I worked at a fishing lodge near Bristol Bay.
When I saw the lodge from the window of the float plane, I remembered the prison walls of Alcatraz.
The pilot skidded toward the dock, pushing water toward the shore.
I worked with 30 people, but most were guides on rivers nearby, and they lived in wall tents on gravel bars.
I lived next to the laundry room and worked in the lodge and cabins.
For three months I ironed tablecloths and fetched bottles of wine.
My boss fetched his own bottles.
Each week, a new group of 20 people flew in and caught fish.
One guest had been in Clinton’s Cabinet. Another had been in Reagan’s.
One guy played a doctor on TV.
Each person paid $7700 a week, plus tips.
The boss charged his own son.
But one group won the vacation.
Each member had lost $250,000 at Caesars Palace.
The casino paid for their Learjet and fishing trip.
I heard about these men.
I thought they would all smile like George Clooney.
Instead, they asked why we didn’t have locks on our doors.
No one else ever asked.
They didn’t fish very much.
I said I wouldn’t gamble with them, that I wouldn’t take their money.
But one man spoke with a smoky Alabama drawl, and he bought me vodka.
He said his name was Chip. He was at least 35 years older than me.
Sometimes the bartender searched online for these men.
It was hard to say what they did for a living.
They certainly wouldn’t tell. But they did well.
“I made so much money I lost my sense of purpose and I got kinda depressed,” Chip said.
I needed to take his breakfast order at 6 a.m. the next day.
He liked attending Alabama games.
“I went to the Sugar Bowl in the Caesars box and just started throwing money on people below,” he said.
Chip smiled at the bartender.
I looked at the bartender.
We all liked football.
“I thought for the national championship game I’d get, like, $3000 in ones and do the same thing,” Chip said.
He looked at the water lapping on the shore.
We all arrived on those little float planes.
He wasn’t much of a planner, he told me, so he didn’t have ones to throw at people. He just threw what he had.
“1s and 20s and 100s all look the same coming down,” he said. “They were so excited.”
I stared at my glass. Maybe I could help.
“Want to play cards?” he asked.
Count me in, I said.
He paid for my $500 buy-in and said I could keep it.
The game was simple.
I sat with five of the gamblers, with Chip to my left.
One of the gamblers called himself Lucky because he won a million dollars at a casino once.
His wife wore most of it on her chest.
He showed me pictures more than once.
She was back home in Minnesota.
I shuffled cards.
Chip kissed me on the cheek after he won a few thousand.
Lucky got mad when I showed cards too early.
I thought if I could keep playing, they’d all pass a few bucks.
I’d stay until the game ended at midnight.
One gambler said I was all right, that I was smart.
They all asked if I needed anything to drink.
I told them my glass was full.
They kept asking.
Chip gave me ideas. I smiled to be polite.
Lucky forgave me after he won a hand.
He stared at me.
“You know, I want to sleep with you – not to sleep with you – but to see if your hair really looks like that when you wake up in the morning,” Lucky said.
It was almost midnight.
I turned to Lucky, and I smiled gently.
“You don’t have enough chips,” I said.