Winners and Losers

Debbie Graber

There are two kinds of people in this world: Winners and losers. Winners know on a primal level that they are heads and shoulders above losers. This winner was drinking a beer, watching the game at Bumpers when he noticed an average loser crying like a ten-year-old girl while mangling the lyrics to “Faithfully.” The winner asked the loser, whose name turned out to be Joe Grant (typical loser name) what the problem was. Joe replied that his girlfriend dumped him. The winner thought he would cheer Joe up by buying him a beer, which turned into Joe and the winner getting shitfaced on shots of Wild Turkey. Winners are generous with their time and money.

When the winner tried to pay the tab at the end of the night (typical winner move), the bartender informed him his debit card was declined. The winner told her that made no sense. He’d asked his parents the day before to please deposit forty dollars into his account, and he was pretty sure they had come through. The bartender ran the card again without success. The winner tried to explain how bank deposits can take extra long to clear when they are made from a different time zone. Winners are very tenacious.

Winners attract losers at bars because winners give off an air of self-confidence. Sometimes they go a step further and allow losers to believe they are winners. That’s why the winner let Joe Grant pay the $72.50 bar tab. He even let Joe Grant buy him a big waffle stack at the Jack in the Box across the street. Winners are gracious that way.

When Joe said his call center job at the cable company was going to lead to a manager position one day, the winner nodded in agreement even though he knew Joe would be wearing a headset for the rest of his life. As Joe droned on about how he was taking management courses through the University of Phoenix, the winner sipped his Coors Light and changed the subject to football. The winner knew it was inconsiderate to take the wind out of a loser’s sails. Losers need to hold on tightly to their dreams, no matter how ill-conceived they might be. Winners recognize that losers are losers for life.

The winner spent a lot of nights at Bumpers listening to Joe’s grandiose plans. Sometimes the winner had to tune Joe out. The winner found that doing whip-its in the parking lot beforehand really helped with this. It also loosened the winner up. One night, a couple of hot girls came in, and the winner definitely had his flirt on. Winners are courageous. The winner was a little loopy from all the whip-its, but he was game when the girls started doing shots of Jagermeister, and even later when they switched to tequila. Winners roll with the punches.

The winner vaguely remembers one of the girls saying something about teaching kickboxing at the Y. The winner remembers telling her that even though he had never tried kickboxing before, there was no way a girl would be able to take him down. Winners know that girls lack the kill factor, and they aren’t shy about saying it.

The winner can’t really remember what happened next, but somehow he ended up splayed out on the Trivia Whiz machine, looking down at his bloody tooth. Even winners occasionally forget that doing shots after eating nothing but a bean and cheese burrito all day is not the formula for success. Winners try to learn from the few mistakes they make.

Loser Joe Grant left the winner moaning on the floor while he sucked face with the hot kickboxer, and then had the temerity to drive off without the winner. Joe had driven the winner to Bumpers, because the air-conditioning in the winner’s Toyota Tercel was making that funny noise again. Losers have no idea how hard it is to find a cab at two o’clock in the morning on a Tuesday night. But winners are resourceful. A winner will limp after an off duty bus for two blocks before giving up the fight. A winner is willing to sleep on a bus bench, only to be woken up by a man in a tin foil hat claiming dibs.

Winners don’t judge others. It’s against their nature. Winners believe that with a tremendous amount of work and intestinal fortitude, anyone can become a winner, even though for most losers, it’s impossible. Once at a barbecue, this winner met a loser from Denmark who wanted to become President of the United States. Winners know full well that a Denmarkian or whatever a loser from Denmark is called cannot become President. Why? Because it’s the law. And who creates laws? Winners.

This winner was not about to call the Denmarkian loser a total fucking idiot. That would be mean, and winners reserve meanness for extreme situations, like being stuck behind someone driving a Prius. The winner instead flashed the loser from Denmark a friendly smile. Winners know that a smile is an effective way to disguise feelings of rage.

Winners don’t set out to make big impressions, but they often do. The Danish loser would no doubt email his friends back home about the charming winner he met. He would write about how terrific a listener the winner was. The Denmarkian would probably write that the Euro-socialist claptrap he was spewing did not seem to disgust the winner. In fact, the winner was disgusted, but winners have learned how to transform disgust into enthusiasm.

The winner munched on his hot dog, and suggested that one day, the loser from Denmark could become a loser governor of California, like Arnold Schwarzenegger. The winner chose not to mention that he’d move to Nevada if a commie Scandinavian was ever elected and allowed to legislate his pinko ideas. To paraphrase the winner Aaron Sorkin, losers cannot handle the truth.

If the loser asshole from Denmark had half a brain, he would have recognized that the discussion was getting out of control. The loser should have guessed that something was brewing when the winner’s cheeks turned bright red and the vein on his forehead began to bulge. Instead, the Danish loser kept talking about how wonderful the health coverage is in Denmark and about how unfunny Will Ferrell is. Paying special attention to social cues is the trait of a winner, not a loser.

Winners are often the greatest guys at barbecues because they know when it’s time to leave, even though their exit may seem kind of abrupt. Winners know to disregard comments they hear from others, like “Dude, why are you being such a douche?” and “Hey bro, can’t Jurgen have an opinion?”

Winners understand it is better to storm out of Joe Grant’s backyard, tossing a Coors Light into the pool on the way, rather than come to blows with a Danish loser. Brawling with a man in clogs is behavior unbecoming of a winner.

Winners do not attend many loser barbecues, because for some reason, they do not get invited more than once. You might think being a winner would be lonely, but it’s not. Winners would rather chat with other winners about “Match Game” on the Game Show Network message boards than attend a loser barbecue anyway.

Winners realize that losers need to talk incessantly about their own neuroses, like how they are convinced that they are their own worst enemies. When a loser says that the universe has big plans for her if she could just get out of her own way, the winner would only pretend to listen. In reality, the winner suspects there is no way in hell this loser is ever going to get out of her own way, or for that matter, anyone else’s, since her ass has gotten so huge.

The winner has laser-focused insight into this loser’s pathetic brand of self-delusion, because this loser is the winner’s older sister Pam.

Growing up in New Jersey in the 1980s, the winner struggled with cystic acne throughout his adolescence and endured years of cruelty from many losers. You would not expect though that the worst insults came from his very own sister. Using hurtful nicknames like “Captain Crusty” is behavior typical of a loser. So is ruining the winner’s high school graduation by telling him his purple tassel “matched his zits.” Some losers are bigger bitches than others.

When Pam showed up at Thanksgiving last year wearing plus-sized jeans, the winner didn’t make a crack about her weight gain. When Pam’s thirteen year-old daughter Gabriella texted all the way through dinner and didn’t look up once, the winner didn’t comment on how rotten a parent Pam turned out to be. The winner instead was quietly satisfied that Pam would always be relegated to the universe of losers. This loser universe includes Pam, Pam’s ex-husband Dean and her current boyfriend Ira, whom she met at an Overeaters Anonymous meeting. Ira seems like an okay guy, but a winner has too much self-control to ever need a 12-step program.

That night, Pam cornered the winner in his old bedroom in their parents’ house. She said that her OA sponsor (loser) told her that she needed to make amends for making fun of him. The winner said he forgave her. He even allowed Pam to give him a hug. Even though the winner would have rather vomited up his own intestinal tract than to have to physically touch Pam, he hugged her anyway. That’s what winners do: They feign love when what they really feel is blistering hatred.

When the winner hugged Pam, he noticed that her hair smelled like flowers. Her arms, although pale and doughy, gripped him with a kind of fierce tenderness. It reminded the winner of when he was little, how Pam would sometimes give him a horsey ride on her back. He would bury his head in her long, dark hair and beg her to go faster, and she would, bucking up and down until the room began to spin. As the walls whipped around him, it would seem as though the world was made up only of the winner and Pam. As Pam hugged him, tears sprang to the winner’s eyes.

Crying feels unnatural to a winner. The winner hadn’t cried since the day in fourth grade when he discovered his guinea pig Pee Wee under the radiator. That’s another mark of a winner – a high pain threshold.

Just as the winner feared he might break down and weep in front of Pam, he got a hold of himself. He forced himself to stop thinking about Pam’s horsey rides and instead thought about the NFL draft. Sure enough, he started feeling like his winning self again. Winners have trained themselves not to feel their feelings for too long, as it has caused them problems in the past, occasionally with law enforcement.

When Pam finally let go of the winner, she said that she wished he could meet a nice girl. She said that if he started attending AA meetings and got himself into therapy, maybe someone would want to date him. She said that he needed to expand his hobbies beyond drinking Coors Light to excess and binging on porn and Doritos.

There are certain things that both winners and losers enjoy. Those things include but are not limited to baseball, Coors Light, Doritos and porn. It’s how winners experience these things that make the difference. Winners watch porn for hours because it’s fun, not out of desperation. They drink Coors Light and eat Doritos because it is an enjoyable way to spend a Saturday night, not because they are lonely.

Trying to make losers understand this can sometimes get a winner into trouble. Pam refused to see any difference and started in on one of her trademark bitching sessions. The urge to knock out Pam’s permanently whitened teeth did not register the way it had in the past. No, the winner took Pam’s bitching as sisterly advice, even though the winner would never take advice from Pam, no matter how many amends she tried to make. The winner knew that taking a loser’s advice was like accepting an invitation to stay free at a Hawaiian resort, courtesy of a time-share company.  You’d have to be a total fucking idiot.

A winner never lets anyone pull the wool over his eyes, particularly a loser sister who still owes him a birthday present from when he was eight. But winners don’t dwell on the past.

Winners welcome change. They can pick up at a moment’s notice and jet off to their next adventure. Two years ago, this winner decided that he would move out to California to try to make it as a screenwriter in Hollywood. The winner was extremely excited about this idea, even though Pam pronounced it “really really stupid” at the time. The winner argued that he was highly prepared for this career. He had recently obtained his BA in Comparative Literature after twenty-two non-consecutive quarters at Rutgers. He had taught English at a junior high school in Livingston for four months. Naysayers like Pam might ask, had the winner ever written a screenplay before? No. Did he know anyone on the West Coast? He had one friend, Joel Raschow, whom he saw on Linked In was a nutritionist/life coach in Burbank, but he hadn’t spoken to him since Hebrew school, so not really. Did all this stop the winner from embarking upon what promised to be an experience of a lifetime? No. Did the winner want to be stuck teaching Dandelion Wine to a bunch of sarcastic eighth grade fucks for the rest of his life? No thanks, Pam.

The winner packed all his belongings into his Toyota Tercel and set a course for Hollywood. Winners do not let little setbacks get them down, like when the Tercel blew a tire before he even got on the turnpike. Or when the winner was arrested at a Steak n’ Shake off I-55 for public drunkenness. Or when the winner had to ask his parents to wire him gas money just outside of Reno. These minor problems pale in comparison to the future, where anything could happen.

The winner finally made it to Hollywood, and only had to sleep in his car for two nights before finding an apartment on Craigslist. Once settled in, the winner checked out some screenplay books from the library and started reading. Winners will stop at nothing when pursuing their dreams. Losers might find it concerning to blow their entire savings on a Robert McKee Story Seminar at the LAX Embassy Suites, but winners keep their eyes directly on the prize.

While the winner’s loser roommate Chad worked at the Chinese Theatre in Hollywood as an Elvis impersonator, the winner spent every waking moment on his screenplay. Winners can be extremely focused.

The winner would wake up, brew a pot of coffee, read and reread several chapters of the Robert McKee book he bought at the seminar, take a short break to update his status on Facebook, read more, eat a 7-Eleven bean and cheese burrito, make more coffee and then hang out at Bumpers Happy Hour with Joe Grant. He also spent time outlining the characters for his screenplay. It’s what those in the business call a four-quadrant picture: That means there’s something in it for everyone, for winners and losers everywhere. There’s a handsome hero who makes hilarious fart jokes, and a hot bisexual chick with an enormous rack, and a cute animated talking car named Sparky that turns out to be a serial killer. It’s a film that will be full of raunchy humor, hot sex, terrifying violence and major superhero action.

The winner would have liked to work full time on his screenplay, but his dwindling funds and lack of parental support forced him to seek some type of employment. He started working at the Chinese Theatre, dressing up as Chewbacca. Did the winner enjoy his work? No. Did the winner want to put on a polyester Wookiee costume and then stand in the stifling heat for five hours Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays? No. Did it scare the winner to be chased around by the clinically insane losers who hung around the courtyard? Yes, often. Did the winner enjoy being told by loser Star Wars fans that they found his performance inauthentic? No. Did the winner feel good about having to perform sexual acts on random losers while dressed as Chewbacca just to pay his share of the cable bill? Does the winner really have to answer that?

Did the winner ever have moments when he wished he was someone else, someone whose life was not completely fucked up? Did the winner ever want to throw his hands up in total and utter despair? Did the winner, in his darkest hour, worry that perhaps he was not a winner at all, but in fact a loser?

No, he did not.

Was the winner surprised when the lit agent from WME Joe Grant introduced him to actually read his screenplay? Was he surprised that the agent loved it and wanted to sign him as a client? Was the winner surprised when the agent sent the screenplay out to Will Smith’s people and Matthew McConaughey’s people and Channing Tatum’s people and that the response was phenomenal? The winner can’t say he was surprised.

Winners realize that life is a marathon. They understand that hard work pays off. After the winner sold his screenplay, he moved out of his crap apartment in Van Nuys and now rents a bungalow in Hermosa Beach. The winner no longer has to drink at Bumpers shitfest Happy Hour, although he shows up there once in a while to buy Joe Grant a beer. A winner’s ship may come in, but the content of his character remains the same. Some winner said that.

The winner’s life has of course changed. Nowadays, the winner works out with a personal trainer four days a week. The winner has lunch meetings with other winners. Winners like John Stamos and Michael Bay. Winners like the guy who produced that Disney Channel show with Miley Cyrus.

Winners don’t have to drink Folgers coffee anymore. They can go to the hippest coffee bars in Silverlake and drink coffee that has been filtered through a Japanese coffee sieve. Winners can make their dreams of a full head of hair a reality. In some other ways though, the winner’s life remains the same. As it turns out, winners in LA also consume a ton of porn and a lot of beer, although Doritos, not so much.

A winner can have his personal assistant Geoff get him reservations at Cut on any given Saturday night. He can force Geoff to work late researching eco-friendly dry cleaners and vegan Tahitian resorts so that the winner can take his hot new vegan model girlfriend on vacation. Winners might appear to be hard-asses, but that’s only because most losers cannot tell the difference between an arrogant fuck and someone who has paid their dues and deserves all the successes coming to them. Pam still won’t acknowledge that the winner makes more money in a week than she makes in a year. But winners do not gloat.

Pam told the winner he would never make it in Hollywood, and would come crawling back to New Jersey, “like a little bitch” in two months. But the winner pursued his dreams anyway. So we come to perhaps the most important difference between winners and losers. Winners have perfected the art of waiting. They don’t panic when the hard times come, and they have to dress like Chewbacca. They do not suffer in vain. They have a higher purpose. They know what awaits them, on earth as it is in heaven. Winners have the patience of saints.


Debbie Graber’s fiction has appeared in Zyzzyva, Hobart, Word Riot, Knee-Jerk and Inlandia: A Literary Journey. She received an MFA from the University of California, Riverside, and lives in Los Angeles.