Norman Allan
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Short Stories







Phil's Choice

Phil set out in November. He had three thousand dollars, U.S., in travelers cheques and one hundred dollars cash. He drove down to Windsor, hit the casino, and won three thousand Canadian on the slots. Night in a five star hotel. In his recollection, a fabulous meal. Drove on the Chicago, to Herod's River Boat Casino. Won thirty three hundred, American. He went to a second river boat casino and won another two thousand. He drove down to St. Louis. Lost a thousand. In Kansas City he had an oil change and a truck stop lunch; pork chops, fried chicken, mash, green beans, salad, the best meal he'd ever had. Drove down to Oklahoma City. Lost a thousand. In Albuquerque he stayed at the El Rancho Hotel and he did quite well. He gambled for three days and only lost a thousand dollars. Visiting a casino in Flagstaff he lost another thousand. Hit Los Vegas, the Barbary Coast Hotel on the strip. Won seven or eight hundred. At Bali's he won a thousand. In Caesar's Palace he lost two or three thousand. But his stocks were up. He went back to Caesar's Palace and lost another two thousand, and that sort of cleaned him out.

Phil drove across Death Valley. "I think I came on this trip to die," he told himself. He crossed the mountains, Sacramento, San Francisco, turned north across the Golden Gate Bridge. He put his feet in the Pacific and drove on northwards. In Portland he called his brother in Toronto. His brother, David, flew out to meet him in Vancouver. They drove over the Rockies to Banff. Another wonderful hotel. Hot springs. Another wonderful meal. (Actually, as Phil recalled the story to me there was extraordinary meal after extraordinary meal, but I've left most out for brevity.) In Calgary Phil lost a thousand dollars of David's money. Past Kenora in western Ontario on the way to Soiux Ste. Marie the road feels mountainous. A huge truck carrying timber was approaching them on the mountain road and suddenly some fool was trying to pass it. There was no room for the three of them. "We're going to die," thought Phil. "Just as I suspected." But they didn't. They squeezed past and drove home to Toronto.

"The worst thing about it all," said Phil, "was that I knew I'd have to tell you and tell my therapist." But that's not the point of the story. The point of the story, the bit I felt was poignant was that when Phil was driving out of Chicago with ten thousand dollars in his pocket, he was faced with the choice, ("Faced again with the choice," he says) of turning right, west, and driving to Pipestone, Minnesota, to buy up some pipestone, and then maybe looking for Leonard Crow Dog in the Dakotas - chasing spirit - or turning south and following his addiction. And we do it all the time… I do it all the time, eat that chocolate, that French-fry, that cigarette. Why is the downward path the path of least resistance? Potential energy and gravity. "Well," say Phil, "I turned south because it was turning cold."