Sunday, February 21, 2010

The WPT Celebrity Invitational, Part 1: Welcome to Hollyweird

By Pauly
Los Angeles, CA

What a long strange trip it's been.

Robert Hunter penned that lyric in a well-known Grateful Dead song. I often find myself uttering those words when I find myself in unbelievable and ephemeral situations... like Saturday night as I walked into Commerce Casino to play in the WPT Celebrity Invitational.

"Look," cried Michalski. "William Hung is here."

All I saw was the back of an Asian man with an orange shirt.

"Dude, it's Commerce," I explained to my gawking colleague. "There's probably at least a dozen guys in here who look like William Hung. Stop being one of those racist Texans."

Just as I finished my sentence, the Asian man in the orange shirt turned around. Shit. It was William Hung. I quickly apologized to Michalski.

"He's the most famous person I've seen here," Michalski said as Bobby Bellande scribbled down an autograph from an elderly fan wearing a white hat with a Lexus logo.

I caught Jerry Yang out of the corner of my eye. I quickly tweet'd that I spotted Hung and Yang. I'm sure somewhere out there in the annals of the adult entertainment industry that Hung and Yang has to be the title of a really really bad low-frills tit flick.

Change100 overheard a bit of Jerry Yang's conversation with his guest, "Oh man. I should have probably worn my bracelet."

Probably so. That's the kind of petty shit that matters in Hollywood... what kind of car do you drive... what brand of watch do you have on your wrist... who are you fucking.... where do you work out... who is your agent... where do you get your cocaine... all of those seemingly annoying questions cause many micro-celebrities to hyperventilate at the thought of not having a cool and hip answer to that question.

I fuckin' love Hollywood for the absurdity and plasticity. Stephen Elliot, author of The Adderall Diaries, wrote that L.A. is the perfect place to be discovered and hide out simultaneously. I'm paraphrasing here... but since everyone in the City of Angels is desperately seeking attention, all you have to do is stand still and you'll disappear. That's one of the most accurate description of L.A. and Hollywood that I've come across. Elliot simply summed up one the main reasons why I migrated to the left coast and settled down in La-La Land -- it really is easy to disappear within the city limits and become invisible. Lost in the shuffle.

All I had to do was stand still at Commerce to harness my powers of invisibility... which is something I actually prefer to do most of the time. As a writer, I obtain better material when I can be the fly on the wall and record what I see anonymously. On Saturday night, I was surrounded by poker's aristocracy and a bevy of familiar faces in the entertainment industry. Some of the Hollywooders were genuine poker enthusiasts, while a bunch of them just loved the distinction of being a "celebrity" which entails walking the red carpet and having their photos snapped by paparazzi. For those seeking the warmth and adulation of being famous, it doesn't matter if it's Paris Hilton's dog's birthday party or a poker tournament, because they'll show up to anything if they think it will make them look cool.

The fabrication of cool. I can write a book about that. Hey, I'm not trying to put down Hollywood or poker. I'm just calling it like it is. I've carved out a good life for myself because of my ability to fabricate "cool" within the poker industry. Some of your favorite poker pros that you see on TV are among the most immoral twats in the universe, but I'm very good at hiding their secrets and whitewashing their sordid past, sort of like how the White House press corp maintained a wall of silence during JFK's short reign. Bill Clinton got nailed for getting his cock sucked by one chubby intern. God knows the field day that today's voracious gossip hounds would have while lapping up fodder about Jack Kennedy's nightly beaver hunting trips.

While the pretty people of Hollywood and the titans of the poker industry rubbed shoulders upstairs in the tournament room, the unwashed masses on the gaming floor barely noticed the Gatsby-esque scenes raging above them. The Commerce Casino, like many regional casinos, generate their income on the degeneracy of locals. If you have never set foot inside Commerce, let me tell you, the facility is massive with dozens of rooms connected to each other with hordes of crazy Asian gamblers. The casino floor reeks of desperation, body odor, and Korean BBQ. At least Vegas has a semblance of normalcy (CUT TO... a young family on vacation pushing a stroller through the Bellagio flower observatory) and a sense of revelry (CUT TO... a rabid pack of frat boys chugging Jager Bombs at a black jack table). But sometimes, taking a stroll through Commerce at 2am is sort of like making the rounds at an insane asylum.

I never thought that I'd ever get a chance to play in a WPT event, yet somehow that's what happened. I'm used to being on the media side of major events, so this rare experience was sort of like the help getting invited to the feast.

Flashback to 2006. I made the final table of the L.A. Poker Classic media event and the winner's trophy sat on the far end of the table. Fredrick Remington, aka the cowboy sculptor, designed the trophy. I didn't care about the trophy as much as winning the media tournament. First place earned a seat into the WPT Celebrity Invitational and I wanted a shot. The WPT was the shit back in 2006 and the Invitational was one of the most popular events on the tour. Man, I was so close to getting a seat because with three players to go, I held the chiplead. The other two players were a local newspaper columnist and pro Barbara Enright. I suffered a couple of bad beats and busted in third place courtesy of Babs, who by the way, was a ringer! Oh well, it's not every day you get eliminated by the only female to make a final table of the WSOP Main Event. I was pissed off but honored. Anyway, that was my one shot at the WPT Invitational and I missed.

Flash forward to 2010. Matt Savage, tournament director extraordinaire, is running the show at Commerce including their highly popular L.A. Poker Classic tournament series. The LAPC also included two events in conjunction with the WPT... the $10,000 championship event and the Celebrity Invitational. Savage extended a couple of seats to a few of us in the media. It was an awesome gesture and demonstrates why Savage is one of the most popular figures in poker.

It wasn't officially official until I checked in at the desk. I always have a moment of panic when the person with the list flips through pages in search of my name. Yep. I was indeed invited and they handed me two wristbands; a black band with my table and seat assignment written in a silver Sharpie, and a grey band for my +1 guest. I gave Change100 her +1 wristband and headed upstairs to the free bar and swanky buffet spread. The first person I spotted was Thor Hansen, the Godfather of Scandi poker. Did he want any side action on the rest of the Olympics? I'll bet against any Scandis in any event except the biathlon.

I arrived at the heart of cocktail hour. The key to surviving these in Hollywood is to drink heavily and surround yourself with a couple of your friends so you can stand in a circle and make other adjacent circles highly uncomfortable by laughing uncontrollably. Nothing freaks out Hollywood hipsters than someone having a better than than themselves. I circled the wagons with Parvis, Change100, Laney, and Michalski as a sullen Eskimo Clark walked by us in slow motion. He clutched an unlit cigar that I saw him bum off of someone in the hallway before he wandered towards the buffet. Eskimo did not have a players' wristband, rather a grey spectators' band wrapped around his hairy wrist as he piled his plate with chicken satay before he disappeared into a crowd, ignoring the wine-induced conversation around him.

I devoured a couple of tepid yet tasty Kobe meatballs... passed on the prawns because as a rule of culinary thumb, I avoid shellfish inside casinos... watched Karina Jett bust Michalski's balls for posting erroneous info on Pokerati... wondered if Joe Stapleton's +1 was a Craigslist hooker or a Russian mail order bride... and then I hopelessly attempted to make eye contact with Tia Carrere, the object of Wayne's obsession in Wayne's World, a flick popular among Gen-X stoners such as myself.

Instead of linking up with Tia, I stood face-to-face with... William Hung.

I don't pester people for photos, but this was a rare opportunity to make a few friends of mine in the music industry chuckle. William Hung politely agreed to be photographed. I think he was happy that someone noticed him as he wandered around the buffet area in a slight daze with not a soul paying attention to him. Nothing against Hung, but he's the byproduct of one of the worst facets of the sensationalistic media after the producers on American Idol aired his horrendous audition when he butchered Ricky Martin's smash hit She Bangs.

Hung went on to record an album because of his astronomically high Q-rating buoyed by the trainwreck value of his atrocious singing. The freak is far more entertaining than the melodious voices of the best amateurs because the current American past time is reveling in the dismay of others. Fifty years ago, you usually had to do something good or accomplish a noteworthy achievement to draw attention in the press. These days? Just do something stupid, moronic, or retarded and you'll achieve immortality on YouTube.

A bunch of people in the tournament room fell into that category, while the majority of the other celebrity players were hard-working actors constantly worrying about their next job. I couldn't tell you the names of dozens of somewhat familiar faces that I came across. In my notebook, I scribbled down things like "the dude from Freaks & Geeks" or "Wil Smith's brother in the Fresh Prince" or "Joe Toye from Band of Brothers."

I discovered a pecking order among actors. Many of them loathe reality TV stars. I overheard a couple of snarky comments at my table about fame and reality TV. But these days, the lines in Hollywood have been blurred. Sometimes it's hard to distinguish between the two. With that said, the meatheads and the spray-tanned orange chick from The Jersey Shore were not in attendance, which meant that I'd have to find some other celebs du jour to mooch drugs from.

To be continued...

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