I Am Fated to Meet Her One Day

I am fated to meet her one day
and as she awaits me,
weaving her stories as great authors do
and preserving evidence of her existence
on the flax paper of a burgeoning scrapbook,
I do my best to avoid her as I craft my own story
that at the moment seems to be going nowhere.

Nothing I invent rivals the vast arcs and clever ironies
the sadness and humor
the suspense and tranquility of her epic creation.
She is omnipresent
through my mundane tasks and mindless activities
through my successes and failures, which seem minuscule in the grand scheme.
What stories could this character inspire?
I never evade her pursuit because she is one step ahead,
always knowing where I’m going.

I am fated to meet her one day
whether I greet her at the front door
or let her sneak in through a pried window.
Fate will find her way in
and we’ll sit together
reminiscing on our story replete with pivotal moments and plot twists I’d missed,
all the clues neatly placed as in a perfectly unfolding novel that I didn’t quite get
until the very end.

Dreaming at Exactly 3 a.m.

I found the following gambling story of Monte Carlo in an 1882 issue (Volume XXXVIII) of Baily’s Magazine of Sports and Pastimes. The factual basis of the story is about as dubious as a fairy tale, but the writer of this piece found no need to question its authenticity.

Monte Carlo from aboveThe hero in this story is a man who had come to Monte Carlo not for the gambling but to watch the pigeon shooting. Because Monte Carlo never overtly advertised the casino but instead showcased its abundance of gentlemanly activities, there were a lot of men who were in Monte Carlo to pursue purer interests other than gambling. The modern day equivalents are the people who claim they go to Las Vegas for the shows.

Monaco et Monte-Carlo - Monte-Carlo et le Tir aux Pigeons - RJD10332.jpgAnyway, after watching a fair amount of birds blown from the sky from the platform located behind the casino, our hero wandered through the casino as a spectator, had a nice meal, smoked a pipe, and went to bed at 11:40 p.m. (I love how precise details are scattered throughout the story to make it more believable).

At 3:00 a.m. his dream began. (I, too, keep accurate logs of the precise hour when my dreams begin)

“Listen,” said a voice that seemed to address him; “listen to the hour, it is striking three; there the last stroke has been struck, now look at that procession, it will begin to-morrow exactly at three;” and there passed before him twelve priests, each bearing a banner on which was inscribed a number alternately in black and red ink; following the priests came two little girls, bearing a waving sheet of some fabric, on which was printed: “You have seen your fortune; go and seek it!”

When the man awoke the next morning he had the wherewithal to immediately write down all the numbers and the corresponding colors in his notebook: 19, 17, 36, 13, 29, etc. He must have known these would be important.

MonteCarloCasinoInterior After having breakfast he decided to wander back to the casino to spectate a little more. He waited until the clocks read 3:00 before he approached a roulette table. It was just then he had the sudden realization the priests of his dream were relaying a message to gamble their numbers. He placed two Napoleons on 19. The ball spun round and round, and lo and behold, he won!

The next time he doubled his stake, and when 17 hit, he won again! He bet on 36 then 13 then 29 and came up a winner each time. He continued this for all twelve numbers but never had the courage to bet more than 5 Napoleons. The writer of the article concluded with the following assessment:

I only wish that I could have such a chance, I should go the whole maximum and no mistake. Being the narrative of a dream, I dare say many persons will think the foregoing story a pure invention, but I have every reason to believe it true.

If it were me, after the 11th consecutive win, I’d have been sweating bullets that I was just about to be simultaneously struck by lightning and consumed by a tornado while being attacked by a thousand stinging bees.

Five Amazing Stories of Monte Carlo

Sleep

Sleep makes no promises

it is the riskiest moment of a day

a journey through an unknown passage

to an uncertain world

but certainly a fast-forward toward death

Sleep is the mercurial half-brother of consciousness

a blessing

a curse

elusive for those who crave a release from today

or avoided because it pulls closer the dread of tomorrow

Sleep is messy with savage dreams

that tease with hope

or terrorize with threat

Sleep has no language

It knows no peace

It is exhausting

It takes no rest

The Noble Lord’s System

It’s one thing to ascribe great gambling wins to incredible streaks of luck, but I find stories that attribute gambling success to divine intervention particularly intriguing. If gambling is a sin, would God reward a person who commits this sin? The next Monte Carlo story is one that I’ve encountered in multiple sources even thought it’s the hardest one to believe.

A noble lord was having a bad week at the tables and took a break from the casino. He stopped in the church but stayed only through the last verse of the hymn preceding the sermon.

Monaco et Monte-Carlo - Monte-Carlo vers la mer - RJD10334.jpgHe slipped out and took a stroll toward the casino, the music and words of the tune still in his head. Simply wanting to watch the action, he had no intention of gambling once he entered the game rooms.

From the table to his left, he heard the croupier call out, “Thirty-two!” He suddenly remembered that thirty-two was the number of the last hymn he’d heard in church. From the table to his right, the croupier announced “thirty-two” as the winner. He knew he had something here so he approached the table ahead of him and put all the money he had on him on thirty-two. Of course, he won. He moved from table to table playing the same number until he’d won £500.

RouletteHe told friends of his story and the story quickly spread around Monte Carlo. The next Sunday the church was packed. The offertory was as large as the church had ever seen as the parishioners contributed a little extra for good luck. Just before the last hymn was announced, there was a hush in the church as everyone bristled with excitement. As soon as the hymn number was announced, there was a mass exodus to the door. Everyone hurried to the casino.

Casino InteriorBy several accounts, many were successful playing the hymn number at the roulette tables.

The non-gambling members of the congregation were shocked by this behavior. The church quickly made it a rule that no hymns under 37 would ever be sung again.

What I love most about the story is its inclusion in a short book of gambling systems published in 1902.

Systems of PlayThere’s no attempt to discredit the story, and in all seriousness, the author offers the following conclusion:

“The moral of this, when you have discovered a really good system, keep it to yourself.”

Back to Five Amazing Stories of Monte Carlo

Seeing Red and Faking Death

Like many gambling legends, it’s not important whether there is any truth to the story. What’s more important is whether people believe them. My favorites are the ones that have a story arc and a tidy resolution. This one was found in one of the casino at Monte Carlo’s early promotional pamphlets printed around 1880.

Monte Carlo casino front

A modestly affluent young couple decided to take their honeymoon in Monte Carlo. It was an attractive honeymoon destination because of the world-class entertainment along with fine food offered at a reasonable price.

Concert on the Terrace

The husband set aside 3,000 francs for gambling. He sat down at a roulette table and began testing his luck. Immediately, his money started to dwindle. Inexperienced at roulette, his stack dwindled to just 160 francs, but he wasn’t terribly upset. He hadn’t come to Monte Carlo with the expectation of winning big.

gamblers in monte carlo

At the suggestion of another gambler who noticed the young husband’s inexperience, he began playing the colors rather than the numbers. He played red and won. Letting his bet ride, he won again. He hit a streak of fourteen straight wins on red and amassed 112,000 francs. After a loss, he changed to black and began another run until he had acquired 260,000 francs.

His young wife, who was standing behind him, wanted him to collect his winnings and stop, but by this point he was so focused on the game he didn’t notice her. He was a high roller now, betting the maximum of 12,000 francs per spin. When he hit an unlucky streak and lost three times in a row, his wife became desperate. He wouldn’t listen to her, and she feared their new wealth would evaporate as fast as they had earned it. She pretended to faint, and collapsed to the ground. It did no good. Her husband didn’t notice. He had just lost two more hands and he was sweating, mesmerized by the ball racing around its track.

Roulette Cartoon

A gentleman tapped him on the shoulder and said, “I think your wife is ill. Perhaps dying.”

He dismissed the man and continued to play despite the fact that a group of men were carrying his fallen wife out of the casino. Finally, he won again, and was momentarily relieved. He searched for his wife to reassure her that he was back on the right track, but she was gone. He pulled his wager from the table and considered the situation. He had a decision to make. He now had 210,000 francs, and he felt guilty for falling below the 260,000 francs he had once reached. If he could get back to that point…

He fought off the gambling high and pulled his money together. He rushed back to the hotel where the men had taken his wife. He found her apparently unconscious on the bed. He put his bag of money atop a chest of drawers and leaned over to check on his wife. Immediately, she sprang up and grabbed the bag of money. She threw the bag into the drawer, locked it, and put the key in her pocket. She then rang the bell for the porter and prepared to check out of the hotel. Finally understanding his wife’s prudence, the husband agreed to leave Monte Carlo, and within an hour they were on a train with their new riches, ready to begin their life as a married couple.

Last Train

To the Lonely and the Shamed

To the lonely and the shamed who have stood in the darkness of a cold stairwell not wanting to go up or down or afraid to emerge from the solitary place, you are not alone. We all have been there at some point and some of us are still there. We avoid people and dodge accusing eyes. There is depth to the pain of shame that reaches deep into our core. Shame is beyond reflection on specific behavior and more private than disgrace. It’s an indictment on the self. It consumes the humanity in a person and brings out the worst in us at the moment we are weakest. Our empathy dissolves into self-pity. Altruism evolves into anger, blame, and transference of shame.

And there’s no easy way out. Of course there’s the potent pill or the blessed booze that offers a brief reprieve from the pain before dragging the tortured soul deeper into shame. For those who choose to endure with the drooped head and slouched posture, there’s isolation, depression, and the ultimate moment when the mind defeats the person.

But the most disgusting thing about shame is not that we feel it, although for anyone who wakes up every day wanting only to crawl into a cave and expire, it truly is awful. What is horrific is that at a societal level, we induce it in others by the way we assign shame-inducing labels, by the way we treat the people who we deem to be below us, or by the way we make snap judgments on character based on skin color, nationality, tattoos, or body size.

No one understands the pain of shame as deeply as the child humiliated for an error and compared to a dog, or a wife belittled and battered for questioning her husband, or an unwed mother who needs the government check and is not lazy, or the person who is taunted and called a fag but is not gay, or the person who is taunted and called a fag and is gay, or the felon applying for a job knowing a background check will immediately disqualify him. The list could go on.

And there are some who feel certain people deserve shame. Judges might expect it from convicted criminals. Family members expect it from a loved one who has fallen off the wagon. There are those who believe some ought to be shamed for their religious beliefs, sexual orientation, or residency status. It’s easy to draw a justification. Shouldn’t a criminal feel shame for a crime committed? Or an addict for destroying their family with their addiction? Or a Guatemalan for crossing our borders illegally…and not speaking English?

If someone truly has transgressed, we should focus on the transgression and spare the man. Allow a guilty person to feel guilt, accept it, and work to make amends. By inducing shame in others, we are actually breeding recurrence of bad behavior because a man who has nothing has nothing to lose.

No one deserves shame.

But this is to the people who feel shame, those who are stuck in the dark stairwell and who feel alone. Shame feels very public and sometimes we do bare the scarlet letter. In reality, however, shame is a prison we build for ourselves. Managing shame is about letting go. It’s about accepting what we’ve done and who we are. It’s not shying away from guilt when we’ve erred, but it’s also acknowledging that we are not forever defined by a single behavior.

If shame is the prison, then pride is the key to freedom. It’s not that we should think that we are inherently exceptional. Perhaps more dangerous than a shamed person is the eternally proud one, the narcissist. Pride is something we are not born with or that we are entitled to. Every day it must be earned by actions, even if they seem small in the grand scheme of life. But every day offers an opportunity to do that thing, that mutually beneficial deed that elevates the perception of self. Civic pride. Perhaps a good place to start is looking to the lonely and the shamed and reminding them that they are not alone and that shame doesn’t need to endure.

hopper.sunday copy

The Shells

Feel the crunching of the shells-
Helpless shells!
What a world of broken homes this grind foretells!
How they glitter, glitter, glitter
on the crowded beach tonight!
Gone are displaced crawling critters,
replaced now by piles of litter.
Stereos boom, boom, boom
and drunken parties loom.
Oh, how I long to hear
the ocean swells
from the shells, shells, shells, shells,
shells, shells, shells –
From the murmurs and the echoes of the shells.

Find those perfect, hollowed shells
Ocean shells!
What a barren world their scarcity foretells!
Their tenants ran, consumed with fright.
Plastic ice-chests they could not fight.
Their homes are in ruin,
and in shattered pieces float
On shallow water of a sandcastle’s moat.
On this dune
is not a single well-formed shell.
I begin to feel frustration swell.
Children yell.
Vendors sell
what will be trash! – hear me tell
Consumer greed they do compel.
We’re given things and dreams
but no shells, shells, shells.
But no shells, shells, shells, shells,
Shells, shells, shells –
Lost is the finding and collecting of the shells!

Ah, see the perfect ivory shells,
Pretty shells!
See them! See those shells that Sally sells!
Her booth was hidden by the night.
That big one’s mine– the price is right!
Cash, credit card, or even check
I buy and wear it around my neck.
The time is late.
Except for the few around a midnight fire
the crowds have gone
and to my desire
waves have risen higher, higher, higher.
The ocean is a choir.
I’ll sit here forever and ever
On broken shells or whatever.
Under the light of a brand new moon
On the shells, shells, shells!
On the shells, shells, shells, shells
Shells, shells, shells –
I’m wearing and I’m crushing all the shells.

shells

 

The Whistling Rebel

The other day I found myself in the hallway of the vacant 13th floor of an office building. As I approached the intersection with another hallway, I heard someone whistling Mary Had a Little Lamb. When I turned the corner at the intersection I came face to face with the construction worker who was responsible for the performance. He quickly modified his tune by throwing in some random notes to obscure the original melody.

It didn’t fool me, and I thought about calling him out on it. But then I remembered all the times when I thought I’d been alone and whistled corny songs. I myself had been a victim of music bullying, teased for liking or whistling uncool music or for being clueless to the latest music trends.

In Elementary School, I was a kid unsure of how to defend myself for whistling Eine Kleine Nachtmusik while walking down the hall. I didn’t have enough “street sense” at the time to say, “Oh, I’m just whistling that annoying IHOP song.” Instead, I’d confess that I’d been sharing a Mozart tune with the world and would deal with the subsequent snickers.

Not only was my whistled music ridiculed. Later, in my high school and college years, my mix tapes were always rejected at parties and social gatherings, perhaps for my persistent inclusion of Safety Dance (the most fun song ever) on every mix.

I’m sure we all have a favorite song we’re too ashamed of to admit. Why is this? Why should a particular arrangement of tones be more culturally acceptable than others? I think we would all like to release our inner Carlton Banks, which perhaps is why the Carlton dance resonates with so many people. We would like the opportunity to be happy without fear of derision for the very thing that makes us happy.

What is interesting to me is the whistling phenomenon. What we whistle is normally an unconscious decision. We’re repeating something we’ve recently heard or recalling something close and familiar. We just do it. A melody takes hold and emerges from our pursed lips.  And it always happens when we’re happy or at least solidly content (I’ve never considered whistling Mozart’s Requiem when in a depressed mood). So, if the melodies we whistle are associated with happiness, why would we suppress the other outlets of these songs for the sake of social conformity? Do we value acceptance more than happiness? Should we be ashamed for being a whistling rebel?

What the Guidelines Say

The guidelines say

who and how we may love

what we might say

what a woman should be

            all autonomy

unless she should desire to reject

the rigid role of dutiful wife and sell her appeal for a buck tucked under string

because the guidelines tell us exactly how we are to be free

and the guidelines say

how we should pray

and who we obey

and how it’s okay

to have our own way

as long as we stay

within God We Trust

and celebrate the holy day

of gingerbread men and candy canes

and the guidelines say

on whom we may prey

and whom to blame

when there’s sickness or disease

or murder or pain

and the guidelines say

how much a criminal should pay

and to whom he should write the check

and the guidelines say

we may tweak the guidelines

for those who are close

as long as no one knows.