Balancing On The Edge
One source of joy for me in my crazy life has been playing the edge: Seeing how far out I can venture, how much of a risk I can take, and still come back to tell the tale.
Last Friday Shelley and I played hooky and took off for Atlantic City.
I like Black Jack, but the problem for me has been like the problem when you know a little law. I know enough to get into the game, but invariably it ends up with someone (sometimes even the dealer) looking pitifully at me and saying, “Are you sure you want to do that?” After a while, I figured out, Video Poker was more my style. As yet, no machine has embarrassed me …or taken pity for that matter.
If you’re going to play Video Poker, I’ve learned, you’ve got to steer clear of what they’re throwing at you: Joker Poker; Deuces Wild; and 8/5 odds. The odds are the ratio of payout for a Full House and a Flush. You want to hunt for one of the few 9/6 machines scattered throughout the casino, and play the only game where you have a good statistical chance: Jacks Or Better. (And make sure it’s a 52-card deck, which is always stated on the machine).
Anyway, I brought $400, and found a $2 machine, which the books say is wrong, ’cause with that kind of money, I should have played the quarter machine. But I rode this tiger up and down, and cashed out at $670, though not without having a total blast. (The Double Up option, where you can play double-or-nothing on any winning hand, was how I built my day’s little profit, and it was thrilling.) Thankfully, after 4 hours, it was time to catch the bus home. Otherwise I might be writing this from their lobby!
I left positively high from adrenaline, and fantasizing about going back. “Tomorrow, ok?” I said to Shelley on the bus home, only ½ joking. She gave me a stern look.
But like with any potential addiction, it’s always helpful to look at the up side.
In my case, this points to my love of excitement and adventure, and the fact that my life, though full, often lacks this edge: The hunt; the pursuit; the flirting with discomfort and danger. These things add meaning to my life.
In the past, instead of a 4 hour roller coaster at a casino, I’d ride a 4 year roller coaster at a relationship. My first marriage was full of danger — like a jungle, complete with bear traps and cannibals. These days, I choose other ways to take risks, like with my health (by getting a cat) or with different states of consciousness; or on the dance floor.
In other words, I like being out of control — somewhat; every now and then. Let the horse out of the barn; the tiger out of the cage. Gamble a bit; have one too many; dance like a damn fool. (Oh yes, if one of my patients saw me on the dance floor, s/he might be shocked. But I am not here to live up to someone else’s expectations. And just because I’m good at playing this therapist role, I don’t want to be typecast.)
Basically, I subscribe to the adage that one needs to lose his or her head every now and then to keep it.
I pity those who never do. Just like Mr. Allen, who said, “If sex isn’t dirty, why bother?” — Mr. Wininger says, If life is never dangerous, what’s the point?
I’ve flirted with addiction – have even made out with it once or twice. And I’ve learned that I can lurch towards that edge, if I have certain safeties in place (total honesty with my friends about what I’m up to, for example). It hurt, but I’m glad I was there – I learned a lot about myself. Hey: In old age homes, when they’ve surveyed the elders about their life regrets, they’ve pointed to what they hadn’t done, not the things they had. In general, life is better lived when you wind up asking for forgiveness rather than for permission.
So is this a guy thing? I don’t know.
Look at this dude:
He was a guy who’d perfected the art of being both a good man, and a bad boy.
Once, upon returning with a woman friend he’d just taken on vacation to Bermuda, he called me from JFK.
“Charley, I’m not coming home tonight. We’re just having too good a time. We’re flying on to Europe!”
He had never been to Europe. My father returned 10 days later. And although it took him more than 10 months to pay off the credit cards, his memories lasted him a lot longer than that.
He knew the liberating effect of breaking behavioral boundaries. The only authority he ever respected was his own.
And me – if I lived a tame life, I’d be dishonoring his memory, so how could I do that?