2017: In Longform Review

Since I’m not the guy to make a New Year’s Resolution¹, I try instead to set general goals for myself. These range from typical things like quitting smoking, to getting a new job or buying a new car. As long as I feel like I’m moving forward, it’s a win; if it seems more like stagnation, it’s a loser. Growth is what I worship both in my bank account and personal life (and in that order), though if I had to issue myself an honest grade of 2017 in either category (or both), it would read either satisfactory or incomplete. 

There is some phenomenon I keep harping back to, and I don’t know if it’s one of those things that only affects me, or if it’s one of those things that affects everybody my age. It basically goes like this: I think that I’m doing pretty well for someone from my generation, but I constantly compare myself to everyone who has already made it. With that as the perpetual bar, or standard, it’s an easy reminder that I am not doing nearly well enough.

That isn’t to say I don’t appreciate where I am. It goes without saying that if you rewound the tape to 10 years ago and ran a million simulations of my life between then and right this second, there would be a ridiculous and wide range of outcomes². Some percentage of the time I may have graduated from Virginia Tech and gone on to be a sports writer for the The Roanoke Times, or some shit. Some other percentage of the time I may have gotten lost in all the painkillers and alcohol and seen how that all played out. And other times, like this one, I picked up a gambling habit when I turned 21 and parlayed that into becoming a craps dealer.

¹ I’m pretty sure I say the same thing every year: I am the anti-New-Year’s-Resolution guy. I’ve got nothing against the people who are about that life; I am only saying that if you have something you want to change, why wait until an arbitrary day of the year?
² This can also be said about literally anyone.

I set some goals for myself in 2015, and last year I wrote about how I largely failed to execute any of them. The main one, of course, was to leave the casino I currently deal at and start working at San Manuel³, which has always been the place I assumed I would end up. So that has been a goal two years in the making, and it’s in the same relative place now as it was then.

There are pros and cons to both scenarios, which is ultimately why I have stayed where I’m at this long. The biggest inducements for getting me to leave involve making more money and traveling less. Right now I commute about an hour, and working at San Manuel would cut the trip in half. Any normal person likely would have left the first chance they got.

For me, though, it’s not so simple. I really like where I work, and 40- and 50-somethings tell me all the time how hard it is to find a job that you enjoy. That has to mean something. While my obvious end game is going to San Manuel and making more, both in earnings (from tips) and savings (from putting fewer miles on my car), the little voice in my head keeps telling me that I’m happy where I’m at. And that the grass might not be greener on the other side.

These so-called “problems” have a way of resolving themselves. After a while I always find myself getting bored with my surroundings — the people, places, and things — and all it takes is one day where I feel like drastically changing and, poof, there it is. Despite thinking things through, and attempting to make the best, most rational choices I possibly can, some of the biggest decisions I’ve made in my life have been on a whim. As one example, I got pissed off when I was 21 and walked out on my first job. As another, a few months later in a McDonalds drive through I decided to go to dealer school. Some of my finest moments have come spur of the moment, right off the top of my head.

And there, I assume, is where my next big idea will come from. I make grand plans on my blog to get rich through the stock market, or to play the long game with my Roth IRA, or to plan out every inch of the next five years of my life. In reality? I’m the same as I ever was. Some days I feel like doing the normal, boring thing. Other days I want to take risks and gamble my future on whatever I think is best in that moment. I know which is the smarter play. I just don’t know if I have the discipline to go through with it.

³ San Manuel is located in my hometown of San Bernardino, CA, which makes it seem pretty illogical that the dealers make more there, as compared to a casino like Morongo (which is more well-known because of the movie The Gambler), or casinos in the Palm Springs area (which are filled disproportionally by old people with lots of cash and nothing else to do). With California casinos, it’s all about location. San Manuel does so well because it’s the only place in the area, and they tend to get a lot of action from Los Angeles.

* * * * *

Towards the end of last year I wrote that, in 2017, I intended to read more. I think I said that I would only allow myself to blog after I completed a book. To give you an idea of how that worked out: This year I wrote 59 blogs, which averages out to one every 6.2 days. As far as reading is concerned, I think I picked up like five books. Total. I probably completed just two of them.

To refrain from calling myself lazy (which is possibly true), or a bullshitter (which is definitely true), I will take the copout and say that I moved at the beginning of March, and most of my books were sitting in a box in the garage all year. I just never really got around to getting back in there. I still have at least one Kurt Vonnegut book that I’ve yet to touch, at least one Christopher Hitchens book that I never opened, and I am still slugging through Hunter S. Thompson’s The Great Shark Hunt. It’s rested inside a Polo Ralph Lauren shoebox in my room for the last six months.

What does it matter? That’s the appropriate question. It doesn’t. All it shows is that my goals stretch thin in the dumbest areas, and even those get pushed to the back-burner when other goals take priority, or when life itself forced me to focus elsewhere.

Personally speaking, 2017 was not a challenge¹. None of my family members died, I didn’t get fired from my job, I didn’t lose any extremities in a horrific Sea-Doo-ing accident. Since I go all the way to the fucking ground to set my expectations, then mostly everything looks up. And I find that to be the only way to live: People have it really damn good until the point when they don’t. I try to appreciate the time in between.

I juxtapose such a low bar, where expectations are simple and straightforward, with the obvious idea that I’m not a content person. If you could look back on my catalog as a writer you would see that the times I’ve thought I was good were also the times I was most lost.

But this is kind of a theme, after all. When I’m having a down stretch — whether it’s financial or personal — I see the world more clearly. When I am flush, or feeling especially confident, there seems to been an inevitable crash to help balance the books. As a 27 year-old I remain decades away from the old curmudgeon I am destined to become, but I’ve started the process of understanding that the universe is, and forever will be, undefeated. And rather than fighting it, or bitching that I can never get ahead, it’s better to sit back and laugh at the irony life throws at me. If the alternative is being upset about what is oftentimes out of my control, then I don’t see any other way.

¹ I had to do five weekends of a work-release program to help pay my debt to society for my DUI (which got reduced to a wet-reckless), and I had a subsequent 15-week first offender program. Other than that there was nothing trying about the year.

* * * * *

My goals for next year, 2018, are more of a continuation of what they have been, but only because nothing’s changed. I am looking to make more money (duh), and the most obvious way to do that would be to go to San Manuel. I’d also like to think that 2018 is going to be the year I buy my first house, a goal that has been in the making for the last 12-18 months. If I can accomplish either of those things then the year will be a win.

Realistically, I have no idea. On March 20th I will turn 28, and I’ve used that as my loose target date to know one way or the other. In my head I think I’ll present it to my bosses as an ultimatum. I’d love to work where I’m currently at, but if they can’t make me full time — which is sort of the policy the casino is taking, since they don’t want to pay benefits — then I will have to explore other options¹.

Buying a house is what I really want to do, but it’s at least partly contingent on how quickly both of my brothers get dealing jobs. Since I suspect dealer school will take three or four months, that means they could (in theory) be working before summertime. If that’s the case, then odds are more likely that I will be able to move out during the year, since they will no longer need me to help with the rent.

And that is, regardless of me going to San Manuel and/or getting a house, the real win of 2018: Both of my brothers will be doing better for themselves, which in turn is good for me. Five years ago when I landed my first dealing job I had to settle for the only place that would hire me. In their cases, every casino is currently hiring. So they won’t be stranded in the cold by a job freeze; they will get to select the place that’s best for them, and they will be making significantly more than I did when I started.

My family is pretty tight, so we would find a way to make it work either way. But what’s good for everyone is good for me, just like what’s good for me is good for everyone². That’s love. I thought I would have to fight a lot harder to get my brothers into what I am doing, but once my older brother made his choice, my younger brother followed suit. And I really struggle to see the downside, possibly because it doesn’t exist.

¹ In this case, exploring “other options” only means auditioning at San Manuel. There, the dealers start full-time, which is vital. I was 24 when I got hired at the casino I currently work at, and I have been on-call for the duration. I get a schedule and everything, but over the course of the year it averages out below the 30 hours per week threshold. (Roughly it equates to 7 or 8 days each pay period.) The main point of the story is when I turned 26, I got taken off my parents’ insurance plan. That’s why I need to be full-time.
² Spoken like a true Socialist.

As for personal goals, of course I would like to read more and quit smoking. Those are constants. But rather than putting those down as a legitimate goal to strive for, I’m just going to hang out and see what happens. I’ve normally pawned off my smoking habit as something that won’t exist by the time I have kids, but who knows when that will be. And what’s so wrong with doing it sooner?

I really hate to use cliches, and you know this. If I had to classify 2017 as anything, though, it would be the year of No News Is Good News. Most of my ongoing “plans,” those things I make up in my head only to see them crash and burn in reality, are of the longer-term variety. They aren’t day-to-day, or even month-to-month or year-to-year. They are over the long haul.

So the “goals” I have set are with that in mind. I’m thinking big. There was a time I was so unhappy that I had a hard time seeing as far as the next week, since I was so extremely self-absorbed and nothing seemed to help. Then it got better, and the picture of what I envisioned for myself grew more expansive and added some color.

If my life was some sort of graph, or a chart like they use in the stock market, it would have reached its pinnacle in 2008 and been at its lowest point in 2009-’10. The former represented the stage where I had the most longterm potential, while the latter represented the crash (or depression, in a manner of speaking). But then a comeback ensued.

In 2012, when I began dealer school, my stock slowly made its way up again. And then 2013 happened, and I got hired at my first casino and bought my first car. Then 2014 happened and I got hired at my second casino. Then 2015 happened and I got my first apartment, which I got to live in all by myself. I have been moving in the right direction for the last half-decade, I feel like.

Now, it’s just a matter of which way the chart is going to spike next. There is legitimate potential that where I’m at now is as good as it’s going to get for the next few years, and if that’s the case it’s a decent baseline. I can live like this, if this is how I have to live. But in my heart of hearts I still feel like I am being undervalued, that there is so much more I can (and should) do, and that the time will come when more is going to be expected of me. And perhaps now more than ever, I think I am ready for that challenge. It’s the challenge I’ve been waiting my life for.

2017 was not that year, and it may be so that 2018 will not be that year, either. It’s coming though. I hope it’s as productive for you as I plan on making it for myself.