Benchmark

It’s not like I’ve been jonesing to gamble on something — whether it’s the NFL, blackjack at a casino, or a random roll of the dice outside a dive bar at 1:30 a.m. — but it isn’t normal that I haven’t bet on anything in the last couple months. I took a few cracks at the NFL in the first three weeks of the season, but I got flattened the fuck out with an 0-6 record and probably got gun shy. Fuck it.

Losing hasn’t been my biggest deterrent, though; it’s that now is just a stupid time to be gambling. The last few months I’ve found myself in the middle of the slow season in the desert, at least as far as the casino I work at is concerned. In the summertime there aren’t as many people around because it’s over a hundred degrees every day (and oftentimes in the one-teens and occasionally one-twenties), in September kids are going back to school so people are spending less money, and in October nothing is really happening until Halloween. So I haven’t been clearing very many big days.

The second factor is some chunk of my money has gone to paying my older brother’s bills for the last few months. Towards the end of last year I finally convinced him to go to dealer school — along with my little brother — and baked into the idea was me being willing and able to cover his financial situation when it came time. It hasn’t been for the duration of the year. For a while there he was living off his 401k that he cashed out, and he also got a little bit of money for a profit-sharing thing at the same job.

I’m not mad about it. This is what I wanted all along, for my brothers to be doing what I’m doing. I frequently lament how there aren’t many good-paying jobs in this economy, especially for young people without college degrees. I don’t think I considered that very much when I broke into the casino industry; I just knew it was a good job and that it was something I wanted to do. With my brothers, though, it feels more like a necessity. It’s just hard to make it in California — or anywhere — making $12 or $15 or even $18 an hour.

When it comes to family, I don’t look at my money like it’s my money. Even when I was living by myself, paying way too much for a one bedroom apartment, I was still shooting a few hundred dollars a month my family’s way because of the situation they were in. It wasn’t my favorite idea to move back in with them, but I figured if I could make life easier on everyone that it would also make life easier on me. It’s not a complicated position.

So it was my longshot idea for them to go to dealer school, since I knew once they made it none of us would have to worry about money anymore. I don’t mean that in the sense that dealers make a million dollars a year or something. It’s more so the difference between the average job my older brother had compared to the good job that dealing is, on top of my little brother who has been unemployed this whole time. Even for a regular lower-middle class family, that’s a huge upgrade.

Every year I write about the year in review, what went right and what went wrong, what I learned, what I fucked up, and what I am looking to do the following year. I haven’t put very much thought yet into 2018, but I do have a feeling my family will look back on it as a critical thread in our fabric. I don’t like to say that “life is hard,” or whatever situation is “hard,” because life is supposed to be hard. It’s engrained in this goddamn mess we were brought into. So I’m not going to say that shit.

It hasn’t been easy, though. One day my mom and my brothers might wonder how we all made it through this strange transition period. I might one day be surprised that my older brother, noted introvert, ever had the balls to quit the only job he’d ever known to jump straight in the deep end. Or even crazier that he took my little brother with him.

I’m not the most brave or courageous guy, but I do like the challenge of it all. In a major way I enjoy that my family depends on me, because only I can trust myself to do what has to be done. I enjoyed it as a little kid playing baseball, when there were two outs in the last inning and I was up to bat, the same as I enjoy it playing pickup basketball and it’s game point. Bring it on, baby. Let me decide the outcome.

* * * * *

The biggest criticism I have of myself isn’t what I do, or who I am, it’s what I could be doing. Which seemingly forever has been so much more. I think it’s my nature that disqualifies me from pursuing certain avenues. As one example: I’m a terrible dancer, so I’m not going to shit on myself for not being more proactive and going to clubs in my free time. I’m saying within my lane — the things I know I’m good at — I could be doing so much more.

In the end I know I’m human. My adrenal glands are just a tad too big, and my cerebral cortex is just a smidge too small. I know I’m the product of generations upon generations of people whose genetics were a certain way, and so naturally I have inherited their disposition. I know more than they did, just as my kids will know more than me, and their kids will know more than them, but the genes I carry aren’t all that different than my ancestors living in the 15th or 10th or even 1st century. We’re sad when bad things happen to people we love. We’re afraid of the unknown, and what happens after we die. This is us, and this is you.

Even with what can be considered something of a depressing reality for most people, I take solace in the idea that this is my life and I can make decisions to change whenever I want to.

Two of the most important changes I’ve made this year involve reading and exercising. Sounds simple enough, because it is. According to the Literature page at the top of the blog, I’ve read 11 books this year. And since I’ve moved to swing shift — at the beginning of August — I’ve lost a full 19 pounds.

I don’t have a ton to say about those two things, but that’s surely never stopped me before from stretching an article out to 2,000 words. As far as exercising is concerned I consider myself your regular John Doe. I’m a pretty small guy in general; when I left for college I stood 5’7″ and weighed 145 pounds; when I returned for Thanksgiving break, just a few months later, I weighed 165 pounds; when I got depressed the following February, in one month I dropped from 165 to 130; for the majority of my adult life I have hovered anywhere between 165-170. I guess I’m one of the lucky ones. I can have a trash diet and be totally stagnant and still look average.

With that said, when I checked the scale at the start of August it read the biggest number I’d ever seen. 180.4 pounds. I don’t know what it is about that 180 number, but it just rubbed me the wrong way. If I was over six feet tall I think 180 would be around ideal; as someone who’s only 5’7″, though, there’s no other way around it: I’m a fat guy when I weigh a buck-eighty.

Since I didn’t want to be that person once I switched from day shift (11 a.m. to 7) to swing shift (7 p.m. to 3), I started running on the treadmill. That’s it. Doing that for 15 or 20 minutes a day, every day I work, and I’ve lost 19 pounds in a little under three months. And for no other reason than I knew there were a bunch of women I didn’t know who worked during nights. Goes to show, for how unnecessarily in-depth I take everything all the time, that I am still resigned to being superficial in a lot of ways.

It might sound obvious to you — especially if you make exercise part of your regular routine — but you really do feel better about yourself after working out. For me, I think the main thing I’ve noticed is I have more energy throughout the night, which can come in handy on a jam-packed craps game at 2:00 in the morning. I’ve also experienced less anxiety, so that’s cool.

I’m never going to be a gym rat, mostly because getting all yoked out isn’t my bag. I look at it more like, yeah, I’m content with my worldview; I’m content with the relationships I have with people; I’m content with the way I see myself, and the world; but if I could be just a little bit healthier, then it can only be a plus. Since my preference is to be closer to 160 than 180, it motivates me to know I’m doing something right, and I know it’s my choice to either get back to complacency or try to sustain it.

As far as reading goes, I know it’s high time that I branch off and start expanding my sphere of influence. In 2018 I have read two Christopher Hitchens books (Arguably, and The Trial of Henry Kissinger) and am currently reading a third (No One Left To Lie To); I have read three Thomas Frank books (What’s The Matter With Kansas?, as well as Listen, Liberal and Rendezvous with Oblivion); I have read two books apiece from Kurt Vonnegut (Slaughterhaus V and The Sirens of Titan) and Chuck Klosterman (But What If We’re Wrong? and Chuck Klosterman X).

The point is, for however great and/or multifaceted these writers are, I’ve kept my reading habits married closely to familiar voices. I’ve been on a political kick for the last three years, but 2018 is when I started really going down the rabbit hole. Thomas Frank writes through the lens of labor and the working class, and Hitchens in his earlier days considered himself a Trotskyist. (I happened to read Leon Trotsky’s The Permanent Revolution in 2018 as well, because I just had to know.) I got radicalized by Bernie Sanders in 2015, but Frank and Hitchens quickly reinforced the idea that America’s problems didn’t all of a sudden arrive in the 2000’s or 2010’s. The same fucked up shit has been going on pretty much forever.

My strategy with reading does feel to me sort of backwards, though, since one of the major reasons why reading matters in the first place is expanding your mind. Part of expanding your mind, I think, includes hearing different voices and thinking critically about different opinions. I don’t doubt the quality that I’ve been consuming, or enjoy any less the authors who have provided the material that I can’t even dream of producing, I just think it would be better for me if I stopped playing it so safe. Echo chambers never did anyone any good, anyway.

To help remedy this situation I recently bought David Foster Wallace’s Infinite Jest, though I had no idea it was a thousand pages and written in extremely small print. Already I’m doing the math in my head — that it would take me 100 days if I read 10 pages a day, and 50 days if I read 20 per. Either way I know it’s going to be a project. So that’s something.

Mostly I’m just bullshitting. I haven’t posted an article in a while, partly because I haven’t had as much free time lately and partly because I haven’t been inspired by any labor issues. I guess I’m just checking in, letting you know I’m still here. Still writing. Still doing the damn thing.