It’s all old men today.
I hustle past one on the sidewalk, but ahead, another totters over his cane.
When I sit down at a café next to the biotech firm, there is one sitting with nothing in front of him. His hands are filthy and his nails long and dirty. He is covered in a greasy hoodie. He talks to himself.
There is an underpass full of tents and garbage nearby.
I have a with salad and tea and glass of water.
My salad? Seasonal and fresh.
I can’t enjoy this meal with this fellow sitting here, so I offer to buy him something.
He accepts. Do you want cream?
I mean, you need it.
I head to the counter.
Now with a hot drink, the man relaxes and leans back for the first time. He crosses his legs in comfort.
This man’s life is beyond rescue in the sense that I would want, but it occurs to me that this is not his standard.
Yet I don’t have any idea what his standard is. What I think might salvage him may not.
I close my eyes and am in a car that is worn and familiar. I turn the key and switch and over. But there isn’t a lot of time- if any. Maybe I don’t actually have the key, and like a sleep walker, I am sitting my car, fumbling with unseen switches.
There are limitations to everything. What are my standards for what's next?
Sitting here next to this man, I evaluate my current condition, starting with the physical: The very last disk of my spine hurts, and I know I can’t do anything too vigorous in this state.
Who can be rescued? What can be rescued?
I leave before the man does… I wondered, is he going to start talking to me?
Can I handle that anymore?
I close my eyes and am back at the Borgata Resort and Casino.
The first time I was mess. I took the job on a whim to escape myself- a maneuver following some cliché about doing things that made sense when I still felt remotely human.
For the first days I sat in the shower for long stretches, my head hurting with a dull, dry ache, completely new to me, one which invoked a physical exhaustion and a dehydration of some hidden nodule of the brain.
After a year of hiding in my apartment, sleeping only to awake to nightmares, seeing the sun only to smoke, of searching the blank, overwhelmed faces of those who were supposed to offer help, of burning through almost every dollar I’d ever saved and earned, decimating my bankroll to crisis level, I had found something I could still do well:
Write about poker.
I rose every day to the occasion. I needed my shift like a psychotic needs his meds. I wore my media pass like a uniform, even when I wasn’t working, to remind myself I have a purpose in existing.
Now, for this second pass I was toughened – and ready. I wanted to feel this purpose again, and sometimes I did.
It’s hard not knowing all the faces. I’m not the legendary tournament blogger Will O’Connor, the man who made tournament blogging cool, pretty much all on his own, apparently. These aren’t my people here in the northeast, and the deep advantage he had as a local was felt in his style and now absent in mine.
What I do is what I know: poker and human details. I focus on stories and give hints of strategy. In truth, I can’t really tell the unknowns from the celebrities. I have to ask famous players their names, embarrassing myself. I ask players four times for their name – part of my depression is affecting my memory. The wise ones oblige kindly, the egotistical give me grief.
I try to be a reporter. If you finished fourth at the Cherokee Tall Stacks Classic, I’m not the blogger who is going to share the good news, I’m afraid. I favor hand histories and their details, quotations from the players on the respective situation, and – critically- action photos of what is happening rather than portrait shots.
This last one is a little dicey. I definitely get some complaints about “not a good” photo, when of course it’s the most accurate photo you will find. Unlike in my drawings, you really do look like that! I enjoy these shots immensely and take pride in getting revelatory ones – grimaces, bugged out eyes, strange interactions, poor posture, tilted unhappiness, or pure ridiculous joy.
I’m not young, and that also affects my work. The breakneck pace is hard on me, and the endless hoops to post and keep to a schedule leaves me distracted, famished and exhausted.
In other words: If only I could do this every day!
However, the best evening was, in fact, when the Borgata blog crashed completely. The developers had not anticipated the level of traffic the massively successful Winter Poker Open would create. From day one there were signs of troubles, with intermittent outages and system errors. A week in: disaster. You'll have to also forgive them the endless glitches in the website and on my posts - getting this stuff sorted out, or I should say, not sorted out, was also part of the drama.
The blog completely shut down and the back end staff were off and unavailable to repitch the tent: Saturday night. While Kaelaine focused on a desperate work around involving Google Drive, online documents and the long strands of her frizzled hair, I decided to live Tweet the whole thing. Simple. Freed from the process of the blogging site, which takes hundreds of keystrokes and clicks just to format, correct, and mount a post, I kept the players and audience completely abreast of the action for several hours. Instead of hearing from me every half hour, I was able to Tweet every five minutes- even with photos. It would take a whole media team of WPT staff to accomplish this on their own site, and for mostly the same level of detail.
So, everyone in that tournament was happy and I was immersed. Mysteriously, the blog went back up near midnight – probably with the player demand dropping for the evening - and I reluctantly stopped Tweeting and resumed writing posts - inconsistency of medium does not make for good reporting, as access is key. The great parts of the Borgata blog – room for detail and relevant information – are of course valuable, and I make the most of the space with extra photos and detail. However, what the players often want is instantaneous information, and for once, they got it.
One player that was particularly pleased with all the coverage, whether Tweeted or Blogged, was Bladimir Mercedes, the self-proclaimed Donkey of the Sands. His great attitude and big personality made him a natural subject for photography and writing, and I favored him without remorse, attempting to include him whenever I could. It’s not a zero sum game, the tournament blogging, as I can include extra photos very easily and no one has any reason to dispute my choice – unless I am somehow missing an equally fun and charismatic player.
However, the carnival ends. Soon I was on the bus to New York, some unpleasant surprises, and back to smoking after two full months of health. Coaching is heating up - a student subgroup is focused on studying some excellent material that will steward them through.
My two stays at the Borgata have kept me afloat but the travels - the hard and the easy part - are over.
I close my eyes and am back home.
Habits. I'm back in the cafe. I ask for a plate twice, standing a foot from the owner and he hands me a muffin on a paper bag. He's pretending to not hear so that he doesn't have to wash a dish. It's freezing and he is leaving the doors open. Is he trying to drive everyone away? I wonder if he would burn the place down if the insurance was right. I ask him how things are going and he tells me business is tough. I didn't have to ask. He's sunk everything into this endeavor, and changes everything every two months, firing people, the menu, the layout on a regular basis.
I can hit refresh, too. New morning. Different cafe. I buy a transient I have known for years a coffee and a breakfast sandwich. I can handle it, at least now, and I interpret his mumbling for the barista. To my surprise, he wants it in a bag to go, unheated, this rock of reconstituted egg, cheap meat, cheaper cheese, and cheapest bread. He has an appointment of some sort, he explains. A busy day.
I, with no where to go, take a seat at the counter.
A young man sits beside me. After about an half an hour he begins clicking his pen. Soon he moves on to rapping the table. He's got his head phones on and as these people want to do, he is showing the world how relaxed and in the groove he is. He types a few words on his computer - he has some logo he's working on adding sales text to - and then starts knocking our shared table again, wanting appreciation. It's hard to think while he shakes the counter with this thoughtless percussion.
Finally he slams his hands down, imitating the drum flourish only he is hearing, ready to go off to his next oblivious activity. Fed up, I'm about to object - this is what I can't handle, it seems - but what I see isn't him when I look his way.
I see all the people in his life who accommodate him, encourage him, put up with and even ignore his stupidities in order to be a part of his better qualities and his great future- the future of a young man.
I close my eyes.