In a spirit of full disclosure you should know I’m writing this while enjoying my afternoon iced coffee and a cigar (I moved beyond cigarettes a while back). I don’t encourage you to use (imbibe, ingest, or whatever word your prefer) caffeine or tobacco, but I won’t criticize anybody either. There are Dunkin’s and Starbucks on almost every corner, and every self respecting strip mall has a tobacco and/or vape shop. Coffee and cigarettes are part of our daily lives.
I’m fascinated with a person’s history with coffee/caffeine and cigarettes/tobacco. When you learn when, where, why, and how somebody started drinking coffee and/or smoking cigarettes you get a bit of backstory that usually makes that person a little more interesting. When somebody shares his/her relationship (for good, bad, or other) with coffee and/or cigarettes it makes him/her just a little more human.
Coffee and cigarettes are vices to some, guilty pleasures to others, and a fuel that is necessary to make it through the day for most of us who drink coffee or smoke cigarettes. This month let’s take a look at the sometimes love, sometimes hate, and often required relationship people have with coffee and cigarettes.
Another month is in the books. May was about doors and doorways, the literal and the symbolic. We all encounter doors throughout life. We pass through some and we are denied passage through others. It feels as if the past few months have had more than their fair share of doors. I’m going to end the month with an odd instance concerning my relationship with doors.
I have a fear of knocking on doors. I’m afraid of ringing doorbells too. Why, you ask? I don’t have clue. I don’t have any bad experiences or weird memories (my only explanation is that I’m an odd duck of sorts). I just don’t like knocking on doors, and here is on such experience to give you context.
I’m at my best friend’s house. I’m standing at the back door. The back door is open so there is only the screen door, the kind where the top half of the door can be either screen or glass depending on what season it is. It’s summer so the screen is in the door. My friend and his wife are expecting me. I’m standing there looking through the screen into their house (that’s a creepy kind of sentence). I can hear the TV in the basement. And me? I don’t ring the bell. I knock so quietly I know the sound won’t be heard over the TV. I keep doing this, knocking quietly. My friend’s wife comes walking through the kitchen and sees me. I act as if I just walked up and quickly ring the bell. She says, “Wow, perfect timing.” I agree because telling her I’ve been outside knocking for over a minute would put me in the running for the mayor of Crazy Town.
What’s the moral of the story (beyond now knowing that I’m a bit odd)? It’s not the fear as much as it is how I deal with it that I want to share. The fear of knocking on doors has never left, but I deal with it by texting people when I arrive. No more knocking on doors when all I need to do is send a text. So, what’s the moral? If you can’t through then try a window (or maybe a text).
Ever bust your ass to get to a door only to find it locked? Ever find out that the key you thought would open a door isn’t the right one? I’m speaking about doors as metaphors, but some doors just can’t be opened.
We hustle and grind only to find doors locked because of who we are or what we’ve done. Keys to these doors are given to a select few. If you aren’t the right kind of person with the correct opinions no keys will be given to you. The requirements for being the right kind of person and the list of correct opinions are conveniently listed on the inside of the door. There are also doors that don’t open with the keys we’ve struggled so hard to earn. Those who guard the doors can change the requirements for the right kind of person and the list of correct opinions one must have at will by changing the locks. This leaves us with useless keys.
“Second Floor Door”
Life presents us with numerous doors. We can pass through most of them with hard work. But some doors remain locked no matter how hard we work because we aren’t the right kind of person or we have incorrect opinions according those who guard the doors. So what’s a person to do? I’ve found it’s useless to try to be the right kind of person or to change opinions (unfortunately I found this out after spending way too much time trying to be the right kind of person and changing my opinions). I suggest that we kook for the doors that open for the odd, the outcasts, the rounders, and the ramblers.
Grand entrances and quiet exits. We arrive and we depart through a variety of doors, both the physical and the metaphorical. There is the thrill of walking through a doorway for the first time, and there is the relief of walking through a doorway for the last time. Doorways are a part of our lives.
Life is full of doors. Some doors have welcome signs while others tell us to keep out. There are doors that are closed to you due to who you are or what you’ve done. There are doors opened for you because of who you know. There are doors that open to empty apartments at 3:00 in the morning and doors to cold doctors’ offices. There are also doors to family homes you can always walk through without knocking and doors to friends’ apartments that will gladly open for you at 3:00 in the morning (sometimes with the disapproving frown of a spouse). Some of these doors are real to the touch an others are ideas.
Whether they are physical doors or doors as metaphor we pass through many of them in our lives. This month is about those doors, and more importantly, what is beyond those doorways.
There is a cliché out there on stickers, shirts, and signs that states, “Life happens.” Life does happen, and it happens quickly. We react to life and often make decisions with limited information and frequently based solely on emotions. These reactions and decisions don’t always work out how we wish they would, and we’re left with a desire for a second chance. As the month on gambling draws to an end I’m thinking about photo finishes and second chances.
I’ve had a few winners overs the years that were decided by photo finishes. I’ve had a couple of losers too. I’ve also known some gamblers who made the mistake of throwing their wagers away before “Photo Finish” was posted on the tote board (Nelson Algren’s essay “Stoopers and Shoeboard Watchers” addresses this issue). The photo finish is second chance. The horse you bet $20 to win that posted second may actually become a winner if the tote boards flashes “Photo Finish” and the officials’ decision goes in your favor. The photo finish is a chance to go from second to first place. Isn’t that what we want, not just from the ponies but from life? We want the opportunity to move from loser to winner, but that opportunity may require a second chance. Second chances in life are a lot like photos finishes, rare.
Life has a way of not just happening but happening in ways we don’t expect. Sometimes we react to life in ways that result in wishing we could have a second chance. Sadly there are no photo finishes in life; tote boards are final and second chances are few.
Have you ever placed a wager or purchased a scratch off? What would you do if you won a tidy sum of money? Do people gamble with hopes of big spending or maybe just paying the rent? Do they gamble to make life a little more interesting or maybe a little more bearable? A wager here and there is a wish, but what is that wish for?
I spent more nights than I can recollect playing euchre during my younger days. There were no high stakes games back then. I was no Matt Damon at the card table and there were no Tony KGBs ruining peoples’ lives (yes I know Rounders is a poker movie but I don’t know of any movies about euchre players). We wagered small amounts, five dollars here and ten dollars there. Sometimes we played for booze. I think the most I ever one in one night was a hundred dollars and a bottle of Southern Comfort on another occasion or few. We gambled to make the game a little more interesting, to justify the smack talk and validate the bragging rights. The gambling was part of the competitive spirit, a wish to make the evening more interesting than what it was.
Fast forward a couple decades (maybe a little more than two but not yet three) and I’m pondering why people place wagers, especially if it’s not to make things more interesting? Two moments come to mind. The first occurred one morning on my way to work several years back. I stopped off at a local quick mart to buy an energy drink (it had been one of those kinds of previous nights) when I noticed the customer in front of me purchasing a couple of scratch off lottery tickets. He was behind the wheel of his truck scratching them as I walked to my car. Was he hoping that this would be the day he could tell his boss to piss off because he hit the lotto? The second occurred a few years ago when I noticed a coworker’s purchase at the end of his shift. We both worked midnights at a big box retail store, I didn’t know much about him except his name. He would buy the same four items every morning at the end of his shift: a tall boy of beer, a couple donuts, a can of cat food, and some scratchers. They were practical purchases for somebody who gets off work at 8:30 in the morning (if your 5:00 p.m. is 8:30 a.m. you understand). Eight hours of being underpaid and overworked is enough to wish for some winning numbers while knocking back a cold brew. I look back and wonder if scratching those tickets was akin to rubbing some sort of genie’s lamp, hoping the right numbers would appear and make wishes come true.
There are people who will argue that gambling is more than wishful thinking. They will argue that there is a level of math and science involved. I won’t disagree with those people. I’ve spent quite some time analyzing stats and examining horses at the track trying to work the best percentage. I also think that sometimes a wager is nothing more than a wish. It is as wish to have enough money to buy something you wouldn’t be able to afford otherwise. Maybe it is a wish to get out from behind and maybe even get a little bit ahead. Sometimes it’s just a wish, a hope, that our lives were a little more interesting.
The news is bombarding us with numbers, percentages, and a variety of other statistics on an hourly basis these days. It feels as if we are gambling every time we leave of our homes, wondering if we are pushing our luck and hoping the odds are in our favor. I’m no stranger to card tables and race tracks, but current events have me thinking about odds and the ways we gamble that don’t involve casinos and OTBs.
I don’t know many gamblers but everybody I’ve ever known has gambled. I’ve known people who never passed up a card game, and I’ve known people who took a chance on love. Some of those people were gamblers and others were gambling (you pick which was which). I’ve weighed odds and placed many a wager, but does that make me more of a gambler than the person who takes a chance on a relationship or a job? What does it take to be considered a gambler?
Statistics and percentages permeate the news of late. It’s enough to make us feel as if we are gambling with every decision we make. It’s also has me thinking about how gambling plays a part in our lives.