Casino in Joliet; or, getting old in the usa

This is a piece that first came to me in probably 2003, when I was living in Evanston IL, not too far from Joliet. I heard someone say , “we’re going to a casino in Joliet,” and it just lit up something in my mind. This is usually how poems start for me, I catch a fragment of conversation as I’m passing somebody on the street or sitting in a cafe.

For me my best ideas always come when I’m in motion, either walking around town or at the gym. This is why New York was such a good place to live, I’m really passionate about walking. I used to get really good ideas running to Penn Station to catch the train back in the days when I was a commuter. The hardest part about writing for me is the sitting-still — I think that’s why so many writers drink, actually. It’s very boring to sit still, and ideas do not come to me that way.

Anyway — the phrase “casino in Joliet” was just so vivid. It was an older person who said it, talking about going out to Joliet to play the slots. Joliet is one of those communities that decided the best way to stay financially viable was to turn themselves into a gambling zone. It’s a bad decision — basically your town becomes Potterville — but Joliet is not the most enlightened community to begin with. All their money used to come from the big prison there (where Jake Blues was famously incarcerated) which was scaling down when I lived in Illinois and finally closed this past February. It is as bad an idea to finance your town from casinos as it is from prisons.

Socioeconomics aside, the phrase stuck in my head and was soon joined by “boarding a bus bound for a.” And then the “Now at last I am goin to my reward” part just was obvious. Unfortunately, that was all I had for a long, long time. I tried many times to finish — or write, actually — the rest of the poem, but the attempts were all really lame and went nowhere. I knew I wanted to say something about modern retirement but I couldn’t nail it, it wasn’t gelling at all. Not entirely sure THIS is gel, either — maybe it’s mousse — but I didn’t feel like cringing when Myers and I performed the two-voice version in Australia last summer, so that’s at least a good sign.

A note about the performance of this poem: It has a very pronounced RHYTHM. I can’t convey the rhythm but I hear a kind of Latin bass line underneath it that sounds kind of like OOONNNNE, two! – three, OOONNNNE, two! – three — if that makes any sense. Or let me try this: The chorus reads like:

NOW at last I am / GO-in to my reward / BOARDingabus, bound-for-a CA-see-no-in-jo-li-et

(If you sense the presence of a “Ha!’ at the end of that phrase, you’ve probably got it.)

As always, read it out loud and you’ll hear the intended rhythm. I hope. For guidance, I have bolded the stressed syllables in the first stanza. Do this in the others, too, and I mean REALLY hit them — like, exaggerate for effect — and hopefully you’ll hear the beat. Remember, Beowulf works this way, too. Ha!

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CASINO IN JOLIET for ONE VOICE by emily xyz
© 2008-10

When I think about all the things that we’ve done,
all the lives we saved,
all the hearts & minds we won, I wonder
whatever happened
to the future I believed in,
I worked all my life / now
I can’t afford to die, and
social security
is a gun beside the bed
And
when I think about all the places we’ve been,
all the R-V camps
all the Holiday Inns
the mini-golf courses
the Country Buffets
the rising sun, the Radisson
television, television—

NOW at last I am
GO-in to my reward
BOARDing a bus bound for a
CAsino in Joliet —

When I get to that
place
where my future is
secure
when I get to that
payoff
where my money is
no good
When I get to that
place
where my future is
no more, I’m gonna
gamble it away, I’m gonna
gamble it away, I’m gonna
gamble it away, I’m gonna
gamble it away, yeah—

When I think about
all the times that we had
all the prices we paid
just castles in the sand
how strange to see
it shouldn’t be this way
oh united states
at the end of the day
I guess the future rusted out
yeah the scissors hit the rock,
I guess [that] all that money I thought was mine
is now in someone else’s pocket—

Now at last I am
goin to my reward
boarding a bus
bound for a cásino in Joliet

When I get to that
place
where my father is
already,
when I get to that
place
where my mother is
already,
when I get to that place
where we’re goin for the day
where my future is no more
and no more is OK, it’s just

just so damn funny
we should end up here
saving up the change to
spend it on a chance to
win it all at slot machine
and buy some peace of mind—

Now at last I am
goin to my reward
Now at last I am
goin to my reward
Now at last I am
goin to my reward
boarding a bus
bound for a cásino in Joliet


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One thought on “Casino in Joliet; or, getting old in the usa

  1. In addition to the poem, thanks for the second graf here. I can only write on the fly since I quit drinking and smoking, both of which are good anchors, if nothing else, and it’s helpful to know that ideas don’t come to you, either, when you’re sitting at a desk. In case you didn’t see it, there was a good New Yorker piece about why ideas and insights come to us when we’re in motion or doing something other than the task we’re supposed to be working at: “The Eureka Hunt,” by Jonathan Lehrer, July 28, 2008 (http://archives.newyorker.com/?i=2008-07-28#folio=040).

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