He weighed an easy four hundred pounds. More weekday afternoons than not, he'd pull a chair up to one of the video slot machines, order a Diet Coke, and while away hours seeking that big score.
There was a lock box under the bar with a couple hundred dollars and a scrap of paper to record payouts. We were instructed to only pay the people we knew, all others would be told that the machines were “For Amusement Only”.
Periodically there would be word that a bar down the street had been raided and shut down, so there was always a tension involved in these transactions. Slot machines in bars seemed like a remnant of another, more free-wheeling, and lawless time; the fact that it was illegal to gamble on them now was both ludicrous and somehow sad.
As hours crawled by, Eric would rise only to relieve himself or to cash out his winnings, which would immediately be fed back into the machine. I'd bring him another Diet every once in a while. He never said much except for a short greeting and farewell, there was a hovering air of resignation and shame to him. He'd slump forward slowly, closer and closer to the flickering, spinning screen in front of him, the only movement that of his fingers urging the cherries, plums, and dollar bills to align in his favor.
Word was that he was a dispatcher with American United Taxi, which had it's offices a block and a half south on Western. The rare times that others came in during his sessions, they would always greet him warmly. There was a lot to his life that I wasn't privy to, just this vice that he attended to as a zealot would to his god.
As with most gambling set-ups, the house would always win. The few big scores invariably offset by the multiple losses, calculated to assume that the player could never walk away, never quit while ahead. The few conversations I ever overheard involved recaps of close calls and lost chances.
He died shortly before I left the job at the bar. Heart failure, if I'm not mistaken. Rarely was there anything more false than that "For Amusement Only" sign, proudly displayed on a machine that sold nothing but misery and dashed dreams.
This is an excerpt from Dive.