Thursday, June 10, 2004

Never Trust a Junkie

"Greed... is good." - Gordon Gekko, Wall Street
One of the reasons I wanted to be a stock broker was spurred on by the infamous scene in Oliver Stone's epic film Wall Street, when the Michael Douglas character Gordon Gekko addressed the crowd at a shareholder's meeting, where he uttered one of the most famous speeches in recent cinematic times. I was hooked.

Gordon Gekko, Wall Street Posted by Hello

Why did I end up on Wall Street at two different times of my life? Was it the money? Was it the power? Was it the respect? Was it the rush? Was it the challenge? For me... it was all those things. But there was also another added element. I felt as though I had no choice. My parents made several sacrifices to send my brother and myself to Catholic school (instead of trusting that we'd survive the NYC public school system). I got a scholarship to a prestigious Park Avenue prep school in Manhattan and four years later, I also got a scholarship to a well known Southern university, the one that the locals dubbed "the Harvard of the South". My educational background almost paved the path for me to return back to NYC and slug it out on Wall Street.

I was an easy target, one of the guys that the Gordon Gekko's of the world wanted to work for him... I was smart, hungry, broke... and had no feelings. I was young and impressionable. At 22, confused and lost and with bundles full of energy, I could have easily been recruited by the CIA to be a hitman or get sucked into an obscure religious cult in Texas... instead I was drafted by the suits on Wall Street. I found my niche very quickly and was the top rookie in my training class. When I started out on my own, I owned all of those feelings that I mentioned before. Powerful. Wealthy. Respected. Feared. Jacked up on the ups and downs that the market threw at me. I was an information junkie. The more I knew, the higher I got. The more stocks and bonds I sold, the higher I got. Everyday was like riding a rollercoaster without a safety bar, or jumping out of a perfectly good airplane without a parachute. The rush was tremendous. It wasn't about the money anymore. But the hours were hell. Eighty hour work weeks were killing me and I burnt out quickly.

Poker reminds me of my time in the trenches. I feel all those same emotions, the ones that get me out of bed everyday. But there are many different aspects of my life today, that allow myself the opportunity to stay fresh and focused. Before, my job took up almost 90% of my waking life. Today, poker is just one of the (yet vital) interests that I have in my life. It's not my full time job, so I can switch back and forth into my hobbies at will. I would still rather win a Pulitzer than win the WSoP. (If I won a major tourney, it's because I got lucky. If I won the Pulitzer or an Oscar... that meant I did something right.) I am lucky that when I'm not playing well, I jump into writing. The blog is a good start. I'm venting about poker. I don't let all the bad beats stir inside me and drive me insane. I bitch about them and let it go. Bloggers are an amazing support group. We share in each other's misery, gloom and doom. Afterwards, I thrust myself into whatever projects I have been working on, whether it's short stories or my blogzine or a new novel idea or a screenplay or letters to Penthouse Forum.... I have a place where I can escape to. And the Party Fish can't bust my pocket aces in my creative head space. And yes, in my dreams, I take down the first place prize in the WPT event du jour and I also get to go home with Shana Hiatt, where we'd sip exquisite wine, gingerly stroke one another while discussing Sartre or Keirkagaard, before she'd whisper in my ear that I have the biggest pocket rockets she's ever seen.

The poker boom. Blah blah blah. Will the poker boom last? Yes it will, because at heart, people, especially post-Baby Boom Americans, are greedy motherfuckers. It's been beaten into us, either by the cool kids and bullies at school, or from our media, or Hollyweird, or from our politicians. We've been brainwashed. Can you blame guys my age that want to ditch their jobs, wives, kids, and mortgage payments, and fork over $10,000 so they can fly out to Vegas to play cards for a week straight and bust Moneymaker, Brunson, and TJ Cloutier? The poker boom is the most forward thinking and the biggest acceleration of the American Dream that I had seen in my lifetime. For the first time in a very long time there is blind hope. People have something to strive for and get excited about. Any average person can walk into a casino in Las Vegas and become a tournament champion. Anyone. That little guy inside your head that insists that you can hit your open ended straight draw on the river... and you listen to him. Why? Poker is the one thing that we use to fill the gaps in the parts of our lives that we are seriously lacking. For some of you it's money. For others it's power. And for some it's respect, or a personal challenge, or to serve as a crutch for one's mental health problems. At any rate, poker fills the void that so many of us have had. Is it the answer to life's problems? Most likely, no. But it's a great distraction.

Will poker still be popular three years from now? Sure. Poker on TV is a hybrid of the game show craze and reality TV genre. It's real life drama with money on the line. The cast is almost always different and the cards are never the same. This lends itself to a new excitement every episode. After a while, a sitcom gets derivative in it's plot lines. Game shows getting boring. After 12 episodes, you get bored of your favorite reality TV stars. But poker... is what it is. Money sucks people in. That will never change.

Mark my words: Poker players are the new rock stars. And poker blogs are the new tattoos. As soon as all the kids on the corner have one and as soon as I find out my Mom has one... then I'm pulling the plug on the Tao of Poker and I'll start a new blog on a new hobby. The Tao of Shooting Marbles. I love reading about poker. But I can't keep up with the eighty new poker blogs that are popping up every day. My intern is swamped!! Back to the rock star bit... these days, there's no real rock and roll band that comes to town and creates mayhem like they used to back in the day (The Rolling Stones, Led Zeppelin, The Sex Pistols, The Who...). The closest thing I have seen in a long time is the rambling insanity that the Courtney Love freak show and circus unravels wherever she goes. But these days, most rock stars are vomit inducing boy bands or these whiney-hipsters with perfectly messy hair (my brother's coined phrase), in nice clothes that their record label made them wear or they are these boring British, politically educated, mineral water drinking vegans, who sound more like one of Michael Moore's minions than a rock idol. Where's the modern day Keith Moon chucking flaming couches out of his hotel window? How about driving their cars into swimming pools after drinking four bottles of whiskey? Or assaulting groupies with frozen fish? Billy Joel drove into someone's house the other day, but he was just having a bad day. Given the chance, poker players can do as much damage as some of these rock stars. They have plenty of free time on their hands, and I'm sure if Al Can't Hang ever won the World Series of Poker, rest assured someone within earshot of his bender would be going to the hospital. I can trash a hotel room like the best of them. And most of you know, I can go on Hunter S. Thompson-esque benders that involves morbid, deviant, and ball busting moments. That's what I called 1998.... the longest bender in my life that lasted until early 2000.

I enjoy the competition. I welcome the challenge. The game feeds my creative interests. I dig the money. The respect is something I can say I enjoy more than I am willing to admit. The power thing never really got me off. But since I've a known sex addict, drug fiend and I once was a serious alcoholic (but then again what 19 year old frat boys aren't?)... poker definitely fills a "desire to get high and get off" in much more healthier terms than say a bottle of Jim Beam or a bag full of pills or a slew of inebriated, emotionally bankrupt women whose last names I'll never know.

I'm not bragging, but being honest. I've done my fair share of drugs over the last decade. I'm a drug, sex, and rock and roll kinda guy. That's why I'm a writer. Poker and writing suits my personality. And poker is the closest thing I have encountered that I can say matched the adrenaline rush that I got after digesting certain drugs. Man oh man. I've done the least amount of damage to my body in the past twelve months. Why? I've been playing poker... my new drug.

What a rush poker can be when you hit your flush draw on the river or your AA holds up to crush your opponent's under cards. You hit those highs and they last much longer. That orgasmic, finger tingling feeling is amazing. After a sensational session, I feel like I'm walking in air. I'm bulletproof. I have that spring in my step that I normally have after I've just gotten laid. Oh yeah. Confidence builds. I walk tall. Women smile at me, and I smile back. I have that freshly fucked glow... and everyone can tell... and it's all from taking down a monster pot or from coming from behind with a short stack to win a $20 SNG. I have the giddyness of a school girl when I double my buy in. There have been only three times when I almost got hit by taxi cabs in NYC because I wasn't "there"... once was in the mid-1990s, when I was so far polluted on chemicals that I thought I was hanging out with Margaret Thatcher (it was just one of my British friends wearing a blue hat) and wandered into a busy intersection. The second time was when I was so madly in love with a spit-fire of a gal from Texas, that I lost all sense of direction and a cab driven by a Eastern European dude with a last name containing fourteen letters and no vowels nearly clipped me in the East Village. The last instance, I almost got hit last month, was when replaying the winning hand in a multi-way pot when my pocket 99s cracked AA and KK, and I flopped a set.

Poker, sex, drugs... the only things in life that make me dizzy (besides writing). Add Katie Holmes to that mix and I think you got a decent four of a kind. Maybe Katie will start reading my poker blog too.

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