A long time ago during my Madonna faze, my abundant black eyeliner faze, and my Purple Rain faze, I worked for CCL/Carnival Cruise Lines.
Yes, it’s true. Me, with my bitch red lips and powdery shadow flowing to my brows like a shimmering, aqua river. Me, with my attitude of, “I can rule the whole f*cking world.”
That was then.
At first, I had applied for the cruise director position, you know, like Julie from the Love Boat (only people over 40 will know about this). But without experience or a degree in one thing or another, I ended up as a croupier instead, which was a beautiful education for a young, innocent Minnesota girl.
For example, I learned how to count. Fast. The faster one counts, the faster one can obtain the player’s money. Don’t be shocked. I was ruthless, and I felt powerful taking hundred dollar chips from men with fat cherry smelling cigars who smirked and winked at girls half their age. My first month dealing blackjack, an
old fart elderly gentleman sat at my table while a stunning blonde super model stood behind him, and I was like, “Sir, your daughter is lovely,” and he was like, “She Is. Not. My Daughter.”
I was disciplined several times during my training period for saying “Shit,” when I made a mistake, and I learned quickly to keep those cuss words hidden inside. And if you know me at all, you may recognize, I keep nothing inside.
I learned how to distinguish combinations of 21 in numerous groupings. I was damn good at it, too. Ironic, because math was never my subject in school. I was more interested in the verse of Plath, Sexton, Jong, Oliver. All of the women I wanted to write like.
I was forever a writer even when I wasn’t writing; taking notes and observations on the characters I encountered on the ship for later use.
Once, an handsome Arab man with a luxurious crimson turban, whom flew his own jet to Miami, sat at my blackjack table. The pit boss roped off the area just for him and his harem of exotic, dark women. Would I go with him if he asked, I thought. Would I want a life of lavishness, jewels, trips around the world, and sister wives? He never asked, so I never had to answer that question.
He played ten thousand dollars a hand (7 hands) as if it were pocket change, as if he were bored, as if he didn’t give a damn. He scratched the lush green table with his clear, manicured nails for a hit as if were the King of an extravagant land. Perhaps he was.
The kitchen personnel served him sushi, finger sandwiches, stuffed artichokes, and Chateau Montrose. You could say the casino kissed his ass. In the end, it was worth it because he left the croupiers a seventy thousand dollar tip. Sure, we had to split it amongst several dealers, but it was enough to buy a Gucci bag and some strawberry red Chanel lipstick.
I learned how to share a room with five other girls. One bathroom. One porthole. Bitchiness. Wisconsin Wendy and I were the only Americans. And it showed. For instance, we covered up our bodies with towels while the European girls sunbathed topless. Sami, from Paris, walked around the cabin completely naked. This made me nervous, embarrassed, intimidated, and envious.
“Est-ce que cela vous rend mal a l’aise?” Sami smiled. She knew I was totally uncomfortable and this made her incredibly happy.
“What?” I asked, trying not to stare at her perfect breasts, her triangle of black curly hair, her flat stomach.
“Does my body make you nervous?” She said in broken English. Sexy English. Catherine Deneuve English.
Yes. Damn you. She made me reexamine my own body, my own power, my own femaleness She made me remember her until this day. Now. Because this sort of self-assurance is what I’ve continually strived for since then. And for a writer, if you’re not naked, well, I’d suggest you find another passion.
But it was Leah whose accent was like metal scraping metal, whom I scribbled in my journals’ about the most. She was from Latvia, Russia, so I was intrigued immediately, since I appreciated everything foreign, mostly human beings. She spoke 5 languages explaining: “This is simple for me. I hear words and I speak. I listen and I do. It flows like stream. Unlike you lazy Americans, whom for unknown reason, utter only stupid English.” Did I also mention she was mean as triple hell? Did I mention she despised my ignorance? However- she looked like Anais Nin—She smelled of Cartier perfume—And she was married to small, sweet, Cuban Georgie, who happened to be the casino manager, our boss, so the girls wanted to be Leah’s friend. Nobody was. Ever. Unless they were Russian, too, of course.
This was a small part of my education as a Casino Girl.
I carry every experience with me in little segments and beautiful pieces of who I am now.
And by the way, I still want to rule the whole f*cking world!