Never Risk What You Can't Afford to Lose
Never Risk What You Can't Afford To Lose
My mom married again when I was about 10 or 11. I called him the Major, not because he was a in the service - he was a MAJOR pain in the ass. Seriously, we got a long well. He knew I had a wild side and he tried to curb it but quickly realized it would always be a part of me. He learned to accept many of my transgressions.
Skipping school, underage drinking, sneaking out of the house. That kind of crap. He used to scold me and tell me, “You are just as bad as you are pretty.” Well, during that time of my life I didn’t feel very pretty so I guessed it balanced out.
The Major was a good man. He was a devout Irish Catholic. This is where I got my Catholic Education. I had to attend CCD (acronym for Confraternity of Christian Doctrine) every Sunday followed by mass. I must admit, I loved the hum of all the voices silently chanting their prayers and expected responses. I think the sitting and standing was just thrown in there to keep the kids moving because, for any kid, Mass was a boring thing to sit through. I did get my dose of Catholic guilt, I guess.
Even though The Major was a good man, he too was flawed. He had a passion for playing cards. Gambling! I think it was the only law I ever saw him break. It was illegal and we would host very professional poker games in our home three to four nights each week.
I could justify this transgression because even Abe Lincoln said, “It has been my experience that folks who have no vices have very few virtues.”
We all are flawed. We all are human.
If the Major had no one else to play cards with, I would do just fine. He taught me how to play Rummy, Gin Rummy, 5-card draw, 5-card stud, 7-card stud. Straight poker - wild cards were for sissy’s. I listened and learned. All the while, he taught me to get better at it, pointed out where I made my mistake, he would constantly remind me never to bet anything I could not afford to lose. My favorite was five card draw, jacks or better, trips to win. More of a challenge!
He also said Casinos were a rip off the house always wins.
Hosting a card game is an event that was serious. I would be paid to get the food catered in, or make subway type sandwiches and snacks. They never drank alcohol. A serious gambler will never mix alcohol and money.
Our house was kind of shot gun style on the main floor, you would enter through the living room, a staircase leading to the downstairs with a half wall separated the dining room and the kitchen was at the end. They played at the table set up in the middle dining room area.
I would move all the pictures or mirrors from the walls, place an unopened deck of cards in the center of the table, set up ash trays and their choice of cola, coffee, tea or water.
When all the players arrived and sat, I would get their drinks and the games would begin. “Ante up!” From that point on I would be in the living area, waiting quietly for any given player to raise his hand and I wouldn’t usually have to ask what they needed. I could see if the ashtray was full or the glass was empty.
These players were suspicious of everyone. Including me. Making any eye contact, facial gestures or conversation was strictly prohibited. This could be construed as a “tell” or someone cheating. They also changed chairs every hour to prevent any players from teaming up. If two players faced each other, they could work out a series of “signs” to aid the other player and so forth.
At the end of the night, I would often receive cash tips for keeping up with my responsibilities. The winners always gave me great tips! They trusted me and liked me for keeping my mouth shut and my eyes closed.
The Major was excellent at his vice. Often a player would lose all the money he brought and the belief that he could win it back would always occur. Money would be borrowed, paid back or often my step dad would accept a trade of equal value. This is how we acquired our first VCR Player, which was very expensive in the 80’s, guns, microwaves, lots of stuff. Usually it was still in the box and I am not certain if it would have burned my hand if I touched it. No matter, that was none of my business.
The Major would often tell the loser it could be a loan. I noticed a strange thing about that though; men do not like to be indebted to another man. An honest man will pay his debt however and as quickly as he can.
I always wanted to play the Saxophone, I begged The Major to buy one for me but they were very expensive. I just knew I needed to know how to read music, how to learn to make those beautiful sounds on my own. Translating symbols into music that worked its way through your eyes then your cognitive thought process, if your neurotransmitters were working well, the impulse would jump from synapse to synapse until it reached the very place your brain commanded it to - voice or fingers until it transformed itself into a sound. If done well and with practice a beautiful sound. It was even greater when the whole band could get it all together. It was amazing to me.
One lucky night, we were hosting a game. I listened to the hush as the cards were shuffled and slid across the table one by one. I listened to the groans or the sounds of excitement. (All tells, unless you’re bluffing). I listened for the sound of the teaspoon tapped against the unfilled glass.
On this particular night, we had a big loser. The itch got him; he lost all of his money and was sure he could win it back. It was just a streak! Of course, he did not win it back and owed The Major an even larger debt.
The Major offered to let him pay him back but the man’s ego could not bear the burden of the debt. 'I got a clarinet I could give you. It was worth a little more than the equivalent of the debt. The loser said his daughter hated playing the instrument and would never practice. It was practically new.
The Major called me into the room, “how do you feel about playing the clarinet,” he asked me. “You could be the next Benny Goodman!”
It was better than nothing was, I thought, and I hoped the man had not truly bet anything he could not afford to lose. I hoped I wasn’t stealing the music from his child.
The Major was right, good lesson learned. Never bet anything you cannot afford to lose. I was grateful for this win. I loved band, and sometimes when I am listening to a piece of music I can still hear the whisper of Mr. Johnson’s voice in my head saying, “close your eyes, what do you hear?”
It calms me, I strain to pick out the pluck of a banjo, strum of the guitar, the soft beat of a snare drum, a triangle, harmonica, a flute or hopefully the husky call of a the Saxophone.