Tag Archives: Memories

The Last Harrah

5 Apr

Harrah’s Casino in Tunica is closing. There are probably a lot of reasons for that, but I am not here to write about the economic condition of the gaming industry. I am here to write about why I am saddened by the news. It may sound strange, but I have great memories of Harrah’s Casino in Tunica.Harrahs

I have been going to Tunica with my family for many years. Most of that time was with my parents and my aunt and uncle. We have all liked the comped rooms, comped food and the gambling that you have to do to get those things. We have also liked the laughs on the drive down and the good times when we arrived.

Early on, we stayed and played at other casinos, but, at some point, we settled on Harrah’s as our stomping grounds. As I write this, I can picture being there with all of them.

Playing video poker at a machine next to my dad.

Checking on my mom and finding out that she won a few hundred dollars at the penny slots.

Sitting in the third base seat of the Blackjack table while Johnny, my uncle, sat at first base. We liked playing the $25 tables and watch the green chips come and go. When he was losing, he would buy more chips so my aunt would not know how much he had lost. Of course, she always knew. I must admit that I got a little nervous when my parents came around to check on how we were doing.

My uncle passed away a couple of years ago. He fought cancer for a decade, and Harrah’s was a place where he could get away from the struggle and have fun for a while. Each time we walked in, he said, “I am getting well.” That is the reason we went to Tunica so often.

I always drove and would drop everyone off at the front door. I can see everyone walking through the front doors and knew where I could find them once I entered the casino. Everyone would be at their games. I always made my way to Blackjack but would stop at a slot machine first. The movie themed ones were my favorite. Star Trek. Ghostbusters. If it was a movie I liked, then they were guaranteed to get my money.

Food has also been one of the great things about Harrah’s. There was nothing like eating a hoe cake at Paula Deen’s buffet. It was upstairs, and, honestly, the upstairs has always been my favorite part of the casino. Quiet. Away from the smoke floating around the tables. I could always find an oasis of calm up there.

A few years ago, I took my girlfriend, who is now my wife, to Harrah’s with my parents. She got to experience all of the things that I have written about. However, she never got to meet Johnny. Our trip to Tunica was great, but my favorite part was sitting and talking with her in the hotel lobby. That beat winning a$500 chip at Blackjack.

Not long ago, my parents and I went to Tunica. We did not stay at Harrah’s, but we gambled there for a while. We did not know then that it would soon close. However, I still got a nostalgic feeling. I missed having to old gang talking about when we were going to head up to the buffet or hiding how much we had lost.

The last time I went to Harrah’s with Johnny, it was a guy’s trip. Me, my dad and him. This time Johnny wanted to eat in the steakhouse. My aunt and mom would never agree to eat there. We gambled enough to get a free meal and got the biggest steaks they had. We ate, talked and laughed.

That is what I will miss about Harrah’s Casino in Tunica. The talking and the laughing. We went to gamble, but we really went to spend time together.

“If You Could Read My Mind” There’s No Telling What You Would Find

24 Dec

The other day I caught the ending of “Wonderland”, a movie starring Val Kilmer. It chronicles the life of John Holmes, porn legend, and his possible role in a murder/robbery. The ending is the best part of the movie. Holmes and his girlfriend are parked in the desert discussing the future. He then takes off while the movie tells us what the future held for them and others portrayed in the film. All of that is great, but the best part is that Gordon Lightfoot’s “If You Could Read My Mind” was playing over the scene. This was one of my favorite songs as a kid and like it to this day. I even saw Lightfoot in concert just to hear this one song live.

When I was young, my favorite songs were ones I could visualize. I could see the guy trying to frantically check out of the “Hotel California”. I could also see the car going down Interstate 40 in “By the Time I Get to Phoenix”. However, nothing hit my imagination like “If You Could Read My Mind”. I know that I took things too literally and missed the deeper meanings of the lyrics, but I still can’t listen to these songs without watching the childhood created movie in my head.

Obviously. Lightfoot’s song is about a love that has run its course.

I don’t know where we went wrong

But the feelins’ gone

And I just can’t get it back.

See. he spells it out plainly. But, my child’s imagination focused on other lines.

If I could read your mind love

What a tale your thoughts could tell.

Just like the paperback novel.

The kind that drugstores sell.

I could actually see a woman buying a paperback in a drugstore. Then, there was the part about the movie.

I’d walk away like a movie star

Who gets burned in a three-way script.

Enter number two.

A movie queen to play the scene

Of bringing all the good things out in me.

Again, I could see a movie set where actors are playing the roles that Lightfoot is describing. However. the best part was in the beginning of the song.

Just like an old-time movie

‘Bout a ghost in a wishin’ well.

In a castle dark or a fortress strong

With chains upon my feet,

You know that ghost is me.

And I will never be set free

As long as I’m a ghost you can’t see.

This part was easy to imagine because I had seen exactly what he was describing. I loved watching Abbott and Costello movies, and all of them were basically the same. Abbott played the straight man to Costello’s bumbling character. But, one movie was different. In 1946, they made “The Time of Their Lives”, about star-crossed lovers killed during the American Revolution. Their ghosts are trapped on an estate, specifically to a well, until they can prove their innocence. Each time I heard “If You Could Read My Mind” I thought about Abbott and Costello and the ghost movie that they made.

I have often wondered if this was something I conjured up, or did Gordon Lightfoot use the movie as his inspiration? How weird would it be if a 1940s Abbott and Costello movie led to a hit song about dying love in the 1970s? I have no idea if Lightfoot ever saw the movie, but I like to think that I figured out his secret and was able to read his mind, to paraphrase from the song. If not then I know that this song and others did what good songs are meant to do. They allowed me to enter my imagination and take what I wanted from them. From “If You Could Read My Mind” I took Abbott and Costello; combined them with a woman buying a paperback from a drugstore; and put them all on a movie set to my own made up studio where I was the star.

Childhood Memories – Elvis Presley

30 Nov

When I was six years old, my dad came home with an announcement. Elvis Presley was performing in a nearby town, and, through a friend of my dad’s, we had gotten front row seats. I remember only bits and pieces of the night, but this is my version of the events.

As we walked into the concert venue, a basketball arena on a college campus, I noticed bright lights and a haze in the air. I assume this was the clouds of smoke from cigarettes burning throughout the arena, but it could also be the effects of my imagination. There was a bustle of excitement as we got to our seats. I remember thinking how high the stage was and wondered what would happen if Elvis fell off. My parents, my 16-year-old brother and I sat and waited for the show to start. However, it wasn’t long before a woman offered my brother $100 to trade seats. $100? In the mid-1970s? That was a fortune. She explained that she had been kissed by Elvis numerous times and wanted to be in position to get kissed that night. My brother got the money, and my dad moved to her seat.

Soon, the lights went down and screams could be heard throughout the arena. I don’t know who the screamers were, but they must have been disappointed when a comedian came on stage. He told jokes that I don’t remember. However, I got the sense that no one was really listening to him. I couldn’t take my eyes off of him. In fact, I remember him more than I do Elvis. The comedian finished his show, and the energy of anticipation returned to the building.

Then, I remember the room being dark as this cool music began to play. As it got louder, Elvis walked onto the stage. I was totally disappointed. I thought he would come out in a white suit like he was famous for. Instead, it was blue.

The suit must have thrown off my interest because I can’t remember much of what happened after that. I waited until he sang “Hound Dog”, my favorite song, and sang along with him. My lack of memories about his performance could be attributed to several things I reckon. Maybe it was my age. Maybe I was sleepy. But, it was probably the women that were around. Instead of watching Elvis up on that high stage, I watched women hide behind our seats and try to jump onto the stage when the guards weren’t looking. There was a bunch of them, but they all got tackled in midair and sent back to their seats. However, that is nothing compared to what happened later.

Toward the end of the concert, Elvis was handed a bunch of scarves to pass out. Suddenly, my mom, who is very reserved, walked up to the stage to get a scarf. She arrived before anyone else, and Elvis handed her a green scarf to match her outfit. As she turned, other women were rushing the stage. One woman stopped; grabbed my mom’s scarf; and tried to steal it. In front of her sons, aged 6 and 16, my mom got into a fight at an Elvis concert. She struggled and clawed with the woman until two college coed’s helped wrestle the woman away. In return, my mom gave them the scarf. She reasoned that she got to talk to him anyway, but she has regretted that decision ever since. After the fight, Elvis left the stage, and we headed out with my mom yelling at my brother for not helping. He was yelling back that he was too embarrassed to help and couldn’t believe that she abandoned me. We looked back to see a mob of women knock over someone in a wheelchair in the hopes that Elvis would come back. All I remember next is the continuous announcement, “Ladies and Gentlemen! Elvis has left the building!”

My next memory is waiting at the car for my dad to arrive and watching a helicopter take off. I have always wondered if Elvis was on that flight. Then, I threw up.

Because of that experience, I have always had a fascination with Elvis and his life. I have visited Graceland several times and went to a concert during Elvis week. Elvis sang on the screens as his original band played. For the first time, I got a sense of what the people at my first Elvis concert felt. I have been to many shows, and a dead Elvis gave a more riveting performance than 90% of the alive acts I have seen.

I recently read “Last Train to Memphis” and “Careless Love”, a two-volume biography of Elvis, and found the time when I saw him very interesting. The comedian had gotten booed off of several stages for making racist jokes and not being funny. But, Elvis loved him and refused to let him go. This was also a time when Elvis was in terrible health. Most people thought he was fat, but that is not the case. Drug abuse had caused massive constipation and inflammation of his intestines. At the same time, his abdomen muscles were weakening. Elvis’ “fat” was actually his intestines bulging out through weak muscles. In this kind of condition, Elvis refused to record any usable material. The only way he could make a living was by touring. He would go on short tours to smaller venues, an assurance that he would sell out. Then, he would rest for a couple of weeks and go on another short tour.

Elvis died a couple of years after I saw him perform, and I realize that I saw a shadow of the man. That’s what fascinates me. He hypnotized a crowd with a sickly, poor performance. Women, including my mom, were going nuts over an unhealthy, bloated drug addict who couldn’t remember the words to his own songs. If he had that kind of charisma at the end, then what must he have been like at the height of his powers. I wish I could have seen him then because he was truly the “King”.