed animal behind his back as if no one can see. For the next 25 minutes he gives the entire play by play. He comes clean about how much he was down (a lot) but then he came back from the dead, cleared his debt and almost quit except he went for one more round. He couldn’t help it, he says. He could feel it, he says. The deck was HOT, he says. And now… "Well, I’ve only got just the one chip." He opens his palm and shows me a blue chip with a gold decal that says 10,000 dollars. “Wow,” I say. “Just kidding,” he says. “I’ve got five more in the safe. Let’s go shopping!”
Okay, I know I just prayed to the gambling gods and said I wouldn’t go shopping. But don’t I deserve a treat for going through all that hell. Don’t I deserve a vacation from this vacation? While I’m negotiating with the imaginary pagans in my brain, my father is reenacting his favorite scene from Pretty Woman. “Excuse me. Do you work on commission? Big mistake. HUGE.”
We stroll into fake Venice with the fake gondolas on the fake channels that smell like the indoor waterslides in The Mall of America. We go into Gucci. A store we would never venture into at home, way outside of our real life pay-grades. But here in fake Venice with fake chips that equal real money in our pockets… We walk into motherfucking Gucci. And I see this bag. It’s a modest bag for Gucci. Subtle. Understated. I’m going to college in the fall and I don’t have anything recognizably brand name except for that Tiffany bean necklace my dad’s boss gave me for my bat mitzvah. But that’s so basic. I want to go to college with a look. An I have something to say look. A don’t fuck with me look. A this is my table now look. I slide the strap over my shoulder, look at myself in the mirror and say, “I’ll take it.”