Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Nailing Gambling

“I’ll see your skinny nail and raise you a cable clip.”

By Christine Clark

My bluff face gets an F. July 4th weekend I learned to play poker. The place we stayed that weekend had no cable TV, no Internet, no phone. Entertainment of yesteryear was in order. We found a deck of cards and the group decided to play poker. I had played a few times in the distant past, but didn’t remember much.
Two of the guys gave me a quick tutorial on a full house, a straight, a flush, two-of-a-kind, and three-of-a-kind, and if I play again anytime soon, I might remember what they are.
No one had coins or chips for betting, but the experienced players insisted we place bets. We eyed the bowls of Skittles and M&Ms, but decided against them because no one wanted multicolored fingertips and cards—in spite of that whole melt-in-your-mouth not-in-your-hand slogan. The gold-foil-wrapped Dove chocolates would have worked, but we ate so many of them, there were too few left for six players.
We searched the house and found two packages of nails and a package of cable clips. We had our stakes: skinny nails, $5; thick nails, $10; cable clips, $50.
I jumped right in and placed bets to try to keep up with the other players. Being the newbie, I bet only when I had good cards, so it was easy for everyone else at the table to gauge their bets accordingly. When I placed $50 (a cable clip) in the center of the table, everyone folded. I made one mistake I won’t repeat: I folded with three of a kind when I was certain someone had to have a better hand. They didn’t.
At the end of the evening, we laughed about me stumbling through the game. We repackaged the nails and cable clips, and made plans to get together again the following evening.
We feasted on typical Fourth of July cookout fare. Following the meal, our host brought out his poker table. It’s compact and unfolds and sits atop a regular table. It has slots for chips, circled indentations in which to place cups, and painted rectangular shapes where players are supposed to put their cards. He also had poker chips. Each of us forked over $5.
That $5 changed almost everything from the previous evening—as far as I was concerned. I felt carefree, almost silly, and relaxed when I bet nails and cable clips, but I felt tense when I looked at my chips. I thought to myself, “This game has real money and I’m probably going to lose mine.”
I kept having trouble remembering the best cards and combinations of cards. I didn’t forget that three of a kind beat two pairs, but I forgot several other cards and watched in dismay as the other players won my chips.
Worse, they kept changing the game. I got abbreviated lessons on 5-card stud, 7-card stud, and one game where you didn’t draw any cards. Then there was the tapping when you didn’t want to bet or cut the cards. It was a bit much to learn.
I failed at bluffing as I did the previous evening. If my cards were poor, I folded. My reasoning was: Why bet on cards that wouldn’t win? When I had a good hand, I had a reason to bet. I even admit to getting a small thrill the few times I scooped a pile of chips in my direction.
We played the evening’s final hand, and in a pride-filled voice I announced, “three queens.” The others looked at my cards and said, “You have a full house!” I was so focused on the three queens, I didn’t notice the two tens I held.
The “banker” counted my chips. I was surprised when my total came to $4.95. I lost a nickel. Some players made money, others didn’t. One person with an emptier wallet was my son, who came home with $1.90. When he and I spoke the next day, we agreed that the nails and cable clips game was more fun. It wasn’t sour grapes on my part, because the banker gave me a full $5 and let the 5 cents slide.
I realize that five dollars is a small price for a few hours of entertainment. I simply had more fun when there was no money involved. When the chips were placed on the table, the atmosphere got serious. Gone was the zany attitude from that first night when someone said, “I’ll see your nail and raise you a cable clip.” Instead, it became, “I’ll see your 10, and raise you 50.”
Gambling has never been one of my vices, and for that I’m grateful. I’m also grateful I failed at the fake, the bluff, the poker face. Genuine relationships and interactions are difficult, but also more rewarding. I would play again, but only for fun—and nails, and cable clips.

 More Than Nails and Cable ClipsProblem Gambling

Gambling has never been one of my problems. My family history has no horror stories of lives affected by gambling. Unfortunately, those stories do exist. Gambling is a serious problem for thousands of people in the United States. The District of Columbia and every state in the United States, except for Hawaii and Utah, have at least one type of legal gambling.
Gamblers Anonymous has posted 20 questions to help identify whether someone has a problem with gambling. Those questions are reprinted here, with permission.[1] As it states on their Web site, “Gamblers Anonymous offers the following questions to anyone who may have a gambling problem. These questions are provided to help the individual decide if he or she is a compulsive gambler and wants to stop gambling.”
Twenty Questions

Did you ever lose time from work or school due to gambling?
Has gambling ever made your home life unhappy?
Did gambling affect your reputation?
Have you ever felt remorse after gambling?
Did you ever gamble to get money with which to pay debts or otherwise solve financial difficulties?
Did gambling cause a decrease in your ambition or efficiency?
After losing did you feel you must return as soon as possible and win back your losses?
After a win did you have a strong urge to return and win more?
Did you often gamble until your last dollar was gone?
Did you ever borrow to finance your gambling?
Have you ever sold anything to finance gambling?
Were you reluctant to use "gambling money" for normal expenditures?
Did gambling make you careless of the welfare of yourself or your family?
Did you ever gamble longer than you had planned?
Have you ever gambled to escape worry, trouble, boredom or loneliness?
Have you ever committed, or considered committing, an illegal act to finance gambling?
Did gambling cause you to have difficulty in sleeping?
Do arguments, disappointments or frustrations create within you an urge to gamble?
Did you ever have an urge to celebrate any good fortune by a few hours of gambling?
Have you ever considered self destruction or suicide as a result of your gambling?

If you have concerns about your own or someone else’s gambling, visit their Web site at:
For additional facts on problem gambling, visit the National Council on Problem Gambling Web site at:

[1] Twenty Questions reprinted with permission from Gamblers Anonymous.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Compost + Starbucks = Love

My compost pile loves Starbucks! A few days ago, I craved going out for a cup of coffee. I didn’t want orange-and-pink-logo coffee. I wanted something rich and flavorful, and I didn’t want to sit at my kitchen table to drink it. I wanted someone to pamper me just a tad—to make me a delicious cup of coffee, and before serving it ask: “Would you like whipped cream with that?” “Oh, yes!”

My coffee-loving daughter Chelsea and I escaped our routines and went to Starbucks. I ordered a grande cafĂ© mocha and she ordered a grande iced dark cherry mocha. Starbucks wasn’t busy, so we had our choice of plush, comfortable seats. “Ah…” I leaned into the cushy armchair and even propped my feet on the coffee table. As the warm, sweet fluid touched my taste buds, I relaxed for the first time in days.
Compost figures into this equation? Of course, it does. Coffee grounds are a rich source of nitrogen and are a good substitute for manure in compost piles. (Folks often avoid composting manure because of disease-carrying organisms.) Coffee grounds also energize bacteria to help turn organic matter into finished compost.
Starbucks is well known for giving customers used coffee grounds. As my coffee was prepared, I asked if they had any grounds. The barrista apologized and said they had only a small amount; however, it would take me a month of coffee-making to amass the quantity of grounds in the bag he handed me.
Early the next day, I added the coffee grounds to my compost pile. I’m happy, and my compost pile is happy. I intend to treat myself (and my compost pile) to Starbucks more often.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Dirty Hands?

Today’s “Don’t Need It, Won’t Buy It List” is headed by: Automatic antibacterial soap dispenser pumps for the home. (I’m gung-ho on soap dispensers in public restrooms, medical offices, and hospitals, because in those places, I don’t want to touch anything.)
At first glance, or touch, an automatic soap dispenser sounds like a good idea. Soap pumps get sticky, slimy, and even dirty. After all, it’s a dirty hand that presses the pump—that’s why we have the soap—to wash our hands. But wait a minute: Why use an automatic dispenser to avoid germs when the antibacterial soap you’re pumping should kill those very germs? If the soap cannot annihilate the germs that reside on the pump, it probably won’t kill the bacteria we try to avoid in our constant quest for a dirt-free, germ-free life.
Antibacterial soaps aren’t such a grand idea, anyway. When we wash our hands, or any other body part, it’s the soap itself—a blend of acids and fats—the time spent washing, and the friction applied that remove dirt (and germs). Good old everyday soap does a fine job.
What about germs targeted by antibacterial soap? Triclosan or triclobarbon, the antibacterial ingredients in such soaps, need a full two minutes to do their job. I can barely stand still until the two-minute timer on my electric toothbrush beeps. There’s no way I’ll spend two minutes each of the ten to fifteen times a day I wash my hands. I wouldn’t have any skin left after one day of such a regimen.
Sneakiness is built into bacteria, too. As soon as we figure out a way to kill them, they mutate so they can keep on going, going, going. Antibiotic-resistant bacteria such as MRSA and the newer incurable tuberculosis are the deadly results of such bacterial switch-ups.
Worried about cold and flu season and the dreaded stomach flu? Aren’t we all? Antibacterial soaps won’t help us. Viruses cause colds and flu and antiviral soaps aren’t widely available—yet.
Don’t be afraid to get your hands dirty. Some bacterial are beneficial. And when it’s time to clean up, follow the advice of my life science professor: scrub your hands for about twenty seconds—just about long enough to sing the ABC song. A-B-C-D-E-F-G . . .

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Lent? I Give Up!

Ash Wednesday is February 17—just a few days away. Christians of many denominations take a spiritual journey for Lent. That journey often involves some sort of deprivation, one’s personal forty days in the wilderness, spent in hope, faith, and even longing.

“Epic fail” best describes my attempts at “giving up” something for Lent. I was vegan for several years in the 1980s, so I thought giving up dairy would be easy. Dairy wasn’t the problem; it was coffee. Nondairy creamers gave me stomach distress and there was no way I was giving up coffee. Fail. Dark chocolate has so many physical and emotional benefits that it would be unhealthy for me to give that up. I haven’t even tried.

One year I gave up anger. Daily, I studied Proverbs such as 29:8 “… but wise men turn away anger,” and 11: “A fool gives full vent to his anger, but a wise man keeps himself under control.” That experiment lasted about three weeks and when it ended, my outburst made Mount St. Helens look like a kitchen experiment with vinegar and baking soda. Fail. It’s best for my particular psyche (and my family and my remaining friends) to release a tiny bit of anger at a time.

I tried spiritual walks and promised to read Dark Night of the Soul every day. My inconsistent nature foiled that. Fail again.

So here I am, a few short days away from Ash Wednesday. I want to take a spiritual walk. And I feel like it has to be concrete, tangible, something I can measure, such as: “Gee, I avoided Wal-Mart for six weeks even though it always has the best selection and prices on Easter candy.”

What about dairy-free Fridays? It’s easier now because I found soy milk that doesn’t curdle into chunks in my coffee.

But really—is all that giving up the point of a spiritual walk? A spiritual walk should not be limited to six weeks in the spring. And does it change my walk with God if I don’t eat chocolate or meat or dairy products? Does it change my walk if I miss a day of spiritual study and reflection? Yes, I know Lent is about personal sacrifice. However, is giving up something like chocolate a sacrifice if come Easter morning, I gorge myself on Cadbury cream eggs (and chocolate-marshmallow bunnies and Lindt truffles)?

I believe Lent deserves a different look. Maybe it should not be a time we “give up.” Maybe “taking up” would be better… taking up a kinder, more prayerful life and focusing on what Jesus really wants from us—to love each other. Now that is a much more difficult walk—during Lent and everyday—but it’s the path I want to take.

Monday, February 1, 2010

Toothless Wonder . . . ing

Out! That lower-left front tooth must come out. Dentists pampered it for twenty-eight years and I was diligent about home care, but a bone infection will uproot the tooth Thursday.

A gap-toothed grin in a first-grader’s photo is cute, but it’s not so cute for a 57-year-old woman. A tooth will fill my grin; it just won’t grow there, although I hope to grow used to that idea—and the new tooth.

Dental insurance helps, but my co-pay to fill the gap in coverage is almost a thousand dollars. Trillions, billions, and millions brush across the landscape of the daily news so often that such numbers have lost meaning. But a thousand dollars really is a lot of money.

What if I didn’t have insurance or didn’t have the co-pay? What would my options be? Option 1: Do nothing. That scenario is frightful. Doing nothing might lead to an emergency room visit for a massive systemic infection—or worse. Option 2: See a dentist, get an antibiotic prescription, take medicine, and hope it goes away. When it doesn’t, revisit Option 2. Repeat. Option 3: See a dentist, get the tooth pulled, feel the air between my teeth, and don’t fill the gap.

A tooth extraction is pricey, but not as pricey as replacing a tooth. Fortunately, I don’t have to choose one of the preceding options. I’ll have a temporary tooth until my mouth heals enough for my new (fake) tooth.

I wonder, though… how might my life change if I had to choose Option 3? I’ve noticed gap-toothed people. I admit that I’ve even been a bit judgmental. There’s that (erroneous) perception that lacking teeth signals a lack of intellect, care, and education. A person missing teeth might be stereotyped as the dumb hick, the hobo from the Depression, or the homeless person of the twenty-first century; each can be judged as dumb, desperate, and/or derelict.

Having a tooth pulled won’t extract points from my IQ or remove personal hygiene from my daily routine. But if my tooth loss is obvious, stereotypes might compel others to believe my IQ is lower, that maybe I’m not quite clean. I’m guilty of assigning them to others, so why wouldn’t such stereotypes be assigned to me? I won’t be a different person when that tooth is gone, but I might become a different person.

If I applied for a job and the employer had to decide between me and another candidate, the person with a full set of teeth would get the job. Would I feel judged if I were speaking to someone and their eyes focused on my mouth? Yes. I would cover my mouth, silence myself, and retreat. That could become a way of life: Keep quiet, closed-mouth smiles only, avoid interaction with people. I likely would become isolated because I care what people think.

I’m grateful I won’t have to encounter the foregoing scenarios. Still, I’m anxious about my new tooth. Will it be obvious? Will I look okay? Will it hurt? Will I hate the way it feels? Will my days of biting into a crisp apple be over? And what if… “Gap! I mean, gasp! I look better and feel better?”

I already feel better about one thing: Having considered how it might feel to have a toothless grin, never again will I be so quick to judge when I see gaps in the mouths and lives of others.