So last week -- again -- I was sucked in to another family vacation. This time: Upper Michigan.
If you've never been up there, it's very nice. Relaxing. Peaceful. Far removed from everyday life.
Then we showed up.
Don't worry, though. I'm not going to bore you with stories about the countless mosquito bites on my creamy white thighs.
I'm not going to tell you about the 25-minute rafting trip that turned into a 2-hour nightmare.
I'm not going to bemoan the fact that we were 500 yards away from "The World's Largest Crucifix" and nobody would let me go see it.
I'm not going to recount the story about the psycho kid across the street who told us this horrible story about her life which I'm sure she made up to lull us into a false sense of security so when she invited us over to see her aunt's house we'd go, and while we were gone her brother would sneak in and steal all of our stuff.
Not that I'm paranoid or anything.
I'm also not going to complain that while I was making lunch for our two kids and the two kids from the other family we were on vacation with, my wife was sitting on the dock shouting up and asking me to bring her another margarita.
I'm not going to talk about the fact that I had to spend three days in 95 degrees in a house with no air conditioning.
If I had the chance to live my life over again, I wouldn't. Because I would know that I'd have to relive those three days.
No, I'm bigger than that. And I'm not going to bitch about anything.
Instead, I'm going to focus on the good things that happened on the trip.
You see, on the way up to the upper part of Michigan, I found myself thinking that this was going to be another one of those hey-Dad-let's-find-some-shells-and-then-throw-them-back-in-the-water-and- then- pick-them-up-again-can-we-please-please-pretty-please-with-sugar-on-top-please?
While I was thinking about all this, suddenly, almost as if by an act of God, I looked up and saw a billboard.
Not just any billboard, mind you. It was a billboard for "Victories," Upper Michigan's Only Sports-Themed Casino.
Being in the advertising industry, I spend a lot of my free time analyzing advertising, studying advertising, thinking about advertising.
After I had finished analyzing the advertising, studying the advertising, and thinking about the advertising, I -- like all good advertising guys -- felt that I'd be remiss in my duties if I didn't visit their establishment to gain a full breadth and understanding of what they were hoping to accomplish with their advertising campaign.
And by the way, I needed to do this research tonight.
When we got to our cabin, the other dad (hereafter referred to as Jeff) and I quickly formulated a plan. The plan went something like this:
ME: Ok, this is what we do. Let's just totally kiss ass for the next few hours. We'll bring everything in, we'll feed the kids. We'll get them to bed….
JEFF: Right. And then about 9:00, I'll casually mention that billboard.
ME: What billboard?
We then looked at each other and laughed a terribly evil laugh.
The kind of laugh that only two men who are terribly afraid of their wives would laugh.
Several hours later, the plan worked to perfection! Truth is, they didn't even care that we wanted to go to "Victories," Upper Michigan's Only Sports-Themed Casino.
"I just don't want you to lose any money," said my wife.
"Oh, OK honey. I'll talk to the dealer. I'm sure that after I explain our limited budget to him and your concern over me losing, I guarantee he'll be extremely gracious with the cards he deals me."
All Jeff's wife said to me was, "Keep an eye on him."
What that meant, I have no idea.
"Of course I will," I said reassuringly.
"Victories," Upper Michigan's Only Sports-Themed Casino was about 15 miles from where we were staying. I was curious what it was going to be like.
The glitz. The atmosphere. The Wal-Mart right across the street.
Yes, right in the middle of the main drag in lovely Petoskey, Michigan -- right past Arby's -- was "Victories," Upper Michigan's Only Sports-Themed Casino.
Y'know that cheap ribbed sheet metal that they use for barn siding?
Welcome to "Victories," Upper Michigan's Only Sports-Themed Casino.
There were spray-painted drawings of balls and bats and gloves and helmets all over the side of the barn.
I mean casino.
After all, it is "Victories," Upper Michigan's Only Sports-Themed Casino.
Inside, I found myself looking for the "sports-themed" part of "Victories," Upper Michigan's Only Sports-Themed Casino, but as best as I could see, there were a few framed baseball and hockey jerseys on the walls and a 19" TV in the corner with ESPN on.
Good enough for me. Where's the blackjack table?
Like all good gamblers, we checked out the scene before we jumped right in. We watched what was going on at all the tables. We determined the flow of play. And as soon as we saw two seats together, we sat down.
Then we each took $60 in red $5 chips.
Now I don't mean to brag, but I'm an excellent blackjack player.
I can actually count cards, and while that doesn't necessarily guarantee success, it's the kind of advantage a player such as myself can use to demonstrate my superior level of skill.
Fifteen minutes later, I had $0 and 0 red $5 chips.
Never fear, however, because the mind of a frightened married man works in mysterious ways.
True, I had no money. But I did have an ATM card.
Surprise of all surprises, there was an ATM machine in "Victories," Upper Michigan's Only Sports-Themed Casino.
I looked at my ATM card. I looked at Jeff. I looked at that little circle in front of me begging for a chip.
"Save this seat," I said.
I took another $60 out and I was back in business.
I sat down again and asked for more chips.
When you ask for more chips, never, ever make eye contact with the rest of the table. After all, you know they've already branded you a loser. And God knows the last thing on earth you want to do is look at somebody while they're looking at you like you're a loser.
I took my $60 in red $5 chips and within five minutes I was down to $20 in red $5 chips.
At that moment, testosterone overtook my body, and for some inexplicable reason, I pushed all four chips into the circle in front of me.
I was going for broke. Because that's me.
I live on the edge. I like to take risks. I'm the Jewish Evel Knievel.
Besides, I still had my ATM card.
I was dealt a 19. The dealer busted.
Miracle of all miracles, I won.
Suddenly, I went from the depths of despair, to the pinnacle of success.
OK, the $40 pinnacle of success.
I could feel it: Old Mr. Momentum had switched sides.
Yes, things were happening now. And soon, I was gonna own this popsicle stand.
"Do you see this place, "Victories," Upper Michigan's Only Sports-Themed Casino? The corrugated aluminum siding? The sports memorabilia collection? The hot 80-year-old cocktail waitresses? This is mine. All mine."
While I was basking in my glory, I looked down at my pile of chips.
Just for fun, I started counting them. One. Two. Three.
I stopped at three.
Jeff then said, "I'm tired, Let's get out of here."
I cashed my three $5 red chips in and headed home.
Let's see $120 minus $15 is…not good.
We pulled back into the driveway. We both said goodnight.
I crawled into bed with my wife. Half asleep she mumbled, "So how'd you do?"
Understand I never lie to my wife. Even though I may know what I'm going to tell her may upset her, I've always found that honesty is what makes a great marriage.
"I broke even," I said.
Then we rolled over and went to sleep.
Alright, just this one time I lied. But I had to.
I mean, come on. This wasn't just a guy's night out.
This was "Victories," Upper Michigan's Only Sports-Themed Casino.
Besides, I enjoy having testicles.