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Soul Searching In Las Vegas

Many people think souls are lost in Las Vegas. Oddly enough, it was there that mine was found.

I made a life stride on my last trip, with no intention of meeting The Buddha. I went to Vegas to relax in the desert sun, play, and escape for a week. Instead, I learned a lot about life, and what was wrong with mine.

Ultimately, I lost money. It was the best money I ever spent. In exchange, I was led to a hell of an epiphany.

Across the casino floor I quietly watched the dealer with the exotic, dark looks as he skillfully dealt the blue and white cards with a wash of arrogance. His cool distance charged the air in a place where surely he'd seen a cast of characters pass night after night, some vacationing fun-seekers like myself, others crude drunks and sore losers. Perhaps he'd also seen his share of high rollers who believed that playing with black chips was a license to abuse. Whatever the case, he commanded my attention and I sat down to play Caribbean Stud Poker at Nico's* table somewhere around two o'clock in the morning, boldly placing three crisp twenty dollar bills on a green felt table, fully prepared to lose them.

At first I had small flirtations with fortune--small pairs on which the dealer qualified and paid. I sat back, smiled, and began to have fun. Then Nico dealt me a flush--my first ever at poker-and I won the seventy-five dollar progressive bonus in addition to the standard 4 to 1 pay out. The real fun started, however, when the flush immediately gave way to a straight--another first for me--and I laughed senselessly as my husband stared at me in disbelief.

"What do you have?" he demanded from across the table. All eyes at the table were upon me. The only response I could manage was a crazed giggle (thankfully there is no bluffing involved in Caribbean Stud) and I could feel the blood rush to my cheeks and my ears as I burned red with embarrassment from the attention. My laughter reached the point of intoxication when Nico dealt my next hand and peeked at my cards before passing them to me. He looked at me and shrugged as if to say, "Not bad." Unwilling to bet on a hand I hadn't seen, despite my run of luck, I looked at my cards. I held a pair of sevens. Not bad indeed the way my cards had been running. I placed my bet and Nico produced yet another qualifying hand, doling out more chips before me. The streak seemed almost perverse. I walked away from that table that night like a giddy teenager, having had a wonderful time and winning one hundred sixty dollars over my initial bet. For that moment I thought the money was all I had won.

I later realized that there had been an added bonus in watching Nico at work. There was a style and fluidity in his every motion-a speed, grace, and ease unlike any other dealer I'd ever watched in Vegas. I burned that image into my mind to bring back to the office that had become the source of drudgery in my life. Nico was good at his job and it was evident in both action and attitude. Watching him inspired me to realize that no matter how bad the circumstances at work, I, too, was good at what I did and my best defense was to emulate Nico's grace, style and confidence in order to rise above the rat race that I called my job. My goal was to let that image be my focus at work.

In discussing this with a friend after my return, she joked that it had seemed as if I had had a religious experience in Vegas. Perhaps I had.

I don't mean to imply that gambling is an elixir; there are too many real life tragedies lining the Strip that prove how grossly inaccurate such a statement would be. But perhaps for those tangled up in the muck of life, there is cause to stand back and evaluate what has been traded in the process of "getting ahead."

Months prior to my trip, I had complained to my boss that there was no sense of teamwork in our office. He flatly said I should just accept that we would never have teamwork in our office. His response saddened me at the time. Deep down I believed that our office could perform as a team if we had a coach who demanded it. There was no such coach. We were without the necessary leadership to perform as a team.

Upon my return from Las Vegas, however, I confronted this reality with a new viewpoint. I removed from my bulletin board a motivational quote about teamwork, finally acknowledging that this was a goal that would never be reached in my office. Instead of mourning an unfulfilled ideal, I tossed the quote.

I remembered that image of Nico etched in my memory. Grace and fluidity. I saw and heard the cards snap from his long, capable fingers. A feeling of strength fell over me. It was just as possible to win the race on my own as it was to win as a team. I just had to show up ready for the game, do the best job I could, and be confident in my ability. Just like Nico. And I've come to understand that in that attitude, there is tremendous power.

I decided to replace the quote about teamwork on my bulletin board with a photograph of Las Vegas by night--it remains there just to remind me that epiphanies can happen when we are least looking for them -- and in some of the most unexpected places.

*Not his real name.*

Maria Troia was born in New York City and raised on Long Island where she attended Hofstra University, earning a BA in English and an MS in Secondary Education. Her poetry and essays have appeared in various publications including Voices in Italian Americana, Italian-Americana, and Capper's. Her interests include rose gardening, meditation and Eastern philosophy, travel, knitting, bicycling, and music, especially jazz and blues. She is married and has just completed her first novel.

E-mail Maria at:

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