2016: In Longform Review

From an early age I possessed what some would describe as Old Man Syndrome. I am the guy who doesn’t go to Vegas for the bars or the club scene; I go to be an old boy and roll dice around the alligator wall of the craps table. I am the guy arriving years late to social media applications because I’m too interested in meaningless bullshit like politics and religion and sports and playing ten year-old video games. I am the guy who often has more in common with 45 year-old coworkers than with my own 1990’s contemporaries.

I also prefer Zephyr-style hats over fedoras and straight billed New Era’s, but that’s a different blog.

Somewhere in there, though, is a young person. Because a young person is what I am. For about the entirety of my life, I have always had one undeniable trump card working against me. And that has more or less been, “Oh, you’ll understand when you’re older,” or “You are only 20-something so you don’t know,” or what have you. But you get it.

Yes, I will better understand things the older I get, though that’s like saying grass is green or the sky is blue. It’s true for everybody, all the time. To that end, those responses might as well be things parents say to children who hear the word “masturbate” for the first time and ask what it means.

As far as being the way to end uncomfortable conversations, it’s not really applicable anymore. It’s weak shit. At 26, I am able to say for the most part — excluding marriage and children — I’ve been there before. Sex is sex; drugs are drugs; rock and roll is rock and roll. I know what it feels like, and my opinion is more valid now than it’s ever been. What it’s ultimately worth is up for debate. (Hint: very little.)

I grant the generation ahead of me one precious thing: time. They do have more experience. By default they have been alive longer than me, and I believe there’s some inherent respect due.

For me 2016 was a transition year, one in a longer line of transition years. But the great buffer, the one that separates me from the older generations, is only shrinking. Eventually my socialist views, the analytical sports lens through which I consume sports, and my common atheism, will not be the rantings and ravings of some 20-something who doesn’t know any better. Eventually, those will be the ideas of the majority. It’s survival of the fittest, and the best ideas will win out.

You hear me now. You can quote me later.

* * * * *

Personally, 2016 was not a bad year. There was an unmistakable upward trajectory coming out of 2014 and 2015, mainly from first getting into the casino and then jumping to a different one, so I just rode that wave of momentum along into this year. This year that momentum stabilized, or plateaued. But it’s a decent enough floor to be able to survive on.

On Christmas morning, or the morning of the 26th, I should say, I got to tell Trey as he was leaving my apartment that, “As of right now, at 1:57, it’s been two years since I’ve worked at [the casino I’m at].” My first shift started at 2:00 a.m. on 12-26-14. In three months it will have been two years since I began dealing craps, the one game that still holds the ability to challenge my brain. My body is eventually going to break down, so I can’t be a dealer forever. But in my young adult life there isn’t much else I would rather be doing.

Away from my life is what made 2016 kind of weird. It was the first full year that my parents weren’t living in the same house, and there are some mixed feelings on both ends of that front. My mom has been exposed as increasingly emotionally fragile, while my dad is withering away on his own in some musty apartment by the university in San Bernardino.

Almost impossibly, my dad transitioned into a sympathetic figure. For years he neglected my mom, and most other things. I think he learned more about our family from my liquor-induced diatribes at his expense than from his own effort. Because my dad doesn’t know how to communicate, and never knew the right way to connect with his kids. He generally stuck to what he knew, what was safe to him, whether it was movies or TV shows or music or, largely in my own case, sports.

And this wasn’t just with my brothers or I. My mom basically raised the three of us by herself, what with my dad working nights and all. She assumed the interpersonal burden of nurturing three sons as they grew up, as well as the business of paying all the bills, doing the tax returns, cooking, cleaning… the whole nine. My dad was there, but he was never really there, you see.

So in the days leading up to when my little brother graduated from high school, in 2014, it was her thought of divorcing my dad that grew strong support of my older brother and I. We knew how unhappy she was. We all knew it was only going to get worse with time and age. And at age-55, my mom deserved the chance to be happy again.

Even after all of that, I think my dad is getting a raw deal. This isn’t due to my mom, who made the correct longterm decision, and it isn’t due to me, the writer, who visits him once or twice a month and has email correspondences with him in the meantime. (My dad likes email.) It is from my two brothers, who have not visited him, who do not keep in contact with him.

They obviously don’t see the situation the same way I do. I acknowledge that we did not have the best father, but it isn’t like he did anything to us to earn such a silence. He didn’t abuse any of us; he didn’t hit my mom, or cheat on her; we didn’t have to skip any Christmas’s because he was out gambling. He was just a lazy partner who didn’t go out of his way to learn or know anything about any of us.

I worry about my dad, because someone’s got to. With Trump about to be in office and the Republicans owning both the House and the Senate, my dad’s life is only going to get harder. Assuming his Social Security benefits get cut at some point sooner rather than later, and his health care premiums go up, he will eventually have to dip into the bit he does have saved just to get by with the month-to-month life he lives. I think there is a realistic scenario that exists, perhaps as soon as five years from now, where my dad will be living with me. If for no other reason that he has no one else to go to.

He talks about moving to Montana, where his younger sister lives, but I’ll be a believer when I see it. My dad doesn’t have a clue how to deal with real life situations, not for the last 15 years or so since my mom took over many of his responsibilities, such as making various appointments and arranging whatever needed to be arranged. The guy couldn’t even make his own doctor’s appointments, or take his truck in to get oil changes without her setting it up. The thought of all the logistics involved with moving to another state, like transporting his things or switching his insurance or a slew of other minor items, make it impossible for me to envision it right now. But for his well-being, I hope he finds a way.

On my mom’s side, I don’t even know. Originally I thought, perhaps with a bit of naïveté, that all of her problems would magically be fixed when she split up with my dad. She was getting a new house in a different city and she’d have my older brother back living with her, along with my little brother. But everything has seemed to go in the opposite direction since the switch.

One major factor was money. My mom has a good job, and she makes good money — especially for a woman. But towards the beginning of the year, only a couple months after she moved, she was forced to take a “temporary” 10% cut in pay, as well as losing her monthly bonus. This came out to around $1,500 per month, which by itself was her portion of the rent. Without that, I kicked in $300 a month and occasionally gave her $100 here and there. Which she always hated having to do.

But this wasn’t the only thing on her plate. She began seeing a guy, which lasted a good six or seven months, and when they broke up she got super depressed. It seemed like every time I went to visit she would drink too much wine and start to cry, for that reason and others. It’s hard for me to relate because I have the whole world ahead of me, but my mom worries that she is destined to be alone for the rest of her life. Whenever it comes up I make sure to let her know how stupid that thought is, how much of a diamond in the rough she is. But my words are just that.

She’s also held down by my little brother. My job-less, driver’s license-less, little brother. He currently has no prospects for the future, and doesn’t seem particularly motivated to start anytime soon. And it’s my mom who takes on the responsibility for that, blaming herself, making it a tough topic to broach. There are so many things she can’t bring herself to talk about without breaking down, presumably because they are the things she spends her days thinking about when no one else is around.

I am not the poster boy for how to deal with sadness, but I’ve experienced it enough to know what to do about it. And it’s always action that leads to solutions. My mom was already aware of this fact when I was battling my own demons, but she gave me the freedom to figure it out myself. It would be selfish of me not to give her the same respect, even if sometimes I feel like shaking her out of it and saying Everything Is Going To Be Fine.

I guess what I mean to say: I see this from everyone’s shoes. My mom is giving herself a guilt-trip for abandoning my helpless father, on top of everything else I’ve written; my dad can’t understand why two of his sons won’t talk to him, and what he did that was so wrong to make my mom leave him; and of course there’s me, the guy who clearly sides with his mom but still has a determined soft spot for his dad.

I want everybody to win. Maybe that’s one of my problems. Because as hard as I try, I have found that playing god is far easier in theory.

* * * * *

Each year I give myself specific, obtainable goals to accomplish. It’s like my version of a Resolution, except it doesn’t put focus on personal habits or behavior. (Things that can be corrected at any time.) It’s about taking an actual step forward, in real life.

A few years ago my goals we to get into my first casino and buy an STi; two years ago my goals were to get into a better casino and get my own apartment. This most recent year, I only had one goal: to get into a 3rd casino. A casino closer to home where dealers make more money than just about every other house in the state.

This is the first year of the last 4 or 5 that I did not accomplish what I set out to. In that sense 2016 was something of a big picture failure. There are a few reasons for this, but we’ll start with the simplest. The deal-breaker.

In November, 2015, my best friend Trey got married in Temecula. That morning, of the 22nd, I was arrested for allegedly driving under the influence, the result of having tinted windows and leaving a strip club at 2:00. I was an easy target. It was like shooting fish in a barrel.

For the record, my lawyer pleaded not guilty and the case is being pled down to a wet and reckless. But the fact that it still hasn’t been resolved has kept me from even applying to this new casino, because the California Gaming Commission — the people who look at my credit history and criminal background — seem to take every offense quite seriously. This casino has been my destination for a few years by this point, and it doesn’t benefit me to risk my future standing with the tribe over an unresolved court case.

Secondly, most of my dealer friends work at this 3rd casino. It’s the place Trey and I have gambled since we were 21, the home of many unforgettable — for better or worse — nights in our brief gambling career. With possibly only one exception, it’s the best casino for a dealer to work at in Southern California.

However, about 12 months ago their management went into upheaval. They brought on a new CEO and General Manager, and the trickle-down made its way to table games. And where once the craps dealers were averaging about $20,000 per year more than the regular blackjack dealers, the playing field got evened. From everything I’ve heard, it’s now even tilted the other way, where the dealers who know less are making more than the craps dealers.

Not only that, but they’ve also gone to a rating system with their dealers. There are premium “A” dealers, “B” dealers and “C” dealers. The higher the rating, the more access to the better games.

This never leads to a healthy environment. The dealers who have been there the longest feel they are being treated unfairly, which leads to jealousy and contempt for management — the people in charge of the ratings. These things take time, and the casino has a way of moving at a glacial pace in these areas. I’m just in a position to wait for the adjustments to happen. Once I hear the craps dealers are happy again, you will see nothing but a shroud of dust behind me.

To be clear, the rating system doesn’t scare me. It’s pretty obvious to me that, regardless of the standard, I’m a premium dealer. I’m young. I’m not terrible looking. I’m extremely friendly from the time I clock in to the time I clock out. And I’m also really good at what I do. I am what casinos want in management, though all I want to do is deal.

Lastly, on top of those two issues, I’m actually really happy where I’m at. Sure, I’m sacrificing some money here. I’m also sacrificing a lot of the time it takes to drive to and from work. But generally speaking, where I am now is like a family. Jesus Christ this sounds fucking cliché.

In real life I have a tendency to be pretty antisocial. I have about as many “real” friends as I do digits on my left hand. In the work casino environment I essentially play a character, the same role I’ve exhausted for most of my life. In either case I’m me, if that makes sense. It’s just the difference between the private me and the character me, the latter of which has a little more filter and a little less ego.

In theory, I understand this is just business. The better business decision would be to leave where I’m at to the greener pastures on the other side.

With some frustration, I realize I’m more brave and ambitious from behind a keyboard. Because I am pretty clearly letting my own personal feelings infect what inevitably needs to get done, and what needs to get done is switching casinos.

For the time being, because of those three reasons, I will not leave where I’m at for a while. It may be another three months, but it could be six or another year for all I know. It really all depends on reasons one and two, as those are the two immediate roadblocks. And once those fall, my family community at work will probably mean less to me than an additional $30,000 or $40,000 per year.

It’s kind of ironic when I really think about it: five or six years ago I used to tell myself that I needed to get out and do interesting things… so I would have material to write about. Now it’s the exact opposite. I’m writing down my goals for what I want to accomplish, before they happen, and in turn I’m doing them just so I can come back and write down that I told you so. Or tell myself so. Either way.

So I will go into 2017 with the same goal in mind that I carried into 2016. The only thing I really want, aside the general Quit Smoking and Trade In My Car For A Truck, is to switch casinos. Make more money. Work closer to home. The ultimate win-win that will square my circle from gambler, to dealer in Coachella, to dealer in Rancho Mirage, all the way back to the casino where it all started. Where Trey and I made many of our great memories together, where he originally planted the thought of becoming a dealer in my head, where all the nostalgia of the past meshes in with my optimism in the present and the potential of the future.

It’s a simple goal, really.

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