The Lies We Tell Ourselves

At Christmastime, I left town to spend 10 days with my family. When I returned, just before New Year’s Day, I asked The Human Computer for his $500 share of the rent. He didn’t have it. While I’d been gone, Kenny had called, pleading another emergency. The Human Computer took a train to the suburbs to lend him more money.

“This guy owes you ninety thousand dollars, and you give him more money?” I hated lecturing anyone. It’s one reason I ignored my mother’s advice to become a teacher. But I had to make the rent. The Human Computer hung his head.

“Sorry, Dad,” he said, in an artificially deep voice that mocked abashment, but still sounded abashed. “I’m getting paid next week. I promise I’ll have the money for you then.”

I read a longread this morning about a 40-something-year-old author who meets a bunch of professional gamblers at a racetrack, and ends up taking one of them in as a roommate to make his $1,000 monthly rent.

When it come to money, the story has multiple layers to it.

The first is that this person the author refers to as The Human Computer (because he carries around a computer with spreadsheets on it at the racetracks), was so unhappy with his job working 70 hours a week troubleshooting a computer at a bank, that he quit it to become a full-time gambler — a “professional horseplayer.”

The second is that there is a character in this story named The Scholar (an ex-college dean), who wisely tells The Human Computer: “You can’t live off your bets” and “you’ve got to have something on the side,” so he helps The Human Computer get a job writing for a gambling publication.

And then there was this element of this story that was the most interesting to me, that this gambler was losing so much money — not from his gambling addiction — but from lending thousands of dollars to a neighbor’s nephew named Kenny. It seemed as if The Human Computer would rather lose his home, than stop lending money to a mysterious kid who needed his help.

And here is the twist, and perhaps the most interesting part of the story: There probably wasn’t a Kenny. Nobody actually saw this kid in real life. The gambler had made up a fictional person to explain away his gambling losses. He made up a lie to convince himself and everyone around him that he had lost $90,000 by lending it to a kid who relied on his generosity, when the truth was probably that he had simply lost all his money by being a gambling addict.

The story is here. Think about the little lies you tell yourself to convince yourself that it’s okay to do things that aren’t so good for you.

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