Gambling as Wish

Big Hopes with Small Bets

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.

Hole Card #1 (P7000-editj24.50)
“Hole Card”

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.

-K-

Authors on Gambling

A Penny Worth of Wagering Wisdom

• “Here the nerves may stand on end and scream to themselves, but a tranquility as from heaven is only interrupted by the click of chips. The higher the stakes, the more quiet the scene.” -Stephen Crane-

• “This was my first lesson about gambling: if you see somebody winning all the time, he isn’t gambling, he’s cheating.” -Malcolm X-

• “The gambling known as business looks with austere disfavour upon the business known as gambling.” -Ambrose Bierce-

The Finish Line (P60-edit)
“The Finish”

• “The action is everything, more consuming than sex, more immediate than politics; more important always than the acquisition of money, which is never, for the gambler, the true point of the exercise.” -Joan Didion-

• “One should always play fairly when one has the winning cards.” -Oscar Wilde-

-K-

An Author’s Gambler

Alexi Ivanovich and the Mind of a Gambler

A good number of stories that are centered on gambling tend to either glamorize or demonize. The protagonist is often portrayed as an individual we should either envy or pity. One exception to these extremes is Fyodor Dostoevsky’s The Gambler. Dostoevsky’s protagonist is a gambler we neither aspire to be or view as a cautionary tale we should avoid.

The Gambller Book Cover
The Gambler by Fyodor Dostoevsky

Alexi Ivanovich, the narrator and protagonist, is at times admirable and other times pitiful. You may find yourself sympathizing with Alexi at the end of one chapter and then infuriated with him by the middle of the next chapter. In short, Alexi is a flawed man. If one wanted to get all literary one could make a case that Alexi Ivanovich is an antihero of sorts (I’m not one of those literary types, at least not before another bourbon or two). Dostoevsky develops a relatable character who shows us the inner thoughts, motivations, and fears of a gambler without pandering or preaching to the reader.

There are many stories that present gambling as alluring and profitable. There are also many stories that present gambling as bewitching and detrimental. Few gambling stories present the reader with the inner working of the gambler’s mind. Fyodor Dostoevsky’s The Gambler provides insight into the mind of a gambler and how gambling impacts all aspects of his life. 

-K-

The Gambler (1964/1866) by Fyodor Dostoevsky

Some Thoughts on Gambling

It’s Not Just Cards and Ponies

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.

Box Car Luck #2 (D70-editj24.43)
“Boxcar Luck”

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.

-K-

Spending Time

and Thinking About What is Valuable

We find ourselves in strange times. I wasn’t thinking of social distancing and self-quarantine when I began this month’s topic but now these ideas, and many others, occupy our time. I began the month with idea of how we mark and spend time. I guess I’ll end the month with a reflection on how I’m spending my time now.

A teacher in high school taught the class about the phrase ‘Carpe Diem’ (this was a long time before Dead Poets Society) and I took it to heart. For quite a while I tried to live each and every day to the fullest. Of course seizing each day and living it to the fullest doesn’t really address issues of rent and groceries, something I learned shortly after graduation. I’m not saying that we shouldn’t enjoy and get as much as we can out of each day but we must balance those desires with our responsibilities to self and others. My views regarding time have evolved over the years and they are evolving once again in light of current events.

Don't Park Here #3 (D70-edit)
“Out of Time”

I’ve marked the passage of time with cigarettes and beers. I’ve spent time planning and wasted time waiting. I’ve recorded time through journal entries and blog posts, and I’ll always remember the times of personal gains and losses. And now? Now is the time to be aware and to be careful. Now is the time to be healthy and to be safe. Now is the time to help others, and I can’t think of a better way to spend my time.

-K-

When the Clocks Strike 13

Movies with Interesting Uses of Time and Narrative

  • Pulp Fiction (1994)
  • Groundhog Day (1998)
  • Edge of Tomorrow (2014)
Memento Movie Cover
Memento (2000)
  • The Jacket (2005)
  • Clue (1985)
  • High Noon (1952)
  • Sunset Blvd. (1950)
Irreversible Movie Cover
Irreversible (2002)
  • 12 Monkeys (1995)
  • Kiss Kiss Bang Bang (2005)
  • Tape (2001)
Run Lola Run Movie Cover
Run Lola Run (1998)

-K-

How We Spend Our Time

May Be How Others Spent Their Time

How often do we wish we could have a little time to ourselves? Time is something that we can keep to ourselves. Time is also something we can borrow (and steal), but it is also something we can share with others. I find how others spend, or spent, their time fascinating. I’ve felt this way ever since reading The Diary of Anne Frank way back in 8th grade. Learning how somebody else spent their time can be informative, entertaining, and even humbling. Margaret Sartor’s Miss American Pie A Diary of Love, Secrets, and Growing Up in the 1970s is one such example.

Sartor’s diary can be read on a couple of levels. If you want to take an academic approach to the diary it can be read as a first person account of life in the American South in the 1970s. Reading the diary as a historical document can provide you with as much insight as some textbooks covering the same time period and geography. You can also approach the diary as a record of an adolescent girl’s struggles, defeats, and triumphs.

Miss American Pie by Margaret Sartor

I took the second approach when I read Sartor’s book and was amazed with how much I had in common with her. Upon closer study I realized that it isn’t so much that Ms. Sartor and I are some sort of kindred spirits as much as we were, at one time, both adolescents. I’m not implying that all adolescents have the same experiences, but that time period of our lives does present similar struggles. This is what I find most appealing about Miss American Pie. We all may be individuals moving through life on our own paths that on occasion run parallel and sometimes intersect, but we often share similar struggles during the same time periods of our lives.

Margaret Sartor’s Miss American Pie is at turns informative, entertaining, and subtlety humbling at times. Seeing how somebody else spent their time (even if it is a decade or century a part from your own) can help us put our own lives and times in perspective.

-K-

Miss American Pie A Diary of Love, Secrets, and Growing Up in the 1970s (2006) by Margaret Sartor.

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