A World at Play?

I am not what you’d call a “casino person.” I’m not morally opposed to them (although I don’t think they bring out the best in people), but if I’m going to spend $100 on frivolity I’d at least like to have the memory of a fabulous meal or a significant hangover after a night of heavy imbibing to show for it.

However, I found myself at Mohegan Sun for a girl’s day out this weekend. We split the cost of a night at the on-site hotel Groupon and got there on Sunday afternoon. Two of my friends had never been before, while I’ve spent a few bitterly cold winter nights at Foxwoods or Mohegan with my brother, having drinks and dropping $20 on slots before wandering the various parking garages until we relocate the car and head home.

It was pretty quiet on Sunday night. We decided to take in the one evening activity on Sunday, the ’90s Dance Party. Which, for the most part, was a DJ mixing incongruous ’90s songs while the cocktail waitresses served a few couples, a table of butch lesbians, and another group of women sipping colorful martinis while not glancing up from their phones.

We eventually figured out that the waitresses were dressed in ’90s “costumes.” A woman with a Romneyesque fake tan and absolutely terrible black weave wore a Ginger Spice-inspired Union Jack dress. Another had a ska-inspired suspenders and plaid miniskirt getup. Yet another was wearing a lacy tank and short silk pleated skirt that wouldn’t look out of place on the street today, except for the length. Every time she leaned over to take an order from the table opposite us, we got a glimpse of her ass and black thong. Unlike the weave-and-tan lady, I bet she made great tips.

Toward midnight, a few people braved the dance floor. An elderly man booty-bumped inebriated women celebrating their friend’s 40th birthday. As he backed his septuagenerian ass towards us, my friend burst into nonstop sneezes due to the cigarette smoke from the gambling floor and some guy’s overpowering cologne. It was time to call it a night.

When we made our way downstairs to take advantage of our complimentary breakfast buffet vouchers on Monday morning, it was a whole new world. Instead of playing current pop music like One Direction, the sound system on the casino floor was playing classic rock and ’50s pop. White-haired people streamed in from the parking garages. Monday morning was a 2-for-1 deal at the buffet, so we waited in a long line to hand in our vouchers. We then waited in another long line to be shown to our table.

In front of us, two elderly men groused about the wait to the ceaselessly cheery hostess.

“Do you have to take your pills?” The middle-aged woman asked as they waited. “Can’t take your pills on an empty stomach? I hear that all the time.”

We were seated in a cavernous but tastefully decorated space with a huge open kitchen in the middle. We ordered a pot of very good coffee and mimosas because–why not? We gleefully loaded our plates with typical buffet fare–french toast, sliced fruit, scrambled eggs served from a massive tray–while dodging parked walkers and wheelchairs off to the side.

Once we sat down with our perfectly acceptable food, we all quietly ate and took in the scene. At one table, an elderly veteran ate by himself, barely looking up from his plate of eggs and fruit. It was heartbreaking to watch–he didn’t have anyone to come mooch a free meal from the Mohegan buffet?–but then maybe he’s happy to have the time to himself. Another table had a couple making idle chat with the waitress while waiting for more of the lunch foods to be served.

“They don’t put any of the lunch foods on until 11,” the waitress said. “I tried to get them to do it once for a kid who wanted some ice cream, and they wouldn’t! Come on. He’s just a kid.”

After settling up for breakfast, we took our full bellies back onto the casino floor. A friend was playing the 1/4 cent slots next to an elderly woman who was betting the maximum bet with the maximum amount of lines–probably less than ten cents a roll. When she hit, the coin sound played loudly, but amounted to perhaps a couple of bucks each time. She’d bet, the machine would chime.

“Two-fifty!” She exclaimed sarcastically to us. “I guess I’ll go to Hawaii!”

The whole thing made me sad. (Well, aside from winning back my money on two rolls of one penny slot machine.) Scads and scads of people’s grandparents spend so much time hanging out in the dark, smoky confines of Mohegan and Foxwoods. Sure, they get their cheap breakfast and it gives them something to do. But is this it for our elderly? If I someday manage to save up enough to retire, will I spend my days either walking the mall (if they even exist in 50 years) or ambling around a casino for entertainment until I’m so infirm I can’t even manage that? When my Grandpa wanted to talk about his pill regimen, he talked to one of us.

But maybe I’m overreacting. A cover band played classic hits in sparkly red blazers in the early afternoon. For every solitary octogenarian blankly staring into the blinking electronic abyss before him, another chatted amicably with her friends, rewards card in the machine and bungee cord connected to her purse. I know objectively that not every elderly person is gambling away his or her heirs’ inheritance or their social security, nor are all these people there every day. But I felt hollow and weird after I left, and I was only there for 26 hours.

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