Sunday, November 25, 2007

A New Start

After sitting in there for some time, she thought she might make a little something for Stanley.

Dot smiled. Their kitchen was very large and airy, stainless steel, hard wood floors. It might have belonged to a cooking show. Large bay windows by the breakfast nook with a prospect on the back lawn and the garden. Lit supernal from a skylight above, soft and glowing. The sun was in its place; a beautiful day. Everything its right place.

She stood abruptly and took the medium mixing bowl from its place on the shelf, filled it with water. A wire whisk hanging from its feet with other utensils. It had been hanging there by its steel feet for a long time, but still it wouldn’t talk. It was tough, like all whisks. She went into the pantry for some white sugar. A basting brush from the drawer. Dot eyed the range, six burners, and decided finally that she would serve it cold. This one doesn’t have to be boiling, she thought. She knew that some things took a long while to come to a boil.

She added sugar into the water and stirred with the whisk until it was mixed in quite well. She wandered from the kitchen onto the patio and looked out onto the garden while she stirred. The kitchen jutted out into the back yard on the west side of the house and opened onto the patio, which extended the length of the back. Two hundred square feet, the kitchen. Vaulted ceilings. Dot hummed and looked at the turned black earth of the garden, way against the back hedge. Yesterday there had been tulips and prize-winning roses, and showboat mums sagging under magnificent hats, but the garden was now dug up, a blank piece of paper upon which she could make some bold mark. A new start, Stanley had said when she had come home to find it all gone. A new start, old girl. Put whatever we want back there. A pool, maybe, eh?

The gardeners Stanley had hired had been very thorough, and when they had pulled out all of the roots of her flowers and bushes, they'd left the sod soft. It had been easier than she had expected to dig so deep in the new soil.

Dot went back to the pantry and added more sugar, and stirred it very well. She kept adding sugar until she had a substance that was no longer either sugar or water, viscous and ropy and sticky. Then she cleaned the whisk and hung it back up with his obstinate fellows, and took the basting brush the bowl with her out into the back yard. Two acres wide, two deep. Stanley had made a nice living for them. Neighbors blocked out by tall spruce hedges Stanley had planted when they were no taller than she was. The rhododendrons she had loved had needed to come out to make way for them. Stanley had pulled them up, for privacy was important to him. Those hedges grown now to giants over twenty years. Things could grow quite tall in that span, she thought. They grow slowly, but they grow up on you. The children were grown now, too. Moved to Fresno, and to Austin, Texas.

Stanley was out in the garden. When she lifted the overturned bucket from the ground and uncovered him, she saw he was he was finally awake. A pleasant surprise. His head was angry pink where she had shaved him newly bald, and he looked like a new rosebud just pushing up from the ground. He'd gone all pink the first day, before she'd thought of the bucket. The sun was very bright. A beautiful day. He saw her coming and said:

“For God’s sake, Dorothy. For God’s sake.”

She set the bowl down on the earth by his head and his eyes rolled toward it like those of a horse in full panic.

“What is that, Dot? What is it?”

She dipped the brush into the bowl. It was very sticky and when she pulled the brush out it trailed a rope of sugar syrup. As she began to anoint his head with it, she hummed softly to herself. She could feel him trying to struggle under the new earth. She brushed his head as he raged at her and she watched the hedges and marveled at how things that grow slowly can grow up so tall and strong and wild. She whispered to him:

“The ants don’t bite here, Stanley. They don't bite. They're just garden ants. But their little feet will tickle. They’ll tickle you all day.”

He wasn't as loud once she'd put the bucket back over him. On the way back to the house, she thought she might go into town. There were supplies to buy, and maybe some apples.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Can I Change My Account Name?

deipnosophist \dyp-NOS-uh-fist\, noun:Someone who is skilled in table talk.


I would have won the MATH on Monday. You'll just have to take my word for that, though, as Comcast Cable (aka the Sometimes Provider) decided to take my connection down, all this while I was already bought in. My dead stack came in at a Comcastic 21st.

I would have won the Mookie last night. You'll have to take my word for that, though, as most of my city had no power last night for reasons that remain unclear. Poof. My dead stack came in a magnificent 36th. I had just signed into the Dookie, too. You'd better believe I'd have won that one too if I hadn't literally been dead money. My chair placed 11th.

No, I am not Vinnie Vinh.

I'm very thankful that I have such a blessed life that this kind of quibbly little frustration can actually be considered 'bad luck'.

Eat a turkey, y'all. Spare a goat. I might see you at Riverchasers. If I play, I'll win it. That is, if my hard drive doesn't spontaneously melt during the first break.

Monday, November 19, 2007

Give The Dog A Bone

This old man sits on the bench, and he is not feeding the pigeons, no. He wears a gray wool suit, gray slacks, gray face. No necktie. His gray hat wears a bright red feather, the flash of red the only color on him. The bench he sits on is painted green, and where the paint flakes away the wood is gray. Gray is the color of the pigeons he is not feeding. The pigeons all hope he will die soon and drop the sandwich he is eating. They watch him with their unchanging pushpin round eyes and hope for a steel-gray end to him. He is consuming the sandwich right now while he is smoking, and the ash that falls from the cherry tip is gray as gray as gray. Pigeon eyes are as blank as greed, whether they are being fed or no. Unnerving. Since their eyes will not change no matter what he does, the old man does not see any point in feeding them.

This old man has a certain place where he can go. He has the room, and he has the sandwich. That is all he has, and the sandwich is of greater value to him now, now that he is old and almost wise. All else is gone from him; friends and foes and wife and child and children-who-may-have been. Potential lovers. Countless sunsets. The cities he would have visited; Paris, Rome, Athens, Calcutta, Seoul, Belgium, Pigeon Forge, Rio. Timbuktu. He would have visited Timbuktu. He would have ridden roller coasters. He would have taken up painting. He knows so damn much about painting. He knows how roller coasters work, and how to fix a car, and why Napoleon failed in Russia. He knows how the stock market works. He knows how his circulatory system works. He has no idea how his room works.

This old man isn’t sure how old he is; impossible to know. He is waiting for his wife. He has something to tell her. He is waiting for his wife, and the hand of his watch will tick tick tick the time until she will be here. He stands up to leave, effecting a half-interested scurry of pigeons. Of course, she won’t believe him. She won’t. He hopes that she will, anyway. He hopes that he can make her understand. If she will understand, then he will have a better place to spend his final years. Perhaps he’ll write. If she doesn’t understand . . . well. He hopes she will understand. He sits once again, and the pigeons gather around. His sandwich, purchased from the deli nearby, is stuffed with cold cuts and banana peppers. The pigeons don’t care what it is. “Things that can conceivably be swallowed” is the only category that interests them. True. They’ve been seen pecking cigarette butts into bite-sized pieces.

_ __ ____ __ _

One rainy day at the age of twelve, Cheswick M. Snowcook came upon a set of Encyclopedia Britannica and, as he sorted through the pages, became aware of the near-totality of his lack of knowledge. His current education was clearly insufficient; there was too much and the teacher was going far too slow. As a countermeasure to this distressing but inescapable truth, and armed with a twelve year old's innate sense of grandiloquence, he took a New Year’s vow to read every book that there ever was. He gave himself until his twenty-first birthday to finish.

At sixteen, older and wiser in the ways of the autodidact, he began compiling a list of only those books deemed essential for a more complete knowledge. It was meticulous work, and time-consuming. For example: translations. He had, in the interest of efficiency, decided against consumption of foreign texts in their original languages, at least until such time as the textbooks for these languages had taught him to speak in the tongue in question. However, there were multitudes of different translations for some texts. A new rule was devised: only those translations deemed definitive by consensus of the experts within the field in question needed to be read. New translations were necessary only if there was once again consensus that the translation added some actual new insight. In the case of different translations containing conflicts of an essential character, both translations would naturally have to be read. And so on. Cheswick completed the list in October of his twentieth year, and began to read in November. The final typed list was thick as a porterhouse steak. He immediately began to practice and to hone his speed-reading technique.

There came a time when Cheswick become aware of his mortality. Death, he realized, was the great enemy, thwarting the fruition of his plan. One night he roused from deep slumber to the dismayed realization that he would never be able to read everything. Impossible. Even half of it would be beyond him. And to comprehend it all? No. By his quick calculations the age of eighty would have him at less than 25 percent. And that was at a pace of a full eight hours a day of study, a benchmark he had not approached in his fondest hopes, not with the inconveniences life contrived at every instance. My God, time spent at work alone! He had dropped out of those infernally slow-moving schools when too many courses assigned him reading material not on his list; yet tragically, before that extraction, he had managed to saddle himself with a wife, and then (to his everlasting woe) that wife had gotten herself with child. These additions had been foolishly made, almost without any conscious decision on his part, it seemed, during those early days when Cheswick still waded in every youth’s happy illusion of immortality. Now, the only work available to him was dull drudgery, and often involved mandatory overtime, and Cheswick cursed that he had no degree to allow him some more heady pursuit.

The list lay fallow for weeks at a time. Soon expectations and duties stacked up faster than he could push it away. Money choked time, and time choked Cheswick. There was no doubt that his studies were suffering because that little squalling cabbage of his needed formula and diapers, while Shirley’s blood was too thin to do without heat in the wintertime, so she claimed. It was painful to contemplate the knowledge he would never hold. At the dewy age of twenty-six, the chains of mortality had begun to weigh heavily on him. Each text unread was another iron link wearing him down, each hour wasted a manacle.

_ _ _

His room saved him from all that, though found it by accident. You can find it by accident too, if you look, deep in the Mid-Manhattan Public Library. The door isn’t hidden, but you need to go far back in the tiers, past periodicals unseen since they were bound together and archived in stacks, untouched since the publication date. 1903-04, Journal of Exploring and Mystery, and Phrenology Today 1917, and so on. They could have all been incinerated for all anyone ever cared, and that is just what may happen some day. They are all due to be committed to microfilm and destroyed. There is a government project to such effect, a plan filed on the Federal Register, June 29, 1978.

People live back there, and nobody knows it. Cheswick knows it. He’s met seven of them, all living back there. Stan, Mel, Y.B., Trayne. Three others didn’t give their name, fearing Cheswick was a registrar from the census who would betray them once more to the aliens, who had implanted profane devices in their organs. They stay all winter long to avoid frostbite, then venture out in the springtime. They don’t fear discovery back here, these so-called homeless wanderers. They seem unconcerned about the microfilm project. The deadline set for completion was January 1, 1982. These stacks have been living on borrowed time for nearly twenty years, longer than Trayne has been alive. She was born back here. She's lost track of time, too.

_ _ _

Here is what happened: Cheswick had snuck away from Shirley on a rainy Saturday some months before. Inventing a business trip, he had come to the library with his list and a sleeping bag rolled into his backpack. He skipped up the steps, whistled through the aisles. He selected his tomes, shoved them into his pack and made his way to the most secluded corner of the library to read -- ‘most secluded’ meaning the archival tiers in the basement, which had small desks beneath fluorescent lighting emanating from the low ceilings of rooms in which you could read undisturbed for hours and hours and hours.

The archives consist of twelve levels connected to one another by a narrow spiral staircase, accessible from the library’s main floor, which leads onto the tenth archival level; the spiraling stairs go four stories above and seven below. On previous excursions, he had merely gone to the first of the reading rooms, but on this day he desired a greater anonymity; the allure of being secreted in the bowels of one of the world’s largest libraries, utterly hidden beneath all those books and wrapped up in a sleeping bag on a drizzly day, had overcome him, and he descended the stairs. Upon reaching the lowest level, he discovered that this was much larger than the rest; a bottom layer beneath the rest, one gargantuan room the exact size and shape of the foundation of the entire library, broken only by the occasional load-bearing pillar and rank after rank of bookshelf. Each holding magazines of infinite obscurity by the thousands. None of these on his list, thank God. The sight of so many texts weakened him. Only their inessential status prevented a quick tip into madness. Reading tables were situated on either side of each pillar. Cheswick headed to the back in search of reading rooms, which were rarely checked before the library was closed. This would be the perfect place to proceed unmolested by human contact, and (more importantly) to set up a sleeping bag for slumber in the dwindling hours when his eyes finally could take no more, for he had discovered that it was not hard to have oneself shut up in a public library with a flashlight to read by, and plenty of batteries. And cigarettes, a treat only for late library nights, when even the guards were sleeping.

But there were no reading rooms near the back, just boxes and bound collections of periodicals stacked against the far where the corresponding doors on upper levels would be found. Damn. But . . . the boxes were stacked to the top of the low ceiling. It was conceivable, wasn’t it? And certainly worth the effort to find the most secluded place in the library. Why, he’d be able to smoke down here whenever he wanted. Cheswick grunted as he pulled the topmost box off the stack and set it down. And sure enough, this uncovered a corner of doorframe. Lintel and upright; there was a room back there. Of course there was. Cheswick cleared the rest of the boxes quickly and deliberately, stacking the never-read detritus neatly until the whole entryway was unobstructed. He hefted his backpack, opened the door, and cursed, loudly. Oh, balls. The room itself was filled with boxes. Cheswick removed his coat and rolled up his sleeves. He worked quickly and deliberately. He began to sweat, which he detested, but the room was small and he was soon finished with the task. And the room was his, a more romantic study cave unimaginable. This room had been laying undiscovered for long years, waiting for him. Based on the dates scrawled upon them, those boxes had been there longer than he had been alive. It had been a long time since anyone had spent a day in there.

He read a third of Middlemarch (commentary by Rosemary Ashton and introduction by A.S. Byatt) that morning. He read until hunger roused him. Glancing at his watch as he stood, he grimaced. The hands had stopped at half-past nine, and he’d just replaced the battery. A lucky thing Shirley wasn’t expecting him anyway, or he’d be out in the atrium every thirty pages, checking the large wall clock, making sure he wasn’t late home. Fabricated weekends were superior to fabricated sick days in that way. There was some food in his pack, but Zack the hot dog man would be on the pavement by now, and a few frankfurters felt like just the thing. His knees popped as he stood.

But strangely, when he hit the pavement Zack the hot dog man wasn’t there. Ah well, it would be a backpack lunch, then, no matter. He’d eat while he read. But it didn’t feel quite right. Cheswick couldn’t place why, but there was something off. Something atmospheric. On his way through the lobby, he noticed something else odd – the gigantic lobby clock showed half-past nine, as well. And it wasn’t stopped. The four-foot second hand jolted right along, second-by-second marking the passing moments. Cheswick looked back at his wrist, and his wristwatch’s second-marker matched its immense cousin quiver for lurch.

This was not right. The only reasonable explanation was that it truly was half-past nine, which would mean . . . Well, well. Cheswick smiled. Ah. This was good news. It would appear that his speed-reading had reached a new level. But no. Wait. What time had he begun? He didn’t think it could have been before nine that he had even arrived at the library. No, impossible once again. The facts were: the time was the time, and he had read what he had read. He must have arrived earlier than he had thought, that was all. And still, this suggested all new levels regarding speed and retention. Had he been using a new technique? He couldn’t recall. His progress hadn’t seemed superior, and yet here it was, half-past nine.

Well, well. Cheswick smiled. He might just be able to finish Middlemarch by supper-time, and then on to The Origin of the Species. He trotted back down to the tiers and had already begun to read by the time he drew out his sandwich. Frowning and gobbling; even now as he read it didn’t seem he was going faster. But he was very hungry, as if he had been working for long hours. His newfound intensity must be responsible, he decided. Increased the metabolism.

He flipped the page, unaware that the second hand of his wristwatch was as still as a slab of pavement.

He read it straight on through, all the way, and when he pushed it aside he realized that his insides had been roaring in hunger for what seemed hours. He gobbled a second sandwich and then passed into deep and unrepentant sleep.

Cheswick awoke cursing himself. He could feel in his neck how long he had been resting. Time wasted, time wasted. He checked his watch. By extraordinary coincidence, it was once again nine-thirty, though he was unsure if it was night or day. The following morning, he thought, was probably right. He had the cotton-ball thoughts of one who had slept longer than he should have. And he was hungry again, and no sandwich remained in his backpack. Ah! Cheswick grimaced, he had planned to read deep into the night, and now it was Sunday morning already. Grab a bite for breakfast, and then no more than eight hours at the utmost could pass before the library would close he’d have to return home. He could call home, of course; claim a flight delayed and purchase one more day. But that card had been played too many times before. Suspicion was creeping into his marriage . No, he would need to leave in timely fashion. There was no other way.

He stumbled up the stairs and out into the world. There was a breakfast spot around the corner that wasn’t too crowded and made an excellent omelet. Cheswick chose a table with yesterday’s paper still on it. Someone had left it there, still folded, unread. He riffled through until he found Sports; let’s see how the Kicks did Friday. Cheswick unfurled the paper, but a perturbed voice

— Hey buddy

accompanied by a taptaptap on his shoulder interrupted him before he could find the sports section. Cheswick turned to find a short tough-guy with a chin like a milk jug glaring at him.

— Hey buddy. Get your own paper first, why donchya?

— I’m sorry?

— You oughta be. Matter with you, anyway? Guy can’t take a leak without somebody stealing his paper?

— I . . . excuse me, haven't you read yesterday’s paper either?

— Hey. Don’t get cute, buddy. Yesterday’s paper, don’t get cute. Just get the hell out of my booth.

— I’m sorry . . .I’m ah . . .I’m confused.

— And give me my paper.

Cheswick opened his mouth to interject, but then thought better of it. His name was ‘Cheswick’, after all; he’d had his share of bullies, and knew his limitations in a fight. Retreat was always the better part of survival. He stumbled over to the counter and sat. Checked his watch tick tick tick as a fearful suspicion grew. The cook ignored him for a while in favor of the skillet, then swung around.

— What’ll it be?

— Omelette. Ham and Swiss.

The cook nodded, and Cheswick took a deep breath and asked:

— What . . . ah, day is it?

The cook shot him a weary look. Another kook. Cheswick shrugged and gave a nervous laugh.

— I’m just forgetful. My wife says I’d lose my own head if it --

— Saturday.

— I’m sorry?

— Today is Saturday.

— Saturday?

— Yeah. That’s the one after Friday. Sunday comes next.

— But . . . that’s impossible.

Cheswick whispered this, knowing it sounded crazy even as he said it. He inhaled, but then dizziness took him and he couldn’t remember how to exhale. The Formica swimming beneath his vision, he clutched it with hands. Everything was vivid. The colors. The realness of it. His hands, gripping the counter. That was real. This was real. And he had begun to sweat again. At least the cook was enjoying himself.

— Nah, that’s the general progression. At least, that’s how I learned it in school. We could always get a calendar out and check –

— No. That won’t be necessary.

— You sure?

— Yes. Thank you.

— Anything else? The year? The president?

— No, thank you.

— State bird?

— Just some hash browns with the omelet, please.

The omelet was delicious. He was halfway through it when something sailed over his shoulder and landed on the plate like a dead pigeon. Cheswick gave a small shriek before he realized what it was: The newspaper he'd inadvertently 'stolen' earlier. Yesterday's -- no, today’s newspaper. The newspaper still current this morning. Which was Saturday morning. And how long could this Saturday morning last, tucked into that little room that had misplaced time somehow?

— All yours now, buddy. Read up.

Cheswick threw it to one side. He already knew what he needed to do. He needed to make sure that he had money with which to buy decades worth of meals. He needed to go to the bank for a loan. A second mortgage whenever that ran out. Cheswick smiled, polishing off his omelet and ordering another for the road. It came to him packaged in Styrofoam, and he whistled a little tune as he hit the door, thinking wild but happy. He would finish what was in his backpack that morning. Then he’d spend a few days planning furnishings for his reading room. Small desk. Good lamp. Perhaps a loveseat – but how to smuggle it in?

A couple weeks to plan, at least. Then he’d come back this afternoon. He’d tell Shirley that he had caught an early flight.

____ __ _ __ ___

This old man has finally read everything; the whole list. He finished all of it while his watch-hands lay still as etchings, as cave-drawings. Cave-drawings were the first novels. He wasn’t able to read any of those, of course, but he read it somewhere, this opinion about cave drawings. He remembers much more of what he has read than he would have thought possible. He learned the art of taking extensive notes for each book and that has helped. All the notes are back in the room.

This old man has not quite finished his sandwich, but his face has gone quite gray and he no longer is hungry. A lean dog shuffles by, and the man feeds the greasy end of the sandwich to the mutt as the pigeons look on blankly, perhaps in horror at their loss.

It has just occurred to the man that there have been many, many books published since he compiled his list.

Saturday, November 17, 2007

I Guess This Is A Brag Post?

cash advance

ETA: I ran it again, and I got this:

cash advance

So I guess I have to split the difference.

My Name Is


Both of these people were friggin SHOT TO DEATH.

gg me

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Ghosts Of Poker -- Chapter IV: All I Need

Previous Chapters


The sun had risen, but there was no hint of reflection from the ghost’s armor. It was dull and gray and beaten, the veteran of many conflicts, pinged and dented with dozens of dents, scorched by torches and scored by swords. The helmet was an ashen cylinder with a crude hole torn from the center . The spirit's face was obscured by shadows, completely lost except for the nose and a protruding thatch of wiry beard , and the aperture from which the ghost gazed was jagged and uneven, as though it had been quickly pinched out of the iron chimney by an absent-minded giant.

I still knew who it was. The armor was all I needed. This was the legend of the outback, the prince of the prison colony, the Robin Hood of Australia, king of all bushrangers, the hero of some children's stories and the villain of others. This was Ned Kelly, who’d fought and run from the colonial police for years, who’d made himself an immortal by beating his plowshares into armor and tackling his enemies straight on in bullet-proof style. And this was a guy with some serious enemies. The jury is out about the factual nature of the tales of Kelly's heroism, but by all accounts the police in colonial Australia were a hard bunch. Australia being a prison colony, which made the cops prison guards and the people inmates. This let to lots of oppression and hefty helpings of corruption. Kelly was in and out of prison from adolescence, and the line on him is that it was on trumped up charges. He took a stand against the screws and gained the love of a nation on the way.

It didn't work. Taking a stand is good for the history books but usually bad for a quiet death of old age. They caught him and hung him by the neck until he was dead, dead, dead, back in 1880. The impartial Martian observer who has watched this planet since the beginning of the universe heard his last words. This is what they were:

Ah, well. Such is life.

If he’d been born in a different time, one might speculate that his last words would have been more along the lines of:

That’s poker.

Now he was standing in front of me.

I’m going to be honest with you; I was scared. Scared? More than that, I was terrified; I nearly crapped 'em. Be charitable with me. I’d survived some of the scariest poker players on the planet for two days, suffered disgusting beats (managed to forget dealing a few disgusting beats), been transported to the middle of the Outback for sunrise twice in one night, met a dead animal wrestler and conservationist, accidentally made Joe Hachem think I was propositioning him, and now I’d come face to hidden face with a guy in armor who had come to me in a screeching metalic noise that seemed designed specifically to make all your hair turn white. This guy was pretty well known for killing people, and, as previously mentioned, the jury was out as to whether he was a hero of the common man or just a psychopath with a decent publicist. Now he was the Ghost of Poker Future, and he was here either to teach me an important lesson or to take my larynx home for a keepsake.

All this, and I was pretty sure I had a wake-up call in about fifty minutes. If I didn’t find my seat in the Aussie Millions shortly thereafter, I’d begin to be blinded off. So, you see, this was a stressful time.

The armored figure beckoned, and spoke a single word:


But I didn’t have a choice whether or not to follow; it was the same as it had been earlier. Everything just melted and I was observing myself in a room I didn’t know. It appeared to be the living room of a small apartment. I was sitting on a couch with a laptop open. I was in the dark, lit by the monitor glow; my hair corkscrewed upward in unwashed spirals, wearing boxer shorts and a tee shirt. The blinds were pulled. I was on the fat side of chunky. This was no fun; I’d clearly gone to seed. Not only that, but the d├ęcor was off-white splendor. Zilch on the walls but a TV. An old pizza on the table. Trash in the corner. It screamed ‘bachelor,’ and this more than anything chilled me to the bone. Where was my family?

“Where am I?” I asked, but Kelly said nothing. He only pointed at future me.

I looked agitated. I punched some numbers and watched the screen intently. After a few seconds I shouted.


Suddenly future me screamed, leapt to my feet and hurled the laptop as hard as I could. It struck the wall with a dull clud and then curled up on the carpet like a dead puppy. I screamed in rage and danced like a thwarted pygmy.

I figured it was safe to assume that it had not just once held. I watched future me bound around the apartment for a while, yelling and kicking things. It wasn’t a pretty sight.

“OK, so what is this?” I asked the ghost, finally. “This is what happens if I lose? Is that it?”

Ned Kelly pointed to a bookshelf. There, in a display case, was a giant crystal statue in the shape of a spade. It was the Aussie Millions trophy.

“This is what happens to me if I WIN?” I shouted. Freaky ghost or no freaky ghost, this was just too much. “What is the point of showing me this? Am I supposed to lose? That’s the most IDIODIC thing I’ve heard in my life!”

Future me had stopped beating his head against a table and was now eating cookie dough straight from the tube and crying softly. Gah. This was too gross. I wanted out of there.

And then, mercifully, we were melting away again, but not to my hotel room. We were in a dark place. Indoors, close in a small room. There was a musty smell covered by some kind of perfume. Kelly was there, holding two guns. He handed one to me and it was far heavier than I expected. I almost dropped it.

“Steady there, Joe,” he said to me. “Don’t lets us have nerves now.”

“Who is Joe?” I demanded. “And where are we?”

Kelly looked at me as if I were an idiot child and whispered, “Glenrowan Inn, don’t be daft now, Joe.” I could only stare dumbly at him. There was something about the name of that place I didn’t like. I was trying to remember when Kelly lurched toward the window and shouted at the top of his lungs:

“You shoot children, ya dogs! You can’t shoot me!”

He looked at me one more time.

“Come, Joe,” he said. “Let’s don’t keep them waiting now.”

He lurched out the door and suddenly the night was full of gunfire. That’s when it came to me. Glenrowan Inn. That’s where the police finally caught Kelly and his buddy Joe Byrne. I wanted to creep further into the inn and crawl under a bed, but my limbs were following dream logic, and as I moved toward the door I realized I was wearing my own suit of armor.

Kelly was taking his time between shots as the bullets ricocheted off his arms and torso. He was shouting at the top of his lungs, but I couldn’t hear. Then he was down; the cops had shot him in the kneecap and again in the thigh. As he pinwheeled down and hit the mud they opened fire on his ruined legs, and while the world just melted away for the final time, I thought That’s how they got him? That’s the reason? That lemur didn’t bother to put armor on his legs???? lol donkarmaments . . . .

* * *

I found myself back in my hotel room. The clock said 12:01 AM. I had been brought back to a time before any of this had started.

There are many things that bring about a good night’s sleep. Relief that you haven’t been killed in a shootout in 1880 is one of the best. I slept like a drugged koala until morning.

* * *

So that’s what happened, but now I need to know what it means. The spotlight is still on me but now so is the clock, and I’ve got to make a choice very soon. That ocean of observers are completely hushed now. Nine high board, uncoordinated. I have two overs and the nut flush draw. Ivey's just re-raised me a third of my stack. Push or fold. Push or fold.

I think we are looking at either Jacks or nines. I'm a dog against nines, and he'll call. I'm in better shape against Jacks, and he may fold them.

Push? Or fold?

Everything hangs on this.

I think about Crocodile Hunter, doing what he loved until the day the one-outer got him. "I don't know a blessed thing about bad luck." That's what he'd said.

I think about Joe Hachem, who has to be surprised to see me sitting at the TV table given last night shenannigans -- if they happened. "One decision at a time. Not one hand. One decision." That's what he had said.

I think about Ned Kelly, pushing half-blind in rage against his oppressors, his plan only half-formulated. Bold and dumb and doomed, doing better in a tough spot than most of us would, but hopelessly on tilt.

And suddenly it comes to me. Nothing hangs on this at all. There is a decision to make. I can make a good one or a bad one, a better one or a worse. And after that, something else will happen, and I'll have another decision to make. And then another, and another, and another.

And that is all. The results of this hand are a mirage. The chips are an illusion. Even the money is a myth. There is just a decision to be made. There is the space between what happens and what I decide that is mine, and that is the only thing that actually belongs to me. I will decide soon. And if I win the throw, then my situation will be What To Do With This Next Hand AND the Chip Lead? And I will try to make a good choice.

And if I lose? What is my decision then?

I smile, because now I know that I don't just get a decision. I get to decide what my situation is. I get to choose whether I want to let what happens define me, or if I instead want to define it.

I can decide to make my situation What Do I Do About This Horrible Crushing Loss? Or I can decide to make my situation something else. I can decide to make my situation something completely different. My choice could be this:

"I know who I am, and I like who I am. I have a wife that loves me and beautiful children. I'm in Australia playing poker for absolutely free, and I have just won a sizeable chunk of money. I enjoy my job, and I have good friends and a fulfilling life. I'm blessed beyond words. Now I've just lost a hand of poker, and I get to decide if I'm still OK."

Then I realize I can make that choice even if I win, and for the first time in the tournament I smile like a shark.

* * *

"I guess I'm all in, Phil." I say, pushing the whole stack into the middle, and as I watch him process what I've done I realize he's not calling. I can see a picture in my mind's eye: Not Jacks. Kings. He's trying to decide if he can put his tournament at risk with a big overpair. The malignent alien intelligence is still studying me, but suddenly all the pressure is on him. If he calls, I'm a slight underdog, but very slight.

And in that moment, I start to whistle. I whistle Silent In The Morning, one of my favorite songs. I whistle it softly to myself.

Then, something else happens. Somewhere from beyond the spotlight, back in that inky watchful ocean, somebody is whistling with me. They're doing the bass to my melody. From another place I hear a beat being tapped, softly still, maybe the sound of a pen tapping on a clipboard. A drum. As Phil Ivey burrows his hooks into my mind, we begin, my newfound rhythm section and I, to jam, and beyond my wildest expectations I realize I am not alone here, I have this. I have this, too . . . It's going to be all right, because it makes no difference, call or fold, win or lose.

I have all I need.

This concludes my entry to the Write Your Way To Australia promotional. I hope you enjoyed reading it. I enjoyed writing it.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

The State of "Heroes"

OK, a TV post. Poker lovers, people who don't watch "Heroes", move along, move along, nothing to see here.

I caught up on "Heroes" Season 1 on DVD and started watching weekly with Season 2. Season 1 was, for the most part, great. And Season 2 has been . . . um, I suppose the word is "lacking." Hence, I've not been blogging it a la "L O S T." But now the goat will speak. Here comes "Four Months Ago", a really good episode that also encapsulates everything that is wrong with the season.

Let me ask you something. Simple question.

Why could this not have been the season premier and maybe the next two episodes? What would possibly have been lost? What did we just learn that enriches what we already knew, as opposed to showing us things that would have been nice to know while watching earlier episodes? How did fracturing the chronology help the narrative?

It didn't. At all. In fact, it pretty much killed the story for the sake of a couple 'reveals' that weren't big shakes anyway.

Inky Twins. The wedding. Wouldn't this have made a great first scene for the whole season? That would be how you introduce new characters, right at the beginning. Present us with the beginning of their stories, so we know who they are. THEN we might have cared about them. We'd know why they were running, we'd know why she was so tortured. And we'd also know that Alejandro likes to marry women who look exactly like his sister. As it is, we're just annoyed.

Peter. I'd already figured out that the Hatian had wiped his memory. I guess we wouldn't have been wondering 'what's in the box???". Of course, now I'm wondering when he got the box. I didn't see the Hatian planting it on him. I also have no idea what happened to the iPods the Irish were after. But good deal totally stranding Caitlin in the future without another thought. I'm digging how Peter's girls wind up dead or worse and he doesn't seem to mind. Awesome flying action scene, though. Note to Heroes: More cool stuff, please. We like cool stuff.

Nathan. Wouldn't it have been more interesting to watch a multi-episode arc of him having to deal with his scabby scarface and just the relentless crap his life had become because he decided to be heroic? Wouldn't that be an interesting story? How did it help us to watch him AFTER the trauma without knowing what the trauma WAS? He just seemed mopey and hallucinatory. And by the way, still no explanation as to why he is not a congressman. He won the election. Do you get taken off the job if you're badly burned? What if just slightly burned? How burned must you be to have to concede defeat in an election?

Hiro/Kinsei. Well, if Peter had spent a nice three episode arc realizing he was in prison and talking to this Adam fellow, we'd have still had the "OMG ADAM IS KINSEI" moment, so . . . big deal.

Ma Patrelli. Either she wants to seduce Nathan' s wife, or we just saw her power manifesting itself. Interesting.

Bob. Well, we'd have figured out Bob was evil. Wait, I figured out Bob was evil all by myself along with the rest of America. His story about Adam held no water at all. Sooooooo . . . thbbbbtttth.

Nikki / DL / Micah. Woo puppy! This story got reeeeeeally messed up by the mixed chronology. There was no tension at all in the DL scenes. Oh, he didn't die from his gunshot wounds! He died from . . . other gunshot wounds. Good to know. Well, at least now we know why Nikki did what she did in the first episodes. Would have been nice to have actually known that during the scenes where it was relevent, and not just be wondering "What????" the whole time. Oh and also the funeral scene would have been a nice way to introduce grandma and cousins, rather than just "Um . . . why did Nikki just leave her kid with strangers?" So thanks for nothing there.

Sylar. We learned nothing about Sylar, how he got where he did, how he lost his powers, why he was with shapeshifter girl. But we did learn that Maya has this deathly power and that her brother negates it and that they are wanted for murder. Oh? We already knew that? Well, glad we spend 1/3 of the episode with them, then!

Bennett / Claire. We learned nothing about Bennet and Claire. I guess I didn't have any questions there, other than where he gets the money for that house.

West. West should die. Just wanted to get that out there.

Mohinder / Matt. I don't really like these characters, but I guess I'd like to have seen how they fell in love. Were they at a Starbucks, and Mohinder ordered a vente vanilla latte, and Matt ALSO ordered a vente vanilla latte, so they both thought it was THEIR latte and reached for it, and then their hands touched, and their eyes met, and their SOULS met, and Mohinder said something like, "Let's move into my murdered father's apartment", and Matt said, "I'll adopt a little girl on my way home," and then they made out for seven hours? Was it like that? As a side note, do you think Mohinder narrates everything he does? Also, how does Mohinder get an annoying extraneous voice-over even in Peter's memories? Even in an episode in which Mohinder does not appear we have to get the blather lather?

* * *

Thing is, I kind of like where this story is going. I'm going to keep watching because of this. But the writers just told us this good story in the worst possible way. Why do they keep leaning on the most broken parts of their show? What a mess.

Chronology should be messed with only for a reason. Hiro taught us that.

Thursday, November 8, 2007

Ghosts Of Poker - Chapter 3: One Decision

Previous Chapters


Back under the spotlight. Ivey has just called the clock over, and his cobra eyes are trying to hypnotize me into soiling myself on national TV.

I’m trying desperately to calculate all my outs, make sure I don’t count the overs that help my flush twice, try to think what he might have, what he might think I have and perhaps what he thinks I think he has, all this and remember what I’d learned from the three visitors I’d had the night before. My tournament life is on the line based on what I do in the next few dozen seconds.

There’s a hush from the ocean that is the unseen crowd, back there past the dazzle of the lights. Everybody wants to see blood, or a whole lot of cash. Those are the two draws for them all. I’m about to get rich, or I’m about to be lunch, and either way, they’re pretty much cool with it.

Welcome to the show.

I close my eyes, and try to think.

* * *

You know the old saying: You can lead a horse to water, but you have to find some way to settle your nerves if you’ve just spoken with the Ghost of Poker Past and you still have to play Day Three of the Aussie Millions tomorrow morning. That goes double if that ghost happens to also be Steve Irwin, Crocodile Hunter. It’s the old sayings that ring truest. And now, I found myself facing a race between the time and my 9:00 AM wakeup call. I needed to be frosty on this day of all days, and I was already plenty jumpy even before being transported first to the outback and then into the year 2005 by a late, beloved Animal Planet television personality.

Here’s what I discovered about what you go through when you need to sleep and you’ve just seen a ghost. There are three basic stages.

The first stage is your basic denial. You try to convince yourself that it never happened, that there really wasn’t a ghost. But that’s futile; the memory knows what it knows, and it won’t let you off the hook. Truly repressed memories are as rare as strong drinks at a Friday’s, no matter what soap operas would have you believe. After being bucked off the denial pony, you’re left with only this; either it really did happen, or you are a total loony. And, of course, it could still be both.

The next stage is resolve. You to try to get back to sleep anyway. Good luck on that account, especially when you remember that Pauly, the bad-beat phobic poker journalist, had told you that you’d be visited by three Australians, and then you remember that awful, numinous metallic clattering from the bowels of hell itself. That sound, which resembled a tin-foil mummy being fed to a food processor, had preceded the Crocodile Hunter’s arrival. “That’s just Future,” he’d said, offhandedly, and since Croc Hunter himself was “Past”, and since Pauly had promised that there’s a triad coming . . .well, the thought of the Ghost of Poker Future and that death-knell still on the way doesn’t exactly lend itself to peaceful slumber.

The final stage is attempted drunkenness. You to go down to the hotel bar to see if a couple scotch and waters will help smooth that thing out for you. It isn’t sleep, but at least it’s forward motion. After 40 minutes of tossing in my bed like a prawn in a skillet, that’s what I did.

I had to walk through the casino to get to the bar. That’s not surprising; the geography of this place pretty much forces one through the casino at every opportunity; I’m fairly certain that I had to walk through the casino to get from my bed to my shower. Typically, 3:15 AM is not a time you’ll find a hopping bar scene, but this is a casino, so it could just as easily be happy hour as the wee hours.

The casino was, of course, jumping. The banks upon banks of slots sounded like the full out droid orgy of hardcore C3PO and R2D2 love from George Lucas’s private bank of deleted scenes, the craps and Pai Gow and blackjack were full and waiting three deep in places, and I saw with particular satisfaction one of my remaining opponents in the tournament surrounded by new friends and killing drinks by the roulette wheel. At least I wasn’t going to be the only bleary-eyed wunderkind lurching toward his chips tomorrow.

The Vegas bar was nearest the poker rooms, and I thought that it was likely to be least crowded. The poker room was down on the basement level, and the games there would surely be lively and juicy. Big time hold ‘em dreams were everywhere around, and the tables were filled for sure with plenty of famous pros and savvy locals shearing the sheep until dawn. I had no interest at all in the games. I was small time, and well aware that you can shear a Goat as well as a sheep. Also, I knew the state of my cash game abilities. If you’ve never managed to crush $100 NL, you don’t really want to be facing fourth street decisions against Barry Greenstein.

My interest in this particular bar was its likely lower traffic, not the glitzy lights and the marquis. Poker is a game that keeps people sitting at the table for hours, and my hope was that the bar nearest to the tables would be less packed for that reason. I needed a place to nurse a drink without interruption and try to stop feeling so keyed up.

The Vegas Bar wasn’t empty, but it wasn’t hopping. There were clusters around tables talking and laughing in agitated tones. The dais had ceded its cascade of Elvis impersonator and showgirls to a man with orange skin and bright white hair, who was tickling smooth jazz out of a sparkling red piano. And there was an empty spot near the end of the bar. Perfect. I ordered a martini with Tanqueray and extra olives and sipped it.

I needed to get back to sleep; that was clear. But that wasn’t the main concern. I’d seen a ghost and traveled back in time. That wasn’t the main concern. My martini was totally watered down. Even that wasn’t the main concern. The main concern was that there were two more coming, and one of them scared me badly. But there were three, the first was past, and we know there’s one called Future. What’s left? Well, that would leave the present. And the present was now.

Let’s just get the ghosts out of the way, then, I thought. Let’s have them quick, so I can get some rest.

I had to use the facilities, so I paid and wandered to the gentlemen’s room. The bathroom was overlarge and ostentatious like the rest of the Crown facilities. Dim lighting, everything gilded or at least painted gold. Fleur de lis embossed on the urinal cakes. One long wall housed two dozen urinals, and I stood in the middle to do my business. As I turned to leave, the door opened, and somebody I recognized instantly walked in.

As soon as a fella wins the Big Cookie of Poker, the question arises: Do they have skill, or do they possess Varkonyic qualities? Here was one of the guys who had been deemed skilled, top flight. It immediately made sense. Croc Hunter wasn’t that far in the past, really, and his connection to poker was tenuous at best, but who better to essay Poker Present than this guy with the smile on his mug, the soul patch on his chin, the enormous amount of product in his hair, and the seven point five in the bank? Not only that, but this dude used to practice as a chiropractor. He straightened backs for a living, then he took down the Main Event with a straight. Now he’d been sent to straighten me out.

Ozzie, ozzie ozzie, oy oy oy, in walked Joe Hachem.

So here was the Ghost of Poker Present. He doesn’t seem that bad, I thought. By all accounts he's a good guy. Well, let’s get this over with.

“OK, so what’s the secret, then?” I asked him. He looked at me, a piecing stare. Eyes of a skilled gambler, looking for information. Looking deeply.

“Play it one decision at a time,” he said, finally. “Not even one hand a time, you see? One decision at a time. Make a better decision than the other bloke. That’s the secret.”

“That’s it?”

“Yeah, mate. That’s it. Only question is, can you do that? Eh? Most can’t. Even them that can, can’t, most of the time.”

“OK,” I said.

There followed an awkward silence.

Finally I said, “Well? Where we going?”

Joe looked at me again, that deep stare. “How do you mean?”

“Well, aren’t you going to grab me now, and we . . . . you know, fly somewhere? Show me something?"

Joe looked startled, and started shaking his head. “Ah, looksee here, mate, I dunno what you’re talking about, but this ain’t one of those kind of restrooms . . .”

“But . . . .” I started, and then a few things occurred to me. First, Pauly said, three Australians, not three ghosts. Second, Joe Hachem isn’t dead, and had not come searching not for me, but rather for bladder relief. Third, what I’ve just said has made me seem more than a little . . .ah, shall we say, LarryCraigsian? Fourth, it turns out you can mistake a deep stare for a paranoid glare.

“No no no no no,” I said, but Joe was already backing out of the bathroom, hands up in a warding-off gesture. “Just do me a favor an don’t follow me, right?” he said, and then turned and left quickly.

I guessed I wasn’t getting an autograph. I really hoped that I only had one Australian left to deal with, and I hoped it’s nothing to do with the one Croc Hunter called “Future.” But my gut knew better. There was nothing to do about it, though. It was time to head up to the hotel room again and do the best I could. As I slunk out I saw Joe Hachem pointing me out to his party. I tried not to make eye contact and skedaddled.

* * *

The room was empty, and the clock read 3:48. I’d been gone just over a half hour. Totally knackered, I fell asleep on top of the covers in an awkward position. My subconscious had almost let me believe that I’d be allowed to sleep through what remained of the night when I was woken by the sound I most dreaded. Future.

It started loud and just kept getting louder and louder and LOUDER, until it was a steam locomotive running pell mell on ties made out of aluminum rakes and brillo pad wheels, bearing toward me, about to run me down. This time there was no light, just a darkness that oozed open like a python’s mouth and swallowed me whole.

The light returned slowly, and only after my heart had finally stopped pounding hard enough to feel in my ears. It was the sun again, lifting once more from the east out in the walkabout wilderness of the outback. It occurred to me that I’d seen two sunrises that night, both before 4:00 AM.

There was a tall man standing a few yards away from me. He was looking right at me, but I couldn’t see his face. He was wearing a jacket of thick armor and an iron helmet with a grill over the face. The plates of the armor seemed to have been welded together by an amateur hand, and the joins looked like cruel scars from some vicious battle years ago.

Finally, he spoke, a hollow whisper. “You know who I am?"

“I know who you are,” I said.


This is Part III of my entry to the Write Your Way To Australia promotional. This story has been broken into four parts, both as tribute to Charles Dickens and in honor of people who like to write "TLDR".

Sunday, November 4, 2007

A Joke

Q. What's the difference between fold equity, Bigfoot, and the Loch Ness Monster?

A. There is some scant evidence that both Bigfoot and the Loch Ness Monster exist.