Friday, October 21, 2011

I Didn't Know I Was That Far Gone

By Pauly
San Francisco, CA

"I didn't know I was that far gone."

I barely remember the Main Event because I was so hopped up on Oxycontin (a.k.a Hill Billy heroin) that I was floating fourteen feet off the ground while the field spliced and diced it's way down from 6,865 to the November Nine. I had no fucking clue what was going on inside the Amazon Ballroom -- everyone was crying in the press box, someone who looks like Justin Beiber handed me pills every half hour, Seth Palansky gave me fuzzy slippers, a loud French dude in pink hair went deep, I couldn't find fucking Benjo or Matt Maranz, all these drunks on the rail screamed Phil Collins songs, and I was pretty sure the greys from Zeta Reticuli had invaded Earth because we were playing the featured TV table inside the Mothership.

Seriously, how schwasted was I? AlCantHang and I were betting on baseball. Every. Fucking. Day.

I didn't know I was that far gone.

It's obvious that I neglected Tao of Poker over the last few months. The watershed moment was the car accident in Vegas on the morning of Day 1B of the World Series of Poker Main Event. I told my friends it was just a fender bender because I didn't want them to worry, but it was more severe than I led on. I probably should have departed Vegas and returned to LA to heal, but I was foolish and my whale-sized ego took over and I refused to leave. Instead, I ate a fist full of pharmies and shoved an ice pack down my crotch. I became a sad and decrepit sight, limping around the Amazon Room like a prize fighter seven years past his prime. My coverage on Tao of Poker suffered. It was abysmal. Someone should have shot me on the spot and put me out of my misery. But I had too much pride to leave and gutted out the remainder of the Main Event.

I fled Vegas as soon as I could. After a near-death experience (and the second crash in three years) the last thing I wanted to do was think about Vegas or poker.

The accident made me do something I should have taken a couple of years before -- take a long extended break. My body needed to heal. My mind needed to heal. But more importantly, I had to take a step back to see things for how they really were, and not what they looked like inside the echo chamber. The entire world was on the brink of collapse -- Japan was swimming in radiation soup, the U.S. was engaged in three wars with a fourth with Iran on its way, Greece went busto threatening a European financial meltdown, the Arab Spring was underway as revolutions were sweeping through Africa in the Middle East, which in turn had a ripple effect that you're seeing happening right now all over America in the Occupy Wall Street movement. But you'd barely know about anything about the real world and any substantial socio-political chatter inside the Fellini-esque grotesquerie of poker.

It has taken a while, but I'm emerging out of my hiatus after I moved to San Francisco, began writing a sci-fi screenplay, and started fanning the flames of revolution. Along the way, I had to ween myself off a proclivity to pain pills and had to momentarily postpone my return to freelance writing and poking my head back into the echo chamber to see if anything has changed. Luckily, I have an awesome girlfriend, cool brother, and understanding clients, business partners, readers, colleagues, family and friends -- all of whom knew I needed a break to heal, to slow down, catch my breath, and take time off from the insane restless work/travel schedule including the nonstop party scene while jumping back and forth between poker and music.

The good news is that I cleaned up in time to cast my vote for the Poker Hall of Fame and to attend the November Nine. The return trip to Vegas is huge for a few reasons, mainly because I was morbidly afraid to go back to the city where I almost died. Twice. I had panic attacks at the thought of booking my travel. I even turned down a few assignments to cover other events in Vegas over the last few months because I was afraid to go back. I associated the city with... death. But, I'm finally worked up enough courage to take a leap of faith. Besides, I'm not driving and flying instead.

But it's that pesky ego of mine that wants to finish what I started -- the 2011 WSOP. The Tao of Poker's Oxy-induced diarrhea that passed for Main Event coverage floundered because of the accident. I'm better than that. Much better. You and I both know it, but thanks for being understanding and sympathetic.

So that's the good news. No more excuses. It's time to finish what I started. It's the least I could to to everyone who supported me over the years, especially the last few months.

By the way, the title to this post is a lyric to one of my favorite songs. The hardest part about being you is lack of perspective. It's not easy to take a step back and see things as they truly are. As a result, you never know how far off the reservation you've gone until it's too late. If you've attended an AA or Gambler's Anonymous meeting, you'll hear a bevy of horrific stories about people who had bad beats in life and allowed their past to lead them to a future of nothingness. At the same time, you'll hear those "I never know how great I had it until it was too late" swan songs. Regardless of the route everyone took, they all ended up in the same place -- rock bottom. It's not until you pick yourself out of the gutter until you realize, "I didn't know I was that far gone."

I love poker, but the past few years my passion developed into a love-hate relationship that focused more on the hate side. If you've ever been in a bad marriage or relationship, well that's what happened to me. It got fucking ugly. Like Sid and Nancy kind of ugly. We were both on a path of self-destruction and playing a foolish game of "chicken" while deciding which one was going to jump off the edge of the abyss. I was one step away from lying slumped on the shoddy carpet of a blood-splattered room in the Chelsea Hotel.

Me and poker? Peas and carrots. We seemed like a match made in heaven. But what the fuck happened? Well if you haven't read Lost Vegas, then I encourage you to do so. But it's a similar tragedy that has happened to so many things/events/people/industries that it was inevitable that poker's story arc would reveal itself within my journey. My problem? I got too greedy and stuck around for a little longer than I should have. I always had an exit strategy and I should have went with my gut and skipped the 2011 WSOP (or as I originally planned -- to only cover the Main Event). If I had covered a shortened series, then I never would have gotten into an accident in Las Vegas and totaled my girlfriend's car.

If you believe it... then things happen for a reason. If you don't, then it doesn't matter. We live in a chaotic, random universe.

The gambling gods have a sense of humor. I cite every Pai Gow session as proof. But, if you believe in God or a higher being, then he/she/it/the Creator spared my life that fortunate morning and decided it wasn't my time to go. I've been trying to figure out why I've been given a second chance. It's been an exhausting summer searching for answers both spiritually and philosophically. If you been following any of my side projects, you might have a clue into what I've been doing with myself.

I didn't know that I was that far gone. See you in Vegas in two weeks.


  1. This was such a great post, Pauly.
    Thanks for sharing and welcome back.

  2. Glad you're still with us, buddy.

  3. yeah... i was vibing your occupy piece earlier this week... this one kinda struck me hard.
    Welcome back to a guy I could call a brutha without having ever met you.


  4. Come on Pauly I need my HST fix and I know you can still run like a "Antelope" keep on fighting the good fight and let me know when you find the edge.. you've got a long ways to go my friend

  5. This sounded like the speech before the last game. Is it true?