Big Hit at the Lone Wolf

My mother, Mary Elizabeth Frye, graduated with high honors from the University of Hard Knocks. My father, who she lovingly had called "honey bunny", was killed at the early age of thirty-one, having been crushed by a road-grater while his construction crew was working on the new interstate. Strapped for money, with little time to grieve, Mom had little other choice but to join the work force, taking a ten-hour-per-day job at the Henderson textile mill in order to support myself, a younger brother and two older sisters. And, believe me, it was touch and go for a number of years, with the very barest of essentials.

After thirty-four years of hard and loyal labor, my mother retired on a modest pension, social security, and, due to all the lint that she had inhaled, with a portable oxygen gizmo that she was forced to use whenever she got angry, nervous or excited. And that was a good ninety-nine percent of the time. It was fairly easy at home, but when she was on the road, it was part of her attire, just like her oversized handbag and her odd assortment of frump hats.

Her first four years of retirement were ordinary and humdrum, or, as she phrased it, "This is boring me out of my freakin' gourd!" But all that would change, in the blink of an eye, when an Indian casino sprouted from the happy hunting grounds a few miles out of town. The tiny reservation had been there for years, far off the beaten path, with a handful of tribal members living in rust-scabbed trailers and a half dozen ramshackle houses. But when the Injun casino boom took hold -- starting with Foxwoods in Connecticut -- the tribe started its long legal battle for federal recognition. There were beaucoup millions to be had and they wanted their fair share plus some.

I'm not sure when mother got hooked, but it happened, and it happened with a suddenness that put my head in a spin. Pulling a slot machine lever became as commonplace to her as engaging the flusher on her toilet or stabbing the little number pads on the remote control. When the pension and social security checks arrived, she was in seventh heaven, off in a flash to the bank, where she ignored her checking and saving accounts in favor of cash. Bills be damned! A quick call to Daisy DeLuca and Mavis Beecher, her gambling cronies, and off they would head to the Lone Wolf Casino.

I was on winter layoff from my construction job when I received a phone call from my mother, early on a morning in mid-February. It seems that her clunker of a car wouldn't start and the Three Musketeers needed a lift to the Lone Wolf. I tried to reason with her, advising that she spend her money to repair the car instead of feeding it into the bottomless pits of the slots. But, as expected, she would have no part of that foolishness, and, after playing on my sympathies that I was her only child still living in-state, I headed for her place, anger thudding in my temples.

When I got there, I found my mother busily primping herself in front of the bathroom mirror. After all, a woman had to look her absolute best while the casino fleeced her for every cent that she was carrying.

"C'mon, Ma. What say I take you out for a nice lunch and we can catch a movie of your choice. My treat. To hell with the Lone Wolf."

She shot me a look that could have easily spot-welded two pieces of scrap iron. "Oh, sure, ruin my day. Why should an old lady have any pleasures."

"Spending some quality time with your son isn't a pleasure?"

"I spent enough quality time with you when you were a kid." Her mouth puckered as though she was sucking on an extra sour lemon. "Worse yet, when you were a teen."

"Well, thanks a heap, Ma. All that I'm trying to do is stop you from blowing the money that you need at that damn casino. The Indians get richer and you get poorer. How about the electric, cable and telephone bills? Food. Your blood pressure medication. And, God forbid, those repairs on your car."

"Go ahead. Deprive me of my fun."

"Squandering your money is fun? Why dontcha take up bingo or crocheting?"

"For thirty-four long years --" she held up her arthritic hands, wiggling her gnarled, knob-knuckled fingers. "-- I worked these poor hands to the bone, ten hours per day, so my kids could have food in their mouths and clothes on their backs. And, now, I s'posed to sit home in some sort of old age dementia and do what -- maybe cut out paper dolls and string them along the ceiling?"

"Geez, Ma."

"Or squirrel away every red cent so you and your siblings can live it up after I croak."

"I'm not like that, Ma, and you know it. I hope to hell you live long enough to attend my funeral."

"Oh, sure, sure, break an old woman's heart." She started to gasp for air and dashed to her oxygen tank on wheels, placing a forked, clear rubber tube into her nostrils. "See -- huff, puff -- what you've gone and done. Get me all riled up -- puff, puff -- and I can't catch my breath."

"Okay, okay, have it your way," I said, after a long, weary breath. "Feed those one-arm bandits all you want so the two-armed bandits can live in the lap of luxury. That is absolutely okey-dokey fine with me. I have no problem with that at all. Uh-uh. Not this guy."

She had her hat and coat on in a flash, tilting her oxygen tank onto its wheels and heading for the door. "Good! Let's get this show on the road. We gotta pick up Daisy and Mavis."

Five minutes later, I pulled up in front of a brick ranch and honked the horn. Daisy DeLuca, all three hundred pounds of her, surged out the front door, smiling and waving and waddling down the walk. Her dark little eyes had always reminded me of two raisins pushed deep into a mound of dough. And speaking of dough, she had oodles of it, through some savvy dealings in the stock market. When she plopped into my rear seat, I heard the suspension creak, followed by a long "pssssst" from my shock absorbers.

"Hey, Mary Elizabeth! How ya doin', Howard?"

"Fine, Daisy.

"Thanks for giving us a lift. We would have had to taken a taxi otherwise. Ten percent of my winnings will go to you."

"Sure, Daisy, sure."

I cut over six blocks and found Mavis Beecher eagerly awaiting our arrival on the front porch. She was the exact opposite of Daisy: a small, frail, weed-thin woman, with a mop of frizzly white hair and the inevitable cigarette drooping from the corner of her mouth. She smoked five packs of cigarettes a day and how she had managed to reach the age of seventy-three was one of the wonders of the world.

"Howdy, girls!" She gave me a slap on the back. "You too, Howie."

"Good to see you, Mavis. How's everything?"

"Ah, ya know. George nags me about the yellow curtains and my doctor says that my breathing sounds like the African Queen. Otherwise, I'm just peachy. And ready to win a bundle."

Ten minutes later, I dropped the Three Musketeers off at the front door of the casino and found a parking space as close as possible. When I found them, they were standing in line, waiting to swipe their cards through one of the dozen computerized terminals set up not far from the entrance. The Lone Wolf sent thousands of these cards out through the mail, enticing their customers with the chance to win money, cars, complete homes, or all-expense-paid trips around the world. The catch was that you had to be at the casino in order to win, and, while you were there, chances were you would get the urge to squander away a few of your hard-earned dollars. My mother swiped her card and a "Sorry. Please try again." Flashed across the screen.

"Drats! I've never won anything yet!"

I chuckled. "And, chances are, you probably never will."

"Well, thank you so much, mister know-it-all."

"It's nothing but a gimmick, Ma."

"You're an inspiration, Howard. You really are."

I heaved a weary sigh.

"Just like when you were born. You were an inspiration not to have any more kids. But did I take heed?" She rolled her eyes. "Oooohhhh noooo!"

"Ya know, Ma. You can be so terribly cruel at times."

"Sometimes?" A cackle. "I must be loosing my touch."

We made our way into the hustle and bustle of the casino. All I could hear was the ping-ping, ding-ding and ting-ting of thousands of slot machines. I noticed that a good eighty percent of the people were sixty-five and older. Hurrah for social security! The casino was decorated with eagles and wolves, feathers and beads and dream catchers. Chuckling to myself, I wondered, why not a few wampum belts.

We decided to rendezvous near the huge bronze wolf at precisely three o'clock and the three women went their separate ways. I tagged along with my mother, watching as she exchanged a twenty for two rolls of quarters and sat down at a bank of slots, placing her handbag on the chair to her right and her hat on the one to the left. Sweet Mary and Joseph! If one wouldn't take her money fast enough, she was going to try her luck at playing three! She placed her comp card into the slot on the machine, a long, telephone-like cord attaching it to her wrist. There were points to be made for meals, lodging and goodies at the shops, and she wasn't about to miss out on them. Five minutes into her menage a trois, a young guy came along and tried to feed three quarters into the machine to her left, but she slapped his hand, knocking the coins to the floor.

"Hey, lady. What gives?"

"That happens to be my machine, sonny boy. Ya wanna deprive an old lady of her livelihood?"

"Uh -- geez -- I'm sorry."

"And well you should be."

Snatching up the quarters, the guy beat a hasty retreat.

"For crying out loud, Ma. You embarrassed the bejesus out of me."

"Oh really? Well, not half as much as you embarrassed me in the delivery room."

"You know, I'm getting mighty sick and tired of being your whipping boy."


I stomped off, thoroughly disgusted, and tried to kill time until the rendezvous at three. I nursed a beer at one of the bars, wandered the casino from one end to the other and even tried my luck on a few spins of a roulette wheel. We met at the wolf at three and I could see by the sour expressions that greeted me that they had all lost. Big surprise! Not a single word was spoken as we trudged toward the exit.

Then, as we were taking a short cut through a small eating area, I saw my mother snatch up a dill pickle that had been left behind on one of the plates and conceal it in her fist. I was about to ask what was up when she flashed me a warning look and jabbed me in the ribs with her elbow. But it wouldn't be long before her game became all too clear. In an area where the carpeting briefly turned to hardwood, she released the pickle, stepped squarely on top of it and went down in the best choreographed fall that I had ever seen. A Hollywood stuntwoman couldn't have done a better job. And there she lay, moaning and groaning and wheezing for air, as patrons, security guards and management all gathered around. The woman should have won an Oscar.

"What in the hell is going on here -- huff, puff -- leaving food all over the floor? My back, my back! Oooohhhh!"

A tall, gray-haired manager leaned over, nudging her arm. "Are you okay, ma'm?"

"Do I look okay, you idiot! Huff -- puff. "Call me an ambulance! The pain, the pain!"

The events that followed happened so fast that I could barely keep track of them.

My mother was transported to the hospital where she quickly hooked up with an ambulance-chasing lawyer by the name of Milton Gottlieb, and, nearly as fast, a two million dollar lawsuit was filled against the Lone Wolf for negligence. Pain and suffering. Mental anguish. The worsening of a pre-existing lung ailment. The whole nine yards and more! A mere three weeks later, the casino, fearing a long drawn out legal battle, with oodles of bad publicity, anted up a cool million dollars towards my mother's retirement fund! A fortune to her, but pocket change for them. And, of course, twenty percent went for the services of good old Miltie Gottlieb.

And the ball kept right on rolling. Within a month, my mother sold the house and furniture and car, donated nearly everything else to charity, and, with little more than a "goodbye," caught a flight to Phoenix, where she hoped the dry climate would help her lungs and to be near my thrice divorced sister, Miriam, and her seven kids.

I went to visit her just before Christmas, where she was living in her new luxury condo, and found that she had just purchased a candy apple-red sports car, with a state-of-the-art sound system and plush leather seats! And, to top it off, she was dating a guy nearly ten years her junior, who favored a pony tail and oodles of turquoise jewelry! His name was Gordon Youngblood and guess what: the gigolo was a full-blooded Pima Indian. Native Americans seemed to be playing a big part in her revitalized life.

Jealous and feeling more than a bit left out, I hit the Lone Wolf at least three times a week, searching for my own bag of riches. As of yet, I haven't had any luck. But its just around the corner, I can feel it in my bones. Just a tad longer. Only a tad.

About the author:

My name is Gerald E. Sheagren. I'm a fifty-five-year-old, balding, white-bearded, slightly overweight factory worker from Torrington, Connecticut. My interests include writing short stories, reading the current bestsellers and adding to my ever-increasing collection of Civil War artifacts. Living fairly close to the Foxwood and Mohegan Sun Casinos, I try once and awhile for that one big score. Pretty soon. Just a tad longer.