A 1040 Kind of Day


Lola is not a good traveler. She slept all day in the backseat of the car, and decided to impersonate a hood ornament at the foot of the bed all night. Lola is our little dog, and we were driving to Spokane for a book talk at Aunties Books.

Needless to say, I was pooped.  If I got four hours of sleep I’ll jump the Snake River Canyon on a Vespa. Finally around 9:00 A.M. I gave up and dragged myself out of bed, careful not to wake the poor thing as she was exhausted from posing all night.

Chad and I threw ourselves together and with my folks went to lunch at the Kalispel Casino in West Spokane. My 81-year-old father steered his sedan into one of about a billion handicapped parking spots. The Kalispel Indians clearly know their clientele.

We fell into the cane and wheelchair race to the front double doors, and stepped inside the vast, carpeted lobby. Immediately my ears picked up the ching-ching of the slot machines, and my nose, the scent of cigarette smoke. It was good to be back in the world of hedonistic excess.

Ahead of us, about a dozen people were queued up before a kiosk where a lone employee frantically tapped on her computer. Without looking up from her keyboard, she repeated the casino’s policies and benefits to each patron at the counter. I figured that the folks waiting patiently and politely, listening to her officious chatter had forgotten more about casino gambling than she knew. Still, to her benefit, she kept the line moving quickly and no one fell from their walkers, or canes, collapsing onto that smoky carpet.

Soon, resting my elbows on that granite counter, the receptionist rapidly tapped on the computer keys with her acrylic nails, explaining, “It’s tax day, so I am applying 1040 points to your card.” She continued to add more points for this and for that until I had about a million points. She then ended her spiel by concluding, “You must use up these points by tomorrow at this time, or lose them.”

First of all, I had no idea what reward the points represented. It sure didn’t go to money in the slots, (I tried that angle right away). Second, we were only visiting for maybe an hour, and the phantom points, representing some unknown prizes, were superfluous anyhow.

After eating in the buffet, my husband, my mother, and yours truly, headed for the bling-bling, ching-ching of the casino floor. Now that experience added another layer to this make believe universe. We were searching for those slots that promised extra spins until winning. Scouting the islands of “Double Diamonds,”  and “Pirate Heaven,” my husband located a cluster of “penny” machines. I place penny in quotes because it takes a dollar’s worth of pennies to play each spin.  Clever casino slot machine designers! And I won on that thing. I won. I had no idea how I’d won because the icons of Thor, Freya and the rest of those Norse big shots appeared to have been thrown together with no order at all. But I didn’t argue with the falling-change sound effects racking up the dough.

But the biggie of the day came as we were about to head to the parking lot. We turned a corner of blinking, noisy electronic poker machines to an extraordinary tableau. On the end, nearest to me sat an elderly woman.  Her legs were crossed, she wore a red pantsuit and full makeup.  Her dark hair was neatly arranged and a cigarette hung from her lips at a jaunty angle. One upholstered stool down from her, sat an obese younger man in a t-shirt and sweats, both stretched over his shapeless girth. I couldn’t make out his face because it was covered in an oxygen mask, connected to a case-style tank. They paid no attention to each other, though both were certainly on two ends of lung disease.

An art house Fellini movie wouldn’t have touched this patchwork of weirdness.

We returned to my folks house, where I wisely took a nap.  At six we arrived at Auntie’s Bookstore, where I gave my talk on River of January. With my feet firmly grounded in reality, I signed books for my friends, some strangers, and my wonderful former students who came from their colleges to see their old teacher.

It was a taxing day in many ways, but it was a good day, too.

Books are available at www.river-of-january.com

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