I had planned to spend my money in Pascagoula, Mississippi, maybe on some nice shrimp.
It was the car's fault that I didn't make it that far east. There I was, minding my own business, driving between New Orleans and Mobile (the Gulf shimmering green off my right shoulder), and moving at about the same pace as the fat man in the bright blue bathing suit who was marching with great determination toward the slowly setting sun. I hummed that Jimmy Buffett song;
you know the one.
"Down around Biloxi,
Pretty girls are dancin'
In the sea…."
It was like the song had come to life around me. Little boys ran with plastic buckets, emptying the Gulf a half gallon at a time. I remember thinking: I should just find a place to park and feel the sun on my face.
But the car wanted to go to the casino. It made a hard left turn into a crowded parking lot and, like the Devil himself was clearing the way, steered itself into a space almost at the front entrance.
Well, I've learned you cannot argue with a Toyota…or the Devil, I suppose.
I strolled into the odd, glittering light—a thing that managed to be both gloom and glitz at the same time—and looked at the poker tables. If you're playing poker on a Sunday afternoon, you really care about it. The players had eyes like red-streaked marble; they looked at me the way my dog looks at a sausage biscuit.
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I picked a less dangerous game, or at least I thought I had. I found a seat at a slot machine next to an old woman in a red pantsuit and a straw hat, one cigarette dangling from her lips and another one tucked behind her left ear.
She was losing pretty steadily, but I reckoned it would take awhile to eat up a house payment a nickel at a time. She jabbed the big plastic button with one knobby finger, and her fortunes spun and blurred and beeped. When I cleared my throat, to say hello, she fired a quick look at me that said all she needed to say.
Go away, you little @#&^% weasel.
I moved away. I decided to call her "Doris," because she looked like one. It's her own fault for being so surly, but that's just how a Doris will do you.
I found a machine without anyone near it and took a twenty from my wallet. The machine slurped it down, and then I stabbed the button. I got to hit it about 40 times, which I think is around 50 cents a tap. Then it was just gone. Where did it go?
I grabbed another twenty and sent it into the machine, to go look for the other one. It was not successful, and I eased toward the exit.
"So long, Doris," I said as I passed. She did not look up.
Outside, the afternoon was dying, peaceful and slow. The Devil had ceased to be in possession of my Land Cruiser. I pointed it toward the state line, but I stayed on the coast, just because it is easy on the soul. Next time, I will just roll up two twenties, slip them in a bottle, and chunk it into the Gulf.
Maybe, if it comes back, it will be a hundred. I think the odds are about the same.
"And the sun will set from off towards New Orleans...."