Archive for the 'Casino and cigarettes' Category

Neighborless

March 8, 2011

Andrew Hicks

On several occasions previously, I’ve mentioned my next-door neighbor, the single mom with the four kids. They came over for Sarah’s birthday, and we came over for Super Bowl, but more than that, Miranda and I have been smoke break buddies for three years. I was never much of a smoker, but when I got to drinking, I liked to have a cigarette here and there. Now I don’t drink, and I still have a cigarette here and there. But Miranda just moved away, so the smoke breaks are suddenly a lot quieter.

Miranda knew she was moving a few weeks in advance, but there were never plans for a going-away party. Rather, after her place was cleaned out and her van loaded one last time with stuff, we had one final smoke break in the driveway. I’m a sucker for occasions like this. I use them to rhapsodize and reminisce and express appreciation. In this case, it’s a double rhapsody, because I get to rhapsodize during the final smoke break, then turn around and rhapsodize again when Miranda has her housewarming party at the new place*.

Our ceremonious final smoke break was doomed from the get-go. It was after dark, her four kids were exhausted yet wound up from the big freakin’ deal that is moving out of one house and into another, and no one wanted to just get in the van and let Mommy have a few minutes of grown folks’ time. There was one kid running around the van, one kid honking the horn, one kid climbing, one kid pinching another kid, the other kid screaming about it, at least one kid in a constant state of crying, and one single mother simultaneously trying to manage it yet let it be so she could have a damn cigarette.

Me, I’ve got the failsafe of a wife and co-parent to let me off the Baby-Rearing Express for a morning or evening when I feel burnt out. I only have two kids. Miranda has four kids, and she has them all to herself. At that moment, trying to be the happy but aloof bystander-friend, I got a capsule glimpse into my neighbor’s world. There was frustration and resignation, a feeling of no escape. I know Miranda loves her kids more than anything, but watching her plead for five quick minutes of peace made me wish for a cosmic remote control that could put the offspring on pause just for the length of a cigarette.

Miranda ended up having to intervene with the kids, and that’s when her oldest daughter, who is 8, slid in and took her place.

“Do you see that?” the daughter asked me, pointing at the slow-moving lights of a twin-engine plane in the night sky above. “That’s a UFO.”

“It’s flying pretty low,” I said. “They’re usually not so obvious about showing themselves.”

“I see UFOs every night. One night I saw sixteen.” She pointed to another plane excitedly. “Look, there’s another one.”

“How about that,” I said, not condescending in the least. “They might just be traveling, you know, just taking the spaceship out for a spin after dinner like some people walk their dog.”

“The first UFO is over the high school now.”
“Maybe they need a football field to land in.”
“It’s not landing, it’s still going past the high school. Look, another UFO! Three UFOs!”

I don’t know, it was a simple little moment in the middle of all this chaos, and it made me think, It’s all worth it. When you have kids, there’s lot of stuff you give up, little and big stuff that hits on an everyday basis. But there’s this cute, living, breathing, thinking, talking extension of you that you get to build a family life around, and it’s all worth it.

Miranda drove off a few minutes later, her empty apartment darkened, and I walked back home. Saw my wife and announced, “It’s nice and quiet over here.” Not really, said my wife, and within two minutes, both of my kids were crying and needing parental attention. Full circle, as it were.

*This is why I ate it all up when Conan signed off his NBC late-night show, debuted his “Tonight Show,” signed off the “Tonight Show” and debuted his TBS show all in the span of like 18 months. That’s four different legitimate occasions to wax rhapsodic over the same dude’s body of work. I loved it.

BABY PICTURE OF THE DAY

Advertisements

The night I met her

January 24, 2011

Andrew Hicks

Wednesday, April 19, 2007
2:07 a.m.

I’m at the top corner bar at Ameristar Casino, by myself. Al is bartending. Al and I have a friendly relationship built on combined decades of music geekdom. When the casino Muzak is tuned to the ’80s or ’90s channels, we race to see who can first successfully identify the title, artist and year of release.

On a dead night at the bar, it keeps us both entertained. Right now, though, almost every seat at his bar is filled, so I plan to get a Budweiser draft and keep on walking. There are three other bars in the casino, and odds are, I’ll stop and talk to someone I know or quickly make a new friend.

I try to get Al’s attention up at the service entrance to the bar. He’s headed over to me when a female voice yells out, “Al! Al!” He turns his head. Six seats down, a striking woman I’d peg to be about my age is pointing down at the video poker machine in front of her. “Al! Do you have any gum? This thing ate my quarter!”

I hear that, and I meander down the bar to see the situation firsthand. Ordinarily, I’m not incredibly bold socially, but since I moved into my bachelor pad four months ago, I’ve been the indisputable life of the party again. I have the ironclad conviction that everything out of my mouth is borne of some form of comic genius. Whether I am right about this, I cannot objectively say, but people usually seem to enjoy the crazy talk that comes out of my mouth.

“Where did you put your quarter?” I ask the stranger. “There’s definitely no coin slot on a bar video poker machine.”

She points down at the slot next to the video screen where you’re supposed to insert your players’ card. It’s the size of a credit card or hotel keycard and definitely not the size of any American coin. I decide I should make fun of this girl in a jovial sorta fashion. So I do, and she tells me this is her first time in the casino since like 1997, a year in which there apparently still were coin slots attached to video poker machines.

“I’ve been watching you,” I tell her. “You’re crazy.”

This offends her for some reason. In my delusional, bloated head, this one-line gem of brilliance should only get a huge, warm laugh. I explain to her that crazy’s a good thing, that normal is boring, that I’m a lunatic, and that everyone who’s ever been close to me is crazy, too. And I was watching her earlier, out of the corner of my eye. I could tell from a distance that this girl had a magnetic personality, a natural beauty and just something different. Something crazy.

She tells me she’s at the casino by herself, too. I tell her we should take the escalator down to the ground floor and cruise the tables. I overheard a cocktail waitress say “American Idol” star Chris Daughtry, who played a concert earlier tonight in the casino showroom, is playing blackjack on Table 7 and is way shorter and uglier than you’d think from TV. But we don’t go anywhere. We stay at the bar and talk and laugh, and my Budweiser draft disappears with a quickness. One more, and I’m out of money.

I explain my cashlessness to my new friend, and she buys me a beer, but only after she determines that I really don’t have any money and am not trying to take advantage of the potential kindness of a stranger. She pulls out a Ziploc bag full of quarters, dimes and nickels — the odds and ends of tips she made from restaurant customers — and she buys me a beer with a pile of change.

She tells me her name is Tiffany, and later she tells me that she’s 35 years old. I don’t believe her, so I ask for her ID. The ID confirms it, and we start talking about my perceived generational differences between the cultural reference points of someone my age, 29, and someone six years older. She quickly reveals herself to be a great pop culture sparring partner, awash in information from before my time straight up to now.

All too soon, it’s last call. I wage a campaign to get Tiffany to come back to the bachelor pad with me. There’s something electric about this girl — instantly appealing, intriguing and comforting to me — and I really just want to hang out with her some more. She already gets me in a way that far surpasses that of the other casino bar strangers-turned-temporary-drinking-buddies I’ve met.

She resists, of course. She doesn’t ever go out in the first place, and she’s not the one-night-stand type. I’m not either. “We’re just friends hanging out,” I keep telling her. I run through my other selling points — I have roommates living with me, so I can’t be a psycho killer. I’m the nicest guy you’ll ever meet. I can show you some of those hilarious old Saturday Night Live sketches we’ve been rhapsodizing about. And I’ve got beer.

5:57 a.m.

My roommate Tim just left for work. He’s one of my oldest and best friends. Our bedrooms are connected by a bathroom, so once I heard his alarm go off a couple times, I brought Tiffany through the bathroom so she could meet him. This was late-night, manic drunk logic, but I wanted to introduce them. I figured Tim would recognize immediately that I stumbled into something special.

The DVD player is in Tim’s room. My bedroom is huge, and it’s set up for some good hanging out, but all I have audiovisually is a Bose iPod dock and a 13″ TV/VCR combo given to me by a guy from work. So when Tim leaves, I show Tiffany some of the highlights of the Best of Chris Farley SNL DVD.

We watch, but we talk about our lives — me preaching the philosophy of self-love and keeping things emotionally uncomplicated, and her telling me about her first husband and the abusive boyfriend she just broke up with. She’s kind, she’s thoughtful, she’s loving. This is someone I value immediately, and I have a hard time picturing the kind of man who would mistreat her.

There’s a gentle nervousness within me, but I’m most filled with an air of excitement. I’ve been truly coming back to life since I moved in here, and now I feel like I’ve met the other side of me that’s been missing all this time. And, best of all, I don’t have any of the accompanying obsessiveness, self-loathing and hesitance that have plagued me the other couple of times I thought I’d met the right girl. I know that, if I never see Tiffany again, I still had an unexpectedly amazing night.

Tiffany leaves. She has to work at 11, and she has precious little time to sleep off the abundance of Grolsch beer that went from my fridge to our bellies these past few hours. I watch a little more SNL while stretching across Tim’s bed, and I call my mom as the sun comes up. I tell her I met the woman I’m going to marry, but I tell her I’m going to play it cool and let it move at a natural, comfortable pace.

I call two other friends and tell them this was the night I met my Yoko Ono. “But Yoko broke up the band,” one of them pouts back to me. At this point, I have no idea that love’s going to crash down hard on my head in a matter of weeks, and that before the summer is out, I’ll be married and living in another state. And, for all intents and purposes, the old band will be broken up.

Right now, all I know is, I found her. She’s really real. She exists, she’s beautiful, and I found her.

FAMILY PICTURE OF THE DAY

Tiffany: a self-portrait she doesn't know I'm posting yet.

Twelve new Christmas memories

December 31, 2010

Andrew Hicks

I’m gonna blame Christmas for making me lazy this past week. My family and I spent three days and two nights at my in-laws’ house for the holidays, and even after getting back, the combination of cheer and leftover seasonal junk food left me glued to the recliner.

Now there’s one day left in 2010, and I’m finally getting around to writing about Jesus’ golden birthday. That’s right, Our Lord turned 25 this year. Again. While 25 was a depressing birthday for me, it wasn’t for Jesus, because he knows he’s got the best seven years of his life still ahead. Dude loves the number seven, what can I say? Anyway, here are:

 

TWELVE NEW CHRISTMAS MEMORIES

1. It’s noon on Christmas Eve, and we’re driving down in a snow storm. It almost looked like we couldn’t be able to come at all, but skipping Thanksgiving proper and Christmas the same year would feel like a cardinal sin. Luckily, it’s warm enough that the snow is melting instantly as it hits the ground. We stop at a gas station, and Sarah and I head in to find a little junk to hold us until the in-laws’ roast is ready at 4 pm. I find some Dill Pickle Pringles, and Sarah’s full attention latches onto the impulse bin of Charm’s Blow Pops at foot level. I decide, what the heck, it’s Christmas, and I get her a Blue Raspberry sucker. When we get back to the car, I unwrap the Blow Pop, and Sarah is overjoyed as she holds it, takes a couple tentative licks then goes to town on it. Many productive minutes pass as Sarah enjoys the second lollipop of her young life, then we start to notice she’s putting it in her hair and all over her forehead. It’s a parental moment where you want to stop the problem behavior, but you can’t stop laughing, and your laughing only makes your giddy toddler go to further extremes. Sarah is most amused by the practice of jamming the sucker into the recesses of her neck. She is a streaky, sticky blue mess for the rest of the car ride.

2. Just before two, we decide to stop into a 24-hour Mom and Pop restaurant in our hometown that I’ve previously visited well over a hundred times, though this may be my first time visiting when not drunk or hung over. We still have that roast ahead of us, so we just order their amazing house salad — lettuce, red onion, pimento, bacon, provel, house cream dressing and homemade croutons — and potato skins. The skins are basically full-sized potato halves of the daunting Russet variety. Sarah has some fries and water, our waitress is tattooed and strange, and it’s just quick, fun family time.

3. Some might have received my proclamation that my family would start our holiday shopping on Christmas Eve as a joke, but this is what in fact happens. The snow is still swirling from the sky as we spend well over an hour stuffing a Wal-Mart cart with our entire haul of presents. We pick out a couple things that we want for ourselves under the guise of, “This is your Christmas present to me,” and we later get a big box of bargain Christmas cards from Walgreens. I used to have a cheat sheet listing which relatives received which bargain cards (“Grandpa = puppy in stocking, 2008,” “Tiffany’s sister = winking snowman, 2009,” etc.), but now I get to experience the rush of possibly giving the same relative the same card several years in a row. Will they call me out on it? They haven’t yet.

4. With the wife and kiddies asleep late on Christmas Eve, I go on an iTunes binge with some freshly purchased gift cards. I’ve kept a list of songs I want to get my hands on for months now, so the choosing is easy. The logging in is damn near impossible. I have three basic passwords I use, and none of them hits. I also somehow manage to mis-answer my security question three consecutive times, so my account is frozen for eight hours. I then create a new account and get locked out of it somehow. Bells are ringing. Silver, angry bells. But I get my music.

5. On Christmas Day, Tiffany and I each open a mound of presents for Sarah. I’ve just figured out where to put all the toys she already has, and now she’s doubled her plaything inventory. She gets an indoor princess tent, a bookcase with dozens of books to put in it, a stagecoach wagon loaded with Lego blocks, and three coats. The grandparents seem to have done the Toys ‘R’ Us equivalent of the old “Supermarket Sweep” TV show, and we love them for it. Days later, hanging out around the house, I’ll still be happening upon individual Christmas gifts given to Sarah. Thank you moms, aunt, uncles and dad.

6. This is my fourth Christmas at the in-laws’, and it’s the first time my brother Matt has met Tiffany’s side of the family. While eating roasted pork sandwiches and a cornucopia of hors d oeuvres (thanks for having my back, Dictionary.com), I get to hear Matt and my father-in-law talk excitedly about classical music and opera. One of my simpler joys in life is watching people from different corners of my social and family sphere interact with each other. This is no Christmas miracle, but it’s pretty unique in its own right.

7. After my mom and brother leave, our family Christmas moves downstairs, and the younger generation takes turns playing Just Dance 2 on the Wii. I beg out of participating — the broken ankle excuse will hold me for at least three more months, and I will use it when applicable — but Tiffany and her older sister tear up some Rihanna and such. The highlight of all this is watching my mother-in-law hold her own by dancing along to the Ike and Tina version of “Proud Mary.”

8. I spend several hours on Christmas night hanging out at Harrah’s Casino with two of my best friends and partners in crime from my single days. They rack up a huge bar tab in a restaurant just outside the casino while I binge-drink Diet Pepsi and Mountain Dew and smoke cigarettes like I’m one of Marge Simpson’s wheezy sisters. Inside, we gamble. I bet small and play for hours on the same money. I turn my last three bucks back into $25 then make my friends go to the roulette table with me. They’re drunk by now, and the slowest, rudest dealer in history presides over our table. The time between spins is at least 15 minutes. None of the other roulette players at the table speaks any English — there was an Asian Concert* event earlier tonight — so my friends kill time and crack me up by loudly complaining about how much the dealer sucks and how much roulette sucks and how much it sucks that no one at the table speaks English. I win $40 on the next spin and am kept waiting another 15 minutes to cash in my chips.

9. Apparently, when you drink a dozen plastic cups of soda really late at night, you have a hard time falling asleep. The magic of Christmas does nothing to change this immutable law. I slide into bed around 3 am and am kept in an exhausted state of alertness until after the sun comes up. So it is to my great relief that my in-laws are enthusiastic about taking infant Silas upstairs and watching him while Tiffany and I sleep and lounge in bed until noon. It’s a great slow wakeup, lying there and talking and watching an episode of “Monk” on Netflix Instant.

10. One of Sarah’s gifts was a Mickey Mouse Clubhouse instrument set. It had a drum, drumsticks, maracas, plastic finger cymbals, nonfunctioning harmonica (thank you for the broken harmonica, Disney, seriously) and a recorder. You know, like the kind they give you in third grade band class if you don’t appear to have any other inborn musical talent. Sarah keeps putting her mouth around the recorder and making trumpet fart noises into it, while I’m demonstrating and telling her to just blow into it. Finally, her grandma tells her to blow it out like her birthday candles, and something clicks. It’s beyond cute to watch that little girl’s eyes light up when she realizes she just accomplished what she’d been trying to accomplish.

11. The day after Christmas, I talk to my dad on the phone for the first time since September. Our relationship the past couple decades has been sporadic to nonexistent, but we jump-started our communication this year and got to know each other as adults. Which was a great gift. We talk for a half-hour, and it’s great to hear the excitement in his voice as he describes his Christmas dinner spent with two Harvard PhD’s and how he’s been eating nothing but natural health food the past few months and feels better than ever.

12. Sarah’s gift motherlode included a full snowsuit and an orange plastic sled, and when we get back home, I take her outside in the snow. There’s a small hill at the end of our driveway that leads down into the backyard. I put her in the sled, have her count to three, then I send her on her way. Her reaction is one of sheer delight, and she joyously demands to go, “Again! Again!” until her out-of-shape dad is wishing he hadn’t chainsmoked all those cigarettes on Christmas night.

*Asian Concert was the official name of the event. No actual performers were billed. I assume when you live in the Midwest, and you are Asian, you’ll show up to an Asian Concert regardless of who appears because there really aren’t any Asian Concerts booked in the first damn place.

BABY PICTURE OF THE DAY