This story happened in 1996, and I wrote it up a couple years after that. Now, ten years after writing it, I just read it, and man, I hardly recognized myself. It’s not just that I tilted like a maniac. I know I’ve been insane many times and that I’m now well past most self-destructive behaviors. And it’s not that I willfully placed myself precariously on a cliff’s edge. I’ve done that lots of times too, resulting in many nasty injuries. What surprised me most was the blaming. And I didn’t waste any time. It starts right there in the title.
Let me end this little intro with my current perspective. Led Zeppelin summed it up succinctly in the title of a song. These days, anytime I get upset about anything, I know that “It’s Nobody’s Fault But Mine”. Here’s the story…
Rita Wrecks Me
Me and Rita had a dang near perfect thing going. That’s because she was dang near perfect, except for the gambling. We’d been to Atlantic City and Vegas a couple times each and I vowed never again because it was such a strain. See, I went to casinos to try to make a buck at poker. Rita went because that’s where Miss Jekyll turned into Miss Hyde. And she liked being Miss Hyde, a lot.
She pestered me into a quick trip to Vegas and we decided this time it’d be different. No gambling. That was the plan. This time around we would go and see stuff, like maybe Hoover Dam or Red Rock Canyon, and there was a new strip hotel to check out, the Monte Carlo, and we’d heard about this huge new canopy thing downtown made of light bulbs. We were both really looking forward to pretending we were like normal people. So the plan was Friday night to Sunday night and poof – back home. I would bring just enough money for food and a rental car and that’s it. Rita would bring no money as usual which was fine by me because she’d be bringing her enthusiasm, her charm, and that laugh.
Our flight was detoured to Phoenix because of a flash flood in Vegas. It was only two days after TWA flight 800 blew up in mid-air and nobody knew if it was a terrorist attack or what. To be on the safe side, President Clinton had put sudden and severe emergency security measures in place at airports and everybody was jumpy, especially employees.
So we’re sitting inside a tube on wheels full of people itching to do the Vegas thing, at midnight, in Phoenix. Someone came on the microphone and told us the situation was not good. They told us there were ten other planes like ours in Phoenix that had been diverted from Vegas, and that the airport was way too understaffed to deal with all the extra planes and people and luggage and headaches until the morning crew came in. They told us that if we stayed on the plane, they would take us to Vegas in about nine hours, probably, and that if we got off the plane, we could not get back on, period. We would be totally on our own, with very little hope of getting a different flight out in the morning on any airline.
It so happens Rita and I were carry-on mobile. No checked luggage. We had the same thought at the same time. Let’s grab our bags and get the hell off this plane. Doesn’t matter what we do, let’s just do it elsewhere. How about we rent a car and stop by the Grand Canyon on the way to Vegas? Cool! Great plan! So just like that we were off the plane and skipping through the empty airport all giddy.
We were heading north on Route 17 in Arizona both yakking and driving at 100 miles per hour, in the dark, with no cars anywhere, and feeling like we were getting away with something. No dumb rainstorm hundreds of miles away was going to slow us down. No way.
Our timing was astronomically awesome. We reached the Grand Canyon just as the sun came up, making long shadows and saying good morning to the rocks and lizards and hawks inch by inch without even leaving spots in our eyes. I love sunrise, especially over a sharp horizon. We just stood there, quiet, in that piney western air. Watching that sun come up and looking into the canyon. We hung around for an hour or three. Hard to say with us and time standing still like that.
We stopped at Hoover Dam and went wow but we were now too close to Vegas and too slap-happy from sleeplessness to chill out. An hour later we were cruising The Strip. That place is energizing, like having one pot of coffee dumped down your throat and another one on your head. It’s like, Hello! I’m here!
We had a room reserved at The Mirage. After abusing the buffet we finally slept for probably not that long. It’s hard to rest in Vegas, no matter how tired. When we woke up it was like Hey babe! We’re in Vegas! And we were loving it that we had arrived basically broke and that this time we wouldn’t be getting all hissy over money stuff.
Everything was cool until Sunday night. Our flight home was a few hours away. Oh no. Here it goes. Here it comes. She’s got a ticket to Hyde, and she don’t care. Rita started freaking. She started out all bubbly and then popped.
Hey Tommy. Let’s use your credit card and get a few bucks and play a little blackjack before we leave. Okay? Please please Pleeeze?
I was thinking good lord, here we go again. A perfect trip with the perfect person about to turn into a perfect hell. She had me in the car with no escape when this went down. Man she sure knew how to put the pressure on at just the right time. No I said. No no no no no.
C’mon! Just take out a few hundred and let’s play a little blackjack. No biggy. Right? Sheesh, you’re such a grump.
Rita is a gal who gets her way. No amount of resolve can withstand her power. First she tried sulking and when that didn’t work she got desperate. I knew better than to fight on her turf but this time I was determined. It wasn’t just the money. It was a power thing. We were having our first real showdown because this time, for the first time, I was determined to not give in no matter what.
I got angry. I didn’t like it, but there I was, raising my voice and ranting about how it’s easiest to hurt those closest to you and asking Why are you doing this? Rita countered by turning the volume up to hysterical.
She had me on full tilt so I threw her a wicked but wild curve ball. Okay Rita, here’s the deal. Here’s what we’re going to do. I’ll take out $1000 on my credit card. Yup. You heard right. One thousand. We’ll go down to the Horseshoe…
That was her favorite place to play blackjack or anything else because she’s stayed and gambled there about a million times. She knows the staff by name without even looking at their badges and they know her, and she’d get all decked out and she was so hot when she did that, real easy to look at and everybody did.
After I said the bit about getting money out on the credit card, she didn’t care what came after. We were going to gamble. Rita was no different than any other addict looking as far ahead as the next fix and absolutely no farther. I told her my contingency plan anyway to make it official. Honey? You want to see some gamble? From a tight-ass poker player? Well, you got it.
I told her we’d go to the Horseshoe and play roulette. We’ll bet all $1000 on one spin, on red. If we lose that spin, we’re done. You can hate me all the way home if you want to for blowing the money before you could properly play princess, but you’ll love me again after a few days and it’ll be okay and we’ll laugh about it eventually.
Then came the devious part. I told Rita that if we win that first spin, we’re going to let it ride. We’ll bet all $2000 on the next spin, on red. If we win that second spin, we’ll have $4000, and we’ll stay in Vegas and gamble and party and have a terminal blast until the money is all gone or until we win so much it’s stupid.
She was thrilled, of course, and terrified too. See, it wasn’t like I was rolling in dough or anything. If I lost a grand, especially at a pure gamble and not at poker where I mustered an edge, it would hurt me. I mean rent-wise hurt, and emotionally too for pissing it away. Only Rita could rock me one instant and wreck me the next. Only she could tilt me till I toppled. That scared her and she said so. But for now we were going to gamble and that’s what mattered more.
We went to the Horseshoe and even though Fremont Street had recently been, like, totally covered for five blocks by an indescribable Vegas-sized semi-circular awning, we barely looked up and we went straight to the cage. I did the deed and we bee-lined to the nearest roulette table. I put down $1000 in cash on red and said all of it, roll the ball. The dealer called the pit boss over to verify what was going down. These guys have seen everything but they still have to watch. Knowing Rita’s ways, I told the pit boss that the money was all mine. Right Rita? Rita reluctantly nodded.
WHIRRerrERRRerrr. The ball went round and round in time with that Steely Dan song, “Then you find yourself in Vegas, with a gambler in your hand.” Okay, so the actual lyrics are “handle in your hand.” What’s the dif. Round and round went Rita. She was jittery and pacing and mutilating a cigarette and totally freaking out. And there I was with my money sitting there on the altar like a sacrifice to the glittering gods of tinsel town. And I didn’t even care. In my mind that money was already gone. I was stabilized now. I was making a statement about how Yeah, I love you babe, but when it comes to money and gambling, from now on, don’t dare mess with me anymore, please, alright?
Clickety clickety click click click. Red. The ball stopped on red. Rita erupted. Let’s go! Let’s stop now! C’mon Tommy! We got $2000! Let’s just get a room right here right now and slow down for a while. C’mon hon. Let’s quit.
She was tugging hard on my arm. The strange thing was that it was still my money. My $2000. But she totally felt that she had rights over half of it because without her pestering I never would have risked $1000 in the first place. This was typical Ritalogic.
Let it ride, I said, all of it, $2000, on red. The dealer couldn’t help but pause for a moment before spinning the wheel with Rita screaming in his face, No! No! No! Stop! Stop! Stop! The pit boss thought he had seen everything but now for sure he knew he had.
WHIRerrERRerr, clickety click click. Red. We won. The ball stopped on red. Rita exploded. I mean, she did. Right there. You’d think she had just, well, I can’t think of an analogy. There isn’t one, since no one could ever be that tense and knotted up and then that relieved in that short of time over anything, except for Rita, in exactly this spot.
I said we’re done and I gave the dealer $100. I still didn’t give a rip about the money. I had made a deal with Rita and I was plenty happy to make good and live it up in Vegas and not fret. This was going to be fun. We had $4000 that was already gone, just a matter of when, and she knew it. My god she was the happiest person on the planet ever. Being around someone who is that happy you can’t help but be bigtime happy too, doesn’t matter what they’re happy about.
So there we were all zippity-do-da with a wad of cash and no certain day we had to get back home and we’re in Vegas babe, we’re going to do this town up right. And we did. We even saw a show.
It’s true what they say about not trying to change people. A few days later, we were sitting in the Vegas airport waiting to board the plane home, tired and sated like after a long fine meal with extra dessert and wine. Rita asked if we had enough money to rent movie headphones and buy beers on the plane. I pulled out seventy bucks. Is that it? That’s it. She kissed my cheek while she gently removed the cash from my unresisting hand. Then she bounced up, and off she went to the airport slot machines. Hey Rita! Save enough for the parking garage when we get home! She waved without turning or slowing down.