Gambling (fiction, 3200 words)


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Nov 28, 2010
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22. Gambling

........After settling into our new flat, my first thought was to cruise Zafar on my bike, and see what I could see. I’d been through the neighborhood before, on my way to school or the CRC or the Co-op, but always in a bus or cab, which, while imparting the feel of a neighborhood, is not the ideal way to learn it.
........I’ve found, in my travels, that the best way to get to know a neighborhood is to get completely and thoroughly lost in it. Only then, I think, does a person really get to the little nooks and crannies of a borough, away from the main drag. It’s only then that one goes places one would never visit otherwise, the back alleys and byways. Alleys I’d normally pass by with nary a glance get a complete inspection, if for no other reason than that of looking for egress, and then in the process I’ll learn things like: where the stores are which sell the freshest goge ferangi. Where I can find the cheapest Marlboros. Or a getaway needed for a Caper.
........You know, useful stuff.
........So it was that on the next Thursday I hopped on my new bike and headed down Zafar.
........I had gotten my bike over the summer, saving allowance money and getting matching funds from my parents. A Diamondback BMX racing machine, it was a sleek candy-apple red thing, light, and designed for abuse. I had saved for almost a year, half my allowance each week, to come up with my half of the three hundred dollars it had cost; but this cost was irrelevant when stacked against the benefit of freedom on a scoot designed for my kind of abuse, for, even if it wasn’t a moped like what Cory rode, it meant that in one day my radius of action was now about quadrupled -- and I could jump flights of stairs, too.
........I put that freedom to good use our first weekend on Zafar. Rising early in the morning -- awakened by Foreigner on the radio -- I had, during my shower, a decision to make: east or west?
........East was the closest alternative, being as how Zafar was T-boned by Old Shemran road not but about a hundred or so yards away. A few hundred yards up north from that intersection lay the mini-bazaar, and beyond that, the CRC. Past that, the Co-op, with its American goods, horribly overpriced -- but the Pepsis there tasted normal. Old Shemran, one of the main drags in town, would on this sunny weekend being thronging with people, a condition I loved at the time and only learned to detest upon returning Stateside, where I grew to love quiet country nights. The fruit stands would be thronging with kids, the cafes with men smoking cigarettes and drinking tea, and while this was all promising, it was also familiar.
........West was new ground for me. Well, once past Jordan Avenue it was terra nova. I had been through the intervening two-and-a-half miles daily on the bus to school before I’d transferred to Community, and so had a good idea of that stretch of Zafar. But once west of Jordan, I would be on the blank part of the map, and each sight would be new, each sensation fresh. And that decided me. West it would be.
........The morning was brilliant, I saw once I was outside, a beautifully sunny August morning, the sunlight dissipating the morning’s mist and I settled into the seat and began pushing pedals. Passed the Wimpy’s, a British burger franchise which sold plastic-tasting burgers and grease-soaked french fries, passed the Sony store and the police substation, and it wasn’t too long that I passed Jordan Avenue, too, and was into new territory. Of course, nothing changed; the storefronts were identical, dark, musty things, with the smells of food being cooked and fruit going bad and old men playing dominoes in a nicotine haze drifting into the street. Hand-lettered signs were pasted on the sides of the old, worn buildings, which I couldn’t understand as they were in Arabic script.
........It seemed I had been pedaling for the better part of history when I saw the Sheraton tower rising higher, ivy-covered gray granite punctuated by white marble balconies, with its feet-high red lettering at the top of the fifteen-storey structure. I had been there once or twice -- coming from the south on Pahlevi Avenue -- but not since the American Club had been opened across the street last year. And it was the American club, at the corner of Zafar and Pahlevi, that was the real purpose of my decision to head west. I had to see this new place.
........It was a low-slung tan building surrounded by a brick wall around eight or so foot high, with ivy -- presumably related to the ivy on the Sheraton across the street -- on all vertical terra cotta surfaces; a pleasing contrast of off-white and lively green. Locking my bike to the wrought-iron gate which allowed entrance, I paid the two hundred rial entrance fee and walked in.
........It was, to an eleven-year-old boy, a small slice of heaven. Off to my right, I saw a huge swimming pool and next to it a Jacuzzi -- I’d heard of them, Jacuzzis, but this was the first I had seen -- and to my left was a playground with a large, grassy field, on the far end of which stood a dilapidated steel jungle-gym. A tall set of double-doors stood at the top of a short flight of stairs, beckoning entrance into the main building, which was, again, ivy-covered, terra cotta with the occasional picture-window, through which I saw nothing due to the dark tinting .
........I went in.
........Inside was dark. The brown carpet looked damned near black in the dim lighting, which consisted mainly of the light thrown by a lineup of pinball machines. Eight Ball. Playboy. Deuces Wild. All the good games. I was going to have a good time here; this was a better selection of silverball than any other in town. Faux-brasiers on the wall added little light but much atmosphere.
........But then, on the same wall as the pinball machines, separated by some fake potted ferns, I saw them: three one-armed bandits.
........Now, I’d never played the slots in my life, but, being a good American, I damned well knew what they were, and I forgot for the time being my favorite pinball games. Visions of riches danced in my head. The five hundred rials in my pocket could be made into twenty-five hundred, enough for the B-17 at the toy store on Old Shemran with plenty left over for play-money, and so I didn’t even deign to glance at the dartboards or ice cream bar or tae-kwan-do sign-up sheet on the wall. I went straight to the change machine, threw in two one-hundred rial notes, collected my eight coins, and lost my mind.
........My first pull got nothing, but my second hit three lemons, dropping a stream of silver into the payout bin. Clinkety-clinkety-clinkety-clink rang musically in my ears, and I was up a few hundred rials. In went another coin, down came the arm, ‘round went the wheels, and, if I got lucky, out came the money. As it was, I came out lucky often enough.
........I went home a couple of hours later, about a thousand rials in my pocket -- not as much as I’d envisioned, but more than I’d brought. I had to share this news with someone. Here was a way to make a buck or two, here was a way to turn an allowance into a fortune, and it simply wouldn’t be right for me to keep it to myself; so I unlocked my bike and sped home to call Cory.
........He was out, so I called Greg. He was out, and so I called Mike, who, though he was in, wasn’t much interested, as he lived on the south end of town and rarely came up this way. But there was Mom in the living room, and so I left the telephone alone and told her the great news, that I’d parlayed a few hundred rials into a small fortune.
........“Gambling? You gambled?”
........Well. I’d never seen it as “gambling”, I suppose. “I guess, yes’m.”
........“James, you know you’re not to be gambling.”
........“But, Mom --”
........“But nothing. You can keep what you have, but don’t do that again. Gambling’s not right. You know that, Jim.”
........“But it’s my money, Mom!”
........“No, it’s your allowance, and that means it’s our money which we allow you to have. If you’re to be gambling with it, well, then, perhaps we should review what it is you’re allowed to do.”
........“You’re no fun, Mom.”
........“I’m not supposed to be fun. I’m your mom.”

........That left Sue.
........She wasn’t home at the moment, but when she arrived an hour later, I was bursting at the seams to tell her about my day; and a more receptive audience I could not have prayed for, for, when Sue heard the news that money could be had at the Club, she was gung-ho for a visit. Or perhaps it was the fact that she’d learned of a new thing forbidden us that whetted her appetite.
........“You say you won how much?”
........“About a thousand rials,” I answered.
........“A thousand?”
........“Yeah, or thereabouts.”
........“And how much did you have going in?”
........“Maybe three hundred or so,” I told her.
........“And the parents don’t want us going there?”
........“What is this, twenty goddamned questions? I told you, Mom put it off-limits.”
........“I just want to make sure I have my facts straight,” she said blandly. “I mean, if I’m going to be breaking rules, I want to know it.”
........“Oh, you’ll be breaking rules, all right.”
........“We will be,” said my sis.
........“Well, yeah, there’s that.”
........“Show me where it is.”
........“I already told you, the corner of --”
........“No, show me,” she interrupted. “Show me.”
........“Jesus please us,” I said, exasperated.
........“I don’t have a bike,” she pointed out. “That means we’re taking a cab, and that means you gotta be there. I mean, I can say ‘the corner of this and that, ‘but I still won’t know what it looks like, or how to get in, or what-have-you.”
........“Christ, since when have you needed a guide into trouble?”
........“Shut up, dillrod. You’ve done good for me up ‘til now; why change?”
........She had a point.

........The next morning was Friday, the Muslim Sabbath, and so the streets were quiet as we took the four-hundred-rial ride down to the end of Zafar. She paid the cab-fare, after an argument, but I had told her to either pay the fare or buy a bike, which decided the issue. I was full of worry, feeling irrationally that the parents knew exactly where we were and what we were doing, although they hadn’t a clue. We’d told them we were headed to the mini-bazaar not too far from here, a story that allowed us both reduced finances and anonymity, for even the mini-bazaar was, on weekends, thronging with people. Even if they thought to check up on us, the chances of finding us would be slim, and we could always plead circumstances -- “We must have been at the other end” -- the thought still played in the back of my mind that they knew we were up to no good.
........The feeling didn’t, however, dampen the day.
........We got to the Club about eleven-ish, and made beelines for the bandits, which sat quietly empty, beckoning, and, for one day, it seemed as if the gods themselves were on our side, for, no matter the wager, no matter the amount we put into those dastardly money-holes, they paid out, with three lemons, or watermelons, or the occasional set of three bars. It was a run of luck for the books, one where every touch brought fortune and every coin brought four. Myself, I might have drawn a blank on three or four pulls, but that was it; any other time I seized that black knob, three bars showed up, and money for which I could not account became my own. Would that life were always that kind!
........We left in the small of the afternoon, perhaps two o’clock or so, with so much silver we had no idea what to do with it. In the cab we decided, considering that our activity was not approved, that we’d best hide our good fortune, and so we filled not only the pockets in our Levi’s, covered by untucked shirts, but our socks, for Christ’s sake, our socks, with twenty-five-rial pieces, and stopped off at a kuche where we spent about what we’d set out with on mindless knick-kacks.
........Now, how to spend my two or three thousand rials? The equivalent of about fifty dollars, such expenditures weren’t hidden well, and would be sure to attract the attention of the adults; so I decided to merely sit on it, and spread out my outlays in the hope that an extra couple of hundred wouldn’t be noticed. A few bottles of paint for my models here, a set of stickers for my bike there, and I figured to run it all past them with nary a squeak or a whistle.
........That is, until Sue got caught smoking again .
........She’d been smoking near the window of the living room, blowing the smoke out the window, one day when Mom came home early. I couldn’t tell you how many times I’d told her to smoke in the back of the parking garage, where cabs never approached, but no, she was convinced that routine was routine for a reason, that the parents never got home before four-thirty, and so when one day Mom came home at two-thirty, Sue got caught red-handed at the window, pack in pocket, and Mom exercised her privilege to find the rest of the contraband and searched Sue’s room.
........Of course, Sue had lost all her smokes the moment Mom walked in, because she always kept all of her frajos on herself at all times; but Mom didn’t know this. So, as she searched Sue’s room, Mom found not one extra cigarette, but she did find a sock-full of coins, old-style coins dated thirteen fifty-four and newer, shiny seventy-seven pieces, and asked herself, and Susan, the logical question:
........“Where’d you get all this money?”
........Now, I wasn’t privy to that conversation m’self; when Mom had showed up I had made myself scarce, but soon enough I heard the story through the vent-shaft:
........I didn’t answer.
........I pulled the chair out from under my desk and set it under the HVAC vent over my closet.
........“She found my money.”
........“What’d you tell her?”
........“I told her it was baby-sitting money.”
........“That’s fvcking brilliant. Are you ever paid in coins?”
........“Shut up, nimrod,” came the answer. “She believed me, and that’s all that matters.”
........“You sure?”
........Just then a knock sounded on the door, not loud, but, given the circumstances, it was startling, and I damned near fell off’n that chair as I heard my mom call, “James?”
........“May I come in?” This wasn’t false courtesy; the parents, bless their hearts, always stood on proper form and respected my privacy -- until I got busted.
........This was, at that moment, my one black fear.
........“James, I think we left a bill in a box in your closet,” she said as she entered before I could answer.
........“You sure?” I asked.
........“No, but I can’t find it in our stuff, and I think we have a box of paperwork in here,” she answered. We both knew she was wrong, that Dad was a stickler for receipts, and that he kept those -- and old bills, two years old, in a little metal box in the floor of their closet, but I couldn’t quite say “No” without perking up her already-searching antennae, and so I only held open my closet door and hoped she wouldn’t find my money-stash in a shoe-box atop the milk-crate bookshelf inside my closet.
........It was a vain hope.
........“What’s this?” she asked.
........“My savings,” I answered.
........“Where’d you get all this money?” she wondered, removing the top to reveal a box-full of twenty-five-rial pieces.
........“Well --”
........“Don’t ‘well’ me, I know when you do that you’re spinnin’ yarns.”
........“I saved it.”
........“Didn’t we just buy a bike?”
........“And weren’t you broke after that?”
........“Well --”
........“Don’t ‘well’ me.”
........“I won it gambling.”
........“I thought you said you won a thousand rials there.”
........“I did.”
........“There must be at least three grand here,” she countered.
........“Mmhmm,” I agreed complacently.
........I struggled to think of a good story, a suitable, non-impeaching explanation, and the work must’ve been visible on my face.
........“You went back there, huh?”
........“No, I didn’t.”
........“Well, then why are you and Sue both swimming in money at the same time?”
........“Uh -- hmm -- eh -- we both save some of our allowances?”
........“You might as well tell me the truth, James.”
........So I did. We were caught anyway. Lying would only make it all worse. Instead of a simple punishment for disobedience, I’d be looking at a compound sentence for the extra crime, which appealed to me not at all; and why lie when the only purpose served was to protect my sister who was already caught?
........So I told the truth, how we had had our fantastically lucky day, how we’d lied about where we had gone, and how we’d snuck the coin into the house in our socks and underwear, because we had so much. And although I suffered punishment for this truthfulness, in the form of grounding with extra chores, it still paid out, for, being the first one to spill the beans -- bless her heart, my sister had withstood the fiercest interrogation this side of the gulags without divulging a fact -- being the first to come clean had one benefit; it allowed me to lean on my Halo, if only a little, and assert that I was being the co-operative one; and though the erosion of my innocence cannot have gone unnoticed by my parents in this period where I was approaching adolescence, this sackcloth-and-ashes gig permitted them to maintain their illusions a while longer, a luxury they immediately grabbed hold of and didn’t let go. They wanted desperately to believe that one of their kids actually listened to them, even if he had been led astray, and I, in my selfishness, did nothing to disabuse them of this notion.
........Susan, to this day, reminds me that I didn’t just drop the dime, but rather, a silver dollar, on what could’ve been our cash cow. We’ll be drinking rum late into a Great Lakes winter evening, playing Ten Thousand and shooting the shit, when out of nowhere she will dredge up her cry:
........“We could’ve gotten away with it, if you’d only kept your mouth shut.”
........This, perhaps, might be the story of my life. I talk too much.


ignoramus maximus emeritus
Dec 31, 2010
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:applause::bowdown I'll quote a line in your story, "That's ****ing brilliant"...:thumb: Nice job, bud!!


Super Mod
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Oct 28, 2010
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Huck Finn goes to Iran... and gets busted for gambling! :laugh2:

Loved it! :)

Superb presentation, eloquent choice of words... the dialog was-- as always-- sharp as a tack and quite wonderful to read!

Always Your Fan,
Robert :thumb:

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