Tuesday, March 07, 2006

Bukowski and Poker

"I tell the women that the face is my experience and the hands are my soul - anything to get those panties down." - Charles Bukowski in an interview with Rolling Stone

This post is dedicated to TC. He's an avid reader of my blogs and a friend of Daddy's. I met TC in Hilljack, Indiana nine or ten months ago when I headed out to visit Daddy & Iggy for a three state bender involving golf, drinking, baseball, drinking, cornhole, drinking, and poker. (You can revisit Part I, Part II and Part III of that epic trip later on.) I played TC heads up to win a tournament in Hilljack. That was the same tournament where I excused myself in the middle of playing and puked twice in the bathroom before I sat down to win it all. And yes, later that evening I puked in Daddy's car when he uttered the infamous line, "Dr. Pauly christened my sled!"

Great times. I have such fond memories of Hilljack and can't wait to go back.

One of the coolest things about my trip was meeting TC. He's an older guy with white hair to match his decades of wisdom. He lived in Greenwich Village in the early 1960s in a time where those streets were a hotbed for everything creative... painting, cinema, poetry, novels, and plays. He too was a writer who had some great stories to share. The more you live, the more you have to say. And TC did some serious living. After he read some of my blogs he sent me a lengthy email and gave me one of the best compliments I had ever gotten. He compared me to Charles Bukowski, who if you don't know is one of my writing idols. I'm often mentioned in the same breath as Hunter S. Thompson, but the core of my writing is pure Bukowski. When it's gut check time, there's no other single artist that had inspired me more than Charles Bukowski. To read TC's complimentary words helped pull me out of a creative funk that I fell into last summer when I was living in Las Vegas at the Redneck Riviera.

Last week, I got an email from a friend of TC that said TC's been sick and hasn't been feeling well. He's had over eight different surgeries on his heart. I'm hoping we can all send out some good vibes out to TC. I'm also hoping that this post can cheer him up as I hope to discover some sort of correlation between Bukowski and poker. I'm not promising you anything of poker substance in this post. I have no idea where this post is going. I'm just sitting down on a lazy rainy afternoon in Los Angeles and I'm writing and let the words flow. At the least, you'll get a quick bio of one of my favorite writers.

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When I was 21 years old I moved back to New York City after college. I dated a suicidal painter from Paris. She chainsmoked and was on more Prozac than half the girls living in Orange Country today. She drove me crazy of the Nancy Spungen variety but always gave me books and encouraged me to write. She turned me onto Charles Bukowski. That was over ten years ago and I can recall that day with eerie clarity. I was smoking a blunt in Central Park with a few friends from work when she walked over to me and handed over a copy of Erections, Ejaculations, Exhibitions and General Tales of Ordinary Madness

"He writes from the soul," she explained to me with that sexy French pouty face of hers.

I quickly read through most of his books inside of two weeks becoming a Bukowski fan and fiend in the process. I began writing poetry at a frenetic pace, cranking out over a hundred inside a month. The words flowed because I tried to adhere to the Bukowski tradition.... write what you know.

To this day, those nuggets of Bukowski wisdom has been part of my personal philosophy.
1. Write every day.
2. Write what you know.
If you are a new poker blogger looking for a tip, or a veteran blogger who's caught in a funk, well here's a bit of free advice on how to improve your blog.... write what you know.

Bukowski wrote about his experiences of the pits of poverty, humping menial jobs, caught up in the corrupt system, being constantly hungover after binge drinking, losing at the race track, dealing with difficult women, and undergoing bouts of failure and deep depression. His words were as real as his emotions. Bukowski wrote about what he knew. James Frey had to fudge those details in his best selling book, while Bukowski's life had plenty of sad and horrifying real elements to it. How Oprah and the critics could extoll the fabricated tales of Frey while ignoring the real deal like Bukowski is another example of why most Americans wouldn't know what a good book even if I shoved it up their ass.

Now to apply Bukowski to poker, you need to play what you know. You can't play like a world class player unless you know how a world class player plays, so that means you need to gain much more experience and soak up as much poker as possible. That includes reading books while learning different styles of play. It also means dedicating hours to playing online and in real life, playing different games along with both tournaments and cash games. There's no coincidence that some of the best poker players in the world happen to be the best all around players in the world. Despite the circumstances, they always hold the edge. Put Doyle Brunson in a mixed-games cash game or a high stakes No Limit tournament, and he's going to be one of the tougher players to beat. Becoming an all around poker player will definitely make you a better thinker and allow you to make quicker adjustments to different styles of play.

Back to Buksowki. It took a very long time before he developed into a writer and poet. He had skills as a young man, but it wasn't until he gained life experience after being on the road for a decade before he truly developed into the celebrated writer that we embrace today.

Charles Bukowski grew up in LA during the Great Depression. His dad was in the army and met his German mother after WWI while he served overseas. His dad roughed him up from time to time and he suffered from a disease that left pock marks on his face due to a series of boils. Bukowski was disfigured some more in his late 20s after two hookers took turns scratching up his face with their nails after he passed out drunk. As a child, Bukowski was a quiet and enjoyed reading at the public library. Since he enjoyed solitude, Bukowski knew that being a writer would be a perfect fit. In his early 20s, he wrote several short stories and even had a few published. However, he wasn't satisfied with the status of the publishing world so he quit writing for a decade. His style was not a good mesh with the presitigous places he was sending off his work. He assumed that all those rejections meant that he was a bad writer. He threw away those manuscripts and he hit the road on a ten year bender.

That dark hole in his life was cluttered with empty beer cans, empty bottles of whiskey, and empty jugs of whine. He took on several menial jobs and once was the doorman at a whorehouse in Texas. He got into fights and spent numerous nights in jail. He attempted suicide on more than one occasion and eventually met a woman named Jane. She was several years older that Bukowski and was also a severe alcoholic. Jane that taught Bukowski how to perform oral sex on a woman for the first time in a twisted relationship that spanned several years. That love affair inspired the film Barfly which Bukowski wrote.

At the age of 35, Bukowski almost died from drinking. He had a bloody ulcer and the doctor told him that if he didn't stop drinking, then he'd die. He was so nervous about what the doctor told him that on his way home from the hospital he stopped off at the bar to have a few beers to calm himself down. That's my favorite Bukowski story.

Bukowski went back to LA and worked in the post office for a few years and started writing again after a lengthy hiatus. His work was finally picked up and his poems and novels were eventually published. After working at the post office for over ten years, he quit in 1969 after getting promised a $100/month stipend for the rest of his life by Black Sparrow Press. He was almost 50 years old before he could pay his bills and bar tab solely from with his writing. It took several decades and a lifetime of experience before Bukowski was recognized for his literary merits.

Bukowski's stories are hard to read for some due to their graphic nature. But the soul is not a very pretty place sometimes and he takes you inside the darkness of mankind with his sordid tales of debauchery as a lewd old drunk. His stories involve masturbation, getting drunk, degrading women, and gambling. My favorite book of his is Ham on Rye along with Post Office. There was a documentary film about his life called Bukowski: Born Into This which was released in 2004 and features interviews with Sean Penn, Bono, and Tom Waits.

Charles Bukowski wrote more than fifty books before his death in 1994 at the age of 73. Make sure you look at an article on Bukowski from Rolling Stone Magazine circa 1976.

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Poker is not a glamorous activity. It might be fun for you, a job for some, and a drug for others but overall poker is a very dark and dangerous aspect of our culture. Poker has been thrust to the center of everyone's attention from the cops who are busting up home games in the burbs to the politicans in Washington who are going to have to come to some sort of decision on the legality of poker and online gambling. Whether it's in the shadows of the Hollywood Hills or the local VFW hall, everyone who can breathe is playing poker today and there's a horde of dream seekers on the horizon ready to crush anything in their view and squeeze every cent of money that the poker boom has to offer. New poker blogs are rapidly spreading like a ugly case of the clap in a trailer park. Shill sites are popping up faster than Bill Clinton's pecker on a visit to an all-girls Catholic high school. A slew of new poker related businesses, entertainment programs, and online poker sites are starting up every day. I can't turn on the TV without seeing some sort of poker program. Within the few months, the suits in Hollyweird are going to release their poker movie... Lucky You and it's awful. Dreadful. A swift kick in the junk to poker. Then there's the recent cheating scandals which is a shock to most people. That's a topic and fodder for another post which I'll save for next week. But of course there's cheating in poker. There's cheating in professional sports, in national politics, in the Olympics, and even in your children's schools.

We're all criminals. Doesn't matter if it's poker or Super Mario Brothers, we're all a part of a society built on the evil deeds of thieves, murderers, cheaters, and liars. Some of us get caught and the rest of us have to live with the guilt knowing that we are ruthless souls wandering throughout life. That's why we play poker. To either escape from the seriousness our daily lives for a few hours or to escape into orgasmic dream of winning it all and becoming the next World Series of Poker Champion. I'll see you at the tables.

Get well soon, TC.

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