I don’t know how to start writing this post. I don’t even know if I should. It feels risky . . . and very uncomfortable. You’ll think less of me (I do). Or maybe you’ll think it’s no big deal and chuckle that I am so worked up about it.
The whole “no regrets” thing never really made sense to me. Human beings do truly stupid things all the time. This was my turn to do something so unbelievably foolish that it still makes me nauseous to think about it. If I could take it back I would – that’s regret. It sits like a stone in my stomach.
But good writers (and good fathers) put themselves out there. I know this. They admit their vulnerability so they can move past it. Patch it up.
I’m not sure I am all that great at either writing or fatherhood, but I’ve decided that I will try to do what I think a good writer and father would do. I’m going to tell you about something I did that is out of character, idiotic and deeply embarrassing. Can we be foolish without being fools? I hope so.
I will preface my asinine anecdote by saying I’m not a gambler. Never spent a dollar in a casino. Don’t buy lottery tickets. No online poker. I’m too analytical. I know the odds are stacked against me.
I’m still not sure what possessed me, but while in Zakopane, Poland we were strolling along a very touristy boulevard of souvenir shops, stands, and carnival-type games. Everything was designed to milk the tourists of their cash. First clue. Ignored.
In the middle of the path I came upon a small group of people – maybe 5 or 6 – surrounding a man who was taking bets on his variety of the shell game. You know the one – there is an item under one of the shells or cups, but he moves them around so quickly it is difficult to keep track of where the item is. He stops. You make a bet. If you’re right, you double your money.
For a while I watched. Every single time as people bet, sometimes winning, sometimes losing, but I got it right. Every time. The bets were large – the equivalent of about $40CAD each time but it seemed so easy.
The cups stopped moving and – I still can’t believe I did this – I raised my hand. The others turned to me. Trying to be responsible, I handed over a smaller bet. In broken english they informed me the minimum bet was higher. Second clue. I should have walked away at that point, but they surrounded me trying to “help me understand”. I handed over more money.
And I got it wrong.
“It’s okay! It’s okay! You can try again!”
I must have been distracted by the money confusion. One more time.
I watched carefully. I knew where it was. I made my choice.
I was shocked. Incredulous. Confused. Without the minimum bet in Polish currency, I started to walk away. I couldn’t think straight. What just happened?
One of the other players trotted over, “He will give you special deal – more money!” I had a $20 Canadian bill in my wallet that I wouldn’t be needing. He said that was okay.
I rallied. I focused. I got it wrong again.
As I walked away for the second time it dawned on me that I had just blown over $100 Canadian in about two minutes. Not only that, but my kids had watched me do it. I would have rather been robbed. At least that wouldn’t be my fault. This was all on me.
It was the start of a beautiful day in the mountains of southern Poland and I was miserable. We’re on a budget and I had just handed over almost all of our Polish currency to some stranger. I could have vomited.
“And that’s why I don’t gamble!” I said to the family, trying to say something lighthearted – anything – rather than just wallow in self-pity.
I looked at the boys and it dawned on me that they thought they could have won. They’d been sucked in too. They still thought it was easy, that I’d just made the wrong choices.
The human mind is a funny thing. When confronted with acute pain, either physical or mental, the powerful reflex is to escape – even if it means making matters worse. I wanted to run away. I wanted to turn back the clock. I wanted to slap my own face. But I couldn’t undo this and there was just no denying that what I’d done was completely, utterly, and ridiculously Stupid. With a capital S.
After a few minutes of walking, the firestorm of self-loathing calmed down just a little and I realized that the only way the kids would learn from this would be if I owned it myself. Maybe I could salvage something out of this mess.
I told them that what I’d done was stupid. I should have known that the man is there because he is the one who makes money. The game is designed to make you think you can win. Just because you can’t see the trick, doesn’t mean there isn’t one. I should have been more suspicious. More skeptical. In a country where it is not the social norm to be overly friendly with strangers, warning bells should have gone off when the other players started trying to “help” me. They were likely in on the scam.
I think a lot of people keep playing those games because they constantly think they are one bet away from figuring out the trick. But that game is probably thousands of years old for a reason. There’s a damn good trick concealed within a deceptively simple – even fun – process. Some things are easy to recognize but hard to define. There was a trick, I just can’t tell you what it was.
It was at that point I decided to write this blog post. We returned to the area where the game was being played to catch some video for the vlog too, but the man and his likely compatriots were gone. Perhaps the police had ushered them away. Perhaps they had made enough money from the foolish Canadian for a nice big lunch of perogies and beer.
I got sucked in, chewed up and spit out by an age-old gambling scam. Perhaps a more experienced gambler would have seen the red flags. Or maybe they would have gone back and forth to the bank machine until their account was dry. I don’t know.
I could invent reasons for my actions. I could justify my irrational decisions. I could think of many ways “it could have been worse . . . “. But I’m just going to own this. No excuses.