The International Writers Magazine: CLUB MONACO
DISPATCH: ROULETTE ROUE
John M. Edwards
John M. Edwards meets a local playboy and friendly angel in Monaco, addicted to the casino gaming tables
“I am Monegasque!”
A small crowd of “players” stood outside the swank entrance to Le Grand Casino in Monte Carlo. At first I thought the speaking man with a haircut was drunk and slurring “I am money, yes!”
I gathered so did everybody else.
judging by their stares I realized we might have a vaguely familiar-looking celebrity among us. Like “The Most Interesting Man in the World” from the Dos Equis ads: “Stay thirsty, my friends!”
The overaged man, who acted like “The Friendly Angel” from a memorable “Star Trek” episode (original series), sported a Terry Thomas gap in his teeth resembling busted-up piano keys. His posh RP accent was way overdone, sounding a little like Edwardian ad-libbing. His clothes were shabby genteel chic, like rumpled Armani or even Brooks Brothers. For him, obviously, every day was Fashion Week.
“I am not French. I am not Italian.”
The man with a haircut spoke in Bodoni Bold.
He paused, licking the edge of his thin mustache, resembling a Paid Advertisement of Boris Badunuv from that Canadian cartoon "Bullwinkle and Rocky" trying to unstuck himself from an obsolete and outdated Billboard. “I am Monegasque!”
The Mediterranean-looking bouncer did not seem impressed. I pegged the swarthy stalwart starwatcher as an Algerian “pied noir” straight out of Albert Camus’s “L’étranger.” He was happy enough just standing there, not letting anyone in.
The man with a haircut, which I must reiterate was an overt style choice making him seem almost naked, preferred to direct our attention to all the eye-catching elaborate finishing touches to his outward appearance (costly cufflinks, red kerchief, Omega pocketwatch). However, none of this could not disguise the fact that he was the first person I’d ever met who pulled off wearing a “pince-nez” in public!
“Nice to meet you!” I said.
“Now what did you say your name was again? Moneyyes?”
The man clutched his chest as if he were having a heart attack, a neo-Proustian flashback to the 19th-century, and removed his red kerchief. He proceeded to elaborately wipe the tears from his eyes. Somehow, he was laughing up a storm without hardly making any sound, a mere wheezing sound reeking of whiskey. Heat lightning.
“Ah-ha, but you must be American!”
“Yes, I’m Tom James,” I said, giving him an alias disguise, just in case he was some sort of a con. Or since you might not yet have heard of me, maybe I was.
“Yes, I am Monegasque!” he reiterated in a low basso profundo. “Which means I am neither French nor Italian, but a real native of Monaco.”
Now even I was laughing. “Got!”
“Listen, they will never let you in without a tie,” he said sotto voce, like a nefarious co-conspirator from a remake of the James Bond film “Casino Royale.” “But I of course have for you an extra nice tie right here!”
The Monegasque took some time to wrap the fabric into a fashionable Windsor Knot around my neck, a snake charmer. The loud orange tie clashed somewhat with my black leather Gap bomber jacket, but at least I was wearing a dress shirt, albeit one from the racks of Banana Republic.
Luckily, in Francophone nations, a leather jacket was “BCBG” (Bon Chic Bon Gout): this daring-sounding epithet, used by the French elite, has its probable origins among the clued-in cognoscenti and art mongerers who sneer for a living in the pricey Parisian arrondissement of Passy. I had been living mostly in Paris for quite some time now, so my musings apropros of something must perforce be more or less on the very edges of the fairly accurate, ininnit?.
We walked into the famous casino together, pretending to be long-lost familiars reuniting for the first time in years. As if we were being filmed, the Monegasque patted me on the back, saying in soliloquy, “That’s my boooy!”
I automatically assumed the Monegasque was gay, when by sheer happenstance I was assuredly not at all. Not even a little. Great, I thought, everyone in the casino probably thought I was some kind of a “rent boy” with a “doss bag” (Jansport daypack). I finally discerned the brand on his breath, MacCallan’s Single Malt, Cask Strength.
“There is only one game I play: and I play it well. Roulette! I assume you too know how to play?”
I did sort of.
A while ago, I had played before exactly once in Atlantic City, as a teenager capitalizing on the free drinks for gambling addicts. I bet Red or Black (and OO once). And yet I wasn’t really sure how much you got if the ball coincided with an actual placed bet on a specific number. That night on the New Jersey shore, upon the former HBO “Boardwalk Empire” of Prohibition-era America, I lost $200 dollars and experienced absolutely no lady luck. I decided casino gambling was too dangerous an addiction to get into.
But not as addictive as writing travel essays.
Founded in 1866, Monaco was not only the host for the legendary Formula One Grand Prix--How about that Dave Edwards?-- but also the fairytale setting of the marriage of haughty Prince Rainier to the American actress Grace Kelly in 1968. In fact, Monte Carlo (Mount of Charles) was named after Monaco’s own beloved King Charles III. Unlike many, I was a firm believer in the “divine right of kings.”
Unfortunately, even though I was related to William Bradford of the famous “Mayflower” voyage, my American brethren did not consider me royalty—all because of that gaff called “the revolutionary war” or “the war of the colonies.” Yeah, instead they eyed my like a UFO.
So back in Monte Carlo, the moneyed capital of the independent kingdom of Monaco (with two miles of beachfront benefiting 30,000 loyal subjects), gambling seemed part of the cultural exchange.
Here losing money is an authentic experience. Maybe even a metier: a gentleman’s occupation, both regal and royal.
I believed I had enough pretty polly on me to at least give winning a go.
Unlike other gambling meccas like Macau or Las Vegas, Monte Carlo did not seem to be crowded with crass tourists ready to blow their wads before chowing down at Ruby Foo’s or raiding the salad bar at Appelbee’s.
No, this was serious.
The private gaming room I had just entered with the local Monaco playboy (or “Monegasque”) was nearly deserted save for one GQ-style “croupier” (am I misusing this term?).
Also, one wheel, one ball.
Upon the familiar green felt, without any toy train tracks, grew a diorama construction site of uneven plasticene edifices: colored chips stacked like stale Pringles, or “Babel,” but without the warp.
Worse, there were absolutely no other roulette players in this private salon. One spin of the roulette wheel, for show, and I was already hooked.
My Monegasque friend, to my surprise, already had all the chips we needed. “How much do you want?” he asked like an amuse-bouche.
“Uh, I don’t know, maybe I’ll start with two?”
“Okay, two thousand it is.”
Panicking like a naïve tourist tricked into bungee-jumping for the first time, on my way back up for air, I managed to rubber-band, “No, I mean two hundred!”
The Monegasque looked at me strangely. His eyes blinked rapidly: REMs. He quickly presented the chips. “Ah so, two hundred.”
“I like to watch,” I explained weakly. “I’m not a big fan of losing.”
“You would prefer to watch me win?!” the man exalted, combing his haircut back with bony fingers, eyeing me with friendly intent, like the Grimm Reaper. “But you must be a voyeur!”
There was something autocratically sinister about my new friend’s signature ring flashing under the fluorescents. In the back of my mind I wondered if this aristocratic-seeming Monegasque playboy might also be royalty? Say, Prince Rainier’s sixth cousin? Or a blacksheep from the Kelly Family?
At first, I couldn’t believe it.
The bald croupier, resembling the lead singer of “Right Said Fred,” eyed me with understanding as I placed my bets back and forth between Red and Black—and won each time!
I was up $500, my belly elastic with elation, blown bubblegum, ballooned Whippets, and I was completely oblivious to what my new “patron” was up to, other than gathering with a glance that he preferred stacking skyscrapers to divvying out developments.
I continued to win: I vowed I would stop only when I reached a cool thou. I was caught up in the world-wide-web-like thrall of dialectical determinisim and probabilities and statistics.
But then I lost.
And then again, again, again, again, again, and again, with only one win dividing the downstreak.
Was the croupier accosting fate with a magnet? Fame and fortune obviously wanted me out of there. I was down to $100. I decided to give it one last go.
I felt unequivocably relieved and rewarded when I won. Luckily, I had lost absolutely none of the money gleaned from the Monegasque at all. I decided that gambling was not a work of art nor a form of entertainment. Gambling was a sickness of subsistence and adrenaline. In the end, the House always wins.
It was always someone else, probably an undercover security guard or perennially trusted employee, who made the million-dollar jackpot—and, conveniently, the tabloids. Ed McMahon is no longer welcome here.
Nobody could really know a real winning streak in situ.
On the way out, the Monegasque began insulting himself. “How could I be so stupid? I am wrecked! I am a wretched imbecile!”
“What happened?” I asked.
“I lost! I lost five thousand!” The Monegasque began swearing, resembling a pretender with the face of a king. I also felt a little disappointed that his haircut might in fact just be a toupée.
I couldn’t believe anybody in Monaco was carrying that many chips around with him.
There was an embarrassing silence.
We both stared at the majestically lit-up city of fabulous Monte Carlo, built from the beach and an escarpment at the foot of the Maritime Alps. Naturally, with all those kilowatts per hour burning, the sky was starless.
Once again, the sky was starless.
Some of the weird glow came from cruise ships and yachts—and spaceships.
“I am ashamed to ask this favor, but . . .”
Well, here it was. I knew this was going to happen: he was going to ask for his money back. The Monegasque revealed his sorry self for the first time, as vague and ugly and selfish as Oscar Wilde’s “The Picture of Dorian Gray.”
“I am no longer a rich man. Could I borrow forty for a taxi to get home? Also, perhaps you maybe have a phone card!”
I reached into my shoulder-strapped traveler’s pack hidden under my imitation blue Oxford shirt (backpacker’s chic), containing my passport and credit cards and some cash, and pulled out a twenty dollar bill.
He cleared his throat.
And I pulled out another.
The Monegasque balked when he saw the smug paper portraits of Jackson both remaining stag, like Lady Gaga dryhumping Regis Philbin, forgetting all about his expensive orange tie, then he motioned awkwardly for an unrequited kiss on both cheeks, uttering with finality, “Au revoir!”
Without any advance warning, the Monegasque disappeared (no: “evaporated), leaving me shaking, with a cold sweat on my considerable brow.
I realized in retrospect that I had never even managed to get the paternalistically spirited sugardaddy Monegasque’s real surname.
Things are usually better that way.
But talk about a cheap date.
Welcome to Club Monaco!
(For more info on Monaco, contact: www.visitmonaco.com/en)
© John M. Edwards, 2012
BIO: John M. Edwards is an award-winning “stringer.”
Bio: John M. Edwards has traveled worldwidely (five continents plus), with stunts ranging from surviving a ferry sinking off Siam, to being stuck in a military coup in Fiji, to bussing Vietnam on a Larium buzz. He is the recipient of four NATJA (North American Travel Journalists Association) Awards, a TANEC (Transitions Abroad Narrative Essay Contest) Award, a Road Junky Hell Trips Award, a Literal Latté Travel Writing Award, a Bradt Independent on Sunday Award, and three Solas Awards (sponsored by Travelers’ Tales). He lives in New York City’s “Hell’s Kitchen.” His future bestseller, "Tom James, Zagat Reviewer," remains unpublished. His new work-in-progress, Dubya Dubya Deux, is about a time traveler. He is editor-in-chief of the upcoming annual Rotten Vacations. He turned down a job as lead bassist for STP (The Stone Temple Pilots) way back when before they were big.