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...over-educated and under-experienced, or so they say...

Thursday, December 10, 2009

...Know When To Run

I'm not a gambler. Money is too useful to me to be toyed with, but I have dabbled a time or two. The few times I have gone with friends to Vegas or to some random Indian casino, I have set money aside that I would've otherwise blown on some other form of entertainment. I go in with the following attitude: if I win I win and if I lose... no big deal, I was banking on it anyway.

Now I have a friend, old enough to be my mother, whom I love dearly. She's one of those people that would take a bullet for a stranger while the rest of us would only take a bullet for the chosen few. She's absolutely golden, but like the rest of us, she's got her things -- her trials and tribulations in the midst of her glories and triumphs.

Now this friend of mine had fallen on hard times. She'd been struggling to get by, paycheck to paycheck, since I've known her. She was tired, she ached, and weekend television and the newspaper crossword puzzle was the extent of her happiness. So when her birthday came around I wanted to take her out, away from her little apartment, away from the television and the crossword, and watch her smile and feel free the way she did when she was younger and less burdened. So, knowing she had a love for the casino, I pulled out $200 ($100 for me and $100 for her) and took her to Wild Horse Pass. I figured, a gamble on my dime, win or lose, was worth seeing her smile and laugh. The problem was, I forgot to tell her to leave her purse at home.

We sat down at the Keno machines, because that was her game of choice, and we commenced our talking and playing and smiling. At one point I looked over at her machine and saw that she was up $350. I looked at her and said, "Cash that shit out! Pocket $250 and put the original hundred back in!" but she simply waved me off and told me the machine had more to give.

More time passed and when I looked again she was down to $20 and I was holding steady at $150. I figured, once she lost the twenty, I would just cash out and we'd go to lunch or something, so I just waited for her to tell me she was done. It wasn't too much longer before I saw her reaching in her purse to pull money from an envelope that I knew was designated for bills, but I said nothing. She put in another $100 and it wasn't long before that was gone. When I saw her reach into the envelope a second time, I turned and said, "Isn't that bill money?" She just held a finger to her mouth as if to shush me and told me not to worry because she would win it all back. At that point I didn't know what to do. Like I said, I'm not a gambler and when I do gamble I'm certainly not optimistic about it. And I wasn't about to tell a woman who was my elder what to do with her money, so I just sat there, a little bit sick, staring at the $75 remaining from my original $100 that still sat in my machine knowing this poor lady was about to lose it all.

Sometimes (hell, most times) I revel in being right, but when she left her machine so someone else could sit there and stood behind me empty handed I wished to God that I had been wrong. The purpose of me taking her to the casino was to have a good time and enjoy being out, not to end up in my car worrying about how she was going to pay the electric bill.

I still had $50 in my machine, and I stared at it for a moment wondering if I should just play it or cash out and call it a day. I continued to push buttons as I said, "You lost it all?" And she said, "Yes, but don't worry about it Pandora. I'll be okay. You just finish your game." But I couldn't help but worry; it felt like my fault. If I hadn't brought her there she wouldn't have done that. If I hadn't brought her there she would've had money to pay for her needs. Sure, she's responsible for her actions, but she wouldn't have gone to the casino if I hadn't shown up to take her there.

So I sat there, watching my $50 slowly dwindle to $40, feeling sick inside. And at some point I decided to play it out to the end. At some point I sat there staring at the stupid numbers on the machine and I started doing math in my head -- how many numbers did I need to hit to win her money back? And at some point I silently prayed, "Lord, I know this is a ridiculous prayer, I know you probably get prayers like this all the time, and I know you probably hate that I'm even saying this, but... would you mind helping me out on this one? I'm not asking for millions. I'm not asking to hit the big one. I'm not asking you to forgive me for this. I'm not even really apologizing for it. But... this woman just spent her bill money when my intention was for her to just use the money I gave her and nothing more. So, is there any way you could help me out here? I don't want anything for myself, I just want to give back what she lost so we can both go home and sleep in peace." And then I mocked myself for even thinking that stupid prayer.

I watched my money dwindle down to $18 and I knew it was only about twenty more minutes before I would be at zero. So I finally just closed my eyes and pushed the stupid button over and over and over until... all eight of those stupid little balls lit up and all the bells and whistles started going off as my credits started rolling in and my piddly little $18 turned into $400. Without hesitating I hit the cash out button as the lady sitting next to me said, "Oh hell ya, girlfriend! You take that money and RUN!!!" And I took the ticket to the cashier and I took the $400 and I handed it to my friend. She hesitated to reach for it and I said, "You take it. I came in here expecting to lose $200 but you're the one who lost $200. So you take what you lost and you take what I expected to lose. It's your birthday and this is my gift to you." So she took it from my hand and held back a few tears as we walked out to my car in silence.

As we got into the car and strapped on our seat belts, I looked at her and said, "You do know that was some sort of miracle, don't you? You do know that the odds of that happening were slim to none, don't you?" She nodded in agreement and I said, "That was a pass, a one time pass in a losing situation. So say a prayer of thanks tonight because for whatever reason you're going home with money to pay your bills. But I will say this: if I ever do this for you again, you're leaving your purse at home."

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