50 Ways To Leave Your Money

Through circumstances not in my control, I recently ventured forth to somewhere I had never purposely planned a trip before - one of the many Indian Casinos that are found typically in the rural reaches of the state.

Gambling in and of itself does not give me any particular thrill, so casinos aren't normally in my line of sight as destination places. Even a place like Las Vegas, with its myriad of options other than gaming, has a built-in, saccharine-style glamor and luxury that I can stomach for only so long.

In contrast to their more well-known and higher-patronized Vegas cousins, the atmosphere within this casino struck me as distinctly blue collar. These were mostly working-wage customers, the casual gambler with nothing better to do, or older folks who had planned smartly, retired, and were more than willing to lose a few hundred in the hopes of winning a few thousand.

In fact, that few thousand was a prominent theme. Instead of touting the possibility of mega-million jackpots, the current casino promotion emphasized lots of little jackpots of between $2000 and $3000, with a nattily-costumed, comic-book-superhero character in evidence to advertise the point. Indeed, little mementos featuring our masked money giver were prominent at every machine that had hit the jackpot in what most would assume recent history.

Likewise, there was no hint of a glitzy, scantily-clad female revue or the stretchy showmanship of the latest Cirque de Soleil creation here. Entertainment consisted of bands simply making a living on old glories of the 1980s and before, or singing acts based in foreign countries designed to draw the gambling-happy populations of various Asian countries in droves.

Outside the rustically-styled stone facade of the casino, nowhere could you locate the neon jungle of the Strip, faux volcanoes and multicolored, dancing fountains. Instead, one was greeted by creaky, wooden buildings and fences, as well as the austere beauty of dormant olive trees back-dropped by green foothills shadowily bathed by the dull light of the winter sun.

As I walked around the gaming area, I noticed the section featuring poker, the phenomenon that shows no sign of letting up, bustling with patrons, with waiting lists to fill tables. This was in stark contrast to the high-limit area, which had all the liveliness of a school library. Perhaps sedated by the lack of patronage, both dealers and players there appeared all too serious or, perhaps, just a bit bored.

There are few things a penny can buy these days, but one of them is a pull on a slot machine apparently. For me, and perhaps reflective of the recent economy, I was surprised to see a large collection of 1-cent, 2-cent and nickel slot machines of wide-ranging themes, from the traditional to the pop-cultured (an eBay slot machine? Who'da thunk?)

I had heard stories of the slot jungles in Nevada featuring these machines in droves, and had thought how a casino could possibly make substantial money off one of these things. But, as I sat down to wile away the time at one of these frugal fixtures for the first time, I noticed that I hadn't given the casino executives enough profit-making credit.

Sure, one can play one penny and play one line on these slot machines. But, when there are fifty lines you can play...ahh, I get it now.

So here I sat, in front of a Hee Haw machine (Hee Haw? Do I have more in common with Buck Owens than I thought?) and trying not to play the maximum allowed. Psychologically, it's hard not to push that "Max" button.

As it turned out, I actually doubled my money. Yeah, I turned a Lincoln into a Hamilton. But alas, video poker wasn't too kind to me that night, so overall it was a small but manageable loss in the pocketbook.


Stranger No More

In terms of swimming, water and I have had a non-existent to uneasy relationship.

As a kid, my considerable girth, thanks to lots of overeating mostly the wrong things, helped me float in the pool, and I could kick fairly decently. But ask me to break into a stroke of some kind, and I would just smile at you quizzically.

Somehow, I managed enough pool time to develop a workable backstroke over the years, but traditional freestyle remained non-existent.

Flash-forward to my late-30s a couple years ago. I had become a certifiable but happy running fool for a few years, but one too many bouts with the dreaded iliotibial band syndrome had made me move to what I considered into a temporary journey into triathlon-training.

Biking would be challenge enough - I hadn't ridden a bike regularly since college, but I knew I would eventually pick up the knack again. And I would need to engage muscles that weren't normally worked during my running workouts, but that would come around eventually.

Swimming, however, remained the elusive, mysterious stranger. Yeah, I could backstroke, but not seeing where you are going is generally a bad thing during a race. Freestyle would have to embedded into my athletic lexicon somehow.

Those first few lessons were fairly laughable. That chubby girth that had helped me float on top of the water was no longer in existence, thanks to my running and better eating habits the previous few years. Another anti-swimmer "gift" running gave to me was the dreaded "runner's kick" - a whirling dervish of little propulsive value that would often times leave me thrashing in place or even traveling backwards, seemingly against the law of physics as I knew them. The 20-yard width across the local pool may as well have been the English Channel with how long it felt to get across sometimes.

Breathing resembled a clumsy, neck-wrenching whale breaching - I hadn't the confidence to breathe out into the water, like you're supposed to do, so I would try to breathe in and out all at once while my mouth was out of the water.

And those drills - they were supposedly helping aspects of my swim I thought I had knew everything about.

Rotation - Of course! That's what planets do on their axis.
Catch - That's something you do with a baseball, yep.
Pull - What, this ain't tug-of-war lessons, right?

Flash forward to this morning. The weather was nasty - dark gray skies which spilled cold rain and gusty winds, not the kind of weather you would want to be in, even in a warm jacket and water-resistant clothing.

But there I was, with a few other more of what I would consider the hardcore and higher-skilled triathletes, dressed in nothing but my polyester jammers, rushing to get my swimcap and goggles on so I could jump in the luxurious steamy-warm waters of the outdoor pool.

Once in, rain peppered the water around, but with earplugs on, the sound wasn't noticeable. The drops themselves splattered about me when I stopped by the side of the pool to catch my breath, or to check out the next routine of the first ever typed-out workout I've ever followed, an experience that was actually very unique, and if I say so, kinda' cool.

I'm still no speed demon in the pool, but I do feel I am progressing. My kick is still a weak point, but I can kick across lengths of a pool with no issue. During this workout, there were times that I could feel two or even three things click at once, if only briefly. In most previous workouts, I'd have a light bulb go off for one aspect at a time, if that.

And oh yeah, I swam over 3000 yards this workout, nearly one and three-quarter miles, and either over 700 or 800 yards farther than any workout prior. Sure, I didn't quite get through the whole workout as written out - yes, that darned slow speed raring its head - but said completion makes for a good goal in the future.

There was a time I considered swimming something of a three-month-stand. Now it's a lot more - I don't know if I'd call it my significant other or even very best friend yet, but it's gone way beyond the stranger status.


Strictly Ballroom

From all I've been told, I'm doing quite well for someone who has never remotely tried formal dancing in the past four decades of life.

However, the past six weeks has revealed a few things that I didn't really think about when I decided to take dance lessons on a whim starting this year.

There's a scene in Rocky III where Rocky Balboa's former bitter rival turned good friend Apollo Creed has Rocky swimming in the pool. His friend Paulie asks Creed why he's got him swimming, and Creed responds something to the effect of, "He's using muscles he never knew he had."

These dances, especially the Latin ones, really utilize those glutes and hip flexors. Dancing never crossed my mind as cross-training, but I'm figuring this will come in handy in my future running, swimming and biking.

Another is the whole notion of leading. I'm happy to be a follower; in fact, that is the role I feel most comfortable in - ready to pitch in wherever while flying under the radar.

Here, you as the man have to be the guide, the lead. Keep your frame solid, and lead your partner where you want to go. And it's not particularly easy mindset-wise.

At least I've gotten over the stepping on the toes thing; that was foremost on my brain the first couple of weeks out. Now it's a matter of being something of a middle-of-the-packer amongst back-of-the-packers dance-wise. There are some in the class who are having a dickens of a time getting the steps down, and I try to guide them best I can with my limited knowledge.

Then there are those who have been at it longer than I, or who have been dancing with a partner (a significant other of some sort) and have a great level of comfort with them. I feel funny leading these people around, being so relatively inexperienced.

Finally, there's a mantra that's not the general mindset of most of my other athletic pursuits, but that mindset is well expressed in the words of Simon and Garfunkel:

Slow down...you move too fast

Gotta' stick to that beat, whether it's a lazy waltz or an energetic rumba or cha-cha. One of my kindly partners has been pointing this fact out, and last week I tried to take my time, against my prior instincts. I think I did a fairly decent job.

With that said, these routines can be pretty exhausting. Makes you wonder if someone could combine the idea of Latin dance and fitness...oh, dang, it's already being done.

Ahh, well, happy stepping to you all...


Will You Be My Valentine?

Valentine's Day hasn't meant much to me lately, especially as a single who hasn't been in a significant relationship in awhile.

I've been browsing some of the stories as the day approaches in the various news reports with something of a neutral, dispassionate eye. In the past, it's alternated between "yeah, I'm glad I'm single!" to "please don't remind me, okay?"

News wise, the main headline isn't too surprising - spending is expected to be down this year for the holiday, which I'm sure isn't good news for the myriad of businesses who traditionally get an economic shot in the arm from this occasion.

As far as the day's relationship to single people, I've found the usual, similarly-themed stories. Some reports tell you how great it is being single around this day. Other columns detail the steps you should take and/or talk about the warning signs for those who are having a tough time seeing love blossom all around them. And still more highlight the options and events available for single-folk to try to change their social status on that day.

I've always thought of this day as definitely an economic holiday, and something of an artificial holiday. As I have heard some people say, why can't everyday be Valentine's Day? With this in mind, if I ever do have occasion to encounter this day with another significant other, I'd love to have someone who can think out of the box for recognizing the event.

Perhaps having a Valentine's week of sorts might be fun. Or maybe celebrating the 15th or the 13th or just any random day except the one numbered 1-4. Gifts? Sure, but again, I'd like to think out of the box on this one. Flowers, jewelry, greetings cards, etc. will always be there. I guess as each occasion comes up, that certain special thing will materialize.

Whatever the case, I'd want it to be a time where there's no stress on either party. Might as well make it fun, right?

I mean, there's been enough days of not seeing V-Day as fun in my viewpoint. These lyrics from Oingo Boingo summarize a thought process that has ruled a bit more of my past than I'd really care to admit:

I do not trust my ears / I don't believe my eyes
I will not fall in love / I cannot risk the bet
Cause hearts are fragile toys / so easy to forget

But these days, I'm not thinking about love and all its machinations much, if at all. If love comes my way, it comes my way, you know?

And for this year's Valentine's Day, the title of said Oingo Boingo song is apropos - "It's Just Another Day...Just Another Day, my friend."


Word Up

Perhaps in a sign of both economic and, perhaps, just changing times in general, Stacey's Book Store announced its closure in March of this year after over eighty years in business.

I admit I probably don't read as much as I should. And a recent visit in here, to take advantage of their 30% sale on all merchandise, confirmed to me why.

Shelves were still stocked full of books. In fact, it's overwhelming to my mind how many selections there really are.

One of my goals for the visit was to pick up a cookbook or two. Now I am no master chef or baker; I'm much more of a dabbler. But I would like to learn to cook more, if nothing more to add some badly needed variety to my diet.

But I didn't know where to start. Should I grab a recipe book from one of the famous local aficionados of popular neighborhood hangouts? There were multiple examples available, and they all looked enticing to one degree or another.

Same thing with the vegetarian/vegan cookbooks - there were at least 30 titles available for browsing, from the fancy-schmancy to ones that preached simplicity.

Baked goods? How about a dozen titles for cookies, several for pies, and big behemoths that covered the gamut of sweet sinfulness.

After much deliberation, I made out with a vegan cookbook with 200 simple recipes and a breakfast-specific book - my first meal of the day has become woefully samey, and I'm need some fresh new ideas in this field.

The political section was on its own a beast to navigate. Dozens upon dozens of biographies of figures famous and obscure took up three longish shelves. A couple more sections were devoted to the Obama phenomenon, dealing with everything from his life and times to what the pundits a plenty thought our new President should do with his opportunity. Another section soon to be fading away into the dustbin of history was the George W. Bush section; with this being San Francisco, most if not all of the selections were geared toward the negative, from the factual to the scathing to the humorous (depending on your point of view, of course.) I noticed one of the probable last examples of this "genre" displayed prominently in several places in the store.

Geography was always one of my unofficial hobbies, so the book "How The States Got Their Shapes" stuck out like a bright beam of light amidst the rhetorical clutter. Bet you didn't know that the state of Delaware actually owns a small chunk of the western New Jersey shore...not that you would want to set up your homestead on a pile of dumped sediment from the Delaware River/Bay.

"Easy Arabic Script" is my effort to try to keep whatever Arabic ability I picked up during my stint in Syria alive and functioning. As I read somewhere, it probably makes no sense to learn a language if you can't read the script, especially when you're an adult and especially when the alphabet isn't anything remotely close to what you're familiar.

Finally, I figured something that was lacking lately for me was exercise for my brain. I picked up "The Everything Brain Strain Book", a book loaded with various mental puzzles, mind-benders, and logic tests. I used to love these kinds of books as a kid, but that was long ago - upon glancing through it, I realized I'd need a good dozen minutes to get my mind warmed up properly; heaven knows I can't afford to blow a neuron or three.

I ended up with five books for just over $60 bucks this day. The thing is, I could have ended up with many more. There were plenty of books available related to my main driving forces fitness-wise of running and triathlon, and lots of options to possibly whet my bug for future travel. Graphic novels, the literary version of one of my childhood favorite comic books, had the young-at-heart part of me salivating for awhile.

Thousands upon thousands of selections were there for the choosing. And to think, the local library has even thousands and thousands more selections that just requires a little plastic card and a promise that you will provide a timely return for your little treasure.

Taking my Arabic script book, thousands if not millions more options in other languages exist to stimulate your cerebral cortex, should you have the linguistic capability.

Technology, one of the main reasons behind the demise of the brick-and-mortar model, continues not only to reach back to the past (such as Google's Book Search engine) but also lives comfortably in the present (the millions of folks on the blogosphere) and strives toward future, still unwritten frontiers. It even has room for a modern take on the past model (the Sony E-Reader and Amazon.com Kindle devices.)

And to think, more ideas, stories, topics were proposed to publishers all around the world, and never ended up seeing the light of the day.

This virtual Everest of selection is enough to put a serious strain on anyone's brain. Where the heck do you start?

Heh, this little math teaser doesn't seem so bad after all in comparison.