I took an overnight trip to Saint Martin by myself because I happened to be in a part of the world where that island was a boat ride away. The Caribbean isle is tiny, yet is claimed by two nations, France and The Netherlands. They apparently agreed to disagree by splitting the land protrusion in two.
I decided to stay on the French side because I had hoped to practice my French, which had been getting rusty since I graduated from a French immersion secondary school in Canada a decade prior.
I chatted up a bartender at happy hour who mentioned that there were casinos on the Dutch side of the island. Casinos. At the time, even as a 28-year-old, I had somehow never gambled at a casino.
I took a taxi to the Dutch side and strolled through the doors of Casino Royale. The sights and sounds were intoxicating, the stench of cigarettes surprising. I sat down at a $5 blackjack table and put down $25, ready to make my first bet. I ordered a gin & lime, which arrived promptly and for free.
A fellow gambler and the dealer taught me the basics of Blackjack, and within twenty minutes, I was splitting aces, doubling down and I quintupled my buy-in to $125! Look at me go! But, I knew how casinos make their money, and I, for one, am not a sucker. So, I did the responsible thing and quit while I was ahead.
I cashed in my chips, bid my new friends adieu, and strolled out of the casino a nouveau riche. The glimmering lights of an apparent strip club across the street caught my eye. I was also inexperienced with such establishments and I had no other plan, so I went in.
There, I discovered that drink prices at strip clubs are out of control and the pressure from strippers to get a lap dance is bonkers. I, for one, am not one to give in to overpriced gimmicks. So, I did the responsible thing. I finished my drink, wished the stripper I was talking to well, left the strip club, and went back to the casino to collect some more of their money and lap up some more of their free booze.
This time, I sat down at the Big Boy table: $25 minimum bet. Fuck it, I thought, I’m up $100. I obviously have a knack for this game; what’s the worst that could happen? Within a cool eight minutes, I lost my $125 plus another $300 I had withdrawn from the ATM trying to win my losses back, and the cocktail waitress never showed.
Holy shit, I thought, I had better stop gambling. So, I summoned the courage to do the responsible thing. I cut my losses, left the casino, and marched back to the strip club where I wouldn’t be subjected to such highway robbery.
There, I was quickly reacquainted with the stripper who had been hounding me earlier to get a lap dance. Thirty dollars was the pitch. I had never gotten a lap dance before. Fine, I rationalized, that’s a single hand of blackjack. I’ve got that remaining in my wallet. So, to the back room we went, and as promised, beautiful breasts made their appearance. Oh look, now they’re in my face.
I was comfortably drunk by then, the music was loud, I had a stripper dancing on me, and my dour mood from the gambling loss was subsiding. I could get used to this life, I thought. I imagined myself growing old on this two-nation island, picking my French back up, stopping in at the strip club every once in a while.
The stripper leaned into my ear to say something I assumed would be dirty. “It has been four songs now,” she said, “so, $120. you’re having fun and want me to keep going, right?”
I was jolted from my trance. “Wait, what? I thought you said the lap dance was thirty dollars!” “Oh no," she said, "that’s per song. It has been four songs now, and of course, a tip is appreciated here in Sint Maarten!”
I called an end to this madness and lied I didn’t have the money. She put her clothes back on posthaste and summoned the strip club manager to handle the situation.
He, an imposing-looking fellow, informed me that the bill was non-negotiable and that if I didn’t have cash, they accept all major credit cards. He also “trusts” that I don’t want any problems tonight.
I somehow negotiated the bill to a more manageable $50, paid up