The Tale of the Eel-skin Boots

They really didn’t look like this, but I can’t find a pic. The color and texture was similar, but they were a bit yellow-er, and they were ankle boots, truly graceful and beautiful, not these ugly, clunky things.

In the mid-90s, I worked in the poker room at the Mirage Hotel & Casino in Las Vegas. To me, the Mirage will always be the epitome of Las Vegas glamour. I don’t care how many new casinos they build, how can you top an indoor rain forest, volcano, white tigers, a zoo and dolphin habitat? Although I do want to visit the Cosmopolitan some day to see if it lives up to the commercials.

I spent most of my lunch breaks during those years browsing the fabulous high-end boutiques both in the Mirage and next-door at the Caesar’s Palace shops (best mall in the world, IMO). I couldn’t afford to buy much, but the window-shopping and dreaming was amazing, and a much better way to spend an hour than the cafeteria, believe me. I once fell in love with the most perfect pair of eel-skin boots. They were ankle boots, in the most fabulous texture and buttery yellow color. I coveted those boots for months, and visited them every day, but they had a $400+ price tag, which was way out of my reach, since my income depended on tips, and poker players are a bunch of stingy, nasty bastards, for the most part. Sorry guys, but you know it’s true.

Of course, there are always exceptions to the rule, and since those are the people I associated with on a daily basis, those were inevitably the guys I ended up dating. One, in particular, was a really great guy, with a multitude of problems, not the least of which was a gambling addiction, but who was a good person and a lot of fun to be with in spite of all that. He was only in town off and on, and since he played high-stakes poker, would often get a room comped and invite me to stay with him. Those were the most fun times…not only was my commute to and from work just a quick trip up and down an elevator, but I got to enjoy the sumptuous room and pretend that I was actually one of the rich guests instead of their lowly servant for a change.

Of course, this was hugely against the rules, and I could have been fired for it, but I never got caught, or at least security was nice enough to look the other way. They were a great bunch of guys who really looked out for me. On a couple of occasions I did get accused by undercover cops of being a paid escort, but this was completely untrue. I only dated guys I genuinely liked, and it was never about money. Okay, I did once go out with a guy I really was not interested in at all, just because he wanted to take me out to a fancy dinner and a show and agreed to take my friend, too, and she bugged me into accepting. But I said no when he offered to buy me expensive gifts, and there was no hanky panky afterward at all, because he was totally not my type. So yeah, that was kind of an asshole-ish thing to do, to agree to the date and get his hopes up, but not a hookerish thing at all.

Anyway, back to the whole point of the story – the boots. One night my out-of-town boyfriend showed up and said he was in a bind. He had borrowed a lot of money from a very well-known high-stakes player who had agreed to stake him (this is what these guys routinely do). Instead of getting into a game with the seed money, however, he had blown it all at the dollar slots. Addiction – it’s a dreadful thing. He was terrified of getting black-balled, or worse, so he begged me to borrow some money so he could get into a game and win back what he had spent. This ranks up there with one of the stupidest things I’ve ever done for a guy (and there are a lot) but I agreed to turn over my $400 paycheck, without which my rent was not going to get paid that month. I was crazy about him, and oddly, had faith in him, so I did it. Believe it or not, this one time, the story had a happy ending. Not only did he proceed to win and pay back all the money he owed, he built my little seed of $400 into a huge profit.

Most unexpectedly, every time he won he would come over and hand me money. I was blown away, not ever knowing any guy, especially a poker player, to have that kind of integrity; but he insisted that since I was his backer, I was entitled to a percentage of the profits. Told you he was a nice guy. I ended up getting my rent money back, and quite a nice little profit, a couple thou, I think.

“No matter what happens later,” he told me, “do NOT, under any circumstances give me any of that money back.” He didn’t have to worry. I may be a soft touch, but I’m not completely stupid. First thing I did after work was hightail it over to the shoe boutique and buy those buttery eel-skin boots. I was in LOVE!!!

And later in the night, when we were out drinking and partying (in the boots, of course!), he did blow all of his part of the winnings back in the dollar slots again. I tried to dissuade him, but gambling was the more tempting mistress. I held tight to my part of the money this time, though. Never been a gambler myself. I know better than to push my luck.

Wish I still had those boots. Unfortunately, not long after this, I ended up dumping the guy for one of his friends who swept me off my feet and became my son’s father. One of the worst decisions I ever made, but I can’t regret the outcome too much, obviously. Well, parts of it. At some point, he (another gambler) made the decision to move us out of state and put all our stuff into storage. When I later came to my senses and left him to move back across the country to my parents, I could only locate one of the boots. I held onto it for a while, but eventually it was just too depressing a reminder of a bad time in my life, so I tossed it. Beautiful as it was, there’s not much you can do with only one boot.

When I left Vegas to start over back home, I lost touch with everyone in that mad, mad world. Those were some of the best days of my life, but also some of the worst. I don’t miss it now, but I do have some regrets, especially about the bad way I ended that relationship. I heard a few years ago that he had won the World Series of Poker. Good for him, he deserved it. He also has a son now, whom he seems to dote on, and I am happy for him and hope he has escaped his demons, too.

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