Thursday, October 13, 2011

Flashback: Exile On Main Street (2006)

By Pauly
San Francisco, CA

Editor's Note: On the 5th anniversary of Bush 2.0 sealing online poker's fate with the signing of the UIGEA, I want to share something I wrote five years ago. This appeared on Tao of Poker on 10/9/06.

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"Just for grins I shoved a hot pepper up my ass while I was jerking off. Pretty hot, but not hot enough to not try it yourself." - Daddy

I was 22 when Jerry Garcia died on August 9, 1995. I had the day off from work and went to see a rare weekday Yankees game with my buddy Jerry who was in town on summer vacation from law school. We got drunk, smoked a joint in stairwell in left field, and watched Cal Ripken smash two home runs as the Yankees lost.

After the game I stopped by the Metropolitan Museum of Art to meet up with my girlfriend at the time. That's when I found out about the news of Jerry Garcia's passing. Less then two months earlier, I met Jerry Garcia and shook his hand (which eleven years later still marks one of my Top 10 Moments of All Time along with getting a blowjob on the subway and finishing my first novel).

Some older hippies and Deadheads that I know said, "The 1960s officially ended when Jerry Garcia died." For many fans the news was devastating. The music of the Grateful Dead was not just for teenagers. As they band evolved and got older, so too did the audience. The death of their icon and hero affected not just kids but former hippies who integrated into society. They had jobs, families, and mortgages and the day Jerry Garcia died marked a void for many of them.

The Grateful Dead were followed all around the world by it's fervent fans. Some never left tour while others jumped on and off as the drove around the country checking out shows in different cities. When Jerry Garcia died, not only did the music stop but so did the essential purpose for many individuals. Their entire lives revolved around the Grateful Dead touring. That included not just fans, but also people who worked and earned a living in the Dead's bubble such as roadies, management, and merchandise vendors. Most of the hippies following the Dead from city to city paid their way by vending in the parking lot. Most of them lived in their cars, vans, and VW buses and sold enough stuff to buy gas, food, and a ticket to the next show. When Jerry Garcia died, an entire subculture plunged into confusion. They never had conventional jobs and found themselves at a crossroads of uncertainty, confusion, and grief.

The immediate result for the passing of Jerry Garcia and the eventual break up of the Grateful Dead also meant that there was a void to be filled. Even Rolling Stone magazine printed up a list of bands that would take the torch from the Dead. In fact several of those bands benefited financially and commercially from Jerry Garcia's death. Without the Dead to follow around, bands like Widespread Panic, Dave Matthews Band, and Phish eventually inherited the fans, the suits, and the hippie vendors hawking their wares in the parking lot of their concerts. Their careers were advanced by the death of Jerry Garica.

Even I took advantage of the nomadic lifestyle in the late 1990s. I spent most of 1999 following Phish all over North America seeing concerts in 19 different states and 26 different cities including two in Canada. I got by selling whatever I could in the parking lots to get by whether it was tickets, pharmies, or t-shirts. Even my girlfriend at the time sold hemp jewelry or veggie burritos in order to earn enough money to buy a ticket for that night's show and have enough money left over to buy beer and gas so we can drive to the next city and repeat the process all over again.

In 2004 when Phish broke up, there was another void to be filled and several other bands benefited from the rabid subculture. Some hippies grew old and others cut their hair and got real jobs while a new crop of prep school kids or frat and sorority girls joined the mix to keep the monster going. They voraciously drink, ingest drugs, and will party to dawn. They love music and will travel thousands of miles to see a concert. Plus they'll spend money... and money is what keeps the monster going.

Twenty years from now they'll be some new band that kids will follow around religiously like I did with the Dead in college and Phish in my mid/late 20s. Why? Because that's what some people are into. They want to escape from the bitter realities of the actual world and feel connected to something/someone even if it's for a few hours.

I saw what happened to the hippie subculture in a post-death Jerry Garcia world and that's the closest comparison that I can come up with the recent legislation that tweaks the legality of online poker. Within a few days of Party Poker announcing their pull out of the American market, other sites such as Full Tilt and Poker Stars said they'd stay. They're filling the void and billions of dollars in rake and tournament fees will go into their bank accounts instead of Party Gaming.

Online poker is not dead. Yet. Even though the party got busted up, people still want a fix. Ever go to one of those huge suburban parties in high school and the entire place is jumping and you're about to declare the festivities were epic enough to be awarded Party of the Year... and then the cops come and bust it up? Mostly everyone leaves and goes home, but a few diehards stay around and drink the rest of the keg. I'm gonna be one of those guys.

For the past week, I've read the collective narcissistic psychodramas on everyone's blogs regarding the death of online poker and Black Monday or Black Friday. And depending on who your read, the future is dim and dark or bright and rosey. I think that the future falls somewhere in between. The news is not that bad, but it's not good either.

The post-apocalyptic poker world will not have mutant kids with three eyes running around and Jesus Freaks jumping out of the bushes spraying Holy Water onto the faces of hedonists. I don't think black helicopters will land in your cul de sac and the federales will whisk you away if they find you playing an SNG on Poker Stars and ship you in a secret CIA prison in Djibouti where they'll fry your testicles with car batteries and rip out your fingernails with rusty pliers before they toss you into a 10 by 10 cell with a fingernailess zealot named Ahmed who has a tattoo of "Death to America" written in Farsi on his forehead.

Or maybe they will?

Poker players are gamblers at heart and some will take risks to maintain their fix. The world is filled with greedy people and they'll be several ruthless companies who'll flip the bird to the American courts and lawmakers that will take risks to gain access to the subculture of online poker players.

Then I look at a place like my hometown of New York City and try to figue out the future. Without online poker, the demand for new poker rooms and underground clubs will increase dramatically. Some daring entrepreneurs will open up new clubs and the players will come in droves. Whichever ethnic mafia running rooms is about to make a shitload of money in the Big Apple. Of course the police will have to get involved and spend time shutting down the rooms, just like cops in the 1920s busted up bathtub gins and speakeasies.

The right-wingers who were in favor of the anti-online poker legislation pulled out the terrorist card and said that online gambling sites can be a haven for terrorists to launder money. But by banning online poker, the NYPD will have to exhaust their already limited resources on busting up poker games rather than focusing on protecting our city from terrorists... which we're severely under-prepared. Instead of cops breaking up terror cells, they'll be wasting their time keeping my brother, F Train, and The Rooster out of poker clubs in Chinatown. By trying to make our nation safer... the suits in Washington made my city more vulnerable.

Politicians don't care about the people. They only care about themselves. Same goes for corporations. If it comes down to a choice between you or them... they'll cut the rope every time and let you fall to your death. That's the way it is and that's why I've lost my passion for politics. It's not apathy but ultimately realizing that we don't live in a true democracy and we don't have freedom of choice but the illusion of freedom and choice. We can vote out the politicians currently in office, but they'll be replaced with a new group of lying scumbags that will sell your kids to the highest bidder if it meant they'll get another term in office.

That's why I don't see a revolutionary change happening in America. Not just with poker but with everything else surrounding the eroding civil liberties of Americans. Here's my reasoning... my peers in Generation X and the kids born after me are spoiled, lazy, dumbass little shitheads. We're overly selfish, hypersensitive, and too self-centered. We don't have the vision or the passion to evoke a world wide change like the baby boomers did in the 1960s. The hippies were better educated and organized. They believed in a better way and a brighter future. They put themselves on the line and for a while, the people in power got spooked the fuck out.

Most of the Americans that I know are more concerned with watching TV and buying stuff rather than hitting the streets to protest en masse. Some might write up whiny diatribes on their blogs or write nasty letters to their congressman, but after their little rants they'll never leave the couch or their cubicle to actually do something. We're a nation of apathetic scared fatasses and we're going to continue to let scrupulous politicians and multinational corporations dictate policy. Me included.

And the other reason I don't think my generation can undertake a social change is because the hippies failed. Even John Lennon admitted, "Flower power did not work. We need to try something different."

The 1960s saw the great minds, leaders, and visionaries trying to lead a charge against the political machines with millions of disgruntled citizens ready to make some changes. And in the end, it didn't work. The Man won. Black and white images from the 1968 Democratic National Convention in Chicago or Kent State in 1970 should be all the proof that you need to see that in the end The Man will do anything possible to stay in power, which includes beating and killing their own citizens.

After the hippies got their heads full of Owsley's liquid sunshine bashed in a few times by the cops, they eventually stopped protesting. That's when militant groups sprung up like the Blank Panthers. I'm waiting for a militant group of poker bloggers to form a united front and start fire bombing the campaign headquarters of major political figures but that will never happen. We can't even get ten bloggers to agree on the same weekend to have a convention, let alone formulate any sort of social change and revolution.

I've traveled around the world enough and extensively throughout America to honestly say that this is an amazing country but our leaders are war mongering pimps selling our souls to suits in a boardroom somewhere. Sure there are places like Barcelona or Samui where I'd like to live for a while, but at some point I'd get homesick and want to return to America particularly New York City. Then again, I technically didn't grow up in America as Spalding Gray explained, "New York City is a small island off the coast of America."

As is, I'm an expatriate living in America. I finally understand the reference by The Rolling Stones... "exile on Main Street."

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