Place Yer Bets! … or How to be an Amateur Blackjack Dealer

5 Jan

WHO: Rachel’s House Party
WHAT: Blackjack Dealer
WHERE: San Jose
HOW MUCH: $20/hour
WHY: Money

Open table

STORY: New Year’s Eve, 2011, I get a gig dealing blackjack for an ambiguous NYE party. The post reads “don’t need to be super experienced, just know the basics.” Just the basics—music to my ears. I named my price ($20/hour), and in a matter of minutes was hired via email by “Rachel.”

Carless, I borrowed a friend’s for the day, and on December 31 drove from Oakland to the enigmatic South Bay. Before that, though, there were several things I needed to do: 1) Take a shower, 2) Iron a dirty black shirt, 3) Learn how to deal blackjack.

Hours before the gig, I was still in my red thermals, sitting in a giant pile of laundry, and had no idea what the basic rules of blackjack were, no less how to deal the game. What to do in such situations? Call my brother, of course.

“Hi Danny.” Hey. “I need you to teach me how to deal blackjack.” Okay. My brother is not a gambler nor is he a blackjack specialist, but he is quick. He’s also the guy who built my 7th grade bottle rocket, painted my 9th grade student body posters, and snuck into a house in the middle of the night to retrieve my belongings. So I know he’s used to this shit. I quickly spread laptop, chips and several decks of cards on my studio floor, and for the next two hours my brother teaches me, via google video chat, the order of dealing, what to do for double down’s, splits, insurance, etc. Having dated a poker pro, I already knew how to shuffle cards (face down and toward you) and cut chips. But by far the hardest, most nerve-wracking part of blackjack is quite simply… adding to 21.

Close companions know I have the mathematical skills of a 10-year-old, a stupid 10-year-old. So on the way to San Jose, I dictate basic addition to myself: Five + Two + Seven = FOURTEEN. Ten + Nine + Two = TWENTY-ONE . Nine + Five + Eight equals … Oh crap, stupid eight! I hate you!

Chandelier of Dreams

I arrive at the destination, an average one-story suburban home, and upon entering meet Rachel, the Craigslist woman. “Hi, are you Rachel?” Yes! I am! But I’m not the Rachel you’re looking for. A stout Caucasian woman streaks down the hallway with one large curler in her bangs. Hi! I’m Rachel! Are you Christine? Why, yes I am. How cute. Rachel #2 takes me on a quick tour of the home, which is decorated ceiling to floor with casino paraphernalia. She introduces me to my station: a blackjack table measuring 1 by 1 and 1/2 feet, accompanied by an automatic card shuffler that spits cards across the room. Also very cute. In the backyard, I meet the men of the house, two young-adult types anxiously counting out chips: red, white and blue. One of them is Rachel’s husband, and in addition to being the end of the bloody year, it’s also his birthday, his 30th birthday. I try to hide my disgust (inner monologue: Oh gawd, thirty, yuck, pyoo, ick, gross), and congratulate him with my signature “service” smile. Looks a little like this.

Steve, Craps Enthusiast

After the chips are counted, I go back to my station where I’m joined by an older gentleman wearing a black button-up I can only describe as a “confetti” shirt. This is Steve, the craps dealer. He, too, is not a real dealer. But he does get free rooms at the Wynn because his girlfriend is a video slots vixen. He also likes shouting things like “Winner! Winner! Chicken dinner!” and other classic casino sayings. I make the mistake of asking Steve how to play craps, or what should really be called, THE WORLD’S MOST COMPLICATED GAME.

Thankfully, the guests begin to arrive. They consist of mostly 20/30’s cusps, some with kids in tow, some tacky bump-and-grinders. Each player gets a bag of fake plastic chips with no actual money on the line. I deal for several hours, methodically and slowly, so I have at least 5-10 seconds to add up their cards. Mostly, I keep quiet and pray they add their own damn cards. But as the night wears on and the drinks get drunken, more and more players ask “What is that? What do I have?” Ayeee-uhhh know that 8+6=14, and that there are three 7’s in 21 and two 7’s in 14. If another 7 comes, I can be sure it’s 21. And even if I’m not, the stakes are so very, very low, it really doesn’t matter.

At the end of the night, Rachel #2 walks me to the door and thanks me. “I’ll definitely refer you if I hear of any other positions,” she says. I smile at her graciously because I know, even in low stakes games, a girl still needs a few bucks in her pocket.



24 Dec

WHO: America’s Children Holiday Parade
WHAT: Float Holder
WHERE: Oakland
HOW MUCH: $15/hour
WHY: Money

Christopher the Penguin is a medium-sized balloon float. Due to his rotund shape, he is easier to handle than other balloons with more appendages.

STORY: This was the first job I got from awe-inspiring “Gigs” section on Craigslist. The post was advertised as “Float Holder” and I was hired via email. The day of the parade, I walked just a few blocks to downtown Oakland, where I increasingly suspected something was amiss: van-full of children holding bronze instruments; bus-full of baton-waving teenagers; gymnasium teeming with elves and old people wearing candy-striped T-shirts. Ohhhhhh-kay.

After wandering around for half an hour, I finally found the elusive “woman in the purple shirt” we were instructed to meet. We were clothed with our own purple T, given protective gloves, and led outside where we met (ta da!) Christopher the Penguin!

Our job, if we were so inclined to accept, would be to guide Christopher down seven blocks in downtown Oakland on behalf of a children’s organic food company. The company also had its own mascot, Mr. Mashup, which was basically a squeeze bottle with a rainbow on it.

Fast forward 2.5 hours, the purple-shirted float holders and I are hanging onto Christopher via rope, waiting for our turn to walk the strip. We are number 156 in line. Another 30 and we make it to the front. Immediately, a lanky, frizzy-haired woman greets us with a shrill “LOOK HAPPY!” And it becomes very clear very quickly, this woman don’t play. She growls and circles us, looks us up and down, makes us spin the penguin around and around. … Soon enough she approaches me, snatches the rope out of my hand and yells, “Higher! Higher! This is a balloon people. It’s supposed to float high!”

See Christopher @ 38:53

After the intense drill practice, we were released onto Broadway Street, led by a few designated “wavers” and of course, Mr. Mashup. The street itself was ashy and overcast, but more importantly, it was lined on both sides by eager-eyed children, peering at us confused and hungry for entertainment. “Come on guys, everyone smile, you’re on TV!” someone yelled. I happened to be holding the rope attached to Christopher’s frontal area, so every time we approached a low-hanging branch or streetlight, Christopher would be unceremoniously lowered onto us and I would be crushed under Christopher’s latex crotch. I’m so happy this is going to be televised.

Preceded by the ever-popular Snoopy and followed by Clifford the Big Red Dog, Christopher wasn’t exactly the most popular attraction in the parade. Still, it was kind of amazing to see so many children in downtown Oakland. For whatever reason, all the adults seemed to be elsewhere, or camouflaged in the background, and it was as if kids had taken over the street—the same strip that had been home to Occupy Oakland and its tumultuous events just weeks prior. Afterwards, we were led to a deflating station near Lake Merritt, where I chuckled to myself about the past 4 hours. Never had I seen so many children in one place at one time, and no less in downtown Oakland. It appeared that as long as Garfield, Strawberry Shortcake, and other outdated, recycled mascots from the 80s were marching down Broadway, the children were going to have their run of the town. And this shit was going to be televised too. Well done, children of Oakland. Well done.


22 Dec

I'll order a glass of water and free saltines, please.

I’m at that very special age where all of my friends and colleagues are having some form of a nervous breakdown, psychological or otherwise. Not one to be left out, I decided I also wanted to have a crisis, and that came in the form of being absolutely, and totally broke. What we all know as NO JOKE BROKE.

And so, one day, when the existence of NO JOKE BROKE became unbearable, I turned to my old friend Craigslist for help, only to make the discovery of a lifetime. The Craigslist “Gigs” section. Filled with short-term work, often one-time events, this “Gigs” section was perfect for someone with few bankable or technical skills (moi), and required predominantly the ability to work on your feet and learn fast (I could do that).

Thus began my escapade into the gig world, where you could show up at a place and really have no idea what to expect. (See penguin float above). While I’m tremendously grateful to find any work that pays, so many odd and surreal things happen and I feel I should share them with you through this blog.




This blog is also a way for me to cope with the fact that I am holding a giant penguin float (see above). Enjoy.

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