Shhhhhh . . .

To Tiffany with many heartfelt apologies . . .

Don’t tell my sister-in-law, Tiff, about any of this.  Seriously, say nothing.  My brother Pat and I have just arrived home from Vegas and well . . . need I admit more?  Sin City offers a never-ending supply of mischief for two young men and being efficient travelers, we had to catch them all.  When we had finished, Pat even invented a few new ones (he IS an engineer).  But let’s keep that to ourselves.  Silence is particularly important when Tiff is nearby, say within several miles from your vocal chords, which she might snatch from your still-living body if she ever heard a syllable of the truth.  For the health of you, me, Pat, my larynx, and 6 billions of the world’s population, let’s keep this between ourselves.

If you happen to be walking down the road and perchance run into her, deny the whole incident with a laugh and a dirty joke.  That punch line might earn you a slap in the face, causing your cheeks to swell and puff like an allergic reaction to bees or peanut butter, but it’s better than inadvertently revealing the truth, the horrible despicable truth.  You might lose a lung then or a heart – if you happen to be an octopus and possess more than one – but it’s far preferable to giving Tiff any clues that might allow her to uncover this horrible insidious puzzle.  You can always grow more organs or borrow your neighbor’s, but these grotesque secrets, once revealed, will not disappear again from her memory much like the stains of crushed lung on a white dress shirt.

Thus, try not talk at all.  Simply divert her attention by pointing over her shoulder, shout “Hey, is that Shia LaBeouf?” and then run like hell . . . but not in a serpentine pattern.  That only works with alligators, not with Tiffany, who is a doctor and thus above such reptile chicanery.

Running isn’t a good idea either though.  Tiff will track you down and lay your soul bare.  It’s best to hide, quivering in a dumpster when she mounts her horse, Bloodmane, and races through the streets summoning the legion of the undead.  The ground will shake and the earth will tremble.  Your only gambit is to whimper and cry: it won’t stop her from razing the secrets of your soul but the mass of accumulated tears might block her from sight for three additional seconds.

Never mention the turtle.  EVER.

You shouldn’t mention anything about money either, especially the large sums Pat lost at the slots.  Kindly do not mention the roulette wheel at all, an incident which may actually be worse than the turtles, those delicious . . . delicious turtles.

Don’t attempt to lie either.  My sister-in-law’s gaze can piece stone, steel and even flesh just like a magic eight ball.  I once saw her immobilize a T-rex with a single glace and decapitate a 40-year-old man in California (posing online as a ten-year old Asian girl) for revealing the season finale to Gray’s Anatomy.  The papers reported something about shark attack, but I know the truth, which by the way Tiff must never know about.

If you enjoy the idea of barbells flying across the room, feel free to mention the amount of money we spent on the buffet or the cost of the ‘clothing-optional’ party in Suite 3.  Just wait until I’ve left the room and/or border first please.   Thank you.

Cheating doesn’t help us in this conspiracy either.  So don’t try it.  I know you’re thinking about covering it all up with cement shoes and crop circles, but trust me it won’t work.  Last week, I stole an extra vowel in Scrabble and that night her scowling bloodshot eyes haunted my dreams and tormented my nightmares, like Freddy Kruger or that scene from The Ring (You know the one . . . When the girl with black hair climbs from the well and . . . Ahhhhhhh!)  Only Tiff’s eyes are like a million times worse.  My imaginary friends won’t allow me to cheat at Scrabble anymore for fear of reprisal.

Yeah, just go ahead and reveal our little dirty secret.  Go ahead.  I won’t stop you.  And when she explodes in rage and consumes all life on this planet in her most unholy fury, I won’t even say ‘I told you so.’  Indeed no one will be left on the planet to say much of anything.  Except cockroaches, and really, who understands them?

Sure, you might think those special ‘trading-cards’ they give out on Vegas streets hilarious, but if Tiff unearths our complete set of autographed cards, she’ll trade our entire collection for fracture and contusion, the names of her left and right fists.

And Tiff . . . if you somehow read this, it was Pat’s idea.  Every sordid bit, bet, and midnight whisper was devised in your husband’s corrupt mind.  I acted merely as an innocent bystander, a simple puppet to his puppet-controlling evil.  So don’t blame me or even think of me.  Let’s think of puppies instead, beautiful loveable puppies who never keep secrets from us about their vacation in Las Vegas.

Double Down

Pat and I just returned from Vegas with Mom and Dad, where we attended the International Home Builder’s Convention, losing ourselves in several warehouses of collected wood, tools, and chalk-stained jeans.  The weather was less than ideal for a vacation.  For our first day, Sin City drowned in rain and yet emerged all the dirtier the next morning to abscond with our money and weakened consciences.  With twenty-five bucks a pop, Dad consulted his stock broker before sitting down to eat at the buffet each morning and to lose fifty bucks at the tables later in the evening.

Luckily the rain stopped the following morning, providing clear skies for an afternoon on the fairways.   I gracefully threw in the towel after the first hole, gradually relearning the game for the remaining seventeen while Dad and Pat battled for longest straightest drive.  Still, the course was beautiful and fun, offering a fantastic view of the entire valley which stretched out like the bowl of an immense crater. White-capped peaks newly blanketed by the week-long snow storms rose behind the Strip like a scene from a fantasy novel.

The scenery inspired me.

Texting Shannon on the golf course:  “The peaks remind me of LotR [Lord of the Rings] and the peaks of Middle Earth.”

His response:  “Gay.  Nerd.”

The following story details Dad’s success and frustrations at the blackjack tables for those three days, proving that distraction can ruin even the best strategies.

The girl began talking before she sat down at the blackjack table, her mouth a sewage pump of vulgar chatter and cigarette smoke.  My father sighed at this new distraction and promptly lost two more hands as the girl removed her coat and nearly fell out of her dress, allowing her chest to hover over the table.  Card-counting was not an exact science, and Dad never claimed the proficiency of an MIT grad or Dustin Hoffman.  He simply kept track of the face cards and played accordingly.  Still focus was the key, and the presence of Vegas Strip Barbie and her plastic chest bouncing off the green felt like soccer balls did not help.  Moreover the girl could not simply talk; she expected a conversation, hurling questions between hands, which he politely dismissed with a grunt.

“At that table over there, they wouldn’t talk to me, just hit on me hand after hand after hand after hand like I was some cheap whore down at the Rio, where Clyde and Eddy always take me Saturday and Thursdays.  One guy grabbed my leg too after complimenting me on my dress like I was going to give him the time of day.  Men are always hitting on me at the blackjack tables, never poker or craps, just blackjack.  Guess these card-counters don’t get any back home, eh?  Are you going to hit on me?”

“No ma’am,” he sighed.

“Well, why not?  Not a queer, are ya?  Guys are usually jumping all over me.  One grabbed my ass near the roulette wheel.  Bold but I was flattered nonetheless.  We had a wild night then . . .”

He should be accustomed to distractions by now.  This town wielded every advantage to cheat and rob you from the one cent slots through the boutique shops — forty bucks for a cup of gelato.  The casino boss at the Bellagio warned him of that earlier.  Three hundred dollars on the table, in fifteen minutes he had tripled his bets.  The cards looked favorable too when the pit boss sidled over and began making introductions:  How are you doing, sir?  Where you from?  Do you play golf?  What’s your handicap?  Lousy weather, isn’t it?  What’s Maryland like?

Two, three, four hands lost.  The dealer scooped away sixty bucks before the pit boss waddled off to the poker tables, careening other players from the money train with a handshake and a smile.  In such a position, I imagine that a more anti-social player might have fared better, eschewing all courtesy and polite conversation, never lifting his eyes from the table, delving into habits forged from long hours in solitude (reading comics or writing blogs for example).  Still few can count cards or possess the courage to toss to the table  hard earned wages, funds I might spent investing at the local Borders or Best Buy.

The girl continued to prattle, her voice disappearing into the ambient noise of the casino: the clang of the one-armed bandits, shouts from the roulette wheel, the dull monotony of Sinatra songs echoing over the loudspeakers.  The dealer had at least a nine.  Dad absently fingered his jack and seven.

“Hit me.”

Four of spades.  Twenty-one.  Dealer flipped over an ace.  The rest of the table grumbled.

“Why’d you do that?”  The guy at the other end of the table growled, sucking on a fat cigar like a mob boss.  His comb-over and long pale fingers suggested computer programmer.

“Huh?”  Dad turned.

“You stole my card.  I needed that four.”

“Look buddy,” Dad asserted.  “I had a soft hand.  You had to assume the dealer had a ten and then nineteen.  My seven wasn’t going to cut it.  I’m not playing you, buddy.  I’m playing him.”

The guy twirled his cigar in his mouth, scowling as he sipped at his drink.

“So what are you a card-counter now?”

“All blackjack players count cards,” the girl whined.  “Except me, never done it.  Can’t really keep track of anything after a few drinks.  Anyone want to buy me a whiskey sour?”

Dad picks up his chips and leaves, flicking a ten to the dealer who nods with a sympathetic wink that says: “Wish I could do what you’re doing now, sir.”

The girl shifted over beside the angry would-be-mob-boss, who leaned back further in his seat, gratified by the added attention.  His right arm fluttered behind his chair, uncertain whether his new admirer might react to a grab.  His left hand confidently tossed a blue chip into the ring, costing him a hundred dollars and subsequently his arm-candy as the dealer flipped the hidden king.