I drive to work past the casino every day. And there are pictures of this guy everywhere. He's the poster man for Potawatomi and he makes me cringe.
"Oh! I hate him!" I'll yell, whenever he's on TV or a billboard I happen to be passing. Tad laughs at me.
But today I drove by his big billboard on Canal Street and I experienced that familiar rush of dislike and then I thought.....he might be a perfectly nice guy. Maybe it's just the image he's acting out that I don't like.
The billboard in question showed him surrounded by "beautiful" women. And I tell you...I've been inside the casino and I have never seen people looking like the people on the billboard, all fresh-faced and airbrushed. Wouldn't it be interesting if the billboard was a picture of the people really inside?
I realized that maybe I don't like him because he represents addiction in my mind.
And in some ways, addiction has taken center stage of much of my life.
I've been in a casino with someone who can't stop gambling.
And what I see is not flashy and sparkly like the ads, but hazy with desperation and want.
I've been in a bar with someone who can't stop drinking.
There are no smiling laughing faces, but the stink of booze and eyes swimming in an unreachable fog.
I've held the hand of someone shaking through the withdrawal of quitting drugs.
It's sickeningly, sobering, all quaking and pain and fear.
I decided when I was twelve years old that I would never drink alcohol and have spent every one of the twenty-six years since deflecting offers and pressure and near forcible handing of drinks to me, laughing it off every time. Because of my experience, it's hard for me to see a glass of wine for what it is: a glass of wine. For me it represents disappearance and loss and the rocking of an unsteady boat lost at sea.
But I know for some people it really can just be a glass of wine. I guess the same goes for the casino guy. He's just an actor. A trip to Potawatomi is just a trip to Potawatomi in so many cases.
And really, many of the people I love best in this world are people who were in that hazy world of addiction and pulled themselves out. And they are the realest, truest people I know. Maybe going through that haze is part of what brought them there.