Thursday, March 27, 2008

Credit Card Mania

Part I

I looked down at the MBNA statements that had just spit out of the printer on my home fax machine with tredpidation. As I look back on it, part of me already knew exactly what I would see there, but I guess I was just hoping against hope that I would be wrong. Or at least that I wouldn't find anything on this specific piece of paper, the very first of the credit card bills I was reviewing. Please oh please oh please don't list any casinos pleasepleaseplease....

MGM Mirage, LV Nevada...$2000.00
Finance Charge $184.00

And there it was. On the very first statement I received from MBNA in response to my inquiry that I believed my credit card account had been hacked, staring me right in the face in black and white. On the very first line. In fact this was the very first charge made on a brand new card that had just been opened days earlier. Someone with a raging gambling problem had been using a credit card in my name to make cash withdrawals in casinos and gambling with it. This sicko needed the money so bad that he was paying nearly 10% on top just to get the cash immediately so he could hit up the craps tables. This was someone who had stolen my identity, presumably because they had run out of credit themselves due to brilliant financial decisions like this. We were looking at a hardened gambler here, and a thief with obviously no scruples whatsoever, and he was holding a credit card with my name imprinted on the top. And who was this deranged lunatic?

My father.


As I look back on things, I should have known long before the proverbial shit hit the fan. I mean, when the other kids were going to Disney and to Mexico and to the Caribbean with their families for vacation in middle and high school, my family was going to Atlantic City for extended weekend trips, where my father would disappear in the evenings every single night while my two brothers and I and our mom were heading to bed in our hotel rooms. While the other Jewish families in New Jersey were busy ordering in Chinese food on Christmas Day and going to the movies on Thanksgiving, we went to? Atlantic City. Where my dad would, predictably, disappear in the evenings every single night while my two brothers and I and our mom were heading to bed in our hotel rooms. When we got a little older, the family vacations stopped being to Atlantic City and changed instead to a more exotic locale, 3000 miles away from home and in the blistering hot desert with lush pools and fabulous, expansive resorts. Las Vegas.

It's always so easy to pick up on the signs in retrospect, isn't it? I am a grown man now, and I've had well more than enough independent experience in the world to recognize a problem when I see one. But when you're a little kid, and these are the only parents you've ever known, and you grow up like most of the rest of us thinking Daddy is perfect, it just wasn't something that ever crossed my mind. I mean sure, I was aware that as a family we seemed to gamble a whole heck of a lot more than the next guys, but that didn't feel like a problem to me when I was younger. It felt like maybe we were cooler than them, more daring than them, just generally more badass than most of the friends my brothers and I had. But to be honest, at the time, even as late as when I was starting out as a lawyer in my min-twenties in Boston -- when I myself was spending weekends in Vegas as much as 8 or 9 times a year -- it never really dawned on me that there was a gambling problem to be concerned about.

There were other signs around that time, when the symptoms had been growing for some time already, that should have made it really obvious that something was going on. At some point I really should have questioned why my parents were taking four trips a year total, all of them to Las Vegas, and when I would go out there with them on occasion, every night consisted of my mother sitting in the hotel room and reading a book from 7pm until she fell asleep, alone, while my dad was downstairs at the tables. Sometimes I would be down there with him, too, but often out of sheer guilt I would spend a few nights each week up in the room with my mom, reading, just chatting about life as a lawyer, new friends or girlfriends, her teaching job, whatever. I never understood how she could be happy taking vacations exclusively to a city that she hates, spending her precious little time off in a city that is created ultimately around a gambling habit that she reviles nearly as much as anyone I've ever known hates anything. To this day I will never understand it, other than to say that my mother has proven to be the ultimate enabler -- those familiar with the various 12-step Anonymous programs will know exactly what I mean when I say that -- who simply is too willing to let her husband, the father of her children with whom she has spent every single night for the past 40+ years now, do whatever he wants, even at the cost of her own happiness.

There were more direct signs as well of my unwitting involvement in this. Shortly after moving from Boston to take my first in-house job as a lawyer for a major technology company in suburban New York City, I received a surprising letter one day from Fleet Bank in Boston, from whom I had acquired a credit card that I had actively used for the past several years since arriving in Boston back in the mid '90s. It seems that, unsolicitedly, Fleet Bank had decided to cut my credit limit from the $18,000 or whatever it was, down to a comparatively meager $3,000. Now, this wasn't a problem for me as I had almost no balance on the card at the time, and was in the habit of regularly paying it down every month or so. By any counts I had been a good customer of Fleet's and I remember thinking how odd for a bank to want to slice my potential credit unilaterally like this out of the blue. I even called them shortly after receiving this letter to inquire about the reason for the cut, and was told only one simple sentence, full of foreboding although even that went clear over my head at the time in the bliss of parental ignorance and the blindness of someone who could not conceive of the heights to which an addicted gambler would climb to get his fix. "Too much credit outstanding" is all Fleet would tell me, with no other discussion or details to be provided no matter how much I prodded or poked them about it.

At the time, I dismissed Fleet's action as one of a poorly-run bank with no concept of how to treat its good customers and how to keep its excellent clients happy. No matter, I had plenty of other credit cards and like I said, I had not been relying on them in any meaningful way in any event for my day-to-day standard of living, as I had been working in a big law firm and frankly had far more money than I had time to spend it all. So much so, that when a second credit card company abruptly decided to close my account -- never missed a payment, mind you -- maybe two or three months later, I also shrugged it off. The banks are tightening their credit standards I guess, is what I told myself at the time. It didn't matter, like I said, and I knew I wasn't missing any payments or anything or maxing out my credit lines, so I just didn't worry about it at all. Everything was fine and the banks were just being stoopid, right? Right?

How very very wrong I was.


Congratulations to Tilt Away (do you have a blog? Why not?!) for winning the Skills Series in razz on Tuesday (forgot to mention that yesterday), and congratulations to hellory (blog?) for taking down this week's Mookie as tilt away and hellory have now nabbed the two most recent BBT3 Tournament of Champions seats in this week's action. The list of non-bloggers or people who have not traditionally played with our group who are winning ToC seats is growing, and the percentage in the ToC of traditional members of our crowd are shrinking. Who will be the next to step up and defend our honor? Thursday night, 9pm ET at the Riverchasers, the brainchild organization of last night's Mookie runner-up Riggstad will be your next chance. Straight-up nlh tonight, again at an earlier start time than the rest of our event at 9pm ET, and the password as always is "riverchasers" on full tilt. I'm hoping to make a strong showing in the first Riverchasers tournament I will really play since Lost came back to the airwaves in its new Thursday night slot. See you then.

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Blogger 4dbirds said...

You are not alone. Thinking of you with empathy. My family member's addiction is of a different sort but these things ruin families in so many ways. Peace.

9:24 PM  
Blogger Julius_Goat said...

The 'Fiction' label is a clue, methinks.

Now that's what I call some WRITING son, keep it coming.

10:17 PM  
Blogger 4dbirds said...

Well it wouldn't be the first time I was a sucker for a sad story.

10:25 PM  
Blogger pokerpeaker said...

Great, great post Hoy. Please keep it coming. And I'm sorry.

10:58 PM  
Blogger Alan aka RecessRampage said...

Awesome post. Keep it coming!

1:24 AM  
Blogger Irongirl01 said...

BBT3 writing submission??? I saw the label of fiction.. And its something you never mentioned before.

1:28 AM  
Blogger StB said...

So that is how it is done. Toss a "fiction" tag on the bottom and no gets upset.

2:25 AM  
Blogger JJmt said...

Being a great fan of your MTT posts, I have to say this was also a great post. I'm from the Netherlands so my english isn't all that perfect, but I think your writing skills are awesome and it's also very enjoyable for a dutchman.


PS. If I could get involved in the Blogger Tournaments in any kind of way, I'd appreciate it very much. It seems a very fun competition and I'd love to play with guys like you.

3:05 AM  
Blogger BigPirate said...

Damn, I'm confused. I thought we were supposed to bare all our dirty secrets on these things.

Whatever. It's compelling.

3:22 AM  
Blogger KajaPoker said...

When I started reading I thought this was a work of fiction. But it was so well written that all I could do was shake my head. Then I saw the label and had to smile. We sometimes forget how good of a writer you are hoy. Keep it up!

4:21 AM  
Blogger BWoP said...

Excellent post, Hoy.

You certainly have a way with words, whether fiction or not.

I wasn't sure if it was a true story or not until I saw the label.

4:33 AM  
Blogger Wes said...

Very well written. Hope to read more.

4:53 AM  
Blogger Donkette said...

Great Post Hoy, keep the story coming......

11:50 AM  
Blogger Matt said...

I'm not about to waste time looking it up, but I seem to recall a prior post of yours discussing your desire to improve as a writer.

Consider this post proof that you have.

2:42 PM  
Blogger Gydyon said...

Nice work.

1:45 AM  
Blogger Rob1606 said...

See, I told you that you were a good writer!

7:59 PM  
Blogger Muddassar Shah said...

A credit card is particularly important when the money desperately. Most businesses and banks to take a month to accept an application for a credit card.
PVC cards

6:07 PM  

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