Danny looked like the type of man who could fight 50 years ago. His face was the hard kind, the kind that you see in old black and white family photos, the kind that survived the depression, survived the war, and came out the other side.
It was midnight at Harrah's outside of St. Louis. Danny was old and his fighter-face of the 1950s sat underneath a bald, liverspotted head. His muscles had atrophied and his skin hung like parchment paper from a deadwood frame.
Every time he folded, he said the same thing.
It was like he'd been saying it in poker games for the past 60 years and couldn't help himself. He sat on my left and waited for my mucking motion. As soon as he saw it, he said, "I'm out."
He played tight. Too tight, even. If he was in a pot, I was out.
At one point, Danny stood up. Two minutes later, I smelled it coming half a second before I felt it. It was coffee with cream. It was hot. And it was all over me.
Danny stood--rickety--above me.
"I'm so sorry," he said. Fifty years ago, he would've said something else and maybe challenged me to a fight. Now, he was just hoping I didn't say something to embarass him.
"We need a towel," the dealer said.
I broke the tension. "And a shower!" I yelled.
We got everything cleaned up. I sort of liked Danny. Depsite being clumsy and scalding me with coffee, he was a nice guy.
Something happened after that. He couldn't fold draws. He had to see rivers.
I flopped my top pair on a board with two hearts and knew what he had before he called my first bet and my all-in on the turn. He showed it to me on the river and I took all Danny's chips when he missed the flush.
"I'm out," he said. This time, he really meant it. He stood up and walked out without saying anything more.
The stains came out of my shirt and pants. The smell is gone. I have Danny's money in my pocket right now.
For some reason, despite feeling like I came out on the winning side of that fight, I almost wish none of it had ever happened. I sort of wish Danny hadn't been there, hadn't been embarassed, and hadn't lost. I want to take most people's money. Even people who spill coffee on me. Danny, however, sort of made me sad.
When I'm 75 years old, I don't want to be Danny. What's worse is that sometimes I feel like I'm a lot closer than I think.