Poetry is a beloved literary genre that utilizes the hidden beauty of language to express certain prosaic truths and morals. From Wikipedia, poetry is “a form of literature that evokes a concentrated imaginative awareness of experience or a specific emotional response through language chosen and arranged for its meaning, sound and rhythm.”
Although poetry has existed since prehistoric times and has been cherished by many, it is not everyone’s cup of tea (if you would allow the poetic license). Some people find poetry rather silly. And then there are others who enjoy the overall sound of poetry but do not quite appreciate the meaning.
When Barry Schlongputz was a young boy, one of his favorite activities was visiting his uncle Max. Max Schlongputz was a self-proclaimed connoisseur of English literature and poetry, and enjoyed reading and teaching his favorite poems to little Barry. Barry never did understand any of it, but certain sentences and phrases stood out.
Max sat with Barry in the evenings and read poems and sonnets by some of the most popular and famous poets, including William Shakespeare, Edgar Allen Poe, Emily Dickinson, Robert Frost, Walt Whitman, Alexander Pushkin and others. Barry enjoyed the sound of his uncle’s voice and the way his uncle stressed certain words. But he remained oblivious to the underlying meaning of the poems.
Barry did remember a variety of colorful phrases, such as these:
- How do I love thee? Let me count the ways.
- I think I shall never see, a poem as lovely as a tree.
- Tis better to have loved and lost, then never to have loved at all.
- To err is human; to forgive, divine.
One particular poem did have an impact on Barry’s psyche. It was the poem “If” by Rudyard Kipling. One specific passage imprinted itself in Barry’s subconscious:
If you can make one heap of all your winnings
And risk it on one turn of pitch-and-toss,
And lose, and start again at your beginnings
And never breathe a word about your loss;
If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew
To serve your turn when there is nothing in you,
Except the Will which says to them: “Hold on.”
Although he didn’t understand the underlying meaning of the excerpt, he determined that some day he would do as the poem commanded.
Thirty years later, Barry was living comfortably in a quiet community in New Jersey. He had a stable job as an optician and had purchased a lovely home in a gated community. And that is when Barry remembered the Rudyard Kipling poem and its message.
Responding to the command within the poem, Barry decided to sell his house and head to Las Vegas, where he would “make one heap of all his winnings and risk it on one turn of pitch-and-toss.” The sale price of Barry’s house was $350,000. That is the amount of cash he had in his pocket upon arrival.
Checking in to the Bellagio Hotel on the Strip, he settled into his room, showered, dressed, and headed down to the casino. He purchased $350,000 worth of chips and walked straight to the roulette table.
Arriving at the table, he observed the action for a few minutes before making his move. A lovely young woman struck up a conversation with him, and made it clear she wanted to spend some time with him.
The moment had arrived, and Barry plunked the entire mountain of chips on black. The dealer stopped for a few seconds and looked at the pile of chips, then at Barry’s face, then down at the chips again. He then questioned Barry.
“Excuse me, sir. Are you sure you want to place that bet? It’s win or lose. That’s a lot of money to bet on one single turn of the wheel.”
Barry stated without hesitation, “Yes, I’m sure. I know what I’m doing."
The dealer held the table briefly and called his supervisor, Frank, the pit boss. Frank appeared within seconds. The dealer explained his concern to the supervisor, and the supervisor in turn spoke to Barry.
“Sir, I just want to make sure you understand that you could lose that entire amount in one single throw of the wheel. Are you absolutely sure you want to proceed?”
Barry again said, “Yes, let’s go. Let it ride!”
The supervisor looked at the dealer and nodded his permission to continue.
The dealer spun the wheel vigorously and then injected the small metal marble in the opposite direction of the wheel’s angular momentum. The metal ball continued in its path, circling the top of the wheel. Then, the ball dropped down into the wheel’s numerous sections and bounced several times before stopping on a certain color.
The dealer exclaimed loudly and happily, “Black! You win, sir. That’s two to one for you.”
Barry smiled broadly while the surrounding crowd cheered the successful outcome. The supervisor produced a small bag into which all the chips were swept, and Barry was escorted to the cashier, where he exchanged the bag of chips for $700,000 in large bills.
Barry made a quick phone call to his uncle Max to give him the good news.
With his pockets stuffed with cash, Barry suggested to his new girlfriend a dinner and subsequent celebration, to which the young lady agreed with enthusiasm. The couple decided to have their dinner delivered to Barry’s room.
Dinner and champagne arrived and the couple ate with alacrity. Following dinner, Barry and his young escort celebrated in the only appropriate way, especially considering that they were in Las Vegas.
After enjoying the moment, the two, now spent of energy and sprawled across the bed, kissed gently as the clock approached midnight and discussed the day’s exciting denouement.
“Barry, may I ask you a question?”
“Of course, Lucinda. Anything.”
“Well, I’m just wondering why you came to Las Vegas and risked your life savings on one single roll of a roulette wheel. It doesn’t seem to make sense. What if you had lost?”
Barry was silent for a moment, but then responded.
“Lucinda, my uncle Max taught me about poetry when I was a kid. And one poem really stuck with me. It’s a poem by Rudyard Kipling called “If.” It stated that, if a person could risk all his winnings on one turn of pitch-and-toss, and lose, and start again at his beginnings, and never breathe a word about his loss, then he would be a man. So, I came to Las Vegas to live out the poem’s message.”
Lucinda was briefly speechless.
“Barry, we haven’t had much time yet to get to know one another, but I happen to be a professor of English at the University of Nevada, and I think you may have misinterpreted the poem.”
With a furrowed brow, Barry asked, “I did?”
“Well, yes. I really don’t want to deflate your excitement, but let me point out a few things. First of all, the poem is really not to be taken literally. It’s allegorical. It’s meant to express an image of a man’s character, but it’s not a command to accomplish these things. Secondly, you really didn’t accomplish what the poem stated. You didn’t risk your winnings. You cashed out after winning. Thirdly, roulette is not pitch-and-toss. Fourthly, you called your uncle Max to tell him about it. The poem states unequivocally that you shouldn’t have breathed a word about it. Fifthly, you didn’t lose. In other words, you didn’t do anything contained in the poem, besides the fact that it wasn’t meant as an instruction to do anything.”
Barry thought about the analysis and proffered, “Well, I’ll be a monkey’s uncle!”
Lucinda responded, “I think that might be Max’s line.”
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This was pretty funny and a lot of fun!