I Know What I'm Doing October 23rd
Kicking some major bloggerbutt, that's what:
While it's true that I'm about the 924th-ranked blogger/player, let's not forget that I won
the first blogger tournament. I see no reason why I can't win this one as well. Except for the fact that there are a few hundred players out there who are vastly better than me. And the fact that I suck.
Seriously, this is very cool. And the prizes? A free entry into the PokerStars Caribbean Adventure, flat-panel monitors, IPod Nanos, PokerStars swag...I knew this blog would pay off eventually.
I see the invisible hand of Otis behind all this. Hope to hell he's banned from playing, that's one more player infinitely better than me I don't have to hurdle. But...that'd mean Isabelle Mercier can't play either. And here I was getting all giddy.
Seriously, my foot's gonna be sore from all the ass I'm gonna kick. Uh, anyone read those Harrington on Hold-Em
books? They any good, think they'd help me at all? I think I'm screwed.
Phil Gordon, Please Shut Up
Here I am working on my next column about the difference between no-limit and limit poker and that BASTARD Phil Gordon posts a column
about that very subject. And since he knows a wee bit more about it than I do I'm now pretty much SOL and have to come up with something new. I don't need this kind of pressure. Between Gordon and Jim McManus's NYT columns I'm rapidly getting boxed in by big-media types grabbing all the good ideas. And since they have "knowledge" and "name-recognition" and "thousands and thousands of readers" you just know that I'd be the one labeled the plagiarist. Especially if they get it in print first.
I like reading Steve Rosenbloom's stuff on ESPN, but the Mailbag columns he runs have gotta go. He runs questions like, "How do I get recognized at tournaments?" (um, win a couple, maybe, moron) and "When does the kicker come into play?". I know that not everyone out there is steeped in poker knowledge, but sheesh.
Watching the WSOP coverage last night...how long could you last before the urge to punch Phil Laak in the throat became overwhelming? Don't get me wrong, I enjoy Laak's antics, I like it when he's at a final table. I'd just like to punch him in the throat after a certain, rather finite amount of time. Espcially if he beat me in a hand, the throat-punching desire would become exquisite.
The prop bet competition between Forrest, Williamson, Matusow and Lindgren wasn't as interesting as I thought it'd be. Well, it wasn't long enough to be as interesting as I'd like it. Let me pitch an idea to ESPN--have a weekly show dedicated just to poker players and their prop bets. Forget this cards-and-chips nonsense--I wanna see Howard Lederer eat that cheeseburger. I wanna see Erick Lindgren playing one-on-one basketball with Daniel Negreanu with a six-hoop handicap. I wanna see Ted Forrest drink those 10 Heinekens in 30 minutes. I wanna see wads of Benjamins passing between friends because a guy who thought he could climb a flight of stairs on his hands, couldn't climb a flight of stairs on his hands. Make this happen, people.
Anyway. What does it say about Matusow that he got disqualified from this contest during the activity he picked?
I sat there watching and thinking, "You know, I'd like a piece of this action". I'm definitely a better ping-pong player than any they showed (I'm no Danny Seemiller, but I wield a mean paddle). I'm also formidable at the air-hockey table, especially with my lethal forehand inside-out short-side blaster. Card tossing I'd need to practice a bit, but I was an English major and I'm pretty sure I could outspell them left-handed.
Aha, but Mean Gene, surely you would choke with thousands of dollars on the line! Perhaps. But it'd have to be a 2004 Yankees-caliber choke for me to go down at Ping-Pong, let me tell you that. I got skillz.
As I watched Johnny Chan win his 10th bracelet I sorta felt bad for the guys at the other table who barely made an appearance on TV. You play some great poker, make the final table...and the whole of your face time is a quick Lon McEachren "...finished in 7th place!" before you get quick-cutted into oblivion.
I think the stat that shook me the most last night was the news that Robert Williamson III once weighed over 400 pounds. Wow. WOW. I think I read that Doyle Brunson, Chip Reese, and Howard Lederer have all had the gastric-bypass surgery that turned Williamson into, as he put it, "half the man I used to be". I think it was in A. Alvarez's classic The Biggest Game in Town
where he describes Brunson drinking milkshakes topped with whipped cream at the table and, before the 1982 Main Event started, a nervous Brunson sneaking into the buffet line to grab a double-wide wedge of chocolate cake.
God knows I drink and eat like a garbage disposal when I play. I don't think I'm going to play in the free tournament at the bar tonight, but when I did last week I drank me like four beers in an hour and looked longingly at the calzone the guy next to me was dissecting. My dad is having a game next week and we always have a variety of chips and dips at the table along with many, many beers and a bubbling crock pot filled with hot sausage. Plus a Boston Cream pie--can't have a Bromberg poker game without Boston Cream pie. It's always bad news, gasterointestinally, the day after I play poker with my family. I'll leave it at that.
Weirdness Before Breakfast
So I'm driving to work today, headed down River Road which, you guessed it, runs right along the river, Allegheny version. It's not a heavily traveled road, since it sort-of dead-ends and if you want to get into downtown proper you have to do some tight rightys and lefties and before hopping across a bridge. That's where I work, where my company has a big factory, where there are a number of newly-built upscale apartments. What foot traffic you see is usually wearing the same ID badge I wear.
Except for today. As I approached my parking lot this figure in the distance walked into the middle of the road and started frantically waving his hands. As I got closer I saw that it was an old man wearing dark blue coveralls. When I say he was "old", I mean that he was eighty if he was a day. Maybe older. He actually got into the road, blocking my path. I, unlike the swerving drivers ahead of me, stopped.
He walked up my passenger door with a big grin on his face. His teeth, which were both false and loose, wobbled in his mouth. I did something smart, for a change--I didn't unlock my door. Instead I rolled down the window and asked what was wrong.
"I need a ride into town", he said with some difficulty. Still had a big smile on his face. He wore glasses with lenses so thick it was like looking at his eyes through an aquarium. Now, I wasn't going into town. I don't think I was going into town if it'd been a quartet of Swedish airline hostesses late for a pillow fight. I was late for work as it is. So I explained that I wasn't going into town, I was parking right there, and I pointed at the lot.
He tried the door, found it was still locked, and I explained again that I was sorry but I wasn't going into town. He sort-of slumped, nodded, and suddenly ran behind my car. To try to cut off the SUV barrelling down at us. The moron on the SUV didn't even slow down--he glided left to avoid the old man, gunned the engine to pass me, and disappeared into the distance. I eased forward and cut into my lot. Just as I did, I looked in my rear-view mirror. The old guy (and, to emphasize, he was OLD old) was running--yes, running--toward town. Chances are he could've walked there in 20 minutes, my not giving him a ride really wouldn't have saved him much time. Especially the way he was picking them up and putting them down. Watching him jog pathetically down the road made me feel like a heel.
It's such a cinematic cliche--the hero (or villain) runs out in the street, flags down a car, gets in, and so begins the chase. I wonder what storyline I failed to advance by not giving him a ride. What the hell was he doing there at 8AM? Why the urgency to get to town? Why the blue jumpsuit, which when I saw him at a distance made me think he worked in one of the factories (though they usually wear all white)? It wouldn't stretch the imagination much to think of him as an escapee from an asylum of some sort, and there is a hospital just up the road...I don't know. No one else I knew saw him. It's a mystery.
Culture, Religion, Capitalism--Doomed
When I went to the bar the other night for the poker tournament I showed up just as the JetBlue plane with the twisted landing gear was about to land in LA. There were about 70 people in the bar watching in hushed silence as it glided toward earth, and I found myself idly thinking, "You know, I might be about to see 100 or so people die. I'd really rather not see that." I don't know if CNN and the other news organizations considered pulling their coverage until after it was all over. I doubt it. I guess the decision to watch or not watch is better left to the individual viewer than some suit in New York. I watched.
So, incredibly, did the people on board the plane. They have DirectTV built into the seats and the people on board WERE WATCHING THEMSELVES TRYING TO LAND. How goddam postmodern is that? There's a cliche that during a near-death experience you see your life flash before your eyes. Well, how about the real-time action of your death flashing before your eyes? The extraordinary situation these people found themselves in fascinates me. With digital cameras becoming commonplace and the planet bathed in WiFi and streaming video commonplace, this is going to happen more in the future. Not necessarily "oh my God I'm about to die and it's on TV and it's true the camera adds fifteen pounds to you" situations, but if you think contrived "reality" progams like "Survivor" are as low down the entertainment ladder as we can get, I don't think so. Combine our shallow, celebrity-crazed culture with cheap high-tech gizmos and media conglomerates of all sorts desperately throwing cash at anyone with content able to lure in a few thousands eyeballs...
Boy, I just cheered myself up like the bigtime. Let's see, what else to talk about? Hurricane Rita has proven that you can't evacuate a big American city in under a week. Can't be done. Unless everyone is issued helicopters or hot-air balloons. Maybe Houston is a bad example--it's a BIG city, for one thing, and being on the coast means that you can't flee south, taking away one direction of departure. I can't imagine sitting in bumper-to-bumper traffic, for untold hours, gas gauge sliding to the left, hurricane looming over the horizon, with a couple of kids screaming in the back seat. If that isn't a description of Hell, it's at least an acceptable definition of Purgatory. Everyone who endures that trial without committing at least one Class-A felony should get a 10% discount in the Hereafter. One less millenium scrubbing out the Styian abyss, perhaps.
One last depressing note. After a light lunch on Tuesday I was hungry for a candy bar. OK, we have vending machines, let's make this dream come true. I won't go on a tirade about our vending machine company today (let's save that for another post) but they didn't have most of my favorites. No Big Kat (oh Christ, do I love that Big Kat bar), no Twix. They didn't even have the Nature Valley Sweet Peanut Butter Bar that I adore. I narrowed my choices down to a Snickers or a bag of Peanut M&M's. Something with peanuts.
And then something shiny caught my eye. I like shiny things. It was the silver wrapper of a Baby Ruth bar. Hmm. That's new. And...shiny. I don't much like Baby Ruth's. Never have. But the wrapper. It was new. It was shiny. The 13-watt bulb inside the machine made it glitter and gleam and it promised so much happiness and joy if I selected it. I quickly fed sixty cents through the slot and pressed E-4.
Mistake. Goddam Baby Ruth is the worst candy bar in the world. Worse than Mallo Cups. Worse than Zagnut
. First of all, the chocolate coating the whole thing fractures like shale once you take the first bite. What, they can't regulate the sand content in their recipe? Second, the peanuts appear to have been washed in some kind of alkaline solvent that leaves them about as tasty as hamster pellets. Third, there's the nougat. OK, I admit, I have a problem eating "nougat" of any sort. I could go through the rest of my life nougat-free and not miss a step. But this is an especially vile sort of nougat. It leaves this coating all over the insides of your mouth, and it's so cloyingly sweet that it actually made my teeth hurt. Combine that with the waxy chocolate and the anoynmous crunch of the peanuts and you'll understand that I didn't enjoy that candy experience as fully as I might.
How is it that Baby Ruth's have survived for so long? I did some Googling and found that they've been making these things since 1920. There's a story that it was allegedly named after Grover Cleveland's daughter, Ruth--but she died in 1904. What kind of a sick fuck would name a candy bar over a little girl who died nearly two decades earlier? I'd have the FBI crawling all over that one, sounds like something profoundly messed-up happened.
There's no reason for anyone to pick a Baby Ruth over a Snickers. The confections are similar--peanuts, chocolate, nougat, caramel. Your Snickers comes in bar-form; Baby Ruth's in the less-popular log. You can freeze a Snickers and enjoy it immensely--if you froze a Baby Ruth you'd be left with a bag full of dangerously-sharp shards. I do not understand why the market has not ruthlessly (ruthlessly, heh) consigned Baby Ruth's to the dustbin of confectionary history. Shiny wrappers or no. The only conclusion I can reach is that we're all nuts, and capitalism doesn't work.
Sorry, this this post was a bit of a buzzkill.
Oh, Baby, Feels So GOOD
I go home yesterday, my dad stops over the house, we install two outlets in the garage and attach a new spring to the garage door (a quote my brother, if no one else, will appreciate, from my dad, as he's attaching the spring--"Come on, you GODDAM SON OF A BITCH!". And I sound just like him when I'm pissed off, and I'm sure the menfolk of my family have spoken thus back to our days in north-central Poland.
Anyway, we get that done and it's 7PM and what am I going to do the rest of the night? I throw some laundry on. I load the dishwasher. I vaccum the den. I sit at the computer and muse a bit.
What the hell. I want to go, so I'll go. I'm at loose ends tonight, I have nothing going on. I'm gonna go play some poker.
I drive to the bar I mentioned in a previous post, the North Park Clubhouse, which is a horking big place with a big dining area, an elevated bar, a section filled with video games, another with pool tables and dartboards, and a banquet area in the back. That's where I head, to play in the 9:30 free poker tournament.
The previous tournament is still going on, and there are scores of people milling around. I walk up to the guy who appears to be in charge, and he gives me a form to fill out and voila, I'm registered. I see a guy I know from our beach volleyball league, see a bunch of guys wearing baseball caps and Steeler jerseys and a few guys in button-down shirts who are invariably accompanied by their girlfriends. A good mix of people, college kids and grandmothers, everyone having a good time.
I grab a beer--it tastes good. The 6:30 tournament ends, and the table assignments are doled out for the next one. They have these circular poker toppers on top of the usual banquet tables, and it's a bit cramped, but not too bad. Doug (the guy running things) gets through the instructions he's required to read (no gambling, no side bets, no real money on the table, etc). The most important rules come at the end--you get extra chips when you order a beer, or order food, or if you're a regular player, or or or...it looks like some players already have me outchipped about three-to-one. No matter. I'm Mean Gene.
I think we started with 7 tables, about 50 people. The very first hand I'm dealt K-10, I limp, miss the flop, toss it. It feels GOOOOOOD. Chips in front of me, cards sliding along the felt, a beer at my elbow. I vaguely feel like I'm doing something I shouldn't on a school night...and that feels GOOOOOD.
I muck it up a bit, and then I'm dealt AK suited. I raise, and the lady to my left calls, and she's want to do. The flop is 7-8-9, with none of them my suit. Like a CHAMP I bet $800, and she folds. Mean Gene wins a pot. Yeahhhh...
I lose a bit with A-7 when the flop comes 7-4-2 and my bet gets 2 callers. Overcards on the turn and river make all 3 of us check it down, and my opponents turn over pocket eights and tens. I might've played those cards differently. The play is loose and passive, meaning my tight and aggressive stance should do well.
Thing is, the blinds go up every ten minutes and I gotta get some chips. Well...why not order a beer! I do just that and get handed a black $1000 chip. Bingo! I guzzle it down as I get moved to a table where the guy to my right has about $20K just in black chips. He seems pretty lit, which explains some of his stack, and I figure maybe he just gorged himself until he felt his stack was sufficient to bully the table. At any rate, he's involved in 3 all-ins in a row and loses them all. It doesn't make a dent in his stack. He actually folds a hand and I look down at AJ. I raise, 2 callers. The flop comes K-J-5, ehh. I check, the lady to my left checks, the guy across from me tosses in his last $2K with a dejected look on his face. I don't think he has a king so I call, but so does the lady. Crap. We check it down, and me and the dude both turn over AJ to chop the pot. I figured I was hosed, so I'm pleased to wet my beak a little.
Time to order another beer...I mean, build my stack. Here I learn something--if you tip the waitress well, you might get a wee bit more for that beer. I also luck out when a guy gets knocked out and I don't have to pay the little blind. The blinds are like $600-$1200 when I get moved back to my original table. There's a kid to my right in a Pitt baseball cap who apparently plays often and seems to have a clue. He's raising about every other hand, winning the blinds, but I can't get a hand to play. On one hand its folded to me in the little blind and I'm holding 2-5 of hearts. I raise it big, but the lady in the BB calls. Crap.
Until the flop comes all hearts. I have about the teeniest flush imaginable, but a flush is a flush, and I put my remaining $3500 in the pot. She folds. The next hand I'm dealt pocket jacks, I raise after an early call, and win another tidy pot. I'm up to about $15K, not great when the blinds are $1-$2K, but we're down to 2 tables now and if I can double up I'll show these folks what the word "bastard" means.
Tis not meant to be. I get zilcho through the blinds, and I deal myself pocket nines. The kid in the Pitt hat raises, and I go all-in. He calls, flips over K-10, and we have a classic race situation. Which I lose when I flop him a king. You're gonna lose hands like that, of course--but it sucks double when you're actually the one flipping the cards over.
I take it like a man, really, no hysterics, no cheap shots. I tap the table, say good hand, and quaff the last 4 ounces of my beer. It's nigh of midnight, and I have to get to bed. Finished about 12th or so, which is good for nothing.
But I had a good time. Great time. I did some casual market research at the tables-- no one knew what "The Hammer" is; no one had ever heard of "Mean Gene"; and when a woman mentioned that her son had seen Chris Ferguson during a trip to Vegas the oohs and ahhs were at Ben Roethlisberger-like levels. The NPC is gonna have these events on Tuesdays as well as Wednesdays, so I'll definitely be back. Also found out that a fire hall nearby has $40 tournaments Sunday nights and other little ring games and whatnot, so that's now on my radar.
So, as I said before, it's not check-raising Chau Giang at the Bellagio, but it's action. It's poker. It's fun. I just need to remember to come early next time with a big 'ol appetite and an AlCan'tHang-esqe thirst so I'm not short-stacked from the get-go.
Had 2 more columns and a book review published the last few weeks, see the links on the left if you'd like to check them out. For some reason I got stuck really bad writing the review of Ace on the River
, for no particular reason. Liked the book very much, provided much to think and write about, but couldn't seem to get my fingers moving across the keyboard. When I finished the review I felt like someone very large had just stepped off my diaphragm. And I was like that for 2 weeks. A problem I've rarely had, and I hope it stays rare.
Tell you what, there are a lot of poker books out there these days. I mean, you knew that already, but I remember when I first started blogging that Iggy
recommended Gary Carson's Complete Book of Hold-Em Poker
, and I had a hell of a time finding it. One day I was killing time in Borders and, lo and behold, there was a solitary copy bookended by two copies of Super/System
. I grabbed it--I mean, I reached out with both hands and plucked it from the shelves like I'd just discovered some ancient artifact and didn't want anyone to see me stuffing it into my rucksack so I could sell it later on the black market.
I bought poker books and felt edgy--now I feel trendy. I hate trendy. Our culture moves too fast these days. Oh well, for a bibliophile like me the fact that there are more books on the shelves is an absolute good. And, with just a cursory search through Amazon, there are more poker books on the way. Seems like the question poker players will be asked in the future won't be "How many bracelets do you have?" but "How many copies has your book sold?".
Lady Luck Likes Me Fat and Drunk
Unlucky in love, lucky in cards, so goes the saying. And if you're unlucky in both, well, you just have to suck it up, buttercup. You can't get lucky all the time. Unless you're me, and you're me at the bar I go to after volleyball Monday nights. We go to the North Park Clubhouse to drink cheap Rolling Rock and eat fried food in a variety of shapes (disks, knobs, sticks, planks) to either celebrate our wins or, more likely, ease the pain of defeat. We sit down, Ricki comes over with cups teeming with suds, and all is good in the world.
At the start of the season you're given a card, and every time you attend it gets stamped. As time goes by you win prizes (T-shirts, glasses, gift cards) so, in a way, going there week after week isn't just about the drinking and gorging--it's an investement. I wonder if I can write off the depreciation of my life expectancy on my taxes...something to look into.
Everyone in the bar also gets a raffle ticket, and at halftime they announce the winner of a $50 gift card. For some reason, last season everyone on my team gave me their tickets to hold, maybe they couldn't be trusted to drink AND maintain control over a 1x2 inch slip of paper. Anyway, last year I think I won three times. It got to be something of a joke, the other volleyball teams were crowded around their tables, dispatching wings and beers, and here I go again trapising up to the bar to collect my prize. Maybe we didn't win the championship last year, but we very nearly turned a profit.
I didn't win last week, and felt slightly cheated. Don't they know who I AM? Well, of course they do, I shouldn't be so modest. The called out the number, I went down the line of tickets in my hand...yup, won again. Another fifty smackers. And when you think that beers Monday night are a buck during the game, that little plastic card means that me and my team will be nicely drunk next week, no matter how we do on the court.
Unless...unless I just blow them off and go there for dinner tonight, all by myself. Yeah, I can see that, me sitting in one of the cozy little booths off to the side, a nice quiet spot for a couple to nibble and whisper sweet nothings, except that I'd be there all by myself, just me and a menu and an appetite. "I gotta eat me fifty dollars worth," I'll say, slapping the card down on the table. "Get that oil hot and keep it hot. 'Cause I had a hungry day."
Nah, gluttony isn't my thing anymore. Not that I don't like the odd gorging episode, my stars, but I can't pack it away like I used to. Plus I'd like to lose about 60-100 pounds so I can actually see my fucking BMI score on the chart they keep in my doctor's office. Now, there's no goddam way I'm ever weighing 175 pounds again, short of some double-amputation. My last doctor was pretty cool about it, he told me to lose 25-30 pounds, but the idea of me getting down to 175 was, in his words, "a bit silly".
The bar I mentioned holds free Hold-Em tournaments every Wednesday night, been thinking of popping over there some night and see what its like. I was told that they get around 9-10 tables, one tournament starting at 6:30, the last at 9:30. It's part of that National Pub Poker Tour thingy, which means it's depressingly legal (no cash to be had) but, as Nick the Greek once said, "It's action, ain't it". Well, actually, no, it ain't. But what the hell. Plus Ricki said if you order dinner you get more chips. I could use that gift card to start with a freakish stack and run over the table. Nah, don't think I could eat that much.
There was a crackdown on charity poker tournaments here in Pittsburgh six or so months ago, but from the emails I've been getting they're still being held all over the place, just as many as before. And I've gotten emails from readers and from groups who I guess came across my blog telling me of cash games and tournaments and home games all over the area. And not penny-ante either, some mid-limit games, some non-tiddly no-limit. I'd actually like to start going to a few, but to write about, not to play in. Not at first, anyway, as my bankroll is at the moment only in theoretical form, but I'm working on a variety of writing projects and it'd be good research. Hey, if any of my local readers would like to be immortalized in print (names, places and faces discreetly disguised, of course) let me know. Just don't expect me to start playing $30/$60 when my most recent poker win involved me check-raising a guy over a platter of nachos. I need to get up to speed.
Every Dark Cloud has a Silver Lining, and Other Nonsense
While I wouldn't recommend getting whatever goddam skin disease that is now running its course all over my body, there has been one good thing to come of it. I've been on a pretty big dose of steroids the last few days, and it's made my aching right shoulder feel 100% better. It looks like I don't have a rotator cuff injury, probably just tendonitis or something similar, and rest and strengthening should help. We had our first indoor volleyball match Monday night and I was blasting away with no knee-buckling pain. True, on match point my spike sailed long, but up to that point I was playing better than...ever. Let's see if this lasts once I stop looking like one of the lepers on Molokai.
Actually, and this is pretty sad, I'm at the bar after our game and we're all enjoying our beers because we played well, and this good-looking chick walks by. I give my friend Rick the high sign to give her a look, he does, he nods with approval, and we go back to our conversation. As she walks back I look up and non-committally smile, and she suddenly looks straight ahead, and I realize that I look like I just fell off a motorcycle face-first. Think I'll set the polite flirtation aside for a few more days.
Went to the lake last weekend, played a bit of poker, even won a bit. Didn't start off too well--I played tight the first game, couldn't get a hand better than J-2, and ended up I think 3rd. I believe that's the game where Neil beat...Scott, Neil needing and hitting a trey on the river to make his wheel and beat Scott's two pair. I think that's what happened. Not that Neil or Scott would know either, as they'd been playing Asshole for 3 hours and were on their way to getting crocked.
Game 2 I decided to mix it up and play fast and loose. And got knocked out in last place when Frank called my King-high bluff with 3rd fucking pair. I had to sit there for like an hour while the game wound its way to the finish, which is the big reason why I tend to play tight in these games--I don't wanna sit there for an hour waiting to get back in the game. I might not play poker again for many a moon, and I don't want to just sit there watching. That's what the 20 videotapes full of poker tournaments are for.
Frank, after finishing second more often than the Buffalo Bills, Minnesota Vikings, and Utah Jazz combined, finally won one. He had about a 16-1 chip lead and road that to victory. I think he knocked everyone at the table out, which would become a recurring theme for the weekend.
I thought everyone had had enough, but no, we played one more quicky, and this time I won. I don't know how--it was getting on 3:30AM, I'd had 13 Yuenglings and I was the most sober person there. Neil was dealing us 2, 3, sometimes four hole cards. I finally beat Mark (who was the only other person still operating above caveman levels) when the hand I held was better than the one he had. I've no goddam clue what happened. I was drunk.
The next day was a nice day. Went on the jet-ski a little (yes, it's also a cure for poison ivy, along with hangovers), ate a lot, drank a lot. Took my anti-itch medicine (may cause drowsiness!) and had one of those 90 minutes super-intense dreams that makes you believe there really are parallel universes. One I washed the fuzz out of my mouth it was time to start drinking again. Ted made lasagna, which I enjoyed with a frisky little Shirraz, and we all sat down to watch Texas-Ohio State and the NASCAR race.
Took my usual mid-race siesta, watched a few hundred left turns, and then we retired to again play some poker. This time it was Scott's turn to run roughshod over the table. He called Neil's big bluff, took Vince's chips, ransacked Mark's stack. When all was said and done he had me outchipped about 4-1, including a towering stack of the orange $500 chips we call "creamsicles".
But I wasn't cowed. Because I was up against Scott, and not Debbie, Scott's wife, who was in Brazil (Brazil?) on business. With Debbie 9,000 miles away in the goddam Amazon I felt pretty good about my chances. Especially as I started getting some cards. I limped with JJ, had the flop come 8-9-10, and check-raised Scott all-in to take a nice little pot. The gallery didn't like this--they all wanted Scott to polish me off so they could get back in the game, and Neil began a quiet chant of "Deathblow...deathblow...deathblow..." to egg Scott on.
But those who know him know that Scott needs no egging. After I raised he put me all-in with A-5, which was a bad thing because I held pocket nines. I made a full-house on the turn and we were back to about even. We swapped chips back and forth (including an all-in bluff I made holding jack high, jack high
) and I even managed to survive making an idiotic "value" bet that cost me $2500. But with a small chip lead I called Scott's preflop raise with 8-6 of spades, and saw the flop come 5...7...9. Been awhile since I flopped a straight like that, and when I saw Scott grab his stack and angrily shove it in I thought it beneath me to slowplay. Victory, she was mine.
We then reloaded and Scott went nuts and knocked us all out in about 15 minutes. In that time he held KK, QQ, pocket tens (twice), 77, and 33. I went out in third when my A-5 ran into his cowboys. I think he had more pocket pairs than non-pairs during that game. The Poker Gods sometimes show mercy, too.
So it's 3AM, everyone's asleep, what to do now? How about watch This is Spinal Tap
, which is one of the best "3AM and I'm drunk" movies ever made? I've seen the movie a dozen times, I have the album...the word "genius" is used too often in our society, and perhaps it's still hyperbole here, but "Tonight I'm Gonna Rock You Tonight" is STILL the greatest song title in the history of rock music. A movie that funny, that spot-on in it's send-up of rock bands, and the music is actually worth listening too (if only to roll around the floor laughing).
OK, felt bad for not posting the last few days. But since the last few days all I've wanted to do was have Scarlett Johansson caress my skin with 80-grit sandpaper I found it difficult to sit down and type. Back to work.
For those of you who spent the weekend on tenterhooks wondering about my medical condition, I can say that I am definitely "better". Not 100%--oh, no no no no. Still lots of redness around the eyes, still have big red blotchy areas in places I'm too demure to go into further, and my left hand still looks like I stuck my hand into something I found bubbling in a chemistry lab. But I can see, I seem to have turned the corner.
Had a good weekend, ate too much, drank too much, watched lots of sports on TV. The anti-itch medication put me on my ass and knocked me out but good Saturday morning (tho going to bed at 5AM Friday probably helped. Played some poker, more about that in a later post. Finally got off the schneid (is that how it's spelled?).
Watched Pitt get embarassed by Ohio, watched my Lions feast upon Cinci, watched as Fast Willie Parker burst upon the NFL scene (any fantasy football types reading this might want to grab Mr. Parker ASAP, if you weren't savvy enough to grab him in a late round).
But before the Steeler game, a minor outrage. It's September 11th, and the house I was staying in is about a 15 minute drive from where Flight 93 went down. Our friends Frank and Heather went to see the temporary memorial on Saturday. I've always meant to take a left turn on the the way home and see it, but the permanent memorial design was just selected and I'll go see that when it's done. Anyway, I think the actual sites (including the Twin Towers and the Pentagon) should be left more to friends and family on this particular day. I can't say I did anything particularly patriotic or anything in remembrence, other than hanging out with my friends, tooling around the lake on the JetSki, and watching football.
But of course the mind returns to that day on its anniversary. Perhaps more so this year because of the catastrophe of Hurricane Katrina. Once again we're all asked to chip in, help our fellow citizens, rally 'round. Just as on 9/11, we're all asked to do our little bit to help.
So the football games are about to start, and with the Steeler game in commercial we switched to Fox and their broadcast of the Washingon/Chicago game. The game is in DC, where the Pentagon was hit. And so they're going to have a musical tribute in honor of that day. And what to they do? They trot out the execrable Jessica Simpson and Nick Lachey to get up on this elaborate stage on the field and lip-synch a predictably overwrought version of "America the Beautiful". Lachey does his flatlined slow-jams crooning, Simpson fractures the words "waves of grain" into 16 syllables, all the while her face is contorted into what are expressions of what passes as her emotions.
Ghastly. If the corporate powers-that-be want to shove this couple down our throats (as they've done with a plunger the last 2 or 3 years) that's their business. But on a day like 9/11, especially in a city where people lost their lives, couldn't the NFL or Daniel Snyder or whover the fuck thought this up come up with a better way to entertain the crowd than inflict these people on us yet again? Instead of the song being a celebration of our collective loss, pain, and resolution, it became a celebration of...Nick and Jessica. Why not ask everyone to stand up, read the words on the screen, and sing along together? Wouldn't that have been a much better way for the fans, all of whom have their own 9/11 memories, to share in the remeberance for this day?
I'l Have Another!; or, The Phantom of the Opera is Bullshit
I thought I looked and felt grotesque on Wednesday. I thought a shot would do the trick. Ha. HA!. I had a dream Tuesday night that I was all better. I woke up Wednesday morning to find that my face looked as if I'd gotten drunk and said some unkind things to Roy Jones Jr. about his mother. My left eye was completely shut, and the swelling was all the way down my face to my jaw. It was puffed out a good inch. Plus the oozing rashy goodness was all over my face, my neck, my arm, my leg.
Great. Just great. Supposed to go away this weekend and I can't even see out of my goddam left eye. I called the doctor, screamed "SOS!" until they agreed to see me, and once again was on my way to their office. Now, yesterday I mentioned they had a new physician's assistant (and she is a PA, not a doc) named "J" who is pretty as pretty can be. I hoped she wouldn't think I was making excuses just to see her. No, I think the disaster area that is my face would take care of that.
The receptionist looks at me and jumps an inch out of her seat. I'm quickly whisked to the consulting room and there's a tap on the door. A ridiculously pretty blonde woman walks in wearing a lab coat. OK, I can't see worth shit, I've not depth perception, but this isn't J, is it? Blonde, pretty, coat, yeah, that all seems right. I had my glasses on the table and I picked them up and used the one lens like a quizzing glass as she asked how I was doing.
Different woman. Another PA trainee. Great. GREAT. I look like the Phantom of the FUCKING OPERA and I'm surrounded by attractive women. Who can't look at me without wincing. The new PA (I see from her badge her name is "L") gently touches my cheek to see if it feels warm. Her touch is like a kid testing to see if her bike tire is properly inflated. My face could use some air taken out of it.
The doctor comes in and says something along the lines of "Your face doesn't look so good". I agree with his diagnosis, like it when he says he's going to prescibe me a big messa Prednisone, but like it less when he wants me to go see an opthomologist to make sure my eye isn't, like, going to turn to mush. Driving isn't my strong suit right now, so the idea of motoring into town doesn't thrill me. But the idea of spending my life with my arm extended, whiffing time after time as I try to grab my beer off the bar and misjudge the distance, motivates me. He starts to write down the name of the doctor when there's another tap on the door and J walks in. They want her to look at me to get her opinion on how my condition is changed. She winces too. Is this to be the story of my life going forward, to have lovely women look at me and cringe with pity? Well, cool, that's an improvement.
My left eye is swollen shut, and I have J and L standing about a foot in front of me. My eye couldn't focus on one of them at that distance if I tried. I put on the brave face, I tell jokes, I laugh at the horror I've become. I've a strong personality, I'm saying, and someday yinz oughta see me when don't look like John Merrick. I don't know how far they've gotten through their studies, but they have the compassionate smile down.
I go to the front desk, fork over another copay, and get the office number for my next doctor. As I'm waiting I hear a voice behind me. "Geno?". The voice is behind me to the left, my blind side, and I have to turn 180 degrees to see that it's my friend Rico. "The hell you doing here?" I ask, and he says he's meeting one of his agents who works in the building. He looks at me. He winces. "What happened?" he asks, and I tell him. I was going away to Rick's lake house this weekend, before all the...horror, and I tell him that the odds are probably better that I'll be spending the weekend in the hospital than at the house. He wishes me well, and I hope I can avoid seeing anyone else I know today.
I drive with my left eye pried open to Bloomfield and West Penn Hospital. Bloomfield is Pittsburgh's Little Italy, though when I used to work downtown our Happy Hour spot was the Bloomfield Bridge Tavern, Pittsburgh's preeminent Polish restaurant. Spend many a happy and drunken hour there. You'd get there around 5, they'd be playing polka on the jukebox and there would be older gentlemen and women wearing babushkas having dinner. A bit later on you'd get a younger crowd listening to classic rock. Then, on the weekends, the BBT played host to some of the weirdest punk/thrash/metal/miscellaneous bands you'd ever want to see. We'd have a coed table 15 strong and the lead singer usually had more piercings than our whole crew put together.
But I digress. Well, not totally--as I cut up Liberty Avenue I passed Del's, good Italian food, passed Tessaro's, legendary hambugers, passed the Pleasure Bar, which sounds like Pauly's kinda place but is in fact another good Italian place. I parked my car in the garage, found the doctor's office, got checked out and found that my eye was fine, and was on my way, all within 20 minutes.
Getting out of the hospital was another matter. I won't go on and on, but why the hell is it so hard to navigate in hospitals? I needed to do down one flight, but the stairs had these huge signs that said they were fire exits only. I waited forever and a day for an elevator, by which time there were 10 others waiting. Being gallant I let the women and children get on first. I was also a bit embarassed to be seen with my face looking like this. A little boy looked at me and while he didn't wince, his eyes couldn't tear away from my eye. I smiled at him, which probably made me look even more grotesque.
I finally got free, finally got out of the parking garage, got back on Liberty and headed home. Well, no--I had to get my scrip filled. Went to my local mega-grocery store, dropped it off, and was told to come back in 25 minutes. So I got to wander the store for what turned out to be 40 minutes, trying to avoid letting people see me in profile, eating 2 free samples of meatloaf from the hot foods department (pretty damn good), two slices of baguette with butter, and a piece of chocolate brownie. Did some shopping, finally got my 'roids (I think I'm going to spend the weekend really blasting my quads) and headed for the homestead.
It was so nice, after the past two days, to put on comfy clothes, take my medicine, and lay down on the couch. I was out for 2 hours, and when I woke the swelling was definitely down. I could actually see out of my left eye. My buddy Mark, the doctor, came over to pick up my poker chips to take to the lake, and with his usual bedside manner laughed in my face and said, "I wish I had my camera."
"Har dee fucking har."
"You know who you remind me of? Harvey Dent. You know who that is?"
"Two-Face, from Batman? Yeah, I've heard of him. Hey, why don't you move within punching range?"
He left with my chips to go party and have fun. I still look horrible, but I can go to work tomorrow. So I look hideous. I, unlike so many, have a good excuse. And I might still go up to the lake, to sit on my ass, drink beer, and watch football. Maybe even play some poker.
But. When I get home, that poison ivy bush and I are going to have a final reckoning. I'm gonna ask my cousin Terry for the most diabolical defoliant on the market. I'm going to put on a spacesuit, I'm going full Biohazard Level-4, and I'm taking this shit plant out. I'm going nuclear; I'm getting medieval. I have suffered far, far too much because of this stray collection of leaves and vines and venom. Before the month is out, I will have my revenge.
Ah, Sip Deep From the Cup of Humiliation
Yesterday I said I'd weathered the poison ivy outbreak I noticed that morning. Someday I'll learn not to tempt the Gods, the Fates, or whatever it is that rules over us. Last night I started feeling itchier, and the inflammation over my left eye started swelling. Woke up this morning with my eye completely shut. Could not see out of it. The rash between my fingers was worse, and I saw a few ominous spots on my leg and arm. Well, that's just ducky.
I haven't gotten my insurance cards yet, but I got my benefits confirmation letter so I'm covered, and a quick phone call to the doctor did I make. As I've said before on these pages (more times than I'd like to remember), you know you're sick when you're HAPPY to be going to the doctor. They could fit me in at 9AM, so I called off work, washed well, and got in the car.
Let me tell you something--driving with only one eye is tricky. Not having depth perception makes navigating sweeping curves (which there are aplenty in my neighborhood) an E-ticket ride. I finally resorted to pulling my left eye open as I drove, because otherwise I was gonna end up in the guard rail.
The waiting room was about half-full, meaning four pair of eyes looked at me, looked at my eye, and made the "oooogh" face. Great. I signed in, they checked my insurance info, and I sat down to squint my way thru Sports Illustrated. After a half-hour my name was called, I was weighed (gained five pounds this summer, great) and learned that my blood pressure was good. With that, I waited for the doctor, who, the nurse said, was working today with some new physican trainees. Would I mind if they joined the doctor as he examined me? Hey, who am I to stand in the way of medical progress.
Physcian trainee. I think that's how it was described. I think she meant a doctor newly out of med school. I think. Anyway, a few minutes later the door opens and this ridiculously cute blonde girl walks in wearing bell-bottomed khakis and a white lab coat. I say "girl" because she looked about 22 years old. This adorable care-giver (I'll call her J) winced when she saw my eye and said it looked like I'd been punched in the face. I said that, alas, I didn't even have a good story to tell about my disfigurement. She laughed, and I made her laugh a few more times, proving that she was probably more nervous than I was. She asked me the questions, I gave the answers, she checked my breathing and heartbeat (both slightly elevated) and said she'd get the doctor.
Now, I already knew where this was headed. And I didn't like it. The doc came in, I saw him last year for much the same thing, he asked if my vision was impaired beyond the swelling, and then he said, "OK, we'll give you an injection..."
An injection. Now, it wasn't the needle that bothered me. Not that I like getting metal shoved into my flesh, but shots no longer faze me. Again, when you're as messed up as I am at the moment getting an injection sounds almost delicious. Yeah, medicine, groovy, you just stick that needle in my eyeball if you want. But I really, really didn't want J to give me the injection, because, again, I knew where this was headed.
"OK," she said, "I'll give you the injection just above your right cheek...". Yes, dear readers, I had to drop my pants in front of this intelligent and competent healthcare professional. Did I mention that she had hair like cornsilk and eyes the color of cornflowers and a shy smile that had me thinking of cornball lines to put her more at her ease? Because she was definitely nervous about giving me the shot. Not giving it to ME, mind you. I'm sure to her I was just a big gross prop wearing a black Polo shirt. No, I'm sure for all doctors it's a bit sketchy at first, sticking people with needles.
The nurse came in to make sure J was doing everything right. I actually didn't have to drop my shorts down to my ankles, more like unbutton and tug them down like I was making what would be a really unsuccessful Coppertone ad. First came the cool antiseptic swab, and then the little stick. If I had balls or if I were an asshole or something maybe I would've let out a fake shriek of pain, or maybe moaned her name, but instead I just stood there like a good boy, took my medicine, and was on my way. An hour later I'm seeing some improvement, but I'm still typing this in monocular fashion. I'm supposed to go back in 2 days, just to make sure the swelling has gone down and things are proceeding apace. A question of etiquette--is it proper to bring flowers to a checkup?
Itching to Play
Someday I'll learn. Two years ago I did some yardwork on the side of my house, got bit by something nasty, and ended up in the hospital for 4 days. Last year trimmed some bushes in the same place, broke out in hives all over, had to get a steroid shot in the ass. Yesterday, got out the clippers and did my thing. I was wearing gloves (well, at times), I tried to avoid any crawly critters...and I've got poison ivy. Or poison something.
You know how, when you've been drinking all night, you wake up the next morning and there's this quiet moment of clarity before you say, "Uh, oh. What did I do last night...". Same thing happened to me this morning. Woke up, cat crawled over me, and I thought, "What's wrong with my hand? And why is my eye swollen shut?". Great feeling.
The moral of this story is a simple one--don't do yardwork, ever. But its a lesson you can't ever take fully to heart because eventually the cops will show up and hand you a scythe and tell you to get busy. It looks like I got off easy this time, I don't see or feel any other red, itchy areas (the ominous patch on my right leg has calmed down) so I might be able to ride out the storm this time.
I wonder, what is the etiquette for playing live poker when you're suffering from some sort of contact dermatitis? Poker chips quickly pick up dirt and grime and smears of ketchup, how about whatever it is that's making the webbing between my middle and index finger all sticky? If you're involved in a hand with a guy, and you're holding the nuts, and after you check you see him grabbing chips with fingers dotted with water-filled blisters and palms slick with weeping sores, how much would there have to be in the pot for you not to say, "You know what, you just take that down. Nice hands...I mean, hand."
If you're playing with an especially pestilential bunch, is it OK to wear surgical gloves at the table? How about repeatedly washing your checks with with isopropyl alcohol? Would you be offended if, after you lose a big pot, the winner incorporates your chips into his stack using a pair of barbeque tongs? Perhaps this bears further study. But after seeing how many guys use public bathrooms then leave without washing their hands, I'm getting a tetanus booster before I make my first trip to Vegas.
Our Imperial Family
Watched some of Rome
this weekend, thanks to a few days of free HBO. I loved I, Claudius
and I read Colleen McCullough's books, and so far the show is pretty good. Some of the actors don't look like the characters as I imagined them, but there's lots of nudity and explicit sex and graphic violence, so I'm happy.I, Claudius
and the McCullough books (and Rome
) focus in large part on the internal machinations of the leading political families, all of them striving for more power, money, land. A slight insult to the wrong family's dignitas
could get your throat cut or land confiscated or your children enslaved. You had venality and greed and stupidity and incompetence...is this all starting to sound familiar?
The closest we come right now to an Imperial family are the Bushes, since 2 of the last 3 Presidents come from that family and the governor of a major state is another member. But it hasn't been an especially good week for them, has it? First we have the current President's handling of the disasters on the Gulf Coast--maybe you've heard about that? Then today I see the current President's father up on the stage with Bill Clinton talking about the fund they're starting for hurricane relief, and some reporter asks what he thinks of the media criticism of his son.
Now, perhaps this wasn't the right venue (or the right person) to be asking for this sort of comment. Do we expect Bush pere
to come out and slam Bush fils
? No. But what he said was bizarre. He said that he and his wife were proud of their son, and that anyone who wanted to criticize the President should talk to Barbara, but if they did, they'd want to bring along their flak jacket.
Methinks I'd much rather tell Barbara Bush that I've found her son's performance sorely lacking than explain to those who lost family members during the last seven days why FEMA seemed to be actively conspiring against them. There's a saying, I forget how it goes, about how the truth is the mightiest armor. Or, in this case, the mightiest flak jacket.
And what about that fearsome matron? Speaking on NPR's Marketplace
, Barbara Bush said about those who have been relocated to Houston:
Almost everyone I’ve talked to says we're going to move to Houston," Barbara Bush told NPR.
"What I’m hearing is they all want to stay in Texas. Everyone is so overwhelmed by the hospitality.
"And so many of the people in the arena here, you know, were underprivileged anyway, so this --this is working very well for them."
I'm sure it is. Aside from all that death and suffering and the loss of their homes and just about every material possession.
It's been said (though it's now been discredited, I think) that the Roman Empire fell because the lead in the aqueducts affected the brains of the city's inhabitants. What's our excuse? How did we put our lives in the hands of these people?
Let's See...Bottled Water, Flashlight, Gun...
Let's set aside the notion that Hurricane Katrina grew so large because Bush wouldn't sign the Kyoto accords and global warming is making storms bigger. I don't buy that, or at least I won't buy it until actual scientists conduct actual studies and come up with actual evidence. Let's also set aside the fact that the Bush Administration proposed spending dramatically lower amounts on levee repair and other construction of hurricanne defenses than the various local agencies begged for. Let's set all this aside for now.
Let's look at how the people who are in control, who hold power in our governement, have responded to the disaster along the Gulf Coast.
Here's President Bush on Good Morning America
"I don't think anybody anticipated the breach of the levees. They did anticipate a serious storm. But these levees got breached. And as a result, much of New Orleans is flooded. And now we are having to deal with it and will."
That's odd, as I heard an expert on NPR that very morning saying that the levees could indeed be breached even after the main part of the storm passed. Plus there are the dozens of articles written over the last few years describing such a scenarion and FEMA's own disaster plans. Yet the President says nobody anticipated it.
That's what I heard on NPR Monday morning. Last night as I left work I heard Robert Siegel interviewing Michael Chertoff, the head of the Department of Homeland Security. Siegel asked Chertoff about the horrific scene at the Convention Center, which I'd been reading about at CNN. Here's what Chertoff, who, may I remind you, is the guy who is in charge of Homeland Security, had to say:
Robert Siegel: We are hearing from our reporter, he's on another line right now, thousands of people at the convention center in New Orleans with no food, zero.
Chertoff: As I said, I'm telling you we are getting food and water to areas where people are staging. The one about an episode like this is if you talk to someone or you get a rumor or an anecdotal version of something I think it's dangerous to extrapolate it all over the place.
Robert Siegel: But Mr. Secretary when you say we shouldn't listen to rumors. These are things coming from reporters who have not only covered many many other hurricanes, they've covered wars and refugee camps. These aren't rumors, they are saying there are thousands of people there.
Chertoff: I would be--I have not heard a report of thousands of people in the convention center who don't have food and water.
Michael Brown, the head of FEMA (that's Federal Emergency Management Agency, meaning Brown is the head of the federal agency that manages emergencies) said that the death toll would be high because:
"Unfortunately, that's going to be attributable a lot to people who did not heed the advance warnings," Brown told CNN. "I don't make judgments about why people chose not to leave but, you know, there was a mandatory evacuation of New Orleans."
In other words, the folks who are trapped? It's their own fault. Of course, most of the studies and plans about New Orleans getting slammed figured that between 100-200,000 people wouldn't evacuate, with the majority of them people who were too poor, too old, or too infirm to get out. Which seems to be exactly what happened.
Brown also said, when asked what his biggest challenge was at the moment, said:
I think it's conveying to the American public just how catastrophic this disaster is.
Not saving people trapped by the flooding or bringing in supplies or restoring law and order. Nope, he needs to make sure we all know just how bad things are.
We need to ask a big question here--how the HELL did we allow people like these to have so much control over our lives? How did we as a nation sink so low that we could elect someone like George Bush President? TWICE
. This was a hurricane, we had 2 or 3 days warning. What would've happened if it'd been a dirty bomb instead? Or a biological attack? We now know that, not only are we completely unprepared to deal with a large-scale disaster, those in leadership positions are grossly incompetent. We are adrift, and there's no one up on deck to take the wheel.
Think maybe it's time to put together a little disaster preparation kit, since if the shit ever hits my particular fan I don't think I'm going to get much of a return on my FEMA/DHS investement. Some bottled water, a few packs of Ramen noodles, a flashlight, a transistor radio...and it looks like a gun would come in handy, too. A nice, big, loud gun.