Make that a few more minutes. After only one beer, it’s past 4 a.m., and Joey’s about ready to retreat to the Ocean Club and call it a night. Yet as we wander toward the Hilton, I’m beginning to realize the location of his condo could be a problem. Joey’s still got a thick roll of cash in his pocket, and I can almost smell his denim starting to smoke from the burden. John knows he should steer his buddy home, but there’s an unspoken bond that guys — especially those who can swap stories from elementary school — often adhere to: Don’t preach. Don’t act like his mother or his wife or friggin’ Dr. Phil. Just go along for the ride. Then when he screws up, call him an idiot and take him home.
Twenty minutes later, inside the Hilton, heads turn as Joey stops mid-hand to literally jog from the blackjack table — same one he played on earlier — to join us at craps, where John is doing considerably better than he did with cards. This time around, Joey is not as blessed.
“Can I borrow 75?” he says. “I gotta double down.”
“Sure. Then we’re going, okay?”
“Okay, okay.” Joey trots back to the table. “That’s the fastest I’ve ever seen him move,” John tells me. “Joey’s gonna get in heat soon. I have to leave or he’ll take all my money.”
Two hands are dealt, then Joey returns empty-handed, down about $650 on the night — toll money compared to what he used to blow, but these days, a loss is a loss. John seizes the chance to scoop up his remaining chips and hustle his buddy away from the siren call of the cards and the ringing of slots, leading him out to the Boards for an exhausted, drunken short walk home.
“If you could sneak in and take that grand without her knowing, you would,” John says of Joey’s wife, and slugs his pal on the shoulder with a laugh. “I know you would!”
Joey chuckles. He knows the old Joey would make some fumbling attempt to slip past his sleeping wife and steal his earlier winnings, just to take them back to the tables. He’d likely blow it all, too. But there’s so much more to do with those ducats in Atlantic City now, so many more nights out on the horizon, within stumbling distance from his condo. Above all else, there’s a certainty that men have grappled with since long before the first casino arrived on this strip of the Jersey Shore.
“My wife,” Joey says, “would kill me.”