“Life does not consist mainly, or even largely, of facts and happenings. It consists mainly of the storm of thought that is forever flowering through one’s head . . .”
(YOU CAN’T GO BACK)
“Hit ‘em high and hit ‘em low,
I can’t talk now ‘cause I gotta go.
Look at you still playin’ the game –
Hey, isn’t that ol’ what’s his name?”
CHAPTER 37: No holds . . .
I was almost forty-eight years old and . . .
On your mark.
Going . . . Going . . . Gone!
(YOU CAN’T GO BACK)
CHAPTER 38: Too Many Flowers!
The view out the panoramic kitchen window into the backyard was spectacular. Over approximately three-quarters of an acre of land was filled with a variety of trees, including pine, cherry and apple, and a vegetable and herb garden plus so, so many flowers.
The combination Hummingbird Feeder / Outdoor Thermometer hung from a pine tree branch to the right side of the window. The temperature registered eighty-six degrees out. So, it was slowly going down. At two in the afternoon it had been stuck on ninety degrees for three hours.
For the better part of that afternoon I played in the spacious den, organizing, cataloguing and pricing a good many of my older comic books. My comic collection had really grown over the years in spite of the fact that I had not bought a single comic for the past year and a half. It seemed to me that there were now way too many comics on the flooded market. So, I basically just stuck with my older books, mostly Marvel and DC – my staples like Batman, Superman and Spiderman. I also owned a couple comics that I discovered were even rarer. They were from an original series of The Incredible Hulk and Sub-Mariner splits. And, of course, my more recent pride and joy was my first edition Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles – the black and white version.
Now, at a little after 5:00 p.m., I stood rinsing some dirty dishes and drinking fresh iced sun-tea. I looked out of the large window at all of the different flowers flourishing in the backyard garden. I had to admit, in the short time I’d been here; I had truly grown to love this place.
From the kitchen window I could actually view quite a large chunk of the backyard. The main portion of the yard had a patio and a small area of green lawn that were completely surrounded by so, so many intoxicating flowers.
There was also a fragrant McIntosh apple tree that branched out over the northwest corner of the garden. In fact, that section of the garden was almost always undercover, in the shade, and was nicely separated by large stones and frog and lizard sculptures. And it even sheltered a small, decorative birdbath near the center. Off to one side was a tiny wheelbarrow filled with polished stones. The stones gave off a rainbow of colors whenever the sun managed to glisten through the thick foliage.
Anthuriums, pinkish-red flowers with straight pistil stems and flat, waxy heart-shaped petals immediately caught one’s eye. Also, thriving in the shade, were deep purple and bright red Geraniums and a rather large Lace-Top Hydrangea bush, complete with sizable round, white flowers fringed by a lacy, purple top. Directly next to it was languishing a Snowball Hydrangea where pink flower snowballs bloomed proficiently. And, then, probably the smallest, yet most striking plants of all were the Lobelias with their clusters of tiny, dark bluish-purple flowers. They added a whole new color dimension to the shade garden.
Of all regions of the sprawling garden, the shade garden was the most peaceful, and in some ways, the most impressive. Light green clover created a soft, velvety looking carpet and also partially covered bricks and stones in the shade zone. In contrast, dark green ferns grew up near a wooden fence. And, on the fence, elegant String of Pearls’ vines drizzled their way down and mingled with the ferns and even some of the dark blue Lobelias.
I continued viewing the garden as I poured more fresh, ice-cold sun-tea.
Two huge Camellia bushes with lots of shiny green leaves bordered the shade garden. One bush had deep red flowers and the other produced the more traditional pink. At that very moment, a tiny portion of the shade garden was kissed by a few glinting rays of sun and the resulting colors and various shades of green were simply awesome, as they reflected a rainbow of greens, blues and purples.
In another space of the garden, pretty much south of the shade garden, Desiree’s head popped into view. She was working hard, trimming, pruning and weeding around all of the large rose bushes. Specifically, she was working on the Shreveport bush. It had vivid orange rose buds that lasted forever, even after you cut them. Out of all our roses, which included Double Delight, Fragrant Plum and a Peace Rose bush, my favorite was the brilliant orange Shreveport. However, the Double Delights with their contrasting pink and yellow petals were a really close second. Actually, the more I thought about it the Double Delights were my true favorites.
I watched as Dez snipped and clipped and shaped.
Eventually, I decided to go outside and join her. As I walked out the back, sliding glass door and slid the screen shut behind me, I passed pots of lively colored orange, purple and pink Impatiens, small four-petal, star-shaped flowers. Mixed in, here and there, were also pots of Dianthus, a small, deep red, flat-topped flower with perfectly fringed edges. Desiree had arranged all of these pots to form a border around our patio. It was really quite enchanting.
As I strolled through the garden I was taken in by all of the brilliant colors surrounding me. When I eventually reached Desiree she smiled and wiped her brow with a soft cloth. I handed her a fresh glass of iced-tea.
“Thank you, Michael.”
“Too many flowers,” I commented mildly.
“You can never have too many flowers,” Dez countered and tapped my nose with her gritty finger.
“If you say so.” I wiped at my nose.
“See what I did with the Fuchsias and the Jasmine bushes?”
I looked around. “Wow!” I exclaimed. “You really cut them back. Will they be okay?”
“No, I cut them back so they would die! Silly!”
I found myself studying our unique Fuchsia flowers that Dez had cut and stuffed into a large vase. They grew as droopy, upside down, pinkish-white dunce hats. Then, as they matured, they became more like balls that popped open and produced a dark purple flower.
“Very pretty,” I remarked. “Will they last?”
“Not really sure,” Dez replied. “Probably not too long.”
“I think you have to be an ar-teest to work in the garden,” I said thoughtfully.
“I have no ar-tees-tic ability,” I lamented.
“But you can appreciate art – that counts.
“Yeah, but it would still be nice. I don’t have your eye.”
Then Desiree switched direction a bit and asked – “Hey, you want to see the new mid-summer veggies and herbs I planted this morning?”
“Sure.” I was game.
And we walked to the northern most part of our garden.
“Pretty hot out for 5:00 p.m., huh?”
“It was a lot worse earlier. Actually, thanks for the reminder. Let me get my hat.” Then Dez trotted back to the roses, donned her wide-brimmed, summer sun hat and quickly rejoined me.
When she returned she showed me all of the dark new soil she had worked in and all of the brand new little seedlings.
“Over here are zucchinis and these are patty pans and over there are bell peppers, eggplant and onions. And would you look at all of our tomatoes! We can pick some tonight or tomorrow, if you want. That’s the best I’ve ever seen tomatoes grow.”
“It’s the constant heat and sunshine,” I said. Then I asked her – “What’s over here with all this new black soil and the little plastic covers?”
“Oh, those are all of my new herbs and spices – some from seedlings and some from seed. I don’t want the birds to get them.”
“Wow! There are a lot.”
“You name it, I planted it. I’m pretty sure.”
I asked – “Do you have Parsley, Sage, Rosemary and Thyme?”
“Of course, and all in a row, right here. And, there I added Basil and Dill.”
“Wait! In the same row?”
“You can’t do that – you’ll ruin the song!”
Then I switched gears. “You know, Dez, at first I wasn’t completely sold on this but I’m really growing to love it here.”
“Me too,” she said and gave me a quick peck on the cheek.
“It’s a lot different, but you know what I really like?”
“Of course, especially with you in it! But, aside from that,” I continued – “I love how everything is so slow here. Time slows down. But, then you go twenty or thirty minutes away and you can speed up, find a faster pace if you want to.”
“Yes . . . But, we’ll see if you’re still singing that tune when the fall season hits and then the winter snows.”
“You know, this might surprise you, but as much as I love the sun and the summer, I’m kind of looking forward to the other seasons.”
“Yeah? Talk to me in January, bub!” Dez said with, oh, I’d say a hint of sarcasm.
Then I played my computer card – “Ya might be interested to know, I went on the Net and read some stuff. It says that because it’s so dry here, the snow and the winters aren’t usually that rough, not like back east.”
“We’ll see,” Dez again spoke as if she could foretell the future. “Right now I’m enjoying the summer and the garden. It is very peaceful up here.”
I totally agreed.
The up here that Desiree referred to was actually in the Virginia City foothills, near Reno, Nevada. However, although our address did say Reno, the downtown area, itself, was a good twenty to thirty minutes drive north up Highway 395. We were living on the outskirts of civilization, as we had known it. In fact, our nearest neighbors were an acre away. Pretty isolated for city-folk . . . even if we were from suburban coastal towns.
Actually, we were located in the center of a hub, and what a hub! If we drove east, up the hills we could travel back in time and visit the old silver mining town of Virginia City and visit with Mark Twain. If we went due west for about forty minutes up Highway 431 we could climb Mount Rose and run smack dab into Lake Tahoe. And then, to our south was Nevada’s historic capitol, Carson City. And, directly north of us beckoned all of the nightlife, restaurants and casinos that made up Reno, The Biggest Little City in the World. Like I said, what a hub!
So far we were both truly enjoying our newfound selves. And, I for one, looked forward to not having to return to the classroom in September. I realized that after awhile I’d miss the kids but I definitely would not miss all of the papers, grading and planning. Besides the paperwork, Dez had mentioned that she would not miss the aggravating politics.
As I was standing there inspecting the garden I was overwhelmed with all the love I felt for Dez’s life and for our life together. I thought about how Gumby, (Kirk Blackman) had truly helped us both obtain full early retirement packages and had been so instrumental in setting us up in this location.
I wasn’t really sure, because it had never actually been referred to directly, but I somehow felt that we had now been mixed into the W. P. & R. program. Because of our knowledge of the whole PROJECT F.O.Y. thingy plus those infamous pills we were definitely under the umbrella of the Relocation portion, I thought.
My mind wandered to the group. From what Walter had told me at the reunion and from things intimated by Kirk, I was certain that Walter was living out his dream life somewhere far away in his own way – maybe Hawaii or the Bahamas or Podunk, Idaho. Who knows? Walter was always an enigma.
And even though Kirk wouldn’t (or couldn’t) tell me point blank about the rest of the group, I felt relatively secure that they were all okay . . . especially since Gumby always did seem closer to Bob-O and Benny. They played basketball together all through high school. From time to time Desiree and I had speculated that, with Gumby’s good graces, the surviving members of the group were now all relocated somewhere, much like us. I always wondered if Walter had gone around and given pills to everybody else in the group that night at the reunion. Nah, no way!
Dez was right about the right hand not knowing anything about the left hand within the intelligence community because it seemed of vital importance to Kirk’s section of the agency that Walter’s pills remain top, top secret.
Desiree suddenly brought me back to the now.
“Michael, did you happen to write that letter to Jennifer yet?”
“Huh? (Uh-oh.) I stalled for time . . . “Well, I did start it.”
“Yeah? Probably – ‘Dear Jennifer,’ – right?”
“Nah,” I protested. “I’ve got more than that.”
“How much more?” Dez stopped pulling at some weeds and looked at me.
“Dear Jennifer, how are you?”
There was a long pause and a stare.
Then Desiree sat back. She spoke haltingly – “Look M, I don’t want to dig where we’ve already dug fifty times. There’s no point. But I do need for this to be buried. I don’t know how many times I have to tell you how disappointed I am in you.” She set down her trowel. “You with Jennifer Tremain will always be there no matter what the circumstances.”
Dez paused. Suddenly everything in the garden seemed so still. I couldn’t help but notice that there was no breeze.
Dez continued – “So, M—, I need full closure on this.” She looked at me straight on and we held each other’s gaze. I started to say something but thought better of it. “Besides,” she eventually added – “I would think that you would want closure too, Michael.”
There was another brief pause.
“Seriously, M, you need to write that letter. You don’t want to chance scarring her for life, do you?”
“Yeah, right, like that could ever happen.”
“Michael Thomas, you of all people! You are definitely one who should know – anything can happen.”
Man, I hated it when she was so right!
Then Dez added – “Besides, my parents are coming up to see the place this week-end. I thought they could mail it for you, you know, so that it’s post-marked in Southern California.
“Okay, okay – I’ll work on it. I promise.” And I meant it. For a second, I thought back to Jennifer and her “I’ll miss you.” I grimaced.
“Good.” Dez got up and gave me another quick peck on the cheek as she crossed to the squash plants. “The last thing I need is competition from an eighteen year-old teenage goddess!”
“Pshh – there’s no competition. You have absolutely no worries.” I kissed Dez on the back of her neck a couple of times for emphasis. Finally, now I felt a slight breeze returning to the backyard.
While she worked I gazed around at our sprawling acre of land and rather nice, large three-bedroom house. From our backyard we could see more of the Virginia City foothills rolling and rising to the east. We could also see Mount Rose to the west. It was a beautiful setting. And the summer sunsets punctuated that setting – indescribable.
After we made love right there in the garden we both laid back and relaxed.
“I think I’m gonna go into town for a little bit, well, maybe just to the Pepper Mill,” I said suddenly. “I feel like playing at Twenty-One – you know, Blackjack?”
Dez glanced up and shook her head. “It was clever the first time, M—. But now it’s getting old.”
“What?” I feigned innocence.
“Well, while you’re playing at Twenty-One just remember – don’t eat anything. We’re going out for a late dinner.”
“I might get just a little snack. I skipped lunch.” I told her. Then there was a pause as we both slipped back into our summer clothes. I suddenly spoke seriously – “The garden looks really great, Dez. You’ve done a lot of work here,” I complimented her.
“Thanks. I love it so it doesn’t feel like work.”
I made a move to leave but then hesitated. I toyed with something else I wanted to bring up—
“Hey, Dez, I know you’re on the fence with this, but I honestly think we should contact Kirk about organizing a little clandestine re-union. It would obviously be small, really only six to ten people including us, I think.” I paused – no reaction. “I mean it really is rather frustrating,” I continued, “not actually knowing more details about Ray, Walter and Bob-O and Carrie and Benny – you know, their whereabouts, their stories—”
With her hands on her hips, Dez cut me off—“Yeah, M—, like the CIA can reveal that kind of information.” Desiree pulled at some more weeds. “They’d have to change their name to the Witness Location Program!”
“Well, we could at least suggest a little get-together in some clandestine destination.”
“M—, it’s just too soon. I said you need to let me think about it.”
“Okay, okay, it’s just that—”
“Michael,” Dez cut me off again – “Let me think, please. I promise you we’ll talk about it when the time is right.”
“All right.” I knew when to drop a subject. You didn’t have to hit me over the head with a hammer or a piano or even a garden trowel.
Then I pretended to be very serious for a moment – “Dez, hon, can I just tell you one more thing before I go?”
“What is it, M—? I already took my break! I’m going to start losing light soon.”
“Well,” I began in very even tones. “I just read where they are going to start charging for e-mails. Something to do with being politically correct—”
“Politically correct?” She bit!
“Yeah, they’re gonna call them fee-mails!”
“Oh, God, Michael!” She tossed a trowel full of dirt at me. “I’m going to puke! Somebody’s got way too much time on his hands.” Dez put her finger toward her mouth to dramatize the puke part and then said – “Either come out here and help me with the garden or go play Blackjack!”
“Okay,” I said. “Tough choice but I feel more like Twenty-One at the moment.” I had reached the back door and was just about to go in and get my car keys and wallet when Dez called out—
“Don’t forget to take your pill.”
“Of course,” I said. “I wouldn’t play at Twenty-One without it.” I went inside.
“Arrgghh! Enough!” Then Desiree called out – “Remember, you’re taking me to dinner and then out dancing tonight.”
I returned to the sliding doorway. “I remember.” Then I asked coyly – “Hey Dez, am I taking you or Daisy out tonight?”
Desiree, who was on her knees working, sat up – “I think it’s pretty clear, isn’t it? The rules are whenever we go anywhere it will always be Daisy accompanying Phillip. You know that.”
“Of course.” And then I made what I thought was a profound observation. “You know what’s actually kind of funny?” I asked.
“What’s that?” Desiree kept right on working.
“All of these hundreds of different flowers in our garden and no daisies.”
Dez sat up straighter – “What do you think those are right in front of you?” she asked, referring to a large green, leafy bush with bright yellow flowers.
“Those are daisies?” I expressed true surprise. “I always thought daisies were white petals with little round yellow disks.”
“Well, see, you’re never too old to learn! They also come in yellow. Now, go.” Dez returned her full attention to the garden.
“Bye. See you in a couple hours,” I said and left for the Reno Pepper Mill and a little Blackjack.
(Or, Twenty-One, whichever the case might be . . .)
(YOU CAN’T GO BACK)
CHAPTER 39: Blackjack or Twenty-One
When I walked through the large, wide glass doors of the Pepper Mill the first thing I noticed was the refreshing coolness of the air conditioning. Some people swore that they pumped extra oxygen into casinos to keep patrons going. Whatever! I just know that it felt great and I immediately perked up.
As I strolled around, casing out tables, I couldn’t help but notice that it was not very crowded for an early Friday evening. I mean, there were people, but it wasn’t wall to wall.
I knew that I wanted to play Blackjack, my favorite game, however I could not seem to find a five-dollar table on either side of the vast casino. I stopped and asked one of the dealers who was standing alone – no players were at her table – if she knew of any five-dollar tables anywhere.
“They now all change to a ten-dollar minimum at five o’clock on week-days.” She explained politely.
“Oh, it used to change at six o’clock, right?” I asked.
“Yes. I think it just went into effect this week.”
“Oh, okay – thanks.”
That threw me off a bit. I walked around for another ten minutes or so. I had planned on a hundred-dollar limit at a five-dollar table. Now I had to regroup and convince myself that a two hundred-dollar bankroll at a ten-dollar table was okay.
Dez and I were on a budget but we still had plenty of fun money. More than most couples had, I imagined.
Eventually I ended up in a nice slot at a semi-full, ten-dollar table. I took the last seat to the dealer’s right, so that I could see what cards had already been dealt, admittedly a slim advantage but an advantage none-the-less.
However, just after I sat down and had the dealer, Julie – from San Jose, (according to her nametag), change my hundred-dollar bill into house chips, there was a shift change and Julie left.
So, now Kenny was our dealer and what a dealer! He was definitely out of a different era and quite a quirky character. He was tall and lean and probably in his late-sixties, early seventies. However, truthfully, he appeared much older. There was a hunch to his shoulders and his teeth were sort of yellowed with age, plus a couple teeth in the front were chipped. Also, the bottom row of his teeth was extremely crooked.
Additionally, Kenny’s thinning, silver-gray hair, which was mixed with darker gray streaks, was parted crookedly on one side. It was all slicked back very tightly. And not a hair was out of place. I thought that Kenny must have had the last tube of Brylcreme in existence stashed away somewhere in his medicine cabinet. He wore a white dress shirt that was so thin that his horseshoe-neck T-shirt shown through. To this he added a very thin black tie and a scratched and worn nametag that identified him merely as Kenny.
But his style is what truly set him apart. Kenny spoke most everything in sing-songy rhyme—
“Throw down a twenty – I’ll make you some money!” he chanted as patrons passed by our table.
“Give the man your Player’s Card – It’s really not that hard!” Kenny continued to rhyme.
“Oh, thanks for the reminder,” I said and handed my Pepper Mill Player’s Card to Kenny who, in turn, passed it on to the Pit Boss. The Player’s Card was just another method for the casinos to zap you in a kindly fashion. The more you played, the more you accrued stuff – like free meals and buffets, free shows, and a variety of other freebies. Obviously it was a perk that worked. A lot of regulars to the casino subscribed to the Player’s Card.
“Where you from, Kenny?” I asked, as his nametag didn’t say. He had dealt me a queen and a deuce. (Yuck!) That was a twelve, my least favorite Blackjack hand. Dealer had a ten of clubs showing.
“I come from a small town – But I don’t let it bring me down!” Kenny sang out.
I took a hit – another face card. Busted! And I was quickly down forty bucks, just like that.
“Yeah, what small town is that?” I inquired, really just making small talk.
“I ain’t much of a talker – But I come from a town called Walker!”
“By the Walker River?” I perked up. “Great fishing there!” I said.
Kenny put his forefinger to his nose and kept dealing –
“Ace, three, five – That don’t jive!” He was certainly full of himself.
Now I was down about eighty dollars and I was thinking of changing tables. My rule of thumb was – if I lost four hands in a row I automatically switched tables. That way I could sustain a losing streak much easier. Hypothetically, at a ten-dollar table, I could move four different times if I had to and only lose a hundred and sixty to two hundred bucks, depending on splits and double-downs.
And, I had learned a long time ago that the odds of losing four hands in a row at four different tables were astronomical! In fact, in my entire Blackjack career I had never had that happen. Three different tables was as bad as I’d ever had it.
The very next hand Kenny dealt me two bullets.
“Change, please.” I threw him my other hundred dollar bill so I could split my aces.
“A hundred on the floor – But he wants more!”
The Pit Boss acknowledged the dealer.
“Thanks.” I said and split my aces. Kenny dealt out a down card under each of them and crowed—
“Here’s to the guy with luck – Hit those cards and collect your bucks.”
Kenny was on a rhyming roll. And, as it turned out, he busted so the dealer paid off everyone at the table and I actually won on both hands. Since I was losing that helped get me close to even.
Soon, two of the players to my right cashed in and left –
“Thank you for playing – I only wish you were staying!” Kenny crooned mournfully.
So, now only two patrons, besides me, remained at our table. I entertained a notion of leaving, changing tables, but I was actually holding my own, breaking even. In truth, I was probably down a little from my original two hundred.
“Is this seat taken?”
“No – go ahead. Welcome.” A rather pretty young woman, probably in her mid-twenties, joined our table and sat down next to me. Kenny cooed—
“The girl in blue – These cards are for you!”
He was actually in the middle of shuffling the large, multi-decks of cards and readying them for the chute. She handed Kenny her Player’s Card.
“This table’s got another player, how much should I pay her?”
Kenny’s unique style, filled with a light-hearted sense of fun, seemed to attract patrons. Some of them lingered around the table and just watched and listened.
When the Pit Boss came over for the lady in blue’s Player Card, he called out—
“Mr. Widlyfe, Phillip Widlyfe?”
“Thanks,” I said as I took my perk card back and shoved it in my pocket.
“Good luck, Mr. Widlyfe,” he said casually and then retreated behind the rows of tables.
“So far so good,” I announced a little too loudly. And then I set out fifty dollars in chips for my next bet. I just had this feeling that it was time to up my bet.
And, son of a gun, if my intuition wasn’t right! I was dealt two face cards. Kenny, who had a six of hearts showing and a deuce underneath, continued to hit until he had seventeen. As he paid me he crowed—
“Winner, winner – Get a chicken dinner!”
“Nice hand,” said the young woman next to me.
I smiled. “And I upped my bet at the right time! Now, that’s a first!” I exaggerated. “You’re doing okay,” I added. “Two blackjacks in a row!”
“I can’t complain,” she smiled. She continued to talk, pleasant blackjack table conversation. She introduced herself – “My name’s M.A. It stands for Mary Alice but I’m no Mary and I’m certainly no Alice. So everyone just calls me M.A.”
“Well, it’s nice to meet you M.A. I’m MT.” Then, Kenny piped in—
“So many initials – We’re gonna need officials!”
“Oh, that’s unusual,” M.A. commented.
“Well, really not – no more unusual than M.A.,” I countered.
“Oh no, not that – I mean that you would go by MT, by those initials, even though your name is Phillip.”
I must have looked perplexed.
M.A. went on – “You know, your Player’s Card – Phillip Widlyfe, I think the pit boss said.”
(One Big UH-OH!)
What did I just do? “Don’t panic!” I thought to myself. Then I said out loud – “Well, actually, it’s a long story. The short version is –MT – they were my dad’s initials. He’s passed on.” I built a bigger lie to house the first one.
“Oh, I’m sorry.”
“It’s okay – A lot of times I go by MT to honor him.”
Then we both smiled at each other and studied our newest cards.
For some reason M.A. suddenly began to complain about her hair –
“This air is so dry I look like a Harlem Globetrotter in the Seventies.”
“It’s hardly that bad,” I said as I took another hit and busted.
I continued to play twenty-one for another forty-five minutes, enjoying the company, the diversion and, truthfully, the thrill of the game. I had a nice conversation with M.A., Kenny continued to rhyme away, and hey – before I knew it, I was actually more than two hundred dollars ahead!
Then Kenny began heading into repeat territory—
“Lay down a twenty – And I’ll make you some money!” he said for at least the fifth time since I’d been there.
I decided that it was nearing the time for me to head on home so that I wasn’t too late for Desiree or Daisy. All week I had promised her a nice Friday night out. We’d go to dinner and a show and then, maybe a little dancing . . . probably . . . oh, well, all right – definitely some dancing.
However, just before I left I did something totally out of character, something I’d never, ever done in my gambling life. I have absolutely no idea what possessed me but I took all four of my black one hundred dollar chips and carefully placed them out in the little circle for my next bet.
“Whew.” M.A. just threw me a sideways glance and raised her eyebrows.
“Gut feeling,” I whispered to her. Kenny called out—
“Four hundred on the table – Match it if you’re able!”
The croupier looked over and nodded.
I held my breath as Kenny dealt the first round of cards. I sneaked a look – a queen of hearts.
I have to say that it seemed as if I was still holding my breath as Kenny dealt the second cards around the table. When he dealt mine I let it sit there for a moment. Then I watched Kenny deal his up card – an ace of clubs.
I peeked at my second card.
(WHAM! BAM! THANK YOU MA’AM!)
It was an ace – an ace of diamonds! I turned it over immediately. “Twenty-One!”
“Insurance? Insurance?” Kenny called out in his first non-rhyming words. Then he asked me specifically—
“Would you like insurance, sir – For what could definitely occur? It’s a break-even proposition – Buy insurance or you go fishin’!”
After just a slight pause, I answered—
“No insurance for me!” I was emphatic. “Life is too short – there’s no insurance!”
Then Kenny chimed in again with—
“He’s goin’ fishin’ – And a hopin’ and a wishin’!”
And he slid the corner of his down card into the little telltale machine, the almighty machine that read the dealer’s down cards. I know that Kenny held his card there for much longer than normal, expressly to build the suspense. Then he slowly removed the card and crowed loudly–
“He’s got twenty-one – That’s a boatload of fun!”
Kenny paid me two to one for my original bet of four hundred dollars!
“Winner, winner – He’s buyin’ lobster dinners!”
Next to my four black one hundred-dollar chips he set down eight more black chips! That was twelve hundred smackers to the good! Wow!
“Thanks, Kenny,” I said and I threw him two twenty-five dollar chips. He knocked them twice on the table and barked out—
“With this quip you can rest assure – That for this tip, I thank you, sir!”
And he bowed, slightly.
I got up from the table and said so long to M.A. “Good luck,” I offered as I left and made my way to the cashier’s window. “I just made the single biggest blackjack bet I have ever made in my life!” I thought. “And, I hit it! Life is good!”
I left the Pepper Mill and actually caught myself skipping in the parking lot. I got into my car and headed for home. I couldn’t wait to see Dez and show her the twelve hundred buckaroos!
“Sometimes it really pays to play Twenty-One” was what I planned on telling her.
I thought – “Tonight Daisy and Phillip are going out for one big night on the town!”
It was actually a quiet drive home and I was reveling in all my glory. And then for some odd, out of the way, reason my mind wandered to the ending quote from the novel, The Great Gatsby. With my classes over the years, we always discussed the final paragraph where Fitzgerald says something like So we beat on, boats against the currents . . . ceaselessly . . .
At that particular moment, as much as I liked Fitzgerald, I had to say I disagreed with ol’ F. Scott. You see, some of the time, we’re not fighting to climb up, and we’re not continuously swimming upstream. In real life, there are times we spend lounging in the valleys, times where we just relax and go with the flow. We float along easily, in sync with a gentle current.
“So, say so long to your youthful ways,
You’ve got your own family to raise.
Don’t waste your time with nostalgic days,
You can’t rekindle a burnt out flame . . .”
“No, you can’t go back . . .”
(But sometimes you can come close— really, really close. Thanks, Walter.)