My lovely wife and amazing partner ditched me this week.  She ran off to Vegas with her girlfriend where, to all appearances, she is having a fantastic time doing some gambling, good food, sunshine and a pool.  And I am 100% cool with this!

To be fair, we typically do our vacations together.  Heck, we just came off a 10-day road trip together and it was fantastic.  Couldn’t be more highly recommended.  But, she had this trip planned with her girlfriend, so I dropped her off at the airport yesterday, leaving me to my own devices.  Said devices, in this case, being me working in my shop, advancing some projects I’ve been working on.  Very exciting stuff!

I don’t really enjoy Vegas the way she does.  I can go once every few years or more.  She’d prefer to go a couple times a year, probably.  But we go for different things.  She enjoys gambling, I don’t, really.  I enjoy the occasional show (often Cirque du Soleil shows) or maybe Penn and Teller.  I enjoy people-watching and some sunshine. 

I also, very specifically in Vegas, require a room with AC because the amount of heat in Vegas is stupid.

Christina’s parents enjoyed gambling.  When they lived in Florida, they would go watch Jai Alai

Over the years I heard many stories of how her Dad would fleece his fellow service members of their paychecks in WW2 and later.  I think he would even win their money and then loan it back to them, at very reasonable rates, of course!  He also enjoyed playing Pai Gow at the casinos.  Christina’s mom was a very strong Poker and Blackjack player.  Especially in her later years, she would occasionally play in Christina’s monthly Poker group.  She was quite capable of feigning confusion over what the current game was and how it was played, then quietly snaking pot after pot, taking out players in the process.  She became known as the Assassin in that league.  One of my own favorite memories was playing cards with her thinking she’d take it easy on her new son-in-law and she smiled at me and spoke sweetly to me and fleeced me of my money just as quickly and easily as she did anyone else’s!  She was tough!  They still remember her and Christina’s Dad at the local casinos.  When Christina’s Mom passed, they posted the announcement at her favorite casino and it was up in the breakroom for some time.  So, safe to say, gambling has been a part of Christina’s life for as long as she can remember and she comes by her love of gambling naturally!

My dad is also a gambler.  He played cards and pool and Keno when in Vegas or Reno and loved a horserace.  Basically, anything else he could manage to bet on, he could and he would.  Golf games or anything else could become the source of betting opportunities (cf: Bingo, Bango, Bongo).

My dad was also a salesman, so at an early age I became very sensitive to the fact that our family money was very cyclical.  There were months when things were fat and happy and there were more months when money was tight and my Mom was trying out recipes to feed our family for $10 a night.  A famous example of that was our internally famous taco salad nights which involved a pound of hamburger, a can of beans, some Doritos, a head of lettuce, some cheese, and a tomato that we kids would invariably pick out of the salad, leaving a small pile of sad tomatoes on our plates.  

We had free and reduced lunches through much of my schooling and I recall years where food stamps supplemented part of our monthly groceries.  And I attributed all this to an inconsistent income and the gambling chewing into the budget.  The whole smoking and drinking part of the budget can be left for a different discussion…)

Growing up this way had an impact on me in at least a couple of ways.  First, I decided at a very early age that whatever I did for a living was going to be far less variable.  Second, I looked down my little nose at all things gambling because all I saw were the negatives.  Well, to be fair, there were a few fun nights when dad would come back from the track with money and he’d take the whole family (and whoever was staying over that night for sleepovers) out to Chinese food.  Those were fun, but made more so because of how rare they seemed.

So, it’s probably not a big stretch to connect that to my own feeling on things like drinking and gambling.  

I was in college before I drank alcohol.  I was convinced that it would only take a single drink before I would turn into a raging alcoholic.  It certainly ran in my family.  I knew how I felt on those nights when my dad would come home after drinking and it was like spinning a big roulette wheel where 20% of the time it was Fun Dad and 80% of the time … not so much.  So, I was very pleased to find that I can really take or leave alcohol.  In most cases, if I have a drink, it’s very occasionally (three or four times a year) and it’s never more than two.

Gambling was sort of a similar thing.  I was also convinced that I would find it to be something I would overdo if given the chance.  Instead, I really don’t care for spending my money that way.  I don’t get the dopamine release that many get when gambling.  I just feel dumb for spending my money that way as opposed to doing something useful with it.  I am smart enough to know the odds, so I understand that if I budget a couple of hundred dollars for gambling, that’s effectively what I will plan on spending for the night.  I never, EVER believe that I’ll win money.  

At some level, I’m sure it’s a control thing, too.  I don’t want to be out of control with anything.  “Moderation in all things”, as they say.  By the way, they’ve been saying that for as long as the 9th century BCE, so for nearly three millennia that’s been good advice.  It remains so for me and my life.

We used to have a regular poker group that met monthly for many years.  It was a rotating cast of characters, but mostly friends from work.  We started out playing for nickels and dimes.  This was early in our careers, so playing for pocket change seemed prudent.  We eventually moved up to a max bet of a dollar, three raises max.  So, you knew what you were risking.  In one of the most famous stories of a game we played, we were playing a silly game called “Red Dog” or “Between the Sheets” where you had got two cards and got to decide how much to risk whether the third card was between those two cards.  In this case, the player got an Ace, which you could declare as high or low and they correctly made it low because the second card was also an Ace (and automatically high)!  The best spread, but this player was historically very risk averse and in this case the bet was $13.50!  They pondered and thought and eventually decided to go for it and … another Ace came up.  The twist to this game is that if you matched the end cards (in this case two Aces) you not only lost, you had to pay the pot twice your bet!  So, that card cost the player $27 which was unheard of at our games.  And so the story is told years and years after that $27 could really hurt anyone.

I loved those games.  But, mostly for the social aspect of it.  When I was up, and I was usually more often up than down, I would play more loosely, just for fun.  When I was down, I would play very tight and I had less fun.  One time, famously, I had come to a game with someone else and I busted out early and I was unwilling to put more money in (see previous discussion re: Control), so I went back and fell asleep on a bed with some cats.  I’d rather that than throw good money after bad.

My friend Ken kept records for years of those games (we’re engineers, data is a good thing) and later did an analysis.  The most won per week, on average was $5 and the most lost on average was also about $5.  Now, I was happily on the more often winning than losing side, but still, a fun night out with friends for the low, low cost of $5 cannot be beat!

So, Yeah, I’m not really wired to enjoy gambling the way Christina does.  I don’t get it, I don’t enjoy it, and I don’t feel it like she does.  And that’s not a judgment on her!  It comes down to my upbringing and how I’m wired.  And that’s okay.

She’ll come back from Vegas having spent some money she managed to squirrel away and she’ll have stories of games and sunshine and pools and people.  I’ll stay up late, eat and sleep poorly and work on stuff that makes me happy and life will go on with both of us getting our needs or wants met and that’s a pretty good deal, I think.

Note: All images generated by MidJourney. It seems like MidJourney is still struggling with basic human anatomy (cf. the Poker Table pic and count fingers) and I’m pretty certain that Jai Alai is obscure enough that the AI really has no idea what the game looks like. Because I think in that image they’re playing a game with plungers and wearing armor.

Categories: Writing


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