I've never been much of a gambler. I'm too responsible. And I'm too broke to throw any money away; in the end, the house always wins. It's nice to dream about being lucky and striking it rich, but the realist in me knows that the odds are not in the player's favor.
Since quitting my super sensible job as a classroom teacher to pursue the just as non-lucrative, yet freeing craft of stand-up comedy, my life has become more of a gamble. I finally took a risk on myself. And when you give up a steady paycheck, everyday becomes a bit of a gamble:
--When you're out of your deodorant at home and funds are running low, what do you do? You consider the alternatives. For example, this deodorant that I found in the Lost and Found of the public bus - it seems new. Should I take it and use it, even though it's for men? It's free, so yep. Gamble.
--When Halloween candy is too expensive and you can't afford to feed yourself, so the trick-or-treaters also suffer, you're left without any sweet treats near All Hollow's Eve. While walking my dog on the day after the holiday, I asked myself, "Should I pick up this fun-size candy bar off the sidewalk and eat it? The package seems to be untampered, and I'm craving chocolate, even the sidewalk-kind." I got zero trick-or-treat candy, so yep. Take the risk.
--When you need to perform and get paid for it but the comedy clubs aren't terribly receptive to you at the moment, you wonder, "Should I say 'yes' to performing a comedy routine for a crowd of old folks at a local retirement home even though the Activities Director warned me of the following: the residents may be sleeping during the show, the majority of the crowd will have dementia, and they will probably think that I'm there to call Bingo (and then start a wheelchair rebellion when they realize I'm just a comic)?" I ask the Activities Director, "Does the check come from the corporate office, and what are the chances that it will clear quickly?" Yep. I am 100% taking a chance on this.
--When your friends want to go out for drinks, but alcohol is not what you should be spending your money on, considering you grocery shop at your parent's house and the bus Lost and Found, you wonder, "Is it wrong if I decide to go bra-less, like my friend always suggests, knowing that I will get free drinks?" And when men offer to buy me drinks, should I still insist on arm wrestling them because I love the challenge and I prefer to earn my beverages? Hell yeah. After all, I'm married, they are getting nothing out of this exchange except a nipple-glance and maybe an arm wrestle - and I'm insisting on top-shelf booze because I'm 100% that bitch and worth it. Yep, these odds are in my favor. Challenge accepted.
This foray into risk-taking is recent. Yet, I am no stranger to the lure of the casino. I am the daughter of a gambler. My mom loves the casino. They build casinos for people like her - the bright lights, the 24/7 hustle and bustle, the anticipation of the lucky draw, the sweet sounds of a slot machine, and just the thrill of it all. She is 100% all in. She can drink and smoke until the wee hours of the mornin', and the people watching is primetime. The casino is its own microcosm. My mom has taught me this.
Until recently, I never really felt the lure of the casino, quite like my mom does. That is, until I quit my full-time teaching job and was able to truly experience the casino for all it has to offer…. especially in broad daylight.
Most of the time, when a person envisions "hitting the casino," it's nighttime, it's Vegas, it's a bachelor or a bachelorette party, it's a drunken extravaganza, a real scene. It's the experience that movies are made of.
"Hitting the casino" in my world is broad daylight, on Wednesdays, just after 9am when the casino releases their extra promotional money to cardholders, and it's a whole scene. Let me tell you. You haven't truly gambled with your own life until you've sat next to, not just one, but MANY, senior citizens who are on oxygen AND smoking. Nothing like sitting amongst a room full of ticking time bombs, literally and figuratively. It doesn't sound like a dangerous time, but my Wednesday mornings are epic, real living-on-the-edge-dangerous shit.
And if I'm really living, truly doing it up right, I'm going to the McDonald's drive-thru for a McGriddle breakfast sandwich because sometimes I need greasy food. The thrill of free casino money just feels right when I'm also smuggling a fast-food breakfast item in my purse. Mama didn't raise no fool; I might be here for a while, and I'm going to need a snack. And when you're surrounded by senior citizens, you do as they do - smuggle food in your tote-bag-sized purse. Don't worry - I also have a healthy number of hard candies and peanut butter crackers. I'm in it to win it.
This all started this past August. My mom called me early on a Wednesday morning, sounding overly chipper, asking if she could drop something off at my house. It was around 9am. I said, "Mom, you sound like you're up to something, and are you at McDonald's?" She was definitely in the drive-thru, and she was for sure up to something. She confessed that she was on her way up to the casino. She explained that the casino was giving away extra promotional money on Wednesdays during a certain window of time. I asked if I could go. She picked me up, we got breakfast sandwiches, and the rest is history. I was hooked.
Not hooked like I have a gambling problem, but I loved going to spend the casino's money. And to try and win money for the essentials - like groceries, prescriptions, and pet food. Yes, I have officially become an old lady, minus the cats. This is my new reality. The free money at the casino is now one of my many side hustles.
When I took the biggest gamble of my life and quit my gainful employment as a longtime teacher, I lost my regular paycheck, but I got my life back. I am pursuing my passion of stand-up comedy as I work all of my side hustles, and that means making BIG financial sacrifices. However, if I hadn't quit my job, which kept me trapped in a classroom for 8-10 hours a day, then I would never have known that Casino Wednesdays were a thing.
No wonder senior citizens take charter busses in droves to these gambling meccas. This shit is fun. And if the casino is throwing its members a few bucks to entice them play, then why not?
It's all about self-control. My mom calls me the "gate-keeper." We gamble on machines near each other. We have rules. As we win, we "cash out," and I keep the tickets. We play on the casino's free-play money, and if we use our own money, we use very little of it. We split everything 50/50. I keep the "cash out" tickets because Mommy will just put them back into the machine, and the more I gamble, the more I understand. There's that hope that the next push of the button will win you a bonus, will win you a jackpot, will right all the wrongs. So you can easily keep going. Until you're in a 12-step program.
I always use the money to pay my bills, to put gas in my car, to buy groceries, to buy my dog his food or his medicine, to get my prescriptions filled (see, I am a true senior-citizen-in-training), and to just try to get by. Yes, I will drive up to the casino, which is luckily, only about 11 minutes from my house, for $7 in free play. Sometimes, I have $15, and I've even had $45. But from that free play money, I've walked away with $85, $300, $275, and greater or lesser amounts.
I don't win every week. That's for sure. But the casino keeps wooing me back, enticing me with their promotions (and the hope of comedic material because you can't make up the shit that you see there). I've only spent $10 or $20 recently, but most weeks, I spend nothing but the casino's free promo money. And the best part about it is sometimes I get some extra moments with my mom. If the stars align and we get to go together. Sometimes I splurge with a few bucks of my casino winnings, and I buy my mom a case of beer because she's my everything.
On Casino Wednesdays, I occasionally get to be a hero or an athlete, which doesn't take much when you're out-aged by 40+ years by pretty much everyone in the joint. A woman's walker, it was a Rolls Royce of a walker (you know you spend too much time with senior citizens when you're judging walkers), blew down the sidewalk and into the parking lot at the casino. I was the only one agile enough to run after it. I ran into slow-moving-senior-citizen traffic for this woman, and I sacrificed my body for her walker. At that moment, I was an Olympian. I was ready for them to put me on a pedestal and award me with something, the golden AARP hemorrhoid donut or something. But all I got was an old lady's undying affection, even though I know she came out of that casino with some serious cash. She could have thrown me a few bucks for my troubles, but some stereotypes exist for a reason, and this reiterates the one about old people being cheap bastards.
I'm well on my way to being a cheap bastard, I guess, since I'm driving to the casino for $7 in free promo money. But the good news is I've got new sneakers that fit my orthopedic shoe inserts, thanks to a few bonus spins on a slot machine "celebrating" all things stereotypically Asian. When I need a walker, I will know the best models out there. And all I had to do was quit my "real" job so I could really start living. Plus, now I know, I prefer men's deodorant. If you're looking for some unique gifts this holiday season or for upcoming celebrations, don't be afraid to sift through the Lost and Found of the public transit. It's all about knowing which gambles to take.