Nobody gets through grade school without having to write an essay on My Day at the Zoo. One never outgrows the need to write such a piece. The zoos just change.
Recently I was in the gambling capital of North America, Las Vegas, to give a talk on prayer and contemplation at a local church. I had a couple of extra hours before my talk so I headed for the nearest casino, a place called The Gold Coast. Since I’d played a little blackjack at some clerical parties I thought I’d give that a try. So, trying to look as confident and professional as possible, I seated myself at the two-dollar card table.
The dealer, a young woman with a name tag reading: “My name is Henja and I am from Sweden”, did not speak. Her business was not to socialize and so she dealt, poker-faced and silent. The others at the table were not so silent:
“You play much?” asks a young man wearing an LA Dodger baseball cap.
“Sure, all the time.” I answer, “I’m a professional. I make my living gambling. I play all over, even in Monte Cassino.”
“Well, that certainly explains your unorthodox style! Nobody here takes a card when they have 14 and the dealer is showing a a low card.”
A middle-aged woman at my immediate left glares at me every time she loses: “How can I win when you keep taking my cards?”
“Maam,” I say, meeting her stare, “I thought the dealer dealt me that card.”
“You know what I mean! You shouldn’t have drawn a card. It was a high card, it busted you and I needed it.”
Two minutes later, it’s her again:
“I can’t believe it. You took my card again! I needed that low card and you took it. How can I win when you keep taking my cards?”
“And you knew it would be a low card?” I ask.
She’s too angry to answer. She keeps losing – we all do.
The kid with the baseball finally says: “I’m outta here. This dealer’s an undertaker. I’m off to another table.”
He’s gone. My bad luck isn’t. Neither is the lady’s to my left. Her mood matches her luck: “You’ve taken my card again! I needed that high card. I can’t win when you keep taking my cards!”
My two hours are coming to an end, as are my patience and my pocket money. I’m dealt a good hand. Finally! I double my bet, my last 4 dollars. I draw a low card, I needed a high one. The lady to my left draws a high card, she needed a low one: “Thanks,” she snarls, “you took my low card!” The dealer draws a good card. I am out of money and out of the game.
“Hope your luck improves,” I say to my lady friend as I leave.
Outside the fresh air is a welcome relief from the smoke-filled casino. The kid with the baseball cap is sitting on the railing. He looks pretting dejected.
“Any luck at another table?” I ask.
“Nope. My luck’s been bad. They’re on a roll in there. I lost big time … Hey, your aren’t really a professional, are you?”
“I am, but not at cards. I’m a priest. I’m here giving some talks at a church.”
“No kidding! Well, that certainly explains your unorthodox style. What are your talks about?”
“No kidding! Where are they at? With the way my luck has been running, maybe I could use something like that!”
“I’m at Christ the King, up on Torrey Pines, 7:30 tonight.”
“No kidding! Gee thanks. I might be there.”
Just then my lady friend emerges and from her face I can see that, after I left, someone else must have been taking her cards.
I can’t resist: “Any luck after I left?”
“No, some horrible man kept taking my cards!”
“Did you lose a lot?” I ask, with genuine sympathy.
“Over 400 dollars just this afternoon.”
“No kidding! Well that certainly explains your unorthodox manners!”
“I’m coming back here tonight,” she snarls angrily. “You’d better not be at my table. That’s a warning!”
“No kidding! Gee thanks. I won’t be there!”