… you lose some, you … lose some more …

So, my Valentine’s Day weekend.

A total of nine hours at the gym, none of which resulted in me looking good, or, even, a little better naked nor even a little good-looking at my naked betters nor a little naked looking at the goods of my betters, so; Lose. Lose. Lose.

It was the release weekend for a much-anticipated film. No, not that one. I speak of Jason Robert Brown’s musical, The Last Five Years, which was available On-Demand, same day as theaters.

On the slim chance that anyone bothering to read me would be unfamiliar with said musical, it follows the relationship of Cathy, the actress, and Jamie, the novelist, from magical beginning to tragic end. Its twist? Cathy’s point of view songs tell the tale from tragic end to magical beginning, while Jamie’s point of view songs tell it from magical beginning to tragic end, and they meet in the middle of both arcs, at the engagement/wedding scene. It is a work of genius. The music is glorious, character-driven, fantastically emotional and this film managed to open up the two-hander without betraying the spirit and intimacy of the source-material. Would that every musical adaptation translated the original so closely and lovingly. It also helps to have Jeremy Jordan frequently stripped to his boxers.

I have now watched the movie three times. Sobbing all the way. Or, rather, every other song. No. Lies. Since it moves in both directions, even the happy songs through which I might smile or laugh make me cry because I know what’s coming at the end. Which, you see, was also the beginning. Is the beginning? And then, when we get to the final scenes, her happy beginning — so to speak — occurs simultaneously (albeit in split-time-reality) as his LEAVING. So, of course, I spend Valentine’s Day weekend obsessively watching musical tragedy, and being all judge-y about those who spent money to see a so-called romance about being tied up and whipped. I prefer my violence to be of the eviscerating emotional variety.

Un-Valentined thus, last night, here I was, again, not going, and not going with me were my sister, D, my niece, A, and her children; my great-niece K and great-nephew C. Valentine’s night and we had each other. We couldn’t find a movie on which we agreed and so I foolishly suggested “Family Game Night” hoping the result would be something like Jeopardy or Trivial Pursuit, either of which would firmly re-establish my superiority when it comes to vast reserves of useless information.

Nope. First we played Tri-Ominos, at which I was soundly beaten. But this went too slowly for the Great-ones, K and C, and so we moved on to blackjack, otherwise known as 21. We didn’t have any poker-chips in the house but I throw all my change into my backpack until it becomes too heavy to carry, at which point I empty it into a coin machine, so, I had quarters enough to stake us all with twenty each, five dollars worth.

Hand after hand, we’d ante in our quarters. And hand after hand, over and over, A, K, and C would get 20 or 21. Me? Again and again I’d be dealt 13. If I said, “Hit me,” inevitably I would be dealt a 9 or 10 or face card and go over. But if I stuck, someone else had more than 13, EVERY SINGLE TIME.

While A, K, and C traded my quarters back and forth, I lost twenty-two times in the first twenty-three games, winning only once, a hand K sat out, so I got only two additional quarters.

Soon enough, I was out.

It was almost comical. Yet, had I written it as story, it would have been rejected as unbelievable. No one loses that much. Great-niece and nephew, being the sensitive types, kept remarking, “Poor Charlie,” and wondering if there wasn’t something that could be done. Niece, A, who is one of those people who mistakenly believes one is able to control fate by enforcing rules and playing the odds, kept instructing me, “You don’t hit at 13. You stay.”

I point out, had I held at 13 — any of the times I hit — I would still have lost. Instructions finally gave way to, “You’re just not getting the cards.” True.

Then what always happens, happened. The others, A, K, and C, despite their growing collections of my quarters, began to be annoyed with me because my ridiculous, ludicrous string of losses meant they could not fully enjoy their victories. They could not enjoy their victories because each one became more and more about my continuing fails, each victory of theirs accompanied by one or another variation of “Poor Charlie” and “how can one person lose so much?”

Eventually, inevitably, winners become invested in believing they are winning because they deserve to, because they are skilled or holy or smart or right. It follows then that we losers are losing because we deserve to, because we lack something or have sinned or are just plain stupid.

Now, I have lost a lot of quarters in my day. And, like last night, lots of those quarters I’ve lost were quarters with which I supplied others in the first place. At this point in my life I am unsurprised when I lose, I do not expect to win, in fact, I am not at all sure that playing even matters. After losing enough quarters enough times, one comes to question the value of the game itself. And that, more than anything, annoys others and invites blame. Nothing is more infuriating to the folks who are killing themselves trying to amass all your quarters than your surrender of them before it even begins.

I’ve spent a lot of time (and quarters) on people who “didn’t get the cards”, for whom it was always either 13 or 22. It seemed to be my role to front them the quarters I had at the time in whatever shape and currencies those happened to be and to do so without contract or condition. I did this believing that they, like me, would repay the quarters when they could. But, it turns out, most people don’t. Didn’t.

And, not only do people not come up with quarters when you, in turn, need them, they become pissed at your presence once they begin to win because you remind them of when they were losing. “This pile of quarters,” they scream, “is mine! I mean, why did you give it to me if you wanted it back?”

But, you see, I didn’t. I gave it freely. It just happened — as life does — that there came a time when I would say, “Hey, I could really use a pile of quarters right now. And, you know, I gave you quite a few back there when you needed them.” Just the saying of it made me feel failed and pathetic and petty. And FURIOUS. Why did I have to ask? Why didn’t they see where I was, what I needed, and offer, as had I with them?

Whatever the reason, they didn’t. Almost always, sooner or later, they will again need quarters. I won’t have any to give. Had more of the people to whom I fronted my quarters, my time, my advice, my money, my talent, my listening, my books, my words, my forgiveness, my acceptance, my chauffeuring and cleaning and — well, my quarters goddammit, had they been able to find it in their hearts to stake me when I asked, or, better, before I had to ask, I’d be rich in quarters now.

As it is, like last night: I’m busted.

And hey, maybe that’s a win after all. By the time I lost all my quarters last night I’d had enough family fun. I wanted some quiet. To read. To weep through The Last Five Years again. To contemplate my losing 22 of 23 games, of being un-Valentined for 53 years in a row, for being so often dealt the 13 or 22, absent of quarters to continue, and how, sometimes, not having to play is the victory.

I’m out. In so many ways, on so many levels: I. AM. OUT.

Final note, last night, once I wasn’t in any longer, the losing and winning was spread more evenly and so boredom set in and 21 ended. In the past, I’d have told nieces and nephew to keep the quarters, but, no more. I need every quarter I have. I’ll take that bag of change to the grocery store and turn it into bills (at a 10% loss for the privilege) so I can afford the gas and the luncheons required for carting around my 87-year-old Mom once or twice or three times a week, a duty I gladly do, an ante I gladly pay, so that she does not feel stuck at 13 or over at 22, but, rather, as if she has won this hand.

All the while, as I do, knowing that should I have the misfortune to last until 87, there will be no one around to front me a quarter, let alone a bag of them. Which is why, please, odds, fate, whatever the hell it is — out of quarters as I am, please, please, whether it be considered winning or losing, just, come on, let me get the cards to say, “I AM OUT.”

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