Los Angeles, CA
Every once in a while, a lyric gets stuck in your head on constant repeat which becomes more distracting than entertaining, and eventually drives you utterly insane. When I was in college, the Captain Crunch theme song invaded my brain for an entire semester. I blamed the ether that one of my fraternity brothers stole. His nickname was "Luggage" and he swiped ether from the chem lab. My inner axis shifted ever so slightly after that brief experiment.
At the present moment, there's a catchy hook playing on a constant loop inside my head...
Waiting for the time when I can finally sayThe song is aptly titled Down with Disease and performed by one of my favorite bands. I dug the title so much I considered using it for the Las Vegas manuscript, and at one point the working title was Down with Disease: The Redneck Riviera, Existentialist Conversations with Strippers, and the World Series of Poker. Luckily I came to my senses and determined that Lost Vegas was more appropriate title.
That this has all been wonderful but now I'm on my way
But when I think it's time to leave it all behind
I try to find a way but there's nothing I can say to make it stop
My disease du jour is sports betting. I haven't had an itch festering so badly since the Spring of 2007. My monthly income was much higher four years ago when I was grinding cash games online and before the fall out from the UIGEA completely squeezed the freelance writing market. I often used the Charles Barkley defense back in 2007 -- "You don't have a gambling problem if you can afford to lose." I didn't necessarily have a losing year, but I experienced a few massive swings that negatively altered my mood and extracted all the fun out of the process of sports betting. I miraculously emerged from the bender with a profit, but I got lucky because mostly everyone else in my situation crashed and burned before they ate the pavement when they hit rock bottom. I had enough semblance to slam on the breaks when I was ahead before it got too late and I ended up another senseless tragedy of Sophoclean proportions.
But that was four years ago in what seemed like a galaxy, far, far, away.
The fucking itch is back. The feeling can only be described as if a small monkey burrowed itself underneath my skin and it's trying to kick it's way out. The omnipresent itch is threatening a mutiny. All out anarchy. Itches create leaks. Leaks create messy problems. Messy problems induce life tilt. Life tilt leads to depression. Depression leads to self-destructive behavior. Wash. Rinse. Repeat.
Sports betting is a huge life leak, but it's also a life sweetener, or a bottle of hot sauce that spruces up mundane aspects of daily life, which is why it's inherently dangerous. Finding the perfect balance between entertainment, merriment, stroking the ego is essential to healthy lifestyle. It's when you cross over the proverbial demarcation line in the murky, cloudy grey area that you takes strides away from the light and rush toward the dark.
Sports betting is a vacuous vice that sucks you into a vortex of degradation and spits you out into the musty basement of a church, sitting in a semi-circle, sipping a sludge-like substance masked as instant coffee, and re-hashing bad beat stories with other recovering addicts.
Betting on our national past time of baseball is dangerous because of the 162-game season starting in April and ending in October. Football is condensed into Sundays (with a bail-out game called Monday Night Football, one of the most evil inventions ever created) and bettors have a week to make a decision. But baseball is an everyday temptation, just like junk food and vapid reality television. Despite my many battles with multiple vices and frolicking on the perilous fringes of Sin City, I somehow avoided betting on baseball. I had drawn a line in the sand and it was baseball. I knew that whatever morally hazardous behavior I engaged in would always be kosher as long as I wasn't betting on baseball. It had become my self-imposed Mendoza Line of sports betting.
That is, until a week ago.
I sent Mendoza his pink slip. I embraced the relaxation of the rules just like the thugs on Wall Street celebrated when the Glass-Steagall Act was repealed in 1999. Within a decade, Wall Street gamblers nearly imploded the entire financial system after betting on the unregulated derivatives market and repackaging toxic debt as low risk investments.
Sometimes inside information is too damaging because it entices you to take risks you normally would never otherwise. Greed is one of the most rehabilitating of the Seven Deadly Sins. Greed is Gordon Gekko's mantra and the primary cause of the majority of self-destruction in the financial and gambling world. I've been privy to a barrage of tips over the last week. I set aside a tiny portion of my March Madness surplus and decided to fart around on a few games here or there. My plan was to wait until I got tipped off to what Billy was steaming... if the time/points were right, then I'd tail his pick. I entered the Killing Fields with every intention of being an "opportunity investor" by taking advantage of added value due to fluctuations in the betting lines.
It takes money to make money, and I was aware of the hazards of betting on baseball. My buddy Plump is a very savvy bettor and former college player, so he gave baseball shot a few years back. The results were not good. He got an ass whooping. A different friend of mine lived in Vegas in the early 1990s. He and his college buddies using a computer model to predict run totals in baseball. After a horrid losing streak a month into the season, he spiraled into hell and by Labor Day, he had become a full-blown heroin addict. Talk about a pair of pillars of death -- being a junkie and a degen baseball bettor.
I studied the so-called prospectus and accepted every risk before I took the plunge. I opted for a conservative route on Opening Day and cherry picked the best of the best. One game. Just one game. Alas, the monkey's itch flared up. Searing jolts of vibrating anxiety rocketed throughout my body and I succumbed to the impulsiveness of the inner action junkie. The revolution had begun and I also bet on CC Sabathia and the Yankees.
Viva la revolucion!
That was such a rube mistake, yet I pulled the trigger anyway, intoxicated on three decades of loyalty to my Bronx Bombers. I knew better than to bet on hometown teams, especially the Yanks, because every sharpie in Vegas will preach that east coast teams (Philly, NYC, Boston) in every pro sport are usually overvalued because of the stubborn-fanatic following by their lifelong fans. Millions of them. Betting like mushes. As a result, the punters on the east coast bet with their hearts instead of their brains, which is why I always went the opposite route, the road less traveled, and faded my hometown teams as an emotional hedge. Little did I know it was the correct strategy that the wiseguys exploited for decades.
I nearly jizzed myself after an auspicious start to the baseball season, going 2-0 with a well-informed bet and an impulse buy. The moment of glory was short-lived and the slide began. I lost one, then another, then another, and another, and another, and another, and another, and another, and another, and another.
I whiffed on ten consecutive bets.
I couldn't believe it. Wait, what? Ten? Are fucking shitting me? How can you lose ten baseball bets in a row. Overs shit the bed. Unders shit the bed. Aces got smoked. Chumps looked like Cy Young. I felt like one of the players on Butler chucking up brick after brick during the championship game.
The 10th consecutive loser nearly shattered my left testicles into seven thousand pieces. I had bet the Pirates and sweated the action courtesy of my girlfriend's swanky iPad and my newly purchased subscription to mlb.tv. She had just left for a trip to NYC and fortunately left her new toy with me. I had unfettered access, but instead of dicking around on Angry Birds or playing backgammon, I fired up the MLB app and streamed the Pirates-Cardinals game. I freaked out the hipsters who lived upstairs from us every single time I shouted, "ARRRRRRRGGGGGGGGHHHHHHH!"
They must hate me. If it's not the random expletives I scream at the television, it's probably the Tito Puente records that I blast at 3am. During the game, I chatted with Mean Gene, a lifelong Pirates fan, who sat in his local corner pub and played video poker while the game flickered in the background. We were trying to determine which one of us was having a more pathetic existence. I felt as though I was the biggest loser in the world who wasn't a TEPCO executive. After all, Mean Gene lived in Pittsburgh and was a life-long fan so his actions were perfectly acceptable behavior, whereas, I was a self-absorbed degen gambler who should have been writing fluffy pieces about the poker industry, but instead, got schwasted, ripped bingers, and didn't blink twice about betting on the yellow marauders.
"Go Pirates! ARGGGGGGGHHHHH!"
The Pirates lost -- sigh -- and for a moment I understood the emotional turmoil that plagued Pirates fans for decades. I had walked a mile in Mean Gene's moccasins (well maybe not a mile, but at least nine inning worth) and when the Pirates made the final out, a rumbling lingered in my stomach, like the nauseating moment before you puked up a batch of lime-green bile. Alas, I keep my cookies down and regain composure, but for a moment I understood why beleaguered Pittsburgh natives escaped their summer of despair by extolling the quarterbacking virtues of a known sexual predator.
0-10. Sweet Jesus. OH. FOR. TEN. Talk about one of the worst streaks in my entire life -- and it happened in less than 100 hours. I smacked my head on the pavement. Rock bottom, eh?
I had to quit. Cue the bass line to Down with Disease.
But wait...I'm not a quitter. I'm stubborn and stuck it out for another day. I finally snapped the losing streak and improved to 3-10. I kept firing away, but once I reached 5-15, I reluctantly threw up the white flag. It took a lot of courage to surrender because it's so friggin' easy to keep firing away...and firing away...and firing away.
I try to find a way but there's nothing I can say to make it stop.
On Thursday morning, my CrackBerry chirped a dozen times. Text messages. Vital intel from a friend in Vegas. He updated me on morning line moves, but I was still foggy and groggy at that hour to pay attention. I stayed up late, too late, eating spiked brownies and hitting the hash pipe during four hours worth of Ken Burns' documentary on the Civil War (I got sucked into the 1863-64 campaigns and determined that Sherman was a far better tactician than Grant). I passed out shortly before dawn and could have used an extra half hour of rest, but Thursdays in the major leagues is also get-away-day which meant that a lot of teams scheduled early afternoon ballgames. The first one was slated for 12:35pm ET or 9:35am west coast time. I never told my bud that I was going to stop betting on baseball. I crawled out of bed and eventually stumbled into the coffeeshop to grab a quick breakfast before the Yankees-Twins game started at 10:05am PT. I got distracted by the TV in the coffeeshop that reported a 7.4 earthquake in Japan and I missed a valuable window of opportunity to tail a pick that the betting syndicates were pummeling -- the UNDER in the Reds/Astros game. I mentioned the tip to Iggy and he said "Great American Ballpark is a hitter's park" and that 8 runs was vulnerable. The syndicates moved the run line from 9 to 8. I didn't like the number but it didn't matter because by the time I tried bet, the first pitch had been thrown and I got shut out.
Murphy's Law would have told ya that the final score was going to be 3-2. I missed a winner by thirty seconds. Fuck me. I needed to get my fix somehow after getting shut out, so I quickly forgot my ban on baseball betting. I decided to fade the public and bet against the 0-5 Red Sox. The -190 moneyline on the Sox was inflated because of 1) east coast bias, and 2) everyone was betting with the 'Sox have yet to win a game, they have to win eventually' mentality. I bet the Indians the other way for +164. I really put in that bet expecting to lose. That's no way to live life -- expecting to lose like that -- but something extraordinary happened and the Indians won a nail bitter by the score of 1-0, and the Sox dropped to 0-6 for their worst start since 1946.
Yes, I won my last ever baseball bet.
And that's my last bet...for now. The difficult part begins while I resist the urge, the temptation, the insatiable desire to be taunted by that fucking monkey who is hiding somewhere underneath my skin. If you keep scratching an area on your body long enough, you will eventually draw blood.
Can I get the monkey out before I bleed to death?