[The sports references may be dated, but the story and lesson are timeless. The cover photo is of a bashful SB Jon receiving his Master of Filmology degree from Professor Morris. SB SM]
Hello, all, and welcome back. I hope that you are all basking in the glow of prescient picks and fortunes won. Sadly, last year was a bad year for yours truly. If, like me, your calendar swings from draft day to draft day, it was technically two bad years. Anyway, it felt like twenty. I finished last in one baseball and two football roto leagues. Dead last, and by unimpeachable margins. The odds of that happening, if differential calculus is to be believed, are 1,728 to 1. Taking into account the chowderheads who have no chance of winning ever, the number goes up by a factor beyond my mental reach. In any case, I was the Cincinnati Bengals of roto.
This is not said to undermine any confidence you may have had in me, or to frighten you away from my advice. Quite the opposite. It is to impart an important—the most important—lesson of gambling. To whit: if you suck, if your personal life is in tatters because of bad decisions you have made, if people treat you badly and you are not smart enough to know you invited it, then you have no chance at the tables, the markets, the drafts, Valentine’s Day or even ordering the right entrée at dinner.
See, your brain is smarter than you are. It knows. And it punishes. Something wrong with Tomlinson, Palmer and Ocho Cinco as your first three picks? Not on the surface. But plenty, if your behavior forces the forces of life to realign against you. Leather-patched, sportscoat-wearing professors will tell you the concept is called solipsism, a theory that the sun revolves around you. Sounds kind of stuck up, but I consider its acceptance in some ways the height of humility. As in, had I not misbehaved so badly last year, all of my players would have performed to par and we wouldn’t be here today. As in, I’m the reason they were terrible and I owe them each an apology.
Which brings me to Sara. Not her real name, of course, but one I’ve always liked. Mothers—as though any are reading this—please leave the “h” off at the end of that name. It ruins everything. My real name, by the way, is Glascock, but my father was a wise and compassionate man with no desire for me to endure the beatings sure to accompany such a moniker. The Mike Hunts of the world, I’m sure, can relate. Anyway, back to Sara who saved me. She is way younger, way hotter, an artist, a vegetarian, a mocker of sporty boys and a brutal critic of all things dishonest, solipsistic or self-absorbed. In other words, everything I’m not.
And though she spent much of her childhood at the ballpark with her father, I suspect that was more about the meatless nachos and the meaty male bods then the games themselves. Today, she wouldn’t know a Roethlisberger from a Rothko. Tiny to my huge, quiet to my noisy, cautious to my not, clued to my clueless, she is my opposite.
Which meant I needed to teach her poker. No limit, no money, dried tri-colored bow-tie pasta for chips. We played throughout the San Francisco nights, me with the sweet trepidation of new love, she with the earnest desire to learn. She got better, too. Good actually. Beware of hippie chicks and their non-com- petitive, Zen-like killer streaks.
Somewhere in the mix my ear blew up. The guy in the emergency room took repeated looks with a number of inadvertent guttural
expressions like “hmm” and “ahh”. Then he called in his buddies. “Take a peek at this!” It’s never a good sign when doctors actu-ally get excited about whatever’s happening to you. To them it’s something they’ve never seen before. To you, it’s like being on the wrong side of last year’s fumble-that-wasn’t in the Denver-San Diego game.
Anyway, I couldn’t fly. Or hear. And my eardrum had been surgically removed. So Sara and I took the train from San Francisco to
New York, and this is where the karma of the gambling life gets really interesting. Back in the day, train travel was romantic and
cool. Yogi Berra loved it. He figured you were here till you were there, and in between you were somewhere else. Joe DiMaggio hated it, which is why he was kind of a putz. Now though, it’s all frozen food, disinterested staff, sweatpants and Nebraska. Still, I channeled my inner Billy Martin. I put together an ad hoc card game with Sara, my- self, some quiet Korean guy and his buddy. I could tell from the third hand that the Korean knew what he was doing, but nevertheless he kept losing. Lots. To all of us. Eventually it came out that he hadn’t been to sleep in four days, and that he was in massive pain from a recent motorcycle accident. When he did speak, which was never, it was only to ask if I believed in fate. I said I did and then drew out on him on the river.
The losses continued. The trip was nearly paid for. Two or ten hours later, the guy went all in for real money against Sara with an obvious bluff. I wondered if I had taught her well enough. I wondered if she could read it. I wondered mostly why he did it. She chested her cards and looked across the table. I wanted her to call, to call immediately, but her mind was elsewhere. She looked and then asked—with an empathy reserved for the few—who else had been on the bike. Strange since he’d never said another word about it. Anyone would have assumed that he was alone, but she knew. Somehow she knew. Turns out, it was his girlfriend, and she died.
Somewhere around Chicago it hit me. I was losing every bet and tanking in every league not because of a lack of preparation, or bad luck, or because the gambling gods were against me, or because my socks were green. I was losing because winning comes most magnificently and seemingly from nowhere to the humble. By Pittsburgh, I was in love with someone who has lost more in the real world than is imaginable but to whom winning is inevitable and right. By New York I knew that if I put my life together—and you, yours—that Tomlinson would return to form, that Ocho Cinco would be great only when his friends called him Chad again, that the Korean whose name I don’t recall but that Sara would, will take me down to the felt when he forgives himself, and that gambling, like life, is self regulating.
So buy your girl a rose. Pick your players with confidence. Follow their travails with equanimity and win because the sun orbits around you. But stay away from Carson Palmer and all first year receivers. Come on. I haven’t completely lost my mind yet.