Monday, April 16, 2012

A Letter to Ndugu

16 April 2012
California, USA

Dear Ndugu,

I hope you are well. I received all of your letters and read every single one at least a dozen times.

I apologize for not sending you money over the last twelve months. After the events of Black Friday on April 15th of last year, I no longer had the available funds to donate to your orphanage. Before Black Friday, I earned a redonkulous amount of blood money from online poker sites. It was embarrassing that a hack like me should be compensated for writing pedantic trite on Tao of Poker, so in order to feel better about myself, I used a percentage of that windfall to fund humanitarian efforts like feeding organic foodstuffs to hippies, supporting odalisque single mothers twirling on the pole, and of course... sending money to your foster program in Tanzania.

I know it's been approximately 111 days since my last letter and I have no excuses, expect that I had nothing meaningful to say. Nothing. For the last few years, I've felt like a fraud without a sincere message. I hate repeating myself and my schtick is nothing more than a derivative of something I already said much better years before. I'm supposed to be imparting pearls of wisdom to you, but instead I've done nothing but brag about what it is like dabbling in the Dionysian lifestyle (smoking too much grass and popping waaaaay too many pills), while promoting the genius of degenerate gambling.

I was a peddler of broken dreams -- a postmodern Pusherman -- shoving online poker down the throats of whomever wandered into this corner of the web. I should've been executed five years ago by a firing squad for crimes against humanity.

There's something to be said about the Seven Deadly Sins. The Jesuits used Dante's Divine Comedy to teach them to me in Latin -- acedia (sloth), avaritia (greed), gula (gluttony), invidia (envy), ira (anger), luxuria (lust) and superbia (pride). I often indulge in at least four of them at any given time. Sometimes I brazenly juggle all seven and it's like trying to catch searing fireballs. Even though I release them as quickly as possible, those fireballs of sin still char my flesh.

It's impossible to wake up every day without being driven by one of those sins, and let's be honest, living a life of purity isn't all that much fun. Johnny Hughes once told me, "You need one vice, one drug, and one girl. But never more than one of each, otherwise you have real problems."

Ndugu, I can't stress the importance of this: if you realize you're juggling more than three sins, then it's time to take a break because each sin is like a vat of acid that corrodes your soul into a bubbling mist of despair.

Life has been good to me. Too much so. In the buffet of life, I overindulged myself. Can you blame me? I'm a curious person, which has often gotten me into trouble, but it's definitely saved me from living a life of mundane comfort.

I lived in cheap motels in Las Vegas and clients put me up in luxurious hotels all over the world. I spent many hungover mornings sitting in international airports gazing at the beleaguered faces of other harried business travelers. I can't believe that I'm somewhat sane after jumping more time zones than I can count, acting as a missionary for the Church of PokerStars, blazing trails into uncharted territory and trying to convert the locals by preaching salvation via online poker. When that failed to work, I became an economic hitman resorting to the oldest trick in the Gringo Manual on Latin American Commerce -- tempt them with glossy images of the celebrity culture and wave a fistful of cash until they start drooling.

Poker is a game of skill, but greed is a deadly drug. Sometimes it's not easy to differentiate between the two. Unfortunately, you really can't become the best at whatever you want to do without being greedy. Conflicts arise when greed spills into other aspects of your life. You want more. You consume more. You covet thy neighbor's wife. You covet thy neighbor's oxen. You hate and despise those whom have more. You make fun of those whom have less. It's just the nature of the game. Once we're in... we're in for life. It's like getting on a superhighway without any off ramps and exits. If you slam on the brakes, then you're going to be crushed by an 18-wheeler. You have no choice but to keep driving until you reach your final destination... death.

While caught up in the pursuit of material items, humans forget that we're just a bunch of animals and a single chromosome away from being a chimpanzee. After all, we share something like 98% of the same DNA. Whether it's God or a bunch of alien geneticists -- whoever created us pretty much carved us out of a similar mold.

It's through greed that they control us. Who is they exactly? The collective cloud of capitalism. The gears of commerce. The massive machine of consumption.

The Ned Beatty character explains it the best in the 1976 film Network, when he rips Howard Beale a new asshole for speaking out against the system....
"It is ebb and flow, tidal gravity. It is ecological balance. You are an old man who thinks in terms of nations and peoples. There are no nations. There are no peoples. There are no Russians. There are no Arabs. There are no Third Worlds. There is no West. There is only one holistic system of systems. One vast, interwoven, interacting, multivariate, multinational dominion of dollars. Petrol dollars, electro dollars, multi dollars. Reichsmarks, Rins, Rubles, Pounds and Shekels. It is the international system of currency which determines the totality of life on this planet. That is the natural order of things today. That is the atomic and subatomic and galactic structure of things today. There is no America. There is no democracy. There is only IBM and ITT and AT&T and DuPont, Dow, Union Carbide and Exxon. Those are the nations of the world today...

We no longer live in a world of nations and ideologies, Mr. Beale. The world is a college of corporations... inexorably determined by the immutable bylaws of business. The world is a business, Mr. Beale. It has been since man crawled out of the slime.

I don't have to explain to you how absolute power corrupts all institutions. You've seen the heavy hand of colonialism come smashing down on your continent. Your rare minerals are extracted to build mobile phones. Your clean water is stolen and converted to Coca-cola. Your glistening gems eventually are draped around the emaciated bodies of cocaine-eyed starlets posing for the paparazzi on red carpets in Hollyweird.

Bad beats are something you experience every single day and the fact that I'm even complaining about my situation makes me a vapid wanker. I don't have to tell you about tyranny and inequality through imperialism because I'm preaching to the choir. You've seen the daily horrors of predatory capitalism disguised as national hegemony. Corrupt officials worldwide padded their overseas bank accounts after becoming perverse corporate-owned puppets. The nefarious rulers of banana republics take bribes in exchange for allowing their lands to be raped, polluted, looted and destroyed by ruthless multinational conglomerates, meanwhile the same unscrupulous leaders are pimping out its powerless citizens as cheap slave labor.

We live in a use and abuse society. If you aren't using someone, then you're being abused.

Those atrocities will never end. And how do I try to change the world? I don't, so I wallow in Catholic guilt which just makes me even more miserable.

For almost a decade, I easily distracted the masses from the maelstrom of evil that has engulfed the world by churning out misogynist rhetoric about the glamorous rockstar lifestyle of a professional poker player. I don't mean to rag on pros because I have a sincere respect for what they really do. They are an eclectic breed of rebels and rogues, born with an innate and uncanny knack for cards, and the majority of them work their asses off. The day-to-day life of a pro is nothing close to being swanky and upscale, rather it's utter terror with nonstop pressure and many of them struggle to avoid drowning in their own self-doubt.

The same can be said for anyone running the rat race. Doesn't matter if you're Phil Ivey or Lloyd Blankfein, because most of the time, everyone is emotionally beaten by the daily grind so they insulate themselves from reality by adopting the "balla" persona.

Deep down we all know what we're doing is complete bullshit anyway... so it's better to live it up now and relish the present (dare I say, carpe diem?) rather than rue the past or be fearful of the unpredictable future.

From that perspective, the prevailing sense of anomie is what justifies the means. We feel devastatingly empty about how we earn a living, so we surround ourselves with material items that are supposed to symbolize and replace intangible feelings of self-worth and accomplishment. If the material items don't work, then we indulge in carnal pleasures -- drugs, sex, rock and roll. And if that doesn't work, then we turn to religion and find solace worshiping invisible entities.

You never realize how much you miss the sun, until you're covered in complete darkness. That reminds me of a Bill Withers lyric, "Ain't no sunshine when she's gone."

One day I will die. Maybe in 25 years? Maybe tomorrow? The "when" never really matters because we all die. Sometimes I wonder if Neal Cassady was right about life being like driving on the open road... "We are four dimensional beings in three dimensional bodies, looking out two-dimensional windshields."

I briefly mentioned the car accident in previous letters, but I didn't want to scare you about the severity of my injuries. In case you were wondering the details... my girlfriend wanted to sleep in, so I drove myself to breakfast. I was completely sober, which is ironic, because had I been a little buzzed, I would have been driving a little more cautious. But then again, almost everything in life is out of our control. All it takes is one jerkoff to run a red light and then you're done. Fade to black.

The good news is that I'm almost fully recovered, which is a miracle. I still walk with a slight limp, but I thank the universe every day for having the chance to see the sun rise and then set. I'm living on borrowed time. I'm not afraid of dying. Death is inevitable. I'm more afraid of barely being alive. The fact I'm not crippled baffles me. The paramedic took photos of the crushed car and he often shows it to his colleagues. When he was driving my battered body to the ER, he told my girlfriend that I luckiest guy in Vegas because walked away from what should have been a fatal accident. A monster-sized SUV spearing the driver's side of a mid-size car at a high rate of acceleration usually results in 85% mortality rate. I sucked out big time. I'll never complain about losing money in Las Vegas again, because last July, I won a priceless jackpot -- a second chance at life.

I should've perished underneath the blazing Nevada sun and inside a twisted heap of metal and granulated glass. I would've been a ghost wandering the Las Vegas valley for eternity, yet for some cosmic reason, it wasn't my time to go. But, I can't let an hour pass without thinking... "Why am here?" I'm struggling right now because I'm ashamed that my existence is and was utterly meaningless.

What difference did I really make in this world? What have I contributed to this society?

Nothing. I failed. There's no way to spice up that glaring and disappointing fact that I lived a shallow life. Warren Schmidt said, "Once I'm dead and everyone who knew me dies too, it'll be as though I never existed."

That's how I feel right now.

Hey, but don't worry about me. I won't beat myself up too much, after all, I had an absolute blast. This was one wild ride and one I never expected to take. I fell ass backwards into this nebulous world and for many years, I called it my home. This long, strange trip was fun... while it lasted. I've been waiting for a time when I can finally say, "This has all been wonderful, but now I'm on my way." Alas, I won't fret too much and I'll fondly look back at the halcyon moments and allow the infectious smiling faces of friends to become permanent memory burns on my brain. And all the bad beats and petty stuff, like the surplus of assholes who caused me turmoil? They'll get deleted from my memory banks. Every one of them. You'd be surprised how quick a few rum cocktails helps you forget the sullen times.

I wish you the best, Ndugu. Always remember that you have your whole life ahead of you. I hope you can learn from my mistakes and actually do something constructive and meaningful with your life. Don't be a selfish tosser like myself. Live a life of integrity. Try to make a positive impact in this world.

Be good. Do good. But most importantly... be yourself, Ndugu.

Death is the eventual end point of life. One day we miraculously show up. Then one day we depart and return to the void of nothingness. So while we're here, right now, we have to make it count. Life is all about small, simple pleasures. Never forget that. Cherish every single moment. Every. Single. Moment.

I don't want to say that this is my last letter to you, because I cannot predict the future, but let's be honest, Ndugu... this will probably be my last letter because I've said everything I wanted to say and I can't keep going on forever. Ken Kesey, the great writer and ringleader of the Merry Pranksters, summed it up the best: "Impermanence is impermanence.... nothing lasts."

Your friend,