J.C. and Me

People talk about supernatural events that happen in which unexplained occurrences changed a life or a moment in a life.  I’m not sure if what they say is the truth or the stretched truth or if what happened is actually a miracle.  What I do marvel at is how life takes turns that are so unexpected and unplanned that one has to wonder if a higher power is orchestrating things – conducting the symphony of events.

That is the way I often look back upon relationships that Lisa and I have established in our travels. To think that we would be friends with people in Hanover, Pennsylvania and Loma Linda, California and now Kingman, Arizona seems so implausible that the only explanation would have to be the hand of God.  As I have said before, the hardest part of traveling is making friends and the hardest part of going home – is saying good-bye to them.  Today I say good-bye to my golf buddy, J.C. and I can’t help but marvel at how we connected.

I was swimming one day in the pool here at our KOA campground in Kingman, Arizona when I met up with two couples in the pool having a conversation about gambling.  At first I just listened, weighing whether I wanted to introduce myself.  One of the people in the pool was J.C. and I learned in that moment that he was a retired craps dealer.  After a few minutes I told the group that Lisa and I were here with her job until mid-August (she would be extended until the first week of November – but we did not know that then) and soon we were talking about many different things.  A relationship was born.

Over time I learned that J.C., who with his wife is a full-time RVer, enjoyed playing golf and so we made plans to play that week.  After that first round together we decided to play twice per week and have done so regularly for the past four months.  I will miss J.C. as he and Carol head back to their home in Las Vegas.  We exchanged phone numbers and email addresses and will try to stay in contact with each other.  Who knows if we will ever meet up again in this life?

J.C. is a fascinating person.  Speaking of miracles – he told me it was a miracle that he became a craps dealer.  When he was eighteen, while in Reno Nevada, he walked into a casino and was beckoned to a craps table by a dealer working there.  He talked to him about how to play the game, which he knew nothing about, but was more interested in how much money the dealer said he could make.  Being only eighteen – he was three years away from being of age to work in a casino – but promised himself he would return.  He did return three years later and was interviewed for a job by the casino owner.  J.C. told the owner during the interview that he wanted to be a slot machine mechanic and work up to being a craps dealer – eventually.  The boss told him to come back at 2:00AM that next morning and he would start.  He was told he would be dealing craps and he did that for the next thirty-plus years.

Having worked during his career in Reno, Lake Tahoe and Las Vegas – he has some amazing stories.  He tells of the shady dealings of the mafia in old Vegas and how his first wife was a professional musician playing there for such stars as Wayne Newton and Sammy Davis Jr.  Sammy Davis, according to J.C., treated his staff well, often rewarding them to first run movies at a rented out cinema after his show was over.  Wayne Newton, on the other hand, was arrogant and cheap.  Offering only free copies of his music – something none of the musicians were remotely interested in after playing the stuff night after night.  He told me about a man trying to kill his wife after she hit the jack-pot in a mega-million slot machine but did not play the right number of coins – nullifying the win.  The man tried to choke her to death right on the casino floor.  I asked him once what was the most he saw won at his table.  The answer: three-quarters of a million dollars.  And he still seemed bitter that they only gave him a three thousand dollar tip – which had to be shared with all the other eighty casino workers.  Compared to the stories and experiences of his life – my time working with middle school kids for twenty years – seemed embarrassingly boring.

Playing golf with J.C. is one of the funniest experiences I have had on a golf course.  Neither one of us will be making the PGA anytime soon – trust me.  His ball would go in one direction and mine the other and by the time we had found his – we had forgotten the location of mine.  At one point J.C. said, “I guess I’m just too stupid to play.”  Every time I think about him saying that – I laugh.  I knew I had very little golf skill – but never really thought I was just too stupid to play.  He may be right.  Once while looking for our balls – he said, “We need to start writing things down.”

And it is the laughter that I will miss the most.  I will never know how God managed to get the two of us together.  But I am certainly glad he did.  Kingman, Arizona can be a difficult place to live – the heat is oppressive and the small town attractions and activities limited.  I almost gave up playing golf at one point in my life – really did not enjoy all the time I spent in frustration.  But here it helped to pass some long days when Lisa was working and, in the end, at least helped me to feel like I had done something – even if I did score a 105.  But more than that – I developed a friendship with perhaps the most unlikely of people I can imagine. I think God did a good thing.

Thanks J.C.!



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