In The Land of Milk and Honey
Like a million other fools, I went back to Las Vegas with dreams—big dreams. How it started I don’t recall. Maybe it was childhood memories of sitting on my grandfather’s knee as he played poker with the boys in the back room of Beauchamps Drive-Thru Wedding Chapel, just south of the airport. Those old fellows were great card players and they taught me to play the game like a pro. They treated me like I was their own son, and for that I will always be grateful. Actually, most of them had bad breath so I stayed pretty close to my grandfather. He chewed gum a lot so his breath was usually OK.
Those days ended when my family moved east, far from the bright lights and glitter of Vegas. The memories faded slowly, like the sound of music from a passing car. I don’t know what it was that, so many years later, began calling me back, but when it came I heeded the call. Poker had planted itself in my soul those many years earlier when I sat on my grandfather’s knee, and now the flower was at last in bloom.
As my flight descended from the heavens and burst through the clouds, a portal was traversed. A portal into the world of my destiny. When I stepped from that airplane there was no past and no future, just a limitless, unbounded now. I had arrived—arrived in the land of milk and honey. I had arrived with a mission, and I would not be denied. I would ride this town like a speed-metal drummer rides a hi-hat. I would drink a 32 oz milk and honey cocktail, kick a tinhorn’s ass, and piss on a thousand-dollar whore. Then I’d get down to business. This land was my land.
The taxi seemed to float as we drifted down that gilded highway. Time and space, warped by the irresistible neon energy of Harrah’s, the Rio, Binion’s, and Bellagio.
I landed at the MGM Grand and there found a table full of wealthy looking, touristy-looking types with mountains of beauteous chips in front of them. These people were my people. My triumphal march to fame and fortune would start here and end at the World Series of Poker No-Limit Hold’em final table with ESPN looking over my shoulder as I took down the big one in front of every man, woman, and nematode on God’s green earth—at least, the ones with access to ESPN.
Placing my chip tray on the table’s green felt, I sat down and coolly surveyed my territory. The dealer, a succulent young Filipina babe, exhaled in my direction. Carefully, I sized up my victims, silently ranking them on my logarithmic chump scale. The twenty-something poker punk, he needed to lose the Napalm Death T-shirt. The forty-something MILF—when this day was over she’d need a sympathetic shoulder to cry on. Maybe mine would do.
There is a saying in poker that goes like this: If you sit down to a table and you can’t spot the sucker in thirty minutes, the sucker is you. At this table there were nothing but suckers. All-in with 6,3 off-suit, all-in with nine high. All-in. All-in. All-in. A couple of suckers at a table is perfect, but a table with nothing but suckers turns the game into a crapshoot, which makes life tough for a great player like me, but I came with a mission and would not be denied.
As the cards fell, I watched, hawk-like, looking for any detail in the behavior of my opponents that would reveal their flaws and unconscious habits. In poker, we call it looking for tells. For instance, I could tell that the guy two seats to my left had prostate problems because every thirty minutes or so he would excuse himself and when he came back, his pants looked as though he had gone outside for a smoke and stood too close to the fountains. But I knew that he didn’t smoke.
I played each hand with the subtlety and ease of a Zen master, weaving exquisite strategies with which to reel in the helpless, flopping fish that surrounded me, but they were too busy flopping around to notice. One of them would lose a huge pot, laugh like a hyena on nitrous oxide, and then send for more chips. Then another would do the same thing. Then another and another. On and on they went, just trading their chips back and forth, and each time managing to suck away a few of mine in the process.
The hours lumbered by like pallbearers in a funeral procession. My stack seemed to shrink, spontaneously, all by itself, smaller and smaller. The lights grew brighter, harsher. The glare made me sneeze. The suckers cackled and giggled like a bunch of hebephrenic bobble-head demons. The young card dealer, so alluring and desirable a few hours ago, now looked pale and gaunt. She stared at my nose with dead, shark-like eyes. Her lips contorted into an evil sneer. Her ample breasts which, earlier, had looked like succulent, inviting fun bags, now seemed to twist and point at odd angles, which just made her seem more evil.
The MILF giggled. The punk bobbled. Rockin’ Joe from Tahoe turned up aces and it was over and gone. My quest, my dream, my chip stack. My entire life savings. All the money I had in the world, plus seventeen hundred I had snookered out of my ex-wife with phony medical bills and a brilliant sob story.
I flipped off the evil, pointy-boobed dealer and stumbled toward the door, stupefied and disoriented, eventually finding my way to the street. The superheated, supersaturated midnight air of Vegas enveloped me like boiling syrup. My vision was weirdly distorted as though I were looking at the world through one of those fish-eye camera lenses, like in those stupid MTV videos from the ’80s. Legs numb, the concrete stared back at me as consciousness crawled into the desert to die.
Suddenly, a sleek, late-model luxury sport vehicle slithered up to the curb and a strangely familiar voice called out, “Hey, boy, this ain’t no time to lose your lunch. Get in this car with me, boy. I’ll get you straightened out.”
That voice. I knew that voice, but from where? Lurching and staggering, finally grasping a door handle for support, I peered into the shadowy interior of this modern chariot. It was Doyle. Doyle Brunson, the living legend of poker. I gasped, inadvertently sucking in a mouthful of boiling syrup. Doyle Brunson. I’d seen him a thousand times on TV, but what was he doing here, offering a ride to my sorry ass? Without speaking, I opened the door of his pimped out, mother-of-pearl SUV and got inside. An automated recording suggested that I fasten my seat belt. I did.
We drove for miles in silence. The blinking galaxies of neon stars that illuminate the universe of Las Vegas seemed once again friendly. Finally, Doyle turned to me and, without ever appearing to move his lips, spoke in a soothing, fatherly tone.
“Listen, boy, don’t you worry. It happens to all of us. You just need a little help from Lady Luck, that’s all.”
“Lady Luck?” I stammered.
“That’s right, son, Lady Luck. Matter of fact, she’s here with us right now. Ain’t that right, sweetie?”
From directly behind me a woman’s voice purred.
Before I could respond, two delicate hands wrapped a thin metal wire around my neck and yanked hard, cutting into my flesh, crushing my windpipe, pulling me backward over the passenger seat. The twinkling lights of Vegas went black. Blinding white. Black, and then white again, only this time kind of a yellowish-white or maybe butter-colored. Frantically grabbing at the wire, I pulled with all my strength. With a gurgling yelp, I sat up and reached for Lady Luck, but she was gone. Doyle Brunson and his pimpmobile were gone.
A yellowish or butter-colored light shone through the bedroom window of my shabby tenement apartment. I reached over to a nightstand where there sat the remains of a bottle of cheap bourbon. I lifted the bottle to my lips and let the last lonely ounce flow over my grateful esophagus.
Viva Las Vegas.
About the Author
Harold Ginn started out in life as a hippie radio announcer in Richmond, VA. When radio became boring, he worked for a number of years as a print model before branching into acting and writing. He’s appeared in dozens of TV commercials and indie films as well as TV series, such as The Wire, America’s Most Wanted, FBI Files, and New Detectives. In recent years, his focus has been on writing and producing. His feature length screenplay, Martin Fogg, was a finalist in the 2013 Richmond International Film Festival competition and garnered an honorable mention in the 2014 Tennessee Screenwriting Competition. Martin Fogg has been rewritten as an episodic series and Ginn recently produced a proof of concept pilot episode. When not writing or producing, he likes to hide in his dirty apartment, drink lots of bourbon, and binge-watch (responsibly) reruns of Law and Order.