Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Step Five

Beautiful sunrise over a mountain near Deming, New Mexico circa 2007

After a hard day of playing pirates with the Grandkids, I settled down on my comfy chair, that really isn’t very comfy. Wish I had one of those Lay-Z-Boys. But I was so exhausted that I sat there anyway and watched some TV. Mrs. Spadoman was watching a PBS show called “The American Experience”. It’s a pretty good series. Usually interesting. This show was about Las Vegas. From the beginning to now.

It touched on the West side of town where only black folks lived in the 1950’s. Because of the Jim Crow laws, Las Vegas was separated like much of the south. Not even the top entertainers like Sammy Davis Jr. or Duke Ellington and Ella Fitzgerald were allowed to stay in hotels where they brought in packed audiences to their shows.

They told a few stories about people who are addicted to gambling. These compulsive gamblers are a hard bunch to understand. They don’t put anything into their bodies like the alcoholic or drug addict, but the addictive behavior is just as hard on them and elicits thoughts of suicide just as the depression from alcohol might do when a person is at the depths of their addiction.

The growth over the years in Las Vegas. The Rat Pack, those naughty guys from Oceans Eleven. Sinatra, Davis Jr. Lawford, Bishop and Dean Martin. They’d do a show and openly drink freely and appear drunk on stage. They cavorted with strange women. They gave the name “Sin City” to Las Vegas. Of course a few law changes were made to make room for the African American in the hotels and casinos. Pressure by the NAACP asked them to allow freedom and stop a color barrier, but it was money that was the great equalizer.

The Rat Pack in the 1950's

In 1996, I was working on a movie set in Minnesota. I was part of the special effects crew for a movie called “Feeling Minnesota”. It had Keanu Reeves and Cameron Diaz. Vince D’Onofrio, Dan Akroyd. A pretty cool cast.

Reeves was to himself, Cameron Diaz, a beauty in every sense of the word, cooked on the catering truck on her day off. Vince was a good guy and Akroyd the consummate professional.

The movie shot around Minneapolis/St. Paul, MN for a number of weeks. I ran cars off a cliff, I staged accidents, I slammed doors, I made water run out of faucets, I made it look windy when it wasn’t. Fun mechanical effects.

When the shooting was complete in Minnesota, the movie set went to Las Vegas for a couple of weeks. There was no one who wanted to drive the props truck back to hollywood after the two week stay in Vegas. Since there were no F/X needed in Vegas, I volunteered to drive Props.

I set out and arrived in Las Vegas a day before I was suppose to arrive. I couldn’t check into the hotel the crew was staying in until the next day, so I stayed at the San Trophe’ across the street from the Hard Rock. I’d get my room at the Hard Rock tomorrow when the rooms reserved for our shooting crew would be ready.

I spent the day fooling around. Nothing to do work wise until tomorrow, so, I ventured in to a couple of clubs I’d been to before and a couple where I had tried like crazy to arrest the one armed bandits only to walk away broke.

We set up the lot on the Stardust Parking lot. My job was to get the props truck there and unlocked and accessible 1/2 hour before call time every day. Get it plugged in and the a/c on. That was an easy chore. I was to be available to run to a store or warehouse if something was needed. Then, at days end, lock up and secure everything until the next day. I didn’t actually have anything to do with props. I just drove the truck and took care of the vehicle.

The Stardust was torn down in 2006 to make way for another Hotel Casino on the Las Vegas Strip.

That pretty much meant that I had a lot of time from when I got it set up to when I had to lock it up. I was on two-way radio if I was needed to run and pick something up. I didn’t venture very far away, but I did utilize the Stardust, the Frontier which was next door, and the Riviera across Las Vegas Blvd.

I got to know that Stardust like the back of my hand. I had a good set of dollar poker machines to work and did fairly well at Blackjack. The Frontier was a lower echelon place and had small payouts, but I seemed to hold my own there. The Riviera was a cruel place to me, so I didn’t cross the street much at all.

When the day was over, back home to the Hard Rock. Great hotel. The pool had natural sandy beaches and a swim up bar. The music was great and pumped through the intercom 24/7. That was also the name of where I ate most of my off set meals, Lucky’s 24/7. They had a prime rib sandwich to kill for. Breakfast was great, complete with bloody mary’s or mimosas, or both.

Some gambling on the floor at the Hard Rock and I had a full day. The next morning saw the routine play itself out again. Riding high in April, shot down in May. Win a bunch, lose a bunch. Up and down.

Then, one night at the Hard Rock, this young gal was dealing the blackjack and this guy was playing with cash. Hundred dollar bills, laying down five of them at a time, playing two holes. Others sat in at the table. The shoe had gone wild and everyone was winning.

I jumped in on the action and was betting heavily against her inexperience and the luck of the shoe. One after another she was giving away the house. Where Mr. Bigbucks was betting $500., I was betting $100. But winning all the same. It seemed every time she’d bust. We were sitting on 12 and doubling down on ace eight.

I pulled in over $6000 that round until the pit boss threw her off the table and started dealing himself until the replacement came in and settled things down. This gave me a pocketful to spend at the Stardust on the ponies, the video poker and the blackjack.

I wandered over to the Frontier, next to the Stardust. Not as glamorous and with lower table limits, but I hit a great couple of shoes there and put another couple of grand in my pocket. Now I was flush. I hit the Riviera.

The Riviera didn’t pay too well and I lost a bunch. Back at the Stardust, I held my own for a few days. Since I was working and had to be close by, I didn’t have many places where the two-way radio would work, so if they needed me, I could get right back to the set. When I was done for the day, I was staying at the Hard Rock, so that was my playground. I didn’t venture too far away.

Mrs. Spadoman flew into Las Vegas and rented a car after I had been there a while. Since I was working on the road, she came to spend some time with me. Her lodging was with me. She never gambles. There is no way, as she says it, that she’s gonna give them machines her money.

She spent her days walking up and down the strip. She had a ball doing simple things like people watching or watching the free shows that the big casinos put on. She also was well entertained at the exhibits and features that were on display in each large scale casino. MGM Grand, Luxor, Treasure Island, Caesar’s Palace. Man, the list is endless and there are new ones now popping up like dandelions.

After the Vegas shoot was complete, I packed up the truck and drove to Los Angeles. I went to some seedy storage lot and dropped the truck off to the props manager. She took care of getting it empty and returned to the rental company. I spent a few days in LA, then headed home.

After all that time in Las Vegas and gambling everyday, I ended up coming home with nothing but my last paycheck that I had earned. I had lost all my previous paychecks and what I had won at the casinos as well. It didn’t stop in Las Vegas either. It was every casino everywhere I went that got a piece of my wallet.

It was the beginning of the end for me. It isn’t with any bravado that I tell you that I am a compulsive gambler and that I go to 12 step GA meetings once per week at least. I’ve been involved with GA for a little over four years. That’s how long I have been in recovery. I didn’t stay away from gambling al,l that time though. I had slips. I’d go three to four months, then try to see if I could go to a casino and gamble for entertainment. You know, spend $25 or $30 dollars and leave. I couldn’t, and every time I tried, I failed myself again and fell deeply into thew pit of despair.

The cover of the Gamblers Anonymous "Combo Book", and the Serenity Prayer.

In January of 2009, I attended a program in Cleveland, Ohio at the Brecksville VA hospital. I wrote about being in Cleveland, but not about the reason I spent time there last Winter. The program is a five week in patient gambling addiction program. I was away from my home and family for this time. It wasn’t like I was out there taking a trip. I was in treatment. I’m not sure what it was about going to treatment for gambling, but I haven’t gone since I returned home. In fact, the last time I went to a casino was October 23rd, 2008. I know this because the check book register had me doing a cash withdrawal on that date.

Step Five says, "Admitted to myself and another human being the exact nature of our wrongs." I figured there is no better way than to say it publicly, here in front of you. Write it all out and say it, believe it, then live my life differently and rid myself of compulsion to gamble. Attempt to alleviate this problem One Day at a Time.

I am proud to say I am coming up on my first year of being sober from gambling and I feel great about it. I attend a weekly Gamblers Anonymous meeting here in my hometown. I read the daily affirmations in a couple of books. I pray, to a higher power of my own understanding, and ask that the spirit guides and helpers walk with me every moment of every day and keep me from slipping back into a life of pitiful and incomprehensible demoralization.

The movie business was a fun way to make a living, but not for me when I worked in Las Vegas. Now you know a bit more about me.

Peace to all.


The Crow said...

God love you, brother, for the courage to fight your battles and to tell the rest of us about it.

You're a strong man, Joe. I admire your determination to keep working on your recovery. Congratulations on your upcoming anniversary.


I, Like The View said...



Unknown said...

When I was younger I did volunteer work with young drug addicts. I was able to understand the physiological addictions but it took a long time for me to get a glimmering of the root cause of gambling addictions.

My younger (adopted) brother was an alcoholic/gambling addict. He was a brilliant mathematician and very talented at his work. He earned and gambled away hundreds of thousands of dollars as well as the many thousands he begged, borrowed or scammed from friends and family. All who loved him were in despair over his behavior. When he died of brain cancer we discovered that he not only owed hundreds of dollars to neighbors and even shop owners who trusted him, but also had gotten credit cards in the name of our elderly mother and maxed them out. He was such a kind, loving and generous man that we could not understand his actions. It probably would have eased our pain somewhat had we known of GA, especially if they had a program for friends and relatives like AA does.

Even though he was adopted and reared in our family, people who knew his biological father said he could have been a clone, he was identical to his father who was also an alcoholic/gambling addict. Makes me wonder if there is a genetic factor behind these habits.

I commend you for your strength and determination in conquering your addiction.

Thank you for visiting us, and Thank You for your service. Please do come back again.

Roderick Robinson said...

I drink but less these days; I'm older now and can sense the imminent headache as I'm drinking. So, just weekends and most of the time just wine. The point is I can sympathise with those who drink too much, who join up the ends of the drinking day and haul up at AA. The Matt Scudder crime novels of Lawrence Block centre on a guy who's been doing AA for years and the pared-down grimness of those meetings (even though they're nowhere near as bad as the alternative) is as much a discouragement to me as the propsect of the wrecked internals, the wasted life and the self-detestation.

But gambling, that's another matter. I just cannot get a handling on the attraction. Especially when it becomes apparent that financial gain is not the object, that there would be no stopping even if one were millions up. Whatever is won is merely ploughed back into prolonging the experience. And thus the aim is bankruptcy. This doesn't mean I'm unsympathetic; I hate all forms of self-destruction. But I lack the understanding to even comment on the problem as I'm proving here - I'm merely writing about myself.

I appreciate enormously what you've said and recognise your courage for saying it. Perhaps the explanation should start in reverse. We know what drug and booze addicts go through when denied their fix; what's it like to be a gambling addict denied the act of gambling? Is it a longing or something stronger, something physiological? You write well. Perhaps trying to get this sensation down through a keyboard may help with the purge. Happy anniversary and may there be many more.

Spadoman said...

Thanks to all of you who have visited here, and a special thanks to those that made a comment.

Crow... Thanks for the congrats. I am looking forward to it, but not placid, after all, one day at a time. Thanks for coming here.

I, ...View... Thank you for stoppjng here at the Round Circle.

Worried... Good to see you here my friend. It's been a while for sure, but I never forget you and the late night talk of years past. Thank you for coming by, and thanks for sharing the story about members of your family.

BB... Thank you for commenting on this post. Understanding is important to some extent, but in the words of one of the paragraphs in the book,
Is knowing why we gamble important?
Perhaps, however insofar as stopping gambling, many GA members have abstained from gambling without the benefit of the knowledge of why they gambled.

I don't know why I have this tendency/addiction/behavior/problem, but I do and I'm working on it. Thank you for your appreciation for what I am trying to do here. That's one of the reasons i do it.

Peace to all.

katherine. said...

a very poignant and heartfelt story....I have enjoyed learning more about than man you are.

Spadoman said...

katherine... Thank you so much for stopping by and for your comment here, and on many of the posts below. I appreciate them greatly.
The story you did about the letter box was fantastic and should be made into a movie.
Readers, go check it out: HERE
And a special mention of thanks for your respect on my political post. It's okay to think differently from one another. Respect is key, in both directions. You display that keenly.


Unknown said...

I can understand drug and booze addiction but gambling has always been a hard one for me to figure out, as there is no physical addiction. That doesn't mean I criticize or judge those who have this problem, just that it's hard for me to figure out how and why.

However, Joe, when you said that you would go for months without gambling and then try to see if you could be in a casino and not go overboard, it reminded me a lot of my best friend, who for years had a bad drinking problem. She would do the same thing, and then she would feel she had conquered it and would go back to happy hour (back in the day when that was legal) to see if she could have just two or maybe even four. Never worked. She's off booze now but she had to go cold turkey.

Good for you for staying off gambling! And it was interesting to learn more about you and your struggles.

I found the piece in your writing about the Brat Pack really interesting, too. I'd forgotten all about those dudes. I think I was kinda young and didn't really get that they were drunks. Besides, I've never been to Vegas. It would be interesting to happen to be there to see what it's like but it's not a place I would seek out purposefully.

Peace to you and yours,

Spadoman said...

Ms. Sphinx... Thanks for stopping by and leaving a comment. Seems that most don't know why gamblers "just don't go to the casino". But that's what addiction is. The compulsion. For me, mostly an escape to avoid reality. Changing reality because I didn't want to live with myself and my emotions and thoughts. We'll talk more some time about it if you want.
Yes, the Rat Pack. Interesting. they were actually the cutting edge of the change in moral values on TV with their drinking and womanizing, tolerated in late night and tabloids. Glad you found it interesting.