Perhaps you've heard that weirdos have a penchant for seeking out Val. Like carbon dioxide attracts a mosquito, Val must unconsciously exude a freaky pheromone that draws weirdos to her vicinity.
You'd think that I could blend in at a casino. I'm the right age. I hobble around, one foot in the grave, the other foot screaming for a walker. I clutch my cross-body purse across my gut, lest a snatcher try to wrest if from me. I don't make eye contact. I don't engage other gamblers in small talk. I just want to be left alone to feed my money into hungry slot machines.
On our last night of Casinopalooza 2, The Pony had long since turned in for his beauty rest, Hick had tearfully salvaged the last $50 of the $100 in profit he had ventured, and returned to the room, and Genius had drunk his fill of (or exhausted his budget for) alcoholic beverages, and departed to sleep it off. I was alone in the casino! And at 11:30 p.m., I was just hitting my stride.
I sat down at a row of four Hot Red Ruby slot machines. (Here's a 2-minute video of what they look like, and the red screen bonus that is the reason I LOVE the Oklahoma VGT slots. It's nobody I know. Just a random video on YouTube.) I was at the middle right seat of those four machines. Since it was on a Monday night, the casino was not at all crowded. Nobody else was playing at that row, or any of the ones nearby.
I was having a bit of success, hitting a couple of bonuses. If you're a slot gambler, you know how you sometimes get in a groove, and everything is going well on a machine. I was keeping a count in my head of how many spins between wins. Sometimes raising my bet from one credit to two or three. Everything was going well, until the Rage Against the Machine Man showed up.
Rage Against the Machine Man sat down at the Hot Red Ruby on the left end of the row. There was one seat between us. I did not look at him, nor acknowledge him in any way. An old Val ain't safe in a casino full of Rage Against the Machine Mans. I did nothing to draw attention to myself, short of remaining visible, at my machine, playing.
Out of the corner of my eye, I could sense angry body language from RAMM. He would throw up his arms periodically. Tilt his head back. Sigh. Swear. Pound his palm on the side of the slot machine. Thank goodness these Hot Red Ruby slots had no cranks to pull, because RAMM would have decrankitated his Hot Red Ruby. Of all the slot machines inside that large casino, RAMM had picked that very Ruby, one seat away from me, to plop down and abuse. There were many, many other Hot Red Rubies scattered around. In fact, I had won $180 off a different one earlier in the night.
Once RAMM stomped off, fuming and bowlegging his way deeper into the casino, much like Yosemite Sam, I leaned back and looked at his machine. He had cashed out $270. I don't know how much he put in. I only heard him win a couple of times. So I'm guessing that he lost money, due to his orneriness. Because to me, cashing out $270 seems like a GOOD thing. But then again, I only put in $20 at a time.
Downstream Casino is very dark inside. Just a bit brighter than McDougal's Cave when Tom and Becky still had a nub of candle to burn. Not like those in St. Louis, where River City Casino is lit like a normal indoor business, or Hollywood Casino, where it's so bright I feel like I'm on the surface of the sun. Downstream is a bit creepy for an old Val, down there alone, with her three menfolk slumbering 8 floors up, and such poor phone reception that in Downstream, nobody can hear you text. RAMM had unsettled my nerves. And believe me, Val has nerves, what with being a RETIRED secondary school teacher.
I moved to a different section of the casino and played some Reel Fever on a machine at the left end of a long row of assorted slots. (Here's a random 2-minute video of the Reel Fever slot.) It kept me going for a while, and then I moved one seat to the right to play a Silver and Gold machine. (Can't find a video of that one.) There I was, happily spinning the reels at minimum bet, having a grand old time like little Gizmo on Christmas morning tooting his trumpet in Gremlins. And then my good time, much like Gizmo's, was ruined...except instead of by Stripe, spitting on me, it was by RAMM, plopping down closer than arm's reach to play that Reel Fever game.
Let's just say that since RAMM and I had last convened, his temperament had not improved. He set down a drink from the bar. The smell of his breath wafted toward my nostrils, and it reminded me of the aroma of the ice cream at High Winds that I told you about yesterday. I tried my best to ignore him. But he was RIGHT NEXT TO ME! He continued his antics of slamming the machine, and swearing at it for not paying him.
I kept playing, although in a discombobulated manner. I couldn't concentrate. So much for counting spins. In fact, I hit a red screen bonus shortly after RAMM arrived, and I could not tell you how much I won, even now. Because when he heard that red screen bonus sound, RAMM REACHED OVER AND STROKED (heh, heh, had you goin' there for a minute, didn't I?) MY MACHINE'S SCREEN!
"Good luck!" RAMM said.
Do I even need to try to describe the ickiness factor in that gesture?
Inside, I was recoiling. On the outside, I nodded curtly. DO NOT ENGAGE. I had to stick to my plan. After about 10 minutes, RAMM cashed out and left. You'd think I would have been relieved. But all I could think of was that RAMM had left my vicinity once, gone to the bar, and STILL showed up again to sit right beside me on my left within an hour's time.
If I didn't know better, my conspiracy-theory-trained mind would have convinced me that RAMM was some kind of cooler, a secret operative for the casino, paid to drink and act crazy and encroach on people that the casino wanted gone. A salaried annoyance to drive away undesirables. But of course I convinced myself that couldn't be true. After all...VAL? Undesirable? No way!
About 10 minutes after RAMM left me, I saw three official-acting people walk down the aisle behind me. You know what I'm talkin' about. People striding with a purpose. Carrying themselves with an air of authority. A woman in black slacks and a white shirt and an ID lanyard, a dark-uniformed law officer with a weapon (or at least mace in a holster) on his hip, and a man in suit pants, dress shirt, and tie.
Here's my scenario. Somebody had complained about RAMM's behavior. Had tipped off security, and they were on the hunt to oust him from the premises. Toss him out on his ear. The Striding Trio WAS headed in the direction I saw RAMM Yosemite-Sam-off toward.
I felt a little safer then, but still went upstairs to call it a night at 1:30 a.m. At least I was able to rest easy, imagining that RAMM was no longer in the building. But what I thought of JUST NOW would have made me sit bolt upright in bed, my eyes bugged out in fear.
What if RAMM thought I was the one who complained to security?