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“A Sign of the Times” by Alan25main

July 9, 2019

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Ever wonder what it’s like to own a card room? Read this fiction piece by Ronald G. Pittenger, also known as Alan25main on Replay Poker. Through his story, he gives a bit of insight.

“Darn it, May, my father always told me, ‘If you want to get anywhere in this world, you gotta work for yourself.’ We both agreed when we bought this place. We both knew how much work it would be. You agreed we need to buy new tables and chairs. Why are you giving me such a hard time?” William’s tone was more perplexed than angry.

“William, you know perfectly well that I never expected to have to work here 60 to 80 hours weekly. Or that we wouldn’t be able to pay ourselves weekly like normal people. Just because we’re married doesn’t mean you can take advantage of me. I was supposed to do the accounting. In the office. If I’d thought you wanted me dealing cards, I never would’ve agreed to buy this dump.” It was a slight exaggeration. May would no more deal cards than cook worms for dinner. Her usual floor job was as cashier or floor manager.

“This dump” was a four table card room on a side street in Sin City. It had cost only a fortune to buy and a fortune-and-a-half to remodel and open. The original plan was to get the business up and running in a year or two, then hire and train a manager to operate it while Bill and May took their leisure on cruise ships. Surely it would provide a steady income to rely on. Hah! Right!

With great difficulty, they had saved, scrimped, and borrowed to expand and add another five tables. With the new, improved room, they would be able to get out of the hole faster. Or they would go broke quicker. One or the other was definite, the only question remaining was which way it would go.

Self-employment was no Shangri-la. In a normal week, they netted almost as much as they had made working at their old jobs. The headache that went with the business was just a bonus. Keep the customers happy. Keep the employees happy, Keep the landlord (that scoundrel!) happy along with the license board, the gaming commission, the bank, the other bank, the other other bank, and the IRS.

Any fool on the street would realize that a public card room had to buy a lot of decks of cards. Anyone except the IRS. It had taken more than three weeks before an IRS Agent had admitted that cards might be a legitimate business expense rather than “incidental equipment for the entertainment of guests.” 144 decks was about one year’s worth. With the shipping charges, the total came to a little over $2500. The Gaming Commission required “casino grade” plastic cards. In that quantity, they were a bit over $17 per deck, and cheap at that; bought one deck at a time, they’d be closer to $30 each.

At least Bill was sure someone actually read his tax returns. That was reassuring. Bill and May were both too careful to purposely break the law; they had too much to lose. The system may not work well, but it does work, mused Bill.

“May, one of us needs to stay here and one of us needs to go to the auction. We agreed we need the equipment. If we can get it at auction, it’ll save us a lot over buying it new. Which job would you prefer, stay here or go to the auction?”

“All right, I’ll stay. I won’t like it, but I’ll do it.” Her voice softened, but the glint stayed in her eyes. “I’m going to want a really good back rub tonight. Please don’t be too late.” Being married did have some small advantages, May thought.

“Atta girl. I’ll even use the hot oil. See you later.” Bill exited quickly, before May upped the ante or changed her mind. There was no point in waiting to see what she’d think to add.


“So, when do they deliver our new tables?” May was sitting in the tub in a deep cloud of bubble bath foam. It was one of the few luxuries she allowed herself. “The water is still hot…”  May smiled her best smile.

The dejected look on Bill’s face told the story before he opened his mouth. “We don’t get any tables. No chairs, no chips racks, no light fixtures. Nothing of any use at all. Some guy came in looking to fix up his basement game room. He bought every-damn-thing, every stick and particle. He paid more than new prices, said it had real atmosphere having been used in a real casino. What’s he gonna do with five tables? Or nine chip boxes?“

Bill sat on the floor with his back against the side of the tub. “Sorry you had to work for nothing,” he apologized.

“Billy, what do we do now?” May leaned forward and began rubbing Bill’s shoulders.

“Well, there’s another auction next Thursday. We try again. I don’t think that guy can have any room left in his basement.”

“Okay. Then, we try again next week. Did you get anything at all?”

“Oh, yeah. I got one thing. I was so frustrated I bid on stuff I didn’t really want. For $5, I got a sign holder and sign. On one side it says ‘Our host will seat you,’ and the back says to seat yourself. After I got it home, I remembered we don’t have a host, just a floor manager. I almost threw it away rather than tell you how foolish I was. The darn sign is too fancy for us, anyway. I’ll put it somewhere out of sight. And, I thought I was supposed to rub your back.”


The following Thursday, Bill bought the tables, chairs, chip racks and everything else on his wish list. Two weeks later came the “Grand Re-opening.” The reporter for the local daily wrote it up this way:

“The W&M Card Room re-opened with a comic twist today. A marathon of stand-up comedians told jokes and pulled tricks on each other and the delighted customers. Dixieland jazz was the background provided for the click of the chips and whisper of the cards. But, the best joke of all was reserved for last and had no fanfare at all. This reporter happened to see the ‘facilities.’ I noticed, carefully centered between the Men’s room door and the Women’s room door was a sign. The chrome holder held a lovely calligraphed sign on heavy beige stock reading: