You look at the pictures and it's hard for your mind to get around it, your brain doesn't quite believe what your eyes are taking in. A major American city is...gone. The death toll is likely to be in the thousands. Damages in the tens of billions. A day ago it looked like New Orleans had dodged a major bullet. It got hit on the richochet.
I think back to last year, when Hurricane Ivan dumped half a foot of rain here in Pittsburgh and we had our worst flooding in decades. I got cut off from my home, stayed at work till 9PM hoping for a route home, and finally drove away from the rivers to spend the night at my brother's house. I was never in any danger, even though my building is right along the Allegheny, but I was pretty scared driving in the dark, my subconscious constructing fantasies of submerged roads and sweeping currents that would pull my car off Ohio River Blvd and deposit me in the drink.
I didn't get home for a day, and then I had to deal with traffic detours for a month because Etna and Sharpsburg had suffered horrendous flooding and that's the route I take to work. And so when I look at the scale of the flooding in New Orleans and Mississippi, my brain isn't quite getting around it. Floods are scary. I expect the feeling is the same for people who go through an earthquake--you expect the ground to be there, beneath your feet. When, suddenly, it ISN'T, when instead it's shifting around like gelatin or it's under ten feet of water, everything you once believed to be absolute and true is suddenly open to question.
Life becomes surreal, the most mundane details of everyday life are shown to be anything but mundane. The light switch you flick without thinking now just makes a clicking noise, without illuminating the room. And that room, where perhaps you whiled away the evening watching TV, is now a pool. And your house, which you dreaded having to paint in the spring, is just a pile of haphazardly scattered debris. And it all happened over the course of a few days.
Reading all the news you do get a sense that people believed a disaster of this scope couldn't happen HERE. In some Third World country, sure, you get a big storm and thousands die because they aren't prepared. They don't have the infrastructure, the transport, the medical facilities. But here, hey, we have levees and dams and building codes and interstate highways and the National Guard. And all those things are, of course, worthy of being proud of. But, as the world learned last December when the tsunami hit, the forces of nature are capable of producing destruction that dwarfs even nuclear weapons. Apply that terrible force at the wrong time, and we can but tremble before that might and run for our lives. I have tremendous sympathy for those who are suffering, and who will be suffering for a long, long time.
I went to New Orleans about 4 years ago with a big group of friends. I got way, way, way too drunk that first night, made an ass of myself, and was sick the rest of the weekend. We went to Pat O'Brien's, had beignets at the Cafe du Mond, had a very good meal together at a nice restaurant. My wife and I took a trolley and toured the Garden District and walked through an above-ground cemetery that was perhaps the hottest spot I've ever stood in (120 degrees, easy, with all those stones soaking up the heat). I think my fondest memory (since I either don't remember much about that first night or I've tried mightily to repress) came on our last full day there, when my friend Scott and I went hunting for a place that had oysters. My stomach was by this point settled enough for me to sip a few beers and digest food, and we left the bar we were in and prowled Bourbon Street looking for bivalves. We walked all over the goddam place, and the only places we found were either jammed or looked like you needed biohazard gear before going inside. We gave up, headed back to our bar, an oyster po'boy looking like a consolation prize...and then we saw that the bar right next to ours had a raw bar. If we'd turned right instead of left, we'd have saved ourselves half and hour.
We split about 5 dozen on the half-shell, I think 3 raw and 2 steamed, since Scott wasn't sure if he'd like them raw. We ate them up and chased them down with cold beer, while everyone else watched us with varying degrees of disgust. I friggin' love oysters. And I think I've only had them once since that trip to New Orleans. I didn't have as good a time as I might have, thanks to getting poisoned (probably literally) that first night, and I've always wanted to go back and do less drinking and more eating. It's terrible to see that New Orleans might never be the same again, that it might never welcome back the people who love to visit, and that those who lived their lives there might have no choice but to find a lesser, but drier, piece of ground to call their home.
I'm Sorry, I Didn't Catch Your Name...
Bond. James Bond. For the last few weeks American Movie Classics has broadcast all of the Bond movies, though I don't think we'll be seeing the Pierce Brosnan entries. Connery to Lazenby to Connery to Moore to...Connery, to Moore, and then to Dalton. Brosnan revealed last week that Her Majesty's Secret Service (or the Bond producers) no longer required his services, meaning every dark-haired actor in the UK will be practicing the four-steps-turn-and-fire move from the opening credits and trying to remember that the vodka martini is shaken, not stirred.
Right now I'm watching The Living Daylights
, which is one of my three favorite Bond movies. I can't say for sure which are my other 2 favorites. Well, one is easy--From Russia With Love
, which would probably get my vote as the best of them all. So I have two at the top figured out. I haven't seen the Brosnan movies enough times to accurately rate them, but the one with Halle Berry was pretty mediocre (her orange bikini notwithstanding). I liked GoldenEye
, ludicrous as it got at the end, liked The World Is Not Enough
, liked Judi Dench taking over as M. Talk about a tough boss. And I'd watch Michelle Yeoh eat a bowl of Rice Krispies if someone put it on film.
Anyway. It is pretty much accepted that Sean Connery WAS James Bond, and that Roger Moore was something of an abomination. And there's something to that. Connery was suave, and debonair, but at times that's ALL Moore was. Connery could tell you in detail why the brandy you were drinking was indifferent, but he could also put you down with a kidney punch then push you off a bridge. Especially in Moore's later films, you had a hard time believing that the guy in the dinner jacket was capable of beating the crap out of someone. Which is a pity, because two of Moore's films, The Spy Who Loved Me
and For Your Eyes Only
, are films that sometimes appear in my top three. Especially the former, which introduced us to Jaws and his powder-blue size 86 double-breasted suit (if that suit didn't win the costume design an Oscar it's a travesty). It's a tough call, who gave the better overall performance--Richard Kiel or Andre the Giant in The Princess Bride
? I gotta go with Fezzik here.The Spy Who Loved Me
also starred the ludicrously beautiful Barbara Bach, who will always hold a special place in my heart because she's the first woman I ever saw naked. Not in person, jackass--the movie Force Ten From Navarone
was on, Ms. Bach was bathing, she stood up, and...well, I think my dad was too surprised himself to flip the channel. I was like eight years old. I still have a grudge against Ringo Starr. You don't often hear about people who get to sell their soul to the Devil twice
.Force Ten From Navarone
also starred Robert Shaw, who played the assassin in From Russia With Love
, and gave us one of the greatest scenes in the Bondian oeuvre
, when they're on the train and Shaw has Connery kneeling on the floor, hands stuffed in his trouser pockets, and a silenced pistol pointed at his chest. The fight that follows is one that Moore could not have duplicated--and we know this because Moore had to fight in train compartments twice
, duking it out with Jaws in The Spy Who Loved Me
and with the guy with the artificial arm in Live and Let Die
. Though I'll concede it's hard to have a fast-moving, flowing fight scene with a guy who's 7-3 and you're in a room that measures 8-by-6.Live and Let Die
is near the bottom of my list of Bond movies, though I'd have to say the worst of them all was A View to a Kill
. Hey, I love Christopher Walken too, and there isn't a piece of scenery in the whole movie without his teeth marks on it. But what makes the film truly wretched are the leading ladies. You put Grace Jones in the same movie as Walken, you're just asking for it. But the scene where Jones opens the door to her bedroom, and the sixtyish Moore is waiting in bed for her...there isn't a moment in The Shining
as scary as that.
But that was just one moment of horror. Watching Tanya Roberts trying to "act" was like getting your fingernails removed, one by one by one. You watch her, and she's a good-looking female, and the whole time you're watching you're thinking, "there's no way English is her first language. Maybe her dialogue was dubbed...". I think she played some kind of geological engineer...are you fucking kidding me? Though Roberts wasn't the first Bond girl with a ludicrous resume. Denise Richards, who gives Roberts a run for her money on the low-wattage scale, played a nuclear physicist who couldn't pronounce "nuclear". Somewhat lost in the dimbulb shuffle is Lois Chiles of Moonraker
, who is an astronaut/scientist/CIA agent who is so like a mannequin you half expect to see Woody Woodpecker appear, land on her shoulder, and start pecking away.
Compare Roberts, Richards, and Chiles to another Bond girl, Diana Rigg. Though it's a bit odd calling one of the most accomplished stage actresses of her generation a "girl". Rigg played opposite George Lazenby in On Her Majesty's Secret Service
, which is a film some fans try to pretend was never made. Which is a pity, because it's pretty good. The fight scenes are a bit bizarre--when Lazneby throws a punch he starts his fist around his ankles and finishes somewhere above the ceiling. Telly Savalas makes a good Blofeld, there's a good ski chase, and a pretty good chase with Rigg doing the driving while 007. It's also the only Bond film that doesn't have a happy ending--no need to spoil it more than that.
Not that The Living Daylights
doesn't have a happy ending (did I mentione that I was gaga over Maryam D'Abo when I saw the flick in college?), but a big part of the film takes place in Afghanistan, with the help of a roving band of mujahadeen, and these days you can't help but wonder how many of those guys are fighting our soldiers right now. The good guys become bad guys, and vice versa.
Which goes a way toward explaining why some of Moore's films suffer when compared to Connery's. In his films Connery battled SPECTRE, a plausibly evil organization with the resources to try to take over the world over and over again. Wheras Moore had to battle a seemingly endless collection of megalomaniacal businessmen trying to nuke and/or poison the planet. Dalton got to battle the Russians (in a manner of speaking) in The Living Daylights
...man, it's a pity he only made 2 movies, as the producers I guess waited for Pierce Brosnan to loosen up in the bullpen. It's hard to argue that Dalton was the best Bond--he simply doesn't have enough time wearing the Walthier PPK to merit the title--but after Moore's cheekiness it was more than refreshing to have a Bond who was, well, a "professional". Dalton's Bond doesn't quip like Moore, he's much more human, he gets angry, he gets impatient--and he gets knocked down by a woman wielding a pillow.
Joe Don Baker plays a bad guy in The Living Daylights
, but just 2 flicks later he plays Bond's CIA contact. Charles Grey got knifed in the back in You Only Live Twice
, but was reincarnated as Blofeld in Diamonds Are Forever.
And the ridiculously gorgeous Maud Adams tragically got herself killed in The Man With the Golden Gun
before, blessedly, coming back as the epynomous Octopussy.
I'm trying to think of other cast recycling, there must be others...
Well, how about Never Say Never Again,
which was Thunderball
recycled twenty years later. I don't know what legal twists and turns took the rights away from the Broccoli family and allowed this one film to be made outside their control, but it's a bizarre addition to the collection. On the face of it, this looks like it'd be an all-time train wreck. And as it's nearly a scene-by-scene remake of Thunderball
--even the names stay the same, the villain's named Largo, the heroine Domino--you might be excused from asking why everyone in the country didn't just chip in a buck and have it shipped to Connery's house. And its disorienting watching a Bond films without those famous opening credits, without the Bond theme, and without the usual cast of supporting characters (no Moneypenny, no Q, and M is played as an upper-class-twit by the capable-of-more Edward Fox).
But there are some redeeming qualities. First of all, Connery plays Bond as an Agent-In-Winter--he's mostly been teaching, he says, before he gets shipped off to the spa. Though he's still capable of mixing it up--in the opening scene he swings down into a room, grabs a guy, and executes a head-butt the Junkyard Dog would've been proud of. Brandauer is a worthy villain, totally bonkers and such a ham he might've been garnished with pinapple rings. Kim Basinger is Kim Basinger--the scenes where she's dancing are unintentionally hilarious, the scenes where she's standing still make you believe in Intelligent Design. Barbara Carrera makes Christopher Walken look like Chris O'Donnell. And the film has perhaps the most disgusting onscreen kiss in history--after Brandauer reveals himself to be a homicidal wacko who killed her brother, he grabs Basinger and kisses her. She finally pushes herself away, and there's this (literally) foot-long rope of saliva still connecting their lips. The director was either: 1. short of funds and couldn't edit; 2. some sort of genius who know this at least would make folks remember the movie, or; 3. a complete sicko.
There's a fine line between genius and insanity. Let me illustrate. In Goldfinger
there's a gorgeous female character named "Pussy Galore". In Moonraker
there's a gorgeous female character named "Holly Goodhead". Now, in both cases, you gotta be shittin' me. Look, my name is "Eugene", and that alone has caused me some pretty serious psycholgical trauma. How the hell could you get through life with a name like "Pussy Galore"?
Ah, but therein lies the genius. When we meet Ms. Galore, James Bond is just coming around after getting shot with a tranquilizer dart. He's groggy, his eyes are coming into focus, and he sees this cool blonde looking down at him. He asks who she is. "My name is Pussy Galore," she says, her voice all business. Now, remember--the last time Bond woke up from unconciousness, he was tied down spread-eagled while a laser threatened to bifurcate his frank. He comes to now and there's this woman who says her name is Pussy Galore. Connery then says what I think is my favorite Bond line--his head lolls to the side, gives a lopsided smile, and says, "I must be dreaming".
This is how we introduce the ludicrous and make it plausible. The audience is in on the joke--even James Bond doesn't run into girls named Pussy Galore. But that's her name, and she doesn't look like she'd take kindly to any wisecracks about it. Contrast this to the scene when Roger Moore meets Holly Goodhead, he's looking for the doctor who's in charge and, upon meeting her, he's inexplicably surprised that she's female and says, with eyebrow raised, "A woman...". Uh, the fact that she's a woman isn't the surprising part, Jimbo. It's surprising that she's a gorgeous woman named friggin' "Goodhead". And that she's a scientist while apparently having an IQ of about 83.
OK, that's enough for now. I realize now that I haven't even talked about, well, 75% of the Bond films, maybe another time. Just felt like typing, and instead of doing the work I should be doing I wrote this nonsense.
Sleeves Make the Man
I only caught the last fifteen minutes of the Limit (or was it Pot-Limit, as my cable info window said?) Hold-Em event last night, but I saw enough to make this one pronouncement--it's virtually impossible to wear a basketball jersey and look sharp, unless you're actually standing on a basketball court. Eric Froelich won the bracelet and the title of Youngest Ever WSOP Winner, and I know that jerseys are fashionable among the kids. But tell me he didn't look ridiculous, either in his scarlet Lebron James Cavalier jersey or the one he inexplicably wore at the final table, a Kobe Bryant USA jersey. We can debate whether Bryant is a rapist or not, but after reading the transcripts of what he told police there's little to be gained in saying that he isn't a colossal scumbag. I certainly wouldn't want to be associated with him in any way, shape or form.
I don't knock Froelich because he's a bit rotund and doesn't look like he's capable of serious hang time. Truth be told, even if you have guns that look like Michaelangelo sculpted them you're gonna look a bit silly wearing that Allan Houston (Allan Houston?) jersey. Because, and I know this is an obvious point, basketball jerseys have no sleeves. And for a man, maintaining your dignity in most social situations is difficult when you're bare-shouldered. On the beach, sure. On the court, naturally. Loafing with your buddies, OK. But whether you can do 60 pushups in a minute or you never lift anything heavier than twelve ounces, if you wear a tank top around people who are wearing sleeved shirts in anything but the most casual of settings, eventually everyone is going to think that you'd look more appropriate dancing in a cage in a gay nightclub.
Froelich (and other people I've seen wearing hoops jerseys, including Phil Ivey) finesse this point by wearing a T-shirt underneath. This only complicates matters. Let's say you're wearing an authentic Larry Bird Celtics jersey. What color T-shirt should you wear underneath? Green? Yeah, I guess, though good luck finding a T-shirt that exactly matches Celtic green. Oh, you could just buy an official Celtics T-shirt too, but chances are it'll have logos and script on it as well, and it might show through the jersey, and whatta dork you'll look like THEN. How about white? No, 'cause then you run the risk that all that white will blend together into one besleeved whole, and it'll look like the Celts patterned their unis after the Louisiana Tech women's basketball team. Gray? Nope, too dingy. Black? Sure, wear black against white, and every stray hair, fuzz ball, and fleck of dandruff will stick out like you're under a microscope. Pretty soon you're standing in front of a mirror for 45 minutes deciding what goddam $8 T-shirt to wear under your $350 authentic game jersey. Teenage girls do that. It's not for me, Jack.
Think to some of the great masculine heroes both in life and fiction. Humphrey Bogart didn't wear a muscle shirt as he outmaneuvered the Nazis in Casablanca
. Sean Connery did not sit at the baccarat table stylin' in an Oscar Robertson jersey. Patton didn't storm across Germany in a khaki tank top. And Clint Eastwood's Man With No Name wore a serape, not a sleeveless top.
I belabor the point, I know, but I'm fighting against the cultural tide here and I need to bring out the big guns. Football jerseys, yes. Hockey sweaters (they're not jerseys, eh), definitely. Baseball unis, OK (and yes, I know lots of teams wear sleeveless shirts, including my Pirates, but they already have T-shirts designed to go with them and, besides, they cover the shoulders). Those are all fine for all occasions, save weddings and most funerals. But I ask that you think things through, carefully, before you pull that Carmelo Anthony jersey over your head.
So I'm at work late on Friday, instead of heading south for the Bradoween
festivities. And of course I'm in a great mood. I tell myself, "I'll go to the next blogger brouhaha, definitely". Next time, next go-round, next year. Story of my life.
Anyway around 7:15 I decide I've had enough. I print out a big file so I can hit the ground running on Monday, and I walk out into a beautiful late August day, not too hot, and clouds so fluffy and light you almost want to dip strawberries in them. If you like strawberries. Which I don't.
Weekend goes by, I return to my desk having already read about some of the mayhem that took place dahn Sahth, as we'd say here in Pittsburgh. I pick up the file I printed out before I left, and on the top is a photocopy of a check drawn on a major U.S. bank. For some reason I give the check a closer look, and see exactly where the check was drawn.
Greenville, South Carolina.
"You have got to be shitting me," I said, though, fortunately, not aloud. I took a standing eight-count, imagined a wide expanse of cool blue sea, and went back to work.
Oh well. I'll get to the next blogger function. Really. I mean it. December, right? Right.
Until then, I've finally gotten around to posting a picture of myself on this here blog:
Sorry, it's a bit blurry.
Five Books To Take to a Desert Island
Stopped at Borders last night to rejuvenate my soul, and during my perusing I overheard a man and a woman discussing a book she'd just read. I don't know what book it was, but she said, "If I'm ever stranded on a desert island, that's a book I want to have with me".
The "desert island" parlor game is one often played out during late night bull sessions, when you desperately rack your mind to come up with five books (or five albums, or five attractive members of your desired sex) that will show how witty, sophisticated, and soulful you are. It gets ankle-deep in a big hurry when you're playing this game with someone you're also trying to seduce. "Ah, well, if I could take along some Mozart, some Proust, and Essence
by Lucinda Williams, well, who needs to be rescued, chuckle-chuckle."
Ecch. Tho I do like Lucinda Williams. I'd probably like Mozart and Proust, too, if I exposed myself to them. But even if someday I do, I doubt À la recherche du temps perdu
is making the list. No, if I ever find myself stranded on a desert island, these are the five books I hope wash up on shore beside me:
The Desert Island Survival Handbook (Stranded Edition)
HELP! 1,001 Ways To Announce Over A Wide Area That You Need Assistance
The Big, Big, BIG Book of Hardcore Pornographic Images
The Porno Omnibus--1971-2005
The Compleat Pervert, Vol. I-VI
But that's just me.
Buying My Loyalty
Many different events have been cited as triggers for the poker boom. Chris Moneymaker winning the 2003 WSOP, the debut of the World Poker Tour and its hole-card cameras, the best-seller status of Jim McManus's Positively Fifth Street
. Everyone has their own answer to that question. What got me seriously interested in poker was reading the review of Andy Bellin's book Poker Nation
in the New Yorker
. I believe the review was written by Joseph Epstein, and it was both a review and a brief essay about Epstein's poker experiences. The review got me jazzed enough that for a fwe days I wolfed down a quick lunch then headed to the Barnes & Noble on Smithfield Street to grab a copy of Poker Nation
off the shelf and find a comfy chair. Yes, I know, I have a bad habit of reading books in bookstores instead of buying them.
I blitzed through Bellin's book in about three hours. If you haven't read it you should, and I find it odd that this book isn't really talked about as much as it should. I don't know if anyone shares this opinion, and certainly the book was a popular as well as a critical success, but I wonder if Poker Nation
was just a bit ahead of the poker popularity curve and got caught in the avalance of books that followed. If so, I heartily recommend you pick up a copy and read it.
Which I did the other day. OK, I went to the library and checked it out for the 8th time. Sue me. Anyway, there's a part where he's talking about gamblers who, though they've just thrown away thousands at craps or blackjack or even poker, have their grey skies turned to blue just by a simple gift from the casino. You've just had your aces cracked for the sixth time tonight? Have a baseball cap. The guy with the weeping sores on his arms just raked in his tenth monster pot of the night while you're on your seventh buy-in? Here's a comp for a slice of pizza.
I thought about this because of what just happened to me. I went to an orientation meeting for my new company, signing up for benefits and the like, and in addition to the folders and binders and foot-thick stacks of paper each of us was given a small canvas shoulder bag with the company name and logo on it. Now, I've worked for lots of large corporations in my time, and I know there's a reason that "warm and cuddly" isn't often used to describe them. But I must say, in all honesty, I would gladly commit a Class-1 felony for my company right now. Just because of that bag. Silly, I know. Stupid, perhaps. Crazy, yeah. But if my company looked at me, and raised its right eyebrow an eighth of an inch, and then looked at some blissfully unaware guy chattering away over his lunch, well, I'd be in the woods tonight digging a hole six feet deep, with the rear end of my car sagging under the weight of Mr. Chatterbox.
I should say, it's a really nice bag.
Live By the Hammer, Die By the Hammer. Over and over and over.
Another trip to the lake. I made the mistake of wolfing down a McDonald's cheesburger before I jumped on the turnpike and headed east, and so was only able to eat one huge fajita that was waiting for me when I got there. Heather made her Spanish rice and I would've been quite content to spend the night sitting in a dark corner with the serving bowl and a big wooden spoon.
But instead we played poker. Last time I went 0-4, not getting so much as a sniff of a win. This trip was no better, and in many ways worse. Let me explain why. We're playing and I'm dealt the Hammer. OK, I gotta play this, it a point of blogger pride. I raise big, and Debbie calls me. Of course she does. Flop comes J-9-8, and I go all in. Hey, you can't call with 7-2, you gotta bet, right? Debbie thinks about it, and calls. She has me covered. She turns over K-8. Called me with bottom pair. I don't hit my ten and I'm the first one out.
OK, shit happens. We play again. Again I hold the Hammer, and I almost throw it away. But instead I raise, of course. Frank calls. A raggedly flop and Frank checks. I make a big bet and he calls. After the turn I'm hosed. Frank bets. I either go all-in or I muck. I muck and start double-fisting Yuenglings.
Two hands later I play K-4 out of the big blind. The flop comes 7-2-4. "Where was that flop two hands ago?" I growl as I check in hopes of a free card. I get my free card and it's another 7. I'm up against Frank again, and when he checks I make a small bet, thinking my 4 might be good. He calls, and my Spidey sense tells me to bend over and grab my ankles. A brick on the river and Frank tosses in a bet that I have to call even though I know I'm beat. I just don't know how beat--he flips over the Hammer.
So that's three Hammer hands I've been involved in, one got me knocked out, one cost me 1/3 of my stack, and the last cost me my dignity. And the cherry on my shit sundae is that I'm pretty sure I lost another big pot with the Hammer, but so far I've managed to supress that memory. Probably wake up screaming in the middle of the night sometime this week and say, "Oh yeah...".
I managed to chop the pot in the last game we played, I gave out too many chips and even though the blinds quickly escalated from $5-10 to $75-150 we were no closer to deciding a winner after 90 minutes than when we started. Rick had the chip lead, I brought up the rear, and Scott was right about in between. But I had enough chips I could still play without going all-in, including a DEVASTATING bluff I made against Scott when he held second-pair and folded to my all-in. But with 2AM approaching and a 3AM night in our rear window none of us wanted to play till dawn. So we all got our buy-in back and played one hand up for the remaining $10. I was dealt A-5, Scott got 10-2. And of course Texas Dolly made his presence known and Scott flopped a deuce to take the game. I cried myself to sleep again and resolved to either take up birdwatching or crocheting. I haven't decided which yet.
Other than those crushing defeats we had a great time. For the third weekend running we had perfect boating weather, hot and sunny and the water absolutely delicious. Saturday morning I woke up feeling a bit rough so I took my usual hangover cure--blast around the lake on the JetSki cutting back and forth across the wake getting soaked to the gills. Better than Advil.
To give you an idea of how idyllic it was up there, consider this scene--we've been out on the boat all day, we're sunburned and exhausted and all the guys are crashed on the floor watching the PGA Tournament. We're all drinking cold, cold beer. And in the kitchen the womenfolk are prepping dinner--slicing potatoes, seasoning steaks, choosing the wines. And--here's the good part--all of the women are wearing bikinis. Yeah, I guess I can fade getting my head handed to me at the poker table. As soon as I get another glass of that cabernet sauvignon...
Nonsense, Administrative and Other
I've been trying to think up ways to increase my blog traffic. The most obvious tactic--posting thousands of pictures of attractive naked women--is to my mind passe. It's been done, especially on the Internet. I could start posting more, posting shorter stuff, and I have been meaning to do that. I could start posting better stuff, been meaning to do that as well.
But one quick fix (the best kind) I've been chewing over is moving this site to a different URL. Some of my friends say they can't read this at work because it's listed as "meangenepoker", and those final five letters bring about the wrath of the firewall. I've also had problems leaving comments on other blogs and getting rather nasty popups telling me I can't leave my URL because it's for a unapproved activity. As though I was a pornographer, or a liberal. I also want to start writing more about subjects other than poker (you might say the last year I've done just that) and having a non-poker URL might keep people from feeling ripped off when they have to sit through a 3,000-word post about my favorite ice cream flavors.
If I do switch I think I'm just going have it mirror the one you're reading now. I'll copy the template exactly, move it the new URL, and as I start posting on the new site just double-post stuff so I don't lose any readers. And then, in ten, maybe fifteen years, complete the move.
So if that happens I'll let you know. Let's see, what else...I think I know what laptop I'm going to get when I finally move forward and make the kill. Lots of people recommended Toshiba, and I test-typed a couple models and liked the keyboard well enough. I know folks said to stay away from the Celeron chip, so I will probably go with one sporting a Pentium M, which is supposed to use battery power only in moderation. I can't tell you how exciting is the idea of having an actual LAPTOP again instead of what amounts to a bivalve server.
Going to the lake this weekend, this evening in fact, play a little poker, bomb around the lake a bit, read a little. Maybe the last trip this year. Summer has flown by, even though it's been a brutally hot summer here in the 'Burgh. Especially the last few days, as our air conditioner chose a stretch of three 90+ days to conk out. You know what's nice? You call the people who installed your air conditioner, and they look up your address, and they say, "Oh, that's still under warrenty". That's nice.
Let me close with some actual poker content. I watched the most recent WSOP Circuit event, and I'm still having trouble believing the hand where the guy holding pocket tens FOLDED after making a set on the turn. I didn't tape the episode, but did he call a bet on the flop or was it checked around? I mean, if you have pocket tens, the flop comes and you don't make your set, and you call a bet...exactly what card are you hoping to see? He makes a set on the turn...and NOW he decides he's beat. If I recall there was an ace and jack on the board, so it's possible someone has a better set or KQ for the straight...but you'd better have a Nostrodamus-caliber vision of the other guy's hand to lay down three tens. If a guy at the table has a tell where he has an all-over palsy when he holds the nuts, OK. Beyond that...I don't know.
Making things worse is that his laydown was shown on friggin' national TV, meaning his name is now officially Fishy McDonkadonk. And he TOLD EVERYONE AT THE TABLE what he did. That episode is worth re-watching just to see the looks of pure, unadulturated astonishment on Phil Ivey and David Pham's faces. You don't see that too often.
Today is my last day as a temp. Passed the drug test and everything. So I think I'll bust my tail through rest of the day, pick up a book on tape to listen to on the way home (I think "Carlito's Way" by Edwin Torres, if you like books on tape it's a must-listen), grab some grapes and potato salad, and head to the lake. Have a good weekend, and wish me luck. After the last trip up there, I'll need it.
A Better Understanding of the Female Psyche; or, Nyuck nyuck nyuck!
It's a cliche that all men love watching The Three Stooges
, and that all women can't understand what's so goddam funny about three schmucks thwacking each other over and over again. Until today I didn't understand this evolutionary blind spot in the fair sex, but after the day I've had, I've come to see the light.
When we bought our house the building inspector took a quick look above the drop ceiling in the den. And got hit on the head by an empty wine bottle stashed in the space above the acoustic tile. At that time the den served as the bedroom for the seller's teenage son, and the seller was actually there with us at the time and was understandably embarrassed and upset at what took place. He apologized, we said the "kids will be kids" thing, and we bought the house.
It's four years later, and today I spent five goddam hours replacing the tiles. Not all of them, either--the support strips don't quite
match the tiles I bought, requiring me to trim a half-inch off most of them. And then I had to cut to fit tiles around light fixtures, heating ducts, bookshelves...great way to spend a beautiful Sunday afternoon.
Oh well, the joys of home ownership, blah blah blah. But what happened after I removed the first tile isn't going to appear in a Home Depot commercial. I slid the tile forward and back, angled it to slide it through the opening...and got hit in the face by a bottle.
It caught me right on the kazoo, it hurt like hell, and I actually made a sound like "Whoo-woo-woo-woo!" before I detonated and started firing the F-bombs. I bent down to find an empty bottle of Jaquin's Lime-Flavored Vodka. Now THAT'S a premium liquor, that's some classy booze, lime-flavored
vodka. You can almost imagine James Bond walking into a casino, sitting down at the baccarat table, and telling the buxom waitress, "A lime-flavored vodka martini, shaken, not stirred, served in a Dixie cup."
I took down another tile, carefully, and no hidden surprises. Took down another and there were 2 Coors Light cans. Just about every other tile I removed revealed a long-forgotton artifact of budding teenage alcoholism. An empty 2-liter Coke bottle with a greenish residue at the bottom. An empty bottle of Gordon's gin. More Coors Light cans.
I got lucky a few tiles in a row and got careless. So when the wine bottle fell I took it literally on the chin. A 1 1/2 liter bottle of Arbor Hill Strawberry Zinfindel--I must admit, I forget what vintage it is. While getting bonked on the face would probably be really funny to a neutral observer, I wasn't neutral nor an observer. I REALLY got pissed off. The people who previously owned our house moved only a few doors up the street and I damn near marched up there with my garbage bag full of bottles and cans to ask what the fucking fuck was the big deal?
Because here's what really pisses me off--so the kid was having a little secret drinky-drinky. No big deal. Happens every day. And it's not like I'd expect a teenage boy to have developed his palate so that he'd prefer, say, a Ravenswood Red Zinfindel (which I had over Matt's house Saturday night and which rocked) to an Arbor Mist Strawberry Zinfindel. No, what really got me fired up is that the kid hid all that stuff up in the drop ceiling, and then left it up there when he knew they were moving.
And moving just up the street. Wasn't he the least bit concerned that I might show up a few days later with a bag full of his empties and get him grounded until 2009? His dad was pissed when we found the one bottle, and we didn't close on the house for a month after the inspection, so he had plenty of time to go back, clean up his mess, and cover his tracks. He didn't. He didn't give a fuck. What's wrong with the kids today?
Well, just before I gave up for the night I might've found my answer. I did a quick peek above a few tiles, just to see if there were any other booby traps, and I found a book hidden up there. Mmm, maybe something interesting for a change. A teenage boy hiding a paperback, this has gotta be porn, right? From what I now know of him I didn't think it'd be Lolita
, maybe something along the lines of Hot Buttered Cheerleaders
No. What I found disturbed me. It was a copy of Self Analysis
by L. Ron Hubbard. There's a healthy combination, drinking and Dianetics. The book provides some sort of examination you take to...I don't know. I don't wanna know.
I still have half the tiles to replace, and I'm not looking forward the job. I've had enough of insulation dust, spiderweb residue, miscellaneous filth, and a neverending rain of empty liquor bottles. I am never, EVER, buying a used house again. I'm either having a house built for me, or I'm buying a house that's just been finished, or I'm living in my car. Because it seems like you never fully rid yourself of the previous owner's presence. They're still there, a spectral presence that manifests itself in painted-over light fixtures, incorrectly installed shower stalls, and Easter eggs hidden in the drop ceiling.
A Little Cafeteria Nostalgia
On several occasions I have waxed poetic about the fantastic cafeteria run by the company that just hired me. Well, the last two days they just suprassed themselves. Today I had the fish sandwich and it was even better than usual. Golden brown, crispy without being dry, and nice big flaky hunks of cod or halibut or tilapia or whatever. And the mac and cheese? Sooo good, especially with a few shots of tabasco. All for five bucks, which is a few dollars less than the sandwich alone would command in your typical bistro.
Yesterday I had perhaps the best reuben of my life. First they placed the rye/pumpernickel spiral bread on the griddle, adding swiss cheese and saurkraut along the way. When the bread was nice and crisp they removed it to the cutting board and started loading the corned beef. But this wasn't just some warmed-up lunchmeat--oh no. They had this humongous chunk of slow-roasted corned beef sitting there and they pulled pieces off with tongs (it was that tender) to assemble my lunch. About three solid inches of corned beef, the crunchy and still sour kraut acting as a compliment instead of the main ingredient. Plus two fistfulls of just-outta-the-fryer hand-cut french fries. Six bucks. No wonder I haven't been losing weight the last month.
Great food, reasonably priced, with excellent service...it's a wonder the place isn't jammed. And it isn't. There's nowhere else close by to eat (a trendy new apartment complex next door just opened its own little cafe, but that's no big competition) so either I'm missing the main lunch rush every day or lots of people bring their lunches. Maybe a combination of both. I'm not kidding when I say that, if this place was open at night, I'd come from home to eat dinner there.
We're due to move into a new building at the start of the year, and I think there are plans to bring the cafeteria along. I hope to hell they do, although I seriously need to start walking again at lunch and not oogling the sweet-smelling onion rings. But today got me to thinking about other cafeterias I've eaten in. I like food, I like to eat, but sometimes you don't have much choice where or what you eat. If you don't have the time (or permission) to go offsite for a meal, you're often stuck eating whatever the company/school provides. I realize that, over the years, I've been pretty lucky in my mandated food options.
All I remember from my elementary school cafeteria was that the chocolate puddding was really, really good. And that Nicky DiBucci once ate like 15 servings of the disgusting cole slaw. Today I love cole slaw, but after watching Nicky eat cup after cup of that glop it was a good 20 years before I'd even try it again. In my district all the kids were moved in the sixth grade to one school, and the food was brought up and served on the stage in the auditorium. I remember eating lots of soybean hamburgers and loving every bite.
High school there was a pizza line, a burger/fries line, a salad/soup line, and a rotating entree line. The burger line was always out the door, and to me the time one spends waiting for food geometrically reduces the amount of pleasure I derive from it. The hot dog I nuke in the microwave then dump on a piece of white bread to me is almost equivalent to the steak I have to defrost, season, grill, eat, and then clean up after. I usually got a salad or whatever was on the menu in the other line, where the most memorable meal was the pork turnover. A triangle of puff pastry filled with pork (or "porque" or whatever trade name the meat operated under), smothered with yellow (I don't think it could legally be called "chicken") gravy and a dome of mashed potatoes. Just say the words "pork turnover" in the presence of my high-school friends you get a reaction similar to Pavlov's dog and the bell--salivating, moans, lamentations that they aren't readily available.
Off to Penn State, where I presented my ID card at Pollack Commons and stepped into an all-you-can eat bonanza. The Freshman 15, indeed--I could've gained thrice that on the good grub they offered. Again, there were multiple choices every day, and there was a salad bar. Good food--great fish sandwich, great chicken sandwich (the famous "Cosmo"), good burgers, good soups, good everything. I fondly remember that New England clam chowder. To this day we pronounce "fajitas" like "fa-geetas" because Scott's grasp of Spanish was tenuous at best. On top of all that, they had milk and ice cream from the Penn State Creamery, which makes some of the best dairy products in the world. Yup, I could've put on some serious weight...except that during my sophomore year I got on a health kick and lost like 25 pounds, mostly by denying myself this gorging opportunity and sticking to salad. I think back to all the regrets I have from my college years--my major, not acting the total bastard at the school paper, not saying different things to different girls at different times--I think my #1 regret is not really chowing down when I had the chance. Fat schmat. Lotta good it did me.
Because I majored in writing (the hell is that good for?) I took a job out of college working for a big downtown department store. It's an old, stately building, a Pittsburgh landmark. Working there every day you could see how, over time, the building had been partitioned and re-ordered and jury-rigged over time to maximize the space. The floor I worked on was once part of a vast area set aside for Oriental rugs. Others in the credit department worked on the 9th floor, in conditions I can only describe as "squalor". Had I worked there I think I would've quit. The carpets hadn't been cleaned since...ever. The walls were covered with odd pen marks and icky brown stains and the dirty fingerprints of people who probably hadn't worked there in 20 years. My friend Ted worked in a closet-like space the length and width of a bathtub--with four other people.
But let's get to the cafeteria. No--first, a brief aside. My first day there I wear a suit, and come lunchtime I need to use the facilities. Thing is, I've no idea where the facilities are. The person training us takes me up to the 11th floor and shows me the restroom there. Thank God.
I open the door and walk into a cloud of cigarette smoke and an overall miasma of stale- and mustiness. The bathroom has 1 urinal and 2 stalls. There are five men standing and sitting around. There's a guy in one of the stalls, squatting and smoking. I can see this because there are no doors on the stalls. No one seems interested in using the open stall or the urinal. Including me--I'm wearing a suit, and thanks to the big breakfast I ate I need to do a #2. I can't do a #2 while keeping my suit jacket on, and there's no door to hang it on. And ain't no way I'm doing what I gotta do while five guys sit there watching me. It's one thing to take a leak in a bar while guys flanking you do the same. It's quite another to conduct this sort of transation in front of a captive audience, especially a group like this. Five men, all looking vaguely furtive, as if they feel guilty about something. I stood there like 10 seconds and I got the hell out of there.
I find my friend Ted and ask what the hell was going on up there. He says, "Why did you go up to 11?" I say that's where I was told to go, and Ted says, "That's the gay bathroom."
Oh come now, this isn't high school, there isn't a "gay" bathroom and a "jock" bathroom and a "nerd" bathroom. "No," Ted says patiently, "gay men cruise the store, pick someone up, and go up to the 11th floor bathroom to have sex. That's why they took the doors off the stalls, so they couldn't have sex in there."
Peachy. Ted takes me to another bathroom on the 10th floor, this one is employees-only and has a lock. It was an oasis in the desert, a refuge from the storm. A place to do your business without five guys asking if you happen to know what time it is.
The bathroom was on 10, the cafeteria on 13. To get there you had to go up an escalator to the 12th floor (duh) which at the time I think housed the store's coutour shop, one of the few places in Pittsburgh where a woman with the means could drop fifteen grand on a frock. From that floor you had to take another escalator up to 13, and to give you an idea of the age of the building, this escalator was made of wood. Wooden steps, wooden frame, the rubberized handholds the only artificial additive. It was almost like a 1-ticket amusement park ride, all clickety-clackety up to the top.
I remember the surroundings of this cafeteria more than the food. This one also made a good fish sandwich, but I do recall that they didn't have the facilities to make a lot of food at one time. So if you got in line and they ran out of grub, you might be standing there for 10 or 15 minutes while they revictualed. The fish sandwich, I recall, came in a special with fries AND mac and cheese, and that's what I usually got during Lent. A whole lot of food, which led to some embarassment the time I found myself in line with one of the Five Most Gorgeous Women I Have Ever Seen in My Goddam Life. I guess there was some sort of photo session at the store and there were five unnecessarily good-looking people together getting some lunch. The two male models were coiffed and pretty and had physiques like Terrell Owens. Two of the female models were merely beautiful. But the third woman was breathtaking--blonde, slender and graceful, yet still possessing an almost diabolical sexiness. Imagine the most fresh-faced J. Crew model blended with a bikinied and oiled Maxim cover girl. That's her.
And they're all talking about model stuff and going clubbing in Manhattan, which is intimidating to a provincial like myself, and I'm there in line ordering more food that the five of them are going to eat in total. I think this was the event that kicked off yet another weight-loss drive, and the cafeteria helped. They had these little styrofoam bowls filled with lettuce and some manner of salad (egg, chicken, tuna) and I ate these 3-4 times a week and took off some tonnage.
More than the food I remember place itself. The dining area was one big room, bordered on three sides by windows, giving you a remarkable view of downtown and beyond. For months, as I'd eat lunch, I'd watch a tiny figure on a window-washers scaffold painting the side of a building. The painter was named Judy Penzer, and over a long, long period of time she painted a mural, seven or so stories high, of various Pittsburgh sports heroes--Clemente, Lemieux, Lambert, Maz. To see her every day suspended a few hundred feet in the air dabbing paint on bare brick was pretty amazing. I'm terrified of heights, and I have no artistic skill whatsoever, so I was hugely impressed. It's sad that the mural only survived a few years before the building it was painted on was demolished to make room for new construction, and sadder still that Penzer died when the TWA flight blew up off Long Island.
Adding to what I find are the somewhat eerie memories I have of the place were the people who worked there, a collection of sweet little old ladies who, to my mind, seemed as though they'd worked there since birth. There was a sense that time stood still in the cafeteria, that nothing had changed in a hundred years. What freaked me more than a little bit was the radio the cashiers would listen to, a huge, antiquated gizmo that, for all I know, had been personally autographed by Guglielmo Marconi. It had these heavy ceramic knobs and the speaker was covered by a scrim of faded brown fabric, and on at least one occasion I saw the air surrounding it shimmer from the heat it threw off. The cashiers either listened to the news or, more often, a station that played Golden Oldies--and I mean oldies from the 30's and 40's. The thing is, try as I might I never found a Pittsburgh radio station with such a format, which to my mind only deepened the Flying Dutchman quality of the place. My friend Ted went exploring in the store recently and the 13th floor has apparently been shuttered. I wonder if those ladies are still up there, serving a neverending line of spectral customers. Or maybe they retired and moved to Orlando.
OK, this has gotten a bit too long by a half, let's move it along. My next job was in a big building in the city's Strip District, and this cafeteria was pretty doggone good. Nice sandwich/salad bar, good soups, and 1 or 2 tasty entrees. Good grub. And then the chef, a nice enough guy in his twenties, decided to run off to Florida with my department's administrative assistant. She was a major cutie, several of my co-workers lusted rather openly for her, and when she ran off with the cook they were pissed. So was I--the next guy they brought in couldn't slice bread. Literally--they'd put bread out for sandwiches and it was like he hacked at it with hedge trimmers while blindfolded. Fortunately he quickly moved on to, I don't know, performing Lasik surgery or something and a new company came in an stabilized things. Awesome chili, lots of beany goodness, and I often had surf and turf--chili and a tuna fish sandwich. Delish. And every Thursday was chicken salad day--lots of grilled chicken, olives, pepperocini, garbonzos. Plus a salt stick. Excellent salad, and according to my sources who still work there, still served every Thursday.
Then I moved downtown again, to the U.S. Steel building, where they have a rather unfortunate rule, cafeterically speaking--no open flames. So food either had to be trucked in from the bank's other cafeteria a few blocks away (which I only ate at a few times and found to be absolutely SMASHING) or it had to be reheated in a microwave or some sort of electric oven. I ate lots and lots of soggy, baked french fries there.
The only saving grace was the sandwich station, specifically the Southwest Chicken Wrap. A tortilla is painted with Cajun mayonnaise, layered with Pepper Jack Cheese, stacked high with slices of grilled chicken, jalapenos, and lettuce. Roll it up tight and serve with dill pickle. A fabulous sandwich, and about the only thing I miss about that job, which nearly broke my spirit forever.
I always made sure when I was in line to get finagle it so Tony made my wrap, because he always filled the tortilla to bursting. There's a tip for you--guys named Tony always take care of you in a cafeteria. My current eatery has a Tony working there and his Sizzle salads are big enough to choke a horse.
My last job had no cafeteria, so you either nuked your Lean Cuisine in the underpowered microwaves in the break room or you ordered out. I ate lots of Wendy's chili and Subway and some terrific but fattening Buffalo Chicken sandwiches from a few local eateries. I can always tell whether my job situation is in the shitter by what I'm eating for lunch. If I'm eating half a chicken breast and green beans, the keel is even. If I'm eating an entire order of General Tso's with fried rice, an eggroll, wonton soup, fortune cookie, and a Big Kat bar, well, keep me away from the windows and the gun locker.
This past week has been an exception. Work is fine--hey, I actually have a job again. But I had volleyball and no time to make a lunch and, doggone it, the food at our cafeteria is just too damn good to resist at times. Oh, goodness, did I tell you about the stuffed cabbage I had on Wednesday? Big as an Aussie rules football and so tender I cut it up with a spoon. And the mashed potatoes...OK, I gotta stop here, I'm drooling on the keyboard.
Why hockey rules, and some random thoughts
Baseball has its Rotisserie leagues, the NFL has Fantasy Football. You get a bunch of friends together, draft a team, and spend the season feverishly rooting for players you otherwise couldn't give a fig about. Well, the NHL has done baseball and football one better--they've turned the actual LEAGUE into a fantasy draft. Seems like every big-name player is available on the open market, all you need is a willing GM to add him to the fold. Flyers fans still smarting over the decision to trade Peter Forsberg, the best player of the last 7-8 years, for Eric Lindros? No matter--the Flyers just signed the spleenless Swede. Scott Niedermeyer has traded the Jersey swamps for Disney Land, Chris Pronger was literally traded from St. Lou to the Albertan flats of Edmonton. My Penguins desperate for a top two-way blueliner? Hey, here comes periennial Penguin-killer Sergei Gonchar. Awesome.
The NHL is on to something here. You hear how fans complain that they don't recognize their team from year-to-year, as players move on through free agency? Well, why not take this liquid labor market to its obvious conclusion? Every player gets a one-year contract. After every season, each team gets to keep three players. Everyone else is a free agent. Up for grabs. Talk about an exciting offseason! Instead of the airwaves being clogged by undateable psychos bitching about the Steelers only being 12-2, they'd be hollering for the Pens to sign Markus Naslund, Ilya Kovalchuk, Rob Blake, Martin Brodeur, AND Jaromir Jagr. And a couple gooned-up wingers to boot.
I'm SO looking forward to October 5th, when the NHL finally gets back in the business of dropping pucks. Lemieux, Recchi, Crosby, Gonchar, Malkin (maybe), Tarnstrom...there's talk the Pens are interested in signing a veteran goaltender (Cujo?) as Fleury (or Caron, or Chiodo) aren't quite ready yet. Hey, why not give Patrick Roy a call, he's been sitting about as long as everyone else?
OK, maybe no random thoughts today. Oh, here's one: I always considered myself sort of a liberal, politically speaking. I'd actually say I'm a social liberal but fiscal conservative, but while I nearly vomit when I see the billboard of Sean Hannity on the way to work every day, I'd merely curl my lip in distaste if I saw Michael Moore up there. So, by that standard, I'd say I'm a liberal.
Until I started reading The Huffington Post
. Which I'd say is perhaps a bit liberal in its views. And, for the most part, I want nothing to do with these people. Harry Shearer, yes, I read him closely. But so much of it is awful I read it more for the cringe factor. It isn't even the content that's terrible--the layout is a mess, and if you want to read an entire post you first have to click a link that says "read whole post", which kicks you back to the beginning of the piece and allows you to discover, incredibly, that the paragraph you read before clicking the link was taken out of sequence. OK, so you're starting from scratch, you get to the part you read at the beginning...and there's ANOTHER link for "read whole post". And again you start back at the beginning and have to scroll down an hopefully find where you left off before. I read something the epoyomous Arianna Huffington wrote and after I clicked the third goddam link I found that there was just one sentence that hadn't made it above the virtual fold. Why the hell make it so hard? Especially when I so often find I don't want to keep reading more than a few sentence in the first place.
My favorite HuffPost writer, other than Shearer, is Danielle Crittenden, who is one of their few conservative voices and is married to former Bush speechwriter David Frum. I read everything Crittenden writes, from start to finish, because she may be the least-funny "humorist" on the planet. I think I left a comment after one of her posts and said that she's about as funny as a sprained ankle. She's a treasure. If you ever see a dead horse by the side of the road, and you see a woman beating it with a stick, that's Ms. Crittenden. She's written two novels, I think, so I may have to hit the library and pick them up. It's odd, I don't enjoy watching horrible TV shows or horrible movies for the campiness or, indeed, the cringiness, but I love reading awful writing that is presented as well-intentioned prose. I love reading it almost as much as I love writing it.
Burned at the Lake
Beautiful weekend here in the 'Burgh, but I wasn't out watching the Bassmasters strip our rivers of fish (tho my brother was, more on this later). I was up at my friend Rick's lake house for a weekend of beer and boating. And a few hands of poker to boot.
The trip didn't get off to a good start. I was late getting packed, and halfway down my road when I remembered I forgot the wine and the DVDs I was asked to bring. Did the U-turn, scared the cats who no doubt thought they could relax the rest of the night, and once again was out the door. Picked up Ted, hit the road. We hit Somerset around 7:30 and, to steal a quote from The Simpsons
, I was so hungry I ate at Arby's. I think Arby's food is fine, but the real reason I stopped there was for a jamocha shake. Love their jamocha shakes. One problem. They either gave me a plain vanilla shake, or this was the least jamochy shake I've ever had. An ominous portent of things to come.
Got to the house and Matt gave me a beer, a Yuengling. I opened it and it overflowed all over my curly fries. After I cleaned that mess and finished eating I opened another Yuengling...and it too overflowed all over the place, forcing me into a disgusting and somewhat disquieting slurping display in front of everyone. Ech.
Scott and Debbie arrived and of course that meant the real drinking could commence. Ted made a kettle-sized margarita and we all retired to the card room to, uh, play cards. Just as we started Gary and Lori showed up with their two daughters, Karina and Erika. You can tell them apart pretty easily because Karina is 10 years old and Erica is 6 months old.
To the game. I was dealt QQ, raised, and Gary called. A ragged flop, I bet, and Gary comes over the top. I make a massive, MASSIVE, laydown. I don't think there are 5 players in the world who could've made that laydown. Gary told me later he hit a set. And he wouldn't lie about that, no way. So a great start for me...I get the shivers just thinking about how great
that laydown was.
I take Gary out when my 99 holds up against AJ. Things are moving along OK, except that Rick, sitting to my left, has a big stack and is pushing everyone around. He wins a big pot from Scott when 3 aces show on the board and he holds the case ace. He wins another big pot with aces. But then I come back and win a pot with the Hammer, I making deuces on the flop and Rico holding 7-5. But that's my lone highlight--Rick takes me out with AQ over A7 (bastard picked up AQ in the BB) and I have to SIT there and watch Rick and Scott battle it out. The game ended when Rick called with K2 against Scott's K5, Scott stays safe until the the last card when, you guessed it, a duck quacks up on the river. Rico is victorious, which he brought up about 47 times the rest of the weekend.
Next game. I push Gary out of a pot and he rabbit-hunts to see if he would've hit his open-end straight draw. He would have, and he understandably goes nuts as I laugh on the inside. I stop laughing when I have AQ, hit top two pair on the flop, and suavely check. But Scott doesn't bet. Nor does he bet when a sorta scary king comes on the turn. I know Scott has a big hand, if it's AK I'm hosed. Check check. A goddam 10 on the river, I have to check, he bets, I muck, and he turns over JJ. Again, what an incredible laydown!
. Ask yourself, and be honest, could you have laid that down? Don't go saying that I should've bet on the flop or the turn or the river and that I played the hand as poorly as it could've been played without my actual arrest. I made the big laydown, and that's the mark of a great player.
The baby has gone to bed (after playing with and nibbling on some poker chips) but Karina is still up. After six hours in the car she's a bundle of energy, so why doesn't she act as the dealer? Hey, why not--a ten-year-old dealing poker at 2AM? Who said poker isn't wholesome family fun? A tip, however--you don't want to scream "Deal me some fuckin' cards!" at a ten-year-old. Etiquette and all that.
My notes get a little sketchy at this point. I was drinking Miller Lite which, to steal a line from Monty Python, is like making love in a canoe. It's fucking close to water. They went down fast and they went down easy. I think I was in a hand with Scott where I had A6 to his AQ, flopped a six, but then lost when a queen came on the river. I made a full house and got NO action, which would become a recurring theme. I ended up out when I pushed with nothing and Rick called me with top pair. I think Scott won that one. Hic!
Everyone goes to bed except for me and Scott and Gary. We talk poker a bit while still chugging beers. My hands start turning blue from how often I have to thrust them into the icy waters of the cooler. What the hell, let's play a 3-handed game. These guys don't like ring games, which would make it easier to up and quit when exhaustion takes over. We play, I come in second, I have no idea who won or what happened. We leave the card room looking like John Blutarski's lived there for a month.
It's 5AM. I've been drinking since about 10PM. Yet I feel pretty good. I actually feel great. Buzzed, not piss drunk. I must've paced myself well. So now I have to figure out where to sleep. The house has 5 bedrooms, and as I do some calculations I guesst they're all taken. I usually crash on the comfy futon in the loft above the dining room, but the horrible ripsaw noises coming from up there tell me Ted beat me to that spot. I have 2 options--crash on the living room couch and be woken in about 90 minutes when Karina's internal bells goes off, or sleep in...the spooky room.
This is the room Mark usually takes, but he's in North Carolina and so it's open. Let's me set the scene--there's a long hallway that connects the living room area to the rear of the house. The card room is off this hallway. But just outside the living room door the ceiling is like 20 feet high, and there's a very sturdy wooden ladder affixed to the wall. Climb this ladder about 12 feet up and there's a door leading into a low-ceilinged room above the hallway. It's a long, narrow room with a sloping ceiling that gives it a fun-house effect. There's a bed in there, a sink, and a creepy sense of privacy. You're 12 feet above the ground, the door closes nearly on blank space, inside you only have headroom right above the bed...it's a bit weird.
The previous owners apparently set this room up for one of their kids. And it would be a neat room for a little kid, a private little refuge, and fun too, climbing up and down the ladder. However, and this should come as no surprise to my long-time readers, I'm not a little kid. I'm six feet tall, which becomes a salient point because at the top of the ladder, where you would step onto the ledge and enter the room, is a thick wooden beam about 3 feet above the ledge. For a 4-footer, no problem. For a five-footer, an inconvienience. For me, this is a potential deathtrap. The ladder is perpenticular to the ledge, so I have to climb 12 feet in the air, twist my body so my butt rests on the ledge, lean back to get my head under the beam, and do a sort of limboesque shimmy until I'm settled enough to leave go. Did I mention that, if I fall, I don't land on the floor but on a series of steps that leads down to the hallway? Did I mention that it's dark in the hallway, and that I'm afraid of heights? I did mention that I'd drunk about 4 gallons of light beer, I know I mentioned that.
I tried many different manuevers to get myself safely on that ledge. What followed was ten minutes of what I'd call Extreme Hokey-Pokey:
You stick your right shoulder in
You pull your right shoulder out
You stick your right shoulder in, and you nearly slip and fall
You say a quick Hail Mary and try not to crap your pants
Why not sleep on the floor!
When I finally got myself safely on the ledge I wasn't as happy as you might think--I knew getting back ON the ladder would be an equal challenge. But the room was cool, the bed soft, and I only lasted 2 sentences of Small Stakes Hold-Em
before I was sound asleep.
I woke just before noon, feeling better than I had any right to. I wanted to linger in bed, not wanting to face the ladder, but unfortunately my bladder felt like Kobayashi's stomach after the Nathan's hot dog eating contest. My, ah, discomfort complicated the descent, as I had to perform gyrations that nearly brought tears to my eyes. But my distress spurred me to action, and with only a few false starts I got myself affixed to the ladder and scurried down. I knelt, kissed the linoneum, and answered Nature's insistent call.
Only then did I have the headache I so richly deserved. Everyone else was outside enjoying what looked to be a beautiful day--except Gary and Scott, who looked miserable like me. They were watching TV--the WPT Foxwoods event from season one, in fact, where Howard Lederer beat out Layne Flack at the end. Perhaps my favorite WPT broadcast. I could've kicked back until 2PM watching poker and then eaten lunch.
But the mere thought depressed me, and made my head hurt worse. So I tried a different hangover cure. I grabbed 2 Advil, shotgunned a 20oz bottle of Diet Cherry Pepsi, grabbed a life vest, and saddled up the Jet Ski. No better cure for the poundy-queasies than flying across the water at 40 mph kicking up spray while humming "Ride of the Valkyries". I found my friends on the boat and zigzagged behind the wake, getting nicely soaked and clearing my head completely. If only it came equipped with rocket launchers.
Lunch, then went tubing and did a major job on my shoulder. For dinner Gary and Lori made London broil on the grill, totally fantastic, and the bottle of Dr. Frank's Petit Noir I brought up paired perfectly with it. It was obvious that after last night, and a long day in the sun, and a good, big meal, we wouldn't be playing cards till 5AM. So when Scott and Ted and Rick and Gary went to play pinochle I figured I'd settle down with my book and relax a bit. But Debbie wanted to play, and so we got out the chips to play heads-up a la Andy Beal and the Corporation. Just for lower stakes. Like, none.
We played just a few hands before Debbie asked Lori if she wanted to play. Lori, who had never played poker for money before. "OK," she said, and never was there a more ominous "OK" uttered in the history of the world.
Matt sat to play too and we were off. I got crap cards, of course. I hold K4 in the big blind, get nothin' on the free flop, a king on the turn, a 4 on the river. I make a big bet but Debbie isn't biting. "I think you bluffed me on that one" she says. Later I push with KQ against her with not so much as a taste on the flop. She folds. "I think you got it". It's a good sign that I have Debbie off-balance, but I can't get enough chips to start pushing people around.
Every few minutes Scott came in to see when we'd be done so we could start a "real" game. I tried my hardest, but I had Lori on my right playing more hands than Danny Nguyen. Here's a typical sequence.
Mean Gene: Raise
Mean Gene: Bet
Mean Gene: Eats Foot
Lori didn't just pick on me, surviving an all-in against Matt when he held AK and Lori 10-7. Somehow I survived both Debbie and Lori to get heads up with Matt. I held a king when the flop came K-J-K. I checked, Matt goes all-in, I happily call. Until Matt turns over the 5-6 of hearts and I see 2 hearts on the board. Uh-oh. A black deuce on the turn, and on the river...the nine of hearts. I freeze a grin on my face and console myself that this was just for fun. Now we're gonna play for money, and that's where I shine.
Ha. Haha. For this game we had 8 people, our biggest prize pool yet. A big hand early on--Lori bets, Rick raises, Gary re-raises, Lori calls, Rick goes all-in, Gary goes all-in, Lori goes all-in. Got that so far? Rick has QQ, Gary 99, Lori A-7. You know where this is going? An ace on the flop and Lori triples up.
The game wends and winds, I'm dealt 8-4 about 900 times. And then, finally, a hand--cowboys, to be exact. I raise it up big, knowing Lori will call, which she does. "Do you know that you can fold," I ask. "I mean, you're aware that's part of the game, you don't have to play every hand". She ignores my advice.
Scott calls to, and I'm THRILLED to see a flop of A-A-7. Great. I have to act first, and I check. Lori tosses in a bet (natch), and Scott agonizes. I know he has a flush draw, and eventually he mucks it. Now, what to I do? Would she really have bet with an ace? I have no idea. I know that I'm tired of being shortstacked all the time, so I go all-in. She calls in a microsecond and shows the ace. There are no firearms in the house, no sure-fire poisons, and the oven is electric instead of gas, so I just smile and say nice hand and smile some more. She's never played before. Beat me like a friggin' drum.
Lori goes on to win the game, beating Scott when he pushed with 77 and she held JJ. Never played before, and she wins the game. The lake version of Chris Moneymaker. That would make me Johnny Chan...well, no it wouldn't.
Next game had an interesting hand. Gary pushed all-in and Scott calls. Gary has QJ, Scott KK. The flop comes Q-5-J, and again kings are cracked. Gary says, "Here comes the king" as Ted flips over...the king of clubs. But while this puts Scott ahead, it's put a third club on the board. Gary has a club, so he has outs...and spikes the nine of clubs to win the hand. See-saw hand indeed.
Gary knocked out his wife Lori and then Debbie, giving him about a 19-1 chip advantage against me heads-up. I went all-in blind and ended up with 6-high, which wasn't good when Gary hit his overcard on the flop. All in all, a horrible performance by yours truly.
I was only up to 2:30 Saturday night before turning in. I was far more sober and this time got up the ladder with only minor contortions. Slept well, woke at ten, and this time climbed down like a lemur. Got it figured out, I think. Not that I'm ever, EVER, sleeping up there again. EVER.
Spent so much time on the Jet Ski Sunday I got saddle sores. And got nicely sunburnt to boot. But lots and lots of fun. Another lake trip in a few weeks, but this time I don't think Lori will be there. Thank God. I don't think my nerves could take it.