July 19, 2007

July 2007, Vol. 6, Issue 7

The July issue is finally here after a short dealy!

1. Snapshot by Paul McGuire
Some people find the truth in photographs. It's a person's soul captured at one moment in time and space. The picture cannot lie like a human can. A couple of months ago, I sorted through an old box and I came across an envelope with several photos of a trip that I had taken to New Orleans... More

2. Hard Luck Harry and the Owl by Johnny Hughes
Harry believed in luck more than any gambler you have ever met. If the Cowboys lost in the final seconds of a football game, Harry thought it was because he'd spilled the salt shaker at the Truck Stop... More

3. Decades by Change100
I turned 10 in Belmar, New Jersey. My grandfather had fallen ill and my mother decided to move my sister and I out there with her for most of the summer of 1987 so she could take care of him. The three of us squeezed into the pullout couch at night in the living room of my grandparents' doublewide trailer on Route 71... More

4. Bingo by Clay Champlin
I developed a hatred for bingo at an early age. In third grade we played every Friday. Sister Mary Grace would give each kid a bingo card, and a handful of dry navy beans that she kept in a Folgers can, to mark the cards... More

5. Randi the Schizo Hustler by Dingo
Randi had a thick eastern European accent, straight blonde hair and a mischievous smile. Tatyana wore her hair in waves/curls and was very serious and often depressed. She would cry about nothing in particular and from the whopper stories she told and her sniffling I concluded Twin 2 was a heavy coke head... More

What a Long Strange Trip It's Been...

From the Editor's Laptop:

Welcome to the late July issue Truckin'. I was away on a writing assignment in Las Vegas and I apologize for the delay. After a series of (rare) on time issues, we have our first delayed one of the year. But hey, it's only delayed by two weeks!

This issue features a couple of veteran Truckin' authors such as Change100 and Clay Champlin. Dingo returns with another sordid Las Vegas take and I'm happy to introduce Johnny Hughes to the mix.

I ask that if you like these stories, then please do me and the rest of the writers a huge favor: Tell your friends about your favorite stories. It takes a few seconds to pass along Truckin'. I certainly appreciate your support. Feel free to shoot me an e-mail if you know anyone who is interested in being added to the mailing list.

Thanks to the writers who exposed their souls to the world and wrote for free. I'm lucky that you were willing to take that leap of faith with me. Thanks for inspiring me.

Thanks again to everyone for wasting your precious time with Truckin'. Until next time.


"If you're going to be crazy, you have to get paid for it or else you're going to be locked up." - Hunter S. Thomspon


By Paul McGuire © 2007

Some people find the truth in photographs. It's a person's soul captured at one moment in time and space. The picture cannot lie like a human can. A couple of months ago, I sorted through an old box and I came across an envelope with several photos of a trip that I had taken to New Orleans with an ex-girlfriend. That was pre-9.11 and over five years pre-Katrina.

The one thing that struck me the hardest was her expression in most of the photos. She looked sad, confused, somber, and at times morose. Out of forty or fifty photos, there were five or six that stuck out. For the most part, she was smiling in almost all of them. But it was the few that she didn't which spoke volumes to me because I snapped those photos when she wasn't looking.

Our relationship at the time was undefined. Yes, we were sleeping together but neither of us would dare to say we were boyfriend and girlfriend. If we were to say "seeing each other," that would be a stretch. We both liked each other. A lot. But she was in flux and had just gotten out of a hectic relationship and I was in one of those stages were I'd had several meaningless relationships in a row. It didn't bother me that I was the rebound guy but I think it bothered her to think that she was the fuck du jour.

Alas, we were on the road visiting a few places on a road trip and we stopped off in New Orleans. Senor's brother lived there at the time and we crashed at his flat near Tulane. We spent the days wandering around the city and exploring jazz clubs and cemeteries. She had never been before, while I was a veteran. I had been too many times for Jazz Fest and Mardi Gras. For a place that I never spent more than a few days in, I knew the Crescent City like the back of my hand.

I showed her all the touristy spots and at night we'd hang out near Uptown or at various bars near Tulane. There were moments when I knew she was in another space. We'd be walking around the Flower District and although she was walking only a few inches away from me, she carried herself with a disturbing, distant and uncommunicative vibe. At the time I simply thought she was overwhelmed by the magic of New Orleans. She was really a small town girl, and for first timers, the allure of New Orleans can be overbearing. I knew it was for me when I first set foot in that town as a drunken 18-year old frat boy, and I was coming from New York City.

In 2007, I examined those photos of our trip to New Orleans and I finally understood the dynamic of our relationship with much more clarity. I'm a little older and wiser. I've had more experiences with women and endured mature relationships. At the time she was horribly depressed and I was not helping things with my erratic and nomadic behavior. If anything, I might have made things worse dragging her on the road with me. At the time, I had no clue. It was the late 1990s and I wandered around in a murky haze of inebriation.

Her long gaps of silence were not filled with moments of pensive thought as I had originally thought. She was spiraling down into a dark place. Even if I knew that was happening at the time, I really wouldn't have known what to do.

One photo was snapped right near Jackson Square. When I first saw the photo, I quickly dismissed it. That was back in the day of disposable cameras and out of 36 pictures, it was not uncommon to get a dozen or so crappy photos. Usually I tossed those shitty ones out. For some reason I'd kept all of them and instead of all the good ones, I focused on all the sad ones. The camera didn't lie.

I suspected that she was conflicted. She loved being away from home and seeing new places for the first time, especially cities that she had never been to before. But I also suspected that she missed the comforts of her own home. Her own bed. Her cats. Her own chair that she loved to sit, sip coffee, and chain smoke in.

The most likely scenario was that she wished she was in New Orleans with someone else. Another guy. Another crush. Anyone but me. She had grown tired of my antics and all of the partying. What had at first seemed cute and different had grown tiresome and trite. I was a hardcore druggie and she probably resented that fact.

Maybe she was sad that she knew she had to leave and go back to her home and the same old boring routines. Maybe I'll never know why she was sad, but when I glanced at those photos, I could feel her sadness sitting heavy on my shoulders.

I wanted to call her up and see how she was doing. I wanted to let her know that I was sorry that she was depressed and to apologize if I made things worse for her. Alas, we had not talked in a very long time and I was reluctant to open up old wounds. I tired to think about happier times that we shared and the fun times we had on the open road, driving state to state.

Paul McGuire is a writer originally from New York City.

Hard Luck Harry and the Owl

By Johnny Hughes © 2007

Harry believed in luck more than any gambler you have ever met. If the Cowboys lost in the final seconds of a football game, Harry thought it was because he'd spilled the salt shaker at the Truck Stop. Harry had lost steadily at no-limit Texas Hold 'em for twenty-three years. His favorite hands were ace-jack and ace-ten. That's kind of unlucky by it's own self. By playing very tight and quitting when he was ahead, Harry managed to win one out of four times, year after year. If you asked Harry about that, he'd tell you he played too many hands and called too much on fifth street but he really believed he was snake-bit, permanently unlucky. It started in junior high flipping coins odd-man with guys that cheated him.

Harry was walking up to Williard's poker game when he spied a Great Horned Owl staring him down from a fence post. A shiver went down Harry's spine like a rabbit had run across his grave. It looked to Harry like the raptor might attack at any minute. He stood there frozen trying to decide what it meant. Since these owls are nocturnal, Harry had never seen one before. The owl let out it's distinctive mid-winter mating call, "Who? Who? Who?" the owl asked. Then it flew off with a great clapping of the wings.

Harry knew the owl was a bad omen to the Plains Indians who roamed the West Texas flatlands before the buffalo hunters, barbed wire, Texas Rangers, U.S. Calvary, windmills, and massive ranches ran off the Indians. That's why we don't have Indian casinos like the Okies. Sighting an owl was a sign of death to some Indians. Harry was spooked big-time. He wasn't his usual friendly self when he got his chips and a chair. On the third hand, while he was still thinking hard about the significance of the owl, he caught two black aces. The ace of spades is the death card. He almost threw the hand away. Harry smooth called the ten dollar blind. He only had $150 in chips.

Even Harry knew that Dylan always raises on the button and always makes a follow-up bet. Dylan was one of these college-aged players with a torn, battered hat and sunglasses. Dylan ran over the game like water over the lowlands. Harry called Dylan's predictable $30 raise. When the flop came 8,7,2 rainbow, Harry checked and called Dylan's $60 bet after a long study. Dylan could read and smell Harry's fear but he only had $50 left. When Dylan paired queens, he bet the last $50. All Harry could think of was that owl. He only called to confirm his primary interior vision of his bad luck. He looked surprised to win the pot. Fireman couldn't keep from laughing.

Then Harry caught a little rush, calling fearfully with some monster hands. If the owl was right, Harry thought, I am a doomed man in this poker game. Then Harry caught the ace-eight of spades in the big blind. No one raised and it came ace, eight, deuce. Harry held the ace of spades and the dead man's hand. His heart pounded. He called Dylan's small wager crying. When another ace came on fourth street, everyone checked it down. Harry cashed in $1,240, his best winning since two years ago Christmas at Sandia Casino when he held more hands than any manicurist in town.

As Harry walked toward his car, the Great Horned Owl was sitting on the same fence post. Harry avoided eye contact and ran for his car. His feet shuffling on the gravel startled the owl and it took off flying just over Harry's head as he opened his car door. He jumped in and locked the doors. By the time Harry reached his place of employment at the Purple Coyote Liquor Store, the story had grown. "It came right at my head." Harry said. "I ducked behind the car just in time. Sighting an owl is a really bad omen."

For a wrong-way gambler, Harry lived a very orderly life. He rented a small furnished apartment, He got all his clothes at garage sales and all his food at Wal-Mart. He didn't have a phone or cable TV and he didn't want them. Clyde would always let him work overtime on big football weekends. Harry religiously studied his dog-eared back issues of Bluff, but he still had a weakness for a weak ace. The guys around the liquor store made little $10 bets with no juice on sporting events. Harry budgeted $6 per week for the Texas lottery. He knew it was in support of the school children of Texas.

After his winning at the poker, Harry went back to betting football at eleven to ten pick 'em. The first week he had six $100 winners on the college games and three $200 winners on the pro games. He won every bet. If this wasn't lucky, what was? But Harry couldn't shake the thought of the owl. He dreamed about the owl clawing his face. He drove by Williard's poker game every day looking for the owl. It was a no-show. Then Harry went down to the library in a howling dust storm to read up on owls. He found out that some Indians believed owls have powers of prophecy. They represent helpfulness and wisdom. So the owl meant good luck, Harry thought. He sure was on a hot streak. The Greeks thought it was a sign of victory in battle if an owl flew over their troops. They revered owls and put them on their coins.

The Romans viewed owls as sinister, a very bad sign. They thought the sighting of an owl meant a defeat in battle. The Roman Army suffered one of its greatest defeats at the sight of the Garden of Eden between the Euphrates and Tigris rivers in what is present day Iraq. They saw an owl before the battle. Some American Indians saw owls as a sign of death. So did people in the middle ages. But many other cultures saw owls as signs of wisdom or good fortune. The English are divided on owls as they are on most issues. In early English folklore, the call or screech of an owl was a sure sign somebody's number was up. In Northern England, an owl is a sign of good luck. Harry was confused by all this. Was the owl a sign of bad luck or good luck?

Somebody said that if you don't get a bet down, you might be walking around real lucky and not even know it. That was about as close to a core value as Harry got. He bet on sixteen football and basketball games and won thirteen bets. He won four times in a row at the poker game, rarely getting his money in the pot with the best hand. He went to the Mall and bought a whole new outfit, with a shiny blue Italian cut sports coat and gray wool pants. He got a shine and a manicure and had his thinning hair styled.

As Harry approached Williard's game, he didn't really see the owl fading away in the twilight but he thought he did. That night he played super tight and caught way more than his share of big easily played wired pairs. Harry convinced himself this was the certain signal that his life-long streak of bad luck had ended. This was his time. He would never see another poor day. Harry kept winning at every thing he did for a couple of months. He bought a 1993 Red Cadillac Eldorado, moved into a new apartment, and got a small multi-colored tattoo of an owl on his left forearm.

Whichever way your luck is running, it is bound to change. The pasteboards returned to normal and obsessive loyalty to ace-jack and ace-ten began to grind away at Harry's bankroll. If anybody got lucky, it was Harry's bookmaker. He couldn't pick 'em. Harry decided to have the tattoo removed by this quack with a laser. It left this weird bluish scar but you can sure tell it is an owl. Nobody calls him Hard Luck Harry to his face.

Johnny Hughes is the author of Texas Poker Wisdom, a novel that will be published in late 2007.


By Change100 © 2007

I turned 10 in Belmar, New Jersey. My grandfather had fallen ill and my mother decided to move my sister and I out there with her for most of the summer of 1987 so she could take care of him. The three of us squeezed into the pullout couch at night in the living room of my grandparents' doublewide trailer on Route 71, which was certainly not designed to accomodate five. Mandy and I spent most of our afternoons wandering around town, taking bike rides around Lake Como and hitting the dime stores with Nana, where she'd buy scores of useless trinkets for the already crowded shelves in the trailer.

On my birthday, she came home from her morning jaunt to Shop-Rite with a value-pack of M&Ms and a bag of chicken wings to cook for dinner. Nana's chicken wings were my favorite thing that she cooked... well, really the only thing I would eat that she cooked. And since it was my birthday, I got my meal of choice for dinner. We ate a light breakfast to "save" ourselves for the dinner. The only problem was... Mandy, my mother and I were already starving by about 1 PM. As the three of us zoned out in front of an episode of "Three's Company" with my grandfather, we began to pick at the M&Ms, which had been poured into one of Nana's tacky candy dishes that sat on the coffee table.

"What the hell are you eating those for?! You're going to spoil your dinner! Why am I slaving in this kitchen if you're not going to eat it!" shrieked Nana as she brushed the wings with marinade.

This was always the Catch-22 with Nana and her dishes of candy. Eat the candy, you'll spoil your meal. Don't eat it and why the hell did she bother to go out and buy the candy for us?

So my mom and Nana got into it over the M&Ms, which ended in her storming out of the trailer with the two of us in tow. We piled into Nana's white Ford Escort and took off down Route 71.

My mom pulled up to "The Sundae Times" aka the best ice cream parlor in town. They served their famous ice cream concoctions in plastic mini-baseball caps and you could pick the team of your choice. Mandy got strawberry ice cream in an Angels cap while I opted for mint chocolate chip in a Yankee hat. We were in sweet air-conditioned heaven and the lines across my mother's forehead finally began to relax.

"You're gonna have to hide the hats when we get home" she warned. "DON'T tell Nana I took you here-- this is our secret trip for Nicky's birthday."

Just as we'd rinsed out the hats and stashed them in my mom's purse, we ran into Nana's neighbor walking through the front door. My mom completely froze and tried to look for another way out of there, but we'd been made.

"Jo! What are you all doing here?"

"Patsy... do me a favor and don't tell my Ma you saw us here. It's so bloody hot the kids were gonna pass out if I didn't get them some ice cream."

"No worries, Jo. I get ya" she said with a wink.

Nana still made her chicken wings that night and I savored every one. Though I still got shit for not eating more than I did.

* * * * *

I turned 20 in New York City. College in the frozen midwest didn't agree with me and I'd defied my parents' wishes and moved to Manhattan for the summer of 1997 instead of coming home to L.A. They thought it was just to work a theatre internship, but I was more interested in converting that temporary gig to a full-time job I could take in lieu of finishing my last two years of school. My birthday was my eleventh day in my sparsely furnished studio apartment in Chelsea. I had a futon I'd borrowed for the summer, one end table, a twin bed I'd purchased for $10 from a sorority that was getting rid of old furniture, and a 13-inch television. I'd arrived in New York with $55 in cash in my pocket and only about $4-- all of it in change-- remained. I'd been eating most of my meals at the Seventh Avenue Papaya on the corner of 23rd Street where they sold 50 cent hot dogs. I could eat about three a day along with a 32 ounce Diet Coke and get by without any serious hunger.

Two days before I'd auditioned to be a singing waitress on a cruise ship. Showcase and a number of our theatre major friends had done it before as a summer job and it paid well. It was one of those touristy boats that took brunch and dinner cruises around the lower tip of Manhattan, passing the Twin Towers along its way to the Statue of Liberty, turning back north to the South Street Seaport, and ducking under the Brooklyn and Manhattan bridges before making a wide U-turn and heading back to Chelsea Piers. All the waitstaff took one solo turn a night along with performing a hideous group disco number. I thought I'd had a good audition, but not having heard from them for 48 hours, panic had set in. I needed a paycheck in the worst way.

At about 7:00 that evening, my phone rang. It was them. I got the job! And could I start tomorrow? Visions of cash tips and food other than hot dogs danced in my head.

I called up Sarah, my best friend from high school who was also living in the city for the summer with the good news. She zipped over to my apartment and took me out for happy hour at a bar on 16th Street where she knew we wouldn't get carded. Elation and relief spread over me as I drank my glass of Merlot.

Because if I could make it there, well, I could make it anywhere.

* * * * *

I turned 30 in Las Vegas, Nevada at the World Series of Poker. I was covering a PLO8 event inside the Poker Pavillion Sauna Wind Tunnel Death Trap Freezer and was watching Chau Giang's teeth chatter as he tucked his arms inside his shirt to fend off the chill when Pauly instant-messaged me a Happy Birthday. I hadn't even noticed the time. Or the day it had suddenly become. Such was my focus on the task at hand. 30 had come quietly. Even unnoticed.

I worked on my 30th birthday. It was like any other day at this seven-week circus of gamblers. I didn't make a big deal out of celebrating it, nor did I have the time to. I've always had an odd relationship with this day and I've celebrated the occasion on every point of the spectrum. From my 13th birthday that I spent grounded and locked in my room to my 16th birthday when my closest friends threw me in the car blindfolded and surprised me with a trip to Disneyland, to my 25th birthday where my party took over a chic Hollywood club and boasted 150 guests, to my 27th birthday that I spent bent over the porcelain god ravaged with food poisoning.

I'm 30 now but I don't feel it. I don't look it. And I certainly don't live like it. I smoke weed, date a 34-year old homeless man, gamble every day, travel a lot and share an apartment with a borderline homosexual actor-slash-dog walker. When my parents were my age, they owned our house and I was spitting up applesauce in the crib. I'm still many years away from anything like that.

So like the many women who have gone before me, I think I'll remain 29 forever. I think it suits me well.

Change100 is a writer from Los Angeles, CA.


By Clay Champlin © 2007

I remember thinking even the table of big girls from Minnesota will get laid tonight. The Hard Rock's center bar makes any woman weighing over 100 pounds and sporting less than a C cup stick out like a walrus in a kiddie pool, but these ladies would be considered hefty at a St. Paul Applebee's. There were a few more guys than women at the bar, so it would just be a couple of hours before the harpoons came out. Some drunk guy would snag one of these voluptuous ladies, drag her back to his room, have sex with her blow hole, then render her blubber for soap. As many Vegas bars do, this place had the vibe that everyone was getting laid this night. Everyone except me. Mainly because I'm married, and the only thing that stays in Vegas for me is my money and a few million unnecessary brain cells. Also, I wasn't in the mood to chat up strange women. I had just done something I swore I'd never do, especially being raised catholic. I played bingo, and it was worse than I remembered.

The Gold Coast casino ain't fancy. The dingy gold decor combined with dim lighting gives the place an overall hue of a smoker's teeth. The staff is as cheerful as a starving coyote, and the gamblers are the worst kind: old and local. My friend and I intended to hit the Gold Coast Bowling Center for a few frames, but after a few hands of blackjack, and a number of cocktails, we couldn't get past the bingo

"Let's face it, bowling isn't gambling, and we came here to gamble!" is what I think I said to my friend as stood in the threshold of the bingo parlor. I was pretty buzzed, so I may have actually said, "The roof of my mouth feels like marshmallows." There's no way to tell for sure, but whatever I said it wasn't long before we were lined up behind the octogenarians and their walkers picking up our bingo cards.

I developed a hatred for bingo at an early age. In third grade we played every Friday. Sister Mary Grace would give each kid a bingo card, and a handful of dry navy beans that she kept in a Folgers can, to mark the cards. So help you God if you tattered your card or lost even one bean. Sister had had these cards and these beans for 50 years, and not once had anyone ever ripped a card or lost a bean. Not once! She had to hide her precious beans during the Great Depression, and saved the cards from becoming hippie reefer paper during the '60's.

Will you be the first one to rip a card or lose a bean? Hell fucking no, Sister, I don't even want to play this game. It wasn't just this crazy nun that made me question bingo, it was also Gary Schwall.

After every two balls Sister called this retard would jump up and shout, "Bingo!" I also never won, so I hated playing. To pass the time I'd drop the beans on the floor and try to look up Laura Gianorio's jumper.

At the Gold Coast bingo parlor, few people used cards, and the guy at the counter strongly suggested we use hand held machines that can keep track of 500 cards for 100 games. Different games had different prices, too. We bought five cards for five games. The first two games were a dollar a card, and the last three we got a two free cards for each two-dollar card we bought. The counter guy programmed all of the cards into our personal bingo computers. My catholic attachment to the old fashioned cards, and my friend's desire to get a bingo marker, prompted us to buy another five cards for each game. "Go grab a few beers and have some fun," the counter guy wished us as we left.

The room reminded me of my school days: Fluorescent lights, puke yellow wallpaper accented by a diarrhea brown carpet, and the longest rows of tables and chairs I'd ever seen. You could fit a whole parish and their extended Episcopalian relatives in here for a pancake breakfast. But I'd bet no one in here had been inside a church since Vatican II. Making my way to a seat I held a large beer in one hand, a calculating device stuffed under my arm, a fist full of 40 colorful bingo sheets, and a red marker tucked behind my ear. I looked like a of clown's accountant preparing for an audit. The rest of my table thought I was funny looking too.

I counted six oxygen machines within eye shot. I noticed one on the guy sitting next to me first. Not because of his proximity, or that he was puffing on Pall Malls despite being force fed air. It was because he was laughing at me. "You know what you're doing there?" he said pointing to my sheets of bingo. Sure, I hear letters and numbers and mark it down with my red bingo marker. How hard can it be? "Good luck there, sonny. Let me know when you need a refill on that beer."

He turned to the rest of his buddies from WWI and pointed and laughed at me. I was about to tie a knot in his air hose, but balls were in the air.

The ball reader had as much personality as Ralph Nader on Ambien. The bingo balls percolating in the bingo ball percolator were more mellifluous than this mope. After he read a ball, the thousand or so bingo machines that hit a square would beep. It sounded as if he was swearing after saying "I-14". I would imagine what curse words this monotone senior citizen was saying, and before long before the first game had ended. I made only three marks on my sheet. There were many things diverting my attention from the game.

Sitting across the giant table, and down a few seats was one of the few other people in the room under 60. She could have been 25 or 45. Skinny, chain smoking, shaking, and looking a little dirty, I thought she was on junk, but it turns out she was just sad. She sat next to a big, fat old lady, who smoked a lot, too. I guessed they were grandmother/granddaughter, and came here on a regular basis. For the first few rounds they smoked, drank coffee, and stared at their beeping bingo machines. When they started talking it was in whispers.

"Have you heard from the lawyers?" Granny asked.

"Yeah, sentencing is next week."

"Are you going?"

"I don't know."

"Why didn't the judge give you any of his money?"

"He's broke."

"What about John's social security?"

"He only put into it for a few years. Whatever I get is going to cover hospital and funeral costs."

"So young. Goddamned drunk drivers."

They sat there for a few minutes listening to the balls being called and machines beeping. Granny couldn't hold back her concern.

"What are you going to do dear?"

"I don't know."

They fell silent again, but amidst the beeping and the bingo balls I heard a tiny thud. A tear had slipped off her nose and landed on her bingo machine. She wiped her eyes with the long sleeves of her bright red sweater, and excused herself.

I looked up at the big bingo board above my head. We were in the fifth game, but I had the cards for the second game in front of me. My friend was spaced out looking at his first game cards. I crumpled up my sheets and threw them at him. He fired back, which got the attention of the old bastards next to us. "You giving up already?" asked oxygen tank. Yes, I am giving up. Bingo got the better of me again. So, fuck you, Wheezy, and get me that beer. We bolted before he could hobble back with my drink.

I left the center bar at the Hard Rock monogomistically stumbled back to my room, and flipped on the TV before passing out. I landed on the nightly news where I saw the red sweater of the skinny girl.

She was walking down the steps of the Clark County Regional Justice Center, and a big fat grandmotherly arm squeezing her for comfort and protection from the onslaught of media gathered on the steps. A 20 year-old gang banger smoked some pot, drank to a blood alcohol level of .18, stole a Toyota Land Cruiser, and took off doing 90 mph on West Craig road. He never saw the man on the side of the road, stooped over helping and old lady change a tire. The man's body ricocheted off the old woman's Taurus and plopped down in the middle of the road 20 feet away. On the TV, the skinny girl was coming out of the court house after seeing the gang banger convicted of first degree manslaughter for killing her husband, John, a casino maintenance worker and father of a three year old girl. He was 31.

I thought playing bingo as a grown-up would erase those childhood memories of a mean-ass nun, and short-bus Gary who never figured out the rules. Instead, it had done the opposite, but I couldn't blame bingo. Whether you just got married or buried a loved one, scooping a monster pot, lining up three 7's, or shouting "BINGO!" gives you that pop of euphoria erasing all of your problems: You've got some money in your pocket, your luck is changing, and a winner suddenly forgets she's a widower. It's a shame that feeling goes as quickly as it comes when you give all your money back to the casino, or you're hit with the reality that the biggest jackpot can't fix a broken heart.

Clay Champlin is from Chicago and shoots dice behind the Aldi at 49th and Kedzie to pay for his cot rental at the South Side YMCA. He also has a blog called theclayshow.com.

Randi The Schizo Hustler

By Dingo © 2007

Living in Las Vegas and hanging at Mandalay Bay's Island Lounge each night gives one access to a huge cross-section of people.

The very first lady I met when I moved to Vegas in September 2004 was a tall, leggy blonde whom I shall call "Randi." I will use a moniker for her because I know she still frequents the place as of April 2007 and I would hate to ruin someone else having as much fun with her as I did.

The reality is that I instantly tried to hit on this 5ft 11in hottee cause I was hornier than a canetoad on Viagra and she has a killer body, face and phallic bearing lips (all the better for my little fella).

Anyway, after three hours of plying her with hard liquor she left me at the bar for a hunky looking California surfer dude called "Mark," and I assume proceeded back to his room for a great night of "horizontal toe tapping".

Randi is or was one of the most fascinating b/s artists I have met in my life. During our three-hour drink-fest she told me she was from Moscow, had a fabulous modeling career going with her identical twin sister and was a frequent guest at Mandalay Bay for various jobs. She was the best name-dropper I have ever encountered and having run a global hedge fund for many years, I personally KNEW many of the people she purported to know.

Despite having not made it past the batters' box, as far as hitting on her was concerned, I had a blast with this lady from the former Soviet Union.

Over the course of a year I came to know Randi very well, so much so that she told me I was the only person she trusted. I came to see her as a sometime-intelligent drinking buddy. She told me in two slightly different accents at various times that she was either Randi (the good twin) or Tatyana (the second twin) but it took me the whole year to work out they were the same person.

Randi had a thick eastern European accent, straight blonde hair and a mischievous smile. Tatyana wore her hair in waves/curls and was very serious and often depressed. She would cry about nothing in particular and from the whopper stories she told and her sniffling I concluded Twin 2 was a heavy "coke head".

Randi told me the "twins" had a suite at Mandalay in "The Hotel" as a semi-permanent thing because her father was a wealthy Russian nickel industrialist who knew just about everyone. I mentioned to her that I knew Boris Beresovski and Roman Abramovich, the current owner of Chelsea, the English Football Club. Boris and Roman had made their billions helping the Russian government sell off their state-owned assets (always to their own advantage, of course). For fear of ending up like a recent Russian spy in London, I will say little more about the two Russians except that Randi's father must have known them well. Randi strung me along with many stories of her and her father's success and interlaced it with facts about the two Russian billionaires, so I believed she was who she said she was.

Over months we became mates, exchanging calls and often sharing breakfast at 4 or 5 AM at the Mandalay Bay cafe after a night of singing, drinking and dancing at the Island Lounge. I would often get up with "the Limit" and sing a version of INXS' "New Sensation." Randi never seemed to have any money but that didn't ring a bell with me for a LONG TIME so I usually paid for everything. Yes, I should have realised if she WAS staying at The Hotel she could put tabs on her room but she gave me a line that daddy paid for her and was tight with her funds.

After six months or so Randi disappeared and Tatyana would come to the lounge. Tatyana generally ignored me but I asked her one night why I never saw Randi around. She told me Randi was in London helping Daddy in a deal with the Russians.

Tatyana would occasionally appear with a black guy in his late 20s, a magician called Max. Now I hate frickin magic shows so when he did the old cigarette through a card trick for the third time one night I told him to get a new "dead horse to flog." The guy was a straight out hustler and a poor one at that. I told Tatyana she should get better company. She told me to piss off.

The very next night I saw Randi again. She was in a very happy mood and apologized for not having called me in two months. She told me she was in love and was moving to California. Apparently, she had been seeing the surfer guy she met at the time of our first meeting and planned on getting married to him. She told me she had given Mark my number in case he ever needed me.

At this time, I was just recovering from treatments for a brain tumor so would get foggy quite easily when drinking. I awoke the next morning and found that I had slept through four phone messages from an unknown Texas number and three from what appeared to be Mark, Randi's new fiancé. The Texan who called asked me to phone urgently as it was a life or death matter.

So, I call Mr. Texas. He proceeded over the course of two hours to tell me the story of his life. He was Michelle's (Randi and Tatyana's real name) husband of five years and was staying at the really shitty Motel 8 across the road from Mandalay. He had been in Vegas for two months and had finally tracked down his wife. He told me he got my number from her cell on the one occasion he caught her. He had been calling everyone in the cell with no joy and finally realized I was the Australian in Vegas his wife had once mentioned a year or so earlier. He knew she trusted me so he poured out his guts.

Texas and Randi had two little girls, two and five years old. Randi was a diagnosed schizophrenic (actually a multi-personality disorder patient) and she had flipped out when her 2nd daughter was born. She had milked the family of all of their savings and would fly to Vegas and party and then return when her money ran out or her psychotic episodes finished. She had finally scammed Texas of his last funds when she met and fell in love with Mark and he assumed she would proceed to do the same to him. Texas told me that Randi was a child prodigy, a genius with numbers but had been molested repeatedly as a child and had run away to Austin as a 17-year old where she met him. She had a special skill for blackjack. Texas had trained Randi from the age of 18 to 21 on all of the math and practical aspects of poker. They married when she was 21 and she began to win them money in various casinos playing blackjack. But over time her illness would deteriorate and she could only concentrate while medicated. Often she forgot or refused the medication. Texas told me that they entered her into a blackjack tournament at the Mirage in 2004 which she won ($75,000). Randi immediately hid the winnings in a safety deposit at the casino and kept the key away from her husband. According to his lawyers the casino has verified that the safety deposit box has not been touched to this day.

Her husband and two beautiful children were forced to bunk with friends for three months because the bank had foreclosed on their house, Texas had zero funds and no job. Randi had taken everything from him. Texas told me his wife was seeing a guy in California who sounded like a nice guy. He said she had massive drug problems on top of her clinically diagnosed psychosis and she would not help him or their children with the $75,000. He said she didn't even seem to know she had the money hidden somewhere.

Texas decided to track Randi down and had been chasing her trail around Vegas for two months. He was paying by the week for a tiny room for himself and the two girls at the shitty Motel 8 near Mandalay. He had caught Randi one night but she ignored him even in the face of her two young daughters. He told me she was so messed up that she was working as a hooker and had forgotten about the blackjack winnings at the Mirage. He had drawn down all of his credit cards and the children had been eating McDonalds dollar meals for the last two weeks cause he could only scrounge $5-6 a day. I told him my financial plight was as bad as his (you will see why in other posts soon) and couldn't help but he told me all he wanted was for me to persuade Randi to see him.

I hung up the phone call from Texas and was immediately contacted by Mark, the surfer guy, fiancé of Randi from Cali. He told me that some guy from Texas had called him asking about a Michelle (Randi). After ten minutes I concluded that this guy was a good bloke and so told him everything I knew about the story from day one. I told him I could not get involved and did not know the truth but a guy with two little girls seemed very real to me. I called Randi but only got her voicemail.

A week later I received a call from "Tatyana" telling me that her sister had died and that some crazy guy from Texas with two little girls was following her around. I told Tatyana that I understood the Texan to be her husband and that they desperately needed her help with the money she had stashed at the Mirage. She went berserk at me on the phone and then hung up. I NEVER HEARD from her again.

Fast forward to... July 2006.

It's the World Series of Poker. I am sitting at the bar playing video poker at the Rip Casino when a tall attractive blonde sits next to me. She has no recollection in her face of who I am. She introduces herself in an English accent as Diana Smith from London.

It is Randi.

Dingo is a forty-something lawyer who's originally from Australia and currently living in New York City.