The everlasting blessings bestowed by this event make it one of the most Distinctive Occasion Of My 20s (DOOM20).
I enjoy a little light gambling from time to time, mostly taking the form of playing scratch-off games about twice a year. The recent rise of sports betting across the United States has put gambling as a whole in the spotlight, and I can say that I’m not a fan. Aside from in Las Vegas, the epicenter of American debauchery, organized sports betting has no place in our culture. There are countless stories from the past of how gambling can ruin the integrity of sports, and the fact that every major league has partnered with at least one sportsbook is disappointing.
That being said, “disorganized” sports betting is fair game, and in 2016 it helped transform my fledgling first apartment into the pinnacle of entertainment.
I moved from my parents’ house to Sunnyside, Queens on the last day of January 2016. Having never experienced stress before in my life, I was unprepared for the anxiety and tension brought about by the whirlwind timeline of viewing the apartment for the first time and moving in in under a week. It was only after Sunday, January 31 did I finally start to relax. Mixed in with that first-apartment tension was a period of frugality. Anyone who’s moved knows it isn’t cheap, especially after having to pay an additional broker fee to secure the apartment.
For the first week of February, in the lead up to Super Bowl 50 between the Denver Broncos and Carolina Panthers on February 7, a coworker in the finance department, Matt, had been emailing the entire agency to promote an office pool. For $20 a pop, one could buy a “square” in a 10×10 grid. Once all boxes had been purchased, numbers 0-9 would be randomly assigned to each axis of the grid, representing the ones place of the score at the end of a quarter (ie, 1 for a score of 21 for the home team, 7 for a score of 17 for the away team). By randomizing after the fact, early entrants can’t hoard boxes with common scores (like 7-0). At the beginning of the week, when I was still high on new-apartment jitters, I dismissed the pool as unnecessary gambling that I wouldn’t take part in. It would be hard to rationalize participation between slurps of ramen.
Sentiments began to change by the end of the week. On Friday, Matt was walking around the floor trying to sell the two remaining squares on the board. Eventually, he popped his head into the room I shared with fellow editors Dan, Dana, Dave, and David (you can imagine how left out I felt working there). Matt tried to sweet talk us by saying how much fun it was to take part. A week removed from my move, and in the interest of cultivating camaraderie with my relatively new coworkers, I relented and wrote my name into one of the final boxes in the top-left corner of the grid. Later that day, Matt found one final sucker to buy a box, and the game was set.
At the end of the work day on Friday, Matt emailed to everyone who bought a square the updated grid with numbers assigned. I had been assigned:
As far as numbers go, this gave me a pretty good shot to win something. I figured if the Denver defense could put up some 0s, the corpse of Peyton Manning could score two touchdowns by halftime to give me a match with 14-0 and a decent payout. Things were coming up Jacob!
My roommate and I didn’t splurge on cable for our new apartment, and with Time Warner backlogged we had to wait more than a week for someone to set up our internet access. Thankfully, I had packed a digital tuner to watch broadcast TV over the air. A pair of bunny ears stuck out from behind the TV, just as our ancestors enjoyed television years earlier. Reception was spectacular in Sunnyside; we had over 40 channels at our disposal, including all of the major networks. CBS came in crystal clear.
To my dismay, the game did not begin with the outcome I’d hoped for. While Denver did keep Carolina from scoring in the first quarter, the Broncos put up 10 points, making it extremely unlikely that I’d have matching numbers any earlier than the third quarter. Still, I hunkered down on my couch, determined to at least enjoy the commercials while awaiting the final outcome.
By midway through the fourth quarter, I had seen enough. Per my estimates, with a score of Broncos 16, Panthers 10, it was extremely unlikely that Denver would score 8 additional points, all while keeping Carolina from scoring, to secure a victory. As it was getting late, I crawled into bed to perform my usual nighttime routine of doom scrolling on Twitter. As I browsed, one Tweet in particular caught my eye. I can’t find it now thanks to whatever shenanigans Elon has been up to, but it went something along the lines of “Peyton must have 4-0 in his Super Bowl pool #SB50”
Hey, those were my numbers!
A quick check of ESPN confirmed that the Broncos had not only scored a touchdown, but had successfully converted a surprising 2-point conversion. I never doubted them for a second!
After seeing that Tweet I emerged from my room to watch the final minutes tick down again with my roommate. Carolina never made it close, but I was metaphorically biting my nails. It was only after the game was officially over that I could breath. I had won the last quarter of the Super Bowl pool, which meant a 50x return on my investment. It was hard to sleep that night given how giddy I was. A cool $1000 was waiting for me. Instead of counting sheep, I eventually dozed off thinking of all the ways I could spend my winnings.
I was one of the first people in the office on Monday morning. To say I was excited would be an understatement. Shortly after 9:00, rather than wait for him to come to me, I found Matt at his desk on the other side of the office where the finance department sat. He hadn’t even logged into his computer yet, but he knew right away why I’d come over.
“Of course you’re here now,” he said. “One second.” He unlocked the bottom drawer of his desk and pulled out the envelope everyone’s entry money had gone into. He counted out $1000 in 20s and handed them over to me. It wasn’t the first time I’d held $1000 or more in my hands, but it was the first time that it was my $1000. I thanked Matt and wasted no time excusing myself from the D-room to sprint to Wells Fargo across the street to deposit the cash. The last thing I wanted was for the money to suddenly go missing.
I had considered using the majority of the money to pay off the next month’s rent, but that option was quickly dismissed. Contrary to logic, found money should never go toward boring things like rent or groceries. As someone who rarely treats himself to shopping sprees, it was difficult to settle on what exactly I wanted for myself. It took some soul searching, but by Friday of that week I had finally come to a conclusion about my first purchase.
A Wii U.
I had my eyes set on Nintendo’s much-maligned console for a while. By early 2016, less than 4 years into its life, it was clear that the system was already a commercial failure, selling only a tenth of what the original Wii had sold. Oddly enough, that fact made me want it even more. Ever the fan of the underdog, I knew it would fit right in slotted next to my GameCube (the previous record holder for worst-performing Nintendo home console).
I was all set to buy the Wii U on Friday after clocking out until the reality of working in pharmaceutical advertising set in. At a 4:30 PM meeting, the team I was assigned to was asked to stay late to finish a project. The prospect of a late night didn’t scare me, especially since I would be eligible for a comped dinner after 6:30, but I was concerned that I wouldn’t make it back in time to Sunnyside before the local GameStop closed at 9:00. Those concerns were validated when I returned home from the office around 10:00 that night with a stomach full of Indian food and the resolve to get to GameStop as soon as it opened the next day.
I slept in a little Saturday morning, and had to do laundry, so after a quick detour to the laundromat close to my building I arrived at GameStop only about 30 minutes after it opened. The store was empty save for myself and the employee behind the counter. With confidence rarely seen by someone making such a request, I approached the register and said, “Hello. I would like to buy a Wii U.” The employee looked a little shocked, but didn’t let it phase him as he retrieved a black Wii U/Mario Kart bundle from the back. I also secured a new copy of Super Smash Bros. 4 and the GameCube controller adapter. There were more games I would enjoy playing in the years ahead, but to start my journey there were no better games at the time to sink hours into than Nintendo’s premier racing and fighting games.
Several weeks later I would return to that same GameStop to pick up a used PlayStation 3, as well as venture to the Best Buy on the other end of the neighborhood for what might be the last dumb TV LG ever made. Inspired by my roommate who had a TV in his room, but not yet subscribed to any streaming services (though considering it), I had posted a poll on Facebook asking if I should get a smart TV with a dumb DVD player, or a dumb TV with a smart Blu-Ray player (I was convinced I’d be catching up on shows and movies by taking out discs from the library [which I still do now on the rare occasion it’s not on one of the 20 different streamers I subscribe to]). In a comment, a friend suggested I go for a game console, and I honestly don’t know why I hadn’t considered that option earlier since that was how my roommate watched the Sopranos and Mad Men. After doing a little research pitting Xbox vs PlayStation, Sony came out on top. The 24” TV and the PS3 were the last purchases I attributed to the Super Bowl pool jackpot (I DID end up saving some of it, frugal me).
Flash-forward 7 years, and the technology I purchased in 2016 is still being put to good use to this day. The PS3 moved from my bedroom to the living room, and the small TV has been made smart via a Roku device, but other than that I’m living life just like I did during the Obama administration. The Wii U in particular continues to hold a place in my heart as my primary gaming machine, an attachment I promise to elaborate on in a future DOOM20 essay.
Honorable mentions for other important moments of 2016: Surviving a hellish April, My one and only successful NaNoWriMo, First crossing of the Queensboro