The Cusp of Dreams/Chapter 6: Nirvana
Copyright © 2000 by Diana E. Sheets
Rita and Laurie are screaming at the top of their lungs—an ear-splitting, screeching, howling, better-than-sex cry. They’re dancing and hugging, laughing and crying. The gambling tokens are overflowing their buckets, dollars converted to slugs in denominations of ones, fives, twenty-fives, and hundreds. Tokens are flying into the air. The chips that aren’t crashing at their feet are stuffed down their brassieres, into their panties, their pockets, whatever pouch or crevice of protection is closest at hand. Around the craps table there’s laughter, support, camaraderie. The players have done well under their reign. As “shooters,” Rita and Laurie have bought luck and money to the crowd. The cries of their peers are euphoric.
“Roll again, babes.”
“Sweet as honey.”
“Hot, red hot sisters!”
So when Rita and Laurie step away from the table, when it looks as if they’re about to leave, their actions are met with a resounding chorus of boos, shouts, and insults.
“Don’t even think about it!”
“Dames, bitches, broads . . .” The insults roll together.
But R & L are moving away. They’re flagging me down. Come on, come on, their hand signals say. So I walk over.
We’re at Caesar’s in
My sales team had become enthralled in an orgy of gambling. Everyone left the convention hall at five, dispersing along the boardwalk. They seemed determined to risk their hard-earned dollars, money earmarked for mortgages, car payments, and credit card debt. With this recklessness came a willingness to challenge the capriciousness of the roll of the dice, the flip of a card, the thrust of a ball along a roulette wheel, the pull of a lever or a push of a button.
As salesmen and women, they’re psychologically predisposed toward adventure and the luck of the draw. Their lives are lived with bluster and a sideways wink at fate. For them, winning is everything. They’re convinced that if they play their cards right, the jackpot will be theirs. That’s the key to their psyche.
That evening, I walked the money beat: along the boardwalk, in and out of casinos. I watched the crowds. Lots of sizzle. People congregated everywhere. And the smells! A virulent mix of sweat choked by cheap perfume and after-shave competed with the pungent aromas of food, liquor, and cigarette smoke. The incessant clanging of slots created a kind of permanent ringing in my ears, stifling all rational thought.
Eventually, I drifted into the Taj.
I passed by the slot machines and made my way toward the
blackjack tables. There was
By his side stood a tall, leggy blond. This babe was shrink-wrapped in a slinky black dress. She was fully accessorized in red, complete with flaming hoop earrings; ruby lipstick; glossy, fire-engine manicured nails; and imitation lizard embossed four-inch heels, color camouflaged for the best urban fire. She was snugly draped around my Richard. He acknowledged their intimacy through proximity, cupping the right flank of her hip with the palm of his right hand, twisting her pelvis into his groin, his command of her, absolute. One of Taj’s girls? Perhaps a circuit sister? You know, one of those fillies that prowl the casinos nightly for a high voltage cocktail of sex, money, and fleeting notoriety, a kind of gambling groupie. This scene, well, it was too good to miss. So I nodded toward Richard and joined his table.
Big mistake. Turned out there was a twenty-five-dollar minimum. To top it off, my blackjack expertise was limited to one sitting in Vegas several years ago. It seemed another age—a time when five and ten-dollar tables, friendly dealers, and minimum losses were not uncommon. That night we were a table of colleagues flown in for a business meeting, friends, playing the house minimum. Even then, an hour into the game, I was out fifty bucks.
But Richard’s table was high stakes. Major bills were wagered with every hand. The dealer’s pace was relentless. Every few seconds he shuffled, cut, and discarded his burn card, saying, “Place your bets, please.”
So I took my chances. I plopped down twenty-five bucks amid a sea of green, twenty-five dollar, and black, hundred dollar, chips. Cards were dealt. My hand was respectable—nineteen points. The dealer went bust. I became the proud processor of two green chips. Cut, burn, bet, deal, the game went on, quick, fast, workmanlike.
Shit. I was holding my own. Enough so I could notice the other players. Guys, all guys. Cut, burn, bet, deal. The buzzard to my right was losing big. He was nondescript, invisible. Like any old Joe on the street. But with virtually each play, ol’ Joe was down two hundred dollars. His movements seemed catatonic. No matter what the cards, he plunked down another two black chips. And each time I watched them swept away.
Cut, burn, bet, deal. Medicare Joe never showed his pain. Nor did he talk. But he guzzled down Dewar’s as if it was seltzer. LOOzer. Cut, burn, bet, deal. By my reckoning, LOOzer was down twenty-eight bills and counting. I was nervous just sitting next to him. It wasn’t hard to imagine the outcome. Geezer Joe, AKA LOOzer, would metamorphose into Wacko Berserker Dude, firing off a few clips of his semi till he downed all of us at the table. He’d make his getaway with a couple of those buckets spilling over with black chips. Cut, burn, bet, deal. Hey, maybe security would think I was in on his caper? Guilty by association, they always say. It wasn’t hard to imagine they would silence the broad suspiciously glancing up at the smoke glass ceiling. No, it wouldn’t take much. Cut, burn, bet, deal. So I stopped peeking toward the heavens and focused on the action at the table.
Well, there wasn’t a lot of chitchat going on. Just like business, strictly cutthroat. Richard was playing well. From the looks of things, he was a master of game theory. A hunk of a man as cool as dry ice. Cut, burn, bet, deal. Richard doubled down and split when his hand looked good. He tripled and quadrupled his bets when things were going well. Losses reigned in his play. His strategy seemed to work.
But not for me. Cut, burn, bet, deal.
I started losing, and my debt kept escalating. Two, three, four hundred! That would have bankrolled one hell
of a night in
And then a miracle. I won back a pile of green and black chips. I was up a couple of bills and climbing. But twenty minutes later, I was burning hundreds again. This time I quit the table drenched in sweat. Down three hundred. Who said this was fun? It was misery, pure misery. I looked over at LOOzer for consolation. Still hemorrhaging. Same immobile face, the rote movements of a cyborg following his preprogrammed set of instructions. Either ROBOLOOzer had money to burn or he was about to self-destruct.
Richard noticed I was leaving and said he would join me. As he tipped the dealer, I looked around. Shrinkwrap was gone. No doubt she would return. But for now, Mr. Solicitous was by my side.
“Quite a roller coaster, wasn’t it?” he commented, squeezing my arm. So Mr. Cool. What would he know about vertical plunge? The guy was up hundreds by my count. Mr. Charm continued.
“I saw Mer playing craps earlier. Want to check her out?”
So we moseyed on over. It wasn’t hard spotting Mer. There she was with her long, tousled hair, streaked with blond. She was wearing a black silk tee that accentuated her breasts. Her after hour jeans were tight, gripping her lanky legs. Spiked heels completed the look. Tonight she was pure fox, a bitch in play. And I didn’t like it, not one bit.
“Hi, Mer.” My greeting was friendly, neutral in tone.
“Well, don’t you look stunning,” Richard said as he turned to Mer and kissed her on the lips. His voice was a low rumble coated with testosterone.
“Hello, handsome,” Mer replied. She paused for a moment before turning to greet me. “Hi, Sue, how’s everything?”
“Sucky,” I said. It was my best attempt at frivolity, but it bombed. I was pissed about my losses and jealous to boot. But of whom? Richard or Mer? I beat down my misery, dredging up a warm timber, “How’s everything with you?”
“Down a couple of hundred, but who’s counting? It’s only money, right?” Mer said with a laugh.
“Shut the fuck up!”
Came the rumblings from the players.
“Silence please,” barked the dealer, “the game’s in play.” He looked at us with a radioactive glare. God forbid there was interference with cash commerce here.
Richard moved in to direct Mer’s play. Under his instruction, depending on the shooter, sometimes she was a “right better” (betting with the dice), sometimes “wrong,” but always Richard had her playing the free odds, singles and doubles. Under his guidance, Mer’s losses began to reverse. And with each win, her sensuality blossomed.
At first, she just pivoted toward Richard. Then she tucked her v-scooped tee into her jeans,
pulling it tight to emphasize her cleavage.
Not satisfied with Richard’s attention, she displayed her charms
to the crowd, leaning over to place her bets. Quite a show. Mer’s
hips swung as she played her chips. Her
laughter grew throaty, primal. Richard,
bemused, stepped in for the show. He
stood by her side, sticky close. The
slight smile pursing his lips suggested the enormity of his pleasure. His hands guided hers in placing
the bets, intimacy for all to see. A
seduction in play.
“Guys, I’m out of here. Strike it big.” I said as my hands touched their shoulders. As if they cared.
Once again, I was cruising the boardwalk, headed back to Caesar’s. Just inside the casino, I stopped to watch a horse race. Miniature stallions were pulling Roman chariots around a track. You could hear their hooves pounding the raceway. They were clever, mechanical toys; still, the sound system wasn’t half-bad. The horses were mesmerizing, the betters intense. They failed to see humor in their pathos, losing their life savings at a toy track.
And, by the looks of things, that appeared to be just what they were doing. Not one smile. Not a glimmer of amusement. All the players seemed oblivious to their surroundings. Their eyes saw only the horses and their chariots in play. The clanking of coins signaled the start of each new race. Damn! I can’t believe it. Two of my team, Michael and Peter, were betters at the toy track. Both men were intense and withdrawn. Surely not winning. Theirs was a high misery index. They never even noticed me. Just as well. I headed off to the baccarat and craps tables in search of R & L. It was there that I saw them jumping and shouting.
R & L are now standing before me, laughing and crying. Their gambling tokens overflow their buckets. They are excitedly tugging at my side. Jumping and dancing. Ecstasy courses through their veins. They might be any two women in their early thirties striking it big. But first impressions are, well, just that. For you really can’t understand Rita without catching a glimpse of her husband, Jake.
Jake, who’s so big and stupid with his huge, sloppy body, oozing fat everywhere. Jake, who walks with heavy steps like he’s grinding you right into the pavement. Jake, whose face fills with rage like a caldron boiling over. Jake, with his greasy, balding head that has angry hairs jumping out like wildfire. Jake, who makes me want to dump a bucket of H20 all over him. Or something more deadly. And then watch him transmogrify, liquid lava turned to stone.
Did I mention Jake’s hands? Fist clenching paws. He’s a guy that always looks like he just finished one brawl and is ready to instigate another. He’s a man whose jeans hang beneath his bloated potbelly. Check out his rear for some major butt crevice. Certainly, you’ve seen his kind before. And no, you don’t want to mess with Jake. And Jake don’t want no one talkin’ to his Rita.
But who could tell all this with just one meeting alone with Rita? Rita, whose manner is always so warm and unflappable, it affords a great cover. If their marriage is troubled, Rita never says so. She’s discreet, deliberately upbeat. “Fine, everything’s fine,” she says with that tight-lipped smile of hers. As if I didn’t spot the bruises today on her right arm. Or catch her on the phone hours ago as she tried to dampen Jake’s incendiary rage.
“Please, Jake,” she whispered softly, “please don’t forget to pick up Jojo at the neighbors. . . . Yes, I know you’re busy. . . . I know you’d never intentionally forget . . . . It’s just that today JoJo must be picked up no later that five. . . . Yes, five. . . .”
Their preschooler, JoJo, was left home in Jake’s care. In between Butt Crevice’s long-winded passages, Rita tried to explain the situation. “Yes, yes, of course, Bridget’s with me . . . . Where? She’s with a sitter right now.” Despite Rita’s composure, I couldn’t help hearing Jake’s shouts as they blasted through the receiver. I shuddered for her.
Did I say Rita’s pretty? Not
Then, there’s venomous Laurie. Keep your distance. She’s capable of inflicting great injury. Viper Bitch is always hissing, slithering, and rattling as she sidles in for the kill. Laurie’s a menace, you see. Still, what’s a manager to do?
For the two women are kind of a package. You want Rita, so you’re stuck with Laurie. Laurie, who’s short and thick, with dark hair layered like scales. She’s shapeless, except for her bust line. Laurie advertises the goods, prompting the guys to peer down at the view.
“Stop staring at my fucking titties,” she sibilates at the least bit of provocation.
She’s a bit like Jake. Yeah, they hate one another. Surprised? As if.
I hired Laurie at Rita’s suggestion. Nah, I didn’t want her. But she had the credentials. That was something. In this business, sometimes it’s better not to look too closely. And I wanted to keep Rita. Her numbers were good. She was low maintenance. Besides, I needed salespeople. Laurie’s references checked out. How bad could she be? Bad enough, as it turned out. Wish I would have been clairvoyant.
So now I’m stuck with Viper Bitch. Slithering after Michael, who’s married and has a family. Hissing at Peter, a closet gay. Rattling my two new hires, her tongue darting for Richard. Yeah, well, at least he’s single. From Viper Bitch’s perspective, you’re generally categorized as sexual prey or venomous foe. All except for Rita.
Anyway, R & L are dancing before me. They’re laughing and shrieking.
“Sue, Suezzzzy, Susssannnnnaaa, we’re HOTTTTT! Sooooooooo hot,” they squeal.
Rita slinks and shimmies, whirling around. Her dress twirls. A bit like Marilyn M. Even a few men at the slots notice, stopping for a few seconds from their button-pushing mania, flashing smiles of appreciation. Rita wraps her arms around me. Her embrace is warm, endearing. I give her a hug. Let her enjoy this. Not one to be left out, Laurie cries, “Come gamble with us! The night’s young.” “Or is it day?” I reply with a smile. “It is morning, isn’t it?”
The three of us laugh. I’m tempted; their gaiety is infectious. Even the clanking of the slots entice.
“Shit.” Rita’s swear flows out, one soft intonation. She’s never been one for obscenities. But she’s panicked now. “Bridget,” she cries, “the sitter said she would stay only until .” I feel her terror as she whispers, “My baby, my baby.”
“Rita, give me your keys. I’ll stay with your daughter. I know how long you’ve waited for this. Enjoy.”
“Sue, I couldn’t.”
“Really, it’s no bother. I’m sure Bridget’s asleep. I’ll get some shuteye on your bed. Be back before six, before Bridge wakes up.”
“Really? Are you sure?” There’s hesitation in Rita’s voice.
I think of my gambling losses, my heartache. “There’s one thing you could do.”
“Cash in your chips and give me two-thirds of your winnings. I’ll keep the money in your hotel room. It’s yours come dawn. Don’t put so much at risk. Lady Luck, she’s fickle sometimes. I just burned three bills in blackjack. Don’t blow it all tonight!”
Laurie’s anger spews out. “No fucking way. We’re on a roll. We’re not setting any aside.” Viper Bitch flicks her tongue. Poison glands and threatening fangs. If words could kill.
Rita hesitates. A gambler’s pause. The instinct, the drive for more, more. Winner takes all, to hell with the consequences! Social graces and an instinct for preservation prevail, though barely.
“Sue, you’re right. You’re the best.” Still, I see it’s a battle. Rita pauses before going to the cashier’s window. Laurie follows two paces behind, a sinew of hatred. But, in the end, they both cash out their winnings, giving me $6,640. Rita hands me her key. Before I can turn to head for the elevators, they’re gone.
I find my way back to Rita’s room. I pay the angry sitter. She’s been paging Rita over the PA system for the last thirty minutes. As if anyone could hear with all that noise. Even if Rita had heard the announcement, would she have been prepared to leave the table? “Don’t go there,” I tell myself. Instead, I give the sitter a generous tip, with my dough, without breaking any of those crisp hundred-dollar bills lining my pockets.
My irritation at Rita, Laurie, and the sitter fades when I glance down at Bridget. Cherubic features framed by luminous chestnut hair—just like her mother’s. Bridget clutches a fraying teddy bear. She barely stirs as I put her toys away. With the bathroom door shut, I press water against my flesh and use the toilet. Not a peep from Bridget. Then, I crash on Rita’s bed. Moments later, my breathing matches Bridget’s. Dawn arrives: quickly, painfully. No Rita. At , no Rita. At , still no Rita. At , where the hell is Rita? By Bridget’s up and crying.
“Mommy, mommy.” Her wails are wrenching.
The liquor, the late hours, Bridget’s tantrums. One massive headache. I try—several times—to page Rita. I’m worried.
“Bridget, Mommy will return soon. Promise. She’ll be back, promise. She’ll be back; she’ll be back; she’ll be back.”
I chant these words as a soothing tone poem. Again. Again. Hoping it works as a sedative. Please . . .
Not a chance. Bridget’s cries grow louder; her tears become a torrent of liquid sorrow. Desperate, I call the concierge.
Worthington. Have one of your
security men track her down and escort her back to her hotel room
“Oh, we can’t do that,” she replies. “Our policies . . .”
“Her child—the one you hear crying—has a temperature of 104°. She requires emergency medical treatment. You find Rita and have her return to her hotel room immediately, or I’ll hold you accountable.” I say this emphatically. I want the woman to understand that she dares not risk a lawsuit. Then, I hang up.
She gets my drift. Ms. Concierge rings me back. She’s now fully ensconced in process. “Are nurses and paramedics required?” Again, I convey the urgency of the situation. A pack of lies. What else could I have done?
All of which brings me to the present diaper fiasco. Amid the cries, the flailing hands, I’m frantically searching for Pampers and baby wipes. I have never changed a diaper before.
I never planned to.
God, I wish I had a clothespin for my nose. The stench is overpowering.
“Waannhh. Waannhh. Waannhh.”
What the hell am I suppose to do, wipe her goddamn heinie?
“Bridget, hang on there we’re nearly through. Mommy’s coming.”
“Waannhh. Waannhh. Waannhh. Waannhh. Waannhh.”
The diaper is soiled. Number one and two. Bad, it’s really bad. I dump what can be tossed into the toilet. I’m not going to vomit. I’m not.
I toss the smelly disposable diaper into the garbage and wash my hands. Throughout all of this, I’m frantically dashing from bathroom to bedroom to ensure Bridget doesn’t take a header right off the bed. Death or brain injury are not options here.
“Waannhh. Waannhh. Waannhh.”
“Honey, Bridget, we’re nearly done. Mommy will return soon. Promise. She’ll be back, promise. She’ll be back; she’ll be back; she’ll be back.”
Despite Bridget’s kicking and crying, I wipe Bridget with a wet cloth and then a baby wipe. I give her yesterday’s discarded tumbler of apple juice and some teething biscuits. I slide a fresh diaper on her. This had better do. This had damn well better do.
Then, I’m on my hands and knees, in my rumpled suit, crawling around with Bridget. We’re playing peek-a-boo, monster, and Winnie-the-Pooh. At last, I’ve won her over, but each minute seems an eternity. Finally, at , Rita walks through the door. With her comes one of Caesar’s uniformed staff and a paramedic. So fucking what. Took long enough.
“Baby, baby, darling Bridget, mommy’s here.”
Bridget is whisked from the floor up into Rita’s arms. Lots of kisses and soft murmurs from Rita. Bridget coos in reply. Having assessed that the situation is less than Code Blue, Mr. Uniform and Ms. Paramedic cast me menacing glances. They take their leave. Fuck ‘em. Fuck everyone. I give Rita her winnings and hiss, “Tradeshow! Be there!” Never have I been more exhausted, or so anticipated my departure.
But, barely have I taken ten steps down the hall, when I collide with Laurie. The stench of liquor and cigarettes saturates her clothing. What could I have been thinking when I hired her?
“It’s gone,” she says.
“The money, of course. We lost it playing baccarat. What about the rest?”
She thinks I stole her winnings. Viper Bitch. “Rita has it.”
Laurie and Rita had tossed away $3,320 as if it were confetti! The very thought makes me sick. It could have served as an extra cushion against life’s little catastrophes. Not any more. They wouldn’t have kept a penny if I hadn’t intervened. I did what I could. Tried to, anyway. At least they have the remaining $6,640. Thanks to me.
With a little more than an hour until the trade show begins, I trudge back to my room. A cold shower and a continental breakfast delivered to my door fail to energize me. I feel like shit. But I head to the convention hall, anyway.
Members of my team show up at our booth with drawn faces in shades of ghostly pallor. They’re glum and silent. Serves them all fucking right. Let them suffer. Let this be a lesson. But twenty minutes later, my compassion takes hold. I bring them dark, scalding coffee. After the caffeine kicks in, the swaggering begins. They’re determined to conceal their losses. No one seems prepared to acknowledge defeat. It’s anyone’s guess how much was really spilt last night. To hear them talk, they all won big or failing that broke even.
PETER: You should have seen me. I was awesome. Up $150.00, ‘till I lost it all on the races.
MICHAEL: Get real Charlie. That was the tinker-toy
PETER: And what the hell
MICHAEL: What the hell do you know? It was only fifty and I won it all back at
PETER: Like hell you did!
Snickers from their peers.
HAROLD: Well, you guys are strictly amateurs. I was up three-and-a-half bills last night.
HAROLD: That was no hooker, you asshole!
Cheers and catcalls from the team.
HAROLD: Shithead, an appointment book! Ever hear of an appointment book? Oh yeah, I forget. It’s not like you can read, so what do you need one for? That explains your numbers and all your appointment no-shows.
The team turns its focus to the victors.
Where’d you win it?
Rita and Laurie tell their story. Still, it’s not long before the digs resume.
LAURIE: What, Richard didn’t split his winnings with you? Tsk, tsk. You could almost hear her nails dig in.
RICHARD: How’d you hear about my winnings?
LAURIE: I have my sources. She says with a German accent.
Anyway, that’s how it went. Brutal, vicious. With a momentary pause for the night’s real winners. No mention of the thirty-three hundred R & L spilled last night. Wins, big wins, near big wins, saves, that’s the emphasis in sales.
By the close of the tradeshow, we’re all well beyond exhausted. We pack the booth up quickly, and everyone hightails it for the lobby to check out and head for home. In a final display of glory R & L sashay in, followed forlornly by Bridget, who’s dragging her teddy. R & L are greeted by their peers with cheers and a round of applause. Their motions are exaggerated. They’ve crammed money everywhere, in their bags, their pocketbooks, their bras, even their panties. The whole thing is comic, really, except for whimpering Bridget.
R & L whisper in my ear. There’s an erotic charge to their voices. They want me to know that their cash winnings are stashed inside their lingerie, flesh pressed against bills, snug against satin and synthetic lace.
“Don’t anyone come near,” laughs Rita.
“They wouldn’t dare,” hisses Viper Bitch.
Well, it’s not as if the rest of the team couldn’t spot their victory bulge. R & L’s busts have now ballooned several inches. Their underwear bunches and swells. The added heft, the excess of it all, shrouds them in ecstasy. More intoxicating than the most rapturous moment, this euphoria lifts them sky-high, so that they appear to float above us all, weightless and eternal.
. . . .
In the weeks and months that followed, the pleasure of R & L’s winnings gained stature. At every opportunity, R & L excitedly recounted their story. Each time, they delivered their tale with infectious laughter edged with longing and buttressed by desire. On every occasion, their colleagues received R & L’s story with cheers of appreciation.
The event was savored again and again: after meetings, while downing drinks at the bar, during business trips. And with each telling, the financial gains grew larger. The tale assumed epic proportions. It had luster: it embodied lust; it surpassed love in all its many splendors.
That was how I came
to realize that for R & L that evening in