A couple days ago, I was standing outside the casino dealer school I went to with the owner, Peter. We were just bullshitting.

Peter is in his mid-40’s; he’s tall, probably 6’4″ and slender. And white. He wears glasses with thin frames and has a thick British accent, which makes sense because, you know, he’s from England. I was originally introduced to him — unironically — from being a gambler, and asking dealers how they started dealing. I was interested in becoming part of the industry.

One night, my best friend Trey called and said one of his co-artists at the tattoo shop he worked at was going to the casino; he asked if I’d be interested in going, which of I was (of fucking course).

I didn’t have much of a bank account at the time, so I wasn’t originally planning to gamble. Nonetheless, Trey went straight to the high limits at San Manuel, sat down at the $100-minimum table, and went on one of those ridiculous runs that reaffirms to gamblers why they gamble in the first place. Trey must’ve stacked his original $500 into $3,000, easy, and by that time he had given me $500 in chips to go play at the adjacent $50-minimum table.

That’s how my best friend and I have always rolled at the casino. From the beginning, no matter who won and who lost between the two of us, we always gave each other even money before delving into the winnings. And we’ve always split our winnings.

On this night, Trey was the hot hand, and I was playing with house money (which is never not wonderful). Trey left his table with $3,500, and I stacked the $500 he’d given me into $1,500, so we cashed out in the high limits with $5,000. Discounting the original $500, we split the remaining $4,500 and made a net of $2,250 apiece.

One of the best decisions I ever made was setting aside $1,300 of those winnings for casino dealer school, so one day I myself could deal. It was something I wanted to do that would have taken awhile longer had I not been blessed with the best best friend in the world.

Along with school, because I’m that guy, I also bought some Tom Ford cologne that was way too goddamn expensive, some Levi’s I thought were different, and some black T-shirts. That is the legacy of that night; since I accomplished what I set out to do, I consider it a win, overall. (And there’s still some of that sexy cologne leftover, too.)

That night also led my path to cross with Peter’s. I was really young and intimidated when I got started — I’m still pretty young — but I feel like life got simpler once I understood that it’s possible for me to actually work hard for something. That some things take time. There’s a lot of ego in the dealer industry, particularly among the males, but I understood right away that I’d have to sacrifice my ego if I wanted to be as good as so many others who were ahead of me. For the first time in my life, I wasn’t relying on what I had already known to bullshit my way through. The process of actually learning something again was liberating.

After leaving Virginia Tech, I lost my motivation for schooling. I spent time at a couple community colleges, took some classes, stopped going to some classes, and really just lacked the motivation to continue on. I remember taking a philosophy course in August and September, or until I could get a girl’s phone number. Once I got it, I stopped going to that class, and eventually stopped talking to the girl. A year later, I took a non-fiction creative writing course, but only went for a girl. Her name was Courtney. Her and I would go to this coffee shop after class in Fontana, called Badass Coffee. It was probably the most hipster coffee joint of all the surrounding cities, but damn they made a good black coffee. I think it was called Volcano something, so you know that shit was black. Courtney and I had a good little run for a few weeks there; we’d drink coffee and walk through the park in Rancho Cucamonga… we even went out and got dinner and drinks one night. I could tell she liked me a fair amount more than I liked her, which always makes me uncomfortable for some reason. So, Courtney was a sweet girl, but she was just too easy too early on, and I wasn’t at a stage in my life where I wanted to be with anybody.

Anyway, that’s mainly been my carryover from college. Virginia Tech was the best of times and the worst of times, and the other schools were just a blur; I remember more about the people I interacted with than the material we were learning. It all makes sense, in retrospect. It didn’t at the time. When I was in elementary, middle school and high school, I was one of those kids who could give minimal effort and still succeed. I rarely spent time thinking about — or studying — course material when I wasn’t in school. It’s just not something I did. I think I finished my high school career with a 3.4 GPA, or thereabouts. I got into Va Tech because of a decent SAT score, perhaps a decent essay, and the fact I was paying about $30,000 out of state tuition probably helped. I bullshitted my way into my dream school, which was the ultimate validation to my lazy lifestyle.

By the time I was actually in college, the courses didn’t get tougher… they just required more of my time. And I wasn’t used to, or prepared for, dedicating that time. So, naturally, I didn’t do that great. The writing classes were easy because I was so gung-ho to be a writer at the time, so essays were fun, but when it came to Art History or Calculus or Sociology I was basically the same old fool. The same Eric Reining. I had all to talent to be really smart once upon a time… I’ve just sucked at translating my tools into actual skills.

I get that now, and I get that I’m still young enough to be whatever person I want to be. And it was dealer school, of all things, that taught me.

At times I want to scream out to the world, like, do you not see? Do you not see how much I’ve changed? In reality, I haven’t changed changed, but I’ve changed. By that, I mean I’ve always been this person. I’ve always been capable of turning into… well, whatever it is I’m turning into.

You have to start somewhere.

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