“You’ll get square eyes” shouted Jerry’s mother from the kitchen. “Why don’t you turn that thing off and do something else?”
“There isn’t anything else!” screamed Jerry. Only four years old, but already he was back-talking like a teenager.
Thirty years later and Jerry was still hunched over a gaming screen. He tapped his square-rimmed glasses against the side of his head and chuckled as he remembered his mother’s warning. His slight smile faded as the game turned and he sighed thinking she should have worried more about his posture.
‘The hunchback’ was his nickname throughout most of the gaming parlors in Las Vegas. Jerry wasn’t really that hunched but it came to him automatically when he sat down to lose money. Or to ‘recycle paper’ as he called it in front of his daughter, Emily. Bright as desert dawn, the little 6 year old wasn’t fooled. But she appreciated his funny shame. Jerry’s wife, Linda, appreciated it much less.
Jerry’s favorite thing to do after a hard day of gambling, was to bring his daughter on a sunset roller-skating round of the neighborhood. His back would straighten as he would get up on his wheels, ‘2x2’s he called them, old-school skates. Emily preferred the more modern inline skates.
The first time they ever passed his childhood house, Jerry pointed it out. “That’s where Daddy grew up.” Emily scoped out the surroundings and as she wheeled around her father, she questioned him about his childhood: was this the street he played on? How many friends did he have? What were his favorite games?
“There is nothing else!” Jerry screamed. But in the silent absence of response from his mother, while she played her daily bridge game at the kitchen table, Jerry gazed blankly out the window at the boys who passed by on roller-skates. Jerry had no such friends. Only the children of his mom’s bridge partners who would sometimes come by. They would play silently side-by-side, destroying each other on the video screen.
It took Jerry all the courage he could muster to rent the skates at the roller rink. Eighteen years old, but with the longing of a four year old, Jerry took to the rink and closed his eyes. His back relaxed upwards and he wheeled, for hours. At first he just let his weight bring him forward, round and round the rink, but eventually the blaring Michael Jackson tunes woke him up and his feet started to weave in time.
“Isn’t it dangerous to skate with glasses on?”
Linda was sixteen and very sweet. She would have to wait another sixteen years before getting bitter.
“You been at it, haven’t you?” Linda began the tired old conversation like a ritual. Jerry had run out of all excuses and any explanations. He just looked at his wife, her exhausted face and clothes coated with waitressing and cleaning dreariness. He simply replied with his usual white flag: “I’ll make dinner.”
“You’ll end up losing more than just your games.” Linda was beginning to sound like a television public announcement. But Jerry couldn’t help it if he woke up every morning feeling luckier than the last, hungrier and impassioned for the potential fulfillment of a win. If he could only add another zero to his last big win. It was only a few months ago but odds were Lady Luck, or ‘Esmeralda’ as he thought of her, would release her little hunchback soon. All his years of praying silently would pay off and the big big win would allow him to do something else.
Jerry slouched into his seat at the Paris Las Vegas casino. He always avoided the high-rolling area around the ‘Salon des Tables’. He was superstitious about pretension. He wanted Esmeralda to notice him for his humility. He placed his bet and as his glasses slid down his nose, he heard the comforting finality of the croupier’s call: “Les jeux sont faits.”
Nothing more to do but wait.
When Jerry finally turned off his gaming console, he sat in the dark and listened to his mother’s friends babbling and clinking and shuffling. A cloud of mentholated smoke hung at the door. Feeling the emptiness growing around him, Jerry quickly turned on the television and stared.
“Well, this is something else,” thought the four-year old. “Isn’t it?”