Monday, April 21, 2008

When the Circus Comes to Town

By Pauly
Hollyweird, CA

By now you have read the news that Brandi Hawbaker committed suicide last week. My traffic spiked to unusual numbers over the last few days as people frantically searched the intertubes for any information about the Brandi Hawbaker suicide, or the Brand Hawbaker obituary, or even the Brandi Hawbaker faked death.

I started getting cryptic emails and phone calls at the beginning of last week when rumors of Brandi's suicide where being whispered among poker industry insiders. I was already in Hollyweird when the first breaths of the story broke. Since I was in the same geographical area, I was asked to investigate the matter for various international media outlets (one offered triple my rate) to write the breaking story. I quietly declined the offer to dig deeper into Brandi Hawbaker's demise. I was in the middle of a rare creative burst of energy and rewriting my screenplay. Why drop everything in my life and pick apart Brandi's carcass like the rest of the bloodthirsty vultures?

Wicked Chops Poker was one of the first outlets to report the rumor. By Friday, more reports trickled in and we mentioned the news of Brandi Habaker's suicide over at LasVegasVegas. By the time the weekend ended, the rumor had become a fact when Brandi Hawbaker's death was eventually confirmed the L.A. County Coroners Office.

I didn't know Brandi but I could tell you one personal story and a few other stories that might entertain you or might help add to the myth and personae. Here's one quick one. At the World Series of Poker last year, I was walking through the roped off players area. As I passed one table, I heard a female voice say, "Aren't you that Dr. Pauly?"

I looked up and it was Brandi Hawbaker. I smiled and said, "Why yes. Yes I am."

She didn't say anything. I sort of stood there in an awkward silence for about ten seconds. I expected her to say something like, "Dude, I love your blog!" Because that's what people who I never met before and stop me in Las Vegas usually tell me. I waited for her to say something. Anything. She said nothing and just nodded her head sort of implying, "Ah, I've seen you wandering around and now I finally know who you are."

That's was my first and only Brandi encounter at the 2007 WSOP. I didn't write about it then and I think this will be the last time that I write about it. Period.

The bottom line is that Brandi Hawbaker (not her personally, but the Brandi Hawbaker effect) represented everything that is inherently demented about our celebrity-drive media culture, about the poker industry, and about living in Las Vegas.

It's distrubing that more people are talking about Brandi's death, than when Chip Reese died unexpectedly last December. I mean, Chip Reese was considered the greatest cash game player of all time. In an industry where all people do is badmouth and talk shit about each other, Chip Reese a saint among hell's worst sinners. You heard very few bad things about Chip. Why? Because he was a true gentleman and treated others around him with dignity and respect.

I kept hearing stories about Chip Reese loaning money to deadbeats and habitually losing poker players when he knew that he was going to get back nothing in return. His friends always got on his case for not calling in those markers or putting the pressure on the people who owed him money. But Chip was never willing to cause any drama. He was a true Buddhist among capitalists and thieves. He felt extremely fortunate in his life and he was willing to give people money who needed it more than himself, even though they almost always gambled the money away.

I guess that I'm not surprised that Brandi Hawbaker's death would get more attention that Chip Reese's death among the everyday poker players. I'm basing that on all of the emails and calls that I have gotten and the tremendous spike in traffic on Tao of Poker specifically searching for anything about Brandi Hawbaker. The traffic levels on Tao of Poker barely increased during the week that Chip Reese died.

That's not to say that Chip Reese was not appreciated and remembered among the poker media. He graced the cover of several magazines and there were dozens of touching stories published from various industry figures. Even the WSOP announced that the $50K HORSE Tournament would be renamed after Chip Reese.

I know that there will be no special tournaments named after Brandi Hawbaker. She had a career $40,389 in tournament winnings. On any given day, Chip Reese probably carried around three times as much in the form of Bellagio chips in his front pocket.

I think it's pretty obvious why the Brandi Hawbaker Effect has created such a buzz in cyberspace. When you have a saint versus a sinner... the sinner always gets attention, especially when it's a former stripper who supposedly traded tournament buy-ins for anal sex.

As Change100 said it best, "It's like if Al Pacino and Britney Spears happened to die on the same day. Who did you think will get more attention from the press and the fans?"

Sadly, it's that train wreck Britney Spears.

I've always secretly called Brandi Hawker the Lindsay Lohan of Poker but did my best to refrain from writing that in a public forum. God knows, the last thing we needed was more Lindsay Lohans out there drumming up the attention while the media machines hounded her every mood.

Do we care about these events because we sensationalize them so much? Or is it that the dramas are far more interesting that the banality of everyday life?

It's a combination of both. And I'm guilty on both sides. Heck, I love a good Lindsay Lohan wastoid story. I mean, Hollyweird is cluttered with them. Instead of those "George Washington slept here" signs that you'd see at colonial landmarks, bathrooms stalls all over Sunset Strip have "Lindsay snorted coke here" signs.

The poker culture is a male dominated much like many aspects of our society. When a vixen such as Brandi waltzes into a poker room, everything is going to stop. I have seen it happen. Poker is a murky universe and when pretty things magically appear, they stand out and become tractor beams of attention.

We live in a use and abuse society. If we're not using someone we're being abused by someone else. Nothing epitomizes that more than Las Vegas. And Brandi Hawbaker's problems were just magnified once she fell into the black hole of Vegas. Very few sane people survive the darkness that lurks in the shadows of Sin City. Just like the millions of other lost souls before her, when Brandi left Vegas, she also left with more problems than when she arrived.

I don't blame the media for trying to make a buck and riding a horse to death. I don't blame the readers who are actively seeking to be entertained. It's just the way our twisted minds have been conditioned to work these days. It's the same reason why there's rubbernecking and why we slow down when we see a car accident and peek into the twisted wreckage to see if there are any dead bodies.

A couple of months from now the circus will reappear when another Brandi-type character grasps our fickle attention and we'll be ensconced in another drama with more fury than Blanche Dubois on her period. We'll waste more time sifting through mountains of scandalous 2+2 threads, and we'll crack inside jokes on boring nights at the poker tables as catch phrases like will penis on back will become a part of everyday poker vernacular.

Original content written and provided by Pauly from Tao of Poker at All rights reserved. RSS feeds are for non-commercial use only.

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