A MOUNT AIRY STORY
With two days off between shows, I spent the time with my wife, Marcia, and a female guest, at my weekend house in the Poconos, writing, going to the movies (20 STEPS FROM STARDOM and LEE DANIELS’ THE BUTLER), and eating out. We also spent Monday evening at the Mount Airy Casino and Resort for some low-level gambling. I’m not especially crazy about blowing my dough at the casino, but Marcia and our guest like to play Spanish 21, so while Marcia spent an hour and a half winning $10, and our guest lost $70, I occupied myself at the mindless Wheel of Fortune, losing $60. After hitting my limit while the women were still playing, I sat at an empty stool to watch their game.
A nice-looking young gaming table supervisor with a name tag saying “Robert” (I’ve changed his name), wearing a suit and tie, and sporting a Buffalo Bill goatee and mustache, saw the pendant I wear around my neck and asked me what it was. I explained that it was an 1878 silver dollar; noting his facial hair, I added that it was much like what Buffalo Bill would have handled back in the day. He thought the reference amusing and asked, “Are you a coin collector?” “No,” I said, “but I used to wear an 18th or 19th-century gold Japanese coin that I lost in Italy a couple of years ago and I wanted something to replace it so my wife, who had one of these stashed away, gave it to me.” He was curious about the Japanese coin, and asked what it looked like. I made an oblong shape with my fingers, to which he responded, “A koban?” Now, this is something only someone fairly knowledgeable about coins or Japanese culture would know, so I asked how he came by this information. He said his wife was Japanese, and pointed her out. I gazed down a row of empty tables—it was Monday night and business was slow—and could just barely see two Asian women standing at gaming tables. Robert's wife, the second one, was running a blackjack game; she was a croupier. I was pretty amazed because, while you see many Chinese and Korean folks in the Poconos and, especially, at the casino, finding a Japanese up here is as likely as hitting a jackpot. Just as everywhere else on the East Coast, even the Japanese restaurants don’t have Japanese workers. So, as someone with a special interest in Japan, I was intrigued not merely to run into someone Japanese but to find her working the tables at Mt. Airy. In Japan, land of group conformity, they say the nail that stands up must be struck down. No hammer seemed about to hit this nail.
Robert said he’d met her at Mohawk Valley Community College in upstate New York, that her name was Miyako (name changed), and that he’d lived with her in Japan for a time. I told him I was a specialist in Japanese theatre and, seemingly taken aback, he said, “Kabuki?” Bingo. Again, this is not something the average table supervisor (or whatever they’re called) would have known. He hadn’t actually been to a live performance in Japan, but had seen kabuki on TV and was very interested in it. I told him I’d written many books on it, which also seemed a big surprise. I asked if he knew any Japanese and he proudly used the basic words you say when you meet someone. I answered back to show (off) my credentials, and then gave him my card, which is decorated with a Japanese woodblock print showing a kabuki actor’s face. I explained the makeup to him, and he noted that he had a kabuki mask with makeup like this. (Kabuki itself rarely uses masks, but you can buy souvenir masks that have kabuki makeup painted on them.)
Marcia had finished her game and was getting up to cash in her chips. I told Robert I would offer my greetings to Miyako, and walked to her table, waiting until she’d finished raking in the cards from the hand she’d just dealt. Speaking Japanese, I shouted out, to the dismay, annoyance, or shock of the assembled gamblers, “Miyako-san. My name is Leiter. I’m Robert’s very good friend. His really good friend. Please accept my best wishes.” She looked momentarily stunned and smiled, and then I rejoined Marcia, who had cashed in her windfall of a sawbuck.
But she wasn’t quite ready to leave, since she was up for the night and I’d lost only $60, leaving us a mere $50 in the hole. Now it was time to blow another $20 or $40 on the slots, so we marched around until she found a friendly-looking two cent machine. “Come on,” I said sourly, “you’re only going to waste more money. Let’s leave while we’re ahead. These machines barely pay anything.” “I’m not going to spend much, but I can’t leave without trying,” she answered. So, while her friend went to the ladies’ room, Marcia began to play. About one minute in, the machine lit up brightly with three columns of two corns each, and the numbers declaring her winnings started to mount, looking like they’d never stop. We couldn’t figure out what the three rows of double corns meant on the face of the machine, so we had to wait until the rapidly changing electronic numbers ceased rising and the bells and whistles stopped belling and whistling. When they did, they came to a grand total of $91 and change. Woo hoo! We’re perpetual losers, so this humongous total seemed like manna from heaven. When Marcia’s friend returned I gave her 40 lashes for not being there when we broke the bank. We left the joint having covered my losses and with a few greenbacks to spare. We had put a dent (actually, a scratch) on our overall wagering losses, and felt like we’d won a million.
Later that night, back at the house, I got a Facebook friend request. When I checked, I realized it was Robert from the casino, but with a different name. There, indeed, on his profile picture, was the mask he’d mentioned. I confirmed his request and sent him a message telling him to read my blogs. Now I have a FB friend who’s a table supervisor at a major casino, not someone I’m likely to have met in the ordinary course of events (what is the ordinary course of events?) I’m sure I’ll never recoup the money I’ve lost at Mt. Airy, but yesterday, Mt. Airy paid off, and not just in cash.