Happy Birthday, Tom.
I received a call around 10:30 on the night of December 18, 2004. In retrospect, I wish I hadn’t answered it because drunk Tom was on the other end.
“Benny Boy, meet me at my place in five minutes,” he said.
“What’s going on?” I asked.
“We’re going to the Bottleneck Blues Bar at Ameristar.”
“Giggety, giggety, giggety. I’ll see you in five.”
His call couldn’t have come at a better time. I was trapped in some whacko chick’s apartment at Melrose Place. She was spinning vinyl records, and trying to convince me to play backgammon. Nut job. I pretended the call was an emergency, and got out of there faster than Jesse Jackson leaving the set of Fox News.
When I got to Tom’s, I met his girlfriend, but there seemed to be some tension in the air. They had spent the evening at his company Christmas Party. She hadn’t had a drop to drink, and agreed to drive our drunk asses across the river.
As we got on the road, Tom turned to her from the passenger side and said, “I just don’t understand why you’re so mad.”
“I’m not having this conversation in front of your friend,” she replied as she gave me a quick glance in the rear-view mirror.
Five minutes of silence passed when Tom went at her again. “Why don’t you just tell me what I did?”
“Fine,” she responded. “If you want to have this conversation now, let’s do it. I don’t appreciate being invited to your company party, and then watch you hit on the bartender.”
“I handed her a 20-dollar bill for a tip.”
“You wrote your phone number on it!”
I bolted from the car once we got to the casino. I turned around to find Tom still arguing his case. He looked like he was going to be there for a while, so I ducked into a bar.
Almost an hour passed, and no sign of Tom. No phone call. Nothing. Suddenly, I heard my name being paged over the loud speaker to meet my party in the poker room. “Tom doesn’t play poker,” I said to myself.
“Where’s your poker room?” I asked an employee.
“Take the elevator to the second floor, and it’s down the hallway on the left.”
I walked off the elevator, turned left, and saw Tom sitting in a wheelchair with two security guards standing behind him. I would later learn that he found the abandoned wheelchair next to a slot machine, and started pushing himself around the casino. He eventually got tired, passed out, and accepted the security guards’ offer of assistance.
They were at the far end of the hallway, but close enough that I could see the smirk on Tom’s face. I decided that I didn’t want any part of whatever he was up to, so I turned around and started walking back to the elevator.
“Sir, don’t you want to help your friend?” one of the guards yelled.
I just gave them a half-hearted wave good-bye, and went downstairs.
I decided to give Tom five minutes to get his act together, and waited in an open area on the main floor between the gaming tables and the elevator. A few minutes later, the doors opened, and here came Tom – still being pushed in the wheelchair by security – and still smirking.
The guards gave me a look like I was the worst person in the world. “Do you think you can take care of your friend from here, or is that asking too much?” one of them inquired.
“Leave him here.”
An argument ensued when Tom tried to convince me to push him to the bar. After I refused, he hurled himself out of the wheelchair and started yelling, “Benny, Benny, help me up!”
I stood there stunned as he began pulling his body towards the chair using only his arms to propel himself across the floor. Now the casino patrons were looking at me like I was the worst person in the world. I left the scene, but saw a few people helping him back into the wheelchair when I turned around.
I walked outside to the valet, and asked him to hail a cab. It took a few minutes, but I noticed the red and white colors of a County Cab on the horizon coming towards me. As it got closer, I heard a couple of loud crashing noises. I knew I shouldn’t look, but couldn’t help myself. Tom had straightened out the right leg of the wheelchair, and was trying to push himself through the revolving doors.
When I got into the cab, he left the chair stuck inside, and jumped into the back seat of the cab next to me.
“The cab ride’s on me tonight” he said.
Won’t you fill up the tank, let’s go for a ride.