or Why I’m Going to Pass on the ‘bucks and the Dunk’
I am a creature of habits (some bad, a few expensive, but most relatively harmless). As the state I live in moves into the next phase of its quarantine I feel like some raggedy ass bear coming out of hibernation (if you saw my beard you would have a better visual). One habit that this forced solitude has allowed me to break is my ‘need’ to stop at coffee shops.
I always make coffee in the morning whether it’s a K Cup or a full pot, but on most days I stop off at a coffee shop after work to get a caffeine boost. I’ve come to realize that this coffee shop habit is mostly laziness on my part. It’s just as easy (and hell of a lot cheaper) to make a cup of coffee when I get home. They (insert name of major coffee brand here) want to convince you that their coffee shops are a “third place.” They want you to believe they are a home away from home, a caffeinated version of Cheers where every barista knows your order. These branded coffee shops are nothing more than big box retailers on a different scale. They are creating a ‘need’ I don’t have or want (three months of quarantine cold turkey have proven this).
So here’s to staying home and brewing your own. Here’s to sipping coffee (cold brewed or regular) on your porch, patio, deck, or front stoop. Here’s to making a cuppa joe and going to the library which is a much better “third place” (they have free internet too and books, oh so many books). Here’s to being you and realizing you don’t ‘need’ to conform to somebody else’s idea of where to get a good cuppa joe.
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.
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.
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.
• “I measured love by the extent of my jealousy.” -Graham Greene-
• “Why did God make women so beautiful and man with such a loving heart?” -Walker Percy-
• “Kiss me, and you will see how important I am.” -Sylvia Plath
• “The most painful thing is losing yourself in the process of loving someone too much, and forgetting that you are special too.” -Ernest Hemingway-
• “I know I am but summer to your heart, and not the full four seasons of the year.” -Edna St. Vincent Milay-
• “It’s no good pretending any relationship has a future if your record collections disagree violently or if your favorite films wouldn’t even speak to each other if they met at a party.” -Nick Hornby-