Casino: Take Two

9 Feb


I’m sitting at a buffet table wearing a chic cocktail gown, engrossed in a mound of crab legs, laughing like a madwoman in a room full of senior citizens wearing Hawaiian shirts, or fleece vests. (Dear reader, a few of them are even wearing Hawaiian shirts with fleece vests.) At some point in my travels I made a gross miscalculation.

Now it’s up to me to remedy it.

After washing my hands of greasy butter, and chocolate sauce from the frozen yogurt machine, I’m also ready to wash my hands of this entire mishap and just go home. But an International Woman of Mystery would never be so easily deterred. It’s a Saturday night. I’ve braved weekend traffic on 1-70 to get here. I’ve still got $25 and I’m wearing a fabulous dress. Ocean’s Eleven, it is not, but something good must come of this.

I amble back through the casino toward what I believe to be an exit door. Perhaps I’ll step outside and collect my thoughts for a minute. As I snake my way through the various bays of blinking and ringing machines, people are still staring at me, but this time I stare right back wearing a smirk and a raised eyebrow, to match my attire. This works quite effectively. Most of the onlookers return immediately to their gaming.

Outside, I’m hit with a cold breeze and a thick plume of cigarette smoke. I’ve mistakenly stepped out into the designated smoking area. It’s heavily populated, but oddly no one seems to be taking notice of me at all. I’m apt to pause. For a moment, I actually consider bumming a smoke, but think better of it. I just want to be able to hear my own thoughts out here. I need a new game plan, and fast.

Maybe I’ll sleuth my way back inside, and then use my sophisticated wiles to convince the staff that I’m a guest of the hotel. I just want to see the view from the rooftop. Perhaps I can even purchase a bathing suit and towel from the gift shop and pretend I’m locked out of the pool. That could work. I’ll take a quick dip in the hot tub, take in the view, and then duck out before the end of the night. No harm, no foul.

I’m just about head back inside when, an older gentleman sidles up behind me.

“Pardon me, miss, but you gotta light?”

“Oh, no. I don’t actually. I’m sorry,” I mutter back.

“Hey, no worries,” he says in a friendly tone. I turn to face him, trying not to be self-conscious on account of my outfit. He’s kind looking. Not quite old enough to be my dad but not too far off. Balding just a little around the edges. He’s wearing khakis, a tucked-in polo. Glasses. He’s even wearing a belt. Casual, but at least he tried. And anyway, I could use a friend at this moment.

“I don’t smoke, actually,” I confess. “I just got a little flustered in there, because apparently I didn’t get the memo about the dress code.”

He laughs. Success. I’ve disarmed the awkwardness and deflected it with a joke. A rookie move, perhaps, but it works.

“Nah,” he shakes his head. “I think you look nice. I just figured you were going to the opera or something.”

It’s my turn to laugh.

“We’re a little far from the opera around here,” I joke.

“Oh, it’s really not that far, actually,” he tells me. “Just over in Central City. You can probably even take the shuttle.”

It turns out he’s not joking. He tells me there actually is a renowned opera house just down the road in a neighboring town. The two towns virtually connect like sisters and form a small strip of casinos and other establishments. Additionally, a free shuttle runs between the two towns at frequent intervals, making it easy for tourists to explore. This seems like an important bit of information to have gained. I’m pleased with myself for making a new acquaintance, and a helpful one at that. I realize we haven’t been introduced.

“That’s good to know, thanks,” I reply. “I’m sorry I didn’t catch your name, sir?”

“I’m Morris,” he says extending his hand with a firm grip, “Pleased to meet you, miss.”

“Oh, I’m Jenny,” I say, without thinking, “Jenny G.”

It’s the first time I’ve called myself by my alias out loud.

“Hey, that’s got a nice ring to it,” Morris exclaims. I blush at his compliment. “You should meet my wife, Shelley. She should be here any moment. And hopefully she’s got my lighter.”

As if on cue, a vivacious woman in a modest dress and heavy makeup comes bounding up toward us. I’m assuming this is Shelley by the way she throws her arms around Morris. She is tipsy, but jovial.

“I’m so sorry, sweetie,” she coos at him. “The line for little girl’s room was so long!”

“It’s quite alright, darling,” he kisses her on the forehead. “I’ve just been talking to this lovely young lady who just moved to Denver by way of Boston.”

Shelley enthusiastically shakes my hand and we make introductions. Without being prompted she tells me that she and Morris are here on a weekend anniversary trip from a nearby mountain town. Retired academics. They go to Blackhawk every year. They’re about to hop on the shuttle and traverse down the road to something called “The Gold Rush Room” to go dancing. They insist that I join them.

It’s a bit of a tough call. It’s not exactly what I’d envisioned when I struck out on this adventure. But then nothing has gone according to plan so far. Why start now? Morris and Shelly seem earnest enough and I like their collective carefree spirit. They’ve unquestioningly befriended a girl with an alias who looks strangely out of place and accepted her into their fold. Besides, a little dancing sounds more exotic than sitting alone at a slot machine, throwing away the last of my money. I’m in.

We take the shuttle, which delivers us to our destination, just as Morris promised. Once inside, I assess the situation. It’s a small but proud little night lounge. It’s still early for a Friday night, but the tables are dotted with plenty of regulars. Morris and Shelley seem to know the staff. They exchange friendly hellos and hugs and we grab a table. I remember that I’m supposed to drive home in a few hours, so I order one top shelf martini and then vow to switch to coffee. I try to buy the first round, but Shelley waves my cash away.

The next hour or two pass in a flurry of conversation. My new friends, it turns out, are pretty well-traveled and they regale me with tales from various places they’ve visited. Spain. Ireland. Myanmar. I’m envious of their life and their seemingly great romance. But I’m also inspired. They ask me if I’ve been abroad and I admit that I haven’t.

“I’m working on it, though,” I tell them, with a strange sort of confidence that feels foreign to me. “I want to be an International Woman of Mystery.”

I say it with a small wink, as if to convey that I’m joking, even if I’m not. Morris and Shelley however, are busy making goo-goo eyes at one another and don’t catch my drift. I’ve nursed my one martini, to their three or four Manhattans apiece. An effervescently drunk Shelley just looks up at me and says:

“That’s wonderful dear. If I didn’t know any better, I’d say you already are.”

“One of these days,” I say, raising what’s left of my martini. Their glasses raise to meet mine and we all cheers.

“To Jenny G.: International Woman of Mystery,” Shelley proclaims, a bit too loudly.

“Hey, that’s got a nice ring to it,” says Morris, who is also quite drunk now.

We talk and laugh some more. Morris and Shelley ask me about my life in future tense and for once I don’t mind being interrogated. It feels good to be in the company of strangers. People who have never known Mr. Poison or Jennifer for that matter. I’m passing as Jenny G., in live action for the first time. I find it enthralling.

The two of them are eyeing the dance floor. I thought I was feeling brave, but suddenly I’m not. I try to excuse myself for most of the dancing, by volunteering to watch our table. But at some point, Morris and Shelley manage to pull me into a makeshift conga line and we shuffle along to Madonna’s “Lucky Star.” An old disco ball spinning above us, in time. This is when I realize things are getting a bit too surreal, even for me. It’s probably time to make a proper exit.

Getting Morris and Shelley to release me proves a little difficult. They keep insisting that I should get a room for the night and join them into the wee hours. I don’t doubt it would be fabulous fun, but the International Woman of Mystery has had enough for one night. I don’t want to be asleep at the wheel, driving home on mountain roads. We all say our goodbyes. Morris insists on making a stranger take our picture. We don’t exchange numbers, but before we part, Shelley presses an Ameristar room card key into the palm of my hand.

“You can’t leave without seeing the pool” she whispers to me conspiratorially. “Morris has the other key. Take this and it’ll get you up to top floor. You probably can’t swim in that dress, but at least you can stand on the balcony and see the view.”

I make a quick dash for the shuttle, so I can get to the roof before the pool closes. A staff member on duty warns me that I only have a few minutes. I assure him that that’s all I need. I just want to check out the view.

And I do. Thirty-three stories up in the air, I step outside. I look out at the the lights of the town below, the mountains, the night sky and exhale deeply. I feel like I can see the whole world from here.

Jenny G.


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