Beau Rivage Resort & Casino
30.39° N, 88.88° W
The red-vested valet boys under the champagne lights of the Beau Rivage portes-cochères aren’t expecting the Greyhound. I step off the bus, tipping the valet whatever loose change and Chex-Mix I find in-pocket, telling him there’s an extra five-spot in it if he safely stows, for the time being, the Trapper Keeper which holds all my worldly possessions. Reluctantly, the valet agrees and into the casino I go. The clothes which stick to my skin like a soggy band-aid are disheveled, slept-in, and if you must know, I’m not the same man I was when I pulled these pants on, barely one leg at a time, barely a day ago. Yet here we are: Biloxi. The hour is odd and the moon rings hollow and there is a gravity within the casino. I feel the suckage. Not a magnetic tug as much as a slurp: rainwater spiraling the gutter. Past the grand lobby and into the gaming arena, the origin of the suckage is clear: there is a large mass occupying the Mississippi Stud table. His density has the tendency to pull all other things out of their right place and into his orbit. His face is reddened from having to support his own galaxy; or reddened from a combo of vodka and asphyxiation from his bolo-ties being strung too tight. Pull-up a stool, stranger, he says to me with limited, wheezing, breath. He calls himself Woodrow Cudsworth.
Mississippi’s Beau Rivage is the belle of southern casinos and is as garish as the undercarriage of a tawdry aunt’s skirt: crimson and gold and questions on how did I get here. This Gulf Coast poker emporium was the finest casino between Nevada and Havana back in some long-ago forgotten century. The original Beau Rivage was swept away in 2005 with the thirty-foot storm surge of Hurricane Katrina. Today’s Beau Rivage is a lipsticked cadaver, her drowned soul vacuumed-out with the giblets and extraneous entrails, her heart embalmed and buried beneath our feet, her flesh stuffed with neo-currencies like wi-fi and e-cigarettes and gluten-free lap-dances. This place is a glorified fucking tomb. Gilded Lillies and complementary well-drinks aside, this is a goddamn dive.
Upon entry a visitor might experience sensory-overload from the rows of slot machines standing like shiny Roman legionaries. I grab a gin drink and hide in the lavatory until the vertigo passes. Returning to the floor, I spectate at the craps tables… what strange fun. At the roulette wheel, I put cash down to receive casino chips which I place on every number associated with the date of my divorce. Luck, it seems, is a queer bug, its glow deranged under a heavy lampshade. House rules have no place for karmic desserts. I quickly require more chips. I dally on the casino floor, but not for long as I am drawn to find my way between Texas Hold ‘Em and Single-Deck Blackjack to my predestined destination: Mississippi Stud. This is where Woodrow Cudsworth is holding court and where I am invited to take a seat.
There are many ways to become initiated with the presence of Woodrow. Should you see him sunbathing at his Texarkana country club, you’d first encounter his chimerically splotched belly, bubbling like a sweating meatloaf in the broiler. Should you see him at the cattle market, you might be standing against the wall to allow him to pass. But should you encounter Woodrow Cudsworth seated in his captain’s chair at a poker table, the man becomes greater than the sum of his obscene parts: his oily palms are talcum chalked dry, his belly rests upon his lap, his stubby legs swing from their perch and he seems seven-foot tall.
Harvey Wallbanger! It’s the drink order Woodrow hollers at Carla, the cocktail waitress who left Georgia for Hollywood decades ago, but never got as far as Louisiana. Carla jots down the order and turns to me. Gin & Tonic, I tell her. If I am drinking wells, I might as well stick to common suit. Carla! Woodrow hollers her back, throwing a big dumb thumb in my direction, make his a Harvey Wallbanger too and put it on my tab. Lord willing and creek don’t rise, we’ll make you a proper card-player, Frank, he says to me. I do not know if he knows I know the drinks are complimentary, but already I have misgivings sitting next to Woodrow Cudsworth.
Silvie is the card dealer, who Woodrow introduces to me as the coolest croupier in Biloxi, which does not bode well for anyone at the table. Are you lucky, Frank, Woodrow asks me. I am neither lucky nor am I Frank. Woodrow Cudsworth does not give a damn. He once met the devil (the Devil) on the Missouri River and was offered good fortune in either cards or in women. In exchange for what: his soul, a reach-around hand-job, a 4-star rating on Yelp, Woodrow does not say. But today, Woodrow is known hereabouts as the best goddamn card-player of Mississippi Stud. His secret? Other than my pact with the devil, I take Cialis, he confides in me, so I don’t got to piss every five minutes. It keeps the blood down in my privates, which forces my brain to assume survival mode. It keeps me sharp, Woodrow says. And as hard as Mema’s cast iron skillet, he adds with a wink.
Woodrow Cudsworth leans away to belch forth a fishbone stuck in his gullet. He turns back towards me and opens a golden cigarette case carrying exotic cigarettes and an assembly of antacids and what must be boner pills. You want a little Vitamin C, Frank? Let’s make a deal. I’m good, thanks. Woodrow asks what I know of Cajun Stud, known ‘round these parts as Mississippi Stud. Shit, is my response. Shit’s what he expected. He wants to know how much I have to lose. I shake sixty dollars worth of chips out of my boot.
Woodrow begins his lesson. Here’s the scoop on the game before you: the first thing you need know, Frank, is you need to put your balls on the table. I side-eye the green felt of the table, skeptically, to find it free of genitalia. Woodrow continues, what I’m saying is you need to ante up, Frank. If you want to see cards you have to put something on the line: $15 is enough to catch a sniff. I ante up.
Silvie, our cool croupier, provides two cards down to each player. Woodrow Cudsworth picks my cards up and flips them over. I’m aghast at the invasion of privacy. Who is he to touch my cards? He has his own hand to play. Easy, Frank, Woodrow says. We’re all Eskimo brothers here. No need to hide nudie pics of mom in this family. With Mississippi Stud, we don’t play each other like regular poker, we play the house. This house is run by Silvie and she’s gonna have the same hand whether she knows your cards or not.
Now, you’ve a King and a Three of Hearts. Nothing to be ashamed of. You know where you are, Frank, Woodrow asks me. Biloxi? No, where you are in the game, Frank. You are on 3rd Street, or dumpster alley, as I call it. Here is where you look at your cards and if you have bad cards, you put those dead babies in the dumpster. That Three is practically worthless, Frank, but next to that gentleman, you might want to ante to see what Community Card Silvie blesses our darling little hearts with. You following me, Frank? You understand what you have in hand?
I look at my King and my Three. Yeah. Like Ophelia said, we know what we are, but we don’t know what we may be. Woodrow appears perplexed. Hamlet, I explain with a shrug. Mmhmm, Woodrow hums, and if Hamlet wants an omelette, he’s going to have to break some eggs. You gonna put your huevos on the table, Frank?
I’m willing to pay to see the next card. I ante. Silvie puts down the first community card and it is the Three of Clubs. Well look at that, Woodrow says of my hand, you’ve twin dead babies. On their own, a pair of threes are useless, but they are one matching card away from triplets which will get you a payday. But now we are on Fourth Street, Frank, no place for bootless cowboys. You need something higher than a pair of sixes if you want to break even and as a pretty blue as those two lifeless babies are, they ain’t a pair of sixes. But no one else is sporting a King or a Three card, which means the next Community Card Silvie flips over might just turn your back-alley omelette into steak & eggs. You want to see that next card, Frank?
I’m willing to pay to see the next card. I ante. These chips I have left, though… they’ve dwindled.
Silvie puts down an Eight of Diamonds. Woodrow hollers as this card matches nicely with the hand he is holding. Woodrow says to me, this Eight might as well be a tit on your bull, but Frank, you’ve still got a King with a pair of nobodies. You’re still in it. And now you’re on Fifth Street, Frank, where fortunes are won and lost. You got the sand for this, Frank?
Arguably. I do have enough chips left to meet the ante minimum. I’m tempted to fold, to hold onto these last chips, cash them out and cross the street to one of the eighteen Waffle Houses on the strip for a witching-hour corned-beef & hash laxative.
Fuck it. I ante up.
Silvie draws the last Community Card. It’s a Five of Clubs. My hand is a pathetic pair of Threes. It’s shit. I’m broke. I should have cashed-out in dumpster alley. Hey Frank, Woodrow says to me, at least you learned something of Mississippi. You can lead a stud to a mare, but you can’t expect kittens. You stick with it, Frank, and we might make a stud out of you yet.
Thanks Woodrow, but it’s time to find a new orbit.
Where: Beau Rivage Resort & Casino
What to Order: Not a Harvey Wallbanger from Carla if you are playing your first hand of Mississippi Stud as it will not arrive before you have busted.
What Not to Do: get overzealous about a dead hand just because the asshole next to you sees promise.
Mixology: Harvey Wallbanger is an uppity screwdriver of vodka, orange juice and Galliano.