-This is our kids' inheritance."
I saw the bumper sticker the first time on the back of a beat-up
old Airstream in a Searchlight, Nev., casino parking lot, and I
thought of one of my dad's favorite sayings: "Enjoy your money and
your kids while you're alive."
He didn't, and
died with that regret. I'm 59. Writing is not work from which you
retire voluntarily, and if I died this second, my kids would
inherit nine full bookcases, a paid-for 1990 4-cylinder Nissan pale
blue pickup with raven wings painted on the doors, hundreds of
audio tapes, and as many geodes, fire agates and slabs, chunks and
chips of obsidian that fit in a two-room cabin.
I have 36 cents in my pocket, an obligatory $50 in my credit union
savings account, $43.72 left in overdraft privilege, and more bills
than I can think about. There is one reason, one reason alone for
my financial condition. Not shopping. Not travel. Not good works. I
am a slot hog.
Nickel machines. Super Sevens.
Black Rhino. Kitty Keno. I read a checklist today which tells if
you're a compulsive gambler. Four yesses and you better lock your
liquid assets in the closet. I hit six out of 10, which in keno
would win a lousy four nickels, and in real life means
I'm thinking hard about all of this,
not because I believe I can quit, but because I spent three nights
and two days of the holidays in a Nevada "gaming" town. Gaming is
to gambling as "career opportunity" is to getting
I was surrounded by old people, from the
slot machine seat to which my butt seemed, too often, to be welded,
to the near-empty benches outside the back of the casinos, where
you can watch a colony of savvy feral cats who have gotten so fussy
they turn up their noses at anything other than shrimp or
Most of the old people are women. Most
wear pastel jogging suits appliquéd with sparkly kittens,
X-mas trees, dice, Aces and Jacks, and logos from Palm Springs,
Scottsdale, San Diego and Atlantic City. They love to talk.
Especially if their hubby is somewhere else, especially if he is
They rarely drink the free watery booze
the cocktail waitresses - most my age - bring around, and they
almost never play off credits on the machines. Ching ching ching,
one by one, they drop the nickels in the slots. When they hit, they
cash out. When they lose, they pull another $20 out of their purses
and holler, "Change!"
They tell me stories. "We
just sold the place in Palm Springs. We've got a double-wide in
Tucson and a double-wide in Columbus. When we're here, we stay in a
little park model down near Topoc. We had to sell the house in Palm
Springs. It costs a fortune to keep one of those places up, plus,
you know you can't get decent yard work done for decent wages the
way you used to."
Her husband plays Blackjack.
She figures it costs them about $30,000 every winter. He won't
admit it, but she keeps count.
I looked around.
Old women, old men, Black, Native American, Hispanic, white, white,
white and me. Our faces gray in the hectic light of our machines,
our fingers placing into the pockets of a very few very rich
people, what we believe we've earned, be it a fortune, be it next
month's rent. This is our kids' inheritance.
looked at the old woman's sweet face. She set her hand on my arm.
"My kids are all over the country," she said, "I miss them."
"How much do you see them?"
She shook her head. "They've got such busy
lives. Careers. My grandkids. We get together maybe once a year."
"Are you close to the
"Oh no," she
laughed. "Kids are so different these days. I used to try, but once
they got to be near their teens, I just gave up."
It was my turn at the counter. I cashed my
points in for 12 bucks, considered leaving and didn't. While I lost
my 12 bucks, I thought about the word inheritance. And the word
elder. By the time the last cluster of losing flowers and nines and
rhinos dropped into place, I knew the inheritance we squander in
casinos is not just money.
Those of us hunkered
in front of our machines, bent over the craps table, hunched over a
losing hand are giving away our time, our knowledge and our
stories. What we might once have passed on to our children, our
children's children, remains locked in our hearts and minds. We
gather in casinos, in gated communities, in exclusive golf clubs
and leave the younger generations to piece together what they can.
We never face the possibility that who we have become is ludicrous
to them, disgusting, unnecessary.
I don't know
how many younger people want to learn to write an elegant sentence,
make Pennsylvania Dutch chicken soup, live on next to nothing, face
down fear, see through a con, tell their heart's truth. I'm blessed
to have children who do.
I don't know whether I
can continue, as I have for a week, to wade through the disaster of
my checkbook, admit this addiction to a few friends, and keep
myself out of the little casino 40 miles south. I am blessed to be
haunted by an unlikely ghost, a bumper sticker that reads, "This is
our kids' inheritance."
Mary Sojourner lives in
Flagstaff, Arizona. She is a contributor to Writers on the Range, a
service of High Country News.