My fellow roulette players gawk as I lay my sad black chip on the worst possible square. I’m laying a wager on “00,” betting that everyone’s chips will sink into the casino’s gaping hole. Tonight is Tisha B’av, and while my table mates look on with baffled expressions, I’m gambling that the worst will happen.
Sure, I’ll win if the little ball hits that dreaded integer, but then they all lose. The fellow patiently betting “red even,” the woman ardently playing “lucky number seven,” and the retiree tossing my social security tax on “black,” all their chips will be swept away by Jimmy’s gloved hand if my “00” falls. It’s a bit mean-spirited, my pessimistic bet.
My favorite Caesar’s dealer observes my typically boisterous self dourly hunched over the high-backed leather chair. Instead of my usual purple chips (the color chosen long ago by a lucky girlfriend), I asked Jimmy to give me the somber black ones. And instead of gleefully spreading bets all over the board the way I usually do, I am grimly, single-mindedly, betting “00”.
It’s an unlucky time. I remember the heavy feeling in the air as we all trooped in our slippered feet to shul for kinnes, the moment weighed down by thousands of years of gloomy history. Now, I wouldn’t even have known it was Tisha B’av had it not been mentioned in a chain tehillim text I received this afternoon. I don’t feel a connection to the day, never did. I don’t miss sitting in a dark smelling room that stinks of unwashed armpits, wishing for Alenu to happen already so I could go back to my pillowless bed, ass sore from sitting too long on the ground while listening to never ending mutterings, while my stomach gnaws at me in hunger. It’s been years since I sat in shul, mourning over things I never really understood. It’s been years since I sat in shul at all.
Yet somehow there remains graven in my consciousness an uneasy awareness of the day. Something hangs over me this late Monday night, here at Caesar’s Atlantic City, as I watch Jimmy adeptly spin the ball around the wheel. Some feeling precludes me from risking my hard earned money betting on a cheery number or a bright color.
So I approach with a twisted svora. It’s a bad time for the Jews, tradition says. Unlucky. So I request black chips tonight. Again and again I flick them onto “00,” betting against the table. Wagering that the worst will happen.
The only way to come out ahead tonight is to expect the unlucky numeral. Like a true gambler, I’m sure I can play the system and ride the coattails of fate.