Sunday, December 16, 2007

Act III: After Midnight

By Pauly
Las Vegas

When the dark side of Las Vegas takes over, it's one helluva ride. If you survive the depths of despair without losing too much of your mind, dignity, and soul, you'll have plenty of war stories to tell your drinking buddies at the end of a bar or entertain your work friends while huddled around the water cooler. Some day, when you are on your deathbed with tubes of all sorts coming out of your body, you might reveal your inner wild child to your grandchildren, who sit in bewilderment about some of your most outlandish stories.

The running theme among the other trip reports seem to all center around the same thing. Mostly everyone who attended had two separate lives. The first one is the one that you live most of the time, which is not as glamorous while you're cleaning juice stains off the carpet, or shuffling off to work to fill out TPS reports, or getting chewed out by your spouse. Normal life can be a fuckin' bitch sometimes, and that's the one you secretly wish to escape as you leap into your other life. The gateway to your other personality is the intertubes where you slide into your online persona and let loose into the virtual world. But twice a year, both worlds collide at a real life gathering of imaginary internet friends, which plays out on the sordid streets of Las Vegas.

And under the bright neon lights things get a little out of hand. As they should. Most of you bust your ass all year and are entitled for a long, wild, and crazy weekend of ludicrousness, where you blow off steam, shed the protective layers of everyday life and immerse yourself into the rock star lifestyle. It's a whirlwind adventure, sort of like running with the bulls in Pamplona, except there are no bulls and lots more hookers. You willingly engage in degenerate gambling in -EV games, consume more liquor inside a 72 hour period than you did the previous six months, and commingle with unsavory characters with criminal records that you wouldn't let your children near for six seconds.

But that's the beauty of Las Vegas. Sure it's a physical place, but it's also a mythical location where anything goes. That's why you have to surrender to the flow the minute you drive into the city limits or the moment you exit your plane at McCarran airport. And sometimes, you get your ass kicked around. Sin City is brutal, relentless, and does not discriminate. And maybe, just maybe, you can tame the iniquitous gambling demons and ride the wave of good fortune as a choir of angels sing your good praises. It doesn't happen too often, but that's why you go to Las Vegas, for a walk on the wild side. Otherwise, you would have flown to Hawaii for a relaxing vacation instead.

Saturday night in Las Vegas. There's nothing quite like it on Earth. I've been to some raging parties all over the globe, but nothing compares to the level of debauchery that you will find on any given Saturday in Las Vegas. And of course, we happened to gather on one of the busiest weekends in Las Vegas with an UFC fight, a major boxing match (which drew in about one fifth of the entire British Empire roving the streets of Las Vegas like drunken hooligans), the rodeo finals, and of course, the winter gathering of mischievous online poker players. The only thing that would have made the weekend crazier would have been a couple of sheets of acid.

It was after midnight, when I stumbled into the IP with The Rooster fresh off his victory in the blogger tournament. The first place we headed was the Geisha Bar, which aptly transforms into the hooker bar once the sun goes down. The ladies of the night were out in force, circling the crowd for fresh meat. One of them flirted with the Rooster and wondered why he carried around the trophy. When they found out that he had won a lot of cash, they perked up. But brother, the Rooster ain't no john. The Rooster is a pimp and I wouldn't have been surprised if he had both girls hustling for him by the end of the night. Fear the Rooster when he crows after midnight.

The ladies of the night flirted with almost everyone that I knew at the Geisha Bar. We were on their turf now. They had to make their nut. Let's say they need to make $3K per night. Well, then can fuck 10 guys at $300 a pop or fuck three at $1K. Hookers always had a sliding scale, but they had to meet a quota for their pimp or earn enough money to pay their drug debts or needed to get enough to pay bills or to feed their morbid addictions. Whatever the reasons, the hookers trolled the Geisha Bar for potential customers. They knew our gang liked to chat them up, but were dead ends. They only other choices were rowdy Brits or cheap cowboys. One of them whirled over to several boxing hooligans and disappeared into their circle.

Derek and GMoney were playing their game, "Working or Not?" Some of them were less subtle about their approaches and would straight up proposition you. The others were a little more coy although they weren't fooling us, but maybe an innocent Brit or an unsuspecting cowboy might have fallen for their lines. I'm happy than no one in our group got rolled by a hooker this year. And yes, no one died, and no one had to be rushed to the ER. It seemed this batch could hold their liquor, although I had one moment where I crossed that demarcation line where I almost got into trouble.

VinNay brought over a shot in a boot. That was the beginning of the end. That was the flashpoint. Every Las Vegas bender has one, were the entire direction abruptly changes course and you slip down the deviant path to destruction. For me, it was the shot of Crown Royal. The Geisha Bar had some sort of special with Crown Royal for the Rodeo. I guess they were trying to get cowboys to drink it in bulk. They had discounted shots that came in a souvenir boot. VinNay walked over with a couple of shots. AlCantHang respectfully protested. He knows better and opted out with SoCo instead. Me? I'm psychotic and did not want to disrespect someone who was gracious enough to buy me a drink.

"Bottoms up," I screamed as VinNay and I downed the shot.

Whiskey makes my eyes look mean. Whiskey sends a burning sensation throughout my entire body. And whiskey makes me slur my speech and do stupid things like want to pick fights with cowboys twice my size and talk smack to Pai Gow dealers and taunt the hookers.

After talking to VinNay about fantasy sports (and he mentioned that the Jaguars would be a lock so I scribbled down his pick in my notebook), I stumbled into the poker room. There was an open seat at a 1/2 NL table with TripJax, Jordan, Fuel55, and Schaubs. I bought in for $100 and within an orbit I lost my stack to TripJax when he rivered me. I could barely see straight, but that didn't matter. Rebuy! Three hands later, I doubled up against Jordan with K-K to get even.

Enter the Rooster, three sheets to the wind.

Like a pinball, the Rooster bounced his way into the poker room and rolled over to our table. He slammed his hammer trophy down on the felt. He unfurled his gansta roll and peeled off three $20 bills. He bought in for $60 and I lost it and almost fell off my chair. Cagey mofo. He had a few grand on him and went for a short buy.

On the first and only hand the Rooster played, I felted him. I raised in MP and the Rooster re-raised to $30. I called with J-10 because I figured it was good. The flop was A-K-10. I checked my gutshot with bottom pair. The Rooster moved all in for his last $30. I thought for a second and headed into the tank. The Rooster tabled his hand because he thought that I called. He showed 9-8. I peeked at my cards and showed Fuel55. I had bottom pair and was ahead. It was an obvious call. My hand held up and the Rooster got felted. He didn't rebuy. He stood up, grabbed his trophy, and walked away. He saddled up to the first female he spotted and chatted her up. Always be closing.

That's when things got really blurry. I cashed out of the game and then...

...I don't recall too much until I burst into my room and pissed off the balcony as Change100 watched in bewilderment. It takes a lot to shock someone who worked for a decade in Hollyweird. But I managed to do so. The culprit was the whiskey. Oh and everything else that I drank or smoked.

After being up for two straight days, I passed out shortly before sunrise. My cell rang at 9:01am. It was Derek waking me up for the football games. I shook off the hangover and headed straight for the sportsbook.

Over the last year, my sports betting had spun out of control. I started the beginning of the NFL season in London and had easy access to multiple betting parlors. There was one next to my hotel. There was one around the corner from the casino and one across Leicester Square. I kept pressing the action when I headed down under to Australia and bet on local hoops action. I also was in the middle of my winning streak in the Swedish hockey league. At that point, I was jonesin' for anything. I got lucky and stopped before it got ugly. I took action and quit while I still had a positive bankroll. I cashed out my entire sports betting bankroll and decided to put it to good use for a trip to New Zealand at the end of January and to pay for a trip to Florida for a music festival in March.

Yes, I quit online sports betting... cold turkey, too. No mas Betsson. No mas Bodog.

I also capped my betting limits on any given sports bet in a live casino. At one point earlier in the year, I was betting up to $2K a game during March Madness and the NBA playoffs. It was getting out of hand... but I averted disaster and pretty much broke even for both. I ended up winning more than I lost, but the juice on the losses almost friggin' killed me.

I was excited to bet on the NFL games. That was the main reason I was in town. And since I had cut back substantially, any action was welcomed. $200 or $300 per game was enough to get a taste. Nothing is better than sweating a win, especially an exciting one with plenty of ups and downs and twists and turns. The 4th quarter of the Jets game was a wild one... and lucky for me, I bet against my Jets and took Cleveland.

Miami Don eloquently described the moment in his epic post called Slump Buster. Here's what he wrote...
"After some deep discussion about the game with Dr Pauly we did what any good gambler does; we asked a real live cooler who they like. Well that cooler was none other than Waffles, the most unlucky person perhaps on the planet. "Waffles lets see your tickets" we asked. All but one had the Jets so Pauly and I immediately went to the window and layed a big bet on the Browns -3..."
It's true. We like to fade picks from mushes and coolers. When Waffles showed me his tickets, I winked at MiamiDon and we literally ran to the window. I know I had my self-imposed betting restrictions, but I discovered a loop hole and decided to bet $200 on Cleveland... three times. I'm a dire hard Jets fan, and they suck something fierce. If it weren't for the Dolphins atrocious year, they'd have two less wins.

So we bet Cleveland heavily and the game took an ugly turn in the 4th quarter until we got lucky. As Miami Don explained...
"I can't believe my eyes. Here comes the fucking FG unit onto the field? There is stunned silence in the Sports Book. Mangenius is kicking a FG on 1st and 10 from the 18 down by 9? Holy fuck. In all my life of watching and betting on football I don't remember anybody kicking a FG in this situation so basically he let us of the hook..."
God bless Mangini.

I lost two small bets. Fuckin' Philly couldn't cover against the Giants and I missed Pitt with the money line against the Pats. I knew that was a long shot but the price was too good to pass up. All of my big bets hit... Jaguars, Green Bay, and Cleveland. God, did I love that Cleveland bet. I left the sportsbook up over $1K. I was happy but bitter at the same time. My betting limit restrictions killed what could have been a magnificent day of betting the favorites. Alas, if I had been betting a dime or two a game, I would have probably gotten stuck and the Jets would have fucked up the spread. Regardless... I'll take the win. The sportsbook windfall paid for my entire trip.

Last weekend was one of those times during the season where every single favorite wins and the sportsbooks lose money that week. They always make it back, but for that week, even the biggest losers make money. There are very few feelings that are better than the ones you get when you wait in line to cash a big sports bet ticket. There's always that anticipation as the computer confirms your bet and the number flashes up on the register. The teller always tries to get you to bet your winnings and place new bets. Sometimes, I let it ride, but other times I just want the cash in hand first before I go back a few minutes later to make a bet. I want that thrill of holding my winnings after sweating a three plus hour football game. That sustained high is nothing compared to the elation that sizzles through your body the second you cash a winning ticket and you snatch the cash off the counter.

* * * * *

A few days after I checked out of the IP, I got stuck with a Keith Moon Tax from the front desk. (If you have no idea who Keith Moon is... well, he was the drummer from The Who. Moon became notorious for trashing his hotel rooms while on the road. This is the same guy who once took 14 horse tranquilizers before a concert and passed out during Won't Get Fooled Again. And he was also rumored to have driven a car into a a hotel swimming pool). Apparently, I was fined for "room damages" to my suite. It's sad getting nailed by the cheesy IP of all place, the most ghetto hotel and casino in the center strip which I had referred to as the Imperial Palace of Inbred Peasants. It's not the damn Bellagio for fucks sake, so I dunno how on Earth I got fined by them for trashing my suite. I mean, it wasn't that bad. Sure we had a few people up to party but nothing big.

As Johnny Hughes wrote me, "A room was trashed at the Imperial Palace? How could they tell? A room was trashed at the Imperial Palace. That's an oxymoron. A room was trashed at the Imperial Palace? You are carrying your rock star illusion way too far."

I've trashed nicer hotels all over the world (I'm still amazed they let Senor and myself leave Iceland after what we did to our room at the Hotel Borg in Reykjavik in 2001) and I managed to walk away without a peep. That's why I was both amused and irritated that the suits at the IP blew the whistle on me.

I just pissed off the balcony, it's not like I lit the couch on fire and tossed it off the 11th floor. No big deal. Public urination happens all the time. In Las Vegas, there's four hundred people pissing in public at any given time. No less than a dozen senior citizens are soiling themselves right now at various penny slot machines all over Las Vegas.

Alas, I got nailed with a fine. They had no idea about the balcony incident, but we left the suite in decent condition. I practically live in hotels, and I know whether or not I left it in good or bad shape. Had I known I was going to get fined, I would have thrown a bigger party in my suite and did some proper damage.

On Monday evening as I drove out of Las Vegas, a feeling of satisfaction washed over me. I escaped Sin City as winner and the only substantial loss was my voice. I could barely speak the last day in Las Vegas. That always happens when I'm engaged in conversation for five straight days and have to shout over the annoying slot machine noises or scream over the dealertainers.

I won a little money, partied my ass off, and survived. I left Vegas with a couple of funny pictures (check out my Las Vegas Flickr gallery), several stories, and a plethora of memories that will keep me warm on chilly nights. I don't take those precious moments for granted and do my best to enjoy every milisecond.

I left Las Vegas with a tinge of regret. I didn't get to hang out with everybody and I wanted to stay a couple of more days. I still had the taste in my veins. Las Vegas is one of the most powerful drugs in the world. It sweeps away dreamers on a magic carpet ride. It turns normal people into absurd monsters. It transforms fiscally responsible people into blackholes of wealth. The Las Vegas valley is an asylum for all fallen angels and wayward souls adrift in the world.

I always prefer to leave Las Vegas in a good mood and positive spirit. It really sets the tone for my next adventure. Sometimes I crawl out of Las Vegas mentally battered and morally destroyed, and unable to speak in complete sentences. Other times I leave riding an emotional high of the greatest gift of all... and that's to be alive and in the moment.

My love/hate relationship with Las Vegas continues. I usually get shanked by the gambling demons and left to die in a slippery pool of my own blood, but last weekend, I frolicked in the darkest corners of Las Vegas and emerged unscathed, aside from the Keith Moon Tax. But then again, I can just write that off. It's the price for doing business in Las Vegas.

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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