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Poker and The American Dream

Sometimes what makes us happy isn't what we expected would.

Life is like a game of poker. You play by the rules. And you make the smart bets. You sit at the table, folding hand after hand of ten- two, seven- three, nine-five, while everyone else is getting aces and face cards, and raking in your five or ten dollar blind. And then it happens. You get a pair of aces, so you bet them. You bet them big, trying to catch up to the rest of the world. But some fool sitting across the table, who should have folded an eight-three, not even in the same suit, rides along with your bets, calling every raise. And HE gets a pair of eights rolled face up. There you sit, betting two pair; aces over eights, and he flops over the third eight, and cleans you out.

I worked summers all through high school. In the winter, during the school year, I babysat. I cleaned up baby puke. I heated formula. I changed and rinsed out dirty diapers. During the summer, besides babysitting, I mowed lawns and worked as a mason’s tender. I pushed a shovel and a wheelbarrow full of cement. I swung a pick, and I broke up old concrete with a jackhammer. I carried block, and I carried hods full of brick in the hot sun.

I spent four years in the Navy – enlisted, still doing the right thing. After I got out, I put myself through college on the GI bill and earned a degree. During the summers, I worked as a common laborer. I helped dig most of the footings for Southgate homes, in Anne Arundel County. In the winter, while attending classes, I worked night shift as a security guard. During my Christmas vacations, I attended training and became a qualified canine handler, and qualified as expert on the pistol range. In two years as a "rent-a-cop", I went from officer to Corporal, then to Acting Sergeant. From 1972 to 1975, while attending classes in college full time, I worked forty hours a week selling hardware and lumber at Talbott Lumber Company.

After I graduated, there was no work in my field of study, so I took a job as an automobile mechanic. At night, I attended classes, and earned National Institute of Automotive Service Excellence (NAISE) certifications in Engine, Manual Transmission and Differentials, Brakes, Front End, and Electrical Systems. I became a Maryland Certified Automobile Inspection Mechanic.

Then I took a job as a drafter, and spent fourteen years, in increasingly responsible positions, to get permission to sit for the professional engineer’s examination. I earned my professional engineer’s license, and went to work for an engineering firm. My annual salary was just shy of six digits to the left of the decimal point.

In 2007, I was laid off. Unemployment was 800.00 per month, and my monthly mortgage and escrow was 2200.00. I used up all my savings, and all my retirement. I cashed in all my life insurance. I was out of work from 2007 until 2011, except for whatever odd jobs I could pick up. I started drawing Social Security two years before I was fully vested. In January, 2011 I was hired part-time as a licensed professional engineer, but it was too little, too late. I lost my house.

I had my two pair ace high, but someone else had that third eight.

But here’s the interesting part. I could be bitter, or morose, or any of a number of other negative adjectives, but I am none of those things. I am renting a nice older two story house (it was built in mid-1800’s) and I eat well. I am playing a lot of music, an occupation I dearly love. I’m working part time doing what I refer to as “adult water play” designing storm water management and storm drain projects, and that’s fun, too. I get up when I awaken, and I go to bed when I am tired. I eat when I get hungry, and if I want to spend a day goofing off and watching films on Netflix, I do that. In other words, I am happy. In fact, I am happier than ninety percent of the people I know.

So maybe The American Dream isn’t all that much of a big deal. And maybe I was supposed to lose that hand, so that I could discover you don’t need to run faster in the rat race. You can be much happier if you simply step out of the race entirely.

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