I’m on unemployment and I just lost 600 of your tax dollars in Las Vegas. It was a pretty good week in Vegas, actually, aside from the losing money I don’t have part. The purpose of being there wasn’t to gamble, it was to celebrate Mother’s Day. For most families in America, I assume that holiday is spent gritting your teeth through an uncomfortable meal at the same chain restaurant where you fingered your eighth-grade sweetheart (RIP). For my family, it’s different. See, over the last two years, my mother has been winning practically every time she's gambled, but if you ask her, it’s got nothing to do with luck. Two years ago her mother, Baubie, passed away—and ever since, my mom’s been unstoppable. I’m a staunch atheist, and yet I'm pretty sure my dead grandparents have given my mom the power to win big in Vegas.
My mom’s always been attuned to the spiritual world in a way I can’t understand. When I was a kid, she saw Montezuma’s ghost at some Aztec ruins and my family had a sudden windfall of good fortune. When her father, my zadie, died, he visited her constantly. She said he didn’t like that my soon-to-be stepdad wasn’t my stepdad yet, and his picture would always fall down to prove it. Hell, even her ex-husband’s (my dad’s) dead family would stop by. Whenever she told me this stuff, I smiled and nodded.
“Oh, you saw [whoever]? Wow. Crazy.”
I didn’t believe in that stuff personally, but I wasn’t gonna get all "r/atheism" on my poor mom for coping with loss. It’s not hurting anybody, so she has every right to believe whatever she wants, and frankly, I don’t know anything. Energy can’t be destroyed, right? What the fuck do I know? I just cut my hand to shit trying (unsuccessfully) to open a beer bottle with a lighter, then used my teeth to finish the job. I’m not exactly the Duke of Knowledge.
But when I got into Vegas, I heard about such an incredible freak coincidence, if you can even call it that, that I started to believe. See, my mom’s fiance had gone out to go golfing with his brother, leaving my mom to gamble to herself. They were supposed to get married next weekend, but on a lark, he suggested that they get married the very next day—if she hit a royal flush playing video poker while he was gone.
It took 20 minutes. My mom says she always hits royals in clubs, but that specific royal flush was in, of course, hearts. It was a sign. This is how crazy my mom’s luck is. It’s not the fact that she hit a royal flush, something most of us have never even seen before, that she counted as a sign. It was the specific suit of the cards. Oh, and just for good measure, she hit another Royal Flush ten minutes later... in clubs.
Like anyone who spends more than a few hours in a casino, my mother has a system. Only her system is unlike any of the other faux-logical patterns that hacks use to justify throwing hundos down on a teacher’s salary. It's willfully, proudly illogical. She assigns a persona to each of the cards, someone important to her, and talks to them. Her dad is the ace, the patriarch of suited cards. Her fiance is the king, her mom's the queen, I’m the jack, and so on. My little sister is the ten because, in her words, “I have a love/hate relationship with tens... they either totally come through, or they disappoint me.”
At first this seemed silly and downright childish to me, but over the weekend I grew to respect it. Not for the paranormal success of the system, either. We as a society are currently as removed from death as humanity has ever been. Not so long ago, widows were expected to wear elaborate mourning outfits for years at a time. Dead bodies were kept in the home for days, weeks even. Affluent Romans even had wax death masks of their ancestors hanging in their atriums at all times to remind them of their noble lineages. My mother’s gambling system is a way to keep the memory of her parents alive in a culture that even treats living seniors as invisible.
When Saturday rolled around, we were in a little cabana by the hotel pool: my mom, my soon-to-be stepdad, his good friend, my sister, and me. Papa J (or Not-Dad as I call him), ordered us some mai-tais and we got started with the wedding. I should mention that I’m a certified online minister with the Universal Life Church. It’s not a religious thing; I signed up so I could marry my old roommate to an empty bottle of soda (big shout-out to Mr. Brian and Mrs. Empty Carbonated Beverage Severson! #blessed), but I’ve since married a few couples (gay and straight) who didn’t want a traditional wedding. Now it was my turn to marry my own mother, and I couldn’t have been happier.
Adorned in my traditional minister outfit, I began the ceremony.
“Dearly beloved, we are gathered here to today, by this lazy river...”
The ceremony was short and sweet. I referenced Entourage. My mom cried (not at the Entourage part). Because of the spontaneity of the whole thing, there were no rings, so I had them both place innertubes over each other. Papa J’s friend stepped on an empty water bottle and shouted, “Mazel Tov!” It was the perfect second wedding; no stress, no caterers, no annoying relatives who are only there because they’re supposed to be there... and it never would’ve happened without my dead grandparents.
NOTE: My mom didn’t originally want this article up because she was afraid it might jinx her. I personally think my grandparents would love it. Baubie: think of my mentioning you in this article as a step toward mentioning you first when I win that Oscar you always said I’d win. And Zadie: I’m actually getting paid for this. I miss you both. I love you.