The buffet at the Four Winds Resort and Casino is enough to make you reconsider antidepressants.
My father has a habit of turning my visits into errands. Even now, with just two days back “home,” I’m swept up in his black Sonata, chatting down the flat highways of Indiana for an hour...an hour and a half, two, until we’ve reached… New Buffalo, Michigan.
He has to pick up a hanging planter.
I blame it on the fresh, over-oxygenated Michigan air, but when my father asks “Do you want to go to a casino for lunch,” light-headed and delirious, I say “...yes?” Had I been back in my just-inhaled-fumes-from-the-22-bus-Chicago, I imagine I would have instead responded with “Eat a dick, Hoosier.”
The resort is massive. Great Wolf Lodge, meets Navy Pier, meets that one bigger mall in your hometown with an Auntie Anne’s Pretzels.
And the smell of a bowling alley.
Guess what, folks. Gaming facilities in Michigan are exempt from smoking laws.
Small, white-haired ladies whizz by in Hoverounds, cigarettes dangling from their mouths, so speedy because the leafy carpet is so familiar.
It’s the same as the one in the nursing facility they were bused from.
Overweight men in NASCAR hats suck down cigars like old Disney villains.
I consider myself to have high-functioning depression and anxiety, but this place almost makes me seize.
The LED lights from the rows of penny slots that no longer take pennies.
The echoing voices of virtual blackjack dealers; I turn and it’s a sea of the same woman on at least 12 six-foot screens. A traditionally pretty blonde with a low cut, gold, spaghetti strap dress. If I wanted to relieve my high school prom, I would have just taken a Xanax, had a glass of wine, fallen asleep on the couch, and had that recurring nightmare about it. You know, the one where my arms turn into balloons.
There’s a dizzyingly long hall with a “High Rollers” sign at the very end, leading to an intricately carved wood door.
“I don’t think we can go in there,” my dad said. To which, in the heat of the moment, I reply, “Aw, shucks.”
The buffet. We pay $25 a person plus tax and tip, which my father assures me is a deal. I assure him, with the the food poisoning I’m about to get from the shrimp scampi, it’s not.
Every surface in the buffet is gold: the light fixtures, the silverware, the tongs, the sneeze guards. Waiters and cooks wear crimson aprons and are too happy to see me. I’m on a cruise, I’m on a Lynchian cruise.
They’ve segmented the buffet into “cuisines.” I start at ‘Asian’ and take a forkful of lo mein. I pretend to take a mini one seater plane to ‘American’, hop on over to ‘Mexican’, take a trip to ‘Italian,’ and finally jaunt to my favorite country, ‘Seafood.’ I circled back three or four times. I wanted none of it, so I had all of it—the inscription carved above every Buffet’s door.
We were led to a booth next to the restroom by a waitress whose habit of saying “my pleasure” after each sentence obviously meant “fuck you.” Sitting down, I immediately noticed that the wood trim along the wall, shoulder height, was broken. I traced underneath it and poked upwards, the light pine bobbing up and down with each poke and slapping back into place. Up and down, up and down, contemplating money and facades and how our waitress obviously hated her job.
The parmesan crusted cod was like a wad of old gum and every cuisine tasted American.
Up and down.
I thought about the casino atrium with the triptychs of the Pokagon Indians. I wondered what they would have rather built on their land if we had given them any other options. But man, the stained glass sure was pretty, wasn’t it? Really gave a nice ambience for that jet ski they were auctioning off in the middle of the room.
Cacophony. Waterfalling virtual coins. Screaming from the Kids Zone. That’s right. Kids Zone, for those days you want to drop them off with laser guns and iPod charging stations while you waste their college tuition.
Or don’t think they’d enjoy the buffet.
Sickly sweet toffee cake. Vinyl sticking to my legs. “My Pleasure” heard from the booth behind us.
My dad, who had just had two teeth pulled, was sipping on french onion soup and mashed potatoes. Up and down, up and down. I realized he would die one day and these would be the memories I have of him. The teeth. The potatoes. The hanging planter.
We leave in silence, passing by a last-chance room with more penny slots and even more disgruntled men. The drive home is hushed, I think my dad’s mouth hurts, or maybe he knows I didn’t like the meal. I’m lost in the hum of the highway and the waves of “what is happiness, were those people happy, do I have a right to judge other people’s happiness.” And then the moon peeks through the trees. And I’m a kid again, eating cold McDonald’s french fries with my dad after a night of watching him set up sound for a community theater. Always potatoes with this dude. And I think that makes me happy.
The moon is so bright in Michigan. And I think that makes me happy.
About the artist...
Abigail Phelps is a graduate of Columbia College Chicago with a BA in Acting and a Minor in Art History. She is literate and cool and definitely not two Red Foxes in a trench coat. Check her out later this year in a new work, 'Mein Comps', written by Tyler Anthony Smith and directed by Tom Mula. Chicago and Pittsburgh bound!
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