When we last left Otis, he had survived his first half-day in Vegas, a table of O8 with Felicia and Glenn, shots with Al Can’t Hang, and a bowl of buffet gumbo (Al: That’s not gumbo!). All of this before he’d been in Vegas for eight hours. We resume the tale just moments after the O8 table broke.
You ever have those times in your life where you slot hoki know odd things are about to happen? You can’t quite pin-point where the night is going, but you know that if you keep one wheel firmly attached to the track, you’ll be able to survive.
This Friday night in the Excalibur poker room–full of filtered air, rodeo musk, and cocktail waitress purfume–had that feeling hanging over it.
And I was about to break my cardinal rule for the first time since I’d arrived. I was about to play poker with nothing but a bowl of cheap gumbo (I know, Al) and a prayer to soak up the booze.
How long can this prologue last?
The room was full. The waitlist was long. I was happy to only have to wait a few minutes for Ari to open a new $2-$6 spread table. I’d considered sitting at the NL game, but I was slowly beginning to recognize that I was ill-equipped to play a game where I would have to make stack-risking decisions every few minutes.
Ill-equipped. It would become a theme over the next 12 hours.
I drew the three-seat at the new table in the middle of the room. Most of my compatriots had gone to dinner, but I had stayed behind to wait for CJ who had promised to arrive sometime around 7pm. I stole a look at my cell phone and noticed it hadn’t made any noise and I hadn’t missed any phone calls. The voicemail box indicated I had a message, but I figured it was one I’d forgotten to erase.
The $2-$6 table was a practice in folly. The guy to my left was a “straddle the blinds then take a walk” type of player. He rammed and jammed every pot until the turn, at which point, if he hadn’t caught, he’d simply fold. Then he would get up and walk around for almost an entire orbit. I thought briefly that he might be running a game with the woman sitting to his left, but after about thirty minutes of watching I decided he was just trying to build pots.
Now, there’s nothing wrong with building pots. I do it when I have a good starting hand. That’s part of the game. Still, this guy stuck out as a guy who should’ve been playing at either a higher limit or at a slot machine. He seemed to want to rake big pots (again, no crime in that), straddled, raised, and rammed and jammed for two streets, pulling the one-armed bandit and hoping he came up the bars on the turn. If not, he’d wait for the next hand. Or he would take a walk.
I sat back, hoping to catch a good hand in the big blind so I could exploit his poker slots play. I didn’t, though, and started to get a little annoyed.
After about an hour, the guy had bled away about half his rack (for some reason, the Excalbur allows players to play out of their rack, something I don’t like…simply because it takes people too long to pull out their chips when they are going to bet). CJ walked in and told me he couldn’t get me on my cell phone. I told him to buy a rack and get on the list for my table. Oh, and I think I told him I’d been drinking for eight hours. I may not have. However, I’ve known CJ for years. And he knows when I’ve been drinking.
Finally, the rammer-jammer stood and I looked around for CJ. He had disappeared. I picked up my phone and dialed his number, thinking he’d stepped out for some grub (or to find the increasingly AWOL Grubby). I felt silly when I realized CJ was sitting just a couple tables away. Before long, he’d racked up and come over to sit next to me.
I have a hard time defining timelines when I’m drinking, but I know one thing for sure: CJ’s arrival seemed to act as the catalyst for the weird to start turning pro (with my apologies to both good doctors, Thompson and Pauly).
Here ends the prologue
Anyone who has played poker for any decent length of time knows that sessions don’t exist in a vacuum. One session is just one step in the greater marathon that is your poker playing life. That axiom notwithstanding, as I played that particular $2-$6 game, I found myself slipping into the belief that is was the first and last poker game I would ever play. As the cocktail waitress brought me beer after beer, followed by water after water, and the occasional Jack and Diet Coke, I found myself vowing to enjoy every minute of that game. No matter the consequences. There’s something special about being able to sit next to a good buddy and jaw about nothing in particular.
And so we sat, playing, dropping the hammer, and laughing for hours and hours.
The stories are far too many to be told. I tried to drop the hammer on CJ’s straight flush. He won. Then, CJ got dealt pocket aces, but the dealer accidentally flipped up one of the bullets, making it a dead card. The table exploded when, after the dealer dealt CJ his third card, it turned out to be an ace as well. The situation got funnier when CJ’s pocket rockets (all three of them) got beat by a four flush on the board. The beauty was that at Excalibur, if you get your aces cracked, you get to spin the money wheel. I think CJ ended up mkaing more money spinning the wheel that night than he did actually playing cards.
By and by, I looked up to see a tall guy in a Dodgers cap. I recognized him immediately as HDouble. HDouble is my kind of guy. He likes good music. He’s a thinking man’s poker player. And, as it turns out, he’s a fantastically nice guy. I’m still mad that my weekend got away from me and I didn’t have a chance to go over to the Mirage with him for some $10/$20.
HDouble sat with CJ and I for a couple of hours, slinging chips and laughing with us. As I sat there, I knew that he knew the answer to a question I’d been laboring over for months. He knew if Iggy was a little person or some rapib pratical joker. It seemed so crude to bring it up, though.
As we sat, the Missouri crew and G-Rob finally found their way into the poker room. They all bought in for some chips, and I found myself inordinately interested with how they were faring. CJ and I had a bit of a view of G-Rob’s stack and monitored it closely.
I knew that HDouble was supposed to have a pretty, Nordic wife.
“You come by yourself, Hank, or did you bring someone along?” I asked. Maybe I was just making small talk. I dunno. A part of me thinks I was setting myself up for a joke I didn’t even know was coming.
HDouble indicated he’d come alone this time.
I had been pointing out various bloggers to CJ as they walked by. Eventually, CJ pointed over to Pauly’s table, where a long-haired guy was squatting next to the one-seat.
“Who is that?” he asked.
I’d seen the guy walk in a little earlier in the night. Maybe it was Grubby, I thought. However, I figured since Grubby had been MIA all night long that there would’ve been some grand celebration when he arrived. So, I made the next logical choice.
“Pauly said his buddy Ferrari was coming. Maybe that’s who it is.” I said. I didn’t look at Hank when I said this.
I consider myself a pretty good multitasker. My wife gets vaguely annoyed when I try to play poker, watch TV, keep an eye on the dog and kid, read a newspaper, and carry on a conversation with her. But I can do it.
Part of my professional training has included being able to listen passively for a spot in a conversation where active listening is required. At any given time, I can write, listen to a police scanner, carry on a conversation with someone in the office, and listen to Yahoo! Launchcast. If somebody gets killed within a 20-mile radius, I’ll hear it on the police scanner. If somebody at work needs me for something, I’ll hear it. If Steve Earle slips into a cover of “Willin’,” I’ll hear it.
Keep that in mind of a couple of paragraphs.
I was in the middle of a hand, which drew my concentration ever so slightly away from talking with Hank and CJ, from watching G-Rob and Marty’s stack, from ordering another in a long series of beers, from trying to figure out why my cell phone had started shooting every call to voicemail, and, yes, from the guy who was now kneeling beside me. It was the same guy CJ had asked about earlier.
“Otis,” he said. It wasn’t a question. It was a definitive statement. He knew who I was.
“Hey, man.” I was being friendly, despite the fact that my brain was trying to work its way around how to play the hand sitting in front of me.
The guy said his name was something or other, then went on to mumble something about really liking my blog.
“I’m a friend of Hank’s,” he said. “We drove in together, and I just wanted to tell you how much I enjoy your writing.”
Now, something should’ve clicked right there. Just thirty minutes earlier Hank had said he’d made the drive alone. I’d actively listened to that conversation.
And, so, the long-haired guy kneeling on my left kept talking. G-Rob’s stack kept flucuating, the cocktail waitress kept bringing beer, and, for the love of all that’s holy, I was still involved in a hand.
Do I raise? Do I cold call?
Passively, through increasingly drunk ears, I listened to the guy who was still talking. And just like when I hear 10-89 (local police ten-code for death) pop out of the police scanner, I heard something from my left that made me slip back into active listening.
The word was “dwarf.”
I turned to my left and saw the smile creeping in the corners of the guy’s mouth. Indeed, he had said “dwarf.”
Somehow, I just knew.
I bounded from my chair and wrapped the guy in a hug like I would a brother I hadn’t seen in years.
“You son of a bitch,” I said.