You know, I've always held a notion that you can learn a lot about human nature sometimes by just sitting back and watching how people behave from a distance.
Then again, you could also find yourself scratching your head wondering how it was we managed to climb down out of the trees and invent frozen pizza and thermonuclear warheads when you actually stop to consider what most people are doing.
It's incredible that we have survived as a species.
Once again, I was in Atlantic City Thursday and yesterday (don't blame me: Tess is a degenerate gambler, and she can't say no to a free hotel room!), and I was reminded of this idea yet again. Primarily, there were three specific incidences that made me wonder about varying standards of behavior and stupidity. I'll tell you about them now, and try to explain what I think instigates this fusillade of brainfarting.
The first instance occurred at a poker table at the Revel Hotel and Casino.
Tess and I were playing Four-Card Poker when a youngish man came to the table (we'll call him 'David'), bearing a large wad of bills. I'm sure that David finds the flashy display of cash to be impressive, for he was rather emphatic about waving them around, making a great show of peeling the bills off, and so forth. Quite frankly, I don't think it was so much a display of stupidity as it was an attempt at intimidation of the other players at the table. Here's David the Doofus waving his cash around as if to say "I've got a huge bankroll (and probably a very small penis), and you guys can't possibly win".
I'm also fairly certain that the money and ostentatious display of bravado was intended to impress any eligible females who might be around. I've seen this sort of behavior in men you wouldn't otherwise give the time of day to: the faux confidence and the exposure of wealth is supposed to act as an aphrodisiac of some sort. Personally, I know of no self-respecting woman who would entertain the possibility of presenting David with her Pearl of Great Price without first ensuring that her inoculations were up to date.
Anyway, after making a big show of being Daddy Warbucks, Dipshit David peels off a mere $300 and buys in. Way to go, Big Spender! He then regales us with his biography, just on the off chance that someone actually gives a shit. It turns out that our physically-unimpressive, rather wonky and geeky David the Would-Be Cardsharp is an options trader and financial planner, who drives a fancy car and lives in a fancy town (in fact, just minutes from Tess and I). All of this, I figure, is an act designed to make David look and sound more important, smart, energetic, exciting and impressive than he really is. It's a modern day display of chest beating.
But then David starts playing poker...and gives the game away.
I'll spare you the sordid details of Four-card Poker, but let's put it this way: unlike Texas Hold "em, or perhaps even Stud Poker, you're not playing against the other players at the table. You're playing against the house. There is no bluffing. You can't really card count like you might if you were playing Blackjack. You can't use a "Check-Raise" strategy. There is no psychology to the game. Basically, all you're supposed to do is make the best 4-card hand you can with the five cards dealt to you, and put them against the best four-card hand the dealer can make with his/her six cards.
There are only two bets to be made: one is a bet that your hand, as dealt, will include of a pair of aces or better.. The second is that your hand will beat the dealer's in a head-to-head faceoff. There is nothing else: no strategy, no psychology, no game theory. It is what it is. And since no self-respecting casino would offer a game that did not at least favor the house by a margin of at least 2.5-to-1, the deck is stacked against you to begin with and you have few options. If this sounds like an unappealing game, believe me, it isn't when you stop to consider the payouts when you win. But, I digress...
Within five minutes, I began to wish that I was playing Hold 'Em and that David was sitting across the table from me. I'd take his cash in a relatively short time, and I'm basically just a slightly-better-than-average player. David was an easy mark.
For a start, he talked to much. In fact, he talked all the time. He would stutter slightly with excitement if he had something in his hand, and mutter when he didn't. If you didn't catch that tell, you could watch his betting patterns: he bet small when he was unsure, and big when it was a relative no-brainer to do so, and usually stupidly throughout. The real clue to just how stupid David is came when he was "bluffing" (now remember, you can't bluff in this variation of poker), that is, in pushing a weak hand. Try to picture this mathematically:
Before a card is even dealt, you have bet (for example) $10 that your hand is better than a pair of aces before you even see it. You have additionally anted an additional $10 in order to qualify to play against the dealer. Once you have your cards, and you wish to bet them, you can bet up to 3 times your ante ($30) to go head-to-head. If the dealer busts, assuming you did not have a pair of aces to begin with, you win a whopping $10. David would often play this way; he would bet the entire $50 (10 on Aces Up, 10 Ante, 30 on the back bet) on the off-chance the dealer would bust (i.e. not deal him/herself a hand that contained at least an ace and a queen) in order to win $10.
Not surprisingly, David would lose. Often. So, out of curiosity, I asked him just what in the hell drove him to make such a stupid bet repeatedly? After getting a convoluted preamble that involved the words "options trader" or variations thereof some 15 times, David explained to me that he really wanted that $10. When I asked him an obvious question -- isn't it damned stupid to risk $50 to earn $10? -- he replied that he didn't see it as risking much of anything; he simply saw an opportunity to grab $10 that he didn't have before based on the premise that the dealer has to bust at least as often as you do. This, he explained, is the option trader's measure of risk.
In the real world where people know how to count and apply common sense, few in their right mind would take 1-to-5 odds. In fact, the veteran and clear-thinking gambler is far more likely to fold his losing hand, and lose the $20 already bet in order to save himself the extra $30, and to cut his losses in expectation of another go. Discretion is often the better part of valor, after all. But David was fixated on that $10. So much so, that when he (rapidly) lost his initial stake of $300, he reached into his pocket and flamboyantly produced another $300.
Which he promptly lost...again. Needless to say, Stinking-Rich,-Super-Interesting-Oh-so-fucking-clever- Options-Trader-David would go on to lose another $200 (that's $800 in total) before finally packing it in. His parting words were: If I had really wanted to keep my money, I would have stayed home today, right?
Needless to say, I will not be calling David to handle my financial arrangements. Oh, and now you know why the Financial Crisis hit so damned hard. Whatever they're teaching these guys in business school, it certainly ain't math, nor logic.
The second display of utter stupidity has to do with the Revel's smoking policy.
The Revel bills itself as a (mostly-) smoke-free environment. Smoking is only permitted in the hotel in designated areas. However, these are poorly marked, and in a great sacrifice upon the altar of stupidity, one will find ash trays all over the damned place. Especially outdoors on one of the many terraces and gardens.
Friday morning, Your's Truly and one of our traveling companions set out for a pre-breakfast cigarette on one of the terraces that overlook the beach. This is a large, open outdoor area, which is surrounded by trashcans which all have ashtrays in their tops. There is no sign, anywhere, that tells you that you cannot smoke in this area. So, we figured it was safe to light up.
And then a Security Guard appeared and told us that smoking was prohibited in this area. So, I asked the obvious question "If you're not allowed to smoke here, then what is with all the ash trays?", to which he replied "they're here so that the ground won't be littered with cigarette butts." Thank you, Captain Obvious. But, if you're not allowed to smoke here, then just where do you think cigarette butts come from? And in that case, why the copious ashtrays? The Rent-a-Cop had no answer for this, he just reiterated his warning, and so we left.
On our way back indoors to find a designated smoking area, we were struck by all the left-over alcoholic beverages left behind on tables, on ledges, on any convenient horizontal surface, left behind by the previous evening's party-goers. Left-over alcoholic beverages that had not been cleaned up by the hotel staff, left behind where any child (and there were many in the hotel again this week) wandering the zealously-guarded smoke-free terrace could get their hands on them. Literally dozens of unconsumed, residual, unwanted half-full drinks and beer bottles, some of them, I noted, which had cigarette butts floating in them.
Which leaves one to wonder: why is it that the hotel can post security guards outdoors to stop people from smoking, but the same security guards make no effort to ensure that alcohol isn't just laying around for anyone to drink? Doesn't the security guard have enough brains to at least inform the maintenance staff that liquor is laying around? That glass, which can be easily shattered and injure someone, has been left unsecured in an common area? Or, has he been given strict orders to harass the smokers seeking an ashtray and a place away from those indoors and leave the irresponsible drunks alone?
In the grand scheme of things, being told "You can't smoke here" is not all that big a deal, however,one would expect that a bit of common sense would prevail. Especially when you find full ashtrays everywhere, and not a single butt on the floor. It would seem to me that the practitioners of one vice are acting responsibly and with a measure of courtesy for their fellow guests, and the practitioners of the other are not. But, I guess the hotel condones careless drunks (because there's money to be made from drunks) and would rather, instead, punish those trying to do the right thing (despite the fact that cigarettes are sold in a smoke-free hotel).
The final act of stupidity -- actually hundreds of them -- occurred on the ride back to New York.
Yesterday afternoon the weather changed drastically. Torrential rains and heavy winds swept through South Jersey, making travel a bit difficult. At one point, it was nearly impossible for the rain and spray to see more than 20' in front of the car.
Here in the Tri-state area (New York, New Jersey and Connecticut) when the weather goes sour, a mass psychosis takes hold and soon every asshole and his mother takes to the road. This is the "I Must Get The Necessities" mindset, in which everyone rushes to the supermarket (or to whatever location where they can get whatever they deign a "necessity" to be) and return home as quickly as possible. Because we all know that thunderstorms last for months on end in this region, like the yearly monsoons of Asia, and if we don't get that loaf of Wonder Bread, that quart of 2% milk, right this fucking second, there will never be any more ever again.
And then there's a second part to this mass madness, and that all of this requires that people try to negotiate wet roads lashed by high winds and plagued by low visibility at high speeds. They must travel at 70 mph (or more) in these conditions because they want to get home before "the weather gets any worse". Needless to say, when you're traveling at a high rate of speed on a highway and dashing in and out of lanes to avoid being stuck behind the tractor trailers and their blinding wake in these sorts of conditions, there's bound to be accidents on the Garden State Parkway. A lot of them. And so there were.
The truly stupid part is that someone was injured or killed because the weather caught someone else by surprise; that is, someone doen't watch the nightly news and weather reports (we only do that AFTER the severe weather hits, just so we sit on the edge of our seats waiting for Katrina-like images after the storm is over), and they aren't prepared to hunker down and sit it out for the next...oh...three or four hours. Which is when the fucking rain finally stopped. I'm certain that someone was killed yesterday because they simply HAD to make a mad dash for a dozen eggs from a supermarket 6 miles from home on a flooded road at 70 mph because to wait until the weather cleared in a few hours, or maybe tomorrow, would have exhausted their meager food supplies, which probably largely consists of Mac and Cheese, Doritos, Vitamin Water and Ramen noodles, anyway.
And in all three instances, I keep recalling David's explanation of the calculation of risk.
Apparently, it's quite sensible to a graduate of the Wharton School to bet a shitload of money on the hopes that you might steal a meager reward, in the expectation of being seen as "being clever". "Steal" being the operative word. I'm sure the Theory of Evolution is simply brimming with examples of creatures who expend a great deal of energy and resources, but little common sense or brain power, in the slim hope of garnering a marginal reward. Why, one wonders just why the brontosauri are all gone, when you look at it that way!
Apparently, it's quite sensible to harass people for smoking outdoors, and even sell them cigarettes, inside a smoke-free hotel that makes exceptions for smokers in a haphazard fashion, but no one gives a crap if drunks leave their unfinished drinks in cocktail glasses laying around for any Tom, Dick and Harry -- and their children -- to finish off on the sly, or to cut their hands and feet upon, should they drop or shatter them.
Apparently, it's a good idea to drive at a frenetic pace in the midst of a mini-hurricane in order to to avoid the indignity and discomfort of being without your Chamomille and TastyKakes for a few hours, and then cause a deadly accident because you -- unlike us mere fucking mortals -- somehow are under the mistaken impression that you have the unique and mystic ability to dodge raindrops and avoid hydroplaning on a wet roadway cut by severe cross-winds.
And so, I reckon, I finally know why I live in a country where it's a good idea to give $500,000/30-year/government-insured mortgages to guys who make $30k a year, where it's a splendid thing to restrict gun ownership for law-abiding citizens while the government arms the Mexican drug gangs and the Muslim Brotherhood and Chicago sees a murder rate reminiscent of the days of Prohibition, and where a complete dingus can become President of the United States on the virtue of a magnificent marketing campaign and a largely ghostwritten backstory.
It's because I'm surrounded by assholes.
If Civilization As We Know It ended tomorrow, I figure that if David, that Obnoxious Security Guard, and at least 75% of the drooling idiots who caused accidents through speed and stupidity yesterday had to fend for themselves and depend upon their own wits to survive, they'd all be eaten by packs of feral cats within hours.