2018: In Review

It’s currently 1:44 a.m. on December 26th. Almost exactly four years ago, at 2:00 a.m. on December 26th, I began my first shift dealing at Agua Caliente Casino. I remember driving to work around 12:30 in the morning, and once I got there I had no idea what I was supposed to do. I parked in the wrong parking lot, I didn’t know where the dealers were supposed to meet before the shift… It was a mess.

We fast-forward four years and the world is in a noticeably different place. Where once Barack Obama was President, now it’s Donald Trump. Where once my parents were (unhappily) married, now they are (unhappily) divorced. Where once I lived in San Bernardino, California, and then Redlands, now I reside in Riverside. My older brother quit his job of 13 years to go to dealer school. My younger brother, who has been unemployed since graduating high school in 2014, is also at dealer school.

With a small twist of irony I — probably the most unstable in my relatively normal family unit — am the only one in a similar proximity to where I was four years ago. After working my first job from age-19 to age-21, then my next job in 2013 as a 23 year-old, I guess I kind of assumed I would forever be chasing greener pastures. Four years in one place isn’t a long time, but for me it feels like a minor miracle that I’m still there (or here?).

As I’ve written a handful of times over the last 12 months, 2018 was a transition for my family. From a personal standpoint it was the most lucrative year of my working life, but I didn’t necessarily get to enjoy the fruits of that labor being that both of my brothers were unemployed for the duration of the year, and a noticeable chunk of my money was used to help them out (as was the plan).

2018 was, appropriately, a year for Plans, none of which actually materialized. I had big hopes of being able to buy my first house, but that was operating under the assumption that my brothers would be finished with dealer school and working around the summertime. Also I gave myself a loose ultimatum that if Agua didn’t offer me a full-time position by my birthday (March 20), then I would take my talents to the much more local San Manuel Casino. Despite not getting a full-time slot by March, I chose not to leave; then in July the casino had two full-time openings, and of the dozen or so dealer candidates I was chosen.

One of the catches to getting promoted to full-time was that I had to switch shifts. So instead of working days (11 a.m. to 7) I moved to swing shift (7 p.m. to 3). In fear of the unknown on swing shift — new dealers, new cocktail servers, etc. — I started running on the treadmill every day to get myself in better shape. As a result of the last four months, I dropped from roughly 180 pounds to where I am now, which is hovering around the 155 mark. Who ever said making yourself feel like a worthless piece of shit wasn’t proper motivation?

The other thing I stayed consistent with in 2018 was reading. I read 12 books this year, and with the exception of George Orwell’s 1984 and J.D. Salinger’s The Catcher in the Rye they were all non-fiction (and mostly to do with politics and/or organized labor). I’m not sure if I’ll be able to repeat that same production in 2019, but I do know it’s generally given me a mental pick-me-up. As such, it would be foolish to stop anytime soon.

Aside from that there wasn’t much left for me in 2018 other than playing the waiting game. My future in the short term is married to how quickly my brothers get dealing jobs, because without them gaining employment I won’t be able to move out. Basically, once they start working we’ll all be afforded the opportunity to save money, and eventually (in a matter of six months or so) go our separate ways.

To that end, much like 2018 was a year for twiddling my thumbs, 2019 should be where each of us take the next step. I’m not sure where the family dynamics will move exactly; I don’t know if my two brothers will each get apartments of their own, or whether my younger brother will opt to keep living with my mom. The only thing I’m relatively certain of is by this time next year, when I am writing the 2019 review, I imagine my older brother and I will have both moved out.

As was my original plan, probably dating back a couple years ago, I still intend on getting some sort of apartment and having my dad move in with me. He’s retired and living off Social Security, but he doesn’t have a lot of money and certainly not enough to do what he wants — which is move to Montana and be near his sister. So it’s been my thought that he would move in with me, save $10,000 or so during the year, and get a head start on moving out of California once and for all. Then, and only then, will I have the freedom and capital to buy a house.

In theory it makes a lot of sense, and I know my dad looks forward to it. The only problem with that scenario, which I could be totally wrong about, is that once my dad starts living with me I doubt he’ll actually want to leave. I remain the only of his three sons who is still in contact with him, and based off his passive nature I don’t know if he’ll have the emotional drive to go through with a seismic move of that nature.

That’s all for another time, though. When my parents split up a couple years ago I thought it would create an opening for my dad to get closer to his sons. I thought it would, for the first time ever, really, get him to be honest with me, and take a closer look at what all went wrong in the years leading up to when my mom left him.

It’s a nice reminder that I can’t control things to the extent I think I can. Even with the best intentions, it turns out that people — even my own family members for crying out loud — are going to do what they do, and be who they are. Yes, like some goddamn idiot I believe I know what’s best for everyone. That doesn’t mean my parents or my brothers are always going to take me up on it, but it’s important to me that they know I’m at least trying to look out for them.

What I do for my family is the righteous thing, I think. First I move from my apartment to help my mom and two brothers, then I convince my brothers to go to dealer school and I help out while my older brother is unemployed, then I go and be a good son and help out my dad for a year before he moves to Montana. On paper it appears like I’m making real sacrifices; in reality I don’t see another way, so it doesn’t feel like a sacrifice at all. It feels like exactly what I should be doing.

It could be my awakening into lefty politics in 2015, the We’re All In The Same Boat mindset I found and have since carried with me. It could be that I’m never okay with myself unless the people around me are okay. Or it could be some deep-seeded issue from my childhood that I’ll spend the rest of my life trying to come to terms with. All I know is, the long game I’m playing in my head doesn’t involve only me; it involves everyone in my family. And I won’t be content without them.

I used to spend much of my time, especially writing time, criticizing and pitying myself. By age-20 I had convinced myself that the dream was over, that I had my shot and lost it, that I was overrated and anyone who ever had high hopes for me was wrong. I checked the numbers on the board, and I decided I wasn’t as great as I originally thought I was.

I once had this friend when I was in my early 20’s, and she kept it real with me. I loved her, like really loved her, and one night after not having talked for what was probably months but who knows, we were texting and I asked an incredibly stupid question:

Do you think I’ll make a good man?

Besides the point, but the fact that I would ever ask such a thing meant either (a) I wasn’t a ‘good man’ at the time, or (b) that I didn’t know what being a ‘good man’ meant in the first place. And what difference would it have made whether my friend said “oh my god yes, you are going to be such a great fucking man,” or “you know what, Eric, I really don’t think you are going to be a very good man”? No matter what she said, it wasn’t like she was going to be the one to make it so one way or the other.

Anyway, of course she didn’t give a definitive “yes” or “no”. Instead, she said: “It depends. Do you want to be a good man?”

That’s kind of a beautiful answer, even though in her head she probably thought it was as stupid of a question as I find it right now. People like to say they don’t care, or they don’t give a fuck, about what other people think about them. Some of those people are genuine, and I believe them. I’ve seen it proven that they don’t give a fuck. Others say it because it sounds good. (Generally I’ve found that if someone has to verbalize it, they aren’t really about that life.)

With respect to that, you have no reason to believe me one way or the other, since it’s only my word and you don’t know the way that I am in real life. But one thing I will say is this: I have always cared — and if anything, cared too much — about what the people I love think about me. I give a fuck if they think that I’m doing it wrong, just like I give a fuck that they love me.

In the end, I feel like it’s up to me to continually prove myself to these people. At this moment, the people who love me include all of (1) my mom and (2) dad, and my older (3) and younger (4) brothers. My way of proving myself is to do exactly what I’ve already done, what I am doing, and what I plan to do with my dad. The formula is straightforward.

Ah, but we seem to be wandering here. . . . This was supposed to be about 2018, wasn’t it? Oh well. Dates and years are so arbitrary. Until I was at least 17 or 18 every year kind of seemed like it was its own thing. There were obvious and distinct memories from every school year and every sports team I played on, and some were naturally better than others.

But it now seems more like life is just this one long phase. The names change, the faces change, but on the whole I’m just using what I’ve learned up until now to make the most informed decisions. I suppose it’s always been this way, and it always will be this way. I just failed to see the bigger picture when I was younger, and after failing enough times I eventually got to the point where I was forced to reevaluate the process that led me to making all those choices.

Comparatively speaking, I’ve spent far less time over the last few years criticizing myself or the decisions I’ve made. (Sports betting not included.) The main reason for that is I find the choices I’ve made to be relatively sound. I haven’t wronged anybody. I’m not being dishonest to myself about the situation I’m in. I’m not blaming anybody for why I’m here. I can sleep easy knowing there’s little more I can do for the people I love than I am already doing.

This isn’t anything I learned in 2018. Again, it’s just a continuous phase. I’m nothing more than the product of a spoiled, selfish childhood, and the necessary response to owning such debts that must be repaid. That’s for my mom and dad, who did everything to give me the best chance of realizing my potential. And that’s for my brothers, who I actively estranged myself from when we were kids.

While I remain short in all the millions of dollars I expected to have in the bank by this point in my life, and while I never got a degree from a fancy college, and while I don’t have a wife and a couple kids, in the meantime I am fine with the tradeoff. As long as my family is intact — again, relatively speaking — then I can figure out the rest as it comes along.

So, 2019. What a stupid year that’s going to be to write. Tentatively, my plan is to turn 29 in March. To have both of my brothers get dealing jobs. To move out with my dad and let him stash away as much of his Social Security money as possible. To save money of my own. To continue reading and writing, and running. And, mostly, to just be the same dude I have been, and to keep building on the path I’ve spent the better part of the last decade cultivating for myself.

I know it probably sounds corny, all this woo woo about getting better, but I can’t stress enough how much I want to see all of us win. When it comes to politics I want a comeuppance for the poor and working classes. When it comes to family I want everyone to be able to do what they want to do with their lives. When it comes to friends, I just want shit to get back to normal. We’re all better than this, and we can always get better.