When I was about five, my father had a massive heart attack died. My mother, without a job and left on her own to manage a home and two young children, couldn’t cope and had a nervous breakdown. My brother and I were sent from our home in Los Angeles to live with relatives in Chicago. My mother, with the help of a psychiatrist, began to recover.
One evening, my brother and I, desperately missing our mother, sneaked downstairs and called her on the house’s only phone. In tears we begged to come back. The call had a startling effect on my mother, shocking her into reality and, with the help of her psychiatrist, began a quick road to vast improvement. Soon, she had a job as an accountant/secretary and we were back in her arms. It was good to be home.
My mother still had panic attacks and she showed us how to recognize them and help her by getting her a brown paper back for her to breathe into so she wouldn’t hyperventilate. I remember always looking around to make sure there was a fresh bag around and was concerned if there wasn’t one handy. Her attacks happened less and less, and with her success at her job, things improved. She decided we should go on a vacation.
We had a relative who was a “pit boss” in Las Vegas, the person who watches over the employees and makes sure that nobody—employee or player—was cheating. Years later, he offered to send me to dealer school, but I never took him up on it.
At the time, Las Vegas was a lot different than it is today. Today, it’s run by international corporations who own the massive hotels. Back then it was run by the mob. Today, the goal has become to get families into the hotels and restaurants, oh, and do some gambling, too. There are all sorts of amenities for families as rooms and meals have become expensive. The goal in the past was to get people into the casinos and lose money. It was a town for adults, not families. Rooms were inexpensive and meals were unbelievable bargains. There was little or nothing for children to do.
So my uncle the Pit Boss invited us to come to Las Vegas. If we could get there he would “comp” (provide a free, “complimentary”) us a room. Meals would be cheap. Today, shows can be incredibly pricey. Then, shows were cheap, and he could get us into one of those, too. My mother graciously accepted the offer.
Our car, an old Pontiac with decaying and smelly upholstery (we called the car “Annabelle”), would never make the trip across the desert from Los Angeles to Las Vegas, so my mother booked tickets on the Greyhound bus. A neighbor took us to the station, but the bus had a mechanical problem. It took an hour to fix it. “Don’t worry,” we were told. “You’ll get to your connection just in time to transfer to the bus that will take you to Las Vegas.”
Actually, we got into the the tiny station in the middle of nowhere just in time to see, in the distance, the vanishing taillights of the bus bound for Las Vegas. “Goodbye, Greyhound!” Next bus to Vegas was in six hours.
So there we were, stuck in the middle of nowhere for six hours. A young mother, two very unruly children, and N O T H I N G T O D O. How we survived that I’ll never know, but we eventually arrived in Las Vegas in the early hours of the morning. We got to our rooms and collapsed.
Hello Flamingo Hotel
We were in a quiet room high up in the Flamingo hotel where my Uncle worked. When we finally woke, we had breakfast which included what I thought was the best French toast in the universe. I could have lived on in forever. Now, for a young boy like me, there was a hotel to explore. I think I would have made a lousy explorer, though, because there was nothing interesting. I became bored quickly, running around floor to floor. The only thing in the entire hotel was a huge swimming pool outside in the outrageous heat and sun, along with a small, three-hole miniature golf course. Well, that’s what I thought it was. Today I’d call it a practice putting green. I was rapidly becoming bored. Very bored.
That night, we had received tickets to the hotel’s show. It featured the singer Patti Page. When I heard that, I couldn’t believe it! She was my favorite singer. It was that song, “(How Much Is) That Doggie in the Window” with it’s dog barks that I loved. This was going to be epic.
In those days, you had to dress up to go to shows. I was stuffed into my little suit and we had to wait a bit before going in. The man at the door who was letting people in stopped us, bent down and said, “Excuse me, sir, can you help us tonight?”
I was puzzled and didn’t know what he meant, but said, “If I can.”
“You see, Miss Page is going to be singing “(How Much Is) That Doggie in the Window” tonight. Do you know the song?” I could barely nod. “Well, dogs aren’t allowed in the hotel and we need some people to make barking sounds at the right time. Can you do that?” I could barely breathe. I nodded again.
It was a dinner show, but I could barely eat. I was going to be helping my favorite singer with my favorite song ever. Finally, the music started and out came Patti Page. I eagerly listened to every word of every song in rapt attention. And then it was over and she went offstage. “Wait! You didn’t sing the song!” Thanks to the applause she came back out and sang another song, then again went offstage. The lights came up and people began to leave. “No! You have to sing the song and I have to bark!” My mother took me by the hand and we left. I couldn’t believe it, and at that young an age children have one response for such utter disappointment. “Waaaaaa!” I was crying and crying and wailing out loud as my mother took us to the elevators that would lead to our rooms.
Nothing would stop my tears and cries as we got out of the elevator on our floor and walked down the long hallway to our room. Suddenly I heard a gentle voice ask, “What’s the matter?” We turned around to see… Patti Page herself.
As I wrote, we were in a quiet area of the hotel. The hotels usually reserve some rooms like this for the entertainers who need their rest. She had rooms on this floor, too. I was crying to hard and couldn’t speak, but my mother told her that I was all excited about wanting to bark when she sang “Doggie,” and was so disappointed. She smiled, crouched down to be closer to my height, and said, “We can’t have him disappointed with my show.”
And there, in the hallway, with just my mother, brother, myself, and Patti Page, she sang the song so I could bark at the right moments. We thanked her and we all went to our rooms. My tears ended.
The next day, my brother went to play golf on the putting greens and I stayed with my mother. She enjoyed the relaxing experience(?) of losing money on…I mean “playing”… the nickel slots. Unlike the slot machines of today where you can make multiple bets at the same time, the old slot machines only allowed you to put in one nickel at a time. Then rather than push a button as you do today, you had to pull down a bar or arm on the side of the machine. People would sit at the machines for hours, and five or ten dollars of change could keep you busy for a long time, hoping for a big jackpot that rarely came.
At this time there was no childcare and no activities for brats like me, so my mother sat at one of the slot machines right near a carpeted area. I was plunked in the carpeted area, separated from the casino and the slot machines by a gleaming chrome fence, where I could watch her and she could watch me.
So there was my mother holding a small paper bucket filled with nickels. She’d put one in, pull the arm on the slot machine, and wait. This was repeated. And repeated. Occasionally, she would interrupt this pattern when some nickels, for no earthly reason I could detect, would come clanking into the large area at the bottom of the machine. She’d put them in her bucket and continue: coin in, pull arm, wait; coin in, pull arm, wait.
I’m sure there are things more boring to a young child but I couldn’t think of any. I started to fidget, and then to wander. A watchful guard kept an eye on me, and if I went to far I’d hear my mother’s demand that I “Get back over here and sit down.” Sigh…
“Mom, I’m booorred,” I whined.
“Just stay where you are and relax,” she replied.
“Can I play with the machines?”
“No, that’s gambling. Only adults are allowed to gamble. Children aren’t allowed to gamble.”
“Well, can I just put the money in?”
“No, that’s gambling. You’re not allowed to gamble.”
“Well, you can put the money in and I’ll just pull the arm.”
“No, honey, that’s still gambling.”
I looked around and saw a target. “Well, if I can’t play over there, I’m going to play over here!”
That finally got her attention. “What do you mean?” she asked. As I started to walk away she came away from her seat at the slot machine and went over to where she could get out of the casino and charged toward me.
Over against the wall there was a row of several cigarette vending machines. I walked over to them, chose one, and pulled down the coin return level. This was a mechanical nubbin that stuck out from the machine at the top of a long, vertical slot. You would slide the lever down the slot to return the coins you put into the machine. The sliding of the lever reminded me of the pulling of the arm of the slot machine. I saw the guard begin to come toward me, too.
As I wrote, there were several machines there. I picked one of them and pulled down on the lever.
$1.35 in change came out. I had won!
My mother grabbed me. The guard, who had been watching everything, burst into laughter. My mother pulled me away, even as I grabbed for the money I had “won.” She took me to find my brother and we went for lunch.
Magick Is An Art
I know. Debunkers would say it was just a coincidence. Still, I could have selected any of the cigarette machines. What drew me to that one machine? What magickal ability did I manifest so I didn’t pick one of the others? There is no way to reproduce the situation, and even if there were, how could you have tested a little kid like me, repeatedly, to see what was going on?
I prefer to think it had to do with a simple fact about magick: it’s an art. Some people are natural artists. Other’s aren’t. The thing is, even if you are a “natural” at something, if you don’t practice it those who are not naturally born artists in their field can surpass the natural artist through diligence and hard work.
One thing that made this magickal event possible was desire and energy. It had been brought to a peak the night before during the private musical performance, but there had not been a complete release of the magickal energy. The boredom allowed the energy to rebuild and finally manifest with a magickal manifestation.
I didn’t realize it at the time, but I was able to see if I could reproduce the effect when I returned to Las Vegas…15 years later. I’ll share that tale next time.
I’ll be leading a workshop and ritual in Las Vegas on the 16th of November. For details, see this LINK.