Whenever I get the chance to play craps with the Captain I jump at it. So when he called me and asked if I?d like to join him for several days in Atlantic City, naturally I said yes. Although craps is a relatively straightforward game where the math seems to dictate the movement of wins and losses, speaking to the Captain always makes me think a little differently about craps and games of chance and life.
?How a person plays a game,? said the Captain as we walked through Showboat, ?tells you a lot about his character.?
?What about that guy over there, shooting, what can you tell about him?? I asked.
?He sets the dice carefully and concentrates,? said the Captain. ?That means he is not afraid to make it look as if he?s trying. He?s putting himself on the line with each roll because he is taking such care. He wants to win and he?ll accept responsibility if he loses.?
?Seven-out!? called the stickman.
?He looks disappointed,? I said.
?He is,? said the Captain, ?because he wanted to win. Not just by luck but by control.?
We walked over to the Taj Mahal and watched some of the craps games there.
?What about that guy?? I said. ?That shooter,? I pointed.
?See how he pretends he doesn?t care?? asked the Captain. ?This way when he sevens out, he can pretend it doesn?t mean anything to him. His body language says: ?See, I don?t care if I win or lose. I?m not really trying.? He?s a true loser, even if he has a good roll, because he doesn?t want it to look as if he?s serious. The guy at Showboat is my kind of player because he wants to win and he makes an effort to win.?
?Do you think the guy at Showboat is a rhythmic roller [ie., a person who can control the dice]??
?Probably not,? said the Captain.
?Then it doesn?t matter if he concentrates or just flings the dice,? I said, parroting gambling writers through the centuries when they speak of independent-trial games.
?No, no, no, it does matter. How you play a game is how you deal with life. We all die, that?s the inevitable end of the game, and we all lose. It?s a negative expectation and how we roll the bones of life will make no difference in our outcome. Yet, some of us tilt at windmills in life. We develop a style, an attitude, we play the game to the best of our ability even though we know we are going to lose. Other people, like that player who pretended he didn?t care, they let the windmills smash them. I would rather fight the windmill with some thought that I can affect the current outcome, although not the future outcome, than to just stand there and let the windmill blades smash me to the ground.?
We continued walking around the Taj, observing players, observing dealers.
?Have you noticed,? said the Captain, ?that many dealers talk about doing other things with their lives? Many dealers will say that 10 years from now they won?t be dealing, won?t be working for a casino; they?ll be doing this, they?ll be doing that. You know, in 10 years you?ll find them still dealing. The ones who don?t discuss their future plans over and over will wind up in other jobs in the casino - they?ll become executives, hosts, managers - or you?ll meet them in different capacities outside the casino world. They?ll have returned to school to get a degree. Or, you never see them again. But you can assume that in the 10 years between one dealer saying what he would do and another dealer actually doing it, a lot happened in both of their lives but in some essential way one dealer acted upon life and the other dealer was acted upon by life. ?
We walked over to Resorts, the very first casino that opened in Atlantic City.
?When this place first opened, you had to wait in a line that stretched down the boardwalk. The casino gave you almost no breaks. You had to pay for parking, they almost never gave comps, the games were stingy - I think they allowed single odds although maybe it was double, but people would line up in the wee hours of the morning to get in,? he said. ?You were packed in like sardines.?
?There are some casinos in the country where people have to pay to get in and pay for parking,? I said.
?I?d plan a trip a week to those, then not go, take the money I would have used to buy my way into the casino, and also the money I would have paid for parking, and when I had enough - I?d buy a plane ticket to Las Vegas. Charging people to get into a casino is like charging someone an entrance fee to shop at a department store.?
We walked over to the Sands casino. The Captain remembered the old Sands of Las Vegas and the newly rediscovered Rat Pack.
?The best singer was Dean Martin; he was a regular knock-around guy but Frank Sinatra always had something that put me off. I saw too many people in Brooklyn like him. With all his talent, with all his power, even when he was a legend, he was always a wannabe and he always had to show you how tough he was. Sammy Davis was the overall greatest talent of the group. But Sinatra was a great actor and I think his acting has been overlooked. In retrospect, I think we?re making more out of those times than were really there.?
?Who is your favorite singer of all time?? I asked the Captain.
?Nat King Cole,? he said.
?Me, too,? I said.
?I knew there was a reason I liked you,? he laughed.
We left the Sands Hotel Casino, and we left the sands of time, and continued down the Boardwalk, chatting and watching the waves of water and the unending waves of people. And I thought: It?s good to be with the Captain. Frankly speaking, he is an ?is? and not a wannabe and I am lucky enough to know him.
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