As I took my seat on the 310 to Circular Quay last week, I couldn't help but overhear one end of the mobile phone conversation of the woman who twisted and squirmed in the seat opposite. She was dressed in faded black jeans and a brown hoodie jacket, with a bubble-gum-pink knitted beanie pulled down over her lank, mouse-brown hair. I'd estimate her age at around 30, although her skin showed the sallow, wrinkling effects of a nicotine addiction.
Having described at some length the state of her pet cat's digestive problems and toilet habits, I heard her say to her interlocutor:
"Yes, you'll see me at the pokies tonight."
"Someone is going to sit with me and show me what to do..."
"...yeah, I really need it. I only had $10 to live on last week."
At this point, she leapt up and got off the bus, dashing across the road to catch the tail end of the traffic lights. All her movements were jittery and rapid, as though she were a bundle of nerves.
It made me really sad to think that the best financial advice her friends could give her for making $10 last a week was to feed it into a poker machine. I wonder how long it will take her to learn the hard way that she'd be better off using the money to line her cat's litter tray, because at least then she wouldn't have to buy the newspaper as well.
I know that there are lots of people who can afford to put $10 through the poker machines and walk away thinking, "you win some, you lose some". His Honour regularly splurges on Lotto or Powerball tickets, saying "it's a cheap way to buy a dream for a few days". But if your dream is just to have money for enough food, and the lights of the poker machines are winking at you and promising fun and riches, what happens when all you get is eyestrain and an empty belly?