The Golden Nugget

Weekending with some friends in Vegas. They’re here for a wedding, we’re here to see them (and to crash the wedding block of hotel rooms at the Golden Nugget).  

Is it merely coincidence that the Golden Nugget plays a bit part in my new book, Spifflicated, a family memoir chronicling 25 years of the lives of my father and his parents?

Spifflicated (spif’-luh-kate-ed) adj. Past tense. 1. Drunk; 1920s Jazz-era usage. See also: ossified, zozzled. 2. Having one’s faculties impaired by an excess of alcoholic liquor; intoxicated. 3. To stifle, suffocate, ruin, destroy.

In the 50s and 60s, when she was in her cups, my father’s mother, Victoria, came here often. She fell in love with the Desert Southwest in the winter and spring of 1932 when she and her husband, J. Ellsworth Matson II (Ell) journeyed to the Pacific Northwest from New Orleans on a motorcycle with a sidecar. She was preggers with my father at the time.

Thirty years later, long after she jettisoned Ell, she would return to the desert and Vegas. As a youngster on the High Plains of western Kansas, Victoria would bring me and my siblings decks of cards and other trinkets from her visits here.

Not sure this was my intent, but Victoria became the most compelling character in the book, at least from the author’s perspective. You may think otherwise. Devout, cloistered Catholic Minnesota farm girl meets thrill-seeking, ne’er-do-well college dropout. Adventure and mayhem ensue.

Except they were both alcoholic and blindly unaware, which led to a deeply-imbedded layer of dysfunction that would impact our family for generations. Victoria and Ell made heart-wrenching, life-changing, irreversible choices and decisions.

Because alcoholism is a malady of the mind, actions, choices and decisions become the ballgame. Something’s not quite right with the emotional framework. It’s not that they weren’t smart enough, we simply had yet to evolve as a culture and society. The culture stigmatized alcoholism as a moral weakness. It was not a subject for polite conversation. For any conversation.

There is a popular theory in recovery that in order to fully recover from the effects of alcoholism, the alcoholic must replace the obsessive behaviors in their life with their spiritual opposites. Many believe without such spiritual help, true recovery is impossible.

So here I am, two generations later, in the Golden Nugget in Vegas. I visualize this place in the 1950s, brass tacked leather upholstery, burnished metal, mechanical, penny and nickel one-armed bandits. I see a color-coordinated, well-appointed, woman in her 40s, at a blackjack table, smoking a Marlboro. The butts in the ashtray dappled with bright red lipstick. A Manhattan in a tumbler rests on a cocktail napkin at her elbow, maraschino cherry stabbed through with a bamboo skewer, marinating within.   

In the same exact physical space where Victoria would drink and obsess about two cards that add up to 21, the first son of her only son, 25 years sober, wanders past the bars, around the blackjack tables, in desperate search of a Grande Dark Roast, No Room (Starbucks caps). Obsessed?

Twenty-five years removed from the same compulsions that riddled my grandmother’s mind. Two generations later, when it’s my turn, that evolution has occurred. There is more knowledge, information, and insight. We understand more.

Coincidence? I don’t think so. Maybe I was supposed to write this book.

Perhaps I’m here for a reason. That may be the golden nugget.