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Poker Stories

My Grandmother taught me how to play when I was 8. Numbers dance before me, infused with the breath of life through the passion and excitement from a table full of onlookers. My visual acumen activates, and I see finance, the trading of money in illicit transactions, the poetry of math taken from the abstract to the concrete. Synapses fire quickly, my intelligence becoming a honed, lethal weapon. I'm a master thief, liberating imprisoned money from the hands of its captors. My train of thought is interrupted by jovial, communal laughter. “Hurry up G!”, my cousin shouts, her voice blending harmoniously into the conversation around the table. My Grandmother gazes at me with russet irises, her radiating love warming me. “Remember babe, it’s just a game.” We smile in unison. It is just a game Grandma, but it’s forever served as a catalyst. For connection, for companionship, for love. For this Sailor continually set adrift in hostile, harsh waters, it serves as an anchor. To love. To home. To you. A safeguard against the cold. A north star, shining forever, brilliantly in a golden, Goldie hue. One that we’d be lost without. One that guides us to you. ♡

I'm 21 in Pensacola. Its humid out here. Lonely too. Its May of 2013. The last of my friends have left, but I’ve made new ones. Handstand pushups, long walks and Jack Daniels. But old ones remain. Hearts, Spades, Clubs and Diamonds. Its against regulation, but I'm a born rebel, proud and firm. I equate it to the Southern side of my lineage. I'm at the racetrack. Gamblers, pallid and sullen, line the fences, praying to a God they’ve long forsaken that today their terminal vice will prove something more beneficial than fatal. But am I any better? Of course I am, I've been nothing but profitable. They rely on luck, I put faith in skill. One is inextricably dependent on the vicissitudes of fate, the other is entirely under my command. Besides, it comforts me. The rustling of the deck as it intertwines with an impressive flourish in the hands of a skilled dealer. The sharp cut of the cards as they sail through the air, arriving crisply under your palm. The clicking of shuffling chips in skilled fingers, ready to be deployed as weaponry, with you acting as Admiral. In this particular pot, I won big. 2 pair against a fish betting heavily on all streets. The cards are immaterial and irrelevant. The pot boasted a $250 profit. Congratulations gentlemen, drinks are on me. At least they would be, but in the transport to Germany, Japan, San Diego, Hawaii and South Korea, even the most aged liquor tends to stale. Drinking alone burns as badly as a shot of Singaporean sake. I’ll toast to that. ♢

Im 18, youthful and stupid. Fresh out of Armijo, my future is set. Elders know nothing, they don’t understand me. My Father and Uncles are behind the times, telling me to get a good job with great security. My Mother’s pleas to come home early and stop being so confrontational fall on deafened ears. I can do 15 pull-ups and 100 straight pushups. Ignore the fact that I got my ass beat at wrestling by my 14 year old cousin. In spite of being less than 130 pounds, fucking ego included, I'm immortal. God has never created anything as great as me, and never will. After work I'm invited to a Texas Holdem game, No Limit of course. The buy-in is only $100. “Save your money Mijo.” My Father warns. He doesn’t understand, Im a prodigy. These guys have been playing longer then I've been alive, but tonight I'm defying common sense. They’re fucked, I’m the next Stu Ungar, cocaine addiction not included. Work is over and the sun has finally set. I pull up in front of the low income housing the host lives in. As I near the door, the rumbling, stifled booming of ghetto bass rattles my ears. The door opens, answered by my inebriated “friend”. “You made it bro!”. The air is thick with the pungent aroma of marijuana smoke and cheap, rotgut whiskey. I sit down as unease washes over me in nauseating waves. The game begins. I’m not just cleaned out over the next 20 minutes, I get a fucking cavity search. “Better luck next time kid.” My opponent is smug and insulting. He’s obese, with thinning hair in his late twenties and nicotine stained teeth. I wretch with anger and shame, wondering why my confidence has abandoned me. Then it hits me. I’m a stupid greenhorn inexperienced in the ways of the world, and Ive just endured an expensive lesson. Disillusioned, I wander to my car. Maybe my Dad knows a little bit about life. “Hey bitch, come to the movies”, Ryan says loudly over the phone. “Fuck you bitch.” I respond. Vulgarity is second nature to our pack of lost boys. I curse like a Sailor. But Ill never join the military, I’m too badass for that. Feeling better, I head for the theater. We're seeing Daybreakers. I just need to borrow $8.50. ♤

“All in!” you exclaimed, reveling in my anger. “You cant do that!” I shouted. Poker is a subtle, intellectual game, an artform when played at its highest levels. Your response was to shove again, shattering what remained of my fragile composure. “Fuck this!” I shouted, illiciting laughter from you and my friends. My immaturity showed, and we enjoyed a moment Id revisit many times while deployed. A cascade of red chips left my hands. This would surely scare her off. “Call!”, she yelled exuberantly. Her braces gleamed in the sun as she raked in the plastic, ridged circles, a reward for facing my ill-timed bluff. I was shaking with adolescent fury, yet beaming with love for my little sister, my heart. “Dude! Pass the fried chicken!”, you shouted in the ruddy June heat. It was a few days before our birthday, and we sat with our brothers in your parents backyard. Our felt was cracked glassware, our cards worn and rugged. We feasted on Popeye’s, Pizza Hut, and Vodka we had swiped from who knows where, rebels at 19. Some of us would join the Navy, others would head to college, others to jail. Some bonds would strengthen, others would prove tenuous. Some of us would be excommunicated for stupidity. But today, we were all family, shutting out an uncertain future and mourning the loss of our adolescence. We celebrated our developing manhood with cheap liquor and an artificial bravado. We were fucking idiots, and we couldn’t have been happier. ♧







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