My Inner Critic

My One Book, One Blog pledge is gone as of this. I’m reading, okay? I’m reading more than I have read at any point in my life. Is that not good enough? Are you not entertained?

Politics

To spare you of all the ass-backwards political shit trickling down from Washington — such as the Muslim ban and airport protests thereof, the right-wing radical Supreme Court appointment, the coming onslaught of rights being taken away from women and union workers, et. al — I will be as brief as possible:

What has struck me, especially, in Trump’s first couple weeks in office have not been his ridiculous executive orders. To some degree boneheaded decisions were the expectation here, were they not? What I have noticed is the decay in the rhetoric of his supporters, whether in reality or on social media. It has taken a whole two weeks, and the best endorsement they can give is some version of “Well everyone thought the world would end once he became president, but ha! We are still here!”

If that is the barometer to what is acceptable then, sure, go be easily impressed. But first, please explain something to me:

Why was Barack Obama held to such a higher standard? Especially considering his detractors, of which almost universally declare that he was the worst President in the history of the United States.

The Republican Party, with a majority in the House and Senate since 2010, fought tooth and nail to block anything and everything Obama wanted to accomplish, ensuring that government wouldn’t properly function. Then Trump campaigned on the fact that government wasn’t working — where his “all talk, no action” line came from — and blamed Obama for it. To the average Republican, any idea from Obama was a bad one simply because it was his. That couldn’t possibly be the product of subtle racism, could it?

Now we are here, living with Trump. And suddenly the bar has been set so low that even fucking breathing is considered something noteworthy. That is a long way removed from the optimism of even two months ago… all the way back when he was elected. Why was it so goddamn impossible to accept President Obama, and why is it so easy to forgive Trump’s obvious incompetence? How long will people hold on before figuring out what many of his voters have already realized: that it was, from the very beginning, all a cynical lie.

For the record, the Democratic Party is a mess at the moment. We are at a time where the base of the party are the activists and organizers in the grassroots, but most of the politicians’ allegiances remain with the corporate interests of Wall Street and Big Pharma. My comrades in the streets are the Progressives, or Justice Democrats, who may as well be their own party by now. There is no better recruiting device for the left than Donald Trump himself, who has very clear plans to destroy what is left of the middle class, which is also to say the working class may have it as rough as any point since the 1930’s. Like Bill Maher said, it’s a good time to have Fuck You Money. For everyone else, the odds are substantially stacked against them.

And the Democrats, the politicians supposedly fighting to protect our rights, are the same people approving Donald Trump’s insane cabinet appointments. This is not the way to inspire party participation. History, or more importantly the American people, will reward those in the Senate and House who fight every inch of the way against Trump — the same as the GOP did to obstruct President Obama — from now until his final day in office.

Sports

Last week I got a $250 quarterly bonus from work, so after taxes it came out to $151.88. This seemed like the ideal opportunity to deposit it into Bovada and bet on some sports.

The beauty of sports betting is I can go at my own pace. I can bet on any sport for any amount of money, and whenever I feel like it. If that means it’s 3:30 A.M. on the west coast and there is a live Korean Basketball game on in the 2nd quarter, with two teams I’ve never heard of filled with a bunch of players I’ve never heard of, and I’m betting the over/under on points, then so damn be it.

Playing table games at the casino — whether it’s craps or blackjack — gives me a different sensation. The pace of the game doesn’t allow me to savor anything beyond the rush of adrenaline and my basic gambling instincts. The minimum blackjack bet I put down is $25, and on craps I usually have around $100 at risk at any given time. So yeah, there is the potential to make more in a shorter period, but it is equally easy to blow my load in 10 or 15 minutes if the luck is against me.

After a day of betting on sports, I was up $100. My original $151.88 buy-in was up to exactly $250.

On Saturday, everything flipped against me. I lost a few bets in a row to start the day, then put $25 on Duke (-7 points) to beat Wake Forest (which turned out to be a losing bet), and another $25 on the first half over in points (which was also a losing bet). My $250 pot was down to $80, and I was at my wit’s end.

With Duke down by 10 at the half, Bovada’s money line on the game had Duke winning at +195* (almost 2-to-1). Out of sheer desperation, equivalent to losing a bunch of blackjack bets in a row and shoving the rest of my money in, I placed a final $80 bet on Duke to win at +195. If I was going down then Duke was going to have to lose to bust me out, and the price was simply too good to pass up. Er, I thought it was.

*In case you are not familiar, being +195 means you win $195 for every $100 bet. Conversely, if Duke was -195, for instance, it would mean you would have to bet $195 to win $100. The more certain the bet, the less return you receive on your money. The less certain the bet, the greater return you get on your money. It is as simple as that.

With 4:00 left in the game Duke still trailed by 10 points, 81-71. Duke’s odds on Bovada increased to something hefty, like +800 (8-to-1). I had abandoned all hope, and was prepared to take the L and find something else to do with my Saturday.

But as some small miracle, just as they have done countless times in the 18 or so years since I’ve been following the team, the Blue Devils restored my faith. Below are the scoring plays over the game’s final 3:39, with Duke’s point total in the former and Wake Forest’s in the latter:

  • Luke Kennard 3-pointer, 74-81
  • Luke Kennard 2-pointer, 76-81
  • Keyshawn Woods 2-pointer, 76-83
  • Luke Kennard 3-pointer, 79-83
  • Grayson Allen 3-pointer, 82-83
  • Luke Kennard 3-pointer, 85-83

Kennard’s game-winner came with 6 seconds left on the clock. He finished the day with 34 points on just 14 shots, including a perfect 6-for-6 from beyond the arc. In a completely meaningless Saturday game against Wake Forest, one of the bottom-dweller’s of the ACC, for me it was Duke’s most valuable win since the beginning of April in 2015 when they won the National Championship against Wisconsin. (As an aside, my best friend Trey probably never saw me the same after that game. I acted like a fucking maniac sports fan that night.) The Wake Forest game itself was not significant. But it did make me money and keep me in action. My $80 bet turned into a winner and netted me $156, putting my total pool of money back to $236, which was almost even for the day.

Over the last seven days or nights (or both), since that Luke Kennard shot and Duke win, I have placed an unhealthy number of bets, but none more than around $50. My total balance got to slightly above $1,000, and I have since cashed it out. That innocuous $151.88 bonus check turned into a $1,000 bonus check. If Luke had missed that game-winning shot, I would have been out of dough and this section would be reserved for something else entirely.

Gambling

The sickest thing is I have friends who, since they know I work at a casino, are always beaming to tell me when they win. And in my excitement for them, I ask how well they did. Usually it’s, like, $20. In the crazier cases it’s up closer to $50. People are genuinely ecstatic to win that amount of money, and it is true that I envy the hell out of them for it. Because I am a product of Too Much Too Soon.

What I mean by that is, even when I was working a $12 per hour job, my come-ups at the casino were never less than a couple hundred dollars. Trey and I used to grind out blackjack sessions for two or three hours at a time just to get back to even money, but we pressed on until we either busted out or reached a satisfactory number to leave with. I’m sure at least a couple(-few) dozen times we stood there, whispered into the other ear, “Should we leave now that we are even?” And then carried on.

Enablers are going to enable.

One night, Trey and I bought in with $200 apiece and built it up into $2,500. Relatively easily, if I remember right. Since we split our winnings down the middle, that would have been — discounting the buy-in — $1,050 each. At the time that figure would have been about 20% more than my bi-monthly paycheck from work. It should have been completely elementary for us to cash out what would, to this day, still be a top-10 casino trip in terms of net-profit.

But he and I were different back then. We were not in the business of appreciating money, particularly, and the fact that we went to the casino 5 or 6 days a week totally twisted our conception for the value of a single dollar. If we didn’t make it that day, we would come back and make it another day. That’s how we thought, at least. The two of us had already made $1,000 each multiple times before, and to varying degrees we thought that was going to be the night we made a bigger splash.

So the two of us contemplated outside the large double doors leading into the high-limit area. Trey was adamant to bet $500 per hand, and I gave him tacit approval to do so by virtue of not stopping him.

What transpired was utterly devastating. We had five black chips — five $500 chips — and played five blackjack hands. We lost every one of them over the course of, I don’t know, a minute? A minute and a half? Not only that, we lost our original $400 that the two of us bought in with. We lost out on our share of $2,100 and we lost what we came to play with.

We thanked the dealer and casually walked back out to the main floor like it was no big deal. For the same reason I didn’t slam doors as a child, I’ve never let my emotions get the best of me in front of any dealers or floor persons. To do that would show that the casino really won, and getting the best of me is something I aggressively try to avoid.

But it would be a lie to say I wasn’t visibly affected.

“You didn’t have to do that,” I said to Trey as we made our way to the escalators to leave.

“Well you didn’t say anything,” he responded. Trey, too, was frustrated, and understandably given the amount of money we just lost. He seemed quite prepared for my backlash.

“I’m just saying, we were up,” I started.

“If you didn’t want me to play then you should have said something and we would have left. It’s a simple as that,” Trey concluded.

The whole ride home we didn’t say much. We both realized we fucked up, and we were both right in our minor argument: no, we didn’t have to play that money and, hindsight being 20/20, we shouldn’t have. At the same time, yeah, if my reservations were as strict as they were after we had lost, I absolutely could have said ‘let’s take the win and come back tomorrow.’ And Trey would have been fine with that.

What I have learned about Trey in the decade we’ve been close friends, is that his level of pride is equal to or greater than my own. Of all the people I know or have known he is the only person I can reasonably say that about. In the overwhelming majority of cases, I believe it has made both of us better people (and not only because we refuse to lose playing pickup basketball). We are not in competition with one another in the game of life, but it’s fairly clear — to me, anyway — that we consistently raise the interpersonal standard for each other.

But the flip side to that is what has happened when we have had disagreements. It could be over the stupidest shit, like money in this case, and the two of us will just stand our ground and wait for the other side to cave. We once did this dance for a year-and-a-half, and when it was finally over we realized what is now so much easier to realize: that there is very little in life that is actually worth it to beef over. He’s my best friend, I’m his best friend, and that is both as complicated and as basic as it needs to be.

I don’t remember which of us it was, but one of us asked the other if they wanted to go to Del Taco and that was the end of the spat. Food is one of life’s great equalizers, and while we broke bread we hashed over what had just happened at the casino, vowing never again to lose such money and argue about it thereafter. We had to get better.

Five years later, I am not entirely sure what I have learned. I gamble as aggressively as I ever have before, and I’m certain I’ve lost about five times as much money since becoming a dealer. The only difference now is I only go to casinos every two or three months, as compared to the unsustainable frequency Trey and I exhibited when we were barely eligible to step foot in one.

It’s some small victory that I set a thousand-dollar goal with my bonus check, and executed it. In that way it was a lot like being at a casino; every hundred dollars I made I told myself, okay, you won’t leave with anything less than $350. Then it turned into $450, and $550, and $750, and then I made it to four digits and that was the end of it.

This is such small beans in the long run. I mean, what is a thousand dollars, really? It is nothing more than six or seven items of Polo Ralph Lauren, a couple Amazon Prime Pantry orders, and several tanks of gas. More so it might just be a symbol of some kind, one that tells me it is possible to leave on top. That there is nothing wrong with quitting while being ahead, even if it’s not $2,000 or $5,000 or $10,000 — something to really write home about.

The downside to when I do actually win money gambling is that, unlike some of my friends who win $20 here or $50 there, I don’t really have anyone to tell. At least no one besides Trey or my mom or brothers. Part of the reason is because money can be a tacky subject to talk about, anyway, and I try to be sensitive to that. Another problem are the figures. Even though it’s true it makes me feel like the asshole, or like I’m boasting. I would much rather say I lost $500 than admit to any of my winning nights, as it feels more human to claim a setback than a victory. That, and frankly almost nobody my age can relate to what Trey and I have won and lost at the casino.

So, along with all the other things I don’t really like to talk about in real life, I am writing it here. So at least I know it was real. I cannot stress enough just how rare it is that I set a gambling goal and chose not to press on and try to squeeze out another few hundred. This counts as one in the win column for the good guys.

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