|Spotted in their home away from home.|
I am a casino orphan.
Allow me to explain.
One of the reasons I moved back to Indiana was so that I could be near my parents who are, like the rest of us, getting on in years. To make good on my scheme to make their entire lives uncomfortable (just ask them), I am compelled to check in with them at least once a week to say hi and see what's in the refrigerator. Here's what that looks like...
I pull into their driveway in my disaster on 4 wheels and assess the situation. The closed garage door should be my first clue that they might not be at home, but I'm an optimist.
Press nose against the back door to see if Mom and Dad are sitting in their designated chairs. Seeing no signs of life, ring bell just for good measure. Press nose against the window again. Note that the lamp next to Mom's chair isn't on.
Good thing I know where to go next.
Drive the 1.4 minutes to the riverfront casino where my parents are part of a gang of hopeful hangabouts who wait for their names to be called so they can win something. Anything. For the love of all things good and holy, let them win!
I park in the middle of nowhere because I don't want anyone to see me getting out of that wreck of a car and make the long schlep toward one of the grimmest places in the tri-state area for anyone under the age of 50.
After a visual sweep of the pavilion and sensing no parental vibes, I make my way onto the tethered riverboat through a wide, enclosed gangplank that reeks of what can best be described as Malboro Kotex. Whoever thought you could mask cigarette funk with the flowery, powdery scent of a deodorant maxi pad is wrong. Dead wrong.
Once on board, I head straight for the slots. I know my parents. They like their pain a penny at a time.
I weave through the machines careful not to be distracted by the lights and dings and cha-chinging surrounding me. I glance at each person facing a machine, staring intently as the vision before them changes from an offering of hope to a sad reality. Another penny, quarter, dollar, fiver gone.
At that time of day, it's clear that at 48, I am bringing down the average age on board that boat by a couple of decades. I try to ignore the obvious - my hair color matches that of the oldest patrons inserting their gaming cards with quivering hands and willing the machines to do them a solid.
I forget that I should look first in the non-smoking area so I end up touring the entire facility with a visit into the games room just for good measure. Despite the cigarette smoke I've inhaled, I consider this time well-spent healthwise. Steps taken, calories burned.
This method of parent tracking is hit or miss. Sometimes I find them later in the pavilion, tucked into a corner, strategically situated so they can watch the Reds game on the wall-mounted television, monitor the screen showing the names of the most recent prizewinners, listen to the music provided by some duo with a guitar and keyboard, and, most importantly, keep a sharp eye on the ebb and flow of the casino's patrons. While it's true that the place has the feel of a disco nursing home, it's great for people watching.
Sometimes I never do find my parents, but am instead rewarded with chance encounters with various people from my past. My first and sixth grade teacher. The mother of the first boy I kissed. Another woman to whom I introduced myself, hand extended like a goon, only to discover that I once babysat for her boys while she attended a homemakers' club meeting with my mom.
Have I mentioned it's a little odd to come back here after being gone so long?
So this is new for me, the fact that my parents just hang out. The fact that they hang out together is even more confounding. As a kid, I thought they did so little together what with both of them working, my dad often on swing shifts at the factory, Mom working, but also volunteering and herding us from place to place. Who knew they might actually find contentment in one another's company? Contentment being open to interpretation, of course.
Yesterday I found them after clocking a few laps around the casino and took a seat at their little table in the corner. It was then that I discovered a few things:
1. My dad makes up nicknames for everyone and doesn't seem to note the least bit of irony about dubbing someone else "Big Belly."
2. My mother categorizes me as a cat person. Imagine that. When she introduced me to one of her friends, she mentioned that we had "that" in common.
3. I'm really lucky to have this time to spend with my parents while we're all adults (mostly). I know many people who never got that chance with their parents.
4. If the guy in the motorized wheelchair is wearing a Harley t-shirt and has a gleam in his eye, just do yourself a favor and step aside.