From the first, talking came easy to me. I was garrulous, and most of all, great with detail. “You have the gift of gab, Bobby,” my mother would say to me absently, in the middle of one of my endless stories or to encourage me when I was suddenly shy. Didn’t matter what I was going on about, I can see her now: school, the gang, girls – she would sigh, look out the window and tell me, “You’re just like your father, with that real gift of gab.”
Anyway, the reason I’m telling you this is someone almost gave me a far worse nickname than the one I gave myself and all of you know me as. Do you remember Sergei? Not someone most people knew, and not really a noticeable person at all, but he would occasionally play these games as long as they didn’t get too big. No one really knew much about him. Yeah, that’s him. Yes, that gaunt and lined face, right. One of those people who no one can imagine ever being young. He wore an old-fashioned raincoat even when the weather was good. He also never wore a t-shirt with a big slogan on it like a normal human. So, you know, just always something off about him, but an okay guy not prone to disagreement, at least I thought at first. I think Sergei even had some sort of system for making bets, if you know the type.
So anyway – and this was way back – we were all playing late at the Endboss, late into the night and who should wander into the poker room but Sergei in that raincoat. He took it off, and I swear to god, there was another raincoat underneath! Okay, cool, I’m very open minded. You never know why someone does what they do and you shouldn’t judge.
So anyway we got into some pot and I decided to really blast this draw really hard, really test him out and got the fold. That’s when I heard him speak for the first time. It was a kind of croaking voice, a bit low and dark.
He said I’d made a big bet, too big for him, and then he said it: “you’re Big Bet Bob.”
I was a little stunned. First off, I had no idea he even had a voice, or maybe I’d just missed out on any conversation with him. What mattered was, I was tremendously irritated by this flippant comment. Why do I have to take this bullshit, I remember thinking. I did not like the sound of “Big Bet Bob,” and I was afraid it would stick.
Yes, I make large bets, bets that accomplish something, that’s true. But “Big Bet” sounds like, well, like the next sentence is “too big” and by the way, how does he know what’s big and not big? That’s just no way to handle yourself, not at the poker table. The best thing in poker and in life is to say little, isn’t there a Dylan song about that? However, Sergei wasn’t a big factor and the nickname died as soon as it was born. He just never understood how we in poker work, you know what I mean? In fact, I don’t even remember seeing him when we hit the cage: he was already long gone.
Even so, I wasn’t happy when Sergei came back into the games last week. It was another late night, and I had been telling the table some stories about my divorce as well as some poker stuff. Then, there he was. To see Sergei come in dampened my mood immediately. It’s just not welcoming, and I’m not sure that face belongs in a casino; I’m sure there’s a better place somewhere for him. We’d all heard the rumors that he had lost his bankroll or his wife or some other problem that no one cares about, but players have a way of bouncing back and rubbing a few nickels together despite their minor setbacks.
Well, the game went on and by the time I finished my story Sergei was already fitting in, making himself comfortable all over again. In fact, he even turned to me, and I was ready to argue if he called me Big Bet Bob once again. I wasn’t going to take it this time around.
“Good to see you Bob, talkative as ever.”
The rage built up inside me – talkative? What does that mean? I simply nodded and decided not to speak to him, clearly Sergei was not a reasonable person and probably has a lot of strange opinions no one should encourage. No, I didn’t like the implication at all, and it brought back a lot of bad experiences from the past. Was he also going to call me Big Bet Bob again and drag up all that drama? Basically, even though I will always stand up for myself if challenged or threatened like this, I’m very reasonable so I just avoided him the rest of the night and that seemed to solve the problem.
However, I couldn’t avoid him forever, because there was poker to be played. I ended up putting Sergei all in, and he couldn’t find the call. His stack was going nowhere, and he soon left. Felt right, at first. In fact, maybe I had overreacted just a bit because now I suddenly felt a little more charitable. Well, I found my voice at the table again, and mostly forgot about Sergei.
Haven’t seen him since that night. The truth is, I found myself feeling almost magnanimous not long after Sergei disappeared, ready to let people say more things that are clearly wrong. Why did I care so much, after all? There’s a culture barrier sometimes, and Sergei’s English probably isn’t that good; maybe, looking back, the way he said Big Bet Bob like it was Bi Bim Bap was a clue that he just wasn’t at all familiar with our ways here, that his life path was even more circuitous than I’d ever imagined.
I think I’ll be more prepared for any of the odd things he says, anyway, should he return, but really, I think it will be a long time before we all have to worry about Sergei again.
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