Thursday, 23 May 2013

The Blackjack Table Incident of '94

The Blackjack Table Incident of '94
23 May 2013

Now I have done some spectacularly stupid things in my life.  Really, I have.  Perhaps it's a gift?

But nothing, no nothing, compares to the Blackjack Table Incident of '94.  It was so stupendously stupid, it pretty much defies description.  It kind of rewrote the very essence of stupid.  Gave it a new definition and benchmark, if you like.  In fact, I'm pretty sure that if you pick up any dictionary, anywhere, and you look up the word "stupid", you'll find my name, Helene Cloete, as well as the phrase "The Stupendously Stupid Blackjack Incident of '94".  I'm not kidding.  That's how bad it was. No, wait.  Probably even worse than that.

So this is how it all went down.  As mentioned before, I worked in a charming little pub, called Ye Olde Bell.  This from just before I graduated until I got my first real grown-up, proper job.  It was a magical time for me.  About 18 months of attendance at the grand old "School of Life".  The pub was a home from home and I met the most amazing people there.  Ironically it is the place where I learnt the most about psychology.  Even more so than during my three years at Varsity, studying just that.

Initially, the pub had been more of a restaurant/pub than just a straight pub.  But, I think that the owners wisely saw, that the need for the pub-section, far outweighed and out-generated-income, than the restaurant side of things.  And so, they focused more on the pub bit.

Before long, the pub was expanded with a wee bit of alterations.  More dining tables were moved out, and a newly acquired Pool table was moved in.  Naturally it was a huge drawing card and people milling about the pool table (which eventually morphed into two pool tables) became quite a focus.  It was fantastically social and a huge amount of fun.  I even became a bit of a pool shark myself.  Simply loving the game.  I think that quite often riff-raff gets attracted to a pub, when you have things like a pool table or two in residence.  But with The Bell, this was not the case.  It was still a lovely place to go to.

The pool tables though became so successful in drawing in customers and keeping that very same clientele happy, that more and more patrons started enquiring about getting a Blackjack Table in too.  It was the fad of the moment after all.  What fun it would be.

But the owners of the pub, did not have a Blackjack Table of their own.  Instead one of the regulars of the pub, offered his for the use of the pub on a few occasions a week.  If I remember correctly, it wasn't an every night occurrence.  Rather there were dedicated Blackjack nights.  Obviously in addition to the regular pub activities too.  And this Blackjack Table was a beauty.  All wood finishes.  A handy little ledge just in front of the green playing area, to prop your drinks on.  Even little sunken ashtrays, catering for all of the smokers out there.  Very professional looking, if I say so myself.

This went on for quite a few months.  And it was extremely popular.  Now I ran the pub during the day and religiously clocked off at 6pm every evening, when the night staff took over.  And therefore I never had any dealings with the Blackjack side of things.  It was a night time thing.  And though the pub doors did not open until 12h00 each day, I opened up at 10h00 already in the mornings.  This so that we could restock the fridges, order stock if necessary and clean up the carnage of the night before.  Nothing quite prepares you for the smell when you walk in to a pub that has been locked up for a few hours.  It is part cigarette smoke, before public smoking bans were implemented, dregs of alcohol left behind in bottles and glasses and just the smell of being closed up and cooped up.  All those smells mixing together.  Just about fermenting.  Too horrendous for words.  One could almost taste it.

And on one particular morning, whilst going about my morning chores, there was a knock on the door.  A respectable looking gentleman in a blue overall, identified himself and informed that he was there to collect the Blackjack Table on behest of the owner of the table, as it was being used at a different venue that night.  Well, what could I say, apart from, "Do come in".

If memory serves, I did try and contact the pub owners.  At least I think I did.  But perhaps I didn't. Contacting the pub owners, or even better the owner of the table, clearly indicated a level of intelligence of some kind.  And we've already dealt with the sticky notion that I didn't have any.

And so, blue-overall-man and his friend, fellow-blue-overall-man, entered the pub, and started packing up the table.  "No wait", I said.  "Let me first wash the ashtrays for you".

They were so sweet, patiently agreeing to wait for me, whilst they continued packing up.  I dashed off to the kitchen.  Emptied, washed and dried those ashtrays and rushed right back to them, to pop the ashtrays back into the table.  Not long thereafter, they left.  With all of the Blackjack Table bits and bobs, including those darn ashtrays.

Well, I pretty much carried on with my day.  Until much later, when the owner of the Blackjack Table popped in to the pub.  "Oh", I told him.  "Your friends came to fetch your table earlier".  To which he replied, "which friends".  My heart stopped.

Yip, I had GIVEN the table away to a bunch of crooked thieves.  Just like that.  They didn't have to wear balaclavas.  Or pick a lock.  No need for gloves to mask their fingerprints, or any of that.  They simply walked in. Spoke kindly and gently and bamboozled me with logic.  The preyed on my stupidity.  Not that I was all that difficult prey. 

And I simply GAVE them the table.  With clean bloody ashtrays.  Washed and dried by my own hands.

I will never forget the look of dumbfounded horror and disbelief, combined with shock on the face of the owner of the table.  How could I be so naïve?   Such an idiot?  So stupid?

All I had to go on, were the guys first names, which were probably not real.  A vague idea of their looks.  And the fact that they were well spoken.  Nothing else.

I was mortified.  My boss, Wayne, giggled when I told him.  It was an accident, yes.  But a stupid one.  I wanted the earth to open up and swallow me whole.  I couldn't apologise enough.  Not that my apologies were able to yield a replacement table.  Because it didn't.

It later became known that the gambling Kingpin in the area, had hoped to settle his own table in the pub, thereby generating income for himself.  But his wish was denied.  Furthermore, the owner of the table owned the Kingpin some money.  So, suffice it to say, that there was beef between then.  And so the easiest course of action for the Kingpin, was to simply send his goons in broad daylight, to steal the table.  Easy as that.

I was a sitting duck.  A mere stroke of luck for them, that I made it so easy.  I bet they guffawed and laughed about my willingness and eagerness to help them.  My absolute naivety.

The memory of my humility lasted long.  The patrons had a field day, ragging me.  Never mind that. My stupidity had cost them their regular Blackjack evenings.

The table was never recovered.  My bruised ego neither.

And to this day, I still shake my head at myself.

I bloody well cleaned, washed and dried those ashtrays.  Now that takes a special type of idiot!

And her name is Helene.  Just check in your dictionary.  You'll find the reference there.




  1. Oh Helene, how very very cruel and humiliating!! I remember it well.ALl of us have such memories. I'm not owning up today!!

  2. I have been trying to comment, no luck, one more time.

    Oh, dear Helene, you are too hard on yourself. You are just human. And innocent. Not stupid, ever. I loved the wonderful to be able to chuckle at life's moments, and we all have them. Trust me. I could write a book. :)

    1. Hi Debbie! Thanks for your kind words. I so enjoy a good chuckle - mostly at myself. Humour carries us through. xxx