A short story by Michael Dykstra
The marquee read “Happy Hour 4-8, $2 Coronas/$1.50 Tacos,” at the Horizon Casino Resort. Horizon’s happy hour was what one might expect on a Tuesday night during South Lake Tahoe’s rather subdued fall season.
A half-dozen or so middle-aged men drinking beer and watching college football on digitally enhanced televisions. No matter how enhanced the screens, the lives of the men at the bar would enhance no more than the lives of the hookers chain-smoking coyly at the pulsing slot machines, the junkie cocktail waitresses squeezing into outfits unsuitable for their aged skin but too strung-out to notice, the anonymous Johns salivating for the leftover buffets of women with fake names, the dealers coaxing greed comfortably for days without ever seeing the sun, or the bartenders dressed in referee stripes to camouflage their boredom with slurred conversation.
D and his two friends, Trevor and Kyle, were new to the South Lake Tahoe scene. They had made the drive just days before from sun drenched San Diego and now found themselves in the cold, dry high air of the Sierras. The bronze tans that each had effortlessly acquired during the summer months had already started to fade. These twenty-something, college graduate dreamers had toyed with the notion of extending their glory days just a bit longer by moving up north for the long awaited snow season, delaying the reality of career life just a bit further. While natural snow is somewhat scarce to the San Bernardino Mountains, those of Tahoe are gluttons for heavy snowfall.
Kyle starts out with three Coronas, to himself. D and Trevor go for a few tacos first, then a beer. Kyle is on a mission to get tanked, his first guzzled within seconds. The tacos look pretty good to Kyle, but he isn’t interested in eating; his is a strictly liquid diet.
“So what you guys wanna do tonight? Just cruise around and scope this town? It’s inevitable that I’ll be gambling tonight.”
“Yeah no crap Kyle. I mean you are in a casino and I know you can’t just sit in a casino and not gamble. That wouldn’t fit your notorious MO,” Trevor replies.
“Well I’m not going to deny that. But as long as we’re here…”
“I thought you said you were just going to be drinking tonight,” D says with a mouthful of carnitas.
“I did. Things change.”
“Like that’s not a cliché. Those churros look legit. How ’bout I buy you a churro and you don’t gamble at all tonight?”
“A churro? You think a churro is going to coax me into submission?”
“Whatever. I’m getting one.”
After a few more rounds and a churro for D, the three amigos wander the casino floor not really sure where the disorienting lights are guiding them. Kyle’s hungry now, the liquid diet succumbing to the temptations of a pure greed. He pulls out his unevenly creased wallet and fetches two Andrew Jackson Portraits. Fitting, as Jacksonian ideals seem suitable to the night’s aura.
Kyle throws his forty dollars down on black at the dizzying roulette table. Kyle’s always preferred no skill gambling. The strategy, patience, and finesse needed to be a successful poker player had never complimented his all or nothing style. Roulette is quick, easy, and often devastatingly harsh. Less often it’s a quick way to win big.
“Red nine, odd,” the apathetic ball spinner announces. Kyle looks directly into the man’s languid eyes to make it clear he takes the loss personally.
Nine happens to be Kyle’s favorite number and has been his entire life. Every little league jersey of his had been stamped with the number nine. He isn’t sure why he likes the number so much and immediately feels guilty about not having played it. So guilty, in fact, that he makes a speedy trip to the closest ATM and takes out a hundred dollars. He stomachs the surcharge, rationalizing that the earnings awaiting him will counter the present loss. He exchanges the hundred-dollar bill for a black and white stripped chip and puts it on nine.
“Kyle…dude what are you doing?”
“Don’t worry about it dude. Seriously, trust me on this one,” Kyle challenges Trevor, who has been quietly watching his friend’s almost instantaneous demise. Trevor hadn’t gambled since his twenty-first birthday in Las Vegas when he blew half his summer job’s earnings in one rather intoxicating hour.
Kyle looks away from the whirling wheel, each of his fists tightly clenching like he’s getting ready to punch in someone’s face, anyone’s face.
Whether or not Kyle’s one hundred dollar bet, which would pay out thirty-five hundred dollars, hits or doesn’t will not change all that much in the larger schema of his life. Assuming that little shiny white ball lands on any number but nine, his is an obvious loss. Yet the not so obvious loss is the more important one. Kyle’s choice to gamble, albeit a compulsory one, is dangerous. Life is short but a gambling addict’s life is inherently shorter. Even if Kyle wins, he almost certainly returns, thinking his luck will continue. If Kyle loses, he almost certainly returns, thinking his luck will show up sooner rather than later. This irrational behavior is like that of Sisyphus. Kyle does not know who Sisyphus is or why his story is important. He has instead spent much of his seemingly valuable time frivolously gambling away what some charitable, miraculous being has so under-appreciatively afforded him.