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.