BY SCOTT SAALMAN
Guest columnist

Last Sunday I called mom at the casino on Valentine’s Day. Sunday is their casino day. Fridays and Saturdays are their casino days too. I don’t see my parents on these days. I’m a middle-aged weekend casino orphan.

Calling mom on a weekend means calling daddy’s cell phone first. Then he gives it to her. She never answers her own cell phone, on weekdays or on weekends. I’m really not sure why she has one. On weekdays, I can call landlines (also known as wall phones).

One downside to calling the landline is that Dad will likely answer it downstairs while Mom will answer it upstairs. Then they talk and forget about me. They discuss what to eat for their 2:30 pm dinner. I become a voyeur on a party line from hell. Finally I push in.

“Mummy?”

“MJ, do you hear Scott?”

“It’s me, mom.”

“Where are they?”

“On the phone.”

“How did you do that?”

“I called YOU mom.”

“But your father is on the phone with me.”

“They both answered at the same time -“

“Patty, it’s Scott. I hang up. “

“Hi?”

“We’re beyond Hello Mom.”

Anyway, I called daddy’s cell phone on Valentine’s Day to speak to mom. I could barely hear his “hello” over the cacophony of the casino sounds on Sunday mornings: the incessant beeps that reminded me of R2D2 in terms of speed; the exciting clink of electronic coins that creates the illusion that a big jackpot has occurred every nanosecond; the ratchet attached to drawn slot machine handles; the desperate chatter of church leaders at the slots doing forgotten deals with God; the ubiquitous wheel of fortune-like click; the crazy calliope, which is reminiscent of a picture of the sweaty devil who overzealously occupies the calliope keyboard in puffs of steam. This is the crazy soundtrack of my parents’ happy place.

“Where’s Mama?”

“It’s somewhere.”

“That’s reassuring.”

“I’ve met a thousand before. I could break even. “

“I want to wish mom a happy Valentine’s Day.”

It seemed to take forever to find mom. I am sure he was distracted. He’s never met a poker machine that he didn’t like.

The casino became my parents’ second home in the 1990s. It opened as Casino Aztar and eventually renamed Tropicana. I suspect the name change initially raised concerns that only orange juice would be served at the bar. As much money as they spent there, their names should be on the casino’s signage. I still call the casino by its original name. Aztar would make a big name for a protagonist in a James Bond movie.

***.

Here’s a script for a new 007 thriller I imagined when Dad tracked down my elusive mom on the streets of the Penny Slots district. Working title: CASINO COMPS ARE FOREVER.

Bond is tied to a slot machine by duck tape. He’s struggling to break free.

Bond: Damn it. The more I twist, the tighter the bond becomes. These casino sounds are crazy! This is the ultimate doomsday device.

Enter Aztar.

AZTAR: Welcome to your life, Mr. Bond.

Bond: Aztar!

AZTAR: There is no going back, Mr. Bond.

Bond: It was you all along.

AZTAR: Even if we sleep, we will find you.

Bond: But that doesn’t even make sense!

AZTAR: Sorry, Mr. Bond, but everyone wants to rule the world.

BOND: Aztar – why are you talking to me in the 80s? Is it a riddle?

AZTAR: It’s no mystery, Mr. Bond. It’s a catchy tune. Tears for fears played on my way down the elevator. It’s my happy song

Bond: You are a madman, Aztar!

AZTAR: Maybe, but who is the one who is currently in a very difficult situation?

BOND: I’ve been hired to rid Scott’s parents of the hypnotic influence your casino has on them before they destroy his legacy. You have me now, Aztar, so set her free.

AZTAR: Sorry, old boy. The pull of our Comps program is far too great for Scott’s parents to turn away.

Bond: That job was a bloody lost cause from the start.

A supermodel-like cocktail waitress arrives.

AZTAR: I took the liberty of ordering you one last martini. James, meet Penny Slot.

Penny: Your martini, James. Shaken not stirred.

Bond: Even though you stole my line, Ms. Slot, I have to say that you are pretty as a penny.

Penny: Sexist old English pervert.

The whole martini squirts in Bond’s face.

Bond: This really isn’t my day.

AZTAR: Penny by penny, stay strapped to this slot machine until your last breath. The Calliope music alone makes you wish your mother had never met your father. Welcome to your death, 007.

Aztar dials cell phone.

AZTAR: Lucifer, turn up the volume on the calliope. Play tears for fears.

***.

Finally I heard Mom say hello on Dad’s phone.

“Happy Valentine’s Day, mom.”

“Hi?”

“Can you hear me?”

“No.”

“If you can’t hear me, then how did you know I asked if you can hear me?”

“I think your father muted the phone when he gave it to me. Yes, it has to be. “

“It doesn’t make sense, Mom. If your phone is on mute, you can still hear me. “

“I hang-“

The call ended just like that. I should have known better than phone bombing their casino day. Sometimes a casino orphan can’t help but feel shaken and touched.

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