I'm headed out of the Taj Mahal poker room on my way to the gift shop to get some powdered mini donuts when I run into T and his girl A who are about to check out. T has been owing me almost $500 for a couple of months now, but he's been running bad and doesn't have it. T is a brown skinned cat who is 42, but looks 32 and has the frenetic energy of an eight year old. He's basically grown up in the casinos where his parents worked and he knows everyone and everyone knows him. They make an interesting couple, he's black and twenty years older than her and they fight constantly. In fact, I've never met a couple that argue more about things that matter less. She is also insanely jealous, to the point where she will stop the car in the middle of the street and accuse him of having an affair with a random girl on the corner who happens to look at him a little too long. Which probably wouldn't be a problem, except for the fact that for the eight years I've known him, I've never known him to not be cheating on whomever he was with. He has a bright smile that reveals a chipped front tooth and a perpetual need to flirt with whatever woman who happens to wander into his view. Often with great success. Which sometimes leads to him trying to get me to cosign his lies bout where he was the night before while she was working. Which I never do, something that doesn't seem to stop him from asking. Despite the fact that he's a winning poker player, he stays broke, in part due to the Child Support he owes the three other women he has four kids with. His girl says hello and then looks straight down at the ground, so I know she must be broke too. Which is wild because she's one of the money making-est strippers in all of Atlantic City. She's a pretty South Jersey Italian chick who is so dark she could pass for Puerto Rican and is built like a Black woman; medium up top, thick from the waist down. She makes big cheese from all the guys, no matter their race, most nights she clears between $1200-$1800 in cash. Only problem is that when she gets off at 4am, she walks across the street to the casino and feeds the slots like they were a brood of starving piglets and she a milk swollen sow. She recently got evicted from her $1300 a month apartment despite the fact that she makes $200,000 in an average year. She's probably the second most degenerate gambler I've ever personally met, and although I believe in respecting women as equals, if you looked up the phrase 'dumb bitch' in the dictionary you'd find her picture there, in color. T doesn't have my money, but he does have a good tip. Word on the street is that The Lion will soon be back in town from Vegas and that he recently hit an internet poker tournament for 30k. That's good news since The Lion owes me money too, but the bad news is that he is the single most degenerate gambler I've ever known. If you were to walk into the Borgata or Taj Mahal poker rooms and tap any random regular on the shoulder, they'd probably have a crazy story starring the the Lion. But none as crazy as the ones I've personally witnessed.
Like the time back in the summer of 2005 when I'd just got back in town from a weekend in DC visiting my son and I was sliding down the escalator into the Borgata's old basement poker room and the Lion was going up the other way. His face lit up when he saw me and I knew right away he was broke and what he wanted. Which wasn't to borrow money, but rather have me stake him in a $1/2 No Limit Texas Hold'em game. The deal was simple I put up the $300 buy-in and in return got half the profits, (if he lost he'd need to recoup my investment before we could do business again.) I was always willing to stake the Lion because he was one of the most talented poker players in AC, capable of beating every form of poker, no matter the stakes. There are very few poker players who can win in both the small and big games, but the Lion could, in part because of his total disregard for the value of money. Despite his serious talent, he stayed broke because he always wanted to play in the highest game possible which violates the tenets of sound Bankroll Management which dictate that one should have at least ten buy-ins for whatever game they want to play regularly and more properly at least twenty buy-ins. The Lion would jump into games where he only had two or three buy-ins which meant as soon as he ran bad he got broke. It also didn't help that he only had one gear, which was super aggressive. One of the paradoxes of the Lion is that he doesn't care at all about his own money, but is very careful with the money of others. So he actually plays better when playing with someone else's money.
He hopped the escalator railing like a subway turnstile and was right behind me in no time. I asked him what was up and right away he started whining like a fine chardonnay about his bad luck. We cut to the chase and I put him in a 1/2 game for $300 and went to grind 2/5. About an hour later I strolled around to his table to check on him and Lo and behold he had grown our stake like a patch of mutant pumpkins from $300 to $1200. Most people would be ready to quit at this point, since they'd be due $450 from their share of the winnings ($1200 minus my original $300 leaves $900, which we split evenly), but the Lion aint most people and he pretty much will never leave a poker game unless it breaks or he's otherwise forced to. He said the game was still good, so I left him playing. One hour later I return and he's up to nearly $2000, I tell him it's about time to quit and he aint trying to hear it. You'd think that a guy who was flat broke a few hours ago would be trying to quit and put his $850 in his pocket, but nah. While I'm watching he loses a hand for $200 and that's it for me, I tell him to pick up right now. He tries to argue, but I give him my 'Daddy means business' face and he starts racking up the chips. When he finishes, I head to the Cashier's window, only he follows me and taps me on the shoulder. He wants to know if I'll take half of him in a 2/5 game for $500. I just won $750 with him and am pretty content, but he's insistent he's found a table he can crush. I figure even if he loses I'm still up $500, so I agree and he bounces off. Three hours later he's turned the Five Piece into $2700 and is raising everything that moves. I'm still near even in my game, but don't really care because he's doing so well. I give him the hook again and he resists again, but this time I'm deadly serious from Jump Street. We're both due $1100 in the 2/5 game and I'm trying to collect right now. He won't quit, so I push him aside and start racking up the chips, only the other players don't want to see the Action guy leave the game so they protest. Technically, I'm not even allowed to touch his chips (even though I put up the money) so I back off, but give him my Clint Eastwood glare. He racks up. I'm ready to go up to my room and watch some ESPN highlights, but now he wants to hit the $5/10 game (where the buy-in is $1000 max) and wants me to take half of him again. I say dude, you got $1850 of your own now, just take $300 and grind 1/2. But I might as well be speaking Mongolian. It's 5/10 or bust for him, I go check out the game and it looks decent, so I give him $500 and say I'm going to watch some TV. About once an hour I call down to check on his progress, which is minimal for four hours until he hits a big hand and triples up. I throw on my shoes and hat and head back down to the poker room because without me to yank him, he's never going to stop. I get there and he's psyched and doesn't want to hear anything about quitting, but he's got $2800 in front of him and half of it is mine and that half is rolling out right now whether he likes it or not. He's furious and accuses me of not trusting him, but I point out that one of us is always broke and the other one aint, because they know how and when to quit. His feelings are big-time hurt, but who cares? Give me my money. I get my $1400 and head to bed, while he pouts his way back to the 2/5 game. A few days go by and I don't see him on account of him playing at the Taj and me at the Borgata, but I hear he's tearing them up.
Saturday comes and the rumor is that the Lion has flipped that original $300 into more than 45k in the last few days, but I aint buying that because rumors are frequently wrong. I get paged in the poker room at Borgata and it's T, BG, and Mexican Carlos and they want me to come over to the Taj and talk to the Lion. There's a big 10k buy-in tournament on Monday at the Borg and they want the Lion to give me 10k to hold so he doesn't lose it before the tourney starts. I say OK and hop the Jitney to the Taj. The Jitney streaks through the streets of AC like it's running from the Klan, taking most corners on two wheels. I hang on and close my eyes like it's an amusement park ride. I get to the Taj and the Lion is sitting in front of a castle of black and purple chips playing the biggest game in the room, which is $300/600 Seven Card Stud, a game where a single hand could cost you 3k easy. I have a Rain Man like talent where I can eye a stack of chips and know how much there is and my brain is saying that he's got upwards of 35k in front of him. I ask him if it's true he's up to 45k and he shakes his head no, and pulls out a Nickel knot of hundreds ($5k) and two grey chips, which are also worth 5k a piece. Plus he says he knocked off about $3500 in debts, so all told he's sitting on more than 50k. I'm stunned. He's gone on runs of 15 or 20k before, but nothing like this. I ask him if he wants me to hold something and he nods, we decide to head back to the Borg and put the grey chips in my Safe Deposit box. Only he wants to eat first with the guys he's playing against. I say cool and even though I'm tired from playing all day I go play $1/2 to kill some time. One hour goes by and then two and still no Lion. I check the game, but the others aren't back either. Now I'm a nice guy and don't mind doing a friend a favor, but he can't just waste my time like this either. After about 15 more minutes I tell BG I'm out and they can catch me at the Borg in my room.
Well, I fall asleep watching the 3am Sportscenter and still haven't heard from the Lion. The next morning I get up and decide to run past the Taj real quick before hitting the Borgata Sunday Brunch Buffet and those scrumptious omelettes and biscuits. I hop a cab and get to the Taj around 9am and the sun is way too bright and the birds way too loud and the sky way too damn blue for me, but whatever. I enter near the poker room and look up and who do I see coming down the long hallway towards me, but BG and Mexican Carlos. They're walking as slow as pall bearers and not talking at all. And as soon as I read their body language, there's no need for words. They get halfway to me and it's clear, even though I don't want to believe it. I look at BG, then look at Mexican Carlos, but neither says a word and they both look like their grandmothers got run over and killed while trying to save their favorite dog, who then turned around and got hit by a bus that proceeded to crash while carrying their only cousin, who was thrown from the bus and died too. Or maybe even sadder. I say "No", but they just nod yes. I say how much and Mexican Carlos says "The whole bowl of guacamole." The whole 50k, I ask? They say yes. Say he never left the 300/600 game and ran bad and kept raising as his stack got lower and lower. Then he went out on the casino floor and donked off the last 10k playing Blackjack at $500 a hand, where he evidently never won a single hand. They say he's in the room with the lights out and curtains drawn and three pizzas from Room Service. And what else is there for me to do, but go back to the Borgata and dunk some buttered biscuits in real maple syrup and thank god for a little discipline.
Now, The Lion is headed back to AC after a few years in Vegas. I head to the poker room to check out the games and I hear "Phone call for Pittsburgh on line one". I pick up the House phone. If the Lion still has some of the 30k he just won, he'll be laughing and joking, but if not he'll be whining like a two week old puppy. I punch the first button, say Hello and get greeted with a sound like a two year old who just dropped his Sippy cup . . .
Things I say when I'm not saying I love you.
There is a Joker in the deck,
that's wild about our (pork-free) futures.
It has a mouth with the smile,
of a Gypsy Queen I once caught dragging.
She wore your rhyming royal dress
so tightly her tattoos bled through.
Why didn't my dumb thumbs oppose this?
I'm dealt two Hallmarked cards and lower them,
like a kind of light naked bulbs screw in.
We've lost both our hot hands,
but maybe now we'll grasp the gist of Hold'em.
And until next we meet, may all your potatoes be sweet (and dusted with cinnamon).