Avatar of Poisonous Thought | Revisiting a Rage I Thought I had Put Behind Me
If there is a lifelong cross I bear, it is that of my temper. More friendships cast aside, more professional bridges burned, more people I think fondly of who want nothing to do with me are a result of me losing my shit in anger than almost any other factor. That said, I’ve come a long distance from allowing my emotions to get away from me.
Which is why, when I went from zero (calm, sense of humor, looking for fun ways to dialogue) to sixty (inches from stomping someone’s skull into a pulpy Blumhouse mess), it shook me up. To be frank, it has become so uncommon for me to go to the seeing red, damn the consequences place, that when it happened, I was more embarrassed than anything else. Also grateful the team at the casino had my back.
It was a Saturday afternoon in the casino. I decided to take some time to snap some photos of the place in order to convince my GM to let me do some grassroots internet marketing to drum up some new business. I went over to the west end of the bar to take a long shot from bar level. Seated alone on the cap was a guy, mid-forties, bald in that I choose baldness and shave my head sort of way, middle-eastern in complexion. He was in front of a poker machine but was not playing. He had an empty pint glass that had had beer in it thirty minutes ago but hadn’t been refilled.
“What are you doing that for?”
“Oh, hey! I’m just trying to get some promotional shots of the place to encourage more people like you to come in, play some slots, have a drink, and relax here.”
Yes. When managing the casino floor, being upbeat and encouraging return patronage is a part of the gig.
He stared across the bar.
“Montana is much better to gamblers than Vegas is.”
“Really? Never been to Montana. Why do you suppose that’s the case?”
“In Montana, they don’t have all these whores,” and he indicated the two female bartenders on the far side of the bar, “serving drinks.”
What? Did I hear that right?
He continued. “And all these niggers in here. And the whole city is run by Jews.”
It’s rare to render me speechless. I mean, incredibly rare. His words, soaked in malevolence and disgust, caught me off guard. This was definitely not what I expected. Unsure of how to respond, I stammered, “Excuse me?”
“It’s run by the Jews. This place is owned by Jews who only want to steal your money. These things,” he poked his finger on the screen of the video poker game in front of him. “These things are made by Jews to thieve money from people. Jews own everything around here.”
His tone was measured and quiet but his ideas were screaming in my face. I felt that Irish and Southern anger start to simmer, my neck getting hot. I knew from experience my neck was filling with blood and it was turning a dark red as is the indicator that I’m getting truly pissed.
“Wow. That’s some hefty anti-Semitism you got there, buddy.”
“Who owns this place?”
“Well, Stations is owned by Italians.”
“Same as Jews.”
I could feel my sense of humor shut down. So much poisonous thought in such a short time, delivered in a monotone, matter-of-fact manner, was more than my brain could process. I tried to steer things out of these racist weeds.
“Well, it sounds like you don’t care much for Vegas. I’m from Chicago. Chicago has a rough reputation and, sure, there are bad things about the place but after thirty years there, I can say that there are also amazing and wonderful things about Chicago. I imagine Vegas is the same: some bad things, some good things, and you get to choose which you want to look at.”
“Not like small towns. Women are friendly. People are friendly. These whores don’t give a shit about you here. All the foreigners here stink up the place.”
My balance was starting to wobble. “Oh, I’ve been in plenty of small towns. I figure people are the same everywhere — like Vegas, everyone can be a selfish, intolerant asshole or a kind soul and it just depends on who they want to be on any given day.”
“You worship money, right?”
“Yes, you do. Or you worship being liked by people.”
“You worship Al Capone. Jews and niggers making people play these things and stealing their money and wah wah wah, blah, blah, blah…”
His words became just noise as I started seeing red creep around the edges of my eyes. I knew this feeling. The Hulk rage was taking over. My left eye twitched, my hands were curling into fists, and I wanted more than anything to slam this fucker’s face into the bar. I knew that I was walking a thin line between keeping my job or jumping on this guy like a rabid chimpanzee. It had been decades since I had felt this violent and, like an alcoholic staring into a shot glass of rye, it was both enticing and horrifying.
“Why are you looking into my eyes,” he demanded. “If I’m such a loser, why don’t you watch those faggots playing football instead? Are you a faggot? You’re a faggot.”
And his use of that word broke the spell I was under for just a moment.
Did he just call me a faggot?
In all of his racism and sexism and xenophobia, it was the addition of the dumbest insult he could muster, as if by calling me a faggot would be the height of offense, that the utterance of the word almost made me laugh. I mean, this was an over-the-top cocktail of intolerance.
“With all due respect, you have a very narrow view of humanity that I do not share and I think it’s best we discontinue this conversation. I hope you have a better day than you’re having but I’m going to go do my job.” And I walked away.
“Fuck you,” he half-sang and flipped me off.
I quickly walked to the security podium. The officer on duty could see I was cranked up about something. “Do me a favor, Okay? Keep an eye on the guy at the end of the bar. He’s not drinking anymore, he’s not gambling and if he talks to another guest the way he just spoke to me, it’s gonna go bad.”
As I was saying this, doing my damnedest to keep my cool, he approached me from behind.
“He called me a loser. I have a room here and this man called me a loser.”
I turned a bit too quickly, clenching my fists at my sides. “Sir. I’m finished talking to you. I’m going to continue going about my business and I suggest you do the same. I did not call you a loser nor would I despite your grotesque views of the world. Please,” and I looked him dead in the eyes as if to let him see that he was on a precipice he did not want to leap from, “Please do not follow me.” I walked away again.
He followed me.
I was teetering on the edge of a berserker rage broadcasting to my brain that the only relief would come if I broke his jaw.
I turned once more not quite knowing if I was going to deck him. “Dude. If you say another word, I’m having you escorted off the property.”
“You called me a loser…”
I exploded. “And you called me a faggot and I want you the fuck off my fucking casino floor NOW!” At that moment, another security officer rounded the corner. She had never seen me angry — I’m known by some on staff as “Buff Ned Flanders” and being upbeat and positive is my go-to approach — so she tapped me on the shoulder and said “I have this.”
“Thank you. Want him gone. Want him evicted from the hotel and off the property.” I walked out the door, shaking with anger, and bummed a cigarette from one of my engineers.
Once I calmed down (and this asshole was booted from the place) I was filled with embarrassment. I had lost my mind in the heat of outrage and almost lost my job for beating another grown man. I spent the rest of the day going over and over the exchange, trying to figure out ways I could’ve handled it better. I found out he had been staring at one of the bartenders for the better part of forty minutes and she was creeped out but hadn’t said anything.
One guest who was witness to the back and forth at the bar, let me know he was a security officer at another property. I asked him how he would’ve handled it and his sum up was that no matter what I did or said, this guy was looking for a beating from somebody. I just happened to engage him so he went for it.
Later that evening, I was talking to the incoming manager, a more experienced veteran of Vegas.
“‘In Montana, they don’t have all these whores,’ and he indicated the two female bartenders on the far side of the bar, serving drinks,” I recapped.
“Gone. As soon as I heard that, I would get him out of here.”
It was the one thing that hadn’t occurred to me. In trying to wrestle with my own demons and do my best to reasonably have a dialogue with a racist/sexist/xenophobic/homophobe, it hadn’t even dawned on me to boot him as soon as he started his game.
“Oh.” I said. “Thank you for saying that. I forgot I could do that.”
I figure people are the same everywhere — like Vegas, everyone can be a selfish, intolerant asshole or a kind soul and it just depends on who they want to be on any given day. I truly believe that. I know there have been plenty of instances in my life when I chose to be an asshole. I’m trying to make the other choice more often than not.
Some days are harder than others to make that choice.