A knock on your door

  • So, I recently wrote a ten-part series. It took 17,430 words. In typical paperback book form, it would have been 58 pages long (given each page contained 300 words apiece). So if you slugged through it all, good on you.

I can knock it for several reasons, going too much into detail in some areas and not enough in others, but most of all I’m glad I finished it. I’ve been writing on the Internet — or in various college courses — since I was 18, but never have I put so many words into one topic, or story. I don’t prescribe to the idea that writing length correlates to writing quality, however, for what it was I felt it an appropriate size.

  • It was always understood when I was at dealer school that there was a lot of ego involved on a craps table. Ego from the players, ego from the box person, ego from the other dealers. When I was learning blackjack, then baccarat, then Pai Gow, then all the others, I didn’t think I would ever make it to dealing craps. Or, that I’d ever want to deal craps. The game itself was intimidating, as were the different breed of dealers who dealt it.

One of those dealers was named Vince. He had been dealing for about ten years by the time I met him; he started around the same age I did. One day, to prepare my friend Dominic and I for our upcoming job auditions, the dealer school instructor had us work with Vince, almost like a mock audition.

For whatever reason, Vince seemed to have it out for me right away. Maybe ego recognize ego. He seemed to have something to say about every little thing I did wrong, his words dripping with condescension. Inside I was irate at how much pleasure he took in putting me down, in separating his high and mighty self from me.

But there was nothing I could say or do in response; if I attacked him back, it only would have showed my immaturity, even in spite of how I thought he was being unreasonably hard on me. There was also the idea that Vince could be my boss someday, and I didn’t want to burn any bridges before I got started.

So I was steaming. I left that day wondering if Vince was right, and I wasn’t ready.

About a year later I ran into him, again at dealer school. I was learning craps, and he was there to “help.”

This time, though, the tone was different. It was relaxed. Between wherever I was in my pre-dealer life to where I was at that point — soon to make my live introduction to the craps table — Vince had accepted me into whatever dealer fraternity he was in.

“I know I gave you a hard time when I met you,” he told me. “But it wasn’t because I didn’t like you. You just reminded me a lot of myself when I was your age. When I first watched you deal, I thought ‘This guy thinks he has this.’ You thought you were the shit.”

I told him how much I thought about that day, how pissed off I was at him. But that it ultimately made me want to get better. Because I wanted to throw it back in his face someday.

We both laughed about it. And now he was sitting across from me giving me various prop bets on the dice table. Vince told me that “this game is going to humble you,” but that anyone who’s ever dealt the game was in my exact position when they started. So they would understand.

And finally, I felt like I understood Vince.

  • My first couple months on craps was… an experience. It seemed like every day I was at work I carried that anxious/nervous/excited feeling, because I never knew what to expect. Even dealing to two or three people felt like a massive undertaking. My head was going a million miles a minute, and when I wasn’t at work all I could think about was craps. Figuring out how to be faster and more efficient. Figuring out the math of complicated center action. I was still at the point where I was proving myself to all the people I worked with.

On my second day dealing the game, the table filled up in no time. I had seven or eight players on my side — about capacity — and the whole layout was a jungle of place bets, come bets, field and line bets. It was overwhelming.

It was late in the day, because a swing shift box person was on the table. We’ll call him Al.

Early on in my transition into dealing craps I was as humble as I’ve ever been, about anything, I’d say. I told a handful of the dealers, and some box people, that I welcomed their criticism, that it takes a lot to hurt my feelings. Whenever someone told me to do something, I did it. They knew more than me.

I was like this from the very beginning with Al. I don’t have a problem giving in a little to establish respect.

But on my second day, Al absolutely lit me up in front of a full table. In the middle of paying out the 5, I completely froze up. I had a full side of players all telling me differing things they wanted to do with their bets — “Press it!” “Same bet!” “Press me one unit!” Press it all the way!” — and I stood there blank, waiting to start.

“Eric!” Al implored.

This player wants a press!”

This player wants a $25 nine.”

“This is your side of the table! You need to control your game!”

Holy shit. For some reason, what seemed worse was that Al didn’t know I was a new dealer. He was talking to me like I should have known better, when in reality I was surprised I had lasted so long without a freeze up like that. Craps is just something else.

That was the only time I had it so bad on the dice table. But I realized that, while I was only going to get better, Al was and is the same person he was on that day. Cold without compassion, and without exception. I could deal perfect for a half-hour at a time, but I can count on Al — if he is there — to let me know if I make one small fuckup. That’s just the way he is.

From talking to dozens of craps dealers, it turns out it’s kind of a thing. See, when dealers start out on craps they either have a good crew, like I had, with people who want to help. So when another new dealer comes along, they are more inclined to pay it forward, or how you say. They want to help with the transition.

On the flip side, some box people came into craps with harder people, harder crews. Where if you made a mistake, the solution wasn’t how to find the right answer. It was shaming and ridiculing that person who made the mistake. Those are the dealers who get their payback when a new dealer comes along. They want it to be just as hard for everyone else as it was for them.

As an aside, I broke into craps thinking, or expecting it to be more like the latter than the former. And maybe it’s because of where I’m from or who I am, but I respond better to the ridiculing. I need that extra chip on my shoulder, since it isn’t enough to simply arrive at the right answer. I need an imaginary enemy to prove wrong.

Last week I finally arrived at the point where I’m good enough to start talking back. Al was in my section while I was dealing Ultimate Texas Hold ‘Em. I had a full game.

Al came over to change the cards, but I had already shuffled and loaded the deck in the machine. So I turned my head and asked, “Should we play out this hand or do you want me to kill it?”

“I said we’re changing the cards, so that means we’re changing the cards,” Al responded.

About ten minutes later, I was running low on red $5 chips, so I called Al over to ask what I should do.

“Well, a good idea would have been to start conserving your reds a long time ago,” Al dryly said.

For my last five minutes on the game, all I could think about was confronting him. He was right that I should have been conserving my chips, but that wasn’t what I was so heated about. I didn’t like looking bad in front of my players.

So I left the table, walked about five feet to where he was standing at the podium.

“You know,” I started. His head was down. “Look at me,” I said.

“I would really appreciate it if you didn’t go out of your way to talk to me like that while I have players on a game. That was bullshit what you just did.”

He just looked at me. I turned around to leave the pit area.

“Hey, come here!” he said, and I went back.

“Don’t take this the wrong way, all right,” Al said. “A monkey could deal cards. I need you to be a dealer and make these decisions yourself.”

“No,” I responded. “I’m not saying you weren’t right about the chips. I’m telling you there’s a way of talking to people. And your tone with me is wrong.”

I left.