I Was A Casino Girl

Working on a cruise ship was like being emancipated into another dimension. –Kim Sisto Robinson

It was 1980 something. I was young, fearless, and hopelessly invincible.

Besides, at twenty, I landed a job in Miami on Carnival Cruise Lines as a Croupier, aka Blackjack Dealer. I had previously applied for the Cruise Director position, but apparently, they didn’t accept chicks with no experience.

Like I said before, I was confident, and as Madonna elegantly said in her first interview on Bandstand,

“ready to rule the fucking universe.”

If you’ve watched Titanic, you may already know there is a hierarchy on ships. Still.

The captain and officers are at the highest level, like gods, and the rest of us sort of trickle down, dancers, entertainers, casino girls, shop girls, bartenders, etc. Maintenance is way down in the engine room, presumably dying of the ship’s exhaustion.

Yeah, if an iceberg emerged, they would have drowned first. There is absolutely no doubt about that.

Casino Girls were elevated, but not valued as we should’ve been because, well, we were females.

While working on the Tropicale, I was told from a reliable source, that the Italian officers had a special graph in their administrative office where they rated us in red ink from 1-10 ( extremely, hideously, obnoxiously Donald Trumpish) and checked off the girls they had sex with.

For your information, I WAS NOT on that list.

And by the way, this list also included passengers. Lots and lots of poor, undersexed, widowed, vulnerable, lonely women that the officers were required to dance and flirt with. It was quite heartbreaking observing these encounters.

One of my cabin mates, Elaine, was the Captain’s girlfriend. I must confess, I was envious of her with that model thin body, bronzed, flawless skin, and long hair, which flowed down her back like an auburn avalanche. The other casino girls informed me that Captain Giuliani gave Elaine money to have all of her teeth aligned and whitened in Grand Cayman the first month they were together. Rows of perfect white pearls. I didn’t look at him the same after that.

Seriously, who the hell did this guy think he was? Weren’t her teeth good enough for the Sicilian adulterer? Yeah, he was married. They all were.

In those days, being a Casino Girl was glamorous. We wore black tuxedoes, towering heels, long painted nails, and a full face of 80s makeup. We were sort of like Playboy bunnies without the taut bustier, bunny tail, and Hugh Hefner.

The majority of the girls were exotically beautiful; originating from every continent. Leah, the pit boss, was from Mikhail Baryshnikov’s hometown, Latvia. She was severely striking, spoke six languages, wore deep scarlet lipstick, and she was mean as triple hell. She also happened to be married to sweet little George, the casino manager, who was old enough to be her grandfather. Leah sauntered around in her ebony stilettos and size two body as if she were Catherine the Great.

“You,are too rough with cards. You must flow with fingers, not force like fool.”she said in a thick, Russian accent.

After that, she curled her perfect lips and walked away from my blackjack table with a huff.

Even through the bitchiness, I was abundantly intrigued by this Latvian creature who smelled of Cartier perfume and Virginia Slim cigarettes. As I look back, I believe those particular women from faraway lands are who taught me the most.

Every Casino Girl had a story.

Like me, some girls were in transition, evolving, not prepared for university, or a 40 hour per week job. In truth, we desired escape from reality.

Others, like Ludia, were on the ship to earn tips to send home to their families in Columbia and Ecuador. Still, several were there for no other reason than to party hard, drink goombay smashes, get the ultimate tan, bathe in the Caribbean, and have as much sex as they wanted without consequence.

Free love. Drugs. Booze. Rock and roll.

Yep, it was pretty much Woodstock on the Atlantic. I mean, nobody would’ve been surprised if Jimmy Hendrix walked out, lit his guitar on fire, and started playing Star Spangled Banner.

I remember sitting on deck with a few Casino Girls drinking Pina Coladas and listening to waves crashing against the ship.

“You know what?” I said.
“The rest of the world could blow up, and we’d still be sipping our drinks.”

That feeling of emancipation and freedom has never left me. It was beautiful, in a way, to just be, to unhook, to unfasten, to be uncontrolled, and release your hair from its knots.

Yeah, that was kind of beautiful while it lasted.

POSTSCRIPT: I married a British technician from Liverpool who fixed the slot machines for Carnival Cruise Lines. After a wild and crazy life aboard ships, we now live on land in Duluth, Minnesota with our two boys, Andrew, Alexander & our very weird cat, Bizzy Body.

Photo Credit: pokerphotos Flickr via Compfight cc

  1. Kim- I am so glad that we met after the casino days! All the trouble I would have gotten into… and with you! And what a prize you got in Mr. Liverpool. xoxo

  2. Married the electrician Leonardo, had one child, moved to Italy for a few years and now after 30+ years, finally admitting my now ex would never quit hoing around, I still strggle to accept the reality and boredom of living on land and pretending to be normal. I now live vicariously through my memories!

  3. I can FEEL the vibe of the 80’s coming off this post!! It brought back so many memories from that time, some good, some not so good. There really was a wildness to the freedom of the lat 70’s early 80’s. Now I get that feeling with Alpha Hubby (snicker, snicker).

  4. I’ve only cruised with my kids, so I never glimpsed the behind the scenes of cruising. What an adventure! My most exciting job was being a switchboard operator.

  5. HAAaa, LOL
    And you with your beautiful face and bleach-blonde hair.
    you were quite a sight, Melanie!
    And who was your boyfriend? Some officer? !!
    Wonderful, memorable times. xxx

  6. —Debbie,
    what I remember the most are the scents of Halston & Cachet & Coconut suntanned oil….
    And the over-abundance of EVERYTHING.
    Loved all the makeup and BIG FAT Gigantic Hair. xx

  7. Kim…you saucy minx you.
    I love this but especially the feeling…the knowing that the world could have been blown up and you could still be out there sipping your drinks. What a rush that must have been?
    You’re a fabulous story teller Kim. I hang on to every word. xoxox

  8. Kim, you need to write a book! I’m telling ya, people would LOVE reading your memories of those Casino Girl days! The ’80s seem so far away now, don’t they? Yet those of us who lived through the big hair, makeup, and broad shoulders remember them oh-so-well, ha!

  9. Oh the stories we all could tell! I will never, ever forget your can of Aqua Net which probably tore a hole in the ozone the size of Australia the amount you used!!! You rocked that hair girl! You and Audrey the inseparable duo! Darkest tan around!

  10. I was a Casino Girl too! Kim and I sure knew how to take peoples money! Those were the days my friend..

  11. This must have been a crazy, fabulous period Kim! I feel freedom in your words.
    You are a real rocking lady!

  12. Wow what a story! SO interesting to get the ‘scoop’ on a cruise ship. This was SO much fun to read, Kim! I could picture each and every detail with your elaborate descriptions. This one will stick with me today- on replay. 🙂 I love that you and hubs met this way…

  13. I LOVE this! Carnival was our first cruise. I love cruising! I’m working on a deal to write for a cruise line and, maybe get a free cruise!

  14. Kim, this is wonderful, and although I was not a Casino Girl, this brings back so many wonderful memories of the very best of carefree times! AND…I still LOVE 80’s hair!!

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