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  • Emmett Grogan

The Grifters


OK: this is the type of story, either it makes you laugh, or else it makes you angry.


My sister Jackie didn't want to hear it, cut me off right in front of her kids; but my friend Matt encouraged me to write it down, thought it was a great story.


My mom is a big Creedence Clearwater Revival fan, so I arranged tickets for us to see Creedence Clearwater Revisited, at Casino Rama, in Orillia, Ontario. My mom came down from Ottawa, and spent a few days in Toronto with me and my wife at the house, before I drove us up to Orillia that Friday afternoon for the show. It was early August, 2015.


It wasn’t her birthday, Mother’s Day, or any other special occasion on the calendar. I just wanted to take my mom out for dinner and a concert, spend some time together.


The day of the show, I loaded a walker into the trunk of my car, told my mom, we were only able to get seats in the back row of the hall, off to the side. They were $35, but I refuse to pay a reseller for floor seats. One hundred and seventy dollars each, for tickets that have a face value of $85, is just a rip-off, considering there are hundreds of seats still available online for a show that “sold out” within minutes of going on sale at the end of April. So when we get to the casino, I want you to use this mobility device, and walk with a limp.


Now, even though she works in a hospital, my mom is a somewhat naive person: the first time she saw the CN Tower, she asked me, is that the “real” CN Tower, or a model?


She also spends a lot of time worrying about what other people think. She would never have used a mobility device if she thought she might run into somebody she knew from work at the concert. But I convinced her we could get upgraded tickets to the show, if she just pretended to be handicapped for a few hours; trade in our back row seats for better tickets.


I had never run a jig with my mom, but there’s a first time for everything.


The thrill of pulling a fast one on the casino, and using my mother as a prop.


Keep in mind, this is not like scamming front-row tickets for Roger Waters performing The Wall Live, at the Rogers Centre: this is Creedence Clearwater Revisited, at Casino Rama, in Orillia, Ontario. If we could get better seats for the show, why not ask for the upgrade?


Driving through cottage country, I explained the trick to my mom. All she had to do was roll into the casino using the walker, and I could ask about accessible seating for the concert. We wouldn’t be in the front row, but we’d definitely get down to the floor section.


I’d meant to ask her to grab a pair of crutches from the hospital before she came down from Ottawa, but it slipped my mind. So I borrowed the walker from my mother-in-law, the day of the concert. It was all very last-minute: a moment of whimsy, rather than malice.


Outside the casino, we found a parking spot at the very far end of the lot. I unfolded the walker; clipped in the wire basket; dropped the walker in front of my mother. As she placed her purse in the wire basket, I told her, just be cool; let me do all the talking. You don’t need to spaz it up; just act like you’d have a tough time climbing stairs. Hopefully the concert hall won’t have an escalator, or worse, a wheelchair-accessible elevator. That could be a problem for us.


In my excitement to enter the casino, I got about twenty metres ahead of my mom. She shouted after me, “Emmett! Emmett! Don’t leave me here alone, Emmett!” By the time I turned around, and trotted back, she’d twisted her ankles, and was dragging both feet like she’d recently had a stroke. My mom looked like the Hunchback of Notre Dame, poking along like she had just shit her pants. It was embarrassing. I felt like a real jerk.


I’ll never forget the shine in her eyes, as she laughed at my discomfort.


“All right: good one. Very funny. Don’t drag your feet like that. Straighten up. Don’t overdo it. Nobody needs to see Stephen Hawking for this trick to work. Think Bobby Orr, not Keyser Söze. If we get busted, I swear to God, I’m going to say I don’t know you.”


I slapped the button to open the wheelchair-accessible door for my mom. It had taken us about five minutes to cross the parking lot. The show started in less than two hours, but she was determined to stay in character, hobbling along like the bus terminal platform was covered in ice, and she was afraid of slipping and falling down a staircase.


Inside the casino, we headed straight to guest services. When I asked about accessible seating for the concert, they called over to the box office to see what was available. The girl at the counter wasn’t quite sure why I needed accessible seating, but then I pointed at my mother: my mother was standing about twenty feet away, staring up at the ceiling lights, blinking like a goldfish in a plastic bag, bless her soul. It almost brought a tear to my eye, her vulnerability. It was quite the act; she was quite the actress. I felt a surge of pride, of admiration for the woman. My heart grew by three sizes, in that moment. Everything was going to be all right.


We were well on our way to a night to remember, partners in crime, cheating the casino.


It took us another fifteen minutes to find the box office. My mom waited in the centre of the lobby, as I made my way through the long line-up: she leaned heavily on the walker, but kept her ankles straight, and didn’t say a word to anyone around her, playing it smart.


“Hi there, my name’s Emmett Grogan, and my mom and I have two tickets for tonight’s show. We were sent over by guest services to ask you about accessible seating...the girl at guest services said to come right over, and we could work something out. So, here we are.”


“Oh: OK: well, accessible seating tickets have to be purchased at the time you place your ticket order, on the website. It’s too late to cancel your tickets and give you a refund, but you can purchase new tickets for the show, with accessible seating, right now.”

“Uh, at the time I purchased the tickets, my wife was coming to the show with me, but she had to cancel, so I brought my mother instead, and she uses a walker. We’re in the back row, but she has a tough time climbing stairs, so I was hoping you had accessible seating. You know, someplace on the floor where she can sit down and fold up her mobility device without having to inconvenience the rest of the crowd, making them all stand up to accommodate her,” I hooked a thumb over my shoulder, gesturing toward the spectacle of my mother huddled stoically over her mobility device, waiting for my return as the crowd churned around her indifferently. The girl at the box office window leaned forward in her seat, then shuddered.


My mother had her mouth open, tongue out, staring into space.


She looked like Jack Nicholson after the orderlies bring him back to the ward following his lobotomy, at the end of One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest: we had watched One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest together at least half a dozen times, when I was in high school: it was without a doubt my mother’s favourite comedy: she still owns a copy on VHS, and watches it whenever she wants to have a good laugh: she thinks it’s hilarious.


Inside the restaurant, our server found a table to accommodate my mom’s walker, then went off to get her a glass of wine. I went up to the buffet to grab a plate for my mom, then went back for myself. All told, I visited the buffet seven times, two plates of food for my mom, three for myself, then two trips to the dessert table. I kept running into the same guy in the line-ups in front of me, despite the fact that the restaurant was packed, people swirling all around, this dude with his index finger in a splint, usually carrying two plates of food at a time: the guy looked like a pit boss at the casino, middle-aged, slicked back hair, blue dress shirt, dark slacks. The seventh time I almost bumped into him, jostling for position at the dessert table (he was making blueberry waffles), we both stepped back to let the other one pass, then laughed, then exchanged a fist-bump.


Despite the finger in a splint, his joie de vivre was infectious: I felt like I was looking in a mirror, in that brief moment of connection. I figured he ran the joint, as kitchen manager.


Back at the table, my mom was enjoying her third glass of wine, getting loaded before going into the concert.


“This is a nice restaurant,” my mother commented, glancing around the room, making small talk.


“Yeah. I just hope it doesn’t blow up, while we’re having dinner.”


There’s a famous case study in business school; the restaurant that opened under the name “Challengers” in Cambridge, Ontario: they even had a replica space shuttle on the roof of the restaurant; it’s still there today, growing vines. The lesson is, don’t ever name your business after a person, place, or thing that could experience a disaster, as customers will form a negative association. As my mom once put it, describing the problem in her own special way, who wants to be sitting in a restaurant that could blow up, while you’re having dinner?


“Look at that guy, in the blue shirt,” I pointed out my new friend to my mom, “Somebody must have punched him in the face, while he was having lunch.”


“Oh, Emmett: you’re awful,” my mom laughed, eyes wet, liquored up.


An hour later, inside the concert hall, we found our seats, in the back row of the floor section, having turned in our original tickets for replacements. As we made our way along the aisle, we passed two good-looking blondes in seats 11 and 12. My mother and I held the tickets for seats 9 and 10…but my new friend from the buffet, in the blue shirt and dark slacks, with his index finger in a splint, was plunked down in seat 10, chatting up seats 11 and 12.


Immediately, I was paranoid: of all the people in the casino that night, to keep running into what looked like an employee of the casino, maybe he was head of security, and had come by to question my mom and I about her disability, after watching us at dinner.


I said to him: “Hey! It’s my friend from the buffet! How ya doing?” then bumped fists with him again, keeping it casual, yet gave him a hard stare, like: what are you doing in my seat? while actually thinking: can you get disabled seating these days, for a broken finger?


He recognized me from the dessert table, but didn’t take the hint, even with my mother standing right beside me with her mobility device. So I said: “Dude: you’re in my mom’s seat…” at which point he became extremely apologetic, and jumped up to find his own seat. As it turned out, he was in the same row as us and the two good-looking blondes; his ticket was for seat 1, not 10, and he was more than happy to move over, even after I offered to trade tickets with him so he could continue chatting up the two good-looking women sitting beside me and my mother.


He actually said: “Ah, I wouldn’t do that to you, buddy…” which I thought was kind of weird, and then “My name’s Hogan: what’s yours?” which amused us both, when I admitted my name was Grogan (it crossed my mind to give a fake name, but was glad I didn’t, when the usher came by for my mom’s walker, and had me fill out a claim card with personal identification) and we shook hands to seal the bond between us: it wasn’t very hard to figure out what was going on when this big fat slob came along, and said: “Hogan, what are you doing over here? The show is just about to start, and you know I like to sit dead centre to the stage, over by the speakers.”


The fat man got Hogan their seats in the disabled section, then Hogan picked up the two good-looking blondes just before the show; Hogan got the blondes their tickets “compliments of the house”, scamming the casino without even using a wheelchair. Because the blondes were the type of ladies that caught you thinking, I should probably be getting home to my wife, I couldn’t bear to make eye contact, staring down the long row of empty seats beside them as we talked.


I’d been married fifteen years, and I was sitting there with my mom, but I couldn’t resist a little chat-up with the blondes. I asked them, “Is this your first time seeing CCR in concert?” to which they replied “We love John Fogerty, but couldn’t get tickets! What time do you think he’ll take the stage tonight?” which explained a lot about their seating situation. Even if John Fogerty had been in the building I would have given them the benefit of the doubt, as to being con artists.


Forty-five minutes into the concert, the blondes got up and walked out: with Hogan and the fat man over in their luxury box that left just me and my mom in the disabled seating section.


I’ve seen John Fogerty live, and he’s alright, but Creedence Clearwater Revisited was unbelievable: probably the best concert of my life. The two original members of CCR had a new front man vocalist, lead guitar, and keyboardist with them out on the nostalgia circuit, and they actually sounded better than a studio album: it was just hit after hit, for two hours straight. I wanted to rush the stage, but couldn’t leave my mom alone without her mobility device to get around the room.


After the show, after retrieving my mother-in-law’s walker from guest services, my mom and I carefully made our way out to the parking lot, shuffling along like she was being filmed for 60 Minutes. My mom was not convinced we were going to get away with scamming the casino for upgraded tickets, and didn’t let down her guard until we reached the car.


But before I could load the mobility device back into the trunk, my mother wanted me to take a picture of her standing hunched over in front of Casino Rama, grinning ear-to-ear. I didn’t think it was a smart idea, but she wanted to post the photograph on Facebook; have a souvenir of the weekend to share with her friends; just the people she could trust to not judge her for wanting to have a little fun with her son in Orillia, at the Creedence Clearwater Revisited concert.


“Next holiday weekend, we’ll put you in a wheelchair, maybe head to Fallsview Casino in Niagara Falls. I’d like to see George Thorogood and the Destroyers. What do you say? There’s nothing wrong with having a little adventure like this, every once in a while. We should do stuff like this together more often. I didn’t know you had it in you.”


She surprised me: “Oh God, Emmett! Your father used to get me to do stuff like this all the time!” So there’s something I didn’t know about my parents, until that night – and something my sister Jackie will never know about our parents, because I doubt Jackie’ll ever read this story.


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