In Hollywood, the stars pay hundreds of dollars per hour to get over the fact their mom was an alcoholic and their dad liked to wear corsetts on the weekends. At poker tables, the group therapy only costs the blinds and rake. In Tunica, the rake was a $5 per half-hour time drop.
My dad took me to the circus. My mom made me Snicker Doodles and ice cream floats. I didn't have much to talk about, but I paid my $5 per half hour anyway.
"I don't know what it is. Six months ago I washed my hands whenever I went to the bathroom. Now, I have to do it ever half an hour or I get a little weirded out."
That was the man who owned the restaurants in Columbus, Georgia and across the border in Alabama who was wearing a loud cowboy shirt. He was proud of his chemise and strained to point out that if we saw him tomorrow, he'd be wearing one that was even more offensive. He didn't know then that when we saw him tomorrow, he'd be wearing the same shirt, having sat at the same table for nearly 24 hours. When I sat down, he had about $1300 sitting in front of him and was the biggest stack at the table. I'd bought in for $500 and was waiting to see if he would be an easy or hard mark.
"Bloody Mary mix with salt on the rim of the glass," he ordered when the cocktail watress came by. He was sober and friendly. I didn't have a read on him when the big dude in the cutoff made it $25 to go. The singer/bassist girl on the button folded and I peaked at my cards in the small blind. I'd only been there for a half an hour and I was already looking at pocket aces. The restauranteur was the only player left to act. If I simply called, he'd have to call $20 more into a $55 pot. At the time, I ignored the 2-1 he'd be getting and smooth called. So did he. The flop came down JTx. I bet, he raised, the big dude folded, and again, I decided to be clever and just called. The turn brought another ten. I jammed the rest of my money in as fast as I could. He called just as fast, showing me JT for second nuts. I was drawing dead to an ace which never came.
"Sorry," the guy said. He actually seemed like he meant it.
The girl sitting on my left (and seen at the left here) went by the name Piper Skih. She said she was named after the plane. I didn't ask if Skih was her real name. I was too struck by her beauty and impossibly good attitude and friendliness. She'd been the bassist in a Dallas-area band called "Blue October" but apparently had moved on to new projects. Her husband was sitting at the next table. Every few minutes, the guy looked over his shoulder and checked in on his girl. It was evident that he was either concerned about how she was playing or that some poker player might make a move on her. I wanted to reassure him that she was playing a good tight game and that every guy at the table would not ever quite make it into Piper's league.
"I have a freakish sense of smell," Piper said at the very same moment I realized I hadn't washed my hands after I ate at the Grand's buffet. I'd rested my chin on my hands and the smell of peel-and-eat shrimp slipped up my nostrils.
Jesus Christ, I thought. This beautiful girl can smell my skanked up hands.
I should've realized right then that I was not in the right mindset to play poker. I'd busted out of the $200 second chance tourney in 26th place out of 108 and got paid nothing. I'd busted out of a single table satellite on the very first hand when I raised five limpers with AK, got two callers, flopped king-high with two spades, pushed all in to get rid of the flush draw, and got called by 4-6 of spades. He got there and I was off to the cash games. Now, I was worried more about a pretty girl smelling shrimp on my hands than how to play cards.
As soon as I could, I ran to the bathroom and washed my hands with industrial soap and hot water. I rushed back before the blinds passed me and sat down.
"I lost 150 pounds in six months," said the guy in the cowboy shirt. After I conducted a brief interview, I learned the guy had once weighed 310 pounds. He'd had gastric bypass surgery and lost half his body weight. It was around that time, he said, that he started getting obsessive compulsive about his hygeine.
"I've gained 100 pounds in the last year." That was the big dude in the one-seat. He was a walker, a guy who had to have a smoke every 20 minutes, and who had been pretty chatty for a Mississippi local. "Then my life took a bad turn." Over the next ten minutes, Piper the group therapy director, listened intently as the guy talked about going from walking around with $20,000 at any given time, making $50,000 a year playing poker, to losing everything, including his family and home. Somewhere in there, the guy put on 100 pounds and had found the will to leave his bed and play cards again. Oddly, I believed him. He seemed genuine, if not a very good card player.
It was a family pot where I was again in the small blind. Pocket threes looked like fucking gold when the flop came down 234 rainbow. I checked, again being clever, and watched as somebody in the middle of the table bet out and the big guy raised it to $100. The big guy had about $200 behind, so I decided it was as good a time as any to raise. I put in a raise to $300. The guy in the midddle folded and the big guy insta-called with 5-6 off and the flopped straight. The board didn't pair and again, I was a victim of my own bad play and bad reads. Piper watched with something near fascination as I pulled the roll out of my pocket and thumbed off a few more bills.
"I have a confession to make," I said. Piper, the restauranteur, and the big guy all turned to me. The big guy was stacking my chips. His chips, actually.
I turned to Piper. "I had a big dinner at the buffet. I ate a lot of shrimp."
Everyone was looking at me like I'd just sprouted a penis from my cheek.
"So, when Piper said she had a freakish sense of smell, I got to worrying that my hands stunk. So, I just went and washed them...vigorously."
Piper burst into a belly laugh. I blushed. "Vigorously?" she said.
"Yeah," I said. "With vigor."
Still struck with the funny, Piper kept laughing. Suddenly, the big guy was giving me the eye. I felt uneasy.
"Hey," he said There was an unintentional grumble in his voice, like he was 70-year-old progeny of Jabba the Hut and a Sicilian. I looked in his direction and he was leaning across the felt. I suddenly realized he was about to offer me something in the way of sage advice. "Next time," he said, "take a lemon and rub it on your hands. Takes that fishy smell right out." I swear to God, the 300 pound man just might have been Martha Stewart on a bad day.
The dealer continued dealing. I found myself stuck about $1300. Piper leaned over and whispered, "I couldn't smell your hands."
And suddenly I felt absolved. It was like, well damn, if Piper's freakish sense of smell couldn't pick up the smell of shrimp on my hands, I probably should be paying more attention to the poker.
By and by, Piper left, and the big guy left, and other people came and left. By 6am, eight hours into my session, I'd erased my losses I think a lot of it had to do with the guy I called Boomhauer. If Mike Judge had a prototype for the dang-ol' character on King of the Hill, it was the guy in the sunglasses at the end of the table. More people than I could count turned to me and asked, as if I knew, "What did he just say?"
Only once was I able to accurately transcribe what Boomhauer said: "I'd rather have offsuits. That's two shots at the flush draw."
I should've gotten up right then, break-even on the day, and eight hours into the session. Instead, I lost $500 on a set versus runner-runner full house.
I sat back and steamed a bit, only able to congratulate myself for not losing more. The well-rested and showered sharks started to filter in at daybreak. With no max-buy, they sat with $3000 or $4000 and eyed the rest of us. I'd been awake for 24 hours and I was glad Piper was gone, because I was starting to stink. At the end of the table, an old guy that might have been a guitar tech for Crosby, Stills, and Nash, got in a hand with one of the fresh sharks. The shark raised pre-flop and the older guy popped him back. On the flop, the shark decided to put the old guy all in for his final $600. The old dude insta-called, showing a pair of threes.
Incredulous, the shark turned over pocket aces.
As the dealer burned and turned the turn, the old guy started to explain, "I saw you make that same move yesterday with nothing better than ace-king."
The river came off. The table gasped. It was a three.
The older dude cringed. "I thought you had ace-king."
Shaking his head, the shark said, "Good read, sir."
The old dude suddenly exploded in self-loathing. "No, it wasn't a good read! It was a triumph of goddamned ignorance!"
That's when I knew it was about to be over for me. I should quit right then, I knew. But the game was too good. A foreign pony-tailed guy had sat down and was throwing a party and I knew I could get even if I just sat long enough.
During a break from the table, I ran into Taylor, a young unshaven guy I'd been playing with all night long.
"Look at this," he said, pulling three slips of paper out of his pocket. "ATM receipts." He explained that he'd come in from Alabama with $700 in his pocket. He'd been up to as much as $2000 and down several hundred as well. "I had to call my wife and tell her 'I took some money out of the bank.'"
His unshaven cheeks were a little rosy from having taken a big pot off Loud Cowboy Shirt. "I feel sort of bad," he said. Cowboy Shirt had fallen from a high of $2000 to buying back in twice and now being stuck for $1000. "That guy had a lot of money when I sat down."
"Taylor," I said, "you know this as well as I do. We can all be friendly when we're sitting there. But when it comes to poker and money, there are no friendships."
Taylor stubbed out his cigarette and said, "Yeah, I know" in a way that said, "Yeah, I know, but I don't like it."
Back at the tables, it was nearly 10am. I'd been playing poker since 3pm the day before and at the same table since 10pm the night before. I had the button and $1000 sitting in front of me. As usual, the observant players had started to refer to me as "locked down," AKA the guy who is only playing hard if he has a hand. Sleepless, I was ready to exploit the image. A raise to $15 came in and I made it $35 to go. Taylor called out of the big blind, as did the initial raiser.
The table captain, a brash former baseball player who was currently facing charges for beating the hell out of his wife's lover, looked at Taylor and said, "Remember what I told you." The implication was clear. Don't get involved in a hand with the Lockdown.
"I know," Taylor said.
The flop came out queen-high and Taylor pushed $100 into the middle. The guy in the middle folded and without a second thought I made it $300 to go. Taylor thought for a moment then called the $200. The table captain shook his head, as if he were about to watch Taylor lose his stake.
The turn was a blank, and this time, Taylor checked to me.
"Three hundred, again," I said.
Again, Taylor struggled, and then reluctantly put three red stacks in the middle.
I glanced up and realized everybody at the table was watching. The Showered Sharks were staring intently. One even gave me a nod, as if to say, "It's yours, buddy."
I was fully prepared to push my stack on the river if Taylor checked to me. Instead, a queen came on the river and Taylor pushed in the rest of his chips.
"Oh. My. God," The table captain said. "Fucking incredible."
I put on a good show for the table, pretending to consider my cards for 30 or 40 seconds, before throwing them disgustedly in the muck.
The most-Showered of the Sharks nodded toward me and said what everybody at the table--except Taylor--already knew. "He had aces or kings."
Taylor flipped up AQ and showed it to me like he was doing me a favor.
"I know," I said, then grabbed the cash I had left on the table. "Gentlemen, it's been fun, but I need to sleep now."
As I walked away, I knew the table captain, the Showered Sharks, the Loud Cowboy Shirt, and even Mr. Ponytail were still shaking their heads about my bad luck. Even Taylor now knew how lucky he'd been.
My pocket jacks were shuffled back into the deck and the game continued as if I had never been there.