Saturday, July 22, 2017

One Thing That I'm Not Is A Gambler

I’ve been guilty of one thing or another from time to time in my life, and guilty of some things almost constantly. If you ask the right people, they’ll spin you quite a tale, oh yeah, and they’ll give you quite a list of my transgressions. But in my defense I can at least offer the fact that I have not touched all of the bases that have presented themselves. There are some temptations that I have resisted successfully.

Take gambling, please!

Gambling has never appealed to me. I have been exposed to it, and in fact I have had a certain amount of luck at it, but I have walked away. Believe me, even I was surprised.

Take the California Lottery, for instance. They started that in the 1980s, if I recall. The first week that tickets were on sale, I bought one scratcher for one dollar. It was a winner! Two dollars! Double your money! So on day one I was ahead. It only made me suspicious.

How about Las Vegas? I was in the U.S. Navy for a while, and I was posted to a base just outside of Vegas. We went to town all the time. There was a bus we could take down, the only trick being that we had to walk from the main gate of the base down to the main road, which was a matter of almost four miles.* Going was easy, because it was light out. Coming back was harder, because night in the desert is a dark and strange thing. Looking up, it almost hurt your eyes. You could clearly see all hundred million stars. Looking down, though, you couldn’t see your own chest, much less your feet, much less the road. Not to worry, though. The vermin that were laying on the road for the warmth and comfort of it could see and hear you coming, and they got out of your way. You could plainly hear them clearing off, the scratching of the scorpions and tarantulas and the slithering of the snakes, and I often softly thanked them for that.

None of us were twenty-one-years-old, but they let us drink anyway in most places. Smaller places downtown, and anywhere at all out on the Strip, were wide open. The mobsters were in charge in those days, and as long as you looked like you’d spend some money and not make trouble you were okay. We’d have a few drinks, watch people gamble, and get something to eat in one of the coffee shops. All of the coffee shops had slot machines; the coffee shops in casinos had them right outside where you had to pass close to them. Those were the only slots that I played. They were all nickel and dime, and they were set to pay over one hundred percent of the money played. They were “loss leaders,” they were there to give you a taste for winning. I’d just put the ten or twelve dimes in my pocket and say, “thanks!” In this way, I was ahead in Vegas, too.

Poker? Never in Las Vegas, certainly, but yes, I’ve been in one or two regular poker games over the years. I don’t consider poker to be gambling, though, not really. It’s a game of skill, and that is proven by the fact that the best players almost always come away winners. I played a very conservative game, and I was most often close to the break-even point at the end of the night.

Was I ever tempted to pursue any of these outlets? Not really. Over the years I purchased a certain number of tickets for the California Lottery, putting at risk something like fifty dollars all together. Of those, I had two winners: one for about twenty dollars and one for a little over seventy dollars. So I’m still way ahead in the California Lottery.

In Vegas, too, I’m still ahead. When my ex-wife and I were young, we liked to go to Vegas once every year, just the two of us, for two nights. The specials in those days were amazing, two nights and some coupons for less than fifty bucks. We never gambled at all, just fooled around in the room and ordered room service. Maybe a few nickels and dimes in the coffee house slots, which were still "big" winners. (i.e., fifteen nickels.) 

So whenever the opportunity arises for my detractors to complain about my shortcomings, I quietly think, but do not say out loud, “but at least I was never a gambler!” There are other behaviors that I am proud of never exhibiting, but you don’t get much credit for never beating your wife or your children.

*The things that jump into your mind while you are busy remembering something else can be quite remarkable! That long road from the main gate to the public road could be an exciting place. We were right next to Nellis Air Force Base, the headquarters and main training base of the Tactical Air Command. Those are the flyboys who practice the art of ground attack, and we were right in the middle of the Vietnam War at the time, so there was an awful lot of practicing going on. The planes took off over our access road. 

My job on the base was “outside storekeeper,” which meant that every weekday I got a list of things to pick up in town, some money to pay for it all, and a panel truck to use doing it. One day I was driving down to the public road, with Nellis to my left, just past my elbow hanging out the window, so to speak. Here comes an F-105 Thunderchief, low and fast, gear already up, and to my surprise, and the pilot’s as well, no doubt, he let go of a bomb. It was probably the typical load, a five-hundred pounder, and it did look big. Improperly attached! It arched down in the direction of the road in front of me, and before I could decide one way or the other, both I and the bomb had converged at just about the same point. It crashed into the desert close to the left edge of the road at almost the same time that I passed the spot, and thank Sweet Baby Jesus in the Manger it was a practice bomb, five hundred pounds or so of concrete. 

I can see it now! No tumbling across the road, either, it buried its pointy nose neatly in the desert throwing only a smallish puff of sand. That, dear readers, was even better luck than not gambling.  

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