I’m stuck with my film crew in Las Vegas and things are getting desperate. The hotel/casino we live in is growing smaller by the minute. The first two days we at least went outside to work. Now our work space has been reduced to a suite on the 15th floor. This means we are going nowhere. We get up, we take an elevator to work, we eat here, and at the end of the day guess what? Drinking and gambling is the entertainment.
I trudge aimlessly around at night parting the cigarette smoke, weaving between the tables and rows of garish slots. The desperate sometimes look up from their card game with bleary eyes like dogs that have been too long at the shelter. Mixed in with the wretched are the fresh arrivals brimming with delusional hope. You can tell them a mile away because they are still smiling and holding oversized cocktails.
Our crew has created a makeshift fox hole in a sports bar with lots of beer on tap. At least with 25 cent video poker and free beer you can make the night less painful, financially. Occasionally a small band of us will venture out of the safety of the bar and into the devil’s playground. Dice are thrown, cards are played, slot machines are fed with mixed results. After we’ve had enough financial abuse we scuttle back to the bar or to a nice hotel room where you toss and turn, fighting to fall asleep.
We lie to each other and ourselves about how well we are doing, but at three in the morning when you run into the shuffling zombie that was your friend two hours ago you both mumble something and don’t make eye contact.
Then a bright spot appeared. Yesterday we got off the elevator after work and headed into the casino. There she was, a brand new Betty White slot machine. The theme is Betty reading childhood stories from a giant book in her lap. She is dressed in pink and sitting in an oversized granny chair. I could almost hug her. There is a cartoon Corgi dog at her side.
In a sea of misery there she is, America’s Grandma. I sit down, Betty appears but she needs a little money to begin comforting me. I begin with a twenty. “Oh hello” She says… “And thank you for being a friend.” I unashamedly clap with glee.
I actually win some money from Betty while she tells the story of Jack and The Bean Stalk and makes adorable, slightly naughty banter. As I hit the cash out button she says “Hey if you’re headed to the bar get me a vodka stinger.” Oh Betty, you minx.
I head to the sports bar with a big smile on my face. My TV grandma made everything OK for a while.
Later at the bar I’m nursing a beer and gnawing at the back of my reptile brain is Betty. Everything else is depressing and dark except for Betty who is just waiting to cheer me up. She’s sitting in her wing back chair waiting for a visit from that nice young man she gave all that money to.
The nice young man comes back. On my way to my room I am drawn to Betty like she is my own grandmother holding a chocolate bar and I’m 8 years old. I sit down and feed the machine some cash. I feel like it should be presented in a flowery greeting card.
“Oh thank you for the visit” She says.
“No problem, sorry it’s been so long, I get busy with work.” I’m making excuses for not visiting a slot machine, and I’m talking to it. I’ve got Betty fever.
“Play max bet!” The dog suggests.
“Hell yes” I respond excitedly, bathed in a pink glow.
“Well hello big spender!” Betty cooed. Now she is just flattering me, and I am loving it.
“You should spin again, and play max bet” The dog says. I always listen to talking dogs.
“Well isn’t that exciting” She says when I get a winning spin.
“Play max bet for progressive bonus” The dog yips cheerfully.
“Nice bet, you know size matters!” quips Betty.
“Oh you dirty old broad.” I laugh. Betty is the kind of grandma who gives kids a sip of brandy from her glass, I just know it. I keep hitting the button like some trained rat. I don’t care I just like hearing Betty talk.
“Don’t bet like a pussy” barks the dog.
“What was that?” I ask.
“Nothing, woof woof” Betty’s Corgi just stares at me.
“Oh dear,” Betty says sadly when the wallet finally runs dry.
“Come back and visit me soon, and thank you for being a friend!” She leaves the screen.
“ATM is on your left” I hear the dog call as I stand up.
I pause, the happy glow is fading.
She got it all. TV grandma cleaned me out. I couldn’t stop myself, she was so nice.
I realize it’s a scam now. Betty is there, surrogate love and sweetness, mixed with a tiny bit of racy banter because she’s a cool grandma distracting you from a goddamned Corgi giving shitty financial advice.
Someone get me out of this town.