Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Post Sandy Report

I'm fine. I was going to do a narrative type blog post, but there was no drama really. I evacuated AC Sunday morning with a friend, we came to Chester PA near the Philly airport. I played at Harrahs Chester on Sunday. There was some wind and rain and then it was over. Harrahs Chester is still shut down as we speak. My only personal concern is that I have stuff in a storage place near Venice Park and it is right on the bay. It is very likely that it flooded. My computer is the main thing I'm worried about. I know so many dealers, floor people, waitresses, retail clerks and others who live in and around AC. I'm sure their problems are much worse than mine right now and I hope they all made it through this thing OK. If anybody needs any help give me a holler. I watched the storm on the news and kept up on Facebook and Twitter, both of which had near instant posting of photos from the island. Brigantine got it real bad, the ocean met the bay on the street I used to live on at the far northern end of the island. Even though the famous shark photo is a fake, the other photos aren't. It may be a month before folk on that island get back to anything remotely resembling normal life. On Absecon island; the Inlet, Margate, Ventnor, and Venice Park aming others, all got flooded bad. I hope those people can recover fairly easily. The casinos are all fine and can reopen as soon as the state allows them.

October night-
This wind pinging my glasses
is Sandy.

Outside Denny's-
Face wiped clean by
sideways rain

Atlantic Ave.-
Sidewalk full of

They say the barometric pressure at the Marina measured at 27.99 inches, I've never even imagined to could go below 28. That's never happened in my lifetime, that is an incredibly powerful storm. Tide was 8.9 feet (9 is the record) which is .9 feet over major flood stage. Total rainfall for AC was over 14 inches. That's crazy. It might take the Cape Verde Islands five years to get that much rain. The Tropical Storm wind field for Sandy was 964 miles, another insane number, which means it was hitting AC, Pittsburgh and DC at the same time. The three cities where I've lived 48 of my 50 years. Triangulate that.

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

Friday, October 26, 2012

Papa was a rolling Stone.

I'm rolling south down Pacific Ave. Atlantic City's main strip where most of the casinos line the beach like Life Guard chairs, headed to McDonald's to grab a Sweet Tea, when I decide to stop by Caesar's poker room to see if Old Man James is in town. I slide into the poker room through the back door and right away I spot him seven tables away, headphones clamped over his ears, slightly slumped in his chair. And if I see James, before I hear him, then I know he's not winning. He's in a 1-2 No Limit game in the ten seat and never sees me until I tap him on the shoulder.
"Hey Son" he says, extending his hand.
"Hey Pop" I reply, taking his hand in our familiar shake.
He turns back to the hand in process and I survey the situation, he's got position on the other two guys in the hand who both check to him. As he bets, I notice how slowly he pushes the chips into the pot, which means he's been playing a long time. They both fold and after the dealer pushes him the pot, it takes him a long time to stack his chips.
"Long Session?" I ask.
"Too Long." he says, which means he's most likely been playing all night.
"You been playing all night?" I ask, although it's three in the afternoon.
"Yeah", he says "And these motherfuckers won't let me win nothing, they got $800 of my money and won't give me back a motherfucking dime."
Playing poker with James is like playing poker with Redd Foxx. he is nothing if not loud and profane. He can call you seven types of Motherfucker and mean seven different things, some of them even affectionate.
"You eat?" I ask, he shakes his head no.
"You take your medicine?" I query, again no.
"Get me out of here." he asks, and I nod OK.
"I need to go check into my room at Ballys, walk me over there." he says.
I tell the dealer James is done when the Big Blind comes to him, which is only a few hands away and the dealer Pete says OK, in his frog-like croak.
While I wait, I remeber the first time we met, in a 2-5 No Limit game right here in Caesar's where I used to play thousands of hours. Caesar's had the best 2-5 game in AC back then, better even than the games at the Borgata. There was tons of action and no shortage of bad players who came to gamble it up, as far as they were concerned poker was just another table game based on pure luck. James was winning that day and he was loud as hell, talking more shit than a septic tank. He got into a dispute with a dealer and cited a rule incorrectly. As I am wont to do, I interrupted and corrected him. He turned his then seventy-five year old white haired head my way and said
"Who asked you a motherfucking thing?"
"Nobody," I said, "but that aint never stopped me from talking."
He said "Well, fuck you, then."
"Sorry Pops" I replied, "You're not my type."
"Well double fuck you then" he said and we both burst out laughing.
I hadn't been at the table ten minutes, but I had already peeped his game. James liked to play the old fool and get under people's skin, which would then cause them to want to beat him and play poorly against him. But I know a hustle when I see one and this was a stone cold hustle, in fact although I didn't know it at the time, James was a legendary pool hustler from Brooklyn who had specialized in the game of One Pocket back in the 60s and 70s. Retired now from the hard green felt of the pool table, he had landed on the softer felt of the poker table. He played good cards in good position and let the idiots underestimate him, by the time the figured out he could play, he already had their chips stacked neatly in front of him. We became cool and I like playing with him, partly for the show and partly because he made the game good, getting folk riled up. But what really made us tight was the late Sunday night a few years ago when I was strolling down Pac. Ave after a big night at the Taj Mahal. I was taking my customary forty-five minute walk up and down the Strip before I headed to bed, when I approached Caesar's. The light turned green and I started crossing the street when, out of the corner of my eye, I saw someone stumble and fall, almost hitting their head on one of the concrete planters that front the casino. When I got to the other side the person was still there, layed out,  apparently unconscious on the sidewalk. I hurried over, it was Old Man James face down on the concrete. During my five years I spent working as a Unit Leader in a sleepover Summer Camp in Virginia I was trained as a First Responder, which included both Fire Suppression and Advanced First Aid. I kneeled down, but James was still out, his eyes open, but rolled up into his head. I leaned close to see if he was breathing, which he was, I then checked his pulse and it was good too. "James, James" I called to him. Slowly, his eyes rolled down and came into focus.
'What's going?"he asked, "What happened?"
I told him he had fallen out.
"Where am I ?" he asked. I told him he was in front of Caesar's.
"I got to catch my bus" he said. "I got to get back to Brooklyn before my wife gets worried."
I told him to slow down and stopped him from trying to get up until I asked hima few questions. After I was sure he was OK, I had him sit up. He was lucid now, his bus was leaving in ten minutes from the Bus depot across the street. I told him I'd walk him across the street, but that he had to go see a doctor as soon as he got home.
"Motherfuck a doctor." he told me, "I'm alright, now."
'James," I said, "you got to go see a doctor, find out what happened"
"Fuck you and the doctor too." he told me, "You starting to sound like my wife."
I wasn't budging though, more black men in America die of preventable diseases than any other demographic. "James," I insisted "You got to go see the doctor."
"I aint going to see no motherfucking doctor." he responded.
I said "If you want me to help you across the street so you can catch your bus, then you've got to promise me you'll see the doctor."
Due to his two artificial knees and artificial hip, I knew James couldn't get up off the ground on his own. He looked around, he knew time was running out before the last bus left for Brooklyn.
"You's a motherfucker, aint you?' he said.
"Yes James" I said "I am, in fact a motherfucker." A motherfucker who wasn't budging.
"You trying to catch that bus?" I asked
"You know god-damned well I am." he said.
"You going to the doctor? I asked.
"I guess I aint got no motherfucking choice" he said, "Help me up."
I refused to move until he promised me, which he did. I knew as an old school gambler that he'd keep his word, because in that world your word was bond, your whole reputation was based on keeping your word. I helped him across the street and stayed until he caught his bus. It was the last time I saw him . . .  (to be continued.)

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

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

The Strongest Clench

When a true genius appears in the world you may know him by this sign; that the dunces are all in confederacy against him."
Jonathan Swift

Here's an interesting article that confirms something we already knew about writers in general and poets in particular. The point is that being rejected and having the proper mindset to deal with it, actually seems to help spark creativity. This would help explain the last 3000 years of unrequited love poems. Dante's 'Divine Comedy' which is arguably the greatest poem in any language was inspired in large part by his unrequited love for Beatrice. Beatrice appears in the poem at the end and even though she (and his love for her) operate on a symbolic level, the point still stands. Shakespears wrote one of the greatest sonnet cycles in the English language and they're mostly about unrequited desire. Go figure. One the one hand this makes me happy, because it's always good to have company. On the other hand it's terribly depressing, because it means there's most likely no real way out of the dilemna of being mostly creative when things aren't going well. I used to know a poet who went around bragging that he was the only one of his poet friends who could still be productive when he was happy. He was also, unfortunately, the worst poet out of his group of friends. I write the most (and the best) when I'm obsessed with some woman whom I can't have. It totally sucks. But it's been that way my whole life. I don't just mean popems of unrequited desire, I mean poems about anything. My work is just better when I'm in "the strong clench of the madman," it is what it is, I suppose. Part of this is because for many writers writing is a coping mechanism, but it looks like part of it is just because of how our brains work.

Boardwalk sunset-
Sea gulls turn away
my crumbled bread

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

Thursday, October 18, 2012

October Haiku/Senryu

Horse Room
as I apologize
she shakes her ponytail

Sliver of moon
the fullness of her lip

Speck of white
floating in this evening's tea-
October moon.

Moonless night
filling the beach
sound of waves.

trying to erase
her footprints

October sun-
Last Lemonhead
in the box.

Her final moan-

UPDATE:I posted most of these to my Facebook Stautus at one time or another and several of them  generated a great deal of response. This whole batch has actually gotten a great deal of feedback, much of it from people who don't write haiku. One of my goals as a writer is to become a Haijin (a master of haiku), this is a lifelong journey. Aside from becoming a master in chess, there is no other goal that has meant more to me. One step in that journey is getting a haiku published in a Haiku journal. I have had many of my haiku and senryu published, one even in Time Magazine, but have yet to get any published by haiku specific journals or websites. I have a feeling that one of these might be the one that finally does the trick. The 'ponytail' senryu in particular, marks a new step for me, in that it is an unvarnished, true life experience, that I managed to make into a decent senryu. It has gotten a great deal of response and received a lot of comments on my Facebook. I can't say I knew how good it was when I finished it, but the response made it clear right away that it struck a chord with folk. I haven't been writing a lot of poetry lately, in part because I haven't been reading much poetry, so anything I squeeze out that's decent is a real blessing. Haiku are so hard to do well, so hard to master. I'm very grateful for any progress I make along this path. I may have turned a proverbial corner in my journey.

Yesterday my blog got its 15,000th pageview, which is a remarkable milestone. It took me eight years to get to 10k, but since I switched to mostly posting prose back in May I've gotten 5k pageviews in the last six months. I'm going to keep posting about 80% prose and 20% poems.

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

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Message in a bottle

I'm rolling through the Showboat Casino when I run into J. and he has a question for me.
"Hey Pittsburgh" he asks "I heard you write good letters."
And I know right away what he wants and I say "Yeah. I'm alright."
And he cuts straight to the chase, six months ago he got in a fight and is now barred from the Taj Mahal casino. He needs to write a letter to the head of security to get his gaming privileges reinstated, can I do that for him? He's willing to pay $50- $100. And of course I can, because words are like Lego blocks in my hands and if you need me to build you a tank, no problem, a house? No problem. A fire truck? No problem. And truth be told, he's the 5th guy this year to ask me for such a letter. It started when my boy T got barred from the Borgata for a domestic incident with his girl, then Old Man James needed one for the time he cussed out a floorperson and got evicted, and so on. Somehow, the word got out and amongst poker players I became the literary equivalent of the cat with the best weed. Most of them don't know I'm a published poet and none of them know about or have read my blog, but still the word (like a twenty-four hour stomach flu virus), has spread. And it's ironic because although I love certain types of writing, I've never been much of a letter writer. In fact, I can count all the personal letters I've ever written on one hand. And I was already in my thirties when email replaced letters as the primary form of written communication between most people. When I was a kid, my Mom would send us off to Summer Camp for two weeks and always packed a pen and stationary. It would return unused. Then she started sending us off with postcards, pre addressed and stamped. All we had to do once we were at camp was write something and hand it to the counselor. I don't think I ever wrote a single word on any of them. I can't really explain it. I'm pretty articulate and unlike most guys, fairly articulate in expressing my emotions. But I never had any interest in writing letters. So of course, now I have people paying me to write letters for them. Got in a fight? No problem. Cashed a slot ticket that wasn't yours? No problem. Drunk and belligerent? No problem. It's nothing that a little written contrition can't fix. For some of these cats English is a foreign language, others are just intimidated by the task, still others just want a better letter than they feel they can write. So far, everyone has been reinstated. Including me, for my little contretemps in the bathroom at the Borgata.

I'm cruising through Caesars later, checking out the action and a floor person tells me that a cat I know got barred last week for pissing into a bottle under the table while playing poker. That's a new one for me and it's a tad trifling, but everybody needs a little side hustle, right? I know I'm probably going to hear from him soon and already I can feel the words lining up in my head like casino gamblers in a buffet line . . .

UPDATE: I ran into the bottle guy in Caesars, he says the bottle story isn't true. But he does need a letter for the Borgata. Done.
And until next we meet, may all your potatoes be sweet (and dusted with cinnamon).

Friday, October 12, 2012

Why I've always avoided Beauty Parlors.

What I remember most is the smell. Not the orange hunger of the flames as they devoured first the sleeve of her baby blue terry cloth robe, then the broad back, then the long curling black strands of her hair. Not the sound of her astonishment at the sharp bite of the flames, not the frenzy that propelled her shrieks into the morning air. Not even the aftertaste of smoke and ash that would later settle in the back of my two year old throat. What has stayed with me longest, deepest is the smell. The burning smell. Not the burning pure cotton of the terry cloth. Although it burned. Not the acrid smell of burnt skin or flesh. Though they too burned. But the smell of her hair, burning. It is the one thing that even across the broad expanse of these forty-eight years, I still cannot shake. The smell of hair-burning. Her hair. And if a human being is on fire in front of you, it shouldn't matter who it is, the experience sears into memory like a white hot brand into the flank of a cattle. But she was, is still, my mother. Aflame and fighting, twisting, swinging, swatting at the orange beast which had mounted her back. Then stumbling across the room towards the open door which lead to the basement.

I was seated at the kitchen table, facing her, looking at Mark, whose back was to her. We were waiting on breakfast, on oatmeal, a favorite. She was at the stove, the long blue sleeves of her bath robe swished elegantly through the air as she moved. We were two hungry toddlers, banging spoons against the sides of our green plastic bowls, singing, chanting, in anticipation of breakfast, my favorite meal. It was Spring, another kind of fire, mid-morning sunlight poured through the window to the left of her, through the doorway to my immediate right. It was an ordinary day, like any other. Unlike any other. What I remember most is the smells, of the kitchen, of Spring, of oatmeal, of grease loosening on the hot top of the stove. Of my mother's hair being greedily eaten by the bright lips of leaping flame.
I don't remember the ambulance's arrival, but well into my forties, ambulance was the single word I couldn't pronounce correctly. I recall little of the three months she spent in Intensive Care, burns scarring forty percent of her body, infection a constant threat. I remember that we then lived only two blocks from one of the best Burn Units in the country and that they tried some new experimental techniques. I don't remember the nine months I spent living with friends while she recovered. I do remember how she was changed when she came home. How she never wore sleeveless garments anymore. How she gave up two packs a day and bourbon neat. I do remember that her hair grew back, how fortunate she was that because of its length, her scalp itself never burned badly enough to scar and destroy the follicles.

I remember how, as a kid, if I entered a neighbor's house and someone was using a hot comb, I would have to turn and leave straight away. It wasn't the sight of the iron teeth glowing red on the gas burners. I never got that close. It was the smell wrapping its thick gray fingers around my throat long before I ever made it to their kitchen. It is why to this day, even fifty years later, I have never set foot in a black beauty parlor.

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

Tuesday, October 09, 2012

Serving time on the Chain Gang of Fools

I was sitting at a small table outside White House Sub shop's location in the upstairs section of the Taj Mahal Casino, about to take a second bite of my favorite sandwich; a turkey and provolone sub with mayo, onions, hot peppers and spinach in place of lettuce, when JS walked up.
"He's back." he said. The 'he' in question was the ex-boyfriend of a woman whose eyes dotted all of the punctuation in my poems.
"Yeah, I know" I responded. I had known for a while, over a week actually. I hadn't wanted to believe or accept it, but I had known. There had been an extra bounce in her step for more than a few days now. And for all the time I had known her, only one person had put that much extra wattage in her smile. And it wasn't me. And the beaming smile was back, had been back for maybe almost two weeks.
"You know what this means?" JS asked, somewhat rhetorically smiling like a man who just hit a lucky card on the River.
"Of course I do." I replied. It meant that I had just lost any desire to finish my sandwich, but more importantly it meant that I had lost yet another bet to JS. That for the first time in my life I had lost a prop bet twice to the same person. The bet was simple, JS had told me before she had even broken up with the guy, that if she did, she'd take him back. It was just after JS had collected from our first bet. He wanted to go Double or Nothing, but I declined that option. I couldn't see any way that she would figure this guy out, dump him and then take him back though. She seemed too smart for that. But as JS had pointed out to me, I seemed too smart to have taken the first bet, not to mention the second one. Which I had, in fact accepted. And now apparently, lost.
"Just like you believed in her better nature, she believes in his." he explained.
"But there's no evidence or anything yet." JS said, "So if you want to wait a few weeks for more proof, that's cool, I understand." The truth was that I already had all the proof I needed. If the return of the smile and the bounce hadn't been enough, the day before I had spoken to her and although she had responded, she had avoided my eyes momentarily when she did so. She had done a similar thing when I saw her a week earlier, turning her head so I couldn't see her face. I read people for a living, so this was a no brainer for me-she was hiding something, something she didn't want me to know, the rest of her expression told me it was because she was ashamed of it. She had put on a good face when she spoke back, but it was too late, the Gummi Bears were out of the bag and scattered across the floor.

If you know me, you know that I'm a guy who knows things.
The odds a flush will hit with two cards to come (35%).
The original name of the R+B group Tavares (Chubby and the Turnpikes).
The cloudiest city in the country outside of Washington State (Morgantown, WV).
And so on.
But knowing a lot of things means that sometimes you know stuff you don't want to know, like when I was six years old and realized that those long crooked scars on my Dad's arms were track marks from a needle. A needle that wasn't given to him by a doctor or a nurse. Or knowing that what she was hiding from me was the fact that she was again seeing a dude who had previously played her for her money and broken her heart. Realizing this, wrestling my disappointment down enough to accept it, I had decided later to go and apologize to her. For something I had said that was childish and wrong, but also for ever being in her business in the first place. Loving somebody aint no real reason to meddle, and besides, as the son of an addict I know full well that you can save people from everyone, but themselves.

But when I got there, she hadn't even wanted to look at me, let alone speak to me. I made the mistake of asking her if she had a minute. Of course she didn't.
"What do you want?" she'd asked.
"I wanted to apologize." I said. She cut me off.
"Why do you keep trying to talk to me? Why don't you just leave me alone?"
Her first question sliced through the distance between us with a sharp edge, but the second one trembled out like a desperate plea from a little girl. It fluttered up bright red as an autumn leaf and slowly floated in the air until it landed softy on the counter between us.  As it floated down, it seemed to echo, like the clang of a prison door rolling shut. But this door wasn't shutting me in, it was shutting me out. I was standing on top of a submarine, watching the hatch seal and turn shut, before submerging beneath the sea and disappearing forever.

Indeed. Why didn't I leave her alone? It wasn't because I was stubborn. Although I am. It wasn't because I'm obsessed with her. Although that's true too. The real answer, which was obvious to anyone who has ever listened to Aretha sing, was because I'm a fool. I'm not the first one, and maybe not the biggest one, and I certainly won't be the last in the chain, but at that moment I was definitely wearing Ye Olde Dunce Cap.

One of my favorite trivia questions to ask at a poker table involves Cuba Gooding Jr., or more precisely his father Cuba Gooding Sr. His father is world famous for singing a song that almost everyone knows the lyrics to. It stumps them every time. His dad was lead singer for "The Main Ingredient" who had two huge worldwide hits, one called "Just Don't want to be Lonely" and one called "Everybody Plays the Fool." If that song was so successful it's in part because I've got plenty of company in that regard. Not that that made me feel any better. But loving someone who doesn't know how to be loved, is most definitely a fool's errand. One that I was on. Even though I knew better. The tundra cold truth was that my money was counterfeit in her country. And yet, I kept trying to spend it. Which is exactly what was so foolish. I know the types of men she's attracted to, what they do, how they treat her and I know how to do those things. But I refuse on principle to do them and instead suffer without her. Which I suppose makes me doubly a fool.

When she said "Why don't you just leave me alone?" I immediately put my hand up. There was no need for her to go any further. There are some things that even a rented mule doesn't need to be told twice. I just backed up and walked away. That exchange was all the proof I needed, had I needed any, which I didn't.

I looked up at JS, "I don't need to wait." I said, "I just don't have the money to spare right now."
"That's OK." he smiled, "Take your time, I know you're good for it."
"So, how long is she gonna be with him?" I asked. In my bones, I already knew the answer, but just wanted to hear it out in the open air.
"As long as he wants to keep her around." JS said.
"I'm sure she read him the Riot Act and set up all kinds of rule and parameters for taking him back." he said, "And for now he's going to say and do all the right things, hell, he might even mean them. But eventually he'll tire of the restrictions and his true nature will come out." He paused, "When that happens, he'll move on."
"But for right now, she's All-In with him and she's going to do everything in her power to make the relationship work. She knows how things will look if it fails, she's going to avoid that at all cost."
"Look, I did this to women for the last thirty years." JS said "I know exactly how this game works, it doesn't matter how bad he treated her, she was going to take him back. He not only makes her feel incredibly good, he makes her feel good about herself, and that makes her happy in a way no one else has. Even though she knows his history, she believes that she's the one who can tame him. They all believe that." he said, "That's what hooks them."
He looked at me in a much more serious way.
"You know what this means, don't you?"
I nodded my head yes. I recalled another, entirely different situation. Once years ago, the guy who roomed next to me was outside in the hallway fighting with his girlfriend. I was in my room listening to new records, but could hear them shouting over the music. I turned the music down so I could yell through the door and ask them to quiet down, when I heard the sound of a fist hitting a face. I rushed into the hallway just as he cocked back for a second lick. I grabbed him from behind and pinned his arms to his sides so he couldn't hit her any more. We wrestled for a minute and then suddenly I felt a sharp pain through my left arm. I looked down and there was a pen knife sticking out like an exclamation point. When I looked up, her face was feral, her teeth bared, "Take your fucking hands off my man." she hissed. I released him in surprise. he stepped over and slapped her head sideways, "You stupid ass bitch." he said.
"Fuck you" she said to both of us "Nobody puts their hands on my man. Not if I can do something about it." I had meant well, but the person I was trying to save resented me most. Even though this situation didn't involve domestic violence, the outcome would be similar. I looked back at JS.
"Somebody has to be the bad guy, and right now you're wearing the black hat. It's over for you, that's it, you're finished. I don't know if you ever had a shot, but you're drawing dead now." he said.
He didn't need to go any further, I knew the math. There were only two things that could happen, one was that somehow they stayed together forever, the other most likely scenario, was that eventually it would end. And at that moment, I would become the man she hated most, partly for being right all along. It was time for me to move on.
"If they break up, when they break up" he corrected himself, "You'll be the one guy on the planet who will know just how foolish what she did was. So, she's never going to even want to see your face again, let alone have anything to do with you."
"Yeah", I said glumly "I know."
"I'll tell you something though," he continued "I used to think that guys like you were stupid, but at least you have something you believe in." He ran his hand over his face, "I had so many women, fine women, smart women, women with good jobs who loved me, who really, truly loved me. And I fucked it all up, time and time again.  I had a bunch of shots at making things right and never did. They all left me, some of them wised up and got a good man and some of them kept repeating the pattern, but they all left. And now, I'm sitting here empty handed just like you. I dont even have anything to believe in. I thought I was getting over, getting the best of it, but really I was just conning myself."
"Dude probably thinks he's slick too, he is slick, and very good at what he does, but in the end he's just hopping sideways from chick to chick going nowhere."
We both stared out the window at the shadows creeping up the side of the building across the street.
"Well, at least you learned something from the first bet." he said "You were smart enough not to take Double or Nothing."
I nodded.
"Yeah," I said "Once again, you were right and I was wrong. You win."
He shook his head from side to side,
"Let me tell you something, in this game, nobody wins."

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

Monday, October 08, 2012

I never loved a game the way . .

I was in the Borgata poker room waiting on a 1-2 No Limit seat when they announced an open seat at 1-2 Pot Limit Omaha (which is my favorite game), now, due to the crazy swings in Omaha and my current bankroll conditions, I shouldn't have been playing that game. And I'm a bright guy (no, really I am), but sometimes we all do things that we know aren't good for us and that we shouldn't be doing. And so I found myself buying in and taking a shot. I was also, I must admit, in an emotionally agitated state and distracted, two other reasons for me not to be playing a game with lots of temptation and four cards to pay attention to. I was dealt in and quickly started deviating from my gameplan of seeing only the cheapest flops. In poker, when one follows one bad decision with another, worse one, this is called a 'compounding error'. So, of course when I lost my first Buy-in while playing terribly, instead of going to No Limit, I bought back in and proceeded to play even worse, culminated by me playing one hand particularly badly. After a pot building raise put $60 in the pot four handed, the initial raiser bet out $30 and was called by two other players. I had flopped the Nut flush draw and a backdoor straight. My stack was $130, so if I call the $30, I have $100 left. In this situation, if I am going to play the hand I should raise all-in and try to get the pot heads up, but even if other players call, I 'm getting great odds. Instead, I just called and when I missed the Turn, got bet off my hand, even though I picked up top pair. It was pathetic to say the least and I couldn't stop thinking about my bad decision, which lead to me donking off the rest of my stack in frustration. At that point I realized that I needed to leave the Borgata and its distractions behind, so I hopped on a Jitney to the Taj. The ride over let me calm down a little. I clocked into a 1-2 NL game and started trying to work my way back from the morning's disaster. About an hour into it, I realized that I really didn't feel like playing. Just then, my man Footer comes out of the Horse Parlor, "Hey Pitts" he called out, "Check this out!" It turns out that a friend had given him two tickets to the Aretha Franklin concert that night, he asked me if I was interested in going. Of course, I was. The show was starting in 5 minutes, so I made my way to the arena. As I passed the stage I could see a Hammond B-3 organ set up down front. If Aretha had brought an organ, then this way going to be serious! I also could see that she hadn't brought just a band, but also a twenty plus piece orchestra and a bevy of backup singers. The percussionist had three congas, two symphony sized tympani and a vibraphone. Aretha wasn't playing! After about thirty minutes of recorded music, the lights dimmed and the orchestra got busy. They opened with a quick medley of her hits sung by the backups, which included "Daydreaming." The announcer gave her a James Brown style introduction that ened with "the undisputed Queen of Soul" and there she was. The only time I've ever seen her sing live was at the Inauguration of Barack Obama, a bitterly cold day that made it hard for her to warm her voice up and cost her the top quarter of her range. She looks a little slimmer, but still too big and was wearing a very shimmery silver dress. When she started singing a few things became quickly apparent; one is that years of cigarette smoking have seriously abraded her vocal cords, making her tone very raspy and taking away the very top of her range, the other is that her musicianship as a singer is impeccable and she instantly figured out just how much voice she was working with and sang right at that limit. She can still make those crazy melismatic runs and jump octaves whenever she feels like it, she just couldn't hit the highest notes in some of her recorded Ad Libs. She was born to sing and born to perform and was having a good time on stage. Two songs stood out for me; one was when she went over to the piano and sat down and started a long improvised vamp, the video screens started showing pictures of Whitney Houston and it became apparant that the song was "I will always love you." Aretha vamped and ad libbed for a few minutes, then sang the first verse. The musical arrangement was pure Gospel, the vocal arrangement pure Aretha. She made the song hers, similar to the way Isaac Hayes did on his many covers in the 70s. There were more than a few moist eyes in the audience. The other song that really got me was her rendition of "I never loved a man (the way that I love you)", it started out bluesy and gutbucket, with Aretha pouring out her soul across the stage. Her trail of bad and worse relationships is longer than a bridal train and well documented and she drew from that well to bring down the house. Just when one thought the song couldn't get any better, she turned to the band and gave them a signal and they turned the blue ballad into a Gospel stomp at double time. it was amazing to see and hear, now the man she loved more than all others was ostensibly Jesus and she danced holy roller style up and down the front off the stage, testifying to her heart's content. She performed "Daydreaming", "Chain of Fools" and a few other hits and then after a long Gospel number, she left the stage. She came back and did "Respect" as an encore and the show was over. My favorite song by her and the one I most wanted to hear was "Bridge Over troubled Waters" but she didn't perform that one. The show was barely an hour long, many in the audience were disappointed. I have a longstanding policy of not looking for reasons to be unhappy, I didn't get what I really wanted, but it was a good show and cost me nothing other than my time. I walked out of the arena in a much better frame of mind than when I entered. I decided to head over to the Showboat, it was almost 11:00 PM, although I had gotten crushed earlier, there was still plenty of time for me to bounce back from my loss at the Borgata. I always do.

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