There is no plot. It's like life. The game waxes and wanes despite my playing, sleeping, winning, or losing. It's all underground. It's all in a couple of illegal poker rooms within a 30-minute drive of my house. Online poker gives us the freedom to see thousands more hand per year. Live games, especially the ones in the illegal rooms, give us the chance to see people--nay, characters--that serve as a nucleus to a confounding human drama that surrounds the underground poker community. If it were one long story, I would write it. Instead, it's just people.
The girl with the name that means Christmas was on a flush draw. If it wasn't evident by the way she was playing her hand, it was pretty clear she needed a diamond to come off. She was singing, just loud enough for everybody to hear, "Diamonds are a girl's best friend."
Christmas lady is pretty enough, in her mid-30s, and a lover of domestic beer. She's tight, friendly, and void of negative emotion. She knows how to deal with bullshit and she doesn't care if she's giving off a tell bigger than the room. Oddly, no one noticed her singing but Snake and me, neither of whom was in the hand.
"Do you know who sang that song?" Snake asked. His voice was all New York City. We know his name because it is tattooed in the soft part of his throat, where a doctor would punch a hole for a tracheotomy. He wore a t-shirt with cut-off sleeves.
Christmas had drank more beer on this night than she usually did. Taking her eyes off the cards for a second, she laughed, "Janet Jackson?"
Snake looked like mildly disgusted. Or depressed. It was hard to tell. His face looked like it had launched a thousand Harleys and his skin looked like it rarely saw light. Prison-skin, I thought at the time.
A few other people asked "Which song?" and then ventured guesses that ranged from the inspired to the ridiculous. Snake didn't shake his head or sigh. His eyes told the whole story.
After Christmas had missed her flush and mucked, she turned to Snake. "So, who sang it?"
Snake's eyes went a little dreamy. It was the look of an old man remembering the war. The permanent paint that spanned the length of Snake's thick arms told a story of a hard life, one spent fighting and fucking and riding until it was time to quit drinking. But his eyes, they told a tale of times gone by, of lonely nights, and of the one time he cried.
"Marilyn Monroe," he said.
The players "ahhhh"-ed appreciatively and then looked at their hole cards.
A little softer, Snake said, "You wanna see her?"
I thought I knew what he meant. His life story was painted up and down his arms, on the back of his neck, on his throat. I knew Norma Jean was somewhere on his body.
Snake reached down and pulled his left pant leg up to his knee. In the shadow of the poker table, I saw her. The Blonde Bombshell, in perfect strokes, stared out from stage right on his shin. And she had company. Bogey, straight out of Casablanca, was at stage left. In the orchestra pit, near Snake's black dress sock, was Elvis.
Christmas' husband and I stared, maybe a little too long, then complimented the work. Snake said he'd had it done in Anaheim. While he talked, I wondered how a man with such a thick New York accent had made it all the way across country to California, then down to the backwoods of South Carolina to play poker in an underground game. I supposed if Snake had stripped naked, I could've read the story for myself.
It wasn't long after the shin show that Snake stood and cashed out a little bit to the good. Someone asked him to stay for a little while longer.
"Can't," Snake said. He looked a little embarassed. "Got a guy coming to wax my bike in the morning."
No one said a word, but Snake seemed like he needed to offer more. "First time I've let someone else do it in my life. Gotta supervise."
And then, "My knees just can't handle it anymore."
And that was Snake, it seemed. He'd been from one coast to another on two wheels. He'd paid people to record his life from neck to foot. Whether by choice or circumstance, Snake had found his way to a community that was neither city nor Calafornia paradise. Whether he was on the lam or just tired, Snake was now playing poker and paying people to shine his ride.
Snaked walked out and we kept playing as the Harley started in the yard and sputtered into the night.
Some of the people are just people. They are the guy who sits down and within three minutes has somehow worked into the conversation that he had withdrawn his entire lifesavings the night before Krispy Kreme went public and invested it in the next day's IPO. He's the guy who doesn't notice or doesn't care when most of his opponents roll their eyes and talk about pulling out the hip-waders.
Then there's the guy who rarely wins or stays late. He invests his first half buy-in and then leaves. He's bookish, aging, and polite. On one night, he will get lucky. It will be the night that people are astounded when he hits sets four times in an hour and draws out for a 2.5 buy-in pot with an open-ender versus top two. The same man, who no one has ever heard utter a foul word in his life, is asked, "What did you eat for breakfast this morning?"
Without a beat, the 60-ish man stacks his chips, looks up, and says, "Pussy."
Then there's the guy who calls for a jack every time he is in a pot. He has hair that looks like a bad toupee but is not. He rarely speaks and has a Doyle Brunson gaze when he looks at the table. The only other interesting thing about the guy is that people call him "Jimmy Foreskin."
"One thousand dollars," he muttered.
The Greeks had walked in several hours earlier and had been playing at different tables than I had. I had no idea whether they had collectively lost $1,000 or if the guy muttering had lost $1,000 himself.
"One thousand dollars," he said again, and then looked at his buddy across the table. "One thousand dollars tonight? We could've had women, and drugs, and...women. But, no, you wanted to play cards."
Over the course of the conversation, I gathered that the Greeks were gypsies who had spent most of their life in South Carolina. One of the group seemed like he had Americanized himself very well. The other two still seemed stuck in the world of fortune telling, spells, and the art of theivery.
"We wouldn't have spent $1,000 at Platinum," the Americanized Greek protested. "No way we spend $1,000 at Platinum."
A young American kid broke into the conversation. "Why go to Platinum? Go to Nepals. Take $40 and go into the VIP room at Nepals and you'll come out one satisfied customer."
American Greek seemed to enjoy the potential debate. "No. Platinum. It's the best." Even the kid didn't seem to want to argue the issue. It was a matter of preference. But the Greek continued. "I go in the back room of Platinum--I come in my pants."
Nearly every player at the table looked up from their cards, but no one said a word.
"I do! I come in my pants," he shouted, as if we didn't believe him. "Go in the back room, come in my pants. I do!"
For the first time in hours, the table was completely quiet, as if two seconds of silence could serve as a collective, "Right on, man. Thanks for sharing."
"Florida," said the first Greek. "We could've left tonight with $1,000 and gone to Florida. Women, drugs, women. And you wanted to play cards."