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.
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 DeadPoetsSociety) 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.
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.
How do you mark time? I’m not referring to time in the sense of major life achievements such as births, deaths, and graduations. I’m asking how you mark time during a day, an evening, or possibly a weekend? Is time marked by books read or shows binge watched? Is time marked by errands ticked off on a Saturday to do list? I’ve marked the passing of time by all of the above and by other means too. Marking time by cigarettes snubbed out in an ashtray (this is when you could still smoke in bars) and a row of empty beer bottles was common practice for me at one time.
I still drink my share of beer and smoke a cigar on occasion, but I don’t while away my time at bars like I used to. I look back to those afternoons and evenings at the local bar and can’t help but think about how that time was spent. Was it time well spent or was it time wasted? At first glance I could easily say it was wasted time and that I could have invested my time in something more productive. But a second, closer look reveals that I would not have memories of listening to my favorite songs on the jukebox, playing games of darts, and intense conversations with friends (that often included copious notes written on napkins) if I did not spend time at that local bar. It’s easy to get hung up on how we could have better spent our time when maybe we should try to truly enjoy what our time bought.
We may look back at how we spent our time and wonder if watching TV shows, reading books, ticking off to do lists, or knocking back beers was worth it. Time spent isn’t necessarily time gone. Before we think that time was misspent let’s take a moment to see what it bought, because good memories are investments that will always pay out sound dividends.
March has rolled around again. Some consider it foreshadowing for spring (there’s that old saying about lions and lambs). Others look forward to St. Patrick’s Day with all its green beer glory. March means another birthday for me. I’ve never put much thought into birthdays, but there have been a few happenings of late that have me thinking about the passage of time.
How do we mark the passage of time? Is it marked by the number of drinks and smokes we put down in one sitting (I’ve put in some time tonight)? Is it marked by how much effort we put into planning? Is it marked by how long we wait for just the right moment to occur before we act? Is it marked by journal entries and social media posts? Is time marked by what we gain in life or by what we lose (maybe both)?
I’ve got a birthday coming up, and recent events have me thinking about time. This month I’m going look into the idea of time and try to gain a little perspective on the topic. I’d like to hear what you think about time and how we mark its passing.
That sounds redundant but there is a point here. Valentine’s Day was the impetus for this month’s topic. I hope you managed to get through, around, under, or over that special day. I’ve written about a variety of relationships this month and cited songs, books, and movies in the process. So I’ve decided to wrap up February with the end of a relationship.
Art may imitate life but seeing a relationship end (and end badly) in front of you is unlike any song or movie. Writers may capture the emotion of a moment but it is never as raw as real life. Last summer I was out for a stroll when I wandered into what can best be described as the end of a relationship. I won’t attempt to describe the emotions that were involved (there was a lot of screaming, crying, and threats). It was like a bad accident I couldn’t turn away from. I’ve been in some relationships that ended poorly but nothing like this. We can listen to songs, read books, and watch movies but real life is raw and unscripted. Sometimes the jolt of real life unfolding around us serves as a reminder of how fragile relationships can be.
So here we are on the last day of February about to wrap up the topic of relationships. I feel it is fitting to end the month with a relationship the ended poorly because it is important to remember that we need to put in the effort and time that is neccessary to make a relationship work. Songs, books, and movies provide comfort and advice but they can’t do the work for us.
A day dedicated to relationships gives us cause to reflect (whether we want to or not). Today is a day we reflect on past relationships, evaluate current relationships, and ponder the viability of future relationships. Today is also a day bound up with wishes.
We can’t help but wish for a thing or two on a day like today (we may not want to admit it, but we do). We may wish that a past relationship went in a different direction or maybe could be erased from history. Maybe we wish a current relationship could be something different (today is an awful day to be “just friends” with somebody). Finally, we may wish we could shake that Magic 8 Ball and see what our current relationship status will be with that special someone.
Valentine’s may be a day of chocolates, roses, and fancy dinners but it is also a day of wishes. Wishes are not bad things, but like most things they can be dangerous. Work toward fulfilling your wishes, but don’t let those wishes become your master.
February has arrived with its vast array of candies, roses, teddy bears, and other romantic gestures in various shades of pink. Whether you are in a relationship, seeking a relationship, or are advocate of the anti-relationship you can’t approach this month without a plan. Now is the time to prepare yourself for Cupid’s arrival.
You may believe in love or you may not, but February is dedicated to love and relationships. What better way to address all those physical manifestations of love crowding the shelves of the local big box than by making something of your own? You can call it a shrine or an altar. You may decide to carry a talisman or a charm. You may make it as an offering for love or as a plea to keep love at bay. The important thing is that you are prepared.
February, the month of love, is here. Are you prepared to welcome Cupid’s arrow (or maybe you’re planning on shooting the sum bitch first)? Remember, this is a leap year so you have an extra day to wonder and worry about relationships.