If you like this story, please check out my completed book, “Butts in the Seat”; one reviewer said it was “amusing, entertaining, and provides therapeutic value.”

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Matt and Joanna were introduced to Leigh and Jim by Ben (at a time when he wasn’t fighting with Kiki) three or so years ago. At first they were just bar friends, but they found they were simpatico in a number of ways—they were rabid fans of the local sports teams, they liked to talk about movies, they seemed to have the same opinions about which other regulars were nice and which were annoying, and of course they loved bellying up to the bar—any bar—but Stenny’s, with its Cheers-like atmosphere, was a particular favorite.

They also shared an unfortunate affinity for slot machines, which they discovered early on in their friendship.

“We go to Atlantic City once in a while,” Matt said during their second conversation. “Play a little video poker. Joanna likes it.”

Joanna harrumphed and said she knew nothing about poker until he taught her and if she swims in muddy waters now, he dragged her in.

Leigh said, “Is that a reference to the Adele song?”

“Yes,” Joanna said. “It’s all I can think about when I hear that song. How Matt corrupted my very soul.” To which Matt rolled his eyes, and said, “You’ll find Joanna tends toward the hyperbolic.”

They started to take day trips to Atlantic City together; when they realized they could spend a dozen hours or more together without getting on each other’s nerves, they started to stay overnight—any number of casinos were willing to give them “free” rooms, in the hope and expectation that they would drop a shitload of money, which they usually did.

Now, on this late September Thursday evening, they are reminiscing about a recent overnight trip.

“Matlock is so fucking funny,” Jim says. Matt’s full name is Matlock, not Matthew, which amuses Jim immensely, because of the old Andy Griffith show and Grandpa Simpson’s affection for it (“Maaatlock!”).

“We know that,” Leigh says. “Be more specific.” She is needlepointing a case for a pillow; the pillow is for the newest addition to her clutter of cats, Melly. Leigh likes to have busy hands, even at the bar.

“He’s calm as can be when he’s losing. Just continues to play, real methodically, almost like he’s had a lobotomy.”

“That’s true,” Joanna says. “Good description.”

“But when we pooled our money and hit that ding ding ding machine hard, and started winning, he went nuts.” In addition to video poker, Matt and Joanna like a 9-line machine they call ding ding ding, for the sound it makes when it awards a free-game bonus.

“Oh, right,” Joanna says, laughing. “He gets anxious.”

“Anxious!” Jim says. “He started walking in circles and made that monkey face he does when’s he’s mad. Kept repeating I know what’s going to happen, I know what’s going to happen, I know what’s going to happen.”

“And I was right,” Matt says. “I knew what was going to happen, and it happened. We didn’t stop playing when we should have, when we were up about a thousand each. We should have taken a break and gotten dinner or a drink or something. Instead, we threw it all back in, like idiots.”

“Like every gambler who has ever walked the face of the earth,” Joanna says. She has come to terms with this particular bad habit of hers.

“But once we lost what we had won, and were back to even, you got all calm again, and were perfectly content to continue playing and lose money. It’s completely fucking backwards,” Jim says.

Matt is half-way through his second Beefeaters and is showing slight signs of the belligerence that usually arrives in full-force with his last sip. “At least I didn’t kill Kennedy,” he says to Jim. Jim is the youngest of five, all boys, and believed all through his childhood that he was responsible for JFK’s assassination. This was because his oldest brother told him he was; that his birth in August of 1963 made the events in November inevitable.

Their firecracker calamari and baked brie appetizers they had ordered arrive, delivered by bartender Stephen. Leigh puts her needlepoint away, and they suspend this discussion.

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