‘Insidious’ by Shannon Cason

I had lost $1200 on the blackjack table and overdrew my checking account another $1000 chasing the original $1200. But being that I was chasing, I lost that $1000 fast.

The ride home was always the worst. The regret. The names I would call myself. I lived with my sister at the time. She could always tell if I lost all my money. I would come in the house late or early, depending on how you looked at it. I would have a depressed look and a bag of Ramen noodles to make it through to the next pay. But this time, the next direct deposit would be eaten up by the negative balance in my checking account.

I looked at it as early. I had to be at work in a few hours. I worked at a bank. A grocery store bank branch. I managed it. I had to be there on time to open the doors for the tellers – get their drawers out of the vault. I put on my suit.

I always felt like an ass wearing a suit, managing a grocery store bank.  It’s too much… They needed to loosen up the dress code. This isn’t Wall Street. It’s a fucking grocery store.

I never really noticed the money. I’d lose all my money and put $20,000 in twenties in the ATM the next day. No temptation. But that day I noticed. I noticed the $30,000 in hundreds and the $20,000 in twenties. I noticed how the dual control vault procedure wasn’t followed. I noticed how the tellers could go days without having to buy money from the vault because we weren’t a busy branch. I didn’t notice my morals, my sense of right and wrong. I didn’t notice the consequences. There was an overwhelming temptation inside of me that was frightening. It was like standing at the edge of a dangerous drop. I was convinced I couldn’t lose. If I won just 10% of that amount, it would be five grand. Then I could just put it back. It’s like borrowing. I jumped. I took the whole fifty.

I told the tellers I was going to lunch and to do some prospecting like managers were expected to do. They were familiar with my 3-hour lunches. The money was heavy in my pockets. Even in my belt strap. I felt like a drug runner going through customs.

The casino was a 10-minute drive. MotorCity Casino. This is in Detroit. The girls there wear these tight little leotards and I went out with a few of them. Really nice girls. But when I gambled I wanted to be anonymous. I didn’t want to know the dealers, the waitresses, the Asian guy sitting next to me. I didn’t want anyone feeling sorry for me if I lost my money. I hated to leave a table and hear, “I’m sorry about that, Shannon.” What the fuck are you sorry for…for what?!…I’m the one that’s sorry!

I sat down at the blackjack table and bought in for $10,000 in hundreds. It took a little time to count that much. It brought a small crowd which I didn’t care for, but whatever. That $10,000 went the slowest. It went up and it went down. It went up and it went down. And it went down. And down. And it was gone. My crowd let out a little sigh. “What y’all sorry about?!” I sat another $10,000 on the table. I was chasing. It went fast.

I got up. My crowd showed their remorse. “I gotta get away from these losers!” I left those unlucky assholes to go up to the high roller room. My pants were lighter, but still $30,000 heavy. Change up my strategy. Get my confidence back. Change up my game. Baccarat. Sat the whole thirty on the table. It took a lot of time to count that much. Brought out some suits. Whatever.

From what I remember, I won close to the fifty back. Then I got a call from work. I didn’t answer it. Then another call. I listened to the voicemail. They needed me back at work. I was still short a little.

I could just leave with what I had and deal with it. Or I could go for it. It was a waste of time and effort to leave even. I felt good about the next bet. I told myself, “If I win, I will run out of here.”

I put the biggest bet I had played up. Close to $20,000 in little grey chips. I don’t know why so much. It was just a small stack of chips. I waited for the dealer to deal the cards.

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It’s crazy to be looking at thirty, twenty, ten grand and not caring anymore. I lost it all. I got up from the table and the dealer said, “Sorry. Better luck, Shannon.” I turned to look at him. Look at the table. But I didn’t say anything. I just walked away.

I walked through the lights, the sounds, the people, the smoke. Out the door to fresh air. It felt surreal. Like when I went skydiving. Like when I got shot at. Like I was watching this on TV. I wanted there to be a commercial so bad. I called my sister. I told her, “I just did something really stupid.” I’ve only recently started sharing this outside of church basements and community center rec rooms because I think it’s important for me to remember. This is the most expensive story I’ve got.

I called my best friend. He had done time. Years ago. For what? Not my place to say. He said I was a first-time offender. Non-violent crime. He couldn’t see me doing more than a year. A year? I was just watching a movie at the mall. I had just ate riblets at Applebee’s. Funny the simple luxuries you think of when you think of losing a year or more. He said he couldn’t see more than that in a city like Detroit. In Detroit there was no room in the jails for a pussies like me. I laughed.

Humor always makes me feel better. At least for a little while. It puts things in perspective. But I still had to turn myself in. I had to deal with what I’d done. That was a lot of money. But not that night. That night I wanted to rest. I just wanted to drive around. I drove down Grand River Boulevard. Downtown. The buildings got larger as I approached the water and the Renaissance Center. I drove up Woodward Avenue. Once a busy artery with businesses and shops and people, now abandoned buildings spanned for blocks, boarded windows like quilted patchwork with different gang tags and graffiti art. Through Cass Corridor and hollow storefronts: fiends, dealers, artists, prostitutes, students, and me – a liar, thief, gambler passing through. I called the girl I was dating at the time. I told her what happened.

I did one day. Detroit really didn’t have room for a pussy like me. I got help. Got married. Paid it back. Well, most of it.

I wish I could say the threat of jail, the pain my mother felt, and the normalcy of a wife and baby opened my eyes and changed me forever. And everything became happy. I wish I could say that. But this is life and I’m only me. The lady in the meetings said addiction was insidious. Honestly, I had to look it up. Yeah, insidious. Good word.

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Shannon Cason is a writer and storyteller from Detroit. He lives in Chicago. http://shannoncason.com/

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