This could be the big finale of what started two posts ago. BTW I had a crazy dream about poker last night. I have to write about it, it’s too insane not to. In the meantime, back to the follow ups of In the Beginning.
Where I started in life to where I stood at the doorway of the most insane world of people I had ever met was certainly the spark that sent me into a spiral (down, of course) that would not allow me to shake myself loose from the game of poker.
By the time I had tripped along the trail to the dark side of the game and watched and listened to ‘these people’ that played continually, I couldn’t have gone to a surgeon and had all the fibers that entwined through my brain and nervous system cut and removed with any hope of survival. It was emotional crack! I needed it! Ongoing, daily doses that kept me coming back and kicked me right out of the grave I had lived in most of my life where emotions were choked out and I plodded through life putting one foot in front of the other.
I had never been exposed to people that got right in your face and said outrageous things that were mean and hostile…and everyone sitting in the poker arena laughed. They laughed. Eventually I became just like them. I’m not going to say that I said some of the mean things, but I laughed at the sickest scenarios. That’s when I finally started to understand that if you didn’t laugh at life and situations, most of it was so sad, you wouldn’t be able to stand it. And poker was right up there with one of the saddest, sickest worlds I’d ever been exposed to.
In the beginning, the biggest draw was the social side. It didn’t matter what time of day you went to the table, someone was always there playing. If the game was short handed or broke down in the wee hours of the morning, it started right back up within a short time.
Hello “insta-stage” filled with a captive audience.
The Greyhound Bus Depot was a short hop out the back door of the Oxford and people were always coming into the OX for 24-hour food and a bar-bar (no frilly blended drinks) that opened at 10 AM and closed at 2 AM. There was also a cigar counter filled with all kinds of stogies in glass cases where you could buy a milkshake, an ice cream cone or a cup of chocolate, vanilla, or strawberry…basic bar, basic ice cream choices. That one always cracked me up. Buy a stogie and get your ice cream fix in the same place.
Many times the people who rolled in on buses kept the games going for days…more than one missed their bus because they were playing poker and laughed it off saying they’d get the next one out. That blew my mind at first. I couldn’t imagine having travel plans and just changing them midstream because you were playing poker. Sad, but I did learn it was part of the game later on.
Dealers who got out of the box and sat down in a game and got stuck, playing until the beginning of their next shift were always covered by a replacement dealer because management understood they ‘were stuck’ and what a sweet way to make sure all the wages spent by them and the tips given by the players went right back into the game. When I became a dealer, we even laughed about going across the street and calling in too ‘stuck’ to work. Of course you’d better be stuck in the game of the house you dealt in and not one from down the street.
The management loaned money to players (exceptionally bad move on their part because when you finally tapped out and left, if you came up with $20, or more for another buy-in, you went down the street. Why would you play where you had to pay back what you borrowed when you went on a run?)
Back in the day, checks written for gambling purposes couldn’t be collected on by the management. They knew it, yet they still took checks from players — and even tried to prosecute some of them legally but it didn’t fly. AND the players were savvy. If they wrote a check for $100 and won more than that, they simply ratholed chips many times to keep from having to cash out enough to buy back the checks. Let me add that not all players did that, but some did and made it very hard on the rest of the poker players in the area and the management in keeping fresh money rolling through the games.
Players got free food when they played, some of them could eat two-three T-Bone steaks during their table time. To some of them, it was a food orgy although many others never ate. Mostly the alcohol had to be paid for but the House bought a round every now and then.
Nothing was more exciting than experiencing the flavor of the insane conversations and watching the chips roll back and forth across the tables.
The more I stayed around and in the game, the more I realized being a degenerate was not only accepted, it was expected.
The poker world lends to but doesn’t affect everyone the same:
- Shirking responsibility
- To being an ass in front of a table/room full of players and employees
- To not keeping personal hygiene at an acceptable level
- To having no courtesy or respect for the furnishings or the establishment
- To always thinking someone (especially the Card Fairy and the Poker God) owes you something
- To thinking you are the only one entitled to run good
- To believing it’s not your playing that’s keeping you broke
- To believing you will pay back that loan you borrowed for a buy-in but first you have to run good
- To ruining your health with all the cigarette smoke (second-hand included); bad diets; too many buffets; lack of exercise; lack of sleep
- To ruining your relationships with family and friends because you simply cannot commit to walking away from the game, and there’s more but those are some of the main things I’ve noticed about the people I don’t want to be like.
I am guilty of a number of them though.
- I’ve been an ass and made stupid comments at the table to players that beat me (I outgrew most of that a very long time ago).
- Even though I always paid my rent and utility bills and fed and clothed my three boys, I really didn’t know you could buy anything with your cash except poker chips — for a number of years.
- I am guilty of not spending as much time with my boys as I should have because poker got in the way…playing it and dealing long hours.
- Yes, the Card Fairy is still out to get me sometimes.
- I quit smoking years ago, but during the first five or six years of my poker insanity, I smoked. If one dealer was finishing out the night and only getting a break from the floor man every few hours (until a dealer was called in in the morning) the dealer could smoke in the box. Did that more than once too.
Can you imagine watching the floor man (cage person was the title) dealing a break and getting in an argument with a player in the 7S and jumping right up over the table to tackle the 7S and knock him to the floor? SHOCKER! I watched them roll around on the floor fighting for somewhere close to five minutes before players who had jumped up to get out of the way broke it up.
Or players scream, “RACK ATTACK!” And the cage person bringing them $100 in a metal rack filled with $1 blue chips and after the cage person walked away, the player dumped the chips into a pile in front of them and threw the rack over their head to the back wall? No, not everyone did it but it was so off the wall and part of the total “I don’t give a shit for courtesy or rules!” that pulled me further into the game.
Or seeing Dan come in and stand at the rail every day and everyone said, “Hi,” and asked how he was even though he never played but just came in to hang out. Dan was a big man, somewhere around 6’4″ and his head had very obvious, massive lumps in it with some of it caved in because he had supposedly been beaten with metal pipes by prison guards. He sometimes brought in a brown paper bag he ate out of that smelled like three-day old rotting chicken.
Or playing poker with Wes who swore he played 5-card stud with God. Wes always had a wild look about him, crazy scraggly hair with a bandanna tied around his head; a black leather vest with some tassels hanging from it and a shirt with no sleeves; along with wrist cuffs of leather. He would bemoan his fate for being stuck in a game as he threw his chips in pot after pot, “Why God? Why are you doing this to me?”
I once asked him if he felt that God would pick him over anyone else in the game to be the winner of a hand. He had no reply but held firmly to the belief that he had played poker with God. I also asked him if he won in that game, “Yes!”
Imagine having the chance to talk to the old timers that had been there before God, who dealt the old ‘snatch’ games in the basement way back in the 40’s and 50’s when they posted a lookout upstairs in case the cops came in. If the lookout stomped on the floor X times, they all ran through a secret door into the prep kitchen in the basement and started peeling potatoes and prepping food for the upstairs grill.
And listening to their tales of the old games and how they could shoot chips out of the pot and off their elbow into the rack and steal hundreds of dollars a night from the players. And then having them remember your dad playing in those games.
Better yet, getting in a game with them and snapping them off with 7-2 off. Two of them raised with AK and MOI climbed right into the pot. The flop brought A-2-2, then a K, then a 7. I put in every raise I could and they kept looking at each other. One of them finally said, “Well…she could have a deuce.”
But they both paid me and I showed them how to play poker. LMAO! That was way back when I didn’t know a 3 wasn’t supposed to come for a gut-shot wheel.
One of those old timers always wore a black stetson and taught fly tying at the University. His favorite expression was, “If the cards ever break even…”
In another game with him one time, he had built a castle of $5 chips (of course we were playing limit so it was easy to draw out on some one if you liked to gamble…sign me up baby). He raised it pre, me and half the table called. I had a Q-10 or something foolish. The flop brought J and an 8 or an A. I did have a double gutter but he didn’t see it that way when I hit on the River and raised him. OMG! He went nutz, slapping his wonderful castle all over the table into other player’s chips and into the rack and on the floor. He was really stuck then because if his chips went into someone else’s stack, they weren’t giving them up.
Jamming and gambling. What fun!
I lost but I also won and had so much fun doing it. It quit being fun over the years after I learned to play.
For over 30 years I never thought I could walk away from the game. I suppose I still haven’t left it, I just no longer have the need to feed on the intensity of the anguish and short-lived happiness many people find in a daily game of poker. I know I don’t have the desire to sit at the table for the required hours it would take to beat it and say I play for a living. I used to think I could. Now I know better.
Instead of getting a kick out of a whiner or some drunk throwing his chips in the pot or one of them saying they have to leave because their dog needs to be fed (or that they are going to go home and kick it because they lost) as they keep feeding the pot or dealers looking grumpy because they didn’t get a toke or sticking their voice into a conversation when it isn’t called for or any number of things that make a poker room run, I simply can’t be there anymore.
I have a million memories of why the game captured me and kept me there. Some of them are still funny. Some of them make me sad. Some of them show me a side of myself I don’t want to see. Believe me, I’ve looked a lot of times and digested and absorbed it. I still believe that if you want to truly know yourself, go spend a year playing live poker and look and listen. It’s amazing.
There’s more but I’m out of steam and this is only a small glimpse of In the Beginning.