It was funny that John still played poker. After all the success, the books and articles, the interviews, that funny commercial, even the inauguration thing, he not only showed up to the game, he showed up every night.
I don’t track other players results as much as judge them on a few intangibles, maybe a bet sizing or a comment that demonstrates understanding. It doesn’t take much to see a savvy opponent. Yet with John, I was never really confident he knew what was going on, but I couldn’t say the opposite either. I chocked it up to his obviously high intelligence and maybe some naivete. Really, to me he was a mystery in all ways.
Worse, the truth is I was probably more than a little jealous. This is supposed to be my world, but he was so gracious and pleasant and famous, why did it seem like his? Probably I resented his hair, too.
However, everything changed the other night. Whether it was the beers or the losing, John finally told us more than he had ever said.
“I hate this game, hate it!” Really roaring too. Normally I’d just be embarrassed for some drunken asshat, probably laugh like the villain I am, but my heart was beating a bit, as if a fight was going to break out, even though all of us geezers probably couldn’t get up out of chairs without losing our breath. It was really surprising that John was doing this. His goddamned cashmere sweater couldn’t hide the pounding of his chest.
“Then why do you play?” someone asked. Good question.
“Because this is the only thing I do that isn’t a joke!”
“Of course it’s a joke!” I snapped at him, happy to engage the legend at long last. Yes, it suddenly struck me that I never spoke to him in my resentful miserliness. Yet now I was so relieved to learn he was such a simpleton, after all. “It’s a game, and you’re a genius in your field. Take it easy!”
Yet that’s when he looked directly at me… and surprised me.
“I’ve never understood this game, it’s impossible, it can only be the case that all of us benefit from the randomness, but it’s clear to me that I should actually be beating you all, all the time, if I studied it like everything else in my life. But if the deck makes us all equal, why would I want to change that and ruin all the fun and happiness?”
Well, obviously we laughed at this pure ignorance and the game went on. John frowned and dabbed some sweat off his face in a rather elitist way.
However, John never came back, and that was a relief, because I never had a good answer for him; I mean I had a lot of answers and even gave him some that night – not a serious one, I guess. I’m just glad he’s finally gone, and I can go back to taking money from my neighbors.