The Odds

photo by David karp

By David Karp

Let’s say you are at a roulette table. You put a chip on a random number; doesn’t matter which one it is. Black, white. And let’s just say that that chip is the only chip you put down on the table. The other players look at you like you’re absolutely stupid or you’re absolutely crazy. And you just may very well might be, but you just don’t care. The dealer spins the wheel with a mean strength and you watch it spin and spin and spin. Everyone’s eyes are glued to the thing except the dealers, because he knows the odds and it won’t affect him regardless. It will be what it will be and it is what it is. Fate or luck or something else entirely, there are winners and there are losers.

Now, finally the wheel starts to slow down it’s spin. The spin is starting to die out on every hit of that fine little pointer. Click, click, click. Closer and closer, and the eyes get wider and wider and wider. A few hushes and some light cheering. Almost there. Almost there. And…CLICK. The wheel stops. And you know the odds and their consequences. They were never good. Never good.

And you look at the arrow and then down to the number it is pointed at.

And it’s your number.

And you win.

Well, that’s essentially what the odds were for me getting to where I am now.

It wasn’t perfect and it wasn’t pretty.

It was just lucky.

The hotel lobby was large, but dark. Windowless. The lights on the high ceilings were faded. They reminded me of my cousin’s teeth, becoming the very same color after packs and packs of Camels through the years. The walls, once red, are a darker brown every year. The air conditioner was not in it’s best days, so it whispered to us incredibly softly, making it just a bit hotter than it needed to be.
In walks my father…well, the man who I knew as my father. Alberto. The man who was always making deals in his leather suits. The man who has seen it all and then some. The man who always seemed to be as if he was on the run from something. The man who called me his son for as far back as I can remember. 

His dirty white tank top and his faded blue jeans were his signature outfit. On nights when he went out to dance with some new girl he met at the bar after work, he would sport a black suit with purple laces. His slacks would be a little baggy, but nothing outrageous. He’d fix his hair up, slicking it up and back like Elvis, just not as neat.

And those were the two uniforms Alberto lived by, plus a cigar that he would smoke regardless of what he wore that day.

Before we left for the hotel that morning, I walked out of my room and there was Alberto sitting next to the window with a cup of coffee, just staring out at the busy street below our apartment in silence. 

I was about to announce my presence when the phone rang. As he got up to get it across the room, I noticed he was wearing his suit. Must be in for another night, I thought. 

“Hello?…yeah…yeah we are coming….how do you think?…Well, it’s the only way, right? You told me it’s the only way….Then I do what I…alright, alright, just…just let me be, we’ll be there soon…ok, bye.”

He hung up the phone with a slam. As he turned back to the window, I could see that his eyes had gone dark. He was never much of a sleeper. Maybe he was still in his suit from last night. Maybe he just got home.

It was then that he felt my presence and turned to me. He looked at me in the silence for a few seconds. His eyes were brown, just like mine, but his were darker. Whether that was because it was what it was or because he was so tired was beyond me. But after a few seconds of that, he started to smile a little.

“Ricky. My son.”

“Hello, papa.”

He stepped a little closer to me.

“You’re five years old now, a big man. Big man!” he said with a booming, silly voice, like the announcers of a wrestling match. “The world is so big. Bigger than you! And you are my son, so I must make it sure it is a loving, exciting world for you, or I would not be a good father. No?”

“Yes, papa.”

“Am I right?”

“Sure, papa.”

“Of course I’m right, I’m your father!” he said, and he picked me up and held me to him.

“My boy, my boy.”

He put me down and I smiled up at him, as I did for five years. Except tonight, for the first time in my life, I saw something different in his eyes. Something less.

“We must go somewhere, Ricky. Get your backpack and fill it up with your favorite things, ok? We won’t be home for a little bit.”

“Where are we going?”

“I’ll tell you on the way, now hurry!”

“Yes, papa.”

And I obediently and with haste rushed to my room and packed as he told me.

And we ended up here.

And as my dad walked in, I noticed another guy in a black suit behind him. Not like my fathers, more professional looking. Official.

“Ricky. I want you to meet Miguel. He’s a good friend of mine.”

The man reached out his hand. “Hello, Ricky. Good to meet you.”

I shook his hand, cautiously.

“Do you want me to give you five minutes?”

“Yes, my friend, yes. That would be just fine.”

“Alright then.” and Miquel, without looking at me or saying goodbye, stepped out of the lobby and into the back office around a corner.

My father then knelt down next to me.  

“Ricky…my son.”

“Papa.” 

I noticed that his eyes had gotten a little watery.

“Ricky, my boy. Miguel is going to take you this afternoon while I work out some stuff at work. He is a good friend of mine and he will make sure you are safe.”

“Safe?”

“You know, while I’m gone today.”

“I’m always home when you’re at work, why can’t I just…:”

“Because today is different, Ricky. It’s different. But don’t worry, you are going to be fine. Miguel is a good man.”

“When are you gonna pick me up.”

“When I’m done. Right when I’m done, I promise.”

“When is that?”

“I don’t know Ricky. I…”

His eyes started looking like fishbowls. Wide, dark fish bowls that led to nowhere.

“Are you sad?”

He took a second looking into my eyes. “I’ve made a few mistakes, Ricky.”

“Mistakes?”

“Yes, mistakes. And I have to take care of them.”

“Ok, papa.”

“It is ok. It will be ok.”

Miguel rushed in. “Alberto, my friend. We have to go now, there is no time. I’m sorry.”

“Alright, alright.” my father replied, holding back tears as he turned to me. 

“Go with Miquel, Ricky. I will see you soon.”

“You promise?”

“I…”, a hesitation. “…yes. Yes, I promise. Now, go!”

I hugged him close and he hugged me closer, with silent love and fatherly strength.

We let go and he pushed me away, to Miguel. “Go, Ricky.”

“Bye, papa.”

I walked to Miguel who forced a smile to me. “It’s ok Ricky. We have to go.”

I turned to my father one last time and watched him as he stayed kneeling on the ground, looking at me.

Tears had started to escape.

“I love you. I love you so much.” he said, and I watched him fade behind me, staying kneeled as we walked out the front doors. He watched me too.

I still think he’s watching me sometimes.

I never saw my father again.

And that’s all I really know about it all.

I ended up in Vegas right before my sixth birthday and I haven’t left for thirty years now. But as time and space edge me closer to forty, I realize I’ve never stopped wondering where he could be now.

I can’t say I hope the Bellagio is my end all be all. But it could be worse. I’ve been working here a long time and I’m taken care of here. I’ve watched people win the world and lose it all. Gambles, fights, new beginnings, final bets. And it makes me realize, as I watch the people losing and winning, that that’s what it’s really about, really.

You play the hand you have, and you take whatever it gives you, whether you like it or now. That’s the name of the game.

Listen, I have to admit that I haven’t got a clue as to why I’m here. In Vegas. In America. I just ended up here one day with Miguel all those years ago. No idea of the life I could of had if I stayed home. No clue about the past. All I have are questions. But I’m starting to accept that there may not be answers to them.

But one answer I did get, and I do understand, is that I’m lucky.

There are some good odds, some bad. Very bad.

But all and all, it’s been a good night to play.

~~~~~

Writing Exercise: “The Seed” by Alexander Chee

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