[This post is a work in progress, via my writing class with the fabulous Ariel Gore. You'll probably see this story pop up again as I expand it. Exciting, I know!]
The ringing of the slot machines was driving me
crazy. It's one thing to hear those bells and whistles when you're in Las Vegas;
it's another thing entirely when you're in Bozeman, Montana. Trust me on this.
How did I end up here? A lifetime of being sun
deprived in the Pacific Northwest left me craving blue sky. I'd saved up every
nickel I'd earned within the last year in order to quit my job and move to
Arizona. My treat to myself between a draining job and a new life was a long road
trip before settling in Tucson. I adored American kitsch and had, in fact,
based my entire jaunt around it. I'd just toured South Dakota (Mount Rushmore,
Wall Drug, the Wood Carving Museum!) and was in Montana to visit some friends
before continuing my drive down south.
Bozeman was where my beloved two-door Toyota
Tercel decided to act up. Not knowing a thing about cars, I assumed whatever
was wrong was going to be expensive. I didn't want to hit a budget deficit
before arriving in Arizona, so I decided to be proactive about keeping my funds in
the black. I went out and grabbed the first job I could find.
I was behind the counter at Lucky Lil's Casino,
watching the clock. This was not the typical countdown to the end of a shift.
Rather, due to Montana's stringent liquor laws, I was waiting for a timer to
countdown its twenty minutes. The law proposes, (in an effort not to over-serve,
which actually encourages the opposite) that casinos only serve drinks in
twenty-minute intervals. And don't worry if you miss the timer - the players
that seem married to the one-arm bandits they're mauling will be more than happy
to let you know when the next round is supposed to hit the floor. One eye is on
the dollars slipping away and the other is on the melting ice of their previous
beverages. Between the two, the players always seem at a loss.
The seconds slipped away until the buzzer sounded.
Suddenly men were clamoring for my attention as they desperately waved their
arms. I first took drink requests from the men that had dollar bills
clutched in their sweaty palms. It's a universal truth! I reasoned that a dollar
put in my pocket would go a lot further than one stuffed in a machine.
The orders came fast and furious:
"Gin and tonic, honey!"
"Make mine a Bud."
"Jack and Coke... heavy on the Jack."
"Whiskey, rocks, beer back."
I rapidly scribbled down their desires, raced
behind the bar to fulfill them and circled the room again. You could almost
hear the sighs of delight. Once again backs were turned and attention shifted
elsewhere; each man lost to his individual rollercoaster. Only nineteen more
minutes to go before we engaged in the dance again...
The job didn't entirely consist of staring at
the clock, timer or otherwise. There were also snacks to be made. A
well-stocked kitchen was just a few feet away from the bar area. Little hoagie
rolls were soon slathered in mustard or mayonnaise and alternated with a
variety of packaged lunchmeats. Small bags of Lay's potato chips were placed
on little plastic plates alongside the simple sandwiches. These treats were on
the house, courtesy of the casino. There wasn't a time constraint placed on
sandwiches - they were created and delivered in our down time between liquid
My coworker, a woman in her early fifties named
Dot, told me the men need sustenance. "Some of 'em will sit there for
hours and hours. Don't want their tummies gettin' hurt." She'd make each roll
with pride and care, as if she was doing the boozy patrons a favor. Of course,
in a way, she was - but I was more of the mindset that they'd be better off
following their stomach's cues and moving away from the barstools to forage on
their own. Still, I tried to follow Dot's example and put as much thought as I
could into the task. Her most important piece of advice was, "Make the mayo
ones last and don't make 'em too goopy. We don't want our boys to have soggy
When I wasn't slinging drinks or creating
snacks, I was usually lost in thought as I contemplated our uniforms. It was
the classic white shirt, black pant and vest combo. I was polyester clad and
could have easily been mistaken for parking attendant. The thing that set Lil's
employees apart were the dime store brooches affixed to our clip-on ties. Pam,
the floor manager, proudly told me these were "the family jewels" and I'd
be charged against my paycheck if I were to lose mine. Family jewels have a
different connotation in my world and all I could think about everyday at work
was "balls against my neck." It was a unsettling image that made the quirky job even more odd...