Debits and Credits

When I was in my 20s and hated my job, I would sometimes hide in the casinos outside of Memphis in Tunica, MS. They were all still pretty new then, and it seemed fancy and exotic, and there were good shows at night and they were liberal with the comps.

As an aside, if you ever want to hide, or develop a drinking problem, casinos make excellent places to do it – you can get $30 of chips and bet sixes and eights on the pass line at the $5 craps table for hours and hours. They also bring you free drinks. If you wear a suit to work (as, say, an investment advisor), you can also wear it to the casino without changing. It may be different if you are a plumber, although the things you could get away with at a casino in Tunica Mississippi in the late 1990s would fill a book.

There was a man I knew at the casinos – we all just called him Mr. Daniel. He was a retired farmer, and he lived near the casinos, and he dressed like a retired farmer: khaki slacks, tan boots, a plaid shirt, and a baseball cap. He called the cocktail servers, all of whom were young and shapely and female-bodied, things like honey and darlin’.

Every day, he came to the casino and played craps. He arrived at 9:00 every morning, like clockwork. Like it was his job. He stood in the same place each time, and always ordered the same thing to drink- Diet Coke with a lime wedge. Every third drink, he tipped the server a $5 chip.

Mr. Daniel would show up every day and would always throw three $100 bills on the green felt, and say “Change Only” and take the $300 in $5 chips, and then he would play very safe bets, and when he had doubled his money he would quit for the day. Sometimes he was done by 10:30, and most days he was done by 2 PM, but still other days he was still there at 5 PM when he would quit for the day. If he ever got down by $100, and sometimes it happened, he would quit for the day. And either way, tomorrow morning he would be back at 9 AM with $300 and do it again.

If you figured he made an average of $150 a day, accounting for losses and weekends off and so on, he cleared more than 40K a year. Not bad for retirement money in the late 1990s.

I liked Mr. Daniel. He would talk to you if you asked him questions, and we sometimes would eat in the casino’s steakhouse if he was done for the day. The casino was just fun for him. He won more than he lost, but he was wealthy, and this was just a distraction from the sameness and boredom retirement was for him. As someone who was supposed to be trying to sell rich people things, I asked Mr. Daniel lots of questions.

A thing he told me was that most of life was just money management. Most of life, Mr. Daniel said, was just money management. Deposits and withdrawals, credits and debits.

I never got rich gambling. And no, I never got Mr. Daniel as a client, although I tried, hard. But the metaphor of debits and credits has served me well, especially when it comes to relationships.

We make deposits and withdrawals into our relationships with other people. I smile when you walk in? Deposit. I share something you wrote on Facebook? Deposit. I help you move? Big deposit.

We have a disagreement? Withdrawal. I ate all the chips and didn’t tell you? Withdrawal. I don’t show up for our lunch date? Withdrawal.

We all do this. We all have debits and credits with each other, and while we don’t keep score, per se, we all know the person who only makes withdrawals. We avoid those people. We get tired of them quickly.

The truth is, some people only withdraw. The guy who only calls you when he needs your help. The person who only critiques your work, but never affirms it. The guy who “just wants to play devil’s advocate.”

Those people are not automatically bad people. There are probably lots of accounts they routinely make deposits into. But that account they make deposits into isn’t your account. In your account, they are overdrawn.

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