The House Always Wins

BXP52482“I mean, really… I don’t understand how people develop gambling addictions.” I said simultaneously pulling the lever on a noisy, flashing slot machine and taking a sip of my free cocktail inside the casino of the MGM Grand. “Seriously, who would want to throw their hard-earned money away on a game where the deck is stacked so strongly against them?”

“It makes only good sense to me to play a little with some money that you don’t mind losing, have a little fun while doing it… and if you happen to win… all the better… and if you lose, oh well. It was expected.” I continued to chatter on while mindlessly pushing the minimum bet button on another machine. “It’s all about having fun without losing control, ya know?”

Thus, Lee and I continued on this way, sipping rum and tequila, hopping from machine to machine, casino to casino placing minimum bets and watching our money go up and down. We won some, we lost some. Playing conservatively was fun because we got to continue gambling and enjoying free adult beverages without feeling like complete degenerates on the verge of losing the house, the car, the boat or the very shirts off our backs.

Energized from the free-flowing booze, neon lights and Billboard Hot 100 music pumping overhead, we carried on, never giving a single thought to the 21 straight hours we’d been awake. I was feeling pretty good, enjoying the Vegas vibe and feeling rather prideful that I apparently had the keen ability to “gamble” without falling prey to its fabled, seductive qualities.

And then I saw it.

There in the distance—like a shimmering oasis in the desert—standing high above the other slots and table games was THE machine. The Sex and The City slot with its fluid pink neon and sparkling diamond marquee called to me. “Ooo!” I shrieked “I HAVE to play that machine. It’s fate!” (I was obviously not yet aware that these machines were ALL OVER Vegas. I saw it as a sign that I’d spotted it at all and thought it MUST be the only one.)

I slid into the luxurious, leather seat and pushed a fresh 10 dollar bill into the slot. The minimum bet was a quarter… which I tried and had no luck. So I increased my bet to 50 cents—increasing my odds either way. Still I had no luck. So I took a big chance by betting a full dollar and Ding! Ding! Ding! I hit some sort of “win” because the numbers in my balance kept flying up, up and up right along with my excitement and adrenaline. Mr. Big was talking sweet to me now!

Before I knew it I had turned that $10 into $85. Now I realize that’s a small win for all you real life gamblers out there, but it’s a BIG Win for this Vegas virgin. For it was then that a peculiar thing began to happen. A massive struggle started to take place in my brain. The ”sensible” part of me thought: “You just turned $10 into $85 dollars by sitting on your @$$ and pushing a button!! CASH OUT, CASH OUT, CASH OUT and take the money! You made a PROFIT tonight. See the cashier, gather your winnings and put it in your wallet now! You’re AHEAD!!”

But the “other” part of me… the part that was dizzy from adrenaline and blinded by the blinking lights and Mr. Big’s sweet nothings in my ear thought things like: “But what if you kept going and made MORE? What if you’re sitting here and on some sort of hot streak! Keep going! Imagine if that $85 were $400!?!”

I allowed myself to free fall blissfully and carelessly into the world of What-If. And I pushed the button again. And I lost a little. And I pushed the button again. And I lost a little more. And I pushed the button again. And I lost a little more. It was at this point that I set a limit for myself. Fifty dollars. I would NOT allow myself to dip below $50. Fifty dollars was still a nice profit considering.

Until I GOT to fifty dollars. And I didn’t want to stop. $50 wasn’t good enough anymore. I once had $85. I HAD to get back to $85. I COULD get there again. All I needed was a little more luck. So I pushed on and kept playing and kept losing. I dipped below my own “red line” and now there was no going back. A ritual had begun to develop in the ORDER in which I placed my bets. I felt a little queasy when my balance fell to $20.

“I can get it back! I can get it back!” One side of my brain started chanting as I frantically continued pushing the buttons. “You HAD $85 at one time you miserable loser! GET OUT NOW!”  the other side shouted back. And then I knew. This was exactly how “IT” happened. “It” being the reason why otherwise sensible people quote: “Throw their hard-earned money away on games where the deck is stacked so strongly against them.” The house is SUPPOSED to win. This whole grown-up playground here in the middle of an otherwise giant, vacant sandbox is DESIGNED to win.

Throughout the remainder of my Vegas vacation I would learn to love blackjack —  winning some and losing some. I would toss around phrases like “Bad Mojo” and “Good Juju” as though I had used them all my life. I would play swim-up blackjack at the pool with a bunch of rowdy kids from LA… later drying off my chips from a winning turn at a table that had “good vibes” and spend much of my wedding night parked on a stool in New York, New York playing video blackjack.

In case you’re wondering… I eventually walked away from the Sex and The City slot with $45 that first night… a bit more wary of the allure of friendly wagering and with a bit of an adjusted attitude and a healthier appreciation toward the seductive qualities of that twinkling oasis in the desert… And I absolutely cannot wait to board the next nonstop flight back out there.

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Matrimonial Insanity

bride in a straight jacketThere’s a reason the groom is not to see the bride before she walks down the aisle on the day of their wedding. And it isn’t what you’d think. I discovered this truth about two weeks ago when I myself took that storied stroll from the back of the chapel toward my (now) husband.

Lee and I decided a year ago to get married in Vegas. We didn’t want to make a huge fuss, spend a lot of money and find ourselves tangled in the tricky threads typically associated with tying the knot. But mostly, we just thought it sounded like a lot of fun. Which it most certainly was, however, we learned that some matrimonial stress is bound to find you no matter how far you and your betrothed decide to run.

It WILL sniff you out… in the middle of the desert… surrounded by bright flashing lights, eager blackjack dealers, endless cocktails, thumping music, Elvis impersonators and a cacophony of clanging slot machines. And it isn’t a matter of IF prenuptial stress finds you — it is merely a matter of WHEN.

Weddings ARE stressful. No matter how simple you may try to make them. The concern over family members’ opinions, ideas and traditions will weigh on you (if you invited them). Intrusive thoughts of forgetting or “misplacing” the rings, the marriage license or the cash for the minister’s fee will pop up at the most inopportune times. Fear of the right music NOT being played on cue, having a bad hair day or waking up to discover a rogue pimple on your face the morning of The Big Day will haunt your dreams.

Thus it is not uncommon for a blushing bride to scare the $#!* out of an anticipatory-if-not-already-anxious groom from time to time before the impending nuptials can occur. Which leads me to my initial observation: There is a reason the groom is not to see the bride before she walks down the aisle on the day of their wedding.

What, you may ask, is the “actual and unexpected” reason behind this time-honored wedding tradition? People THINK it is bad luck. But the real reason the groom should not see the bride before she walks down the aisle… is to prevent him from RUNNING.

Let me clarify. This man—already slightly nervous himself in the face of this major life change he is about to make—would head straight for the hills were he to see his beautiful beloved for the actual train wreck she has become by the time the day arrives. She has worried and fretted and planned for THIS moment since the first time someone read Cinderella to her as a child.

And now it is here. And there is NO WAY—in Las Vegas or elsewhere—that she is gonna gamble on the fact that her Prince Charming just might hop on the back of his trusty steed, riding off into the sunset because of a teensy, weensy case of  momentary insanity.

Debt Free(dom)

cutting up cardLike a recovering alcoholic sampling the taboo taste of a beloved beverage, I handed the cashier my plastic. The ease with which I did so, accompanied by my effortless smile gave absolutely no hint to the hesitation lurking just beneath the surface. Though the purchase was justified and the actual money in the bank, there was a tiny place inside of me that still remained uneasy.

Once you’ve climbed out of the deep, dark hole of credit card debt—finding yourself back in the black—the former aches and pains of actually digging that hole occasionally come back to haunt you. I am not proud to admit that I was in debt — having only recently brushed the remainder of that dirt off my less-than-stellar credit report. But I am relieved to say that those days are behind me.

Sifting through stacks and stacks of old mail over the weekend reminded me of those darker days. Except that while I was living them, I technically didn’t know they were “darker.” It would be awhile before I actually realized how deep I had dug. I was in fact, living it up back then! I was happily buying new furniture, clothes and shoes, paying for manicures, pedicures, salon visits, gym memberships and housekeeping services.

A close friend did occasionally ask me whether or not I should be spending so freely. But I brushed it off as them being too “conservative” with their own money and “fearful” of bad things that would “never happen.” I was gainfully employed, single with no dependents and the proud owner of a seemingly endless supply of credit. It never occurred to me to be concerned because I was always able to keep up with the payments. If I could pay the bills every month, then this was all stuff that I could afford. Until it wasn’t.

Being young and stupid, I never gave much thought to all of the uncertainties out there. I’d done my homework, gotten a degree and been blissfully employed since graduation. Things like personal illness and the company you work for going under weren’t even on my radar. Until they were.

Back then—during this hedonistic time of living like some kind of entitled Hilton or Kardashian—I fell ill with a serious case of pneumonia. On top of that, just prior to the pneumonia, I’d left the security of a lower paying government job to accept an exciting new position at a rapidly-growing publishing company and had zero sick leave in the bank. On doctor’s orders, I missed an entire month of work and wages. Suddenly making those bills was a little bit harder.

And then the “rapidly-growing” company folded. Making paying those bills all but impossible. I managed. I didn’t file for bankruptcy or anything, but I did have to move 2,000 whole miles back east to live with mom and dad, working a minimum wage job until I could find a better one. Going through the ancient mail was like watching a train wreck in slow motion. First there were the bank statements, bills and invoices… a.k.a. Evidence of All the Fun. Followed by a trickle and later a heavy stream of medical bills, debt consolidation packages and various hand-written notes of lists I’d made inventorying all of my debts and monthly bills.

But it was good for me to see how the entire ordeal had actually unfolded. What started out as a simple housekeeping exercise wound up being a true moment of reckoning. I’d often wondered, through the years, as I struggled to pay down the balances on these debts: How did this happen? How did I rack up all of this debt? And now I know. I can see it all from a distance. It was as though it had happened to someone else… because in a way, it did happen to someone else. I am no longer that person.

Thanks to the support of my parents, a couple of really good friends and an extremely fiscally responsible soon-to-be husband, I am learning the value of having money IN the bank before I have any fun with it. I still love furniture, clothes, shoes, salon visits and travel and I would LOVE to pay someone to do all of the unpleasant, laborious tasks that accompany adulthood. But since I’m neither a Hilton nor a Kardashian, I’ve lain to rest my Visa Gold & Mastercard shovel and am enjoying the freedom that comes with “living it up” — within my means.

Flying Lessons

When you come to the end of all of the light that you know and step out into the darkness of the Great Unknown… Faith is knowing that one of two things shall happen. Either you will be given something firm to stand on, or you will be taught to fly.

personal-flight-attempt-1

I can’t remember the first time I heard this quote, but I have loved it ever since. It comforts me to be reminded that things always have a way of working out. It may take a while to comprehend what is happening or why, but eventually understanding comes. Hindsight is 20/20, they always say. In the meantime, during those darker times, those murky times, those uncertain times it is important to know that things won’t always stay that way.

Easier said than done. I know.

I personally prefer the first scenario given, that I will be given something firm to stand on. If something I can feel beneath my feet is good, then something solid and immoveable—something firm—is even better. It is the flying part that I have trouble with because it does not come naturally to me. In fact, unless you’re a superhero, it doesn’t come naturally to any of us. But sometimes, flying lessons are the only option we’ll be given. No less. No more. And that can be scary because it not only requires endless patience, but trust as well.

For months now I’ve found myself sulking around in one of those murky places… waiting to see if I’d be graciously given something firm to stand on or shoved headfirst off a cliff and forced to fly. In more specific terms, I was waiting to see if the company I’d been working for (on a contract basis for the last five months) was going to welcome me into the official fold or choose to go in a different direction with another candidate.

I equated getting the job with a great big slab of granite. A vast, strong, solid piece of property to stand on which I could call my very own. I would carve my name in it and decorate it with potted plants and adorable picture frames. Conversely, I equated NOT getting the job with flying… blind… in a hurricane… without a parachute or floatation device. Betcha can’t guess which one I’m doing right now?

Yup. I’m flying. But miraculously, it isn’t the death-defying, teeth-chattering, knee-knocking, goose-bump-inducing terror trip I was expecting. It is so bizarre. Sitting in the conference room, on an ordinary Wednesday, I knew from the look on my boss’s face that I was not about to hear the news I’d been hoping for. And I’ll be honest, I was crushed. Hot, fat tears splashed down the front my favorite periwinkle sweater the entire drive home that afternoon. That evening I cried so hard I gave myself a migraine. In fact, I cried so hard my teeth and gums and eye sockets hurt.

But when the sun came up on Thursday, I was over it. By Friday I was even MORE over it and when I agreed to stay on another week and showed up for work at the very place where my services were no longer desirable, I was completely over it.  No leftover attitude. No residual bitterness. Just peace, calm and contentment. I’m not exactly sure what happened… other than the distinct possibility that although I am flying, it is not without a net. 

You see, while I’ve been wading around in fear and uncertainty, worrying and fretting  about the unknown the last five months — my soon-to-be-husband, family and friends have been weaving a pretty tight mesh beneath me. Making it clear to me that even though there is no giant slab of granite beneath my feet for TOMORROW, being angry or bitter takes too much energy away from the things that I have TODAY.

The Best of Intentions

“The road to hell is paved with good intentions.”

bride wolfing cake

I can’t believe it is May. The first five months of 2013 have certainly crept up on me, along with (much to my horror) a few extra pounds. Stealthily, one by one, the calendar pages for January, February, March, April and May presented themselves as did pizza, beer, wings, nachos and blueberry scones. And this is a problem because I am getting married in two months. Naturally, I’ve wanted to be a beautiful bride… a glowing picture of health in a stylish strapless dress to showcase an upper body that would make Michelle Obama proud (if not jealous).

But alas, I’ve done nothing to accomplish my goal of slimming down. I can still remember stating my intentions to do ALL that I could to look killer for my wedding like it was yesterday… I was sitting at my cousin’s dining table on Christmas night, surrounded by family and slamming cheese cubes, chips and various chocolate-covered bits of deliciousness as I talked (with my mouth full no doubt) about how this was my LAST binge before I started being REALLY careful and intentional about my diet.

Obviously, that plan crashed and burned along with my aspirations to be a size 2 again by summer. A friend took me shopping for wedding dresses mid-January and I refused to try anything on, claiming that it was futile since I would have a completely different body by June. Then February came… and went, as did March and April. With the turning of each calendar page, I would feel the squeeze a little bit more. My time to do something about this is rapidly shrinking. And unfortunately, it is the ONLY thing that has shrunk.

I’ve never lost weight or gotten in shape on a deadline before. I seem to remember reading something that said it wasn’t very effective to try and lose weight for your wedding because the stress of planning along with the attempt to be trim and sexier could potentially backfire. No $#it. My ears are still ringing from the sound of it backfiring on me. Or is that the sound of my button popping off and shattering the window?

I have been stressed. Not because of planning of the wedding actually, but for different reasons altogether. And I’ve learned that I am a stress eater. When I am happy and feeling at ease, I tend to make good choices and slim down. Conversely, when I am stressed and experiencing difficulty or uncertainty, I am lazy and eat bad food.

I wanted so badly to be able to look at the photos from our wedding 20 years from now and think: “WOW! Was I a knockout or what!?!” But then last week it hit me. Twenty years from now I’ll be 58… and no matter what I look like THEN or whether I was a size 2 or a size 8 on the big day… I’ll STILL be wishing I was 38 again. I’m not getting any younger. I’ll never get 38 back. So I ought to enjoy it as I am TODAY. I should probably stop worrying about some idea I conjured of perfection (in a Christmas-chocolaty state of bliss and denial, no less) and buy a dress that flatters the softer, slightly-rounder me and just enjoy the ride. Or in this case… the walk. Down the aisle… toward my future.

Our Barbies, Ourselves

Barbie125thCareerRetroWe’ve come a long way, baby. Or should I say Barbie has come a long way from the ill-proportioned, frighteningly well-endowed, bleach-blond beach bimbo she once was to her latest occupation: Engineer. You go girl!! You show the world that you can be ANYTHING you want to be! Plastic can be molded in a million different ways and clothes can be sewn to suit any proportions these days—real or imaginary. I, for one, find it refreshing to see that Barbie is made of stern enough stuff to conquer yet another male-dominated field.

I’ve long had a theory about Barbies and the girls who play with them. That being that who we are (or aspire to be)… was probably foreshadowed in our Barbie play. The notion grew out of a simple conversation I was having one day with two of my female co-workers. Somehow the topic of Barbie came up and all of us confirmed that we’d had at least one of them growing up. Naturally, the conversation turned to what we liked to do with our Barbies when we played with them…

JOANNA
I proudly admitted to the fact that all my Barbie wanted to do was HAVE FUN! She partied, she LOVED working on her tan and swimming in her pool (which was actually just our kitchen sink magically converted into a sparkling oasis in which Barbie could dive and swim… naked). MY Barbie would not be confined to the pre-determined dwellings crafted for her by Matel.

The Barbie mansion could not hold her. The Barbie RV was too cramped and not NEARLY luxurious enough… and so I constantly commandeered entire rooms in our house and created elaborate living spaces for her to inhabit. Thankfully my mother put up with this. I do seem to remember my poor dad trying to get to his office in our basement and having to ever-so-gingerly tip-toe around all the precariously placed pink and orange inflatable furniture.

My Barbie also did not do any work. Don’t ask me how she had any money… but she managed. She had A LOT of boyfriends. Perhaps they sponsored her. If she DID work, it was in a fashion boutique where she spent most of the time trying on the clothes instead of helping customers. In fact, looking back on it now, my Barbie was a little bitchy, somewhat lazy, completely self-absorbed and truth be told, probably a bit of a tramp.

AMANDA
One of my co-workers—let’s call her Amanda (names have been changed to protect the innocent)—had a much different interaction with her Barbie. Amanda’s Barbie was what I would call a little Worker Bee. Amanda dressed her in gray business suits and sent her to work in an office. All Amanda’s Barbie did was work. Amanda even cut up Barbie-sized squares of paper that she would feed into a miniature typewriter!! And all I could think of while she was telling me this was: She thought THIS was fun!?!?! How in the #@$% could this be fun??? But it was what Amanda liked to do with her Barbie.

When I inquired about possible boyfriends for her Barbie (I’d be remiss if I failed to mention Ken) she said that she didn’t have any Ken dolls. But she WOULD occasionally borrow her brother’s G.I. Joe doll and Joe, as if on a covert mission, would quote: “infiltrate the Barbie mansion.” Nice. It’s good to know that even Worker Bees like Amanda like to have fun. Even if it IS on the down-low, after a long, hard day at the office.

LISA
The other co-worker, let’s call her Lisa, technically HAD a Barbie to play with. But she didn’t really LIKE her Barbie all that much. Rather she tortured her Barbie from time to time. She would cut off all her hair, strip off all of her clothes, grab her by her teensy plastic foot and swing her around and around the room until she went flying into the wall.

———————————————————————

The most fascinating part of this colorful dialogue was the concept of our “Barbie play” amazingly hinting at the kind of women we’d each grown up to be. Thus my theory was born: What little girls do with their Barbies can offer a fairly accurate glimpse into the personalities of the women-in-waiting.

Now, I am NOT admitting to being a grown-up “bitchy, lazy, self-absorbed tramp”… though some may beg to differ. But I definitely DO like to have FUN above anything else. To me, work is a necessary evil and a means to much more important aspirations like partying, vacationing, shopping and working on my tan.

Some people, like Amanda, LIVE to work. And Amanda, to this day, remains one of the most devoted, hard-working employees I know. She put herself through school while working full time, earning not one but two degrees and has climbed the ladder in her organization. Most importantly, she is completely happy and fulfilled as that person.

Though I’ve lost track of Lisa over the years, when I knew her she was a dedicated athlete constantly railing against typical female stereotypes. She believed that women can do ANYTHING that men can do and to indicate otherwise got under her skin like nothing else. She valued fairness and equality in all walks of life and her work and leisure remained consistent with those beliefs. I doubt that she’s changed.

So perhaps it is a stretch, my theory. But I believe I’m on to something. If only I could find a generous benefactor to grant me the financial resources for the necessary research. I could quit my job and travel the globe interviewing women everywhere to obtain their stories. Naturally, this endeavor would require me to do quite a bit of socializing and patronizing lavish resorts along the way. I’d then publish my findings, resulting in a best-selling book, thus allowing me to fully retire before the age of 40… making way for nothing but F-U-N.

Are These… MOM JEANS!?!?

MomJeans I have this terrifying feeling that I may, in fact, be in possession of a couple pair of (gulp) Mom Jeans. Yes, that’s right. I said it. And I shudder at the thought. My fingers are trembling even as I type these words. And no, these aren’t jeans from the mid-eighties that I’ve managed to hold on to or a pair of jeans that my mom (or anyone else from a previous generation) just so happened to pass down to me that I—in order to be polite—quietly accepted and later planned to burn.

These are relatively new (purchased within the last year or so) and currently (gasp) in the wardrobe rotation! I know, I KNOW! You are probably wondering, as am I, how such a horrific thing could possibly come to pass. Especially when not two years ago, I wrote a post here about how I will NEVER, I repeat NEVER be caught dead in a pair of mom jeans.

For those who don’t know… Here is a definition of Mom Jeans: Mom jeans are a style of jeans consisting of a high waist (rising above the belly button), making the buttocks appear disproportionately longer, larger, and flatter than they otherwise might. It also tends to have excess space in the zipper/crotch and leg areas. The jeans are usually in a solid, light-blue color, with no form of stone washing or fading. Other attributes of the style often seen are pleats, tapered legs, and elastic waistbands. The style is frequently accompanied by a blouse or shirt that is tucked into the jeans. This style was popular with women in the United States until the mid-90s, when lower rise jeans started to become fashionable.

See? Most of you can relax now. Just being a mother, does not a mom-jean-wearer make. I know my own mom was scared when I first uttered the phrase “mom jeans” in her presence. I mean, you don’t even need to be a woman for this crime of fashion to happen to you. Mitt Romney was often spotted (and ridiculed for) sporting mom jeans on the campaign trail…

Mitt Romney - mom jeans

But alas, I suspect I may have fallen victim to the lure of comfort… and marketing. Yes marketing. It’s not like the store is going to place a neon sign over a rack of women’s jeans flashing the words: “GET YOUR MOM JEANS HERE!” No, they are going to place the denim abominations in amidst the rest of their latest offerings and label them “relaxed fit” or “slimming” or some other load of persuasive crap aimed at us women trying to find something akin to fashionable that will not squeeze the ever-loving-$#it out of us OR sit so low on our person so as to produce “muffin top” or cause us to have to buy a whole new batch of low rise Victoria’s Secret underwear lest it show every time we sit or bend.

So in the name of fashion AND comfort, because yes—somewhere between the ages of 32 and 38—a gal decides that it IS worth it to not only look good, but also continue breathing or consume bread and wine in a restaurant without feeling like a human sausage casing. We want to enjoy a nice meal absent of the fear that we could potentially cause serious bodily injury to fellow diners by suddenly popping our rivets, raining zipper teeth down like shrapnel. Therefore we shop. And we shop with laser-like focus for a pair of jeans that accomplish all of the above AND… are anything but mom jeans.

mom-jeans

But occasionally, as I may be experiencing, due to the combined needs for comfort, coverage and style… a pair of (yikes!) mom jeans could possibly slip in without us even noticing… until it’s too late. You’re standing in front of the mirror one morning, taking a final glimpse at your reflection before heading out the door and it hits you. A thought that has never crossed your mind before suddenly looms large: OMG! Are these MOM JEANS!?!?

And the terror grips you. The clock says it’s time to go, you look OK from the waist up and yes, your footwear is adorable but aside from the shoes, your bottom half looks like you should strap a fanny pack to it and head to the casino for a day of fun with Madge and the rest of the bridge club gang. HOW DID THIS HAPPEN!?!? Why didn’t I see it in the store? Can I actually go out in public looking like this? What other questionable decisions have I made in the last year? The list goes on and on.

At this point I’m not sure what I’m going to do about the denim conundrum. But there is one thing I DO know. I can’t even begin to think about my potential relationship with skinny jeans. That’s a whole other subject. One that perhaps I’ll tackle… when this fashion crisis has passed.