It’s four in the morning and I can’t sleep. My back surgery is at two this afternoon. I’m staying at the Tropicana in Las Vegas and this is my last “medically approved” opportunity to have something to eat. I grab an orange and a banana at the coffee station and hobble down to where the action is.

This is a foreign land. I know little about rules, strategy or etiquette. At this hour, most of the people surrounding me have spent the early morning gambling. It’s a sparse crowd. Some have been drinking…a lot. The craps table is dominated by a well-dressed, auspicious couple. He is more than double her age and they are having a grand time. Another guy named Ralphie seems down on his luck and shouts “Booyah!” from time to time with a bit of a slur. Other serious players are surrounding one end of the table placing chips all over. I’m rooting for everyone, even though I have no idea what I should be rooting for. Ten minutes later, I’ve peeled and eaten my orange, but I have learned nothing about the game. However, the guy with the hooked stick seems to be doing quite well.

Blackjack is my game because I think I know the rules. I find a ten-dollar table and take two twenties out of my pocket. In return, I get eight red chips, and a request to remove my banana from the table. I guess there is a rule that you can have beer in the little cups in front of you, but no fruit. Then I mess up again by using both of my hands to look at my cards. I’m scolded, in a friendly way, by the dealer, Angel. The young guy across from me says I’m on “third base.” Holy craps! My confidence level suddenly drops.

I put two of my red chips in the little circle. I get an eight of diamonds and a three of spades. Angel has a seven. This is where my knowledge of the game shines forth. I do what is called a “double down,” and increase my bet by another two red chips. I “hit” the queen of hearts and Angel gets a ten of spades. Angel rewards me with four more red chips and I’m pretty darn happy. I quit and take my 12 red chips and my banana to the cashier’s booth. Ralphie is in front of me, attempting to get some kind of advance. I see the craps couple walking arm-in-arm to the fancy-room section of the hotel. She looks tired; he looks old, but determined.

I go back to my room to eat my banana and wait it out. I study the hospital paperwork again. My surgeon’s name is Archie, and who can’t love a guy named Archie? And Angel, just at the right time, gave me the queen of hearts to help with my copay. It’s going to be my lucky day.