A couple months ago, James created this website and I drafted my biography in the “About” section before writing my first piece. These few paragraphs describe us to an extent, but it’s much easier to go for humor when you’re introducing yourself to an audience that doesn’t really know you and, in practice at least, will probably never really know you.
It affords you the opportunity to list your first interest as “grilled cheeses” when in reality you’re just another schmo that sometimes toasts them and sometimes fries them, sometimes adding in prosciutto or arugula or pesto or whatever. I make grilled cheeses and enjoy them, but they’re hardly an interest and you hope you get a chuckle from the stranger who’s in on the joke that your passion isn’t the first thing you learned to cook with a kitchen appliance.
Next is Matchbox Twenty—it’s an inside joke, but as is the case with inside jokes more often than not we just can’t resist the urge to unveil the inside joke to the public without properly letting them in on it. I don’t know why we do it, it serves no one in the end, and I’m referring to those that commit this terrible offense as “we” to convince myself that I’m not the only offender.
Anyway, Matchbox is the band that everyone pretends to despise but secretly enjoys listening to. The instrumentals and the lyrics and the melodies—everything about it—is simple and pretty generic but you damn well bet when “Unwell” comes on in the car on the soft rock station-that-your-mom-used-to-listen-to-in-the-van-that-you-never-quite-stopped-listening-to-in-your-own-car I’m going to have a great time and belt it out.
Likewise, in high school my friends would belt out Matchbox songs that came on the radio during car rides, and we’d include Matchbox on the playlists for parties that no one except us would attend. Metaphorically, we were Matchbox, not crazy but a little unwell, underappreciated but perhaps terribly cliché, but above all else well-intentioned and agreeable. Late on a night out in my early college career, I replied to the question of “What kind of music do you like?” with “Matchbox” and it was met with crickets. There was sentimental value in my response—my egregiously drunk self was pleased—that to me, in a nutshell, is Matchbox.
But my purpose in writing this post altogether was to get to the last interest I listed: Fyodor Dostoyevsky. I emit the first ‘y’ most of the time—but on the “About” page it appears I didn’t. Camus elects to go with Dostoievsky which burnt my eyes the first time I saw it, but I kinda dig Camus, and thus won’t hate on those who want to use the ‘i’. By text with James, he’s affectionately referred to as Dosto.
Now tonight as I was readying to go to bed, I happened to glance at the Great Short Works of Fyodor Dostoevsky sitting on my desk. I haven’t put much of a dent in it—I’m a little into Part II of Notes from Underground. It’s been good—very good—but the title that captured my attention is The Gambler.
I know it’s supposed to be quite autobiographical, and I know a gambling addiction led to financial hardship and relationship problems for Dosto. It is fascinating that a man of such self-awareness could fall victim to an addiction that is generally associated with those who are merely weak of will.
It got me thinking about my own experience with gambling. As a young kid, my dad would drive to the Old Oak in town on Saturdays to bring back a list of the NFL games on show the following day. You’d pick each game straight up, and for the Sunday night game you’d pick the winner along with the total number of points that’d be scored. I enjoyed filling out the forms, and some weeks I did really well. I imagine the pool was a $5 or $10 buy-in, and some Monday mornings the lunch money bowl was a tad bit greener than usual.
I associated gambling with fun, and still do. My friend and I had the shittiest run of luck at the low-stakes blackjack table in Barcelona, like got absolutely fucking smoked the whole night and we both generally knew when we should and shouldn’t be hitting, but it just wasn’t going to be our night and we still had a blast playing.
In more recent times, I’ve gravitated towards sports betting on Bovada and Draftkings. Mostly soccer, lately golf as well. The lines Bovada offers are terrible relative to most of the other bookies, but there’s just something alluring about betting on a soccer game between St. Lucia and Barbados for me. The odds on Draftkings are stacked ridiculously against you too, only the top 20% or so of entries are even paid out at all, and I have a knack for falling just below that threshold, but it’s still so much damn fun to construct a lineup and compete against thousands of other people.
The question I am left asking myself is ultimately this: has it gone too far? When I’m researching the recent matches played by Trinidad and Tobago to predict whether they’ll beat the Bahamas tonight or when I’m sifting through the PGA Tour page to see who has the best Greens-In-Regulation percentage in the past month so I can put that golfer in my lineup, has it gone too far? Better yet, I also know that it’s not a great use of my time.
My justification is that it’s pretty enjoyable and it isn’t causing financial distress. My strategy for not losing much money is to not bet much money. It’s often $1 bets against lines that are too kind to pass up, or $3 buy-ins to Draftkings tournaments. It’s low risk, and barring a few exceptions, pretty low reward.
It’s commonplace for people to say they have addictive personalities—I think most of my close friends, in some respects, do. I may have one as well, I’m not really sure, I could fall somewhere in the middle. Some things tickle the fancy, others don’t register whatsoever.
With the sports betting, I guess it’s just something that I enjoy doing, something than I manage quite closely out of fear that there could be a beast buried within me just waiting to be let off the leash. I don’t know if such a beast exists at all for me, and my prideful answer would be that I doubt it does, but it’s humbling to know that someone like a Dostoevsky—someone whose thoughts I very much admire—was thoroughly wounded by his own inner beast.
This little exploration into a voluntary sports betting habit of course pales in comparison to the rampant addiction epidemics we face on a daily basis. In our neck of the woods, the one of choice is opioids. Everywhere, it’s tobacco or alcohol or cocaine. Millions of lives and families go through it on a daily basis.
As a society we’re beginning to discuss these sorts of battles more openly than ever before and research what methods work to overcome them, and it follows that strides should be made. Perhaps, too, we may come to realize that there are psychological conditions that unite all of us in our respective struggles.