Elijah recoiled at the pictures from Las Vegas.
“Marissa, estamos seguros? Estamos en Las Vegas?” (“Marissa, are we safe? Are we in Las Vegas?”)
Marissa assured him that he wasn’t in Las Vegas. Las Vegas is far, far away, and they were nowhere near a casino.
Elijah was feeling calmer until Marissa’s husband came home for lunch.
“Ese hijo de puto! Sólo le interesan los casinos,” said Pablo. “¿Qué tiene que ver un casino con Dios? ¡No habla de Dios cuando habla de Puerto Rico! Él no es un creyente. Es un falso. Es todo gringo!” (“That son-of-a-bitch! He only cares about casinos. What’s a casino got to do with God? He doesn’t talk about God when he talks about Puerto Rico! He’s not a believer. He’s a fake. He’s all gringo.”)
Later that evening, 19-week-old Elijah visited his grandparents.
“¿Abuelo, qué es un casino?” he asked.
“Elijah, I’m sorry. Grandpa doesn’t speak Spanish. What did you say?
“Grandpa,” he asked, “I forgot. ‘What’s a casino?'”
Las Vegas casino slot machines
“Well, let me tell you a story about a casino, Elijah. A casino is a place where people gamble.”
“Actually gamble is a verb; the noun is gambling. You’ll learn the difference later. Gambling is when a person takes a risk with their money. Gamblers get a charge out of taking the risk that they’ll make lots of money, but they usually lose what they have. The casino is the business that makes lots and lots of money from gamblers.”
“Yeah, it’s like uncle Bob. He’s a gambler. He goes to the casino, right?”
“Right. Grandpa doesn’t like it, but, yes, he does. He’s gambled at casinos in Las Vegas and Atlantic City.
“Why don’t you like gambling?”
“Well, that’s the story I want to tell you.”
“I love stories! Is this the one about the Big Truck?
“No, it’s different. It’s a story that kinda rhymes with ‘big truck’ but it’s not a happy story. Years ago Grandpa went to a casino here in Minnesota to pick up a big check – thousands of dollars – that the casino was donating to Grandpa’s nonprofit poverty law firm.
“Because the casino belonged to an American Indian tribe, I asked an American Indian who worked with me at the law firm to go with me to pick up the check. I wanted the tribal chief, who was also the CEO of the casino, to hand the check to Richard instead of me.
“But you know what happened, Elijah?”
“What? You saw the Big Truck! I bet you saw the Big Truck on the way to the casino.”
“No, but it does rhyme with big truck. Here’s what happened. When Richard and I started to go into the casino, Richard wouldn’t go in. He just stood there! Like he was frozen. Like he’d had a stroke or something.
“I asked what was happening.
“‘I can’t go in there,’ he said. ‘My wife’s going to be in there at the slot machines. She’s here every day. We’re separated. We’re losing our house. We’re going bankrupt. I hate this place!!!’
“Richard’s wife took the casino bus from downtown Minneapolis every morning and spent the day at the casino hoping she’s get rich. She just got poorer day by day, week by week.
“That’s what a casino is, Elijah. A place that takes people’s money by making false promises that they’ll get rich.”
“Marissa’s husband’s like Richard. He hates casinos, but what’s a casino got to do with the President?”
“Well, Elijah, before Donald Trump became President, he was a real estate developer. He built a casino in Atlantic City in 1990 and put his name on it. Trump Taj Mahal cost $1.2 billion! He called Trump Taj Mahal ‘the eighth wonder of the world.’”
“But it failed, Elijah. It failed. The deal failed. He sold it for $50 million to a company named Hard Rock International.”
“Wow, Grandpa! No wonder Pablo called the President a hijo de puto. Pablo said the President only understands business. He doesn’t care about people like the poor in Puerto Rico who are stuck between a rock and a hard place. So, did you ever get the check from the casino?”
“We did, Elijah. I was Richard’s boss. I convinced him to go in. We went in and got the check from the Big Truck.”
- Grandpa Gordon, October 3, 2017.