New Shoes

In what is developing into a pattern, I sleep through the day and wake up at the last possible moment. I am in a fog and my brain refuses to engage the world. I grab a t-shirt and clean underwear. These socks are nasty; I need a clean pair of socks. There are none in the drawer, should I go without socks? Well not exactly. These shoes are the reason the socks are nasty. I need to buy some new shoes. There are plenty of shoes in the closet, I just like these. The comfort and familiarity provide me with piece of mind. I know I have a pair of socks in my gym bag. I can’t find my bag. I hope it is in the car. The jeans look pretty good; I have only worn them for a couple days. My God! Somebody needs to do some laundry. I will try to call mom and see if she can take care of it. I have no time. Better call the casino and let them know I am on my way. I slip the nasty sneakers onto my bare feet and head for the car.

I am on my way and driving way too fast. The tournament started five minutes ago. If I hurry, I will miss only the first round. Looking in the back seat for my gym bag while driving 80 miles per hour on a two-lane road with no shoulders seems far too natural. I look in the mirror and see a monster staring back at me. I look terrible. I should have showered. Hell, I should have slept. How long has it been? I would have sworn there was a clean pair of socks in here. They are dirty socks, but they are socks and I have no other option. My bag stinks, for a guy that never gets to the gym, I wonder how it can smell so bad. Then again that sweaty shirt has been there since before Christmas. An unopened power bar looks amazingly good considering the smell wafting out of the bag. I throw it on the seat with hopes of eating it later.

The sun is slipping down toward the horizon and seems unbearably bright. I am a creature of the night and sunlight is an irritant. Pulling into the casino feels like I have returned home. My brain begins to wake up. Not sure how I got here so fast. Have I really been driving for 20 minutes? Just park the car. I slip off the shoes and catch a whiff of the odor. Definitely going to replace these shoes. I grab the socks from the bag and slip them on. The socks are stiff and kind of crack as I slide my foot in. I see a bottle of baby powder. I can not help myself, I douse the shoes. My brain is kicking into action and I rummage the bag for deodorant. I know it is not a shower but maybe it will help a little. The mirror has improved to just death warmed over. I hit the hair with the finger comb and I am appalled by the greasy fingers I get in return. My hands feel like I have eaten a 20 piece McNugget. If my breath is anything like my mouth tastes, I better find some gum or mints. A quick chug from a days old can of Pepsi and I am ready.

I am running almost full speed and out of breath, both are pathetic. Pedestrians have the right of way, don’t they? I slow down as I get to the doors, somewhat out of politeness and concern for others and primarily from fatigue. I need to get in better shape. I come through the doors and immediately lock onto the poker room. Where is my seat? Am I in the blind? Do I have a hand? Who has chips? Somebody, anybody, please point to my seat. My once idle brain is going a million miles per hour. All of the problems in my life have taken a back seat. I am here. I will win this tournament. This is my nirvana.

Cindy, Cindy, Cindy oh how I love you. My favorite waitress. She has a large Pepsi for me as I slide into my seat. She knows the routine. A 32 ounce Pepsi will be gone in three minutes. I don’t play a hand. I am hungry, I need to wash my mouth out and I need the caffeine. The refill arrives and I am finding my comfort zone. The floorman is by to collect. I pull out my money clip and hand it over. I can’t be bothered to find the correct bills. I have a tournament to win.

There are three tables tonight. Twenty seven people are signed up. I am next to last to arrive. Big Paul is running late tonight. Hippy Rick is already situated at the live game waiting for the fish to arrive. Timmy H busted out on the second hand when he slow played aces against the flopped straight. Maxine, Don’s wife, played for the first time tonight, unfortunately I miss her six-minute debut. Seems that everyone has waited for me to arrive, the stories are flying and I have work to do. Play the tournament or tell bad-beat stories? The answer seems obvious to me. Why am I the only one with the answer?

Tito is at table two and seems to be running over everyone. He has lots of chips and is moving all in pre-flop every couple hands. He is clearly the chip leader at the moment and no real danger to win it. The good players all have reasonable stacks.

My table has eight players and no real clear cut favorite. Toothless Tom is playing too many hands and his stack shows the wear. He needs to win a hand soon or he will be gone. I have two old women, Trudy and Mikie, and they are just under the starting stack about even with me. Trudy is loose passive and Mikie is tight passive. Looks like Mikie is only missing her blinds, we are almost dead even. I have Trudy covered. Apparently Trudy busted Timmy H and had doubled up and now the chips are all leaked back and then some. Next Card Paul is playing too many hands and whining endlessly, he is second in chips and Pineapple Gene can not let Paul whine unchecked and keeps him agitated with little barbs. They are giving me a headache. Shake and Bake Frank is being quiet and laughing at most of the comments he has tightened up a little too much for this field. Sam from the college is the best player at the table and is doing a masterful job of prying chips away from the others. True to form Next Card Paul makes two pair on the river to crack Sam’s flopped pair of aces with a jack kicker. That helps. Gene is more tilted than Sam by this.

We will combine to two tables at twenty players. There are short stacks and this can happen at anytime. The players are still defending the blinds and King Jack looks too big to pass up for most of these players. I will not be stealing until the blinds get a little bigger. Looking to flop a set and get paid off. I am blinding away, the good thing is the play is so painfully slow that you get only one blind per round. We will be on break at the end of this the third round. Last hand of the round is announced, the temptation is too great and a couple short stacks plunge to avoid coming back after break. The move succeeds and we will be playing two nine handed tables after break.

The casino serves little quarter sandwiches for a snack at break. These are free and the players eat like starving prisoners. I manage to engage myself fully and eat six of these during the break. Somehow, I am just average at eating free food. Food feels good. The breakfast of sandwiches is a step above fast food. I decide I better hit the restroom and give back some of the 96 ounces of Pepsi I consumed in the last 40 minutes.

I catch a bad break when we draw for seats and Tito is behind me with the stack. He has not lost a hand. Hippy Rick says I am in good shape and just need to trap Tito once and I should be able to walk through the field. I tell him that I am waking up. He offers to pay my buy-in for 50%. I tell him I can’t, I haven’t slept much and don’t feel very good. I am not sure my body was ready for food and my guts are rumbling. I tell him I want a seat in the live game and will be over shortly. I am going to change gears.

I am in the small blind, which sucks; I just had the button before we broke the tables. Rags, rags, and rags I get through three easy folds and smile at Hippy Rick. I tell him my clutch went out and I may be stuck in first gear for the rest of the tournament. I snap AA as I am talking and throw in a call. Third into the pot from middle position and this is a suicide mission. Tito is overcome with larceny and pushes all-in. The prey is caught in the trap. Unbeknownst to me it is bonus night and when the trap slams shut it catches young Vinny with pocket tens and he calls Tito for all his chips. I have no choice. To my surprise Tito tables jacks. I triple up and cripple Vinny in the process. I am very close to Tito in chips. I stand and announce that it is all over.

I am bullying the short stacks and wipe out two of them with mild holdings (A7 & QJ). I am not super strong but I have better tickets than they do and I am the aggressor. We go to the final table and I see a new prison worker that I do not recognize. I pull Hippy Rick aside to get a scouting report. He mentions my refusal of his earlier offer and feels I am unduly asking for help. I offer up 10% for his coaching and he jumps in. Not before mentioning that he would charge anyone else more. “Let’s go get the damn money.”

My good friend Slick Rick is right in front of me. Slick Rick is short stacked and pushes from the small blind for about 2.5 times the blind and I have too big of a hand to fold; king ten. Slick Rick has king jack instead of the rag ace I want to see. I am dominated until the ten hits the flop. Slick Rick is gone and his alter-ego P. Rick is leaving the table. Pineapple Gene is also short stacked and probably the next best player. Gene avoids me wisely. Toothless Tom is behind me and he has tightened up significantly mucking twelve hands in a row. After an orbit, my small blind is unopened and I look down to seven deuce and move all in against Tom’s short stack. Tom is too short and makes a stand. I thought he would fold. He had about seven blinds left. Ace nine and he is crying when he calls. I sheepishly turn over the monster I have and true to form I make a pair and he is gone. He has a story to tell his children. I offer a split and only Gene is interested.

Play on boys. I particularly do not like the new guy from the prison. He does not know me and is a little insulting with his comments. He is from Los Angeles and needs to learn small town manners. He is probably the third best player at the table. A reasonably tight aggressive player with decent reads and a penchant to call small bets. He has chips and we will have our day to dance. We are down to five players. Myself, Gene, new guy, Shake and Bake Frank and a female dealer Mary who just started playing in the last year. Mary used to work in the cage with my mother and knew nothing about cards last time I checked. I offer to split and it does not go over well. I am offering charity. One more barb from the unknown superstar from the prison and I give him a little back. “Nobody play a hand until I bust this guy”. He says, “They are right here come get them.” Gene screams out to the whole casino, “School is in session”. Rick tells him, “You just made a huge mistake.”

Alas, my plan falls apart as Mary finds king queen too tempting and dumps her chips to king jack. Wouldn’t you know they went to the guy I despise. We are in the money. I tell her she should have waited. Gene sneaks into the money with a short stack. What a grind. He is happy to get paid and shoots off his chips with fours against my nines.

Three handed and only Shake and Bake Frank stands between us and our destiny. I am robbing these two blind. I make a totally naked steal of Frank’s blind and he mucks ace ten. Wow! Frank finally loses the hand he plays with ace queen to jack ten. Man how did he call Frank’s all in with just jack ten. He has the chip lead and nearly has me doubled.

We play heads up and I am the aggressor. He is afraid to double me up. I am in stride. My stares are piercing right through him. I can see the mans soul. I am catching up. Every breath, every hesitation, every fake tell is larger and more magnified. I have him read perfectly. I show a bluff just to get under his skin. I tell everyone, “He won’t win a single showdown”. Four hands later and three folds later he check raises me on the flop. I have queen jack on a queen ten nine flop. I have top pair and an open ender. I ask for a count and we are exactly even. He is committed to this pot as he has put more than three quarters of his chips into the pot. I raise him all in and this hand will be the end. He has seven eight and is open ended. When it comes blank blank it is all over. I have won the tournament. I wonder if he has learned anything. I just sit there. They bring out the cash and pay us. I grab $1200 and leave $1200 for a tip for the dealers. I give Rich $200. I gave away half the money to prove my point.

My adversary, Dave, is now somewhat conciliatory. He wants to shake hands. I guess he has not learned quite enough. Maybe the price of the lessons is too steep. I won’t shake hands. I offered everyone at the table, including him, a gift. I do not come here to destroy people. I just wanted to play the tournament. A misstep against me could be fatal. He will never get a thing from me.

In my mind it was no longer about making money. I no longer wanted to win the tournament. I wanted to destroy him. I wanted to take everything away from him. I wanted him to be filled with self doubt and to be afraid to ever sit at the table. To me it was personal. I tried to do something nice for everyone and I got attacked. Never ever mistake my kindness for weakness. To step up to me is to find your true place in life, I will take you where no man belongs.

I am too amped up to play and do not want to wait on the list. I head home to take a shower, shave and brush my teeth. I am cleaned up and start some laundry. I am too late to go buy some shoes and the gym is closed for the night. I tell myself I need to take better care of myself. I go to my bed and lay down. I jump right back up and strip the sheets and throw them in the laundry. I head to my recliner and watch some television. I fall asleep. I wake up after a few hours. I am hungry. I have no real food and old habits are hard to break. I am off to the casino.

Everyone agrees I look a whole bunch better than I did at the tournament. I go into the café and eat. I have fresh fruit for the first time in about a year and a half. The game is short and the shift manager asks if I am going to play. I wander out there after I finish eating. The game is too good to pass up. I jump in and play well, if even a little too aggressive. At six in the morning I am up a grand from the tournament and another nine hundred in the live game. I cash out and head for the gym. I get a workout in and realize I am far too fat and out of shape. I leave the gym and head out to buy the shoes, more socks and underwear. I am rich at the moment so I also buy a jacket, a couple shirts, four pair of jeans and two pair of shoes. I decide I better run back in and buy a new gym bag.

I go to the pizza parlor for the all you can eat buffet lunch. So much for changes. Today the sun is not as bright. I go check my mail and buy money orders to pay a few months worth of bills.

I am on my way to the tournament at 5:30 and feeling good that I will arrive early. I am living better. I am taking better care of myself. Does the shower I took at 11PM really count as a shower today? I should have gotten my hair cut.

I tell myself I am going home at three no matter what. I am not playing anymore all nighters. I need to get a life. This is no life.

I do like these new shoes.

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