Father and Son Craps by
25
(29 Stories)

Prompted By Dice

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Hello Retrospectors.

A grown son is one of life’s rewards. Once I could carry him on my shoulders, he holding my ears. Now he towers over me, and knows how to do things, talk to people, manage situations, has a family of his own, makes a living, and (surprisingly, considering his gene pool) he can dance. It is thrilling. Why would I want to screw up this good thing by taking him to Vegas?

I am a first-timer on your site, but a lifer in the current assigned prompt:  Dice.  I developed a sweet-tooth many years ago—call it a character flaw, call it an addiction (if you must), preferably call it an appreciation of the existential moment when the dice are airborne—in the casino game called craps, which is played with dice, where players have no control over results but rather cast their fate to the wind and given the laws of probability generally crash.  “What fun,” you might say.

I compiled thoughts, fears, anecdotes, and memories from my craps experience (with historical, emotional and philosophical digressions) into a fictionalized memoir titled A Crapshooter’s Companion (2019), and self-published (not that I would have refused blandishments and cash from a legit publisher, but that didn’t happen).  It’s been on the shelves of various independent booksellers, but nowadays is mostly available by contacting the author (or inviting the author to a dinner party and he will bring the book in lieu of wine or a houseplant).  FWIW, some readers think it is funny, dryly and mordantly funny.  I didn’t put it on Amazon, although in retrospect I wish I had, and may still, having learned how easy it is with my 2020 novel, The Debutante (and the Bomb Factory), a novel, also purporting to be funny, arising from the Weathermen apparently crossing their wires prematurely and blowing themselves up together with a fashionable townhouse on W 11th Street on March 6, 1970 (the novel chases its tail down conspiratorial rabbit holes; the author calls it a love story).

Anyway, I sweated a bit over what chapter from A Crapshooter’s Companion to post here. The text includes an array of fights with pit bosses, fights with fellow players, fights with craps gods, fights with the narrator, and a lot of quirky behaviors and predicaments.  In the end I chose a not-especially exemplary chapter, one that is arguably sentimental.  Maybe you will like it:


Father and Son Craps©

By: Jonathan Canter

A grown son is one of life’s rewards. Once I could carry him on my shoulders, he holding my ears. Now he towers over me, and knows how to do things, talk to people, manage situations, has a family of his own, makes a living, and (surprisingly, considering his gene pool) he can dance. It is thrilling. Why would I want to screw up this good thing by taking him to Vegas?

So much smarter to play eighteen holes of golf. He can drive the cart. A few decent shots, a few pars, a few balls lost, my suggestion that he keep his driver in his bag (or throw it away), his suggestion that I do a better job tracking his drives (as they disappear into the woods), a chance to hear how things are going and offer some cheerleading, and shoot an idea or two which may percolate (or get buried in a sand trap), and beers in the clubhouse afterward. That’s a good day. Or if we liked fishing, then fishing, or hiking if we liked hiking, or we could spend a day pulling weeds and trimming branches, or watching football on television, or getting box seats for a Red Sox game, or contributing to the betterment of our community. There are a lot of things to do which might be fun and worthwhile, and which are included on the approved activities list, and would not expose him to the Vegas spaceship and the prospect of getting lost in space.

But our (first) trip to Vegas didn’t begin with booking the reservation. The seed was planted early on, when he was just a kid. I went to Vegas each year with my buddies (typically a long weekend in January, to coincide with NFL playoffs and a chance to almost win a few parlays). I didn’t talk it up, or try to explain the allure, but I’m sure he got the idea that I was excited to go, and a basket case when I returned, and it projected as an exotic break from routine.

And mix in a father’s duty to provide his son with lessons in the “manly arts”, things which may be useful, sometimes helpful, and occasionally necessary to be versed in (one never knows where the prevailing winds will drop one off), such as knowing how to mix a vodka martini (straight up with a twist, omit the vermouth), make a lob serve in squash (drop it so it dies in the corner), tie a bow tie (slightly loose, like you’ve been doing it for generations), change a flat tire, feather an oar, carve a brisket, wear black shoes after dark, call it a dinner jacket not a tuxedo, don’t snore during the play, keep your hot head to yourself, buy an umbrella policy, pick up a tab, tip right, appeal a moving violation (sometimes the police officer doesn’t show up), know when it’s time to pull the starting pitcher, and hold the door for those who follow. Add to this abbreviated list: casino competency.

Also, while a son is not obliged to adopt his father’s world-view, the son should have the benefit, don’t you think, of the family story, best from the horse’s mouth (subject to the selective memory of the horse). So, for example, when he was ten or eleven years old he and I and our family dog went for a mountain hike, and I told him the whole story of the Red Sox beginning with the hopeless years of the mid-Fifties and dwelling on the excruciating losses (you will recall when Aparicio, the best base runner of his generation, unaccountably stumbled and fell rounding third on his way to easily scoring the tying run on a blast by Yastrzemski in the critical end-of-season series with the Tigers in 1973, and then wavered for an eternity in the dust of the base path deciding between going again for home (which I think he still could have made easily) and returning to third, before returning to third, never to score) (you will recall a few years later in the one-game play-off against the Yankees when Bucky Dent hit a three-run homer, which off his bat looked like a pop fly to left that somehow carried as if selectively blown by the invisible breath of God (how are you going to win against that?), and Bucky’s runs held up when Yaz, from whom, post 1967, we hoped and expected so much, at bat with two outs in the bottom of the ninth inning with Remy on third, after Piniella playing right field and blinded by the sun made a miraculous stab of a line drive off the bat of Rice (blind luck or the invisible hand of God rigging an implausible meeting of glove and ball?) to avert Remy from scoring the tying run then and there), popped up, leaving Remy stranded on third to end the game and the season and the collective hope of a generation) (and you will recall the stories of Jackie Jensen, Jimmy Pearsall, Pinkie Higgins, Norm Zauchin, Jim Lonborg, the Teds (Lepcio and Williams), the Sullivans (Haywood and Frank), Dewey, Boomer, Luis, Ned Martin, and Calvin Schiraldi), from trail head to summit and back down to the point of beginning. He’s been a loyal fan since.

With this in mind, as we flew west into the sunset I told him the story of my prior trips to Vegas, of my stays at the D.I., Hilton, Golden Nugget, and Mandalay Bay, trying hard to find a silver lining from each visit, such as the time I threw the hard ten (5 and 5) three rolls in a row at the Mandalay Bay, with a $5 hopping bet, which I let ride after each hard ten, but did not press, so I yielded $450 ($150 per roll). I noted to him, wistfully, that had I let my total winnings ride, leaving $155 on the hopping hard ten for the second roll, I would have had a pay-off of $4,650, and then leaving it all on the hopping hard ten for the third roll, I would have had a pay-off of $144,150. I wonder if anyone in the history of craps ever had the guts and the luck to do that. I wonder if the casino would have booked the third bet. To bring us back to earth, I recounted how awful it was to take the red-eye home to Boston, tapped out, sleep-deprived, squeezed into a seat between two fat guys who hadn’t showered in days. That, I said, is a just penalty for being a fool.

We assumed our positions at the craps table. “One rule,” I said, “do as I say, not as I do.”

Let’s take a hypothetical. Let’s say your son is a basketball player. When he shoots the ball, you hope and pray he makes a good shot. If he does, if he scores points, you cheer, and are proud, even if his shot circled the rim and almost bounced out before bouncing in. You know he has basketball skill, and you know how hard he has worked on his shot, on his fitness, on his game, and making the shot is the culmination of all these things, plus a lucky bounce. A lot is the same when he shoots the dice. You root for him to make a good shot, you cheer and are proud when he makes his point, the result feels exactly the same as when he hits a jumper, the same rush of paternal elation, the same release of happy brain chemicals, the same relief at the lucky bounce, the same high fives from nearby fans.

Except that the comparison is wholly cock-eyed. Skill and hard work have nothing to do with the craps shot. It’s all about luck. Craps sucks you into the illusion (the common, often prevailing illusion, wherever good luck turns into profit) that good shooting is the consequence of worthiness. And the obverse, that bad shooting signals unworthiness, may be true in basketball, but has nothing to do with craps. There’s an old expression, “Don’t shoot the messenger,” apropos of a blameless messenger delivering bad news. Properly viewed, the crapshooter who 7s out is blameless, merely delivering an unwelcome message from the craps gods. He likely won’t get shot (this being modern times), but he may get shunned by his fellow players, and a load of free advice from his dad.

Since that intro to Vegas, my son and I have shot craps together a few times. Not surprisingly, when we win, it’s great, and when we lose I feel like a bad dad. –

 

 

Profile photo of jonathancanter jonathancanter
Here is what I said about myself on the back page of my 2020 humor/drama/politico novel "The Debutante (and the Bomb Factory)" (edited here, for clarity):

"Jonathan Canter Is a retIred attorney; widower; devoted father and grandfather (sounds like my obit); lifelong resident of Greater Boston; graduate of Harvard College (where he was an editor of The Harvard Lampoon); fan of waves and wolves; sporadic writer of dry and sometimes dark humor (see "Lucky Leonardo" (Sourcebooks, 2004), funny to the edge of tears); gamesman (see "A Crapshooter’s Companion"(2019), existential thriller and life manual); and part-time student of various ephemeral things."

The Deb and Lucky are available on Amazon. The Crapshooter is available by request to the author in exchange for a dinner invitation.






Tags: Craps
Characterizations: funny, right on!, well written

Comments

  1. Suzy says:

    Jon, welcome to Retrospect! I know that you came for the Dice prompt, but hope you will stay to write on other topics as well. We are a fun and endearing bunch of people.

    I love the introduction to yourself that you have given us, as well as the pdf of the chapter in your book that you link to. I will admit that I skipped over the paragraph about baseball, but savored the rest. The list of lessons that a father should teach his son is hilarious. Thanks for sharing, and I hope everyone buys your book!

  2. John Shutkin says:

    I second exactly what Suzy said, Jon. Not only do I welcome you to Retro — and hope this will be the first of many stories — but I loved the chapter of the story you linked to.

    Your story is indeed funny — no need to be modest on that account. And, as someone who has followed the Red Sox for years (though not always as a fan; I was a NYer and Mets diehard for many years), I really appreciated your brief accounts of their non-glory days during our lifetime, a great deal of which I also remembered.

    But I particularly loved the non-moral of your story: you wanted to show and share with your son this aspect of your life, but you were very unromantic and cleared-eyed about it. As you noted, craps is all about luck, not skill or some sort of worthiness. But, implicit in your story is also the fact that, notwithstanding the illusory nature of craps, your son and you obviously have bonded over it at some level. And such filial bonding, in and of itself (and given that playing craps is not the moral equivalent of robbing banks or killing people), is pretty damn rewarding.

  3. Suzy, I am sorely disappointed by your failure to appreciate the cosmic importance of the Red Sox,. But then again, being a Red Sox fan is a tribal loyalty, passed down from my father to me, from me to my son, and now from my son to his son, akin to religion, but an innocuous religion, it’s a game only (nobody gets killed, or dispossessed, or suffers more than an occasional heart attack during an especially tight 9th inning). And I am well aware that baseball, even Red Sox baseball, is slower than molasses. And upon reflection, the recited events of baseball character building and distress (eg, Bucky Dent’s 1978 home run) are cultural totems that cannot be taught to outsiders. In this respect, I get that the response, “Blech, baseball, I may have to throw up” is certainly justified.

  4. But otherwise, thank you for welcoming me into your troupe, and giving me the chance to sing and dance to a receptive audience.

    Ps: I know craps is deemed a crappy, dangerous, lowlife activity by many, including most of my friends. By me too. I am defensive about this, but I see in it redeeming drama and ritual, and existential moments: compare to Ahab chasing his whale, and/or his whale chasing him.

  5. Marian says:

    Welcome to Retrospect, Jon. As a third-generation Yankee fan (please don’t shoot), I’ll skip the baseball, but enjoyed getting to know you through this story. Hope for many more.

  6. Laurie Levy says:

    What a wonderful story, even though I know nothing about craps. I do get that father-son bond that happens via sports, especially baseball. My father was a Tigers addict, my husband and son Cubs fans. Being a Cubs fan was pretty tough for many years, and by the time the Cubs finally won, my son had been living in Boston and was a Red Sox fan when that was great fun. At any rate, I want you to know how much I enjoyed your story and welcome you to Retrospect.

  7. Terrific tale of father and son, Jonathan! Mostly, of course, as is the author’s prerogative , to tell the story exclusively from your kid’s old man’s POV. I’m relieved — as I was with your short piece — to reach the end and realize that both father and son survived the flight into the sunset and the return.

    I also wanted to congratulate you on delivering a nicely camouflaged and narrativly appropriate run-on sentence that covered the entire history of the Red Sox, climaxing with the ’73 game with the Tigers. Two short sentences bookend your breathless account, kinda like arranged flora to cover the beginning and end of a stretch of the Ho Chi Minh trail. The effect, aside from the Viet reference calls up a game commentator delivering an account of the action.

    I’m interested in your debutante piece. I wrote a historical novel called Gates of Eden (after Dylan’s tune) that begins and ends with the townhouse bombing on 11th street. We’ll have to compare notes on that sometime soon.

    Thanks for the good juice. Catch you on the flip side!

    • Charles, thank you for your good reviews! I am pleased you liked my never-ending sentence on Red Sox failures (current generations grew up with trophies and success and are not acquainted with the bad olde times; they need to suffer more).
      I look forward to your Gates of Eden, and how the townhouse explosion plays into it (an amazing episode after all these years). I read recently that David Gilbert, husband of Kathy Boudin (who escaped the explosion), and was convicted with her in connection with the killing of two police officers following the Brinks robbery in Nyack NY in 1981, has recently been paroled.

  8. Wonderful story and wonderfully written Jon!
    Dice is the perfect first Retro prompt for you I see, you being a real serous crapper. (Forgive if that’s not the right word!!)

    I can best relate to the baseball bits, as my husband is a Yankee fanatic and took our son in diapers to the stadium.

    Welcome to Retro Jon, I’m looking forward to reading more of your tales!

  9. Betsy Pfau says:

    I am out of the country and away from my computer, so late to this party, but let me add my voice here, Jon: welcome to our band of Retro writers! What a great introduction. Though not a native, I’ve lived in Boston (and married a native) for almost 5 decades so I really enjoyed your breathless narrative of the heartbreaking Red Sox.

    You have given your son great rules of etiquette as he grows into manhood and you head into the sunset for the first taste of the craps table. Glad you both came out the other end.

    Very interesting, entertaining piece. I look forward to reading more from you.

  10. You definitely have fired the imaginations of all Retrospectees as to the endless possibilities for the use of parenthetical expressions! And you used the intriguing word obverse, which I don’t believe I know and am going to look up how it may be similar to and different from converse. Thanks for quite a supercharged and fun trip down your memory lane and my own.

    And BTW, don’t we know one another from a certain Castle across from Adams House?

    • Dale Borman Fink you missed a raucously funny group zoom sponsored by the old frat tonight, this one featuring a guy from ’73 who is the king of the advertising world, and has that gift for smooth and understated humor that is a trademark. Are you in the email list?
      As to parentheticals (by the way, I am new to this system and I keep grazing over the word Cancel, and poof, 10 minutes of prose disappears), they permit one to speak in two voices at the same time (out of both sides of one’s mouth as it were), although obviously (like so many good things) they are subject to overuse, and can (on occasion) stop a good sentence in its tracks. In such a case, I insert dashes.

      • Ps: please let me know if I used “obverse” within its boundaries of usability. I agree that it is one tricky word.

        • I can’t make “head nor tail” (double entendre intended) from this but maybe you can? “The converse by limitation is implied by the original but is not (usually) equivalent to it. … The obverse is logically equivalent to the original proposition.”
          Yes I’m on the Lampoon email list, and I enjoyed the romp down Chris Cerf’s career on Sesame St. and elsewhere a couple months ago. The advert session didn’t sound that interesting to me, but I guess I should have taken the converse perspective.

          • Dale,
            I think I’m an “obverse” guy, although the “Converse” guys make better sneakers.
            The differences between “obverse” “converse” “reverse” and “versa visa” put pressure on my brain to keep track of; but there is something a little hostile and twisted in “obverse” which grabbed my ear.

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