I sat third to the deal, until a new guy sat down to my right. I took little notice of him. I had the brim of my hat lowered to eye level to block out the dealer’s mouth. He’d been running his stand-up routine, based on the accident of his birth, like most other comedians. This one was from South Jersey. People from South Jersey confuse being loud with being funny. The routine wouldn’t fly in Vegas, where dealers are trained to shut up and deal. Still, I wouldn’t trade El Dorado for all of the Vegas strip. An annoying human dealer is still better than an inoffensive robot. I enjoyed talking to most Reno dealers, like Lorena with the blessed breasts or Aiko who married a Texan and came to regret it.
When South Jersey busted, the new guy was too elated. He was betting the five-buck minimum. He was fifty-something and wore a Rolex.
New deal. Rolex flashed me his fourteen and asked me should he risk a hit.
I told him yeah, the dealer was showing a king.
The hit was a seven and now I was Rolex’s found friend.
“This is my first time in Reno. How about you?”
“I live here.”
“I live in L.A. I’m a producer.”
“T.V. or movies?”
“Both. I had business in ‘Frisco and thought, what the hell.”
He expected to be asked what he had produced, but no one at the table cared. ‘Frisco. Who says that?
During the next shuffle I asked him, “Who are your three favorite screenwriters?”
The question threw the producer, like a civilian was testing his credentials. Most people can’t even name three screenwriters. Rolex named his three favorites: Charlie Kaufman, Alvin Sargent, and the player sitting next to him, me, who said, “What’s so special about him?”
“You’ve heard of him?”
“Sure, I got Netflix.”
“I don’t know, he writes from the heart.”
“There’s always that.”
The dealer offered Rolex the cut. He was honored.
“Whatever happened to him?” I asked.
“Crashed and burned. Don’t know the details.”
Cards sailed across the felt and landed in front of the players. The producer flashed me double eights and asked, “Should I split them?”
“By all means. How does a writer crash and burn?”
“In Hollywood? You wake up one morning and nobody returns your calls. Should I split them even when the dealer has a face card showing?”
“Always and forever, you split eights. Put up another chip.”
He drew a two.
“Now you got ten, you can double down on that hand.”
“Put up another chip.”
Rolex slid forward another chip and got a card face down. He bent it up and looked at it, embarrassing everyone at the table. Nobody ever looks at the hole card.
“I knew a producer once.”
“Yeah? What’s his name?”
“He couldn’t produce a splash if he jumped in the lake.”
The dealer put a card on the other eight. Another two.
“Now you have to go double-down on that one, too.”
Excited, the producer slid forward another chip. He had twenty dollars on the game and was on the edge of his seat. Again, he looked at the hole card. One of the other players could not suppress a groan.
Rolex smiled. A winner. Nothing but twenties.
The dealer turned over a six, and drew a five. The producer watched his chips get raked away.
“That wasn’t such a good idea,” he said.
“It’s not an idea. It’s what you do with eights.”