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Lucky Day

Jacob L. Freedman

Zaki got an addictive thrill from risking it all

Wednesday, January 23, 2019

I

 

Z

aki loved “The Game.” Some folks would call it legalized gambling, the way he’d jump recklessly into one high-stakes venture after another. Others would just call it crazy.

Zaki had inherited two nursing homes from a wealthy great-uncle who’d died childless. With this as a lucky start to his wild career, he’d built himself up and had crashed back just as hard no less than a dozen times.

Where others would take these initial successes and carefully invest in safe opportunities as they arose, Zaki was interested in “serious greatness” and couldn’t resist the urge to place his bets.

He’d turned the two initial nursing homes into four by playing the mortgage game a few times before running into trouble. By age 25 he’d lost nearly all of his assets — 19 homes in three states. His wife was a bit unnerved but, according to Zaki, “trusted me completely because we still had gas for the car.”

By age 29 he was well entrenched in the tech market and the money was rolling in again, until the bubble burst. Gas or no gas, the car was gone — he was forced to liquidate his Lexus SUV as part of the bankruptcy agreement.

This was a guy who’d made it and lost it more times than Trump himself. He’d found out about cryptocurrency years before anyone else had even heard of Bitcoin yet had it all erased on a start-up gamble that proved utterly fruitless.

“I’ve got plenty of mazel left,” he joked with me during our first visit. “Seriously, Doc, my wife’s name is Mazal so I know it’s gonna be good ’cuz I’ve got her.”

“I know,” I said. “She was the one who called me crying, begging to set up the appointment for you.” 

His charm may have ingratiated him with other players, investors, and buddies, but it didn’t win me over. Here was a fellow who not only didn’t care to change, he didn’t even think he had a problem. Yet acknowledging the problem is always a necessary Step One before tackling it.

But as he became a regular in my office over the following month, it was clear that while Zaki wasn’t hooked on drugs or alcohol, he had a serious addiction to “The Game.” He got an intense, addictive thrill from risking it all. And while the uncertainty of this life would have crushed your average Yossi into choosing a more predictable livelihood, Zaki just couldn’t stop. I’d tried to probe a number of times to see where this reckless drive came from but he always shook it off with a superficial grin. Whatever was driving him down this path wasn’t surfacing.

“I love it!” he would tell me as he described his giant mahogany desk with three computer screens and four phones. “This is where I’m at my best.”

“Or worst, depending on who you ask,” I replied.

“What are you talking about, Doc? Come on, it’s all good.”

“Your wife asked me to read this e-mail to you, Zaki: ‘I can’t do this anymore. It was cute when we were 20, it was a bit concerning when we had our first kid and you were still doing it, it was nerve-racking when we lost our house the second time, and now I’m done. You need to choose soon because it’s either me and the kids or ‘The Game.’ ”

Zaki just laughed. “Her sister put her up to that one. Mazal loves having a big swimming pool and a new custom sheitel every year.”

Yet Mazal was apparently pretty serious when Zaki came back the following week to tell me that she’d headed back to stay with her parents.

“It’s only for a few days,” he predicted.

But Zaki had read this market wrong, and Mazal sent another e-mail before our next appointment letting me know that Zaki needed to get a stable job and give up “The Game” or she was headed for a divorce.

“Should I call her bluff?” Zaki thought out loud as I read her newest message.

He’d lost some of his trademark swagger and even though he’d done well picking up lucrative securities in a bear market, Mazal didn’t seem too impressed. She wanted to know when he’d take a regular job or when she could expect her get.

Mazal’s e-mail to me the following week was 13 words and blunt as could be: “This is your chance to set him right before I call a lawyer.”

Zaki heard, but he was still fighting. “You don’t know how good ‘The Game’ is, Doc. It keeps you alive!”

“Kids keep you alive, Zaki. Divorce attorneys make you wish you were dead.”

“You got me,” he said as he slumped down in his chair. “You got me, Doc. But hey, I’m not going out without a fight.” He grinned, taking a quarter out of his pocket and flipping it up and down. “Heads I give it up for good and get a regular boring job. Tails I bring her back and lie about it and hope I get lucky.”

“Your wife would love to hear that we’re flipping a coin on your marriage’s future,” I said.

He threw the coin up and caught it in his opposite hand before flipping it over on the back of his palm and revealing a Heads. If he was really good to his word, this meant he was headed toward the smart path of a regular job and keeping his family together.

“Eizeh mazal, huh Doc?” he grinned. “Two out of three?”

I tried not to look horrified but Zaki immediately caught me and yelled out, “Gotcha Doc! Ha! I really got you with this coin flip. You think I’m crazy, gambling on my family like that?”

Our time was almost up, and I had a fleeting thought if now was the time to buy low on his stock and watch it shoot through the roof. And, for the first time, it seemed like there was a flicker of a serious face under all the hype.

“Doc, do you think there’s really something wrong with me?” he said with a look that suggested he was finally open to some feedback.

“Zaki, you might survive this recession, but if you don’t figure this out soon you’re gonna be very alone very fast. We have to figure out why you have this drive to play ‘The Game.’ We need to figure out what keeps on bringing you back. Like the addict who’s self-medicating his anxiety or drinking away his sorrows, unless we can correct the underlying problem, you’re gonna run right back as soon as you get the next e-mail for a new investment. We need to find out what’s driving this reckless desire in the face of the objective and pending disaster, or your wife will be gone for good.”

“What, like I start to tell you about what it was like to be the ben zekunim of Holocaust survivors? The financial straits we faced as kids? The no-hugs policy lest we too would have to separate one day? The thrill of the jackpot? The rush I get when I think about being the next Wolfson billionaire?”

“Something like that, Zaki,” I said. “Whatever it is, it’s time to touch it and try to move past it before—”

“Before my mazel runs out,” he interrupted.

Identifying details have been changed to protect the privacy of patients, their families, and all other parties.

Originally featured in Mishpacha, Issue 745. Jacob L. Freedman is a psychiatrist and business consultant based in Israel. When he’s not busy with his patients, Dr. Freedman can be found learning Torah in The Old City or hiking the hills outside of Jerusalem.  Dr. Freedman can be reached most easily through his website www.drjacoblfreedman.com.

 

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