You pull a thousand dollars from your sport coat pocket, all crisp one hundred dollar bills, and hand them to the girl. She’s an inch taller than you, long lean legs in black fishnet stockings, balanced on dangerously high heels. Her face is rouged and her false eyelashes are spread out like a Japanese fan in a horror movie. She hands you a stack of chips, white, red, blue and green. These chips are heavier than the ones you usually play with on the nights you hang out with your poker buddies, drinking beer and eating chips straight out of the communal bags. These chips are embossed with the name of this place, Hound Dog, with a picture of one such dog over the words.
You beckon to the men behind you, the men who are related to you in a tangled, nonconsensual way. The common terminology, ‘in-laws’ is for some reason unacceptable to them. You are their son, brother, cousin because of your darling wife. Who would drop her martini if she knew you brought this amount of cash to a poker game.
The men are ready with the money. It is not the hardship for them that it is for you. Ed hands the girl a single thousand dollar bill. Bastard. Showoff. You fill the table, as planned. Ed, your father-in-law, Bill the cousin-in-law, and your three brothers-in-law, Tom, Tim and Trey. Your wife’s name also starts with a ‘T,’ as does the name of your mother-in-law who pretends she doesn’t hear you unless you start each sentence with ‘Mom.’ You thought when you got married, you’d be an equal. After all, they had said, ‘you’re one of us, now.’
But with an unfaltering vocabulary, they tear you down, somehow without saying anything you repeat as proof. The insults are buried in subtext. They are clever, and tonight they will know you are, too. You have been playing poker for years, you watch the big tournaments on television, you play online. You don’t have to beat all of them to get what you came here for. There will be only one big loser tonight. You hope it’s Ed.
The dealer is a woman, dressed the same way as the girl who gave the chips. The game is Texas Hold’Em, your favorite. You drink scotch like the others so you won’t have to hear them comment that beer is for the common people, the unwashed masses. You look at your cards and smile. Tonight, one of them will get their comeuppance.
Hours later, your stack of chips has dwindled. You started off great, then got only shitty cards after that. Ed has the biggest pile of chips and he keeps restacking them, letting them click through his fingers. You want to grab his cigar and put it out in his scotch or the top of that salt and pepper hair. The next big stacks belong to the brothers. It’s between you and Cousin Bill as to who the big loser will be.
The next hand, everybody folds but you and Bill. Bill is your last choice on who you’d prefer to see up on stage, making a fool of himself. But better Bill than you. While you play, the girl comes by with a tape measure. She murmurs something in your ear while she slips the tape around your waist. She jots it down on a little note pad and repeats the scene with Bill. Beads of perspiration appear on Bill’s forehead and he wipes them off with a cocktail napkin. This is it. All in. You hope your set of tens can win the day. But, no. Bill has a straight. He sighs with relief and the entire table shares a chuckle at your expense.
You are led to a dressing room. You are hoping for the young army look. As with everything else that has happened tonight, you are mistaken. The girl says you missed out on the good outfits by three inches. You know what will happen next. The men are in the audience now, front row at this Atlantic City joint. Ed will have his expensive cell phone out, ready to take pictures. You will take the stage in a powder blue spangled jumpsuit. And in your best Elvis voice, you will sing "Hound Dog.