There are wild horses on the Thunderclap reservation. Cows graze in the pastures. Hawks wheel overhead and it is a lucky thing to find one of their feathers. Thunderclap is a rural casino. While many of our guests are from the cities and the suburbs, most of the people who work here are from the mountains and the desert. They have a close connection to the land and the animals they share it with, so it is particularly upsetting to them when people leave their unwanted pets here. Guests read in the paper about the wild horses or the wounded eagle that was found and rehabilitated, so they bring their animals here. Litters of kittens, young puppies, old dogs. At the casino. One night as I left work I found five kittens mewling in the bushes. And then there are the people who don’t understand that the weather here at Thunderclap is much more extreme than the cities where they live. It gets very cold at night and very hot in the day, regardless of the season. Yet people still leave their animals in their cars. We break into these vehicles, impound the animals and the cars, and press charges with the local police. This happens at least once a week.
There’s a corridor of slot machines in the smoking section that I don’t visit very often because it’s off the main traffic path from the front entrance and the ceiling is so low it traps the cigarette smoke. I try to avoid this part of the casino. When I passed through recently, I had been up late the night before and had consumed too many cups of terrible office coffee that wasn’t getting the job done. (In fact, I was on my way to the casino coffee cart to purchase some good coffee.) Sitting at a bank of penny slot machines was an attractive young woman with dark eyes, a strong nose, and long brown hair. She straddled her stool in an oddly unflattering way, her attention divided between the slot machine she played with her right hand and the baby in the stroller that she rocked with her left. The baby jerked and swayed and looked about, the way babies do when they are over-stimulated, the flashing lights and musical machines too much to take in. The mother, if that’s what she was, looked down at the baby with something like a reprimand, as if blaming the kid for putting her in this unfavorable situation where she is subject to the scrutiny, however brief, of people like me; but when she looked back at the game, the machine highlighting her features in the softening gloom, she was beautiful.
If you wander around the parking lot looking for pets, chances are you’ll find people sleeping in their cars, especially in the early morning. On one hand, I applaud the fact that some of our guests have the sense to not get on the road after they’ve been gambling all night. However, people who sleep in their cars are not, by nature, prudent. They’re risk-takers. The fact that they are sleeping in their cars signals they aren’t finished. After a few hours of shut-eye, they’ll get some coffee and get back on their favorite table or slot machine. Unless it’s particularly hot or cold, the security staff doesn’t bother them. We’d much rather welcome them back than chase them away. Still, it always makes me sad to see a guest at the beginning of my shift and realize that she’s wearing the same clothes she had on the day before. I think of the lives that are being neglected: spouses not being slept with, kids not being tucked in, pets lying curled up in a dark room, alone.
One of the data management drones was tasked with installing a new printer in an old ticket printing device on the casino floor. The printer had been out of service for a while for operational reasons and had not received any maintenance in some time. When they opened up the device, its components were caked with a film of brownish-yellow gunk. Now, every time I feel sick or unwell (or anxious about feeling sick or unwell), I think of this horrible machine that shows us what the insides of our lungs look like, and I imagine that awful sludge moving through me, bringing me closer to my death.
I don’t like hearing my co-workers talk about hating their jobs, but feeling too financially insecure to do anything about their situation. When I hear this, it disabuses the comfortable lie that the workers are somehow better than the gamblers. While both populations come here to make money, only one has the potential to strike it rich, only one is acting on a dream for a better life. (A foolhardy dream, but a dream nonetheless.) That’s when it gets me. The more I hear these complaints, and I hear them a lot, the more I suspect that I have become one of these timid creatures.
Once, as I was walking to my car, I saw a snake writhing in the parking lot. A car had run over its tail, crushing it into the asphalt. The rest of the snake was very much alive, hissing and snapping and whipping about, trying to free itself from itself. A bunch of us stood in a circle and watched the snake wear itself out. I remember thinking, metaphor. Every one of us here at Thunderclap is trapped in the crushing grip of a compulsion for money that is stronger than our best instincts, better than our boldest desires, and most of us will never break free.