Friday, August 24, 2007

Blackjack!


I’m not sure exactly when it was I realized that my step-son Blaine is mathematically gifted. Given his various downsides, like spina bifida, hydrocephalus, epilepsy, and other disorders, and my own lack of knowledge about his condition, back then, I may have been lulled into a stereotypical view of that crippled kid. But when Marie would say, as she sat doing bills, or some such other numberly work, “Yo Blaine, what’s 696 x13?”, and he would holler back, with very little hesitation, “9048”, you’d think a guy might take notice.

After I figured out that even someone with severe physical handicaps can be a math whiz, all proud of myself, I got into the action too. Like say, if I had 4 or 5 four digit numbers to add up, and I was calculatorless, or multi-tasking, maybe watching TV, I would call on Blaine to be my human calculator. Dude blows my mind. Where numbers are concerned, Blainey rocks.

I don’t think I can go as far as to say he’s “Rainman” like, but actually, I don’t really know. When I think about how he has amassed an incredible amount of knowledge about U.S. Presidents, and computers, and chess, and Motown, it’s easy to see that his mind works in a special, and rather unique way.

Blaine and I have a great relationship, and I feel privileged to be called step-dad. We comprise the sum of the male energy in this house, considering that Marie is a girl, and well, the dogs are too. We talk sports, The Blazers, watch games together, and..... surprise....razz each other. Sometimes, when I pick him up from his volunteer job at FreeGeek, around 7;30pm each night, we sit in the van, after we get home, and listen to half an inning of the Mariners game, before we go in the house, where of course, we immediately crank up the tube.

I have elaborated on this blog previously about how our maleness, and doing things guys do, can tend to overwhelm the most important and female member of our clan. But Marie mostly takes our whooping and hollering in stride, with a shake of the head, maybe a glare, or sometimes, an exasperated, “God, you guys!”.

One activity we favor that Marie “cannot abide” as she puts it, is gambling. Blaine and I like to spend a little time at the casino, risking our savings, a sport I have taught him with the love and tenderness of a real dad. And man, with his numbers skill, this cat can play Blackjack. Blaine doesn’t win everytime we go gambling, but lets just say, where Blackjack is concerned, he doesn’t make any mistakes.

The cards were pretty good to Blaine this past week when we spent two days at Spirit Mountain Casino, in Grande Ronde, Oregon, our current favourite, about an hour and a half from home. While I threw my money gleefully away on the slots, or sometimes roulette, Blaine hit the Blackjack table exclusively, his usual plan. I don’t see much of him during the day, when I am busy attempting to win that big slot jackpot, but I stop by his table now and then, just to see how he is doing. Sometimes, when I wend my way to the food kiosk, where one can live on the succulent chicken wrap, I pass by and slug him in the back. Not hard.

But this time out, and even though Blaine is a conservative bettor, I could tell that he wasn’t completely satisfied with his financial state. Sometimes, the cards just don’t go your way. So I wasn’t terribly surprised, that, about 10 minutes before our agreed leaving time, he came out to find me on the main floor.

Looking up at me excitedly, as he sometimes does, from his wheelchair, and squeezing the life out of two 100 dollar bills, he spoke. “Ric, I want to ask you something”, to which I replied, slowly and deliberately, intuiting that he was up to something, ‘Yes?” He took his time then, but finally spoke, grinning..... “Well, do you think I should go crazy?”

I knew immediately what was on his mind. He was thinking about placing a large bet on one hand of blackjack. Suddenly, I felt my father genes kick in, as Blaine blurted, “I’m thinking about betting the table max, $250, on one hand of blackjack, for once in my life.”

Now, you have to remember who we are talking about here. At 28 years old, and though this is a young man who possesses vast knowledge, and is well read, there are certain things in life Blaine has not, and will not experience. He is not going to catch the winning touchdown pass. He is not going to hit a walk-off home run. He is not going to run through the sprinkler. So, with the love of a dad who knows how guys think and did once hit the walk off, I began my schpeil.

“Well”, I spoke in a considered and cautious tone, if you are going to do that, I mean, put all that money out there for one bet, you have to be prepared to lose it, and know that if you do, you just have to chalk it up to experience and take pleasure from just giving it a shot, and if you can do that”.....but as I spoke my last few words, he was gone. I mean, he just went roaring off to that table in his chair. I followed.

Blaine had not been gone for long from the short, accessible Blackjack table in the non-smoking room, his preferred spot. The table was full of gamblers, none in wheelchairs, maybe 8 people all told, and several of the players welcomed him back with statements like, “he’s back!” and “well. you weren’t gone for very long!” Blaine placed his two 100 dollar bills in front of him, just beyond the bet circle. The dealer gave him a glance. Blaine spoke up. “ I’m going to bet the max”, he announced, to a very interested table, “for once in my life”.

The other players, with their $3 and $5 bets sitting before them, oooohed. For a second, the dealer looked very afraid, and then gave Blaine $200 worth of chips. Blaine added some chips, and stacked $250 in his bet circle. I stood behind Blaine. The lady to his right patted his arm and back. The guy on his left stuck his hand to his own forehead. And before he dealt, the dealer put his palm on the space in front of Blaine, and looked at him, and carressed the table, in a circling motion, as if to wish him good luck. The pit boss came closer.

The dealer turned the shoe and brought out one card for each player, and then his own card, which was a jack. I thought that everyone, including me, was relieved to see that Blaine had been dealt a king. No cigar, but a good start. And then, the dealer slowly brought the second cards out, to a completely hushed table. When he got to Blaine, he hesitated, and then.....very deliberately, and with a snap in his wrist, popped down....... an ace! .... onto Blaine's king. BLACKJACK!!!! The table erupted. One male player raised his fist and yelled “YESSSSSSSS”. The lady gave Blaine some more pats. I slugged his back. Hard. The dealer finished the game with the other players. Everyone sat back as others approached the table, wives, husbands, to find out what all the ruckus was about. As Blaine gathered his $625 worth of chips, other players related the story of Blaine’s “hunch”, and his blackjack. I doubt the non-smoking blackjack table at Spirit Mountain has seen that much excitement in weeks.

To his credit, Blaine wheeled immediately to the cash window and redeemed his chips for actual money. We got a hot chocolate at The Dutch Brothers drive-thru in Newberg. We called Marie on my iPhone so Blaine could tell her his story. And then, we talked, just a coupla’ crazy gamblin’ boys, about Blaine’s blackjack, exactly like the one pictured above, all the way home.

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