The Carpet Bagger's Journal — moving from NYC to Mississippi

January 1, 2010

Christmas at the Casino

I spent Christmas in the casinos of Vicksburg.  I would have rather spent it ministering to the inmates on  death row. They would have been cheerier.

The last place I would have chosen to remember my Lord’s birth would have been at the slot machines, among those who are too soulless to imagine donating their gambling losses in advance to the poor and too disinherited to spend their holidays at home with loved ones. I went to the casinos during my waking hours, and at night, I wept and dreamt of nuclear apocalypse.

Here’s how it happened:  My future mother in-law asked my future husband if she could spend Christmas with us.  Understand I knew my stuff would be in boxes, having just moved from New York, but how could I possibly say no?  My future husband, oblivious, really, to the implications, dutifully told his mother that she could come but that we could not possibly provide her with Christmas dinner. That was absolutely no problem as far as she was concerned;  she is the absolute Grinch, anyway.

What this woman likes to do is gamble.  Then, she likes to  gamble.  Finally, she likes to gamble.  When my fiancé was little, they never had warm, fuzzy Christmases. His parents were effectively atheists, and they didn’t have a Frank Capra moment within them.

Vicksburg, my new home, has several casinos.  Mississippi law permits “gaming,” – not called gambling, although the stakes are the same – on riverboats and on the banks of the Mississippi.  They  serve food that is generally better than  the fare at the local restaurants for not too much money, and while nothing like Vegas,  they have the occasional has-been guest entertainer —  Jewel recently played here, as did REO Speedwagon.

So I was powerless to change the course of events, unless I was prepared to move back to New York City – after all, I could not produce so much as a glass of water out of my boxed-stuffed kitchen,  much less a meal, and forget about a tree or even a sprig of mistletoe.  My future mother in-law wanted to gamble.  My fiancé tends to appease his mother on all counts.  I think he would not contradict her if she told him that the name of the capitol of Mississippi – Jackson –was named for Michael Jackson, not Andrew Jackson.  He just doesn’t bother – she never listens to him.  She is not inclined to listen to anyone, I found, and she does not so much engage in conversation as blurt out various non-sequitur opinions the way a  six year-old does, only she’s too old for anyone to correct her with a, “Sweetheart, the group is talking about something else right now.”  She is not doddering – she has merely always had her way in this manner.  Hence, when she was not at the penny slots, I was regaled by a series of trite observations from the stream of consciousness of an undeveloped mind.

I would speak differently about her if I thought she had loved my fiancé even a little bit.  I asked her to tell me everything she could remember about his childhood, and she could not come up with a single cute story.  She remembered times he broke the rules and times he was injured – I swear Hitler’s mother surely could have come up with a cute story about little Adolf and his watercolor kit and his funny way of marching around the living room – but no, she had no such memory.  We spoke to her about her grandchildren, and she seemed largely disinterested –she hasn’t seen them in years, not for lack of opportunity, and is in no hurry to visit them.  I might also write differently about her here if she seemed even vaguely inclined to read this blog,  but she thinks the Internet, she told me, is for fools, and why would she care what I have to say when she  doesn’t even care about her eldest son?

I intend to make up for many loveless years in my fiancé’s life.

Anyway, I stared at the sad, empty faces at the casino – men who looked like they were lost; old women grimly hitting the same button over and over again like pigeons in some Skinnerian experiment.

My fiancé clams up around his mom. Hence, I was largely alone in this place.

The best conversation I had over Christmas was with a drunk girl at the buffet.  She was tall, like me, and she told me I reminded her of her sister – I could tell she missed her sister right then.  She was half passing out when her boyfriend, or whoever he was, came up to take her to her seat.  He was half her size.

“Weren’t you taller last night?” She slurred in a Mississippi drawl.

If he felt insulted, he didn’t show it.

“Oh, I remember,” she sighed, “You were standing on top of your money.”

I assured my future mother in-law that at the wedding next week, we will give her a nice corsage.  She didn’t attend my fiancé’s first wedding, not because of any objection to the woman he was marrying, but rather a general lack of motivation to go, but I don’t think she cares about the corsage.  I apologized for not cooking her Christmas dinner, but she didn’t seem to mind that, either.  She seemed distracted, perhaps thinking about getting back to the machines.


  1. It is truly sad that the only industry in Mississippi that seems to be thriving is the casino industry with all of its sad people. The scenario you describe is repeated in casinos everywhere in the country-poor lost souls wandering from one machine to the next, hoping for the jackpot, relief from boredom, loneliness. I was one of them for a brief “moment.” I describe the experience in my forthcoming book, CONFESSIONS OF A SLOT MACHINE QUEEN (March 2010). Another book you might find interesting is DOUBLE DOWN by Frederick and Stephen Barthelme. It’s both funny and sad. They describe their adventures in the casinos in Mississippi.

    I wish you the best as you make this transition from NYC to Mississippi. Keep writing, you have a wonderful style!

    Sandy Adell

    Comment by Sandy Adell — January 2, 2010 @ 12:15 pm | Reply

  2. Well, an interesting, yet astute comment about your future mother-in-law. We will engage in further discussion when I get to meet you. I may get to tell a few stories of Idaho, the great frontier up here – she doesn’t visit these grandkids either.
    My husband thinks I should watch the Orange Bowl, but your insight into our Christmas’s is too hard to pass up. The fresh view from an outsider of our bizarre family dynamics is funny – however, I sincerely look forward to meeting you this weekend and enjoying the nuptials. I will be able to recall a few cute anecdotes from his childhood (however, you know he was “planned” to be 4 years after me so my parents wouldn’t have too many kids in college at the same time.)

    Comment by westphal — January 6, 2010 @ 3:15 am | Reply

  3. so did anyone hit the jackpot?

    maybe God wanted you in that Casino on Christmas Anne! Glad the food was good. what did you eat at the casino anyhow?

    I have started playing the mega million lottery along with someone from my local laundry. $2 a week. The pot is usually a couple of million, from time to time like last week it went up to 48 million. I wouldn’t even know how to write that figure down or recognize how to say 48 million. will my lottery ticket buying explode on me and I will be buying tickets every day? I sure hope not.

    Has your husband ever heard of Gam-Anon? it’s for the family and friends of Gamblers

    one of the blue boxes on that website that you can click on says “did you grow up with a gambler?”

    They have meetings he can go to. I think they believe that gambling is a disease like alcoholism and that the solution is spiritual.

    Here’s two of the questions:
    # If my gambler continues to gamble, how can I live with this problem?
    # How can I learn to accept and understand God’s will for me?

    Same thing with Gamblers Anonymous, Granny can go to meetings if she feels her gambling is harming herself and or others.

    Comment by Yarrow — January 12, 2010 @ 5:22 pm | Reply

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