“This carpet is cursed!”

The tribal member stands in the office previously occupied by my former supervisor, watching the new girl unpack the box of supplies that she moved from her desk in the cubicle warren across the hall. The new girl smiles uneasily. What else can you do when a tribal member tells you your carpet is cursed?

The tribal member runs down the list of people who have occupied the office over the years. Some of us mark our time here at the casino by the number of jobs we’ve held as we bounce from department to department. Some of us keep track by the number of times we’ve been relocated to different desks. And some of us count supervisors.

My former supervisor, my fourth since I started working at Thunderclap, was fired last month for reasons that have never been made clear to me. Then the person who fired my supervisor got the axe a few weeks later. His replacement? A tribal member whose name is synonymous with a large cutting instrument.

I don’t recognize any of the names the tribal member rattles off. All of them are before my time. All of them are gone.

“You should have the carpet replaced,” the tribal member continues, as if she’s talking about a calculator or a filing cabinet that can be ordered out of a catalog. Such a notion would only occur to a tribal member. And why not? It’s their casino, after all. They can replace whatever they want, whenever they want, including the people who work here.

But the tribal member goes on about the carpet. “It’s gross,” she says. “It’s like cruise ship carpet.”

The notion that there is a hierarchy of carpet, where there is a kind of carpet even more hideous than Indian casino carpet, strikes me as hilarious because I have never seen uglier carpet than the carpet here at Thunderclap. (Right now, somewhere in the casino, someone is vacuuming the carpet. This is almost always a true statement.)

If you are reading this dispatch at work, take a moment to inspect your carpet. You probably think it is gray or brown, but there are probably at least three primary colors involved. The “brown” carpet under my feet is flecked with dark blue, haze gray, rust red, and tan. Up close it looks like an unholy mess, but viewed from a distance it takes on an almost uniform appearance, the dark threads in the fibers clotting together like dimples. There’s a pattern at work, of course, but not one I’d detect unless I made a careful study of it, like I am right now.

Welcome to the world of high traffic carpet. High-traffic carpet conspires to camouflage the flaws it knows are coming. But it also wants to tell you something. Hotel carpet says in a subdued and understated way, I’m classy. Airport carpet wants you to know you’re on solid ground and that everything’s going to be all right. Casino carpet, at least the carpet at Thunderclap Casino, screams, “I just took three hits of acid!”

Consider the east entrance. The gallery here is about sixty-feet wide and the carpet consists of tightly packed bands of color that stretch like enormous ribbons of taffy from one end of the hall to the other. In some places the bands slope like gently rolling waves, but in other places they bunch together. The shapes are so large and the patterns so infrequently repeated that it feels like walking inside the stripes of a giant lollipop swirl. I’ve seen tweakers walk bug-eyed across this carpet, their gaze fixed straight ahead because they know if they look down at the swirling psychedelic moat beneath their feet, it’s all over.

It’s worse in the places where different parts of the casino come together. In the passageway that leads to the Bingo Barn the swirl gives way to exceptionally busy hallway carpet with strange lozenge-shape designs accented by patterns reminiscent of cell division in my old high school biology textbook. Outside the Bingo Barn Snack Bar, the carpet changes again to a field of maroon flooded with shapes that put me in mind of the odd two-dimensional designs from the title sequences of Hannah-Barbara cartoons circa the late 1960s. The carpet is unsettling but it can afford to be. After all, what’s a carpet pattern compared to 2,000 blinking, flashing, hooting slot machines, spinning their reels, spitting out tickets, and luring in passersby with their attract sequences? Once the players get locked on to their machines, the whole world falls away.

This makes the matter of the cursed cruise ship carpet upstairs in the management offices all the more unusual. Up here, we’re supposed to be focused on our duties, not distracted by the carpet. So after everyone leaves for the night, I inspect the carpet in my former supervisor’s former office.

It’s an office within an office, and the carpet here is indeed different from the rest of the carpet on the second floor. In fact, there’s no carpet anywhere else like it in the casino. It’s very bright, an orangey-red. A color that would not look out of place in a pre-school playroom filled with screaming children. The design features a red field of soft orange diamonds with the same red repeated in the center. Or perhaps the diamonds have no center and it’s the field showing through. It doesn’t matter; these colors don’t go together. This is carpet that glares at you, carpet that will make you crazy.

I consider the twin banks of fluorescent lights that beam down on the windowless cell and begin to think that my old supervisor was lucky to get out with his sanity intact. I turn off the light, shut the door, and set the over/under at six on how many months will pass before the new girl bugs out.