The city of New Orleans built a casino during my senior year of college. Thankfully, it hadn’t been around previously. Before then, the nearest casino had been in Mississippi. One evening, my friend Mick and I went to go play craps at a casino in Mississippi. It wasn’t that far away, but I don’t remember the name of the city or the casino. When we got there, the place had been pretty empty. I want to say it had been a Friday night? Anyway, I believe we ended up at a five-dollar minimum table which was about my speed. There were three of us at the table: myself, Mick, and a gentleman whose name I never got, but he was an elderly fellow wearing a captain’s hat. He looked like he should have been steering a sloop out on the open water sort of like Ted Knight as Judge Smails in Caddyshack. Whether he was the type of person who knew the difference between Osetra and Sevruga caviar remained to be seen. One of the aspects of craps that’s so enjoyable is the camaraderie that develops between players who all desire the same thing. I won’t try to explain all of the rules, except to say essentially players are either betting with the person rolling the dice or betting against them. I don’t care so much for the latter. All of us at the table that night were betting with each other. At one point, I was rolling the dice, and the point was an 8. If I rolled an 8 before I rolled a 7, we would all get paid. Any other number didn’t matter, and I would get to roll the dice again. If I rolled a 7 before an 8, we would lose and my turn would be over. “The Captain” placed some money on a hard eight meaning if I rolled two fours, he would be paid extra along with his initial bet that I would roll an 8. I don’t remember the amount he bet, but the payout is 9:1. Either way, the excitement was palpable, and rather than shrink from the occasion, I was confident. I picked up the dice, shook them, and threw them. I got a 5 and a 3. We were all excited since it paid out our initial bets, but I also felt I’d let The Captain down. “Sorry about that,” I said. “Don’t worry,” The Captain replied. “That (meaning the hard 8) would have been lagniappe.” I’m not sure he said this while raking in his winnings, but I like to remember it that way. Lagniappe is a colloquialism for a bonus or a little something extra. The exchange has cemented him as one of the coolest people I’d ever had the pleasure of meeting. It was similar to a scene in the film The Hard Eight in which Philip Seymour Hoffman plays craps and “fronts” on Philip Baker Hall by saying he’ll give him until he lights his cigarette to place a wager; at which point Philip Baker Hall places a $2,000 hard eight bet. (SPOILER ALERT) Philip Seymour Hoffman rolls an easy eight, a 5, and a 3. If you don’t think I’ve compared that scene to my experience with The Captain… I believe Mick and I played for a little while longer and left as winners. At least, I like to remember it that way. There are other memorable experiences I’ve had playing craps similar to that one, but that evening with Mick and The Captain is certainly in the Pantheon. Later in life, I saw the movie The Big Town with Matt Dillon, who portrays a professional dice player in the late 1950s. Needless to say, I had been captivated. I found the source material, a book called The Arm. It’s essentially the same story as the film, but (SPOILER ALERT) whereas the movie ends with the lead character being successful, the book ends on a down note. Many films change downer endings from the source material such as The Natural. In the novel, The Natural, (SPOILER ALERT) Roy Hobbs strikes out. During the time I lived in Astoria; Queens just across the East River from Manhattan, there was a video store on the corner that I believed was a front for illicit activities. I thought, perhaps, if the place was ever for sale, I’d buy it and turn it into a speakeasy with a crap game. Mick and The Captain would always have places at the table. Please read the previous sentence with the same intensity Lattimer says “Place at the table” in the film The Program when he puts his head through multiple car windows after discovering he’s made the football team’s starting defense.
Andrew Davie has worked in theater, finance, and education. He taught English in Macau on a Fulbright Grant and has survived a ruptured brain aneurysm and subarachnoid hemorrhage. He has published short stories at various places, a chapbook with The Daily Drunk, crime fiction novellas with All Due Respect and Close to the Bone, and an upcoming memoir. His other work can be found in links on his website https://andrew-davie.com/