Wednesday, April 30, 2014


Believe it or not, this doesn't get old.
We arrived home on Tuesday from a brief family sojourn in Nassau, Bahamas, celebrating our daughter's acceptance into the college of her choice. This was our first time in the Bahamas, although we've visited  Puerto Rico, Costa Rica, and the Islands of Cayman and Virgin. There's much to recommend when vacationing to these countries -- weather, food, drinking before noon -- but I always try to get around to smoking a Cuban cigar, and, if possible, hitting the nearest casino. Nassau would provide my first chance to combine the two activities.

That's right, granny, keep putting
your Social Security checks to
good use.
You've seen the commercials for Foxwoods or similar gambling joints, right? Hip, well-dressed 30-somethings, stepping out of limousines, winning with every pull of the slot machine or roll of the dice. The guys pumping their fists in the air, their girlfriends giggling when getting a payout, followed by a dinner of quail under glass, the evening topped with a five-star stage show. Maybe that's how it is when there's a commercial shoot going on, but the reality, as I've always experienced it, consists of dull, bleary-eyed, overweight tourists in Spandex and souvenir t-shirts, robotically dropping quarters in the latest movie-themed slot machines, traveling not by limos but Hoverounds. Nassau, I hoped, would be different.

Go ahead -- you tell him earrings are effeminate.
I strode confidently into the casino, feeling luckier than Bugs Bunny let loose in a ladies-only warren. We apparently arrived in Nassau before the official start of gambling season, for the card, craps, and roulette tables weren't in operation until April 30th. That left the hundred or so slot machines, along with electronic poker games "dealt" by buxom women on large video screens. There were maybe two dozen gamblers, tops, scattered around the room, none of whom seemed to be having nearly as much fun as those couples on the commercials. Even worse, I had forgotten to bring a toothpick to make a hole in the tip of the cigar, forcing me to chew off an inch before spitting it out in the nearest garbage can like a latter-day Edward G. Robinson. Classy.

There's something almost refreshing about taking your first hit on a good Cuban cigar -- a smoothness and flavor lacking in their American counterparts. Unfortunately, I must have bought one of the lesser-brands, for this was some mighty harsh smoking, leaving an aftertaste akin to a three-alarm fire at a tobacco farm. Nevertheless, I was a regular Puffin' Billy as I made the rounds of the casino, leaving a trail of smoke behind me as if I had just elected a new pope. The $10 slots were too rich for my blood, the penny slots too cheap. Like a corrupt Goldilocks, I decided that the $1 Wheel of Fortune slot was just right. Taking my place on the stool, I pulled an ashtray closer, slid a $20 into the machine, and started making those plans of building a bungalow on a Nassau beach.

That was my problem: instead of the
"Hollywood Edition," I played the
"Losers Edition."
The slots today give you the option of pushing a button to play, but, old-schooler that I am, I pulled the lever. That would give me an edge, right? Apparently so, for I was soon I was up by a few bucks -- bucks that I kept playing, for those, too, would put me over the hump, into a higher tax bracket (if only for a year). In about five minutes of pulling the lever -- the only real exercise I got during my stay -- I shot my wad without so much as a "B'bye" from Vanna White. I had been puffing the Habana almost non-stop the whole time, leaving me dizzy with a low-level headache and a high-level stink.

A double-sawbuck used to be my limit when collecting movie posters, and would remain when gambling. I got unsteadily to my feet and made my way toward the exit, pausing only to watch a cigarette smoke-engulfed group play the electronic poker game. My eyes (now teary from the smoke) and my cigar-addled brain started playing tricks, as I swore that the aforementioned buxom video card dealer was flirting with me. I stubbed out the barely half-smoked cigar in the nearest ashtray and stumbled out the doorway.

"Almost there, honey!"
Never was a journey down a hall, up an escalator, and across a lobby so arduous. I was hot and chilled at once, achy and dizzy as if coming down with the flu. Cigars and gambling atop the heavy meal and two rounds of beers -- it all climaxed for a Caligariesque experience when I got to the eighth floor of our hotel, the walls wavering like crepe paper in a wind storm. The air conditioning in the lobby had made me shiver; the lack of air conditioning in the endless hall leading to my room made me sweat like a pig. Maybe I was a pig.

After almost sliding the electronic card key in the wrong room, I lumbered into the right one where my wife and daughter looked at me with a combination of concern -- I apparently had the color of the Creature from the Black Lagoon -- and a little disgust. "You reek of cigar smoke," my wife informed me unnecessarily. Having momentarily collapsed on the bed, I dragged myself into the bathroom, where my reflection in the mirror confirmed that I looked like something that the cat dragged in, ate, vomited up, ate again, and ejected via the other end. I brushed my teeth and, rinsing out my mouth, spit out pieces of the cigar I had chewed off. Yes, classy alright.


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