Casino Royale…Pain: Pt. lll

Once inside the casino I could see that (much like my life) things hadn’t changed since the last time I’d brought Miss Cathy to gamble.

For an early afternoon on a week-day the place was kinda full; the elderly, retirees (or people who may have been unemployed for all I know, taking a risk with the last of their savings), tourists and a gaggle or two of folks my age or younger, all looking like they’re the ones that are going to ‘beat the house’ and leave with more than they came.

Still, I could smell the desperation waffling off people as I slogged through the noise and smoke (thanks to Maryland’s Gov. O’Malley for not pushing a ban on cigarettes in establishments such as this) with mom toddling along beside me, each step a declaration of war against gravity.

For Miss Cathy, walking has become a battle she looks to be losing but is denial as to how badly things are going, surrender not an option, very much like George W. Bush’s wars in Iraq and Afghanistan when he was Commander in Chief (except in mom’s case, ‘surrender’ would mean giving up her cane for a walker and not admitting that thousands died in one war that was unnecessary to protect our country and the other failing if that was indeed the mission).

The fifty-cent slot machines that she loves to play were positioned off to the left where the main thoroughfare split, near the new blackjack, craps and roulettes tables that were recently added to the casino to attract even more patrons with a dollar(s) and a dream.

The slots weren’t far from the entrance but they may as well have been the length of a football field for all the time it took us to get there.

When I first started bringing mom to the casino more than three years ago I felt like her chauffer and body guard; standing nearby (but not too close as to make whomever was sitting next her feel nervous by my presence) as she concentrated on indulging her gambling addiction. I would people watch; collect her winnings (if there were any) play games or text on my iPhone.

Over time I found that I was needed alittle more and then a lot.

It’s gotten to the point that I’m now sitting next to her; loading her club card, feeding the money into the machine and instructing her as to where the buttons or levers are and the monetary risk involved and where the various cherries and bars line up above or below the ‘winning line’ each time she plays.

She’s like “The Who’s” Tommy, who ‘sure loved to play pinball’ except Miss Cathy can hear the buzzers and bells.

Watching her as she’s playing; spellbound by the swirling colors, the lights, the Muzax playing overhead and sounds coming from the slot machine itself, she looks to be as happy and ‘herself’ as I’ve seen her since the Alzheimer’s diagnosis.

So no matter the outcome of the game she’s already won in my eyes.


Casino Royale…Pain: Pt. l

Miss Cathy barely wants to go out anymore.

Not because she can’t, far from it, she’s just been isolating lately (and by ‘lately’ I mean the past couple of years).

Hey, I understand not being a social person, I’m pretty anti-social myself, preferring my solitude over the company of others usually (guess the apple falls from the tree to get away from the others) but I do make an effort at social intercourse and realize the value that being amongst my fellow man brings, physically and mentally.

But not mom, nope, she’s inside breathing the same air (did I mention she has an aversion to opening windows-“let’s the dust in”) and her only companions can be found on the television.

She cancels more hair salon appointments than she keeps (and those are only every six weeks) and she breaks promises to visit or go out with her girlfriend as a rule and not the exception.

I’ve written extensively about her refusal to go to a Senior Center, shopping, Community center, etc. so no need to bore you and infuriate myself by recounting any more of that here.

Maybe it’s a combination of illness, depression, inertia and the slowdown that affects most elders but in her case (not to generalize or speak to anyone else diagnosed with Alzheimer’s) it’s as if she’s taken the ‘living’ out of her life.

Suffice to say Miss Cathy is an island unto herself, the land mass is slowly sinking and being taken over by the seas of dementia.

And even though she doesn’t want to do much of anything related to leaving her condo the one thing she’s always ‘up’ for is a trip to the casino, specifically “Live” Casino which (conveniently) opened up a coupe years ago about twenty minutes drive down the Parkway from us.

She might (occasionally) forget to wipe herself but she never forgets that place.

Thankfully she doesn’t pester me to go play the fifty cent slots as often as she used to, like some junkie needing to score at a crack house.

So, I try help her scratch her gambling itch by ‘offering’ to take her every couple of months, a ‘reward as it were for here restraint.

And it’s an offer she’s yet to refuse.

Casino..Royale…with cheese

Last week I took Miss Cathy to the new “Live Casino” that opened up about half hour away from her condo. She was ecstatic, gambling to her is what shopping is to me…. part cardio, part treasure hunt. Needless to say….she was dressed and ready to go forty minutes before our agreed upon departure time.

We arrived around two thirty; pre-early bird and post all-nighters. Even at that early hour the casino had that perpetual midnight thing going on. Since there are no clocks (who needs to be reminded of how quickly the time passes as one is losing ones mortgage money) and no windows (no need of fresh air either) the stale air and artificial light are your only indications that you’re indeed still alive and time is very much irrelevant.

Casinos seem to me to be set up to create an atmosphere that is part faux hope, tacky decorations and mostly desperation….not unlike New Year’s Eve.

Scientific studies have documented that the colors, lighting and especially the sounds (the music blaring, coins dropping, wheels spinning, bells ringing) all merge to create a cacophony of optimism that feeds the need to pull on the one armed bandit (or gambling of your choosing) in hopes of becoming king or queen for a day.

I’m not much of a gambler. Personally I think it’d be more fun to just throw money off a balcony and watch below as people scrambled to pick up a few Washington’s as I “made it rain”. At least that way you could actually see where your money was going as opposed to the casino where the house always wins and your money just gets disappears off the craps table or in Miss Cathy’s case inside of one the fifty-cent slot machines.

Miss Cathy is and has been a devotee of “the slots” for some time now. Once inside a casino she is like a kid at Disney or one of those lost souls at Willy Wonka’s and being seventy-four with dementia and a knee replacement has changed nothing. She was so excited she didn’t know where to go or what to do first.

She’d visited the casino with a girlfriend once before soon after the opening and said she was determined to find “her” machine but abandoned that quest almost as soon as it came out of her mouth in favor of whatever big, bright, shiny box caught her eye.

She insisted that I register for a casino card “just in case” I wanted to play. Apparently the card logs you into the casino’s system and keeps track of how much you spend, giving you points in exchange for your “cash donations”. Being the trooper that I’m not I agreed to get a card but stupidly told her to not wait for me, to go find “her” machine and that I would catch up to her.

Moments later, with my new casino card and lanyard in hand I went in search of my mother. Much to my horror (and humor) I quickly found that it wasn’t going to be as easy as I thought. Truth was….I wasn’t thinking. As I looked up and down the rows of penny to dollars slot machines all I could see were old people.
Every other stooped over, gray haired, little old lady in a loud oversized tee and elastic waist pants could have been Miss Cathy…quelle horror!

What did I expect….diversity? This place was about as diverse as a Mitt Romney rally. I’m sure I sidestepped a lot of his base as I made my way past walkers, wheelchairs and canes. Where was my mommy? I didn’t know if I was panicked or pissed.

I almost presented myself to security to have them make an announcement over the loudspeaker for a “lost child”. After more trips than I care to admit walking up and down the aisles I finally found her.

And there she was, in that gambler’s haze; one hand on her purse and the other on the pulley, brows furrowed as she watched the wheels turn, oblivious to anything or anyone else around her as she looked at the screen hoping the wheels would land on whatever it is they’re suppose to stop on for a big pay off…they never did….so pull she continued.

So, I held her purse and handed her twenty dollars bills one a time as she fed the machine and fattened the coffers of the casino, like so many of her geriatric playmates.

It’s been awhile since I’ve been in a casino, everything is computerized now and you get slips of paper with barcodes on them showing your winnings (if you’re lucky enough to get any). I actually liked it better in the old days when the slots used to spit coins out when you won and you greedily scooped them up and put them in a plastic bucket that the casino provided.

Back then Miss Cathy would sit transfixed in front of a slot machine (Okay, so not everything has changed) and I’d hold her bucket for her and if/when she got lucky and her bucket would fill with coins that we’d later redeem for paper money. This would last until the spell was broken, and by “broken” I mean that she stopped when she was broke.

But, as I was “helping” her by holding her bucket it was easy to skim a little (or a lot) of her earnings and put them aside (in another bucket) so she’d have something to show for her efforts at the end of the night (or day). I would quietly hold onto her winnings (unbeknownst to her). As long as she could reach down and grab another coin to feed back into the machine she had no interest in how much was actually in her bucket.

I would do this until I was content that I had (at least) enough of her original investment in a bucket and then I would take a break. I would go to one of the many eating establishments in the casino for what John Travolta’s character; Vincent Vega in Pulp Fiction would call a “Royale with cheese” (French for “Quarter Pounder”). Casinos are a lot like the sandwich that Vega’s craved and coveted; over the top for what it is, the hype offering more than the product can ever deliver and even though you know that you have to have it anyway. It’s greasy, addictive and not good for you no matter how you dress it up a give it a fancy name, French or otherwise.

I could relax for a little while knowing that it wouldn’t be long before Miss Cathy was out of L’Argent and ready to go home.

But, those days are gone and with paper replacing coins I can no longer hide her money from her so easily. I have to contend myself with just standing around and bearing witness to her losing (but in fairness to her she does win sometimes..but more often than not she just gambles that all away too).

None of it really matters though, because, like my shopping excursions where I may come home empty handed I’m still happy to have gone. So, even though she may be “busted and disgusted” as she so often says at the end of one of these outings, I know that she’s happy, too and she’s already looking forward to the “next time”, dreaming of her big pay day from the casino while I have thoughts of the casino, royale….with cheese.