Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Who's Your Daddy? (Part 2)

. . . Shaky Steve had told me that SH was back in rehab, this time for 6 months. And even though I know that heroin is a really, really tough drug to kick (second only to Crack Cocaine) I'm hoping that this time he can shake free for good, because he almost did last time. Well, not the last time he was in rehab, but last time he got clean for an extended period. Which was back in 2004 when he was fresh out of prison out West and back in AC for the first time in a long while. A Jewish kid from the Lower East Side of New York City who came of age in the 50s when Jazz was hitting its artistic prime and heroin was the 'cool' drug of choice, he was a teenager sneaking into joints like The Five Spot to see Thelonious Monk or Birdland to see Miles or John Coltrane. And after college he becomes a documentary filmmaker in Cali who marries and has a baby girl. And Cali is (at that time) the only state besides Nevada where poker is legal and so he starts playing (and sometimes cheating) in the clubs there with a bunch of guys (like David Sklansky) who would go on to become legends. But heroin is a heavy monkey to carry on your back and eventually his life collapses and he finds himself in Vegas cheating the slot machines to feed his habit. And he's good, real good at that, so good he hires hookers during the day to act as his lookouts while he 'walks' the reels of the machines into position to deliver jackpots. And he's too good and eventually the casinos make it a priority to nab him and he should have quit, but hubris is a MFer. So he gets busted and does 8 years in the State Pen, which isn't all bad because it forces him to get clean and gives him plenty of time to read, which he had always done plenty of anyway.

So now he's chilling on a bench on the Boardwalk in Atlantic City with some cats he knows from the old days and one of them mentions that No Limit Hold'em is making a comeback and is now being spread in AC. Which perks his ears up because he played in the legendary game at The Mayfair back in the day and held his own and so he goes into the Tropicana Casino to investigate and finds it's all true. They're spreading NL Hold'em, although with a cap on the amount you can buy in for and who ever heard of that? But he's smart enough to realize that the casinos are doing that to slow the rate at which the players go broke (because suckers going broke too fast is what killed the game in the 70s). He's only got $40 to his name, but he bums $20 from three people and Bam! he's in action. And compared to all the young fools who are mostly playing the game for the first time, he's an expert and before the week is out he's up a grand and has rented a little room in the Chelsea neighborhood of AC. He puts in 15 and 18 hour days grinding in these 1/2 NL games and runs good, so good that within a year's time he's banked 50k and has moved to a condo in Brigantine with the Bay as a backyard. And somewhere in there he switches to the wild and crazy games at Caesar's which is where our paths cross on the green felt of a 2/5 NL table. I know right away he's a grinder, but just in case my boy WP comes over from another table to tell me not to give the old guy any action whatsoever without the stone cold nuts. And I'm running the table raising lots of hands and running my mouth raising lots of salient facts and stats about the upcoming NFL season, when he stops me and asks me if I know the etymology of one of the words I just used. And I say sure and run it down and now, it's on. He says the word came into English from Spanish and I say it came in from Portuguese. He asks me if I'm sure and really, when have I never been not sure? I might be wrong, but I aint uncertain. I am after all (unbeknownst to him) The Right Reverend DJ motherfucking Renegade. So he disagrees and asks me if I want to bet, and I know he's trying to hustle me, but he doesn't know that I've been reading dictionaries since 1968 when I first read The Autobiography of Malcolm X and learned that that was how Malcolm educated himself in prison. So we clarify the terms and I insist on using a Merriam-Webster's Unabridged dictionary to settle the bet and he mentions he has one on his dining room table. So, when we finish playing, me, him and WP go over to his condo to settle the bet. Which I win of course, but I look around and see he's got books everywhere and we start kicking it. WP mentions that I write poems and SH asks me who I read and we discuss the finer points of Komunyakaa and Ginsburg and Wallace Stevens and his favorite poet, John Ashbery (who's work I hate, but whatever). Then we move on to Jazz and he regales us with tales of Monk and Miles and Coltrane from back in the day. And I've been looking for somebody to talk about more than just poker or math or sports and so has he and before you know it, we're fast friends. And he's almost 20 years older than me, almost the same age Gaston Neal would be if he were still alive and fills a hole in my life that's been gaping since Gaston passed. 

And soon he's playing 5/10 NL at the Borgata everyday with a 100k+ bankroll and inviting a small group of grinders over for holidays and big sporting events. Whenever we see each other one of us quotes a line from Shakespeare and the other one has to name the play or poem that it comes from, something that keeps us both sharp and thinking about more than just how to fleece the fish in our poker games. Somewhere along the line we figure out that we both know K, a fine Dominican chick who plays 1/2 NL that I met in the Taj Mahal casino one day playing poker. Like a lot of poker players I can size people up pretty quickly and from the word go, she struck me as a con artist, because her smile was too easy and was way more mouth than eyes. And the primary tool of a con artist is a (too easy) smile. When I first met her, she told me she was in Real Estate and owned a house in Brigantine, only now I come to find out that she's a wannabe grinder who sleeps on SH's couch every night. And who except pathological liars tells these kind of grandiose lies for no reason? He asks me what I think about her play and I tell him IMO she's not a winning player and I can tell by his face that he's not trying to hear that. He tells me she's a good kid and he's helping her work on her game and get better. And somewhere in there it dawns on me that he's putting her in games (loaning her money to play). But it's whatever and life is cool and then I start running bad and can't win no matter how good I get my money in. And SH is there for me, whether it's advice or a listening ear or a loan to help keep me in action and I introduce him to some books by a few pretty cool poets like Jericho Brown and Terrance Hayes and Sean Thomas Dougherty and Reginald Dwayne Betts and Lyrae Van Clief-Stefanon that he hasn't really heard of. Word around town is that K is now into SH for more than 3k and is steadily losing, but hey he's grown and can loan his money to whomever he wants. And some cats think he's hitting it, and some think she's fleecing him, and I ask him about it, but he just says she's a good kid and will pay him back when she starts winning and really it's just a Father/ Daughter kind of thing. I know how bad he feels about being locked up and strung out for most of his real daughter's childhood, so that makes sense. Then the Showboat's Bad Beat Jackpot gets real high and K is on the table when it hits and gets over 9k. And she skips back to Brigantine and pays him the whole thing and we're hanging out at the Borg when he comes strutting in and telling us how wrong we were for doubting her and watch she's gonna start winning now that she has a decent bankroll. And when he walks away, JS shakes his head and says her paying him off is the worst thing that could've happened and I'm thinking that JS is one cold cynical bastard, but he explains that since SH trusts her so much now she's gonna get him for a number that makes 3k look like chump change. I honestly don't know, I don't trust her as far as I can spit her and never thought she'd square him up the first time. But I know JS has never been wrong on a read before, like that time he was playing 2/5 and a woman I know pretty well was sitting behind her boyfriend. The next day JS tells me that the woman is putting her boyfriend in and I say he's crazy she'd never do that and he just laughs and shakes his head. Then a few days later the boyfriend is playing and busts out and is hanging around and JS says he's waiting for her to get off, so he can get more money to play and I say no way. JS says she'll get off and dude will take her home and knock it off and be back playing in two hours, unless his game is really tight, in which case he'll be back within 45 minutes of her getting off of work. So we bet 50$ and I tell him I'll double it if dude is back before an hour and I'm thinking this is the easiest $50 I'll make all week, only she gets off and 35 minutes later dude is pimping in and pulling up a chair to a 1/2 table. And I'm playing and feel a tap on my shoulder and it's JS with his hand out and I flip him a black chip and he kisses it and says "You're a smart kid Pittsburgh, but you gotta bet with your head, not your heart" And what can I do, but tip my hat to him? Meanwhile, sure enough after a couple of months of losing K's back in SH's pocket and after a few more months the number is north of 3k and climbing like a tropical vine. 

Then the Caesar's BBJ starts approaching 500k and we're all over there trying to hit it and one day  I'm waiting for some moron to call a giant bet on the River (although the whole table knows the bettor has the Nuts) when I see K on the table in front of me and her eyes light up like the night before Christmas, I mean sweeter than a box of Twinkies and I turn to see who she's looking at and it's AD, a middle-aged Persian woman who is a Floor Person at Caesar's. And AD blushes and smiles and turns away and I know that look (because I've put it on a few women's faces) and I realize that not only are they an item, but K must have made AD hit all the high notes in the aria because AD beams every time she passes her table. And the next thing you know K is playing 2/5 after months of not being able to beat the smaller, easier 1/2 games and even Helen Keller can see that she's getting new money from somewhere. I see SH and I say, hey it looks like your girl is macking AD and he says they're just friends and maybe AD loaned her a buy-in or something, but it's no big deal. And I say SH, let's be real here, AD is a divorcee on the wrong side of 50 from a strict Muslim culture who might have never had a man make her elevator go to the top floor in her whole life, let alone hold her and talk to her when he finished. And I've long known that K likes flipping straight girls (I aint mad at her, I love watching her flirt, TBH). Do the math I say, K puts her tongue on the right button and AD's ATM is gonna start shooting out bills like fireworks on the Fourth of July. But he says it aint like that, she's a good kid who means well and more of a daughter to him almost than his real daughter. I roll my eyes and roll out, but it's clear to me that SH has got a pretty big blind spot where K is concerned, but whatever, he's streetwise enough that he should be alright. Then I tell WP about what I saw with K and AD and he tells me he loaned K $1500 and I'm like "Are you serious?" He says he's not too worried, she payed SH back and I'm like dude she's in his pockets real deep now and he nods and says she told him it's almost 10K. And I'm like WTF?? and you still loaned her cheese? And he's like yeah, I say well, you better hope you can get her to "work it off" because she aint paying you back. But WP aint no dummy either, so he corners K after she has a big win and reads her the Riot Act and she knocks a little off the top of what she owes him. So now K is playing 2/5 eveyday only she can't beat the game because she thinks every dude is trying to bluff her and she never folds, especially not to the big bets. But she doesn't seem to be having any problems buying back in. Then one night, one of AD's coworkers asks me what I think of K and I say why? And she tells me that she thinks something isn't right about their relationship and she tried to talk to AD about it, but AD turned on her and told her to mind her own business. I say straight up, if AD is getting macked as good as I think she is, then she isn't going to want to listen to anybody who says anything bad about K, because as far as she's concerned K is the best thing that's ever happened to her. And her friend looks like she wants to cry and asks what she can do and I say nothing, you can't save someone from themselves, all you can do is what you did, tell them the truth and hope they'll be able to hear it at some point. And now K is getting crushed everyday and still not fazed by it and AD is floating around the room like she's wearing levitation shoes. But she aint made out of money and after a few months (when the thrill is wearing off a little) the feces hits the fan. AD tells K maybe she should go back to 1/2 and K aint trying to hear that and she's in AD's purse real deep now, past 7k and how else can she make enough to pay her back if she starts playing smaller? The truest test of whether someone's getting macked is what happens when they cut off the money and the gifts. AD cuts her back a little and K isn't happy about it at all. Well, push comes to shove and K quits her and AD is walking around looking like she got her heart cut out with a rusty pair of paper scissors. The truth is that K will probably never be a winning player because like most con artists she doesn't have the patience that it takes to win at poker in the long run. Sure she can hit some quick scores, but it's all about the short term for her.  Poker is a long grind and she's more about hitting and quitting and moving on to the next victim. And after about a month AD quits her job and leaves Atlantic City. And I run into SH and he tells me K called him and said she had to go back to Florida because her father is sick and I'm thinking she aint coming back no time soon, but SH says she'll be back. In the meantime SH is running bad in the 5/10 game and feeling lonely and depressed, because it seems like we're all running bad at the same time. 

And I come over one day to help him with his computer and who do I see sleeping on his couch, but QH a real pretty Vietnamese chick was has a reputation around the poker room for being a degenerate Blackjack player and a losing poker player and a chip hoe (albeit a very expensive one). And SH tells me she's been down on her luck lately and he's just helping her out a little and in my head I'm saying here we go again. Only it's worse than I even know because he's putting her in tournaments every day, plus putting her in the cash games. And a week later he asks me what I think of her and I say without hesitation "She's a chip hoe, a very fine, very expensive chip hoe, but she'll bang anybody for a big enough Buy-In." And he says, hey nobody's perfect but that I'm being too hard on her. And what can I say that he'll be able to hear? Nothing. So, for once in my life I shut the fuck up and save myself some sentences. And I've got to give it to QH, she's real fucking good at what she does, calling him Daddy and doting on him like an ideal daughter. And what sixty year old man wouldn't want that kind of attention from a pretty young girl? Only SH is losing now and his bankroll is south of 70k and falling like heavy snow. And we all try to warn him, WP and JS and others, but it's like we're speaking Klingon, and JS says "Dude, at least tell us you're pulling her hair while hitting it from the back" but SH tells us we've got it all wrong with her, she's a good kid who just needs a little guidance. Six months go by and I'm coming over one day to kick it for a few and I overhear him and her through the door. And maybe I should've knocked and interrupted them, but I don't, I stand there and listen through the door. And he's telling her he's gonna have to just limit her to tournaments now because they're past 35k and she's not winning, but he has faith in her that she'll hit something soon. And I just back away and walk across the bridge from Brigantine to Harrahs in a light rain wondering how a guy that erudite and street smart could get into a hole that deep. But I know too, that if someone is in a relationship, any kind of relationship that validates them on a deep level they will put up with all types of nonsense and maybe even think it's nothing but an even trade, because they're getting something they consider invaluable in return. I get to the Poker Room and see WP and he tells me he's been trying to get SH to play a little lower for a while to preserve his bankroll, but that SH won't even consider it and then that weekend the unthinkable happens. Word gets out that SH was playing and evidently crunching Roxies like they were Penny Candy and went on tilt and donked off 20k in one 39 hour session. They said he was delirious and kept buying back in for 1k and shipping it with Top Pair at the slightest provocation, until finally a guy who knows him grabbed him and pulled him off the game and drove him home, which pissed off the entire table. I see SH a few days later and he doesn't even remember what happened and I ask him if it's true about the Roxies and he looks down and starts mumbling. And I'm like dude, Roxies are opiates and mad addictive and if you used to have a heroin problem, they're super evil. And he nods and says he'll quit taking them, he only had them because his back was acting up and QH copped a few from a friend for him to relieve the pain. And we both know he's lying and I call him on it and he says he's gonna quit no matter what. And I tell him QH is an anchor that's going to drag him straight to the bottom of the Marianas Trench, but he just tells me I'm too hard on her, that's not her fault, she just never had a father in her life, but he's grown and should know better.

Then a week later JS tells me he saw SH in the RaceBook talking to a notorious Mob loan shark and I'm legit scared, only SH tells me the guy is an old friend and he just needs a little cushion so he can play comfortably. But he's still putting QH in every day and she's still losing, because even if she wins in the poker room, she goes out and dumps it on the Blackjack tables. I know things are really bad when a week later SH asks me for $500 I owe him, something he's never done. I have sterling credit and pay everybody as soon as I can whenever I owe, so folk don't generally ask me for their money because they know if I've got it, I'll find them and square them up. But by the look on his face I know he needs it, so even though I'm only holding $800 I pay him off. He apologizes and tells me he's a month behind on his rent and is wondering how far he can get behind before they can evict him. I tell him he needs to get rid of QH, but he aint trying to hear that, he tells me he'll start winning and it'll all be OK. Later on I see JS and he tells me that SH is done, his goose is cooked, it's only a matter of time, because he won't listen to nobody. And yeah, JS is a cold blooded lizard, but when was he ever wrong? And the next thing I know SH is playing 2/5 at the Taj because he has too much pride to play smaller at the Borgata, but he's losing real bad now smells like sharkbait at the table and is hanging out in the Racebook to boot which can't be good. And the kicker comes when one day QH hits a Borgata tournament for 35k and we go get SH and tell him to go over to the Borgata and get his money and he says don't worry, she's a good kid, she'll find me, only two days go by and she doesn't, so we go over there and she's playing 5/10 and I tell her SH needs to talk to her and she gives me the evilest look since Eve told Adam she bit the apple and to make a longstory short she gives SH some BS and 3k and says it's the best she can do. And the next time I see SH he's playing 1/2 and falling asleep at the table and then I realize he's nodding and I hope against hope it isn't what I think it is, but sure enough his right hand slides up his left arm and slowly, slowly starts scratching. And if you've never been around heroin addicts that might not mean anything to you, but it seems like all of my daddies have pushed a hypodermic plunger and I know what color this scene in the movie fades to. I go back to my seat and pull out my Shure E-535 earphones, spark up my iPod til the silky smoke of Sade's voice rises and curls around my head, asking, "Is it a crime, that I still love you . . . ?"

And until next we meet, may all your potatoes be sweet (and dusted with cinnamon).
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