I try to live like a senior citizen.

Humiliating myself for fun and profit.
Aug. 23 2006 7:30 AM

A Visit to My Future

Bingo. 3 p.m. dinner. Leisure World. What happens when I try to live like a senior citizen.

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"It's free!" Ann almost shrieks at me, holding out the bear. "Look, it's adorable. It's musical. I've got great-grandchildren but I might keep it for myself." I give in, enter the sweepstakes, then follow Addie to the end of the casino to retrieve our bears. Finally, it's time to play, and that means slots. Or rather, penny slots—the cheapest games in the house. Addie explains that to get some bang for my pennies, I should play two lines at a time, meaning 18 cents per spin. I follow her advice and in a matter of minutes my $20 has turned into $14.89. While Addie goes off to cash in some more coupons she has found, I hop to the dollar slots, where I instantly lose $5. I rush back to the penny slots before she can see me. I finish dumping what's left of my $20 into the slots and put in $10 more. Fortunately, it is now 3 p.m. and we all meet and head for the buffet. We have to get there before 3:30, when the price jumps from $15.95 plus tax to $18.95 plus tax.

It is no surprise that Addie has coupons for this, too—a "buy one get one free" and a voucher. She tries to parlay this into a meal for herself and Charlotte, but the cashier demands that Addie pay full price for one, much to her confusion. But when we get into the buffet and show our tickets, the server says we've been overcharged. Just as Addie thought, and she goes back to the cashier to straighten it out. Addie comes back in and says a supervisor is looking into it, and she finally gets to eat. But when we get back outside, the supervisor insists that Addie has been charged correctly. This makes no sense given all her coupons and the observation of the server. Forty minutes and three supervisors later, Addie gets $8.60 back but is warned that she can't again combine a "buy one get one free" coupon and a voucher for the same meal.

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With time running out, it's back to the penny slots. Addie and I bounce around several machines unluckily, until I sit down at one and stick in yet another $20 bill. This machine is hot. I follow Addie's advice, playing my 18 cents, and while I frequently lose, I also regularly hit enough to win $1.70, even $3.60 at a time. I sit fixed at this machine for more than an hour. I can barely pull myself away—I'm up $1.92!—but it's bus departure time.

At first I thought playing penny slots was faintly ridiculous—who cares about winning or losing when you're talking about pennies? But now I understand. When you're deep into the active-adult part of your life, after your children are raised, your career is over, and your spouse is buried, the purpose of the slot machine is not to take your money, but your time.

Addie and I meet up and head to the bus. She's given back the $45 to the casino, plus $10 of her own money. But, as she points out, it's less than she would spend at a dinner theater and she's had more fun. On the bus ride home I ask Addie if she ever worries about her future. She doesn't. "This is a happy time of my life. If I can't take care of myself anymore, my daughter says I can move in with her." And when it's all over, she's donating her body to science.

At 11 p.m., right around their usual bedtime, we're back at Leisure World. The three women pile into Addie's Chevy Blazer for the short ride to their condos. As they pull off, Ann calls out the window at me, "Bye, kiddo!" I have never felt so young.