Thursday, July 20, 2006

Penny Foolish, Pound Foolish.

Strange things happen in the immediate aftermath of losing a lot of money very quickly. Rather than tighten my belt and try to preserve what little I have left, I’ve found that I tend to squander even more recklessly. To scrimp and save, to begin to act responsibly in the wake of wastefulness, to clip coupons -- these options are not at all attractive.

Within a session of poker, especially online, this impulse to piss away the remaining crumbs of a once healthy balance constitutes the worst kind of tilt. And it won’t come as a surprise to the poker players among you that I am the worst kind of tilter. Or the best kind, depending on how sanguine you are about kicking a person when he’s down. Anyway, this impulse suggests that I want to get rid of that miserable $38.27 or whatever it is as soon as possible -- that this tiny, messy fraction is somehow a more heinous reminder of my decline than the neat symmetry of “$0.00.”

The phenomenon carries over to ‘real life.’ When I look at my bank statement and see something like this:




ECHECK -250.00

ECHECK -250.00


ECHECK -750.00

ECHECK -500.00

ECHECK -1,250.00

ECHECK -2,250.00

I can’t get too excited about fixing a mess like that by ordering a “tall” instead of a “venti”. So usually -- and I’ve stared down the barrel of my fair share of bank statements like these -- I’ll do whatever I can to psychologically minimize the magnitude of these losses. Usually that means essentially behaving as though I had won the amount that I lost. “Drinks are on me, everybody!” To cower in fear, to wait for the creditors' calls to resume on Monday morning is a fate worse than death to me. I’d prefer to check out from reality entirely. If a tree falls in the forest, et cetera. Put another way: if I don’t even react to the significance of my awful night of gambling by adjusting my conduct, did it ever even touch me?

Armed to the teeth with this convenient set of existential riddles, I arrived in Atlantic City late on the evening before New Year’s Eve. My new leather wallet held five one-hundred dollar bills, the proceeds of my recently-concluded Christmas charity tour.

Monday, July 17, 2006

The Grand Canyon.

About two years ago, I was flying back to school after a quick two-day trip to Las Vegas. I don't think I had an explicit, unmistakable pact with anyone in my family at this particular point in time to not gamble anymore. But still trips to Las Vegas just for the hell of it would be frowned upon and cause for concern. And I wouldn't want anyone to be alarmed on my account. For trips like this, I was extremely concerned about avoiding detection. Right before I left for the airport, my mom called. "What are you doing this weekend?" "Oh, nothing. Probably cleaning my apartment, some laundry, you know." Now I had lied. So I decided that I shouldn't even bring my cell phone with me. I hypothesized that if I made a call, the fact that I was 'roaming' in Nevada might have shown up on the bill. And I was on a Friends and Family plan. So I wasn't taking any chances. At least not about that.

Speaking of taking chances, I was and continue to be a very nervous flyer. Which I realize is ironic, given my well-documented appetite for unconsidered risk in other endeavors. One of my coping mechanisms on particularly bumpy flights was to tell myself that a fatal plane crash was about as likely as hitting the equivalent of a 120-team parlay. The counterpoint to this, that I, upon de-planing, might myself play a 120-team parlay if such a thing actually existed wasn't lost on me. But I'm really not that crazy -- I only played parlays when I was desperate. Down to my last $40 in an offshore account, I'd do something like pick 7 or 8 baseball sides and totals and parlay them. If I hit, I'd be even. If I lost, well, I was already practically dead anyway. I viewed blowing this relatively small amount of money as something of a free shot. Come to think of it, this reasoning predominated and justified probably the last ten grand or so that I deposited into my Party Poker account. "I can't jump over this puddle. Or I can't jump over the Grand Canyon. Either way, I'm stuck here."

On the flight back from Las Vegas, the plane was rocked by something which I later determined to be lightning. The plane shook violently. There was a sonic-boom and a streak of lavender light near the wing. For about thirty seconds, all manner of bells sounded in the cabin. The passengers were surprisingly quiet. Eerily so. I got the feeling that everyone was undertaking the same grim analysis, namely:

(1) Air disasters are very, very rare;
(2) But when they do occur, they probably start with unbelievably loud explosions, shaking, and flashes of light.

I didn't want to die. But even more than that, I didn't want to die on a plane coming back from Vegas. My dirty laundry was sitting on the floor of my squalid apartment back at school. Safely on the ground and completely neglected.

My alibi would have been blown.