“How do you know when to stop?” I ask.
“I usually don’t,” says the middle-aged man playing digital blackjack.
We’re at the main bar of the WinStar World Casino in Thackerville, Oklahoma, the biggest in the US.
“Well, we all have our vices,” I say, holding up a Budweiser.
“I’ve got plenty of vices,” he replies.
My plan was to venture back to the casino in the morning, to ask about its Chickasaw Nation owners and the plight of Native Americans in this country, or head to Oklahoma City.
But I finally hit bad weather. It hadn’t stopped raining in days and there was a big ice storm headed my way. So instead, I sat and thought about the man with many vices.
Isn’t that the American way?
We seem to be a country of rebels, spurred by a story of our uprising against the British in the 18th century. We tend to slag off the rules or use them to condone extremism.
And it’s great, in some ways, no doubt.
But in others, it’s appalling.
For instance, I’m chatting with a guy from the UK on a New York City subway one morning last year. There’s discarded newspapers hiding under seats and sticky spills nearly every step. I’m recalling seeing two women cracking pistachios on the train one night, dropping the shells right on the ground.
“I feel like you don’t see that kind of thing in London. The trains are pretty well maintained there,” I said to my new friend.
“It’s a part of this American rebel without a cause mentality that’s just not a part of the culture in many other [especially developed] countries,” I concluded, and it’s a theory I’ve held onto.
This very American way–loud, rowdy and stubborn–can be endearing, but as information flows freely about our shenanigans, it will ultimately get us in trouble as others wonder when we’ll grow up.
There has to be a way for us to keep our edge, without being outright assholes. I’ve seen examples, like the sex- and drug-positive techno hedonists that inhabit Berghain, Berlin’s most exclusive and in turn, most famous, nightclub; or the squatter kids of London, making residence in abandoned buildings, taking a whole host of waste, breads, vegetables and yogurts out of fast-casual bakery dumpsters.
And it’s not just our government, it’s the American people. When a teenager plays ding-dong-ditch and gets shot WITH A GUN, we’re being irresponsible. When American citizens and even the top 1% of income-earning corporations, which paid less than 7% in taxes in 2011, think our government is stealing money from them, even as we drive on public roads and send our kids to public schools, that’s a tad entitled. When a significant number of people in our country still want to fight about abortion, but don’t see the hypocrisy in supporting the death penalty or leaving Syrian refugees bleeding at the gates, we’ve become lazy in thought and action.
And all those words–irresponsible, entitled, lazy–are usually associated with teenagers, who we should not use as a role model for mature decisions.
When I had few friends in high school, my mother said, “If no one likes you, maybe it’s not them, it’s you,” I think that pretty well applies here America.
Tap. Tap. Tap. I see the digital display counting down the money he has left. Tap. Tap. Tap. It seems like such a waste.
“So what’s the draw if you don’t gamble?” he asks.
I’ve gotten into the rhythm with the bartender, holding a $10 on the counter.
“You just can’t part with the money?”
Tap. Tap. Tap. My hand moves with the band as I wait for another beer. Tap. Tap. Tap.
He sees his mistake. “Or just a place to drink.”
I’ll sleep in the car for a few hours before I head back across the border. It’s raining shots and cowboy tears so no one will even notice there’s a dolled-up woman in the front seat.
“You can’t say no to free, Justin,” the bartender says. I don’t know what she’s referring to, but a shot of Fireball is put into my hand.
I’ve got plenty of vices, too.