A whimsical look at life growing up in the small town of Waldron, Arkansas in the 1960s and 1970s, plus occasional observations from the present. Want to start at the very beginning? Click HERE.

Monday, May 13, 2013

The Trouble With Percy Sledge

When my wife and I found out that the legendary Percy Sledge would be appearing in our area, we knew we had to go see him.  It would be New Year's Eve, 2008, at the Choctaw Casino in Pocola, Oklahoma, only about 20 minutes away.  Percy's great hit song, When A Man Loves A Woman, was a favorite, and the chance to see him sing it in person was too good to pass up. 

Percy was slated to go on at 11:00 PM, so we were in no particular hurry that night.  We arrived at the casino around 10:00, figuring we would kill some time playing the slot machines while we waited for the show to begin. 

But when we got to the casino, which lies just past the border between Arkansas and Oklahoma, we saw that the parking lot was unusually full.  In fact, technically, we ended up parking in Arkansas and walking to Oklahoma.  Literally, since the newest parking lot was across the state line.  But we found one of the few remaining parking places, and walked in the freezing cold to the casino, to play some slots.  We thought.

As you might suspect, EVERY single slot machine was in use.  We walked around for a few minutes, searching, then finally decided we would just find the stage area where Percy was going to appear and wait there.  We found it, but it, too, was packed.  The few rows of chairs that had been set up on the gaming floor were already full, and a larger standing room only crowd had already assembled.  So, we took our place among the hapless throng of standees and prepared to wait for the next 45 minutes.

But then, about 20 minutes into the wait, a disturbance erupted.  A lady somewhere in front of us collapsed, falling onto the casino floor with a resounding "fluff."  I would have said "thud," but the carpeting made it actually sound more like a "fluff" than a "thud."  The people closest to the catastrophe, my wife and I included, began to motion for casino security to come quickly.  They came, making their way through the standing throng, and knelt down next to the poor woman, who was conscious but definitely not chipper.  As they dragged her to her feet, somewhat reluctantly it seems in hindsight, and carted her off, my wife and I noticed that her previous and now vacant standing point was located conveniently next to the side of a slot machine, which would offer a place to rest one's back at least.  So, while our neighbors were still buzzing about the recent events, we covertly began to make our way over to the prime real estate next to the haven of the slot machine.  Soon, we were ensconced in the best "seats" remaining in the house, thanks to what I assume was an inadequate blood sugar level of the previous occupant.   That's the breaks.

Finally, Percy was introduced.  He had a nice combo of musicians with him, along with back-up singers, and sounded great, especially considering his age of 68.  Not only did he sing his classic hit When A Man Loves A Woman, but also nailed his other hits like Take Time To Know Her, The Dark End of the Street, and My Special Prayer.  At midnight, when the new year of 2009 rolled around, and the whole casino raucously celebrated, Percy even called his wife on his cell phone from the stage, since he normally celebrated with her.  Or tried to call, at least; I don't think the call ever went through, because he tried for about five minutes to place it. 

Then, the show resumed for some more great Percy Sledge songs.  My wife and I, leaning comfortably against the side of our slot machine, were enjoying it tremendously.  But then, something caught my eye.  Something barely visible, yet disarming.  Something so discordant that it instantly zapped my attention away from the great music, so that I could focus on only this one thing and nothing else.  Something that was beginning to freak me out.

As Percy sang, he was putting his all into it.  When he hit the high notes, he hit them with every muscle in his body, from the top of his head to the soles of his feet.  And that included his facial muscles.  So, as he neared the end of his performance, I began to detect a bit of color that didn't seem to belong.  I wasn't sure, it was so tiny, just a little spot of color that I could make sense of.  There it was again, when he hit that last note.  What is that?  What am I seeing?

And then, I realized what it was.  It was Percy's right eyelid.  His face was contorting so that, when he hit certain notes, his right eyelid was turning up on its edge, and then staying there.  The dude was singing with his eyelid flipped over. 

When I was a kid, we had a guy at church who would do that; intentionally turn both eyelids inside out and walk around like that, just to freak people out.  And it worked.  So, that memory securely tucked into my subconscious mind, seeing the great Percy Sledge popping that eyelid out freaked me out all over again.

I looked around to see if others were noticing; perhaps someone else would faint.  Perhaps I would faint; I wasn't sure, but my enjoyment was waning the more I looked at that eyelid.

Then, Percy sang his last song, which happened to be a reprise of When A Man Loves A Woman.  The song was so great that it caused me to overlook the eyelid thing and just enjoy the great performance that I was witnessing.  It was after 1:00 AM, and time to go home.

But as we were leaving, some of the crowd had thinned out, and my wife saw a vacant slot machine.  "I want to try that one, " she said, and I, figuring it was already late, knew an extra 30 minutes or an hour wouldn't matter any way, agreed.  She sat down at the machine, put two dollars in it, and before her initial investment was gone managed to hit it for $1,256.50.  Literally within minutes.

So, we get taken back to the cashier to collect her winnings.  Which they give her in cash, of course, along with paperwork for the IRS.  But the good news is, since it is now 2009, we don't have to declare those winnings for an entire 12 months!  During which time, of course, I lose the paperwork for the IRS, and have to go back to the casino 12 months later to get a copy, which costs me $40, which is the amount I put in a slot machine while I'm there to get the paperwork.  But, as I said, that's the breaks.

And of course, our tax man happens to be one of our deacons at church, so we have the somewhat awkward situation of explaining to him that we are turning in $1,256.50 of additional income as my wife's gambling winnings, and he, as an accountant, has to ask if we possibly have some gambling losses to turn in which would balance out the winnings, so we end up having a long conversation about our gambling prowess or lack thereof with our church deacon.  But we really just went to see Percy Sledge, you know. The win at the slot machine was kind of an accident. 

I didn't mention my $40 to him.

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