I used to have what some doctors might call “a light gambling addiction.”
I hardly gamble these days because I finally learned one valuable, money-saving lesson: The house always wins.
Because of this knowledge, I was a little hesitant when my editor came to me with an idea: Play a bunch of games at the Mid-State Fair and write about it.
I’ll never win, I thought. Those games are set up for the fair to come out on top, and I’ll look like a fool. But with The Tribune footing the bill, what’s the harm?
Then something strange happened when I strolled the Mid-State Fairgrounds on Thursday. My old symptoms started to resurface.
I can beat the house and win every prize in this place, I thought. Why shouldn’t I leave the fair with 10 giant stuffed Tweety Birds for my sweetheart? I’m way more skilled and athletic than these other chumps giving away their money. I’ve played rec league softball, for God’s sake.
That was my mindset as I prepared for battle holding three plastic, metal-tipped darts that cost me $5. In front of me, no more than 4 feet away, were 50 minions, mouths agape. All I had to do was land one dart in the black of their mouths to win a prize.
No problem. I had been hitting triple 20s with impaired motor skills on dart boards inside smoky Florida bars for years.
Three darts later, I was looking for something to blame.
“I think I was standing too close,” I said.
Even though I missed on all three attempts, I got a small stuffed toy as a consolation prize and headed to the next game, Ring Around the Duck.
I should have known I had no chance at this one. All you have to do is land one Frisbee with the middle cut out around the neck of one of the many floating rubber ducks circulating in a pond. Do that, and you win a giant stuffed animal. I had my eye on a lion.
I got three rings for $5. Consider it a donation, pal.
On to the next.
All right, I thought, this is my chance. Baseball and beer. Right in my sweet spot. At this game, Beer Bust, all I had to do was (sensing a theme?) break a beer bottle with a baseball and collect a prize. Or so I thought.
“You have to break two bottles back to back to win,” said the man with tattoos on his head who was in charge of the game.
All right, a little tougher, but doable.
With six throws for $5, I only grazed a bottle. Strikeout.
I still got a cool stuffed penguin. At this point I felt like word was getting out. Everyone I passed was practically begging me to come play their game. I had become the chump.
I can beat the house and win every prize in this place, I thought. Why shouldn’t I leave the fair with 10 giant stuffed Tweety Birds for my sweetheart?
After failing again, twice this time, at a shooting game involving 100 BBs, I moved to my final game — basketball.
As I stood and looked at the sun-drenched hoop with clowns on the backboard, I felt like LeBron James before Game 7. My back was against the wall. The haters said I couldn’t do it, but with my photographer behind me, I was going to beat the odds and triumph in the face of adversity. After this game, I would be posing for a jubilant photo while kissing a stuffed bear like it was the Larry O’Brien NBA Championship Trophy. All I had to do was make one shot.
Then I got a cold dose of reality from the game operator — after I had handed over $5 for two shots.
“Is this thing regulation?” I asked, looking up at the hoop.
“Nah,” he said. “It’s egg-shaped.”
I’ll be damned. I looked up at the rim, and there it was, pinched on each side. Only a perfect shot would make it through. The game was rigged against me, and the guy taking my money didn’t even try to hide it.
Whatever. Can’t hold me, son.
“Steph!” I yelled before clanking my first shot off the back of the rim.
I wasn’t deterred. All I needed to do was invoke one of the greatest clutch shooters of all time on my final chance at glory.
The ball floated through the air and hit the front of the rim. My shooter’s touch led to a kiss off the backboard and a hint of glory, but the egg-shaped iron was unkind. Another miss.
Even though I knew going in that my odds of winning anything worthwhile were long, it didn’t make the pain any less in the end. All I had to show for all of my sweat and hard work were three tiny stuffed animals and a hatred for fair games.
The house won again.