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The first thing Tuesday night they put me on a dead game. I was a new hire at the Don Gato Casino in Reno, Nevada. It was only my second night of dealing cards. I'd been to gaming school and thought I knew how to deal blackjack, but I'd found out the night before that real action is a lot different from the practice games at school. You catch a lot of heat from the pit bosses, especially as a new hire. And people who walk up and play at your table can be utterly surly and bizarre. But now I was standing behind an empty table, waiting for John Q. Public to sit down and try their luck. I stood there with my hands resting on the cool green felt and collected my wits for the night ahead.

Along down the floor came this sweet old lady carrying a ninety pound handbag. She had a beatific smile. I didn't know that she was the Squab Lady; an eccentric woman famous for engaging any captive audience in a one-sided conversation about some restaurant where they served squab. She liked to talk to dealers on a dead game or to the person at the keno substation. She always told the same story, even if she'd already told it to you. I found all this out later.

The Squab Lady came shuffling up and stood on the other side of the table. "I just don't know," she said, "here we are. We sit here and look at this world. Do you know that I'm going to be seventy nine?"

I was thinking of what to say in reply, but no rejoinder was necessary. She carried the conversation right along on her own.

"You know we killed a deer. And it was when Franky Avalon was at the Hilton, you know. And we were driving over there and this lovely deer jumped right out in front of us. Poor thing. But it was at that restaurant across the street, you know. And they serve squab, at least they did in those days. Delicious. Oh, my, those poor pigeons! But why talk politics? Don't talk politics, they tell me. And you know, and don't tell this to anyone, but we passed a bad bus, bad gas. My father was a judge, you know."

"In Reno?"

"Oh, no, this was in Elko many years ago. He sentenced a man to three years for being unnatural with his wife. Crimes against nature, you know? But I was trying to tell mind isn't so good any more, I'm going to be seventy-nine, did I tell you? And my mind sometimes....but you know all kinds eat there and this man was looking at me like I was drunk and I stood right up and told him! I said, ÔMister,' " and here her voice dropped down to a confidential tone, "I said to him, ÔMister, you can just get your crazy ass out of here! Mister,' I said to him, Ôyou just fell down a rubber staircase. Noone looks at me like that.' This was while my husband was still living. I said to him, ÔYou just get you crazy ass and balls out of here!' " Her voice had risen and by now she was near hollering.

"I said that to him, you better believe I did. And I went for him, I was going to strangle that man! But some nice people threw a tablecloth over me and wrestled me to the floor. It was nice in there but you know I just don't understand how people can be so rude. Oh, I'm sorry, I see you're busy." And she walked off, smiling.

Later that night I mis-dealt a hand and had to undergo the humiliation ritual. It happened when this guy lit his pipe and I didn't deal him a second card because I figured he was busy. He raised a stink and the pit boss called the porters and they set up the bright lights and I had to strip and wear my underwear on my head and re-deal the hand while everyone laughed at me. You learn, I tell you.

That was a long time ago, when blackjack was still popular. These days there are so many new games and so many weird slot machines and fishing machines and stuff that the card and dice pits are very small in comparison to the huge floors of gambling machines and the proposition pits. I'm still dealing blackjack, but soon I got to branch out into the proposition games. But there will always be a few blackjack tables here at the Don Gato, so I'll always have a job. I've been dealing for twelve years now; I can deal bladderjass in my peace.


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