The girl had piercings where momma wouldn't have liked them. She sucked on vodka and Red Bulls and stacked ceramic poker chips in front of her. She had seven blue Palms chips and an absent button on the table's racetrack. And she looked like she wanted to ride the spikey-haired kid beside her until the sun rose over the Nevada desert.
"I don't know about you," Wil said to the kid, "but if she were looking at me the way she's looking at you, I wouldn't be playing poker right now."
I played very little serious poker during my six-week Vegas stay. I played maybe 20 hours of $2/$5 no-limit hold'em, two hours of $20/$40 limit, five or six satellites ranging from $175 to $525, five tournaments that ranged from $110 to $225, and one $1,500 WSOP event. All in all, it was not a profitable trip. Among my friends, I had the distinction of making two final tables and having exactly no money to show for it.
In fact, I only had fun playing cards four times in six weeks. One time was a $2/$5 game that had nearly $40,000 on the table (that may be a story for another day). The other three times were playing low-limit ($3/$6) mixed games with my fellow writers and PokerStars employees.
"She's a Keno player," Spikey said, eying the young lady. He might have been serious.
I couldn't figure the guy out. When he sat down, he pretended like he'd never played HORSE before. It's the same thing I've heard from lots of players who consider themselves experts. They think they are hustlers and plan to roll the table for all it is worth. This guy was an exception. He really had no idea what he was doing. And not just in poker. This girl wanted to lick every part of his barely post-pubscent body and make him beg for her to stop.
He wanted to play poker with us.
To be fair, at first, I thought she was a hooker. She had more of a hustler's eye than her beau. She had a look that said, "I'm going to take your money and you're going to enjoy it."
However, as the hours passed and her man ran out of money, she stayed. It was evident that she was caught up in the poker player's circle. It's the tilt-a-whirl ride that goes with being a poker player's woman. Her man wants to play, and figuring it means more money or better sex for her, she waits. Most of these women are either gold-diggers or hopeless slatterns who have little chance of finding a man who will love them outside of poker circles.
This girl was just as stuck as Spikey. When she walked away to have a cigarette, her guy went bust. Just to keep the game going, Blue Rabbit and Dan each gave the kid $50 to keep the game going. By the time the girl came back, Spikey was sucking so hard on the poker pipe, he'd completely forgotten he could've gotten laid in a way that would shock most of the sex workers in Las Vegas.
Sharon said, "Excuse me," and elbowed Wil out of the way. My better hand had just held up, and despite her desperate attempts to suck out on me, she had come up with the loser. A half-second later, my towers of chips lay in a giant pile of semi-ruin. Sharon's swat had done a wrecking-ball's work and everybody was laughing.
I took it in stride. Sharon is a friend and a damned good poker player. HORSE at the $3/$6 level is no fun for her unless she is playing every hand and sucking out. I could understand. I'm much the same way.
The only problem was that she started a bit of a trend. Anything I did to piss off another player ended with my towers turning into a pile. Suck out on my boss? Pile. Suck out on Wil? Pile. Have a real hand for once? Yeah, pile.
Eventually, the novelty wore off for my opponents. As the hour grew late and the drinks started to take hold, the effort of standing and swatting became too much.
From the end of the table came a request for Spikey's woman. "I'll give you five dollars to knock his chips over."
As she already had seven unexplained chips sitting in front of her, I knew what was coming. As she leaned in, I could smell her. As she swatted my tower, I wondered how Spikey could be having more fun burying himself in a losing session than burying himself in her.
To keep myself occupied, I started building my stacks in uneven towers. They were monuments to one last good time, one ultimate winning session, and the unexplainable relationship between Spikey and his non-courtesan.
I don't even remember what I did to deserve it, but, once again, the other end of the table was offering the lady $10 to knock over my stack again.
"Ten bucks," someone said. "That's worth it."
The girl was looking at the $12 blue ceramic chips in front of her. In slow motion, her head came up, her dark hair a haphazard frame for her young face. The smell of free poker room doughnuts mixed with her inexpensive perfume. Her eyes swam with well-controlled vodka and Red Bull. She didn't slur when she mused, "Worth it?"
She turned her stare toward me and said, "What's it worth to you for me not to do it?"
That's how I left Las Vegas. As Wil drove me back to my hotel, the sunrise glinted off the Bellagio and I thought about how Vegas will turn anyone into a hustler. It's the desperation that goes along with going broke or loving someone who is about to. It's the sunrises that, instead of waking up to see, you find at the end of your night. It's the need for affection or the ability to give it. It's the yearning for human touch and the supply and demand nature of the Vegas economy.
Several nights later, I woke up from a dream thinking one thing: Sex is the only form of contortion that requires rigidity.
After six sexless weeks in Las Vegas, I finally made it home, as rigid as necessary. Spikey still sits in the back of my mind. I wonder if his lady used her $12 to buy a new sex toy to keep her occupied or to tip the room service guy after he brought the whipped cream. Spikey was barely 21 and already he is ignoring what is certainly good lovin' for the rush that comes from raking in piles of chips. It's amazing what a stack of meaningless ceramic discs can do to one's perspective.
"What's it worth to you for me not to do it?" she had asked.
I never gave her a real answer. Why? Because I would've given her the ten bucks to knock over my chips and make sure I never stacked them up again.