The Gambler by Kenny Rogers and Other Things I Remembered While Showering

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For someone with a laundry list of mental health issues, my brain has the uncanny ability to retain the weirdest shit but only launches it at me on its own twisted schedule. I will forget the name of someone who is standing right in front of me, who just moments before TOLD ME THEIR NAME but when it comes to remembering absolutely random details about something no one else remembers, I got you.

Cut to the other day while I was in the shower. It was just another evening of winding down, disassociating under the hot water, lathering, rinsing and repeating when out of nowhere my brain decided I spew forth lyrics from Kenny Rogers’ The Gambler.

Mind you, up until about 5 minutes ago when I sat down to write this, I had never properly heard the song before. Sure, in passing along the way, likely because it played over the MUZAK system at any one of my past jobs, I had heard the song but I have never listened to it. Even now when I played it, I was only half-paying attention to it. I guess it’s just one of those songs you KNOW whether you like it or not.

As if singing those random lines wasn’t enough, my brain then launched itself down memory lane.

The song brought back memories of a man I used to work with when I was in college. At that time, I was working as a manager at a grocery store. We had hired an older man as a bag boy whose name I vaguely remember but for the sake of his privacy, I’m going to call him Barry.

Unless his name is actually Barry, in which case, I’m an asshole.

I don’t think it was known to anyone at the time, but Barry was an alcoholic. He was a very nice guy and he started off great. He was very pleasant to talk to and did his job- bagging groceries, getting carts from the parking lot, cleaning, etc.

The reason the song “The Gambler” sparked any sort of memory of Barry is because it was his go-to karaoke song. I never attended karaoke with Barry but he would always talk about singing his favorite song at karaoke each week. He would let off a few bars and carry on with his work, humming some Kenny Rogers.

Barry started coming to work drunk and despite multiple chances, he didn’t end up working out as an employee. We would still see him on occasion because it was a small town and we were the only grocery store.

One night he came in and it was obvious to everyone in the building that he was hammered off his ass. He stumbled over to the beer and wine section of the store and grabbed a big bottle of wine. It was chardonnay. Not an important detail but I can see the entire moment vividly in my mind as I write this.

It was later in the night so we only had two cashiers on and I had already told them not to sell to him. But it was more than that. There were a wild number of possibilities as to what was going to happen when we refused service to him. He could get belligerent, violent or, even more terrifying; he could get back behind the wheel of his car.

Thankfully, he ended up at the register of a younger cashier. To explain: the law prohibits anyone under the age of 18 from selling or even handling alcohol. So the cashier had no choice but to turn to someone older to scan the alcohol.

The person working in customer service was old enough but I told them to stay put as I was already on the phone with the police. Thankfully, the police department was right across the street from the store so this all happened pretty quickly.

Barry had enough sense about him to be patient about the delay in the purchase. He slurred at the young cashier, “oh, you’re not old enough?”

My call to the police department had ended but I pretended I was still on the call and gave the “one minute” signal while my customer service person pretended he wasn’t old enough to help either.

After just a few minutes the police came. They did whatever it is they do to assess the situation and determined that he was not fit to drive. Barry admitted that he had been drinking and that he had driven to the store under the influence. In talking to one of the officers later, he told me they knew which car was his because it was not even parked in a spot- it had been left haphazard in the lot right in front of the store.

I immediately felt horrible about the fact that I had just gotten someone arrested. Come to find out, Barry was well known to these officers and any chances he had left had run out.

I honestly can’t remember what ever happened after that. I don’t remember if I had ever seen Barry again after that night. I think maybe I had, months later, but that might be some sort of wishful thinking.

At the end of the day, I know I did the right thing but I can’t help but sit here and wonder why that very specific memory has decided to stick around in my brain. Even the officers had thanked us for calling and not letting him leave. But here I am sitting here feeling guilty about something that happened well over a decade ago and would feel worse if I had let him buy alcohol and/or drive away and something horrible happened to him or someone else.

Whoever is in charge of my memories is an asshole.

I really have no idea why The Gambler was in my brain but here we are. I do know that music has always played a very strange role in my life and my memory. This is a big part of the reason why You’re Doing It Wrong is called my mixtape memoir and every chapter title is a song title.

Music is magical like that. I actually can’t hear the album The Sign by Ace of Base without being transported back into our basement in Lynn, Massachusetts when I would listen to that CD obsessively while playing with my massive LEGO village.

At this point I’m rambling because I really don’t know how to end this.

My brain is weird, we can just leave it at that.

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