Monday, October 6, 2008

Don't Bet On It

I helped close and lock up the Kroger store at Peachtree and 8th. Streets in Atlanta on Saturday night of the Fourth of July weekend the year John F. Kennedy was running for President of the United States. I got the job as a grocery sacker when my buddy Luther was promoted to produce clerk. I had all the right qualifications. First in line with my application because of insider knowledge that the job was even coming vacant, I was 16 years old and willing to work for 52-cents an hour, almost half the legal minimum wage. Many shoppers tipped “sack boys” just for loading the groceries into the car. When elderly ladies walked to the store, you carried their groceries all the way home for them, and they snapped open coin purses to dig around for a dime. I worked part-time, five hours on Friday till closing, then all day Saturday. My paycheck each week averaged just over $5, after taxes. I usually matched or doubled that amount in tips. The checkout Queen Bees cashed my paychecks and exchanged my nickels, dimes, quarters, and occasional half-dollar for folding money. Because of the busy holiday shopping crowd, I had more than $25 in my pocket that July Fourth, the most money I had ever earned or even seen at one time.

Four of us from the grocery store, headed over to Luther’s. He lived on Juniper, less than a block away. His mother was out of town for the weekend. I had told my mother I was spending the night at Luther’s, neglecting some of the details. Joining us was A. J., the senior sack boy, and the other produce clerk, Mark, age 19. None of us was old enough to get our hands on beer, but Luther said his mother would never miss a few shots from her liquor closet. We brought sodas and chips from the store, as well as two brand new decks of cards. I had played penny-ante card games after school since I was 12, draw poker, deuces and one-eyed- jacks wild, seven card stud, blackjack, dealer’s choice. I liked blackjack when it was my turn to deal. I could count to 21 and had developed a belief in luck smiling at me more often than not. Luther, A.J., Mark, and I played cards till dawn. I lost $25 and change. The next week Mark showed up at work wearing a new pair of Thom Mccanns. Shiny as dancing shoes. Probably cost $75.

I swore off gambling, the way some people swear off alcohol or other things that will get them in trouble. Never again. I’ve never been to the casinos of Las Vegas, Atlantic City, the Gulf Coast, Mississippi River, or Native American Reservations. I have never bought a lottery ticket, no matter how big the jackpot. Two different companies I have worked for awarded me stock bonuses, and I sold the stock immediately. I also cashed out my 401K’s the day I turned 59-and-one-half and could do so without tax penalty. I am not offering any financial advice. I am just telling what I did. Most people won’t tell you, even if you ask. Maybe they’ll say something they read somewhere or some salesman said. Someone at the workout center recently volunteered, “I came into this world with nothing, and I’ve still got some of it.” The stock market dropped like a rock down a hollow hole the day Congress voted against the current $700-billion bailout for Wall Street or Main Street in search of the sunny side of the street. Then Congress voted for the bailout. Stocks dropped some more. I have considered it a sure thing that I would never agree with Alabama Republican Senator Richard Shelby and two-thirds of the members of the House GOP caucus. Good money after bad. Don’t bet on it.

Copyright 2008 by William C. Cotter


Tina said...

My daddy was an ace poker player and bridge player with a knack for looking vacant and innocent while figuring odds and counting cards in his head. He was in his 30s when drafted into WWII and I think he doubled his puny pay on a regular basis. "Hey guys, what y'all playing? That looks like fun. Can I play too?"

Dawn Ellen said...

Hey, Uncle Bill! I enjoyed getting a glimpse of your perspectives and antics as a boy. Beautifully scripted. I loved "folding money." Such clever use of that simple language is a summary of that time, I feel. Keep on writing and we'll keep on reading... -Dawn Ellen

Paw Paw Bill said...

When I was in the U.S. Army, card games were easy to find and difficult to avoid. I played lots of chess, ping pong, and pool, none of which I enjoyed, just to keep my idle mind out of the devil's workshop. Mostly, I read books in my free time. This was always a winner.

Pottery said...

Well written and good advice. I believe in investing in things that appreciate or depreciate in value based mainly on factors over which I have some control, like how much work I put in. There is always some risk involved. That's life. But taking on a managed risk is far from gambling on pure chance.

I enjoy your site. Please have a look at my Pottery on my blog. Thanks!

Paw Paw Bill said...

Thank you for your comment. Your blog is both beautiful and mouth-watering. I am going to take the liberty of putting a link to your blog on my sidebar while the apples are ripe. Thanks again.


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