|random thoughts and thoroughbred selections|
|"All life is 6-5 against" - Damon Runyon|
Thursday, June 23, 2005
1990 or so...
I had written this trite-ass bullshit yesterday about this Sikh in a silver Sunfire I keep passing on the highway every day on my way to work, but I'm not in the mood.
Crib notes: Arab guy, look at the beard, wonder if he has more than one burgundy turban, do they make those in breathable fabrics if he's mowing his lawn on a hot summer's day?
I also had a whole dissertation on when political correctness actually doesn't help. I'm thinking specifically of when we lost sight of classifying transients as such things as "winos" and "hobos," and just started calling them "homeless." Now the drifter with the shiv is in the same category as the sad sack with the bulging kerchief-on-a-stick who hops a train to the Great Plains. That just gives hobos everywhere a black eye.
I've been fortunate in this life of mine that - so far - I haven't really been faced with an unnaturally early death in my sphere. I remember a visit to my grandfathers in probably 1990, both on their death beds, but they were old men and suffering long illnesses.
We were in town when one died.
In the two days prior, we had visited him at the hospital. I was probably fifteen, and there was little that could penetrate my wall of sarcastic bitterness.
My grandfather was the town's electrician in a small fading mining hamlet in the westernmost part of Michigan's Upper Peninsula. I'm not sure the town ever could have been called "thriving," but a few decades of immigrant folk had made it their home, and those who were unmotivated enough to leave lived out their years with shit jobs and little hope.
He had cancer. We were a thousand miles away while it began to eat away at the burly little man who had taken his grandkids to the trout farm, baited their hooks, and cheered us on as we pulled fish after fish out of the pond. By the time we got to his side, he was in his last days.
It wasn't a hospital, exactly. But it wasn't not a hospital. It was one of those places where people go to die, or because they can't help them adequately in a real health care facility. I remember it was buried in the woods, well off the highway. Then again, everything up there was buried in the woods, but the building seemed to loom treacherously on its foundation, pushing against the onslaught of trees that threatened to envelop it whole.
I sniffed away the Stephen King imagery in front of me and followed my mom inside.
It was surprisingly dark inside, some sort of acknowledgement that these people were so dying they may as well be dead already, so why burn a hundred watts when twenty will do? The walls were tiled in spots and plastered in others, but uniformly aqua-blue from floor to ceiling. Everything was that color, and didn't have the sheen of a well-maintained building. The single color scheme left you feeling like you were staring into a tunnel, the depths of which weren't illuminated enough to insure your path.
It felt like you were in the belly of death. And smelled like it too. Equal parts antiseptic, medicated balm, and urine was an assault on the senses compared to the clean forest air outside.
So this is how people die?
We went up a couple flights of stairs and continued to tunnel our way through the halls to find my grandfather's room. As we approached our destination, the voice grew louder. "Hello! Hello! Hello!" It was a plaintive cry, either dementia or demanding attention she was not receiving. "Hello!" It was persistently sad, and choked the atmosphere of quiet resignation from my ears. I didn't - I couldn't ask who this woman was, or why she only and always said "Hello," screamed "Hello," and wailed "Hello."
So this is how people die?
My grandfather was in an aqua-marine room, in an aqua-marine bed, cramped into a bent frame position with eyes and mouth glazed wide open. His arms and hands didn't lay peacefully at his side, they were bent crookedly above his body in some sort of mindless half grasp. He was in some sort of waking coma, where I guess he had been for more than a week.
He used to pack probably 240 on his 5'7" frame. I remember my aunt saying he weighed 65 pounds now.
There was no recognition when we touched him, when we talked to him, when my aunts stroked his hair and moistened his open mouth with a sponge. He didn't so much as twitch or growl.
I think we were in the room for maybe half an hour. Maybe. My mom was smart enough to get her kids out of there before we felt the need to chase the sorrow with a fifth of scotch.
I went to sleep uneasy that night, in the bed in which my grandfather had slept, under the roof in which he helped raise seven children over forty years. I remember sleeping in fits like I usually do, fifteen minutes asleep then fifteen seconds awake, lather, rinse, repeat. Then, around 2AM, I woke up with a jolt and sat straight up in bed. It was in the next instant that my eyes became heavier than they had been all night and I slept with vigor, strong and peaceful.
Over cinnamon toast and juice my mom told me the next morning my grandfather had died. "Around 2AM?" I asked. She blinked and turned her head sideways.
"How did you know?"
My grandfather, having served in "The Big One," was entitled to a military burial. I was a fledgling trumpeter, and my mom asked me if I wanted to play "Taps" on the bugle for her father. I could tell by the sorrow in her eyes that this would be a sort of full-circle honor that she would hold close forever, and I agreed.
It was unseasonably blustery for early May, and I wasn't dressed for it. The funeral was mercifully short, and officiated by an Episcopalian Minister. The Catholic Priest, from the house in which my grandparents worshipped for decades, from the house that had baptized seven of their children, from the house in which more than half of those children were married, and from the house in which a half dozen grandchildren had been baptized, refused to so much as visit my grandfather in the hospital. In the eighteen months of declining health, my grandfather had gone from sickly to invalid to comatose. In those months, money was scarce and primary care was the only direction in which their funds were depleting.
Not to the coffers of St. Asshole's. Most of my family on that side has not been able to embrace the Catholic Church - or in some cases, God - since.
I wouldn't get near the coffin. Didn't want to see a taxodermic impression of the emaciated shell of my grandfather. I wanted to remember the buzz cut and horn rimmed smile behind quiet eyes pulling a trout from my fish hook and telling me he's never caught a bigger one here before. I wanted to remember the barrel chest in the ubiquitous blue pocket tee clicking between three channels silently begging for some peace and quiet in the midst of a dozen hyper grandchildren.
The closure to me had happened standing over that "hospital" bed. He was gone already, he wasn't going to snap out of it and show me how to whittle. He wasn't going to roll out of bed and have me help him down in the workshop. He was gone.
I hadn't packed for this weather. It was a steady, nearly-freezing rain. It wasn't supposed to be this cold. I grabbed the trumpet one of the VFW guys had lent me, and climbed into the car for the caravan to the cemetery. I had the mouthpiece between my palms, alternating rubbing it between my hands to warm it up and buzzing into it to make sure I could keep my lips moving in this weather.
I unpacked the trumpet when we arrived, and stood there like a good soldier off to the side of what few Lodge or VFW buddies could come out to honor my granddad. Three uniformed Guardsmen were well behind the Minister, and the family was packed together for comfort and warmth on the other side of the plot. I had the mouthpiece clenched in my left hand, the trumpet valves idly keeping my fingers busy on my right.
It was cold. I had no umbrella, and was getting assaulted by this almost-sleet. The Minister finally gave me the signal, and I put the trumpet together and raised it to my lips. Out of the corner of my eye, in what was a total surprise to me, I saw some high school kid with a bugle duck down out of sight, obscured behind a simple but massive crypt.
I was cold, and I hadn't warmed up. Figuratively, literally, it doesn't matter. The rain was beating the shit out of me, and I could barely keep my eyes open. I buzzed into the horn, and the first crackling sounds of "Taps" escaped from the bell. I played it slowly, mournfully, as I had practiced it. Behind the crypt I saw the high school kid raise his bugle up, and he matched my little soldier uncertainty with an echo. Three shots from the Guardsmen. I started into the second stanza and saw my mom, my aunts, watching me and crying. I couldn't and wouldn't hold the tears back. The rain had beaten my will down past the point of resistance. Another echo, more shots and the mechanistic clacking of rounds being reloaded. A tear choked third stanza, and I struggled to hit the high note. This time the echo wasn't behind the melody, but meshed together with my broken tones in solidarity, in support. More shots, and again. I saw my extended family across the coffin, grandmother holding a flag, she couldn't bring her eyes up from the grass. Aunts, uncles, restless freezing cousins. Most eyes on me, and I had only one more stanza to cough up.
It made it through the end of the bell, each Guardsman had taken his seventh shot, and some nameless high school kid took the opportunity to slink away, still under cover of the burial markers behind which he had hidden.
It was cold. I was cold. I stood where I had stood, where I had played, next to the old soldiers without benefit of umbrella or tent as the coffin was lowered into the ground. I shook off my mother's subtle urging to come in under the umbrella, come over with the family. I shook off my mother's urging because in that moment I stood next to the old soldiers, quietly crying next to stoic old men who had seen far worse I'd imagine than the ravages of cancer. I was a soldier for that moment. I had looked upon death for the first time, and I had played the plaintive song of tribute in its face. I was a little soldier, tears mixed with icy rain, still standing firm with idle fingers working trumpet valves to keep warm.
Between the dogs of war and the fruits of his labors, I chose to ally with the former. The old men who couldn't cry anymore, wouldn't bother crying anymore. These men handled death with a scowl and a cigarette. These were the men who could accept what they had seen at face value, they were strong, they wouldn't cry.
They didn't. I did.
I wanted to be the rigid little soldier, pick off a clean melody when it came time, and use that wall behind which I was stashing my emotions to lean into the storm. I wanted to be a rock, I wanted not to mourn. It didn't work out that way.
I walked back to the procession not with the grizzled veterans but with my weather-beaten family. I had the trumpet under my arms, hands buried deep in my pockets for warmth, hoping I wouldn't soak clean through the only pair of shoes I had brought with me to the Great White North.
I had my eyes to the ground, hoping no one else could see the difference between tears of sorrow and the rain that rinsed them clean from my face.
It was cold. I was cold. But unlike my grandfather today, I could choose to fall into the arms of my family, and there I would find the warmth I so badly needed.
Wednesday, June 22, 2005
Never Again, Until The Next Time
You know who's a genius?
A genius is the guy who figured out that the chocolate shell lining the sugar cone on "Drumsticks" is not only tasty, but helps the ice cream from melting all over your fingers. A genius is a guy who dresses up in a shockingly green jacket with question marks embroidered all over it, screams into the television camera, and somehow sells enough books to make a second commercial.
Genius comes in all sizes, shapes, and colors.
And I bet that all these guys can play pocket Jacks better than I can.
I used to work at a McDonald's as a kid, and I would have these dreams that weren't exactly nightmares, but were scary in their mundanity. I would grab blocks of preformed burger and - thunk thunk thunk... thunk thunk thunk - I'd put the burgers on the grill two at a time in a four-by-three pattern before pulling the clamshell grill lid down with a hiss....
Thunk thunk thunk... thunk thunk thunk... hissssss...
My nights were spent in slumber, staring at the burned-in image of burger after burger thunking down under the never ending grill - one after another.
I never woke up from that dream with beads of sweat on my brow. My hands may have smelled like grilled beef, but that took years to wash away after a couple summers in the trenches anyway. It was a dream that made me avow to never spend my days or nights in the midst of repetitive work. I promised myself I'd wipe these dreams clean from my subconscious.
To be replaced, with any luck, with dreams of living out my days with the shipwrecked survivors of a Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue shoot on the white sandy shores of a fruited isle.
It's been a long time since I thought about late 80s Kathy Ireland in a grass skirt, give me just a second here... alright, I'm back.
I had the dream again, but this time it wasn't about burgers. It was poker plaguing my addled sleeping mind.
I fancy myself a fairly average poker player awash in a sea of retarded minnows bumping into each other on the way to burning through their third buy-in. I know what I'm doing a little bit, and know enough about this game to not get myself into too much trouble.
But I absolutely cannot find a way to win in these waters with pocket Jacks.
They call them "fish hooks," but I'm still unclear as to whom they are designed to reel in. They have faces instead of marks, letters instead of numbers. They're higher than a ten, and tens are pretty good, right? I think a couple of those guys are even smiling at me from when I look at them sideways. They look like I should be playing them strong.
That being said, do I realize they're the redheaded stepchildren of the paint cards? Absolutely. Can I find the strength to lay them down pre-flop? Nuh-uh. I'm weak. I just can't do it.
And it was a couple Tuesdays ago I had the uneasy sleep a couple of cocktails and a compliment of curry will cull. It was in dreams where I found myself at a table of ten in some nondescript casino somewhere deep in my subconscious. I look down under the gun to find pocket Jacks. I raise to three times the big blind, and get two callers. Flop has an Ace, and I lay it down to the button's raise of my feeler bet.
Okay, the "standard raise" isn't going to work.
I'm now in the big blind, and here are pocket Jacks again. I'm put to the test by a middle position player pushing all-in pre-flop. I look across the table at a cowboy named Shane in a ten gallon hat. He's nervous, doesn't look like he wanted the call. I roll the dice and push. He turns over Ace / Queen and catches one of each on the flop. I don't improve and immediately rebuy.
Next hand, Jacks. Small blind. I complete with a simple limp with a big blind check behind me. The Queen on the flop doesn't look dangerous, but my check-call strategy doesn't pay off when the big blind catches two pair to his hole card rags on the flop.
On the button? Jacks again. I lay the cards down and look furtively around the table and room to make sure I'm not getting "Punk'd." A cigar chomping old timer in the three seat gurgles out an astute observation: "You got them two lil' boys in the hole again?" I shake him off unconvincingly, and see nothing but a min raise and a couple of callers entering the pot before me. I decide to push. I've gotta be good here. Two callers, and pocket Queens take the pot down.
I'm like the Ron Popeil of Poker at this point, inventing up marvelous ways to be taken down with pocket Jacks. I'm like a reliever who doesn't have his stuff, I'm throwing meatballs across the plate and can't find the high heat.
And I lose. And I rebuy. And I lose. And I rebuy.
In some weird twist of fate, it's nothing but Jacks for me. I push all-in on a Nine high board, and someone's got an open-ended straight draw and hits. I slow play a flopped set and watch the third Club give Ace / Nothing of Clubs his flush. Not only can't I find a way to win with these things, but I absolutely cannot find a way to lay them down either.
I've lost count of the rebuys, but somehow there's an endless supply of black chips in my pocket. I dig in for another and the slick man in the white tuxedo in the ten seat quips, "My good man, may I offer a piece of advice?" I nod, and he continues. "The line between sanity and insanity is performing the same act twice and anticipating a different result." He passes a smile in my direction and tilts his martini glass towards me with a knowing wink.
I'm cracking up. More Jacks, more losses. They're piling up, and the black chips keep coming out of my pocket. I lose to sets of treys, Broadway straights, flushes four on the board, it doesn't even matter. My frustration mounts, but the little voice inside my head comes back to the same central point:
They're Jacks. What do you expect?
I did wake up from this dream in a light sweat. My hands instinctively went to my pockets to look for the remaining black chips, but my pajamas don't have pockets. I cured those burger joint dreams when I quit the McForce, and swear in my 2AM discomfort that not only will I never eat curry after 8PM again, but I will try to find the intestinal fortitude to lay down those pocket Jacks every once in awhile.
I'm restless, and I promise myself I'll re-read Harrington and Brunson and Sklansky. These are the books of Daniel, Doyle and David. My gospels, the Rosetta Stones of my poker education. They'll have the answers.
Unfortunately, advice on pocket Jacks in the texts on which I rely all boils down to two simple words: "It depends." Should I raise pre-flop? Probably, but it depends. Should I play them fast? Well, look at the flop, and even then? It depends. If I flop a set? Well, you'll probably play it fast, but it depends.
That's not good enough for me and my litany of promises in a 2AM moment of clarity. I decide to swear off pocket Jacks, at least for right now. I just can't make them work, so why torture myself? Forget them, move on.
I sleep, less than soundly, but remember my vows and promises in my 2AM haze. Remember them, that is, until I log in to my online poker account that night and see my least favorite hand in the second orbit.
Jack of Hearts, Jack of Clubs.
I take my time evaluating the situation, grit my teeth, and move my pointer from the "Fold" button to the "Raise" window.
I'm pretty sure I could still run a clamshell grill in the middle of a lunch rush at the Golden Arches, and it's easy to see that a time-tested axiom applies to both my McD's tenure and my inability to let go of those Jacks.
Old habits die hard. Too bad Jacks get knocked off a little more easily than my old habits.
I've set the Over/Under on Pauly's WSOP finish at +/- 600.
Gracie has 352.
Al has 200.
I'm taking 600.
Anyone else want in on this? Leave a comment, actual money to exchange hands at the Bash at the Boathouse in late September.
Tuesday, June 21, 2005
Happy Father's Day
My dad's old boss is a cheap-ass motherfucker.
My old man was #3 in a small manufacturing concern where numbers one and two shared the same last name. And ownership. Now, number one is an alright kinda guy, but number two is a fucking prick.
And I know he saw me in the pizza joint last night. We were getting ready to head out when his group of three took the booth right next to ours. I grabbed our server walking by and got in her ear. "Are you going to be the one waiting on these guys?" I asked. She nodded, and when I asked if she had served that guy before, she said no.
I pulled two dollars from my wallet and said, "That guy has a reputation as a cheap bastard. If you're getting stuck with him, this is for you."
I wanted to say that within earshot of his table, but didn't. Should have, but didn't.
My old man will get a little chuckle out of this. He's the one that told me the stories about that dickweed throwing two quarters down on a lunch check and abrasively challenging anyone else's ideas about tipping right in front of the server.
You just don't mistreat people in the service industry. It's inappropriate.
I felt a little bit for a minute there like I had my dad's back. Paid him back a little, because he always had mine.
As a kid, I needed this. I needed a lot of things as a kid, and my dad provided the two that really counted. First, the kick in the ass. I wasn't an athlete, but he ran me around the backyard shooting hoops or throwing the football. It's a testament to him that I can actually acquit myself nicely on the field or court despite my obvious lack of natural talent. The second thing he gave me was protection.
Sixth grade junior basketball, I landed on a team of twelve where I was easily one of the two worst on the court. I was pretty incompetent until I sprouted another three inches, but gave it my all when I was out there. I loved playing, and even if it was just a few minutes per half, I felt like part of a team.
My team was invited to play a regional tournament in the valley, but I didn't know this until months later. The coach didn't invite myself and the other crappy player to play. My dad found out about this from another parent after the fact, and silently fumed.
Many months or years later, my dad was a VP accepting sales calls from purveyors in his industry. Who should show up in the lobby but my old coach. My dad saw the guy, got right in his face, and chewed him out before he could even eke out a word. Told him so long as he controlled the purse strings, there was zero possibility he'd work with an asshole like him, and unceremoniously dumped him off the property.
One bad decision as a volunteer coach of sixth grade boys, and the guy lost a shot at pitching his wares for thousands of dollars in commission.
A few years later, I was involved in Little League baseball. I was a non-hitting catcher on a really crappy team. In one less-than-memorable game, we were probably the last team to use the designated field for the week before the maintenance crew came by to give it a once-over. The dirt on the baselines was worn down to hard pack, the grass was tall, and the batter's box was sunken in just a touch from hitters digging their cleats into what dust was left.
Worst of all was behind home plate. There were two nearly foot-deep tracks where every catcher who came before me had dug in. Basically, I had three choices. I could squat in the trenches, which would not only sink me lower than I needed to be, but also prevent any sort of lateral movement or quick throws to second. I could squat behind the trenches, but that wasn't practical because it would put me a good eighteen inches behind where I should be.
Or the best choice, squat in front of the trenches and crowd home plate. It was the only solution to a bad situation.
A couple batters into the game, and the opposing coach came to the home plate ump to complain about my positioning. I got into the conversation, pointed out the trenches, and told him I didn't want to break an ankle trying to move to catch an outside pitch. The ump sided with me and sent the coach back to the dugout.
The next batter swung mightily at the first pitch and made contact with my mitt. The ump awarded him first base.
The second batter actually tilted back on the outside of his foot to make contact with my mitt. The ump awarded him first base, and moved the other runner to second.
Third batter almost broke my wrist doing the same. I hopped up from the contact and dropped my mitt to the ground, jumping up and down and rubbing my wrist to shake off the sting.
My dad was fucking livid. He stormed around the fence line and grabbed the opposing coach by the shoulder, talking to him in an animated fashion. I didn't hear the conversation, but when I got back to the dugout the first baseman filled me in.
"Dude, I think your dad just threatened their coach's life!"
Um, probably. Thanks Dad.
Happy Father's Day.
Monday, June 20, 2005
Links, and a Quick Word
Yes, it's really good of the professional poker players out there to take time to call Charlie in his darkest hour to try to bring him some cheer.
That being said, we should all have a friend as good as Jason Kirk. You're an honest, thoughtful, amiable guy whose grieving joy in spending time with his best friend is apparent in every word you can share with us. My opinion of you grows higher every day.
Jason Kirk > Marcel Luske.
Don't forget about this stuff too:
World Series of Poker Live blog
World Series of Poker Photo Gallery
World Series of Poker News
World Series of Poker Podcast
Bill Simmons @ ESPN
About the Author
Greatest Hits [archived]
Guinness and Poker
Al Can't Hang
The Cards Speak
Tao of Poker
Tao of Pauly
Scott, Texas' favorite Fat Guy
Only Built 4 Cuban Links
Up For Poker
Ugarte's Poker Grovel
JD's Cheap Thrills
Poker Stars Blog
Vegas Poker Blog
Poker in the Weeds
Nickle And Dimes
Not a Poker Blog
Dispatches From The Culture Wars
Horse Racing Links
Curb My Enthusiasm
Daily Racing Form
They Are At The Post
Tampa Bay Downs
Your Average Horseplayer
Tote Board Brad
Left At The Gate
design by maystar
powered by blogger
Syndicate this site
Online Poker : Visit Dr. Pauly at Tao of Poker for the best written journal on Poker Around. From on-line poker rooms to off-line live tournament coverage including the WSOP.
Las Vegas : The Poker Prof's Las Vegas and Poker Blog is the goto stop for people who come to Sin city to hit the tournaments and poker rooms. From the World Poker Tour to the World Series if it's big poker in Vegas it's blogged here. Home to the Prof's Las Vegas Links Directory.
Utilities Provided By