I Have Horrible Luck and Nobody to Blame But Sam from Atlantic City
I like to gamble. That was never a problem until recently. Now those black and red chips are the only thing I think about.
Maybe we should start somewhere before that.
My fiance and I were both born and raised in coastal New Jersey, and that fact made us corny little locals at heart. We met at a bar by the water, near where we both grew up. Our first few dates were spent in the clubs of Hoboken or Jersey City, where I lived for a few years. The first real vacation we took together was to Atlantic City. For those who don’t know, that is the East Coast’s less spectacular Las Vegas.
But it was a commuter’s relationship because we lived far away. Most weekends, one of us wound up driving an hour on the parkway just so we could spend time together. The stress of that distance was a lot to take. I loved the girl way too much to be without her more than a week. Simply put and without too many gory details… after three years of dating, I asked her to marry me at that same bar by the water. She said yes.
Money was tight. I knew that from the get-go. In case you were wondering, one neat fact about New Jersey is that we have some of the most expensive ceremonies in the country. The average cost for our state is $47,868 as of this post.
At 25, I did not have that kind of cash.
We had some, sure. Each of us earned around $40,000 a year at full time positions. But with the high cost of living… most of our income went into the apartment, groceries, student loans, and car payments. We would be cutting it close, to say the least.
I tried to protect Marie from the details. I always said it was handled. That started out as a tiny lie.
As the arrangements started to pile up, I cut corners. We hired a DJ over a band. We bought the flowers from a grocery store, and my dad’s friend promised to be the videographer. But with the limo, venue, church, pictures, and all the other unforeseen ventures… we were in the hole another $20,000 a month before the reception date. The stress was eating me alive, but the lies were so stacked I was scared to tell the truth.
Around that time, Marie got a surprise in the mail. One of her family friends was unable to attend the wedding, so they sent their gift ahead as a surprise. It was a two night reservation in Atlantic City’s best hotel.
It seemed like the perfect timing. The next Friday after work we each packed a bag and took the two hour drive South. I wish we hadn’t.
The most amazing thing about any casino, throughout the world, is that you can sit there at two in the morning and it will feel no different than a carnival at two in the afternoon. Maybe that’s the oxygen pumped in, or the loud laughter and ticking wheels… but something about it makes you feel alive.
After endless hours of gambling and drinking, that was where we found ourselves. Twelve watered-down White Russians in and an already approaching hangover. Laugh all you want. Marie was behind me with words of encouragement and smiles. She had given up on the slots hours ago. My game of choice was poker, and that was because I told myself it had better odds.
I don’t know if that is true or not. But what I do know is that at two A.M that morning, I was hot.
Every card came my way. It was crazy. Experienced, grizzled poker vets threw their hands up in disgust as I beat them again and again. Maybe the liquor helped my confidence, or just good luck, but whatever it was.. I was on fire. Fifteen stacks of black chips around me and we were nearly ready to pay off the whole wedding.
I should have pulled out then and made the right decision. But there was one more bill to pay. That was what I kept telling myself… with this win, we can give the photographer his down-payment. With this win, we can get real flowers and centerpieces. It was intoxicating. The feeling was an absolute rush like heroin coursing through my veins.
And then I met my bad luck charm.
He was a normal guy. That was the saddest part of it all. You might be expecting some hulking figure, with a black trench coach and black hat. But he was a soccer dad in his mid-forties. A little short and a little stocky, but not overweight. His khakis went up to his waist and his neat, button-down collared shirt was tucked in and kept up by a white tee underneath. He was always smiling this dorky grin that made the wrinkles on his forehead stick out.
He stood behind me and never played a hand. That creeped me out from the start. He just watched the game, with his tiny fucking fanny pack brushing against my back the whole time.
“Hi, I’m Sam! How are the cards?” he asked the group in a sniveling, nasal voice. Everyone ignored him.
Something about this Sam’s presence shook my confidence immediately. The first hand after he showed up, I lost on a questionable bet that took about three stacks of black chips. On the second, I overcompensated for the first and lost after risking five stacks on a pair of nines. I folded the fourth and fifth. By the sixth, I was sweating, and bet even more.
You get the idea. Within a half hour of Soccer Dad’s arrival, I lost the whole thing.
It was hard to be a good loser after dropping that much money. When I got up, I pushed my chair back and nailed Sam square in the fanny pack. He offered a loud “Oof,” before my drunken announcement to the table –
Marie was quiet when we walked away. I knew I had acted like a jerk, and tried to pass the awkwardness with a few jokes about creepy Mr. Rodgers. She smiled, but her eyes got very wide when she noticed something. I turned, and saw him standing right in front of me.
“Excuse me sir. That seemed very rude.“
I said sorry and we left, without lingering. That might sound weird, but there are a lot of sketchy people in casinos, and Marie was never a fan of confrontation.
But then he started to follow us. It was subtle, and from a distance at first. As we walked towards the casino and took the elevator up, we saw him watch us from a distance and walk in the same direction. Then he was jogging. There were hundreds of people in the hallways, even for the middle of the night, so none of it really looked that suspicious.
But the elevator doors closed before Sam ever caught up.
It had been a long and weird night. As soon as we got in bed, Marie was out like a light. I was still sweating.
I kept it quiet, but my immaturity had cost us an incredible amount of money. There was only $2,000 left in my savings, and we had deposits due for five times that the same week. The first payment was enough to secure the date, but without the rest, the vendors would all cancel and we would be left with nothing. Marie knew none of this. She just sat there sleeping, with the expectation that her dream wedding was still coming in a couple weeks.
I had to go back downstairs.
It was four in the morning, but she had always been a heavy sleeper. I slipped out of bed and out into the hallway. When I got to the elevator, I punched the button and waited in the shallow hallway with a whole new perspective. I could still get back the cash.
When the door opened, Sam was waiting with the same goofy, toothy smile.
“Hi! How are the cards?“
I pressed the button and closed it on his face. After thirty seconds, it opened again, and Sam was still standing there.
“Excuse me sir, that seemed very rude,” he said with a frown.
“Stay away from me!” I shouted.
There was a staircase next to the elevator, and I opened the door and ran down it. Whomever this asshole was, he was not stopping me from winning my wife her wedding.
The casino floor was still bustling. Poker left some harsh memories, so I headed over to a Blackjack table. After a certain hour, they raise the minimum bet to five hundred. That was not a problem, I knew I could not stay long.
The first two hands were wins, and I doubled my money instantly. My plan felt like a success. If I bet the whole house, there would be enough money to make my outstanding deposits for the week. The rest could be figured out.
But as the dealer began, I felt the brush of a fanny pack behind me.
“Hi! How are the cards?“
It was too late to withdraw. My hand was on the table. Eight and seven, and the dealer showed a ten. One of the worst hands possible. I hit, and the dealer gave me a ten. Bust. Every penny in my name was gone.
I turned around to see Sam’s big, dumb blue eyes inches from my face. He was smiling. There was something about that smile that shook me to this day. Like he knew what he was doing. Like there were no coincidences, or luck. He just grinned like a sick little fucking freak when he said –
“Have a nice night!“
I punched him in the face.
The aftermath was horrible. Casino staff woke up Marie and we were escorted from the building a day early. In the middle of a blizzard. She found out about everything, and our argument lasted the whole way home. To this day… that is thing I regret the most. That one last stupid argument.
The roads were slick that morning, and it was still dark. My car was not prepared for that kind of bad weather. The accident itself was not my fault.
When we went off the road into the river, I tried to pull her out. The water was so cold. But her seat-belt became a harness that was impossible to cut free. When I surfaced, it was only to search for help. I would have happily died by her side.
But there was a policeman on the bridge. I saw him. I know I saw him.
His car was ten feet above us, and the lights were on. The officer himself was standing next to it… and he just watched. I screamed for his attention, but he ignored me. Crucial minutes slipped by as I dipped below the ice-cold water for a few seconds, only to surface again and beg for his help. Finally, when all hope was lost, the man cupped his hands to shout, and offered one line before he got in the car and drove away.
“Sorry Sir, that seemed very rude.“