You meet this guy at your favorite watering hole. Seems like a regular guy, just like you. You start to see him in there pretty regularly, and, naturally, you start giving him a nod of recognition when you do. Maybe there’s a boxing match on the tube, and it turns out the guy’s an aficionado of the sweet science, just like you. You get into a conversation on it, one that ends in substantial agreement, and he buys the next round. Then you buy a round. And so on.
You talk. Boxing. Women. Politics. Turns out he’s a kindred spirit. The chat turns towards gambling. Horses. Cards. Poker.
He tells you about this poker game. Straight poker. A regular game amongst a tight circle of chums. You can only get into the game by invitation, and he’s got an entertaining story about how he got invited, even though he’s really an outsider, and only knows this one guy in the group, and doesn’t even know him very well. It’s a serious game, for serious money. Though he’s won a pot or two, he usually just breaks even for the night, himself. But he’s seen fifteen or twenty large change hands of an evening. Even more, on occasion.
Well, hell, you’re a pretty good poker player, yourself. You’re pretty confident you could break even, if not come out ahead. So you ask about getting into the game. How much is the buy-in? And so on.
Being on the periphery of the group, himself, he’s pretty sure he doesn’t have the clout to invite anybody else in. But he promises to ask about it at the next game. And what do you know? Good news. You get an invitation. Probationary, mind you, but it’s an invitation.
The game’s at a quiet, out-of the-way hotel. The host gives you a gracious welcome, your pal introduces you around, and you get a variety of responses ranging from curious to skeptical to suspicious to friendly. They’re waiting for you to show your starch. And your money.
One guy is a regular regular. Another guy from out of town looking to get back what he lost last time, to the previous big winner They tell stories of the different times one or another of them went home with the girl the gold watch and everything. . Although there’s a good deal of friendly teasing and shit-talking, the winners always seem to be gracious, and the losers always take it like a man. Sometimes you win, sometimes you lose, see? There’s some skill involved, sure, but it’s mostly, literally, the luck of the draw. It’s a classy game among gentlemen.
The host supplies an array of booze and a buffet spread, and a pair of wanton-looking valkyries keep the players supplied with refreshments, so you don’t have to leave the table, except for the immutable laws of nature.
It’s a long night.
It’s a night that lasts well past dawn of the next day.
When the dust settles, you’re about two grand ahead. Not the big winner, but not a loser, either. As the game wraps up, you get some compliments on how you played certain hands. One guy good-naturedly vows revenge for your taking a pot on a bluff. You get invited out for breakfast – the big winner is buying. Noblesse oblige. You get invited back, too.
So now it’s three or four or even five games later. You’ve come out even once, but ahead every other time. You fit right in, now. All the regulars calling you by your first name, and such. One guy tosses a pair of concert tickets your way, gratis. Great bunch of guys.
Then it comes. A BIG game. Couple of high-rollers coming in from the coast. One of the regulars jokes that he loves one of these guys because he’s got money to burn and can’t play worth a fuck. The other guy isn’t a bad player. But mostly these are guys who try to buy the hand by raising past your poke.
It’s going to be epic. You scrape together everything you can lay your hands on so you’ll be able to keep up with the betting and get a crack at some big money pots. You gird yourself with cash. With a little luck… you start spending the money in your head.
The first rule of luck is this: it runs out.
This time around, you start losing. Not every hand. But the important hands. The big pots. Like a punch-drunk fighter way past his prime, you’re foolish enough to think you have one more good fight in you, that you can turn your luck around the next hand. But it doesn’t happen. The high-rollers lose, too, but not to you.
You lose and you lose BIG.
House, car, first-born and jock-strap big. Every buck. Every dime. Every red fucking cent begged, borrowed or stolen. You’re wiped out.
But you take it like a man. You don’t complain. You grit your teeth and put on your best “fuck it, it’s only money” face.
Your pal from the bar is a winner, though not the BIG winner. He tries to console you. Cheer you up. He shakes his head in sympathy. “Don’t worry about it,” he says. “Anybody can have a run of bad luck. You’ll make it back next time. Listen,” he adds, “ I came out ahead. Let me buy you breakfast, at least” You shrug. “C’mon, he insists. Come have a good steak on me, ok, pal? Next time I take a beating, you can buy me breakfast. What do you say?” What can you say? You don’t want to be the asshole of the merry band. You go to breakfast, eat your steak and lick your wounds with a stiff upper lip, resolving to play a whole lot better next time.
But there is no “next time.”
Your benvenuto stops coming to the watering hole. His phone is disconnected. You never see or hear hide nor hair of the game again. You wonder what happened.
See, it was a con game, and you were the mark.
Your pal from the bar, his job was to rope you in. Everything after that was bullshit. All the guys in that game were in on the con. The whole set-up had one purpose and one purpose ONLY: to fleece YOU.
They played you like a Stradivarius. Got you to practically BEG to get into the game. Let you win a little to set the hook. Made you a member of the group, accepting the group norm of “no complaints” should you lose. Every single fucking word they said was a lie. It was all part of the set-up.
And that charity breakfast?
That was your pal cooling out the mark, so you wouldn’t get pissed and try to cause trouble when they gave you the kiss-off.
After taking everything but your socks, they toss you back a little chump change, a measley steak and eggs bought with your own fucking money, and the guy who takes you to breakfast it to you acts like it’s supreme largess on his part.
If you think about it, these guys act just like the government. Maybe the government itself is a one great big long con. After they fleece you for everything they can get by “taxing” you every time you sweat, spit or scratch, they toss some chump change back to you and call it an “entitlement,” like they’re doing you a big fucking favor. Giving you back a tiny fraction of what they stole from you. They call it welfare, or medicare, or social security, and act like it’s the government’ money. But it isn’t and never was. It was your money in the first place.
Those “entitlements” are just cooling out the mark, so you won’t get pissed and try to cause trouble when they give you the kiss-off. Because they know if you get hip, if you spot the con, you will get pissed.
And you know where they live.
And you’ve got rope.