“Tongs,” the meat man commands. “Thank you.”
I was unaccustomed to pieces of filet mignon being vertically flayed into my plate from a twenty eight inch harpoon. A little slow as to my part of the performance.
“Excuse me.” I flipped the juicy flesh off the skewer onto my plate of cold squash, lightly oiled kale, and the sweetest pepper bacon known to man and shuddering beast.
“What I want,” said Gargamel, covering his mouth with his hand in a curious habit probably enforced by some girlfriend, “Is an entire brick of steak in my stomach.”
Luka laughed and stabbed a lettuce leaf. A big man already full on petty criminals, he required no bovine sacrifice.
“I don’t see how,” I wondered aloud, “that is a good idea.”
But maybe for Big O it is. Something has to get you through the split pots and the throwing away of straights.
The real problem is, Gargamel just won’t play small any more. He’s got the Itch. The Bug. The taste for the Big Money. Since breaking into the Groton game, since annoying Danielle Anderson and her snotty friends with his endless and brazen travel rungood, all he can do is dream of big pots.
Gargamel just doesn’t get it up for one slash two. He thinks in greens and blacks now, that palette us low limit shuffling crabs don't dream in. He’s gone all Mike McD on my sorry Knish.
So, of course I had a lot of fun watching him squirm at Final Table, our first stop (G. humorously puts his name on the 5/10 list, with no one even on the 2/5. Hope). It’s a far less luxurious place which reminded me of another interval in my poker career, Mondays at the Raj Hole, a scuzzy underground home game not far from here. There was something secret and special and personal about the lack of shuffle machine, the sardonic host with the horrible curry and whiskey breath, his tournament dreams and perpetual debts. The grim, black solitude of playing for chump change that added up to real dollars if and only if you thought, lasted, and fought long enough.
It’s as if real poker shouldn’t be seen. Maybe on television we should only watch middle aged success stories flip for stacks with punks who work out five times a week. Maybe that’s the best face of poker.
I limp along in the BB after the button straddles. I have, of course, a plan.
The big winner at the table, and by that, I mean $35 dollars and a bag of Tim’s Cascade Chips, raises to $15. He has near the top of his range, but does not give off the vibe of the Ultra Premiums, that sweet dark, unfiltered stuff you only get maybe once a session. He’s acting like this because he has a hand but is also trying to project both strength and casualness. He’s not satisfied: he has exactly tens or jacks. Ok, maybe nines but I doubt it, because he thinks there is a difference.
The table naturally folds; they don’t want to fight him. He’s thin and white and tight and reads some dumb poker forum somewhere, full of people telling us what they don’t mind. They think folding is the answer. They think the oxygen runs forever.
The button folds and Mr. Miagi calls from the small. He has a speculative hand and just surrendered fifteen dollars.
Pat of the plan. I raise to…
“Seventy?” Thin white guy, poker forum guy, gulps a little. There’s a little air in his passage, even if there is none in his range. He’s a tight aggressive player, a poker cliché, and he’s caught in the deep grip of the TAG’s Dilemma, victim of his range and static approach to the game.
After some consideration he decides to call, and Mr. Miagi folds. A deep believer in honor at the table, Miagi only plays face up. Gambatte kudasai.
At first there is trouble on the AKx flop, because out of turn, our Taggy friend makes a movement to ship it in!
I have to pause and reflect. I’ve hit the nut flop for my range. Is he acting? What’s going on?
It’s a moment of the poker darkness no one wants to see and no one will ever pay to see.
Somewhere Monad is folding flushes. Somewhere Imperator is typing a subheader. Somewhere a tournament donk is begging for a stake. Maybe something worse, nearby. Someone is choosing Lana not Katy.
Gargamel’s stomach gurgles, enbricked, nearly, in fact, square, oddly.
I announce my action.
“All in?” Taggy repeats. In some places, maybe even here, this would be a declaration, but it’s so clearly a question, no one, not even the grim dealer, a tough woman who has watched many dreams flushed into the Willamette, remonstrates.
“Ok.” He hesitates for the crunch of one chip and folds.
I show him the four and not the eight. I'm not sure if that's the right card, really. The show one game has its subtleties.
After I collect my bruising, one hour victory, the break even members of the team want to leave. Luka has gotten addicted to the snackier confines of the Portland Meadows, promised action. Gargamel wants in on a possible 5/10. In fact, he'll go on to sit in the Big O, promised variance.
It is, admittedly, a much better spot, if less dingy cool. It's old school, old cool. It is a real race track, and quiet but for the poker players and the beamed in track stuff, watching the ponies or whatever it is those people do in front of the monitors and a Gin Fizz:
Quietly gamble, unseen, while the day grows old, tricky, and full of plans.