Thursday, March 05, 2009

Subprime, part I.

I missed you. Did you miss me?

First things first: I'm not dead. Although I have to admit I get a sick little thrill when I imagine the idea of my being referred to as such. Clearly there is something wrong with me; I generally rely on the "Comments" section to begin to figure out what that something is. I would love to tell you that I was on some ashram for a year and a half, fixing my life and learning the true meaning of Christmas, etc., but I wasn't. I did get my J.D., finally. Two law firms, a lot of snooze-bars, tardiness, absenteeism, subpar legal work and a generous severance package later, here I am--gainfully employed again. For now. Tomorrow, in fact, is the day that we're all expecting to get laid off on account of the financial crisis. Of course it will only be about 10% of the Firm's associates, but I can't imagine I won't be among them.

How do I know? Lawyers at firms are notorious for their reticence about criticizing an attorney's work product. They're generally not a confrontational lot. But I've gotten several talkings-to in my very brief tenure here: "We're troubled by this." "Is everything ok?" "You really need to pay more attention to detail." "Please review, on a non-billable basis, what I ultimately sent to the client and compare it to the draft you sent me." These are all bona fide clues. But what really does it that the secretaries on my floor can't even look me in the eye. They are the ones with the worst poker faces (get it, ha ha). They see me showing up at 10am most mornings and leaving at 1:30 with my laptop bag, feigning some sort of work-related hurry. The ones with a maternal instinct probably worry a little bit; the other ones probably think I am a little such-and-such. Of course, I am a little such-and-such is the thing, but I still resent their knowing it.

On the bright side, I've got some dollars in the bank. But I really can think of only one thing to do with those dollars, and I can assure you it's not to set up responsible payment plans with my increasingly vocal roster of creditors.

I will talk more about money in the next one I post, which will be sometime before 2011, I promise.

Tuesday, July 03, 2007

Defying Gravity.

A year after I started this very self-aware project, and what do you suppose has changed? I don't gamble or want to gamble nearly as much as I used to. Big deal. If you ever thought this blog was about gambling, you sort of missed the point, I think. Although I'm grateful to all the poker players and what have you who found me in the past year. But it's not about those things. Even if I thought that it was about them when I started writing. So what then?

It's about the void. It's about self-destructive compulsions. People pick at scabs even though they know they shouldn't. Or fail to wash their hands after urinating. We all know we should. Some of us don't. Why? Is it just laziness? I think it's not just laziness. To wit: I've faked washing them for the benefit of others within earshot, which requires just as much effort as just lathering up, rinsing, and drying for real. I offer to you, the 15 people who still check in from time to time, the sum of my wisdom: some people don't wash their hands because they want desperately to test the notion that "bad" actions don't always have consequences, and neither do "good" actions, for that matter.

In other words, a test of the basic tenets of what I'll call moral physics-- namely, that good people are rewarded and bad people are punished. Some of us would be condemned by such a literal correspondence between actions and outcomes. And so we quietly resist: by not brushing after meals and still expecting to not get a cavity; by not doing our homework and still hoping to pass our classes; by playing a game we're doomed to lose and still praying to win.

There is a kind of bravery in it, don't you suppose?

Sunday, February 18, 2007

No Action.

I just made an awful realization about myself. Awful enough to warrant my return to the internets. I'd been clean for a while, you know.

Just twenty minutes ago, I was lying on my couch with the sun in my eyes, too inept with the mechanics of vertical blinds to keep it out. I was mulling my options about what to do with the remainder of a Sunday afternoon. The television was tempting, but again, this time of day was bad -- too sunny, too inept. The glare would prove unbearable. I scrolled through my cell phone's address book. Someone to call? I didn't really want to make plans with anyone, mind you. I wouldn't want anyone to see me like this -- unshaven and disheveled. I just wanted someone to text message with. Preferably a pretty girl. Something to distract me, if only momentarily. Distract me from what, you ask?

The Realization.

That is, the realization that I don't enjoy doing anything. I have no hobbies. Nothing that doesn't involve gambling (or at least uncertainty) interests me. Since I am not supposed to gamble anymore, I'm a complete waste of space. Ever the resilient one, I've found a cheaper and less satisfying alternative -- writing bizarre messages on and, pleas for help, inflammatory poems, anything that might incite someone to write back. Sometimes on, after reading the tenth amazingly vapid 'portrait' in a row, I just start sending emails bitterly mocking them. That this sort of behavior fills the void that I used to fill by playing cards is noteworthy, I think. I am not putting anything at risk -- no money, obviously, but not even my ego. It's entirely anonymous.

So I was never a risk junkie after all. I am a feedback junkie. I crave the moment when I realize that I have something to read from a stranger. Preferably a pretty girl. It's got nothing to do with making a connection with someone. It's got everything to do with snapping me out of the boredom of sheer radio silence. It's a reminder that I am not dead yet. It gives me a way to keep score, to measure success and self-worth. Especially when it's from a pretty girl.

Don't most people crochet, or play golf, or go to museums to have fun? I wish those were fun for me. If I can't get my dose of uncertainty, rejection, acceptance, excitement, self-esteem from gambling, then I'm going to get it from person-shopping on the internet.

Sadly, the ones who write back are usually overweight amd live in the suburbs with their parents. And that just makes me more depressed. God, I pity them so much.

Thursday, August 31, 2006

Twilight and glare or whatever.

Before we got rolling toward K.C., Natalie tapped the dashboard.

"We need to fill this bad-boy up! Serious fillage." Even at this relatively early juncture, I had become entirely accustomed to her idiosyncratic grammar and syntax.

She spotted a gas station adjacent to the southbound entrance to the interstate. After some fumbling with the credit card, the pump and the nozzle, we were ready. It was nearly dusk. She did the driving, while I navigated.

"South for a while. Mostly southwest," I announced, once we'd safely merged into the flow of traffic.
"So just down and over, right?"
"Down and over? Right, down and over."

Beginning a road trip of considerable distance with a relative stranger at this dangerous time of day gave me pause. The headlights hadn't completely taken full effect and it was hard for me to see. I figured it was hard for Natalie to see. Then she confirmed my suspicions.

"Whoa. It's hard to freakin' see. Twilight and glare or whatever."
"Uh huh."

In order to distract us from these annoynaces -- twilight? glare? whatever? -- Natalie directed her attention to the car radio, to find some tunes. Tuneage. All eyes turned to the radio. It was one that had come standard with the car, this powder blue monstrosity, this 1983 Oldsmobile Toronado in which we would soon die our fiery deaths. Its pre-sets were shiny metallic buttons, spring-loaded so when you press a button, the one that was originally depressed comes popping out of its socket with a vehemence you can feel and hear. Snap-click. Anyone with half a brain when encountering such a contraption would try to hold down two of the buttons at once, just to see what might happen.

"That's how things get broken."
"Uh huh."

If I were to remove this gaudy button, there'd be nothing but a small plate with tiny copper hooks on either end -- one end held the plate to the aforementioned gaudy exterior buttons; the other end attached, ostensibly, to the radio's internal wiring. The shiny metal on the pre-set buttons was, as far as I could tell, there primarily to provide the passenger with some sense of psychological remove between the button itself (merely a symbol, really) and the mechanism, raw and cold, that lay underneath it.

"And you may find yourself behind the wheel of a large automobile. And you may find yourself in another part of the world."

We sang along.

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

There but for the grace of God go I, Part One.

I am thrilled to be back in a position to write more blog entries. I was involved in a pretty big misunderstanding in Kansas City, Missouri. Before the Kansas City fiasco will make any sense, though, you will have to know who Natalie is.

Last week, Natalie cut my hair at the local middle-brow hair salon chain, and we got to chatting the way stylists and clients will do, and I realized about five minutes into the conversation two things: (1) most of what was coming out of my mouth was utterly false; and (2) Natalie was interested. I told her that I was on a medical leave from my job in Houston, at NASA.

"What do you do for NASA?"
"I'm an astronaut."
She pulled the scissors away.
"Psha! Shut up!"
I shut up.
"Well, no, But it's not as ridiculous as it sounds. I do work for them, for NASA, on a contract basis. Mostly p.r. consulting, which is a year-round thing but gets especially hectic whenever there's a launch or a landing or anything. At more off-peak times, I call my friends at the newspapers, magazines, and the wire services and feed them 'feel-good' stories about the space program. Seriously."
"That's awesome."
"What I tell people is that it's basically 40 hours a week trying to make the general public like rocket scientists."
"I don't know, rocket scientists seem pretty likable to me as it is."
"Well, obviously I'm good at what I do, then."

Thursday, August 17, 2006

The Lengths To Which I Will Go.

Whenever I get bored and restless, whenever the prospect of going to bed at 9:30 terrifies me, I decide that I should either gamble or go to a bar. Each offers such marvelous unknowns and opportunities. This is well-covered territory. So the other night I went to a local pub and had a few drinks. Alone. Watched the crowd. Fiddled with my cell phone. Pretended that someone was calling me, so as to allay my self-consciousness about being alone in a bar. I wanted to leave. I uttered some fake parting words to a friend who didn't exist to a cell phone that was off. I paid $6 for my beer. Then I got the bright idea to take a cab to the only strip club I know about in this whole city. I knew it was a terrible idea, and an awful waste of my rather limited resources, but o, the possibilities!

Now, the interesting part: I hopped in a cab and told the driver the approximate intersection. I commented on the bouquet of roses that he had, bizarrely, attached to the dashboard. He didn't hear me. I repeated, "North and Kingsbury."

"V.I.P.'s? You going to V.I.P.'s?"

My reflex on this evening, as it was on many evenings previous, was to lie.

"Oh, no. I'm not going there. That is a fun place though. Just here at the corner, that's fine."

And so he dropped me off and began to execute his U-turn and get back to a main thoroughfare. I began to cross the street and make my toward the neon, the techno, the cheap-looking silhouettes. I took two steps and realized that if I continued toward the club in plain view of the cabbie, I'd be confirming his (well founded) suspicion that I am a sleaze-bag who had just lied to him. So I changed course. I yawned. Nonchalance is key. I pretended to get another phone call again, and I walked briskly. Purposefully. Away from the club.

Once the brakelights of the cab had gone safely over the hill about a quarter of a mile away, I figured the coast was clear. So I made a 180-degree turn and retraced my steps toward the club.

Friday, August 11, 2006


I don't feel like telling you any gambling stories today. The sun is shining, the unreasonably loud construction outside of my apartment has ceased, and I feel good. I am eating healthier foods and taking better care of myself. I don't know why.

Part of it is simple. I'm so tired of gambling. I can finally see a way to where the pursuit of action won't be irresistible. I really can. Mostly because I'm just flat exhausted. But that's where I have to stop. Because if I continue this thread, it's only trouble for me. Trouble because I start to realize that I have nothing with which to replace the monkey on my back, except maybe for a new monkey. (Alcohol? Drugs? Hookers? Greasy foods? I don't know, what else are people addicted to?)

I'll make it as plain as I can: I have thus far been successful in making the idea of gambling utterly undesirable to me. That alone seems like a worthy achievement. But concomitant with that success is my realization that nothing else in life is all that desirable to me, either. It's as if -- in my haste to eradicate the gambling disease from my heart, my soul, my nervous system, whatever -- I've gone ahead and deadened everything -- including my ability to fathom that I live in a world from which I might derive enjoyment.

So you tell me which is worse.

Monday, August 07, 2006

Sweet, Salty, Sour, Bitter.

Last Monday, I received something suspicious in the mail. It was a rumpled manila envelope to which electrical tape was nonsensically applied. There was no return address, but instead a cryptic "respondez si vous plait" in the upper-left corner. I hadn't been expecting any packages from psychopaths, so I thought twice about opening it. Anthrax? A letter bomb, maybe? I couldn't be certain. "Maybe someone out there thinks I'm worth more dead than alive," I wondered aloud, eyeing the lumpy, brown parcel. It was a flattering notion, in a way. It was a very film noir-ish line to deliver, and I think I nailed it on the first take. Never mind for the moment that the proposition itself was utterly false. Even if it were theoretically true that my value as a dead person exceeds my value alive, I reasoned that either value was probably less than that of the postage. Simultaneously emboldened and deflated by this realization, I tore the package open and braced myself for the worst.

Enclosed was a homemade t-shirt, emblazoned with a fairly crass pun using the name of the boarding school that I attended. Also, a bus ticket from here to a New England Town, where the school is located and where the senders of this parcel still reside. They wanted me to go out there for the coming weekend. An informal reunion of former roommates, friends, and whatnot. They thought they'd have to entice me with gifts. They were right.

Some are beginning their medical residencies. Others are working at financial services firms. They have nylon laptop bags with their firms' logos on them. They wear golf shirts. Most are engaged or already married. I don't have to explain to you why this is awkward. Most of them know my situation. In fact, one of them came up with the idea of the reunion because he saw this blog, put two and two together, and wanted to check in. He was good enough to keep the discovery of the blog to himself, or so he assures me.

It's not awkward merely because these people have more money than me, or because they've done more with their lives than me thus far, although neither is ever comfortable. It's the little things. It's that their clothes just seem to sit right on their bodies more than mine do. They wear baseball caps that just look right on their heads. My head seems like it's a weird shape compared to theirs. None of them wears eyeglasses. I do. Their hair is straight and looks sort of conventional. Respectable. Never too unruly, even if it gets windy outside. Mine always looks a little off. Their teeth are white. They are in better shape than me. They are good at their jobs.

Was my growth irrevocably stunted somehow? Why do these little things come so easily to them? How come, for instance, they're not even interested in eating the fortune cookies at the Chinese restaurant? I always feel like such a child when I'm the only one who eats mine as we deliberate about the size of the tip. I don't own a pair of sunglasses, but if I did it wouldn't occur to me to hang them nonchalantly off the collar of my Polo shirt. But these guys make it work.

I don't even have a driver's license. I guess I just never learned how.

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

The Loneliness of the Sit 'N' Go Player.

A while back, I studied a couple of books about single table tournament poker. I am actually a long-term winner at these. It's probably the only gambling endeavor -- aside from thoroughbred horse racing and Nintendo Ice Hockey -- that I'm in the black with. And the only reason I'm ahead at the track is that I've been miraculously lucky in cashing some huge tickets. If I were to continue betting horses, I'd eventually go broke, I'm sure. But not so with single table no-limit poker tournaments. If I were able to play them in isolation, I'd win money. Of course, I've yet to find an online poker site that allows one to only play tournaments and restricts a user's access to the cash games.

Buoyed by my charts (I had tracked my profit over the course of about 300 tournaments -- not nearly enough for statistical persuasiveness but plenty for irrational exuberance), I set out to play tournament poker as much as I could. For income. For a living. I'll never really know if it would have panned out for me, because I ended up blowing my entire bankroll at some stupid 10/20 limit game. A mega-tilt fest. Here's to my lack of self-control! People familiar with poker will know what I mean. Stuff like capping the action preflop for $40 with hands like 9-7 offsuit, just because.

Committing these types of atrocities doesn't even occur to me at a tournament poker table. Usually with tournaments, the hand that would put me on tilt is the very hand that knocks me out of the tournament altogether. No harm done. Any residual effect is muted by the fact that you can always "start fresh" with a new tournament, which makes all the difference in the world to an obsessive-compulsive. But in cash games, it's a different story. There's just a vast expanse of card playing. It's not organized around any kind of extrinsic goal. "Winning" or "getting knocked out" are much more subjective in cash games. You could conceivably play forever. With tournaments, you have to stop at some point. The interruptions are built into the game. You can be eliminated. Or you can win. Either way, though, you're forced to leave.

I was talking to the psychiatrist about this pipe dream of playing single table tournaments to grind out a living, and she accepted the premise that I was good at it. She then asked me, "But even if you could do it, which maybe you could, is that the sort of life you want to live? Cooped up by yourself, huddled over an overworked laptop computer? Playing what is essentially a computer game robotically for hours at a time? Having no interactions with the outside world? Seeing cards flying around in your head when you aren't actually playing?"

I waited for her to finish her stirring rhetorical litany, then sat up in my chair.


Sunday, July 30, 2006

Paint Your Wagon.

And we're back.

I am the Man of Steel. I returned from the casino in one piece. Pepper was left with plenty of food and water. There were no voicemails looking for me, worried that I'd fallen off the wagon. I swear, some people -- my ex-girlfriend, my parents -- have an ability to sense when it's happening. I believe in ESP. They call as soon as I take some step toward gambling again. Downloading PartyPoker software. Going to the pawn shop.

This time, though, no calls. No guilt.

I went with my friend from law school. Eventually he is going to fall hard because of his gambling addiction. But not yet. But it was strange to be in a situation where I was the prudent one. I was the person advocating stop-losses and sticking to them, keeping one eye on the clock so that we didn't miss the train home. Folding garbage like J8s preflop even though I was supposedly 'priced in' by the size of the pot. That's the darling rationalization of action junkies, by the way: "I had pot odds!"

I was pretty conservative on this trip and it paid off. I came away with a $50 profit. So the trip paid for itself and I had a good time. Being away from the game and then returning does different things to different people. But it would be a mistake for the reader to assume that falling off the wagon, as I undeniably have done, necessarily translates into going off the rails and embarking on a week-long bender of excess. Usually that comes later. The sickness is shrewd enough to start by relaxing my mental defenses. It assures me that I can control this. I can be prudent. I can manage my gambling.

The sickness is brilliant. Assuming I even have a sickness.

Friday, July 28, 2006

Into the Woods.

First of all, I hasten to point out that Pepper is resting comfortably here on the linoleum as I write this. Meanwhile, his 'mother' -- or 'master', or 'owner' hasn't been returing my calls, which I imagine is probably a bad sign. I've been scanning the online obituaries of the Florida newspapers, hoping to stumble upon an item to shed some light on her inattentiveness. I mean, I'm not hoping that the guy dies, but bad information is better than no information. It's the same reason I am constantly attracted and re-attracted to dangerous activities. Like gambling. It's not that I necessarily want anything bad to happen to me. It's that I can't stand the prospect of nothing happening to me.

So I am going to the card room tonight for the first time in a couple of months.

Thursday, July 27, 2006

Where Did You Roam?

About two weeks ago, I was given the task of looking after Pepper, a terrier of unknown lineage. Pepper's true owner was going to Florida for an indefinite period to spend time with her father, who was dying of cancer. I didn't think to ask her which kind or where the cancer was. People seem fascinated with details like that for some reason. For instance, when I was forced to explain to the superintendant (also, incidentally, of unknown lineage) the reasons for the barking emanating from my apartment, his first follow-up question concerned the nature of the cancer.

"Lung? Brain?"
"I don't know, I didn't ask."
"Prostate, probably," he concluded.

Rather than giving me the keys to her apartment, Pepper's owner seems to have decided that it would be more prudent to bring me the dog and have him stay with me rather than the other way around. I can't say I blame her. She offered some altruistic pretexts -- "Oh, I think it will be nice for you to have some company around your apartment, right?" "Having him around will make your place more 'homey.'" "This way, you don't have to come all the way out here to look in on him." And on the magnanimous charade went.

"Charade" because I halfway suspect that the real reason was something more along the lines of, "I can't be certain that you won't loot my house, pawn everything, and then blame it all on a band of opportunistic burglars." She knows vaguely that I've had a bit of a problem with money and self-control. But that she would entrust me with her dog, but not, say, her DVD player, is utterly beyond my powers of comprehension. But I couldn't really argue with any of her reasons and so I didn't bother trying.

On Tuesday afternoon, I got home from another satisfying job interview ("Seriously, why would you want to work here? You're a college graduate") and Pepper did not greet me at the door as was his custom. I couldn't find him anywhere in the apartment. But I did notice that the kitchen sink, which had been dripping incessantly, had stopped dripping. And one of my dish towels had some grease on it, in the vague outline of a wrench. I put the pieces together: the super had come by to fix the sink, he was careless about the dog getting out, and now the dog was gone.

I immediately took to the streets and began my canvass of the neighborhood. Finally, a reason to leave the house.

Sunday, July 23, 2006

The Sister I Never Had.

I whittled that five hundred down to a more manageable sum. How? I foolishly tangled with 5-4 offsuit with my measly AA. The ace that gave me trips gave some stillborn Lithuanian gentleman his five-high straight. That got me down to about $200. I remember getting some lap dances. At the club, inviting a police officer (who later turned out to be an exotic dancer -- apparently the cop outfit was just a costume) to a little coke party my friends and I weren't having at a beach house whose whereabouts (and keys) eluded me. I nonchalantly referred to it as "blow", which I figured would give my offer what lawyers call "additional indicia of reliability" The scary thing is that it worked. At about 4:45 in the morning, my phone rang. It was Officer Andrea. She was in a cab and was coming to pick me up. Yikes. We rode around in a cab for a while.

"Do you remember where the house is?"
"Hmm, not really. My friends don't have their phones on. It's late."
She looked exasperated.
"Do you want to get a hotel? I can't go to my place. My boyfriend is there."
"Sure," I said. "Will there be any vacancies? Oh, I don't have any [drugs] on me."
"That's okay. I have some."

She got on her phone and was told by the operator at the Showboat Hotel and Casino that, for $79, a room could be had.

Something was amiss here though. She was far too willing. Yet completely blase, given the fact that the ostensible aim of this adventure was to find a hotel room in which to have cocaine-fueled sex. We weren't acting as though we were anything more than co-adventurers. We could have been siblings, each of us slumped in the back of the cab, vaguely insolent ("Are we there yet?") All of the sordid, tawdry promises in the club seemed ridiculous and neither of us bothered pretending otherwise.

We arrived at the Showboat. I gave the cab driver about half of my remaining dollars. Now I had to pray for a miracle -- that somehow, one of my four maxed-out credit cards would be accepted at the reservation desk. No such luck. I made up some bullshit excuse, and she was all set to pay cash on the condition that I pay her back tomorrow. She was too insistent about the whole repayment thing. I didn't want to owe her anything. I wanted out. Immediately.

We discussed our predicament -- can you believe the nerve of my bank! -- at the hotel bar.

"Buy me a drink."

Then she excused herself and went to the ladies' room again. To do some blow. Again. I paid for the drink and walked as quickly as I could toward daylight, toward freedom. It must have been 20 degrees out there. I didn't have a coat on, just a hooded sweatshirt. The sole of my left shoe was worn out and becoming detached. It made a ridiculous flopping noise with every step I took on the Boardwalk. I had $14 and some half dollars in my pocket.

The sun came up over the Atlantic Ocean. It was New Year's Eve.

Thursday, July 20, 2006

Penny Foolish, Pound Foolish.

Strange things happen in the immediate aftermath of losing a lot of money very quickly. Rather than tighten my belt and try to preserve what little I have left, I’ve found that I tend to squander even more recklessly. To scrimp and save, to begin to act responsibly in the wake of wastefulness, to clip coupons -- these options are not at all attractive.

Within a session of poker, especially online, this impulse to piss away the remaining crumbs of a once healthy balance constitutes the worst kind of tilt. And it won’t come as a surprise to the poker players among you that I am the worst kind of tilter. Or the best kind, depending on how sanguine you are about kicking a person when he’s down. Anyway, this impulse suggests that I want to get rid of that miserable $38.27 or whatever it is as soon as possible -- that this tiny, messy fraction is somehow a more heinous reminder of my decline than the neat symmetry of “$0.00.”

The phenomenon carries over to ‘real life.’ When I look at my bank statement and see something like this:




ECHECK -250.00

ECHECK -250.00


ECHECK -750.00

ECHECK -500.00

ECHECK -1,250.00

ECHECK -2,250.00

I can’t get too excited about fixing a mess like that by ordering a “tall” instead of a “venti”. So usually -- and I’ve stared down the barrel of my fair share of bank statements like these -- I’ll do whatever I can to psychologically minimize the magnitude of these losses. Usually that means essentially behaving as though I had won the amount that I lost. “Drinks are on me, everybody!” To cower in fear, to wait for the creditors' calls to resume on Monday morning is a fate worse than death to me. I’d prefer to check out from reality entirely. If a tree falls in the forest, et cetera. Put another way: if I don’t even react to the significance of my awful night of gambling by adjusting my conduct, did it ever even touch me?

Armed to the teeth with this convenient set of existential riddles, I arrived in Atlantic City late on the evening before New Year’s Eve. My new leather wallet held five one-hundred dollar bills, the proceeds of my recently-concluded Christmas charity tour.

Monday, July 17, 2006

The Grand Canyon.

About two years ago, I was flying back to school after a quick two-day trip to Las Vegas. I don't think I had an explicit, unmistakable pact with anyone in my family at this particular point in time to not gamble anymore. But still trips to Las Vegas just for the hell of it would be frowned upon and cause for concern. And I wouldn't want anyone to be alarmed on my account. For trips like this, I was extremely concerned about avoiding detection. Right before I left for the airport, my mom called. "What are you doing this weekend?" "Oh, nothing. Probably cleaning my apartment, some laundry, you know." Now I had lied. So I decided that I shouldn't even bring my cell phone with me. I hypothesized that if I made a call, the fact that I was 'roaming' in Nevada might have shown up on the bill. And I was on a Friends and Family plan. So I wasn't taking any chances. At least not about that.

Speaking of taking chances, I was and continue to be a very nervous flyer. Which I realize is ironic, given my well-documented appetite for unconsidered risk in other endeavors. One of my coping mechanisms on particularly bumpy flights was to tell myself that a fatal plane crash was about as likely as hitting the equivalent of a 120-team parlay. The counterpoint to this, that I, upon de-planing, might myself play a 120-team parlay if such a thing actually existed wasn't lost on me. But I'm really not that crazy -- I only played parlays when I was desperate. Down to my last $40 in an offshore account, I'd do something like pick 7 or 8 baseball sides and totals and parlay them. If I hit, I'd be even. If I lost, well, I was already practically dead anyway. I viewed blowing this relatively small amount of money as something of a free shot. Come to think of it, this reasoning predominated and justified probably the last ten grand or so that I deposited into my Party Poker account. "I can't jump over this puddle. Or I can't jump over the Grand Canyon. Either way, I'm stuck here."

On the flight back from Las Vegas, the plane was rocked by something which I later determined to be lightning. The plane shook violently. There was a sonic-boom and a streak of lavender light near the wing. For about thirty seconds, all manner of bells sounded in the cabin. The passengers were surprisingly quiet. Eerily so. I got the feeling that everyone was undertaking the same grim analysis, namely:

(1) Air disasters are very, very rare;
(2) But when they do occur, they probably start with unbelievably loud explosions, shaking, and flashes of light.

I didn't want to die. But even more than that, I didn't want to die on a plane coming back from Vegas. My dirty laundry was sitting on the floor of my squalid apartment back at school. Safely on the ground and completely neglected.

My alibi would have been blown.

Thursday, July 13, 2006

The Captain and Me.

Poker is a masculine game. This is not to say merely that it is a game played mostly by men although undoubtedly it is. Nor is it necessarily to say that women aren’t good at it. But I’ve over the course of my abortive poker career that the players who intimidate me at the table have exclusively been male. Again, some clarification might well be in order. I’m not saying that these intimidating characters aren’t necessarily the best players. In fact, I’ll have to ask you to suspend, for the purposes of this post, the typical conceptions of what playing poker is about -- namely, to get up from the table with more money than what you sat down with.

Instead, I am interested for the time being in talking about poker as a social transaction, where the money in the middle is mostly incidental. There can be something inherently threatening about a raise. Particularly in No Limit Texas Hold’em. Not just what the raises represents (“I am stronger than you and I know it”, “I want to take all your money”, “You may think you are special, but you are not special here”) but also the act itself. It’s a physical manifestation of aggression that you don’t get to see when you play online. Sometimes the raiser will sneer at you, or (and this is even scarier) look disinterested and lean back in his chair. Very often this post-raise move will expose that he has a bit of a beer gut. And a big, moderately expensive watch dangling on his wrist. His forearm is pretty well-toned, and a little hairy. He has a bit of a tan. It’s not hard to imagine him on a business trip, having sex in hotel rooms with waitresses from nearby diners. With his wedding ring still on. He smells like Old Spice cologne, maybe. He is, in all respects, a man. You are but a boy. Worse, he is a man at this moment who is utterly devoid of idealism, romance, or empathy. He is stronger than you.

If your mother were watching this scene unfold, you know that she would quietly pull for you. She’d be scared for you. She’d cast your opponent as a villain. How dare he sneer at her baby like that? This guy is not your mother. He is -- at best -- indifferent to your best interests. He’d probably be banging your mother at the Courtyard by Marriott if she were a little younger and more attractive.

This is about the moment where you decide that your pair isn’t any good anymore and fold. Maybe lean back from the table and discreetly check your cell phone for messages. Preferably messages from women who didn’t just see what happened. From women who still think you’re worth something. And that is when the money you’re losing begins to matter again. Romance without finance is a nuisance, and all that jazz.

You have no messages. There isn’t any unconditional love to be found around here. So you post your small blind and silently wonder if you’ll ever be a man.

Wednesday, July 12, 2006


The name of this blog is not some sort of ironic self-deprecating joke. Fact is I have no confidence in my ability to objectively assess myself and what's happened to me thus far. As a result, I walk around very curious about what someone who shadowed me 24/7/365 would have to say about my life. Particularly vis-a-vis how fortunate or unfortunate I've been. Because I really don't know if I'm unbelievably lucky or unbelievably unlucky. I think I could make a pretty compelling case for either. But I'm pretty sure it's one or the other.

Monday, July 10, 2006

The Chicken and the Nest Egg.

Today I had an appointment with a psychiatrist. A few months ago, my mother insisted that I get "professional help." I told her that I had no money for professional help. Or rent. So, in order to cover my expenses, she's borrowed against the value of her relatively modest 401(k) to support me for the time being, while I look for a job and a way to be reasonably self-sufficient. She pays all the bills directly. I am not sure what my parents' finances are like these days, and I believe that they might lie about them so as to not make me feel guilty about having milked them dry. "My money's on you, kid," she says, repeatedly. But at this point it's hard not to classify her generosity as little more than a crying call.

At any rate, the doctor seemed relatively disinterested, or at least not exactly probing in her questioning. She knows, for instance, that I am depressed. Somehow I neglected to mention the whole 'I am a gambling addict' thing to her during our time and she did not come close to getting it out of me. It turns out not to be an easy thing to own up to, face-to-face, in a room with someone who would probably respect you well enough but for the thing you're about to tell them. Anyone can be glib and matter-of-fact in front a computer screen. When you're sitting across from someone, it's considerably more difficult to spill the beans. (The same principle might be why the online poker games I've played in are often studies in naked aggression, if not downright recklessness. In a brick and mortar cardroom, social pressures and personal inhibitions are more apt to come to the fore and keep people from going completely nuts the way they do online.)

Poker digressions aside, my hour or so of talking about my problems without talking about gambling also got me thinking: Did the gambling cause the depression? Or is it merely a symptom? Or is it even possible to think of these things so simplistically?

Enough rhetorical questions for today. I have to go to Kinko's to print updated copies of my resume. It's always a tough decision about how to account for the law school years. If I mention them, I create all kinds of room for awkward follow-up questions. If I don't, I forfeit a golden opportunity -- perhaps my only opportunity -- to favorably impress a prospective employer.

Sunday, July 09, 2006

Anticipation and Immortality.

Some of my fondest gambling memories have very little to do with the actual wagering process. Sure, there have been a couple of memorable scores at the OTB, the casino, or betting on sports. But what I remember most vividly and fondly -- and what makes me wonder if I can ever completely give it up -- is all the collateral, anticipatory stuff. That is to say, the recollections not of a big hand, but of how I felt on the way to the casino. The palpable anticipation during the brisk walk from the parking garage. Remembering what it feels like the morning you're scheduled to leave for Las Vegas. That great moment that you and your friends (see "Friends and 'Gambling-Friends'") collectively succumb and someone says what everyone else is thinking and you decide to put life on hold for a night and go play poker. The moment of "Fuck it, let's go", for all you fans of Rounders.

But what is that moment all about? I'm starting to think it's about avoiding mortality. Or if that's too sweeping a statement, it's about avoiding the unpleasant reality that everything -- even the fun things -- must necessarily end. It's probably why I always used go to sleep with the television on. It's a way of resisting the natural, unavoidable progress of things. To rage against the dying of the light. (Wasn't Dylan Thomas a degenerate gambler? I'll Google it.)

Most types of gambling are available 24 hours a day, and this neatly plays into this mindset I'm describing. Even neophytes will cynically refer to the conspicuous lack of clocks in casinos as evidence of an intent to make people forget what time it is so that they won't stop gambling. But it's so much more than that. The willful ignorance of time's march enables a suspension of responsibility. It helps us to avoid the inevitability of the fact that you can't stay up at the poker table indefinitely. That you've got to go to work tomorrow. That you can't hope to beat the house edge. That you're going to die.

So if you're ever in Vegas with me and you want to make me really happy, just turn to me during a break in the action and say, only half-kidding: "I think I might change my return ticket and stay here a few more days." I'll love you for it.

Saturday, July 08, 2006

The Nuts and Bolts of How I Ruined My Life, Part Three.

Third, in a Continuing Series:

By now, you've figured it out. As you'll recall, I blew my budget for living expenses not less than three times during my law school career. But that fact alone need not have precluded me from remaining in school -- theoretically I could have hung in there and kept borrowing from family and friends and girlfriends and whomever else was unlucky enough to be in my path. But I didn't do that.

My withdrawal from law school was directly precipitated by the clinical depression that accompanied my compulsive gambling. I couldn't get out of bed to go to class, much less do any work. My self-esteem wasn't helped by the fact that I realized that I had no business being so unhappy. I'd remind myself constantly that these problems were entirely of my own making. Sometimes I'd view this as a positive -- "It's not so bad, I can wiggle my way out of this, that homeless guy sitting on the sidewalk, he'd give his arm to have my problems" -- and other times, as a self-loathing negative -- "What business did I have blowing thousands of dollars? I'm not even from a wealthy family, but I'm acting like a spoiled rich kid." These opposing perspectives would do battle, and the resolution of those internal battles would inevitably lead me to deciding that winning some money and recouping my losses would fix things up and undo the damage. No such luck.

Anyway, I figured that a semester off would do me some good. I'd get my priorities in order. I'd get back in shape. I'd return to law school with a renewed sense of purpose. It was a temporary thing.

Well, in the three months that I sat on the law school sidelines, I racked up even more debt from gambling. Which presented a problem, in that I began to worry about my borrowing power. (You see, the government loans don't cover the entirety of one's tuition at a big time, "top tier" law school. Either you or your family makes up the difference, or you borrow from private lenders. I had to borrow from private lenders to make up the difference.) Because I was concerned that my bad credit had seriously compromised my ability to even obtain the private financing necessary to re-enroll, I did what any sensible person would do. I took out cash advances on my credit cards and flew to Las Vegas. At the airport on the way out there, I withdrew some more money, the rest of what I had, just to feel flush. The blue light of the ATM called to me. Chase, it implored.

Anyway, the ticket there was from my then-girlfriend, who lives on the west coast and wanted me to go visit her. So mailing me a ticket to Vegas was her only way of enticing me to the Pacific time zone.

I'll describe the particulars of that trip in another post, but suffice to say it did not go as well as I'd hoped.

I returned from Las Vegas with fond memories of the Wynn buffet and little else to my name. I did have five maxed-out credit cards in my wallet, though. A FICO score in the 400-500 range. And several voicemails from ominous-sounding bank departments. Portfolio Risk Management. Fraud Prevention. I recall in particular an automated one I received from one of the credit card company's fraud operation division: "Activity on your account is strongly suggestive of fraudulent use by a third-party."

They weren't that far off the mark. Fact is, the only reason I wasn't already handcuffed in the back of a police cruiser was that my only victim to date had been myself.