10 July 2012

the gambler.

(To return to a previous thought...) I used to be a gambling addict. But not the way you think. There are other ways of gambling, you know, besides craps tables and scratch-off lottery tickets—besides Russian roulette and gumball machines. There are other ways, always other ways of doing things. Big ways and small ways and other ways:

Any given day, I am driving east on Lincoln Way West, which means I'm leaving work, which means I'm happy, which means I'm nervous about becoming not-happy. Like gambling, there are many ways to be not-happy. You could get mangled (always very badly) in an automobile accident on the highway—you could be thrown from the Tilt-O-Whirl and smeared across the pitiless concrete pavement—you could find out from a preoccupied physician that you have cancer: the bad kind, not the good kind. The Patrick Swayze kind. The unkind kind.

Sometimes I worry about the particular ways there are to be not-happy. There are enough to keep you busy with worry when you start feeling too happy. Just when you think you've itemized and cataloged all of the ways of not-happiness, you remember others, like exotic diseases and everyone that ever loved you walking away all at once and leaving you alone.

Concerning yourself with all these particular ways—these particular ways of not-happiness—takes up more time than a day can hold, I find. Soon your thoughts must overlap and speak on top of each other to get them all in—and it becomes a kind of madness, all of these voices packing together in a dense noise. And all of the voices are yours.

So what I did (when I used to gamble) is this: I'd think of not-happiness as one infinitely large thing than contains all of the things that might ever make you (meaning me) not-happy. This is an efficiency measure. I am trying to economize anxiety so that I have time to do laundry and masturbate. There are things that need to be done besides worrying, so I thought, 'Let's worry about one thing that is everything all at once.' How clever, how economical, how—

—how impractical! It's too hard to worry about everything all at once because what do you picture in your head then? What do you think to yourself in place of 'This or that (terrible thing) could happen to me'? If you've ever tried worrying (all at once) that everything could happen to you, you'll know what I mean. It's hard to see it all at once. It's hard to know where to look in your head. 

So what I did (when I used to gamble) is this: I'd gamble. 

Any given day, I am driving east on Lincoln Way West, which means I'm leaving work, which means I'm happy. Since I can't think about all of the possible ways to be not-happy all at once, I think about whether they will happen, not what they are in themselves. 

This is what I think... 'If the stoplight changes from red to green at the intersection of Lincoln Way West and Bendix Drive before I have to come to a complete stop, then I will be happy tomorrow.' I watch the stoplight. I watch its redness. It's still being very red, and I'm watching it. So I slow down the car because I want to be happy tomorrow. (I don't worry about what particular things make me happy or not-happy. I leave that up to Fate. Fate knows best what makes me happy, I convince myself. Who knows anything better than Fate does?) So I slow down the car. But then I think to myself that slowing down the car may be cheating. I was probably supposed to drive at my normal (non-gambling) speed in order to determine happiness. If I cheat, I am disqualified. If I am disqualified, I am not-happy.

This is a quandary. What is the 'normal' (non-gambling) and acceptable rate of slowing down as one (meaning me) approaches an intersection that determines one's happiness? How can I tell if I am (perhaps unconsciously) adjusting my speed in order to be happy—which is cheating—which disqualifies me—which makes me not-happy.

There are countless ways to bet on happiness and not-happiness. Stoplights, of course, are only one of them. Here are some other ways that I can think of right now:

1. I am at home. I am turning on the television. If when I turn on the television, I see a commercial, I will be not-happy for the next two hours. Otherwise I will be happy, contingent upon other bets, of course. (Problem: I usually hear the television before the picture shows up. What if I hear a commercial, but by the time the picture shows up, it's not a commercial anymore? Let's cross that bridge when we get to it, I say. But then I say, No. The rules must be established ahead of time; otherwise there's cheating and disqualification and not-happiness.)
2. I don't know what time it is. I will guess the time. If I am within ten minutes of the actual time (as it appears on my wristwatch), then I will be happy. Otherwise not-happiness awaits me. (Problem: My watch doesn't have numbers or increments on it, so it is impossible to make an accurate and authoritative determination of the actual time or, furthermore, ten minutes from that time.)
3. I am driving down the street. There is a car in front of me. I will pass the car. If the driver is female, I will be happy at least until the next bet. If the driver is male, I will be not-happy. (Problems: What if I can't determine the gender? It happens, you know. A driver of another car isn't an animal whose genitals I can casually inspect. Also, maybe from the silhouette I saw in front of me, I already had a good guess at the driver's gender. If so, that's cheating, cause for disqualification, and so on and so forth.)

I am happy to tell you that I no longer gamble—and haven't done so for many years.* And when I say I am happy to tell you this, it is not a happiness determined by a stoplight, a television commercial, or a gender. It is a happiness born of itself. (Or from prescription medications.) Fate has nothing to do with it.

* Okay, I occasionally bet. But only for entertainment purposes. Only to see whether I would have been not-happy if I was still thinking the old, bad way.


  1. I'm glad you've stopped doing this because it exhausted me just to read of it.

    I hope you really are happy. Whatever that means.

  2. Thank you! If this post didn't get a comment by midnight, I was going to be not-happy!

  3. that seems like a habit that would be extremely hard to break. thinking-habits seem to be the most pervasive of the habits.

  4. I mean you are clearly the more fucked up of the two of us, if we were to theoretically compare, but you do possess an uncanny ability to bring to words some of my strange neuroses. Amazing.

  5. Are you a gambler too, Jason? I've been told by a few people that they can relate to these thought patterns. I don't feel as special anymore.

  6. Not a gambler, no. More a bargainer. "If you (universe) allow for such-and-such a thing to happen, then I can allow myself to suspend any anxiety" and usually it's anxiety completely unrelated to the bargaining chip. It's bizarre and it makes no sense but it works.

    I'm still not as fucked up as you, though, I swear it.

  7. I'm sorry you don't feel as special, but I can relate to these thought patterns as well. For me it was usually stuff like 'If I _______ before x part of the song, then _____,' or I would replace song lyrics with other stuff - red lights, squirrels crossing the road, reaching the corner...

    Hooray for medication.

  8. I can always count on you to be as crazy as I am. I may not be special, but at least I'm in good company...