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Best of Barney Vinson

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Dad

6 February 2005

Here I was in Vegas, dealing at the Mint Hotel and living in my very own apartment. I'd written my dad to tell him where I was, but he never wrote back, and he'd always been good about staying in touch. One morning I couldn't get him out of my mind, so I called him on the phone. There was no answer.

Still worried, I put in a call to my uncle, who was living in San Antonio. "I'm trying to reach my dad," I told him. "Do you know where he is?" Silence from the other end for what seemed an eternity, then my uncle said, "He's in the hospital. He's got cancer."

The wind went out of me. My dad was only 63 years old, for crying out loud. He'd never hurt anyone in his whole life, just went to work and came home, making every kind of sacrifice he could to raise my brother and me, and now he was all alone in some damn hospital out in the middle of nowhere. "How bad is it?" I asked my uncle, once I caught my breath.

"It isn't good," he said. "It's in his lungs and stomach and everything. I'm afraid it's just a matter of time."

The tears welled up of their own accord, and I just let them roll down my face. I should've stayed in Texas, dammit. What an idiot I'd been, shoving off to see the world, thinking about no one but myself, while some creeping disease was eating him alive. We should've spent more time together, because when you get right down to it time is all you've got. He could tell me things about his life I'd never know. Now it was too late.

"I want to see him," I said. "Just tell me where he is. I'm coming to see him."

"He doesn't want to see anybody," my uncle said. And I guess my uncle should know. They'd been close all their lives, grew up together, went through life together, and for a few years they'd lived together, right along with me, my brother, my two cousins, my aunt, and my grandmother.

I sat there, clenching the phone so hard my knuckles were white. "What am I supposed to do?" I asked him, my voice trembling.

"He wouldn't want you to see him like this. Just go on with your life. Write him a letter. He'd love to hear from you. And . . . I'll call you if there's any change."

I hung up the phone and walked down the street to a bar. I sat there in a dark booth all day, thinking about things, and I got myself good and plastered.

The next day I went back into combat at the Mint, my head pounding and a feeling of impending doom settling over me. But soon the whirlwind of line bets, come bets, proposition bets, tokes, Georges, and stiffs got me going, and there I was again, dealing to the usual bunch of scumbags.

It almost seemed like home. Home, that is, if you could picture the parade of motley degenerates who showed up every single day of the week including holidays. God, they were there so often you even knew them by name.

If we didn't know their names, we gave them nicknames. "Here comes Groucho," one of the dealers would moan. Sure enough, up comes one of the regulars, wearing horn-rims and smoking a cigar. "Here comes Alfred Hitchcock," someone would say, and here's this fat guy, jowls and everything, looking just like the original. Oh man, I could go on all day.

You've heard of battle fatigue? Well, every once in a while one of the dealers would get it, just like soldiers did during the war. And when you got right down to it, that's what I was: a soldier in a war. The dealers were the American G.I.'s. The players were the Viet Cong.

A dealer named Oz found himself missing in action after the following exchange took place.

Player: You didn't pay my four.

Oz: You don't have a four.

Player: I always bet the four.

Oz: Up your ass! You don't have a four.

If there was such a thing as a Medal of Honor for dealers, Oz would've earned one. He said out loud what the rest of us were saying under our breaths. Even though he got fired as a result, Oz went out like a true American hero. In our eyes anyway.

For the dealers, it was a matter of survival-—protecting our jobs and trying to protect the casino's bankroll. For the players, here was their chance to cheat, lie, steal, scam, do anything they could to get the casino's money without actually gambling for it. You'd be standing at your post, working away, then out of the corner of your eye you'd see someone's hand sneaking a bet on the don't pass after the shooter already had a number. It was called past-posting, illegal as hell, but players downtown did it every chance they got.

The first time I saw it happen I told the player politely, "Sir, you can't do that."

It wasn't 30 seconds later that here came the hand again, sneaking a bet on the don't pass. I pushed the chip back to the player and said, "Sir, I told you, you can't do that."

The boxman leaned over to me. "The next time that sonofabitch tries to past-post you, I want you to grab his hand and squeeze it as hard as you can. I want you to make that sonofabitch cry, and that's an order!"

Well, sure enough, here comes the hand again, heading for the don't pass. I reached out, got hold of his hand, and squeezed it with all my might. I felt like I was milking a cow back in Texas, until finally the $5 check dribbled out of his hand and went rolling across the table. Well, he started calling me every name in the book, which I won't repeat here for the sake of human decency. Let me just say that the nicest word he used was "asshole." Anyway, the boxman loved it, and that's all that mattered.

(To be continued)

Barney Vinson

Barney Vinson is one of the most popular and best-selling gaming authors of all time. He is the author of Ask Barney, Las Vegas: Behind the Tables, Casino Secrets, Las Vegas Behind the Tables Part II, and Chip-Wrecked in Las Vegas. His newest book, a novel, is The Vegas Kid.

Books by Barney Vinson:

> More Books By Barney Vinson

Barney Vinson
Barney Vinson is one of the most popular and best-selling gaming authors of all time. He is the author of Ask Barney, Las Vegas: Behind the Tables, Casino Secrets, Las Vegas Behind the Tables Part II, and Chip-Wrecked in Las Vegas. His newest book, a novel, is The Vegas Kid.

Books by Barney Vinson:

> More Books By Barney Vinson