Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Rocketman and Welcome to the Ice Palace

By Pauly
San Francisco, CA

"What the hell was that lunar stuff?"

"Huh?" I muttered waving a soupy cloud of smoke away from my face.

"You know," Big Dog gestured, "That strain the astronauts grew up on the space station?"

"Oh, the Lunar Kush. If you got stuck up in the international space station for months on end without anything to do, you bet your ass I'd grow my own weed. You couldn't smoke it because a lit match would blow the entire fucking station to smithereens, but I betcha they made a lot of ganja desserts. Where did you think the term -- space cake -- originated? The Lunar Kush."

"Ah... Lunar. Kush. Cosmic. Woof."

"Rocketman. You know that Elton John song? That's all about growing weed in space."

A long pause was broken by stoner-like laughter.

"I'm gonna be high as a kite by then..." I belted out in my best Elton John falsetto.

"Lunar Kush?"

"Yeah, you get the gist," I said as I shuffled the cards. "It's muthafucking cold in space. You gotta eat space cakes to keep you warm until you finally get to return to Earth."

* * * *

I've heard some of the most peculiar and fascinating conversations at a poker table. At the Imperial Palace in Vegas, I almost saw two guys come to blows over an innocuous chat about labor unions. At the Taj in Atlantic City, I got bogged down in a discussion on where exactly Roman centurions hammered nails into Christ's hands during the Crucifixion. One guy said all the iconography and crosses in Church were inaccurate -- because you couldn't hang a person with a nail through each hand because the weight of the body would rip the flesh off the nails. He insisted they nailed Christ through a spot in between a couple of major bones below the wrists. That conversation lasted a hour. The Jesuits at my high school would've been pleased that I held my own during a post-modern symposium debunking of crucifixions.

The conversations in my new home game are a hodge podge mainly because of the eclectic nature of the players. A city like San Francisco is filled with unique people from all over the spectrum and Halli's home game is representative of the diverse nature of my new city. Her game has been running on and off for over seven years -- just around the time Chris Moneymaker became poker's messiah -- and on Monday nights you could always count on a game being played in the back of the Ice Palace hosted by Halli and her brother, Skye.

Why the Ice Palace?

Because it's fucking cold, cold, cold. It's like stepping into a freezer. The back of Halli's ridiculously spacious apartment could be used to store a month's worth of steaks for Peter Luger's. She lives on the entire floor one of those picturesque Victorians that are synonymous with San Francisco. Change100 and I were thisclose to moving to Colorado this autumn when Halli offered us a sweet deal to share her apartment in the Slums of Pacific Heights. My girlfriend fell in love with the place and any thing was better than living in Vegas or hellacious Los Angeles, so we jumped at the chance to stay with Halli for a couple of months. In addition to a kick ass apartment, we also inherited a weekly home game. Hence, the Ice Palace.

Sure, I have an itch for online poker, but online poker is antisocial in nature and often feels more like playing a video game. I stopped playing video games (er, Tiger Woods golf and chess) in favor of online poker because I felt if I was going to waste my time zoning out at a computer screen, then I might as well make some money at it. I was never good enough at chess to hustle for dime bags in Washington Square Park, and in real life I've only broken 100 once on a golf course. Once I realized I lacked the necessary passion, skills and discipline to become a true professional poker player, I found a regular day job whoring myself out to various tentacles of the murky online poker industry (disguised as "media outlets") to pay my bills and support my art, and looked at online poker as a profitable hobby to help pay for my insatiable desire to travel and do cool things with friends. But ever since the inception of the UIGEA and the subsequent "pulling of the plug" on Black Friday, the broke-dick used car salesmen in DC insist that online poker is the root of all evil, just like running with scissors or wearing white pants after Labor Day. Without online poker, I'm bummed out that I have to turn to live sports betting (don't even think about online sports books, because the DOJ is in the corner gunning for you!) and make trips to Vegas sports books to help fund my addiction to traveling and music, but part of me doesn't actually miss the vacant feeling of sitting alone in the dark, worshipping the muted glow of multiple LHE tables, which induced frothing Pavlovian responses to the slightest alert sounds.

I'm still enraged with the cowardly political decisions that prevent me from exercising my right to liberty and pursuit of happiness by playing online poker, however, I don't actually miss the physical act of playing online poker. I was never that obsessed with online poker that I'd relocate to Canadia to play. But if I was a sensational MTT player like Shaniac or Matt Stout, you bet your ass I would've set up shop overseas within 90 days of the introduction of the UIGEA. There's a part of me that wants to be able to place sports bets on Pinnacle or The Greek, so I entertained the thought of re-locating to Vancouver (they have great nugs there and too many civilians are dying in Mexico because of the atrocities of the [losing] War on Drugs, but that's a whole other series of posts that would be better suited for an in-depth report on Tao of Fear). But at this point, I'd rather rent a lake house on Tahoe and make a short trip to Reno or Stateline to bet on football and hoops.

I don't have an itch for online poker, but I deeply missed playing social poker on a weekly basis. It's funny in a sad way (like when a alcoholic clown dies of liver cancer), that the original attraction to poker for me was the social element and interaction with opponents in an egalitarian way, but one of my favorite past times got ruined because my work/play worlds collided and all of a sudden the lines were blurred between two opposing aspects of my life that I should have walled off from each other. I was foolish and thought I could mix the two, but as a result, the toxic concoction nearly killed me in more ways than one.

I lived the cliche -- one day after a couple of years on the circuit, I woke up and realized poker wasn't fun anymore. What used to be fun had become a job, and by all definitions jobs suck. It happens to all of us at some point -- whether you're teachers or chefs -- you have a passion for something like teaching or cooking, but all of a sudden society thrusts labels on you as the responsibilities grow exponentially and instead of an educator or a cook, you're now a Sixth Grade Science Teacher or Executive Sous Chef. You quickly forget about the passion that used to flicker inside you like a raging volcano, and you've become like every other working class stiff who loathes their job and constantly watches the clock tick down to the precise moment they can act like Fred Fucking Flintstone and run down the tail of a brontosaurus to get the fuck out of the gravel pits and race to the closest bar where you celebrate happy hour by soaking your brain in cheap booze while you grovel with other malcontents about how much everything sucks.

When I lived in Los Angeles, I hated going out to bars infested with douchebags and Snookis. Change100 and I always wanted to host a home game, but everyone who played wouldn't be able to get ripped to the tits because they'd have to drive home, and if you live in LA, then you know that "parking" is a fucking deal breaker, especially in our neighborhood of the Slums of Beverly Hills, which had no available parking so we were shit out of luck with a home game. That's part of the reason why I enjoyed hosting Saturdays with Dr. Pauly on PokerStars to have some semblance of a weekly gathering with friends to hang out, bullshit, and have a blast without worrying about carrying around the weight of the world's problems.

I entered the traveling circus as a member of the poker media, which meant that I leapt out of the "normal linear life" that many of you lead, and accepted a life of constant movement and uncertainty. Once I left NYC in the Spring of 2005 to move to Las Vegas to cover my first WSOP with Flipchip, I essentially kissed a regular home game goodbye. In the last six years or so whenever I heard the intro to Monday Night Football, I always had flashbacks to the Blue Parrot, the Midtown location of the weekly Monday game. Our host Ferrari always made sure the football game was always on in the background. I met a couple of amazing people at Ferrari's weekly home game like F Train, Ugarte, Coach, Swish... just to name a few. It's also where I met the infamous Dawn Summers -- and I almost spit out my entire Red Stripe on the table when she frowned upon playing Stud and begged to play "that game with the floppy thing in the middle."

That was then. The Ice Palace is now. I've played a few times and on one evening we had two tables of players with a waiting list. I expect to write more about our weekly hijinks in the upcoming months. I sincerely missed playing in a regular home game and I even missed writing about the highlights the next morning. When I first started playing at Ferrari's in 2004, I recapped the games on Tao of Poker, mostly for the regulars in the game to share a few laughs and talk smack. For the dozen or so readers I had at the time, I gave them a glimpse into my Monday night madness. I'm hoping I can kick it old school and return to where it all began.

Life flew by in the last seven years and I encountered so many rapid changes both personally and professionally that I really lost touch with the original poker fire inside of me. I'm hoping that some time in San Francisco can help me get reacquainted with one of my former passions. And if it doesn't, then so be it. I can't resist change, I can only adjust to the changing conditions. The Taoists and Zen Buddhists have a saying... Life is like water -- it can flow, or it can crash. Surrender to the flow.


  1. Pauly,
    Great post and welcome to the bay area. I live in Mill Valley just across the GG bridge. I have been reading your blog for a couple of years. I love what you and Change 100 put out.
    I am a 40 year old poker player who has been in the bay area for about 7 years. I lived in the southern San Fernando Valley for 17 years prior to that.
    I'd love to meet you sometime... maybe even play in Halli's homegame.
    Also, check out Pete's 881 club in San Rafael... about a 20 minute drive from Pac Heights. It's a local dive bar that spreads 1-2 NLHE every night on a couple of tables and and an occasional H/L limit omaha game and some tournaments. It's a classic joint and been there for like 50 some years.
    Enjoy Frisco.. the coolest city in North America.

    Tony Cobb

  2. Pauly please make "Jack Tripper Stole My Dog", available for the Nook. You can use Calibre, free internet software, to convert it to "EPUB" format. Than you can sell it to the 25% of Ebook users who have the Nook Line. Keep up the good work. Tony