You Tell Me That You Haven't Slept in Days: The December 2007 Poker Report

(Editor’s Note: This mother is going live exactly two weeks after the last Poker Report, which, admittedly, is longer than it’s been taking me to post this summer. Hey, I was in Las Vegas for five days [where I never saw the sun or breathed fresh air except for my cab ride from the airport to my hotel], and I had a whole bunch of other stuff going on, most of which I can’t seem to recall right now, but I could have sworn that I was busy as hell. Oh, and that thing about being caught up by the end of July? Not happening.)

7 December 2007

The Whole Set, Nearly: It’s been hard, lately (for roughly the last two years), to pull the whole poker crew together. We, of course, shed one player, but every other player is still in good standing.

Even KayJay had made mention to Jesse that he might be in attendance. Though it is well known and well documented how much of a pain I find KayJay to be, I actually like having him at the game because it gives me somebody with which to spar.

From the first time that I met him, about five years ago, he and I have not seen eye to eye on anything: common courtesy, classiness, human decency. Basically, I’m for them, and he’s against them. With every fiber of his KayJayness, he stands against that which most of us find proper, and I take every opportunity to remind him of that. He also can’t seem to stand me, but get in line, buddy. I’d say that about 73.45% of the time I can’t stand myself.

And that may be the big difference between us: he really seems to like himself and I don’t like people who really like themselves. They seem to be a part of the problem, if you know what I’m saying.

But we sure do have some pyrotechnic discussions.

I was especially looking forward to seeing Surge, as he’s owed me $160 for almost three months now. He took a brutal beating at the 7 September 2007 game, the bloodbath of a game where we got $1,235 into play, and he hadn't been back since.

I get it. That was a painful night for a lot of us. Not Big Daddy, because I pulled $88 straight, but many lost in the low triple digits. It was also a night when one could have one’s faith in one’s game severely tested. The heaviest of the heavy hitters were in attendance, and even if one were playing one’s best, it was still quite possible to pay out.

So then one start thinking that perhaps one’s game isn't as solid as one had thought. Something went wrong, but one isn't sure what. Neither, obviously, is one able to fix that mysterious something. And that self-doubt leaves one paralyzed. And that which had been so much goddamn fun—playing poker with your bros—suddenly becomes an ordeal.

So Surge was supposed to be back tonight. I figured that he had taken the three months to deal with his existential crisis, to do the hard work of digging deeply and being utterly honest with himself and coming to a real understanding of who he is and who he is at the poker table.

(Editor’s Note, 5 July 2008: But it wasn’t any of that spiritual/existential bullshit. Surge was just busy with life and was having a difficult time getting out of the house on Friday nights. We've all been there.)

But Surge never showed up. Not a problem on the cash; some players have accessed my cash reserves in times of need and then taken a few weeks to repay because they had missed all of the games in between, and it wasn’t a concern or a big deal. It’s just that the in-between had never spanned exactly three months.

But it’s not like Surge is avoiding me. I could hunt his ass down in a few minutes, no problem. I’m connected to so many people who are connected to him, that he’d have to go deep underground to avoid Daddy. And I know some people who know some people who know some people who could put some work in on Surge and extract my green by some rather inventive and deeply disturbing and quite painful means. Deeply disturbing.

Neither did KayJay show, which was also disappointing. I had spent the early part of the evening getting mentally and spiritually ready for the battle that was to come. It was like being back in high school, right before a wrestling match against a hated opponent (until my dying day [and possibly a little bit after], I will hate Clovis High and Clovis West High, the only two schools that ever consistently placed ahead of us in the Central Section Tournament while I was a proud Madera High School Coyote. I’m proud to say, though, that I never lost a varsity dual meet match against either of those two schools.).

You're ready to go, impossibly amped, feeling like you're prepared for whatever it is that the other guy can bring. You're a pure and cruel machine, and the guy in the other singlet stands between you and what you need to get done.

But then you step on the mat, the oceanic roar of the crowd and the excited encouragement of your teammates’ voices and the calmer instruction of your coach (a coach who helped to make you into what you hope is a decent human being and to whom you feel like you owe nearly everything, certainly far more than can ever be repaid in a lifetime) echoing off of the concrete walls of the North Gym, and there’s nobody across from you.

It’s a forfeit. And you stand there, confused, a little bit dazed. And the referee raises your hand and you slowly walk back to where your teammates and your coach are standing around another one of your teammates, the next one to go on the mat and battle for your school but mostly for each other, and you join in the encouragement and then you walk to a chair and you try to calm the hell down, but there’s too much adrenaline in the engine and you're crushed with disappointment.

KayJay’s not showing up was just like that, except for the engine stuff.

It’s Good To Be King: So we’re having the game at Ice’s for the second week in a row. Last week, he put out a solid spread of poker-style food, and we were all quite pleased.

This week, though, he e-mailed that there were going to be some tasty snacks at the game. He wasn’t joking: salami, cheese, crackers, meatballs, seven-layer dip, and some potato things with cheese and bacon that may have been the highlight of my week.

(As an aside, seven-layer dip: Who came up with that? As a student of aesthetics and of a bunch of different kinds of craft and of beauty and especially of cookery [and other useless bullshit like that; goddamn, have I wasted my life], I have to say that that dip, whoever came up with it in the first place, was rather amazingly constructed. In terms of the senses, that dip engaged and pleased them all. And, not to get too technical on you, it also serviced one’s sense of umami. As a craftsperson, it’s hard not to admire how well put together seven-layer dip is. As an aesthete [and, yes, every time that I think of or label myself as an aesthete, the high school version of myself wants to kick my ass {even though that guy could never get his head out of books, either}], I can say that that dip did exactly what it was supposed to do: it made me happy.)

Ice had nothing at all to do with the snacks, it turned out. His lovely wife made all of the snacks, so all Ice had to do was accept our compliments.

And then Ice didn’t help at all with stacking up the poker chips, even though both cases—the tournament chips case and the cash game one—had been at his house since last week. Who set the chips up? Me, as usual.

Also Usual: Was the fact that I won next to nothing. This time, it was exactly $2. We can all agree that that’s an embarrassing total, but not if we look at it in relation to how I did last week, also at Ice’s place.

Last week, I pulled a staggering $1.25, so this week’s total was actually a sixty-percent improvement over last week, and sixty percent is deluxe.

Yeah, I didn’t buy that shit, either. But the winning streak continues, now up to six games in a row, the YTD’s now at +$339.00, and the overall is at 31-21.

December 15 2007

Eight Players: Again, we had a big turnout, which is always nice. What made it especially nice was that Surge finally showed up, after being gone for three months and a week, and he came bearing green, specifically the green that he had borrowed many months ago.

Green, yes, but not all of the green that I had been owed. Of the $160 to which I was entitled he busted out a Benjamin, as they say on the street (Or do they? It’s been a while.), leaving him $60 in the red.

Okay. His partial repayment meant that I didn’t have to hit him with an escrima stick or with my car. Technically speaking, since he still owed me green, I retained the right to commit violence upon him.

Nothing too far out of line. Maybe something like handing him a drink slightly too forcefully (but not so much that he’d notice it), or giving him a mean look when he’s facing away from me, or just thinking an unkind thought about him, but immediately feeling bad and guilty and like I just can’t stop from letting myself down again and again, like I’m broken inside in a way that’s irreparable.

That would have shown him that I meant business and wasn’t to be trifled with.

Maybe More Practice Would Help: Surge had retained some cash after paying me so that he could get into the action. But the action was a little too tough for Surge.

That $60 that he still owed me became a straight $100 when Surge was hit with wave upon wave of ill fortune and then had to re-borrow. Hey, at least, I got part of it back.

Let’s see: three months to essentially pay back $60. That means that I can expect the $100 that he still owes in about five months.

De Luna Industries: By the time that I finished getting out all of the loans to other players upon whom fate had cast its cruel eyes, I was bankrolling, counting myself, half of the table.

Which wasn’t a problem at all because I had my best night since 13 July 2007, when I cleared $232.50. I didn’t get anywhere close to that, but I did pull $155.50. I gently stroked the YTD all the way up to +$494.50, the highest that it’s been all year. The won-loss, following the seventh game in a row at which I've won, is now at 32-21.

December 21 2007

Good Hands: There’s a very slight chance that I may be moving away in about six months, if certain things do or do not come together. One of the first things that I worried about was whether the game could sustain itself without my involvement.

I’m the unofficial co-host most of the time. I set up the room and the snacks. I send out the e-mail updates. I’m the banker at the game. I also loan out cash when somebody gets down to felt. And, finally, I make sure that the game runs smoothly, that we have, as I like to say, a clean game.

I empowered Arizona to this week send out the e-mails for tonight’s game. To be honest, I wasn’t sure how the thing was going to go down without me. Not that my boys are inept (because all of them are highly educated and are pretty successful in our chosen endeavors), but that they just haven’t had the practice.

So I’m arriving on Wednesday at the airport from a quick Las Vegas trip, and I’ve got a message from Arizona. Okay, probably the whole thing’s fallen apart.

Nope, I’m getting the call that there’s been an extra game added to the schedule, a special Wednesday Night Throwdown at Bert’s.

I was too exhausted to go, but I was proud of my homies. If they have to keep the bastard running if I move away, they’ll be fine.

What the Hell?: But I was upset about one thing. When I send out the e-mails announcing the particulars of the game, I always write that “RSVPs are welcome,” but I’ve gotten less and less RSVPs as time has passed, dwindling down to exactly one: Arizona, which is why I knew that he was the one that I could count on to be responsible enough to take on the role of Poker Crew e-mailer.

And he did a fine job. But then, as I was checking my e-mail when I finally had a chance, I got a little upset. What had burned me up was how many RSVPs he had gotten. There were at least fifteen back and forth e-mails discussing and confirming both poker games and who would or would not be at each one. Hell, even KayJay, who has been off of the e-mail list for forever, was involved in the electronic correspondence.

There have been nights when I arrived to set up the game knowing for sure only that Arizona was on the way. He’d ask me who was coming later, and I would have to say, “I have no idea.”

But Arizona gets RSVPs. I can only conclude that I’m being taken for granted. It hurts, man, it hurts real bad.

Eight in a Row: It’s official. After tonight’s game, I’m on the hottest streak of my poker-playing life. Not all of the nights were big wins (comically, two of them were for two dollars, or less), but they were wins. At our game, not losing is a tough accomplishment, so the fact that I've managed to not lose money since 2 November 2007, makes me feel pretty good about myself.

(Editor’s Note: Which leads to an interesting thought. In the above paragraph, I wrote that in a very specific instance and under very distinct circumstances I actually [felt] pretty good about myself. I was actually shocked when I initially wrote that. I’m programmed, I think, to never feel good about myself. It’s all of the poetry and photography workshops that beat that right out of me. You know, being trained to struggle for a perfection which is never really attainable [at least, not by me, nor, I would imagine, by most of us in the business {though, certainly, there are some of us who find ways to be perfect a large part or even nearly all of the time in their art; geniuses, they’re called, and may all happiness be upon them}] but that will help us to do the best work of which we are capable.

In a very real way, then, art ruined my life. But nobody ever said that working for this corporation [Art, Inc.] was going to be easy. Neither, by the way did anybody say that it was going to be hard. About three seconds in, you figure that out for yourself. And yet you stay. Fucking art, man.)

One to Go: I won again, $81.25, putting my all-time longest winning streak at eight games. The YTD is the highest it’s bee all year, +$575.75, and the won-loss is looking semi-decent at 33-21.

So, unless I have a monumental collapse at next week’s game (I’m talking about a $550+ loss night), I’m guaranteed to have a pretty solid year. At the end of October, that didn't seem at all possible.

December 30 2007

And So It Ends, Part I: This is the last game of the year. Players have come and gone during those three years, though the core group, the Classic Five, has, more or less, managed to hang together. This year, one of those goings was unpleasant. Necessary, but unpleasant.

And the chips get in far more frequently and in ever-larger amounts. Yet we still have a lot of fun. I, myself, even on nights where I paid out a bunch, even on the night at the end of September when I bled out $175.75, almost always had a great time.

Well, there was that June when I lost over $600; that wasn't a whole hell of a lot of fun.

The King: At our game, there are math guys, people who run the numbers and then make their decisions based on percentages of likely outcomes.

There are instinctual players, those who make reads and then have the conviction/courage to act upon them.

Then there are the players who try to run you over, who get in with any two cards and then will push chips at you until you surrender.

Jesse’s the epitome of that third type of player, and he went on a tear nearly unmatched in the history of our poker game. He pulled a $380 profit. And he had most of that early. I’d say about $250 of it. He still kept getting action and got to about a $400 profit before holding relatively steady at the aforementioned $380.

First he applied some ridiculous beats on some players, calling with very few outs and not getting anywhere near the right price. Then, after he had built up his stacks, he went in with solid hands that other players didn’t want to believe that he was actually holding, and he got paid off on those hands, too.

And he kept bullying everybody. If you wanted to see his cards, you were definitely going to have to pay.

There are many ways to handle such a player. You can get in there and battle with him. It’s not going to be cheap, though, and if you are wrong or behind more often that you are right or ahead, you can burn through your chips rather quickly. Essentially, you're entering a knife fight, metaphorically speaking, and there’s going to be blood.

(Editor’s Note: As an aside, I purchased and watched There Will Be Blood about five weeks ago, and I must say that I didn’t like it very much. And I’m a long-time member of the Paul Thomas Anderson team, ever since I saw Hard Eight on VHS forever ago [which is what 1997 feels like to me now; eleven years; goddamn], though, I must admit, Punch Drunk Love didn't do too much for me, either.)

Or you can do like I did, and stay the holy hell out of his way. I tried to make my living in the pots in which Jesse wasn’t involved. And when I came in, I came in hot: raising or re-raising, thus trying to limit the number of players in a hand.

True, I wasn’t involved in a lot of hands, but I’m not trying to play hands; I’m trying to win the hands that I play. And, thankfully, since I play with friends, there’s enough conversation to keep me from being utterly distracted and/or crushingly bored.

Which leads to…

The Game in Question: After Jesse took such a large chunk of everybody’s buy-ins, it didn’t seem like there’d be that much left over for other players to make a profit. Somehow, though, I won $102.00 tonight, only my ninth triple-digit profit night of the year, and I had had four of those in the first five games.

Which leads to…

Nueve: I’ve had some good streaks, and some bad ones (some staggeringly bad ones), but I closed out 2007 on the longest winning streak that I've ever had: Nine games.

(Editor’s Note: That’s what having Nueve as the section title is all about; it’s Spanish for nine.

Hey, Spanish was my first language, and some words just sound better in Spanish than they do in English [ayuda instead of help, cielo instead of sky {though I prefer heaven instead of cielo, cielo meaning both heaven and sky; how lovely is that?}, esperanza instead of hope, tristeza instead of sadness, and soledad instead of loneliness {Though those are just off of the top of my head, and I’m sure that there are more and better examples. Though, again, to be fair, there are plenty of words that sound better in English than they do in Spanish: mostly the Anglo-Saxon stuff}], so, in service of beauty, I had no choice, really, other than to use my first language.)

(Editor’s Note on the Above Editor’s Note: Okay, the above Editor’s Note digressed like a mother. Well, that’s not fair to the paragraph. I was the agent of its construction and it was merely the product of my agency. It was Daddy who went far, far afield, and I don’t know how it happened.

There I was, writing about winning streaks, and, next thing I know, I’m talking about Spanish and English? And now here I am, going meta about a digression from what was already a digression. Not cool, man. Not cool at all. I really feel like there might really be something really wrong with me.)

My longest streak in 2005, the year in which I made the most money, was four games. The longest streak in 2006 was six games, but that streak was over by mid-March and netted me only about $380 in what turned out to be my worst year of poker. This year’s streak, then, was my longest by 50%, and it also netted me $508.50.

Which I needed because, at the end of October, when I was only up $192.75, 2007 was looking like it was going to be a repeat of 2006, when there had been a very real chance during the last game in December that I would actually end up having a negative YTD.

Because I Have Run Out of Time: But, like I said, I’ve been doing well lately. With tonight’s win, I’ve managed to get the YTD to +$677.75, the highest that it got to all year and the highest end-of-game total since the last game of 2005, almost exactly two years ago. The overall record ended up at only 34-21, admittedly not an impressive record, but better than 2006’s 29-25 and 2005’s 33-26-1. Perhaps I’m just destined to never have a spectacular overall record.

Considering, however, the fact that I play with some hardcore heavy hitters™ every week, the fact that I've even managed to have a winning record three years running is nothing about which to be too ashamed.

And So It Ends, Part II: As I stated at the beginning of this section, this was the last game of the year, but it was also the last game of our third complete year of playing poker together.

That’s a little over 155 games. If we’ve averaged about six hours per game, and that may be a bit on the conservative side, then that means that we’ve played about 930 hours of poker, or enough hours to fill up 38.75 days, about a month and a week. Oops. I bet that nobody ever saw that coming. I sure didn’t.

In Terms of Memory, and Such: Just the fact that the year ended, that years have ends, is a bit much for me. I don’t know how other people handle it.

But it wouldn’t be so bad if I could keep more of each year alive in my memory. Honestly, if memory were closer to perfect, I think that life’d be much easier to get through. As it is, it feels like I spend far too much time mourning the world as it drifts away from me.

Wow, okay, that last paragraph got away from me. What was the point? Partly, that life is a real goddamn bastard, you know? Fuck, man, really. But mostly, and this might be hard to believe after the last paragraph, that I’m actually grateful for whatever it was of the year that I was able to keep.

And how did I keep what I managed to keep?

Language. Next to my family, it’s what I love most in the world. It’s the only thing that makes life—itself and its passing—bearable. Thank humanity and all that is beautiful and true in our damaged and cruel and lovely world for language.


(Editor’s Note: The title of this month’s Poker Report is a line from Yo La Tengo’s song, Tears Are in Your Eyes. It was the fifty-fifth song that I purchased off of iTunes, back on 9 August 2004, which means that I’ve been listening to this song for almost four years now, having played it 182 times during that span. It is also the fourteenth most played song on Really Sad Fiction-Writing Songs, the iTunes Playlist to which I listen when I’m writing fiction or, really, anything else.

It’s going to be tricky to repeat a phrase like tears are in your eyes more than once without your listeners wanting to curl up or cover their ears with embarrassment. Embarrassment for the band for thinking that it was a good idea to so often repeat that phrase. And embarrassment for themselves for having to hear the band embarrass themselves. It’s going to verge on miraculous if any band can pull that phrase off six times. Yo La Tengo does.

How do they pull it off? By underplaying the phrase. The singer’s voice doesn’t go up in volume and not too much in pitch. There’s not an instrument that kicks in at the beginning of the phrase and then plays majestically along. And the drummer doesn’t do anything extra [I’m imagining something loud involving cymbals] to dishonor himself.

Speaking of averted cymbal action, there’s not one moment when the band tries for any grand or dramatic gestures, which is always good.

What also helps to get that phrase across is the fact that the singer has a lovely, understated voice. If you’ve got a great voice and you understand music and art and the beautiful, then you can pretty much sing anything that you want. Anything.

Remember back when you were taking poetry workshops, where the instructor would tell you to show and to not tell, to do your thing with images and not with commentary and/or explanation? Well, back when I was teaching creative writing, I would tell my students that that received bit of wisdom wasn’t really true, that if you were going to tell, then you had better make it sound beautiful, that the sound of the telling had better carry the reader across.

But the reason that creative writing instructors teach their students that showing is better than telling is that telling tends to flatten out, and that’s the problem, that you’ve gone flat. Again, though, if you can make the telling sound as good as the showing [which isn't easy; the fact that teachers strongly warn you away from telling should tell you something about how hard it is to make telling work], then you’ll be fine. The tricky thing is that there aren’t very many poets who can consistently make telling sound beautiful.

[For the next poetry section of the next Poker Report, I’ll talk about compression and line breaks in relation to making telling work. It’ll be fun.]

But I digress. The point is that Yo La Tengo have managed to record a song that could have gone awry in any number of ways but which I still haven't gotten tired of, even after almost four years of being in the rotation.)