A Silk Purse

M. Emil Strong

     No one can convince me you can win at KENO. Twenty-one? Maybe. Craps or Roulette might give an occasional tease, But KENO? Naa-a-ah.

      I shouldn’t have continued with this crazy game. For some reason, I adamantly elected to stay my ground and experience a win. To get even? Wel-l-l yeah; but also to feel just one. I hadn’t yet. In a rational mind, my choice would have yielded to something more productive.

      I had chosen this particular Casino because they featured a stage at one side of their larger gambling room to accommodate entertainers and music combos for live music as the gamblers played.

     Once playing, I held a tenacious attitude believing some background music would mercifully . . . oh please . . . ultimately be curtailed or replaced. It was small combo playing Country and Country-Western music. From one who got his musical kicks in that era of Goodman, Shaw, Miller, the Dorsey’s, et al, this subterfuge of sound was tolerated . . . but barely. I was aware a majority of Americans endorse Country Music highly. This audience should be as good as cross-sectioned as you could find. There would have had to be Country Music buffs among them; yet no one appeared to be enthusiastic.

   Okay. It’s only fair. I’d listen and twinge.

   If memory serves, this combo consisted on five musicians. The leader doubled as announcer. His selection of passé jargon would have been shop-worn to the most generous ear. A mortuary would have held more amusement. A sampling:

     “And now for our next number to you Yahoos……..”

      Ugh. I didn’t audibly counter with, “A hale and hearty 23 SKIDDO to you too, kiddo.” But I was tempted.

      He followed with more banal diatribe, announcing this time he would play the trumpet.

      In the meantime, surely my next pick of KENO numbers had to be winners. Winning warmth lay right there in my fingertips.  My loquacious adversary announcing his 'fruit jar', 'stump jumping' echoes deserving much better treatment, did not deter my feeling that the next pick of KENO numbers lay right there in my fingertips for my impending bonanza, regardless of his pawing over different instruments at each of these pearls of wonder.  It DID disturb it. 

     He did the piano. A harmonica. Would you believe a zither? I think he lacked the guts for a paper covered comb. We were spared that.

      The ‘numbers’ he played were prominent ones. “Release Me” comes to mind. Several could be associated with Patsy Cline, Charlie Pride, Hank Williams, et al.
      It was to his good fortune none of the above were within earshot.

      So . . . I’m listening and shuddering.  My shirt felt like a free flowing venetian blind with rattling jalousies. The house’s cards continued beating my hand. I’m vibrating. I felt surely the enamel was cracking off my grinding teeth. It’s a wonder I heard his next intro.

      “Now this little number is a different style. I’m gonna give ya a rendition on the sax. It’s title, ‘Harlem Nocture.’”
Sacrilege! I fought down an audible jibe at him. I didn’t even make any KENO selections at the moment; digging in, awaiting the worst.

       A short accented piano/clarinet phrase led him into this pending murder . . . then . . . this can’t be. No-no. No. No! This wasn’t happening. This was one of the finest, most poignant . . . strongest offerings of that composition I ever heard. The musician took on a different appearance. I’d swear he had grown a tad younger. I even warmed up a bit to my KENO losses.

      Stacy Keatch’s “Mike Hammer” featured a terrific “Harlem Nocturne” in his TV oldie. Country Kid though, gave it his own individual treatment. Glittering. Warm. Meaningful. How he interpreted Harlem’s ‘wee hours of the morning’ sounds. I could hear delivery truck tires shushing in the fresh moist streaks left by the street sweeper. A siren's wail . . . clear . . .  crisp; emulating a chanteuse’s vibrant tones predominating muted brass and velvet-softened strings. A melancholy lament brought an ecstatic feeling. I envisioned fewer pedestrians; yet . . . OH, the city was alive! Alive with its own sounds. Sounds that became tones and turned into haunting tunes. Tunes subdued behind those ‘rattle and horn’ street noises heard later in the day.

       His wafted notes went into the air and drifted towards me. Vivid. Strong. Begging to be accepted in their echoing splendor.

        This was all so completely apart from the stuff he threw out prior to this presentation.

       You want to win? Play Twenty-one. Craps and Roulette are fun and the Lady nods your way occasionally. With KENO you just enjoy when the music’s right.