Monday, January 06, 2020

First Poker Sessions of 2020 and When Shit Starts Getting Real: Preparing My House For Sale

Welcome to 2020! Like many people, I have high hopes for the new year in life -- and in poker. However, along with the hopes will come some days of reckoning, one way or another.

What better way to start the new year than to log in a session of $1/2 NL poker, right? The three most recent casinos where I have played poker (Par-A-Dice, Harrah's Joliet and Grand Victoria) all have decent bad beat jackpots. Grand Victoria's is currently $266K (Aces full of Kings beaten), Harrah's Joliet is $220K (quad 8's beaten, current room share is $200), and Par-A-Dice is somewhere around $136K (quads beaten). From a driving standpoint, the closest, in order, are Par-A-Dice, Harrah's, then Grand Victoria. I decided to start 2020 at the closest casino, Par-A-Dice.

I cannot say that I started out 2020 okay. I can, however, say that the start was very good! There were some really poor players at the table. I got fortunate right away and flopped a straight, winning a nice pot. Several hands later, I was in the small blind with The Grump: 2-4(os). I think that I had been spewing too much in 2019, so I have tried to cut down on my fishing expeditions. However, how could I possibly not complete for a measly dollar with The Grump in a hand full of limpers? I completed. The flop was 8-2-4 with two Spades. Bingo! There were several checks, and then one player made a substantial bet. He had a little over $100 left and, from what I had observed in the few orbits I played, he seemed really frustrated. It was unlikely that he flopped a set of 2's or 4's, and it didn't make sense to me that he would make a big bet with a set of 8's. I was guessing that he was on a flush draw and almost sure that I was ahead, so I jammed all in. He decided to call. the turn and river were bricks and I announced that I had two pair. He mucked. Bingo again!

For once (it seemed), I was actually catching cards and was not getting my hands counterfeited on the river. I did play one hand exceptionally poorly and lost over $100 on it when I was likely bluffed, but outside of that, I was cruising all afternoon and was up more than two buy-ins when I decided to quit as I had to work the next day. The fact that the poor players all left and were replaced by more competent players helped make the decision to leave easy. I was basically about two cards away from having a monster session, but seeing as how the poker gods were nicer than usual to me, I was not about to whine. Great poker start to 2020!

After working January 2 and 3, I headed back to Par-A-Dice for another daytime session. As much as thing went right two days before, things went wrong that day. Par-A-Dice is full of no fold em players, and I was run down more than once. I was down about $100 most of the session, then had a big decision to make at the end. A tricky and good player whom I've written about before, Ho, was in a hand with me. I was on the button with A-8os and called a $10 raise. Ho also called, so there were three of us in the hand. The flop was 8-J-rag. I flopped second pair. The initial raiser and Ho both checked, so I raised $15. The initial raiser folded and Ho called. Ho said "be careful."

Now a word about Ho. He will play ATC and is aggressive. He is tricky, and you never know if he has you beat or not. I know how to play against him and have had much success. He rarely gets in hands with me - he avoids me like the plague as his perception of me is that I am mostly an OMC. I have used this to my advantage more than once.

The turn was an Ace, giving me two pair. Ho checked and I put out a $40 bet. Ho tanked and then announced "all in." I was guessing that Ho had either A-J and I was crushed, or he that he figured that he could bluff me off of a one pair hand. My gut was telling me that he had A-J, but I decided to call. He showed A-J and felted me. Meh. I had lost a buy in and just was not feeling it that day, so I left to get dinner and watch the NFL playoffs.

Preparing My House For Sale
Having lived in my current house for over ten years and having accumulated not only my family's junk but junk from my late mother's house and my late mother-in-law's house, I am not looking forward to getting the house ready to be put on the market, hopefully by this spring. I rented a dumpster earlier last year to get rid of some nasty furniture, but my wife patiently waited until the new year started to begin selling off furniture and starting on prettying up the house. She sold a bookcase yesterday and had our painter over Friday morning to give us an estimate. He is actually supposed to begin painting part of our basement this week!

I have only lived in two houses since 1994 and am not quite as invested in the house as my wife. I negotiated buying the house and later refinancing, but I let my wife do whatever she wanted with it. Regardless of what happens, I will retire in the middle to the end of July. I am frankly not concerned if the house will not be ready or be sold by that time as I will be struggling with other transitions. Since our plan is to move to the Phoenix area and I have never lived outside of Illinois, I find that this move across the country has great potential for raising my anxiety level the rest of 2020. I also realize, however, that it is necessary for my wife to push me on getting the house ready or there will be no way anything much would happen until later in the year.

Almost three years ago as the executor for my mom's estate, I was left with the nasty task of cleaning out her house and the 50 years of accumulated junk within. I took some time off work and spent several nights sleeping in the house while being surrounded by garbage. I had to keep focused on making progress with each trip up to her house, and when the day came when it looked like we got nearer to putting it up on the market, I felt like a tremendous burden had been lifted from me. I know that I just need to get myself in the proper mindset, but doing this while transitioning out of 38 years of professional work with 26 at my current job has been a struggle so far. Now with my retirement being just over six months away, I need to step things up a bit.

I have been having fun thinking about some job possibilities - maybe some type of spring training job with the White Sox, Cubs, or other cactus league team, or maybe one of the Phoenix professional sports teams. Working in a casino would be interesting, as would volunteer work in the southwest. Once I have a chance to take a break, I will need to find something to be my anchor. I am looking forward to this. In the meantime, I am just counting the days until it is time to say goodbye to my current job. The days have been going by slowly. I'm sure things will start feeling different as the time gets closer.

Thanks for reading!

Monday, December 30, 2019

Family Thoughts As We End the Decade

I: A Family Tradition

My brother, thundering36, texted me early Sunday morning to remind me that Sunday was the Feast of the Holy Family in the Catholic faith. This day will always be special to me and a few of my siblings.

A post I originally wrote in 2010 and reposted in 2013

Memories ofttimes have a way of pervading our daily lives, bringing special meaning to certain sights, sounds, days, or occurrences. Today was one of those days for me.

In the Catholic church, the Sunday after Christmas is the Feast of the Holy Family of Jesus, Mary, and Joseph. One of the readings at church today was from the Book of Sirach, which may be unfamiliar to those brought up in other faiths or Protestant religions, since Sirach was not included in the Hebrew Bible.

The Book of Sirach (also called Ecclesiasticus) is largely a collection of ethical teachings. Today's reading for the Feast of the Holy Family:

God sets a father in honor over his children;
a mother’s authority he confirms over her sons.
Whoever honors his father atones for sins,
and preserves himself from them.
When he prays, he is heard;
he stores up riches who reveres his mother.
Whoever honors his father is gladdened by children,
and, when he prays, is heard.
Whoever reveres his father will live a long life;
he who obeys his father brings comfort to his mother.

My son, take care of your father when he is old;
grieve him not as long as he lives.
Even if his mind fail, be considerate of him;
revile him not all the days of his life;
kindness to a father will not be forgotten,
firmly planted against the debt of your sins
—a house raised in justice to you.

With my father in the church pew next to us, my siblings and I loved to elbow each other and smirk when this passage was read. The line that elicited the action, of course, was "Even if his mind fail, be considerate of him." Little did we realize that when my father grew older, dementia would begin to take over his life. We have always considered it a blessing that my dad's body gave out before his mind.

I felt like I was okay with my dad when he passed away. Although his birthday and the anniversary of his death pass by each year without much trouble, the Sunday after Christmas is always the day that gets to me. I remember a sanguine young guy sitting next to a father who worked his ass off for his family...

lightning36 in high school

My Dad

II: A Timely Decision For Which I Was Rewarded

A little earlier this evening, I suddenly remembered that exactly four years ago, my brother, thundering36, was on his last full day in Las Vegas while I watched over our mother. She had turned 90 years old earlier in the year and seemed to be starting the slow descent toward the end. Her poor health and many medical demands had thundering at pretty much the end of his sanity. I saw a great opportunity to give thundering a much needed break and at the same time have maybe a last chance to have some quality time with my mother. I told thundering that I would pay for his plane fare and watch my mother while he took a short trip to Las Vegas to relax. He at first said no. I told him that he was crazy and that this offer wouldn't be on the table for long. He got his mind right and decided to go. This is what I wrote in my blog four years ago:

After spending Christmas with my wife and kids, I headed to the Chicago suburbs on December 26 to drive my brother, thundering36, to the airport for his vacation to Las Vegas. While he was gone, I took care of my 90-year-old mother, which is quite a chore. The first day went fine. However, thundering36 booby trapped me by making sure our mom was taking a stool softener. Well, dammit, on Sunday it worked ... in spades. I will spare you the gory details, but believe me, I earned my merit badge that day! The rest of the time wasn't so bad. And ... I had not had a chance to spend some real time with my mom for quite a while, so the time was important to both of us.

That brief paragraph did not go into the details about how much fun that day was when the stool softener took effect. I wanted to get some Chinese carry out and asked my mom several times if she would be okay for the short time I was gone. She assured me that she was fine, so I made the trip. When I returned, I ran into the horror show of all time! She felt really bad about it, so I reminded her that she had changed my dirty diapers more than  a few times when I was a baby. So yes - it is kind of funny to talk about that wretched day NOW. However, the assessment of her health was accurate. She passed away less than six months after that visit. While that, of course, was devastating, the thing that will always remain precious and personal to me was having several days of just the two of us, watching television, talking about the past, joking around. I will always treasure those days and will never forget the feelings I had.

III: A Good 2019 Christmas Visit and What the Future Will Bring

My youngest daughter still lives with my wife and myself and my oldest daughter lives only 20 miles away. However, my son lives in Seattle -- 2,000 miles away. He was able to come home this holiday season and stay almost a week. Having adult children together can sometimes be challenging. There were no big fights or arguments with any of the family, and Christmas Eve and the day of taking family pictures with lunch afterward went very well. I am thankful for that as it is upsetting, especially to my wife, to see any of the kids not getting along with one another now that they have grown up.

Realistically, my wife and I also know that we are at a point of change in our lives. I will be retiring next July and my wife will also. If we do not have our house sold and/or are just quite not yet ready for our planned move to Arizona, we might stay in Illinois for a bit longer. My wife would likely continue in her part time job while we wait, and I would finally get a chance to relax. But moving out west will also mean that we will now also have our daughters 1,600 miles away. For the first time in 28 years, it will be just the two of us again. That will certainly be different. I look forward to it, but am also somewhat scared of it after having kids in the house for so long. My wife's best friend lives in Scottsdale and I have a brother, a sister-in-law, a niece and a nephew (and their families) in Phoenix, so we won't feel totally alone out there. I know at least one former poker blogger in the area and know that another who lives 100 miles away from me now will also be living in the Phoenix area come next summer or fall. Going on the assumption that we like living there, we will be near a major airport and will expect that some family and friends will visit. Las Vegas will be only a five hour drive or short plane trip away.

A former high school friend, in response to an old picture I posted on Facebook, said "Some things never get old. Too bad I'm not one of them." I guess he is feeling it too. As one year heads out the window and another begins, I am reminded that I am not a young guy anymore. But like with anything, it is up to us to chart our own future. It is a scary, yet hopeful time.

Thanks for reading. I treasure the many friends that I have made over the years through poker, poker blogging, and trips to Las Vegas. May we all have an excellent 2020!


Saturday, December 21, 2019

Some Family Memories During the Holiday Season

This morning was one of those times when I channeled my mother for a little fun with my wife. We were both up earlier than we'd like on a Saturday morning and I decided to fix my wife breakfast. She had to head out for a bit, but when she came home, she was greeted with an omelette, bacon, a roll and tea. It gave me a chance to say (one time too many as I always seem to!) one of my mother's favorite lines: "It's not like I wanted anyone to thank me, but …" Ha! My mother was one of the most thoughtful and generous people I have ever known. But every once in awhile, it would stick in her craw if she did a bunch of stuff for some organization, or charitable endeavor, yet was amazed that sometimes the words "thank you" seemed to go missing.

Another thing my mom said as she aged was "You know, I'm getting older/over the hill." The smart-alecky son response was, of course, "Getting? What do you mean 'getting'?" Once one of her friends heard that I would say that and was astonished that one of my mom's kids would say that to her. I guess that woman's family didn't use humor the way that mine did.

For the early part of my life, the family Christmas tradition was to open Christmas presents on Christmas Eve starting at about 7:00 p.m. We would usually be joined by an aunt, uncle and cousin. Although they lived in the next town, we didn't see them very often. However, without ever even checking with my mom, they would show up every Christmas Eve. One year, my parents must have been in a snarky mood. Instead of staying at home and opening presents, we went out for the evening. I am guessing it was to my oldest brother's place. Since my aunt never called to confirm about coming over on Christmas Eve, my mom didn't bother telling my aunt that we wouldn't be there. When we got home later that evening, we saw tire tracks in the newly fallen snow in our driveway. To this day I still chuckle about that night.

When I was about ten years old, I was scared to hear that my father had a mild heart attack. I remember him cutting back on caffeine by drinking Sanka freeze dried coffee, trying to cut down on the booze, and trying to stop smoking cigarettes. The coffee part seemed to be no problem for him. He did get to a point years later when his alcohol consumption went down. He struggled with giving up smoking and tried to hide his smoking from the family by doing it outside the house. Like we didn't know when he came inside reeking of cigarette smoke, could see him hiding behind a bush next to our garage, or had a ton of cigarette butts next to the garage. My younger brother and I used to refer to my dad as "Smokey" (never to his face, of course!), and if someone was mad, we always said that the person was "smoking."

Years later and shortly before my dad passed away, I asked him about the mild heart attack. He acted puzzled, and I told him that it was when he started drinking Sanka. It was then that I found out that the mild heart attack was the cover story for the kids and that he actually had been having anxiety/panic attacks from work. I had no idea!

As for my present family, we will all actually be together for a short time this Christmas season. My wife has arranged for a photographer to take some family pictures next weekend. I am actually sort of looking forward to it.

Lastly, I wish a wonderful holiday season to the readers of this blog post. My father has been gone for 15 years and my mother passed away 3 years ago. Holidays are never quite the same when your parents are gone. Be thankful if you still have yours and do something extra nice for them. It will be something to look back on years later that will put a smile on your face.

Monday, December 16, 2019

Getting Used to This Idea of Retirement

As my retirement in the summer of 2020 creeps closer, I keep hearing some recurring themes from people who have already/recently retired:
  • You will get a lot of rest once you hang it up. Expect that your body will need the rest and then start to recover. You don't realize how fatigued you are.
  • You will be surprised at how quickly you begin to forget all the multitudes of things you have to remember in your current job.
  • Once all that information you no longer need to remember is gone from your head, you will feel like your brain has expanded. You will be able to use that space to remember other things.
  • Take time immediately after retirement to do nothing or indulge in some recreation that, for you, will be relaxing. Once you have gotten that out of your system, you will be ready to move on to the next phase.
  • The next phase will be getting some type of a job, volunteer opportunities, putting more time in your hobbies -- basically, some kind of anchor to everyday living. The important thing will be that you will control things here and be able to do as much or as little as you want.
  • You will enjoy life so much more.
I have been working in my current job for almost 26 years and in my profession for almost 38. While I have enjoyed my career, it is time for the grind to end and for me to move on to other things before I croak ... or at least I hope so. I have know several men (including my father-in-law) who have either had debilitating illnesses or have passed away right when they should have been receiving the fruits of their labor. I hope this is not me. I have some medical issues and definitely need to lose a bunch of weight as I have ballooned out the older I get.

The plan for 2020, which might or might not work out on a  timeline my wife and I would like, would be for me to retire in July (this will definitely happen as I have already signed off on the paperwork for it), sell our house in central Illinois, and move to Scottsdale, AZ, where I have family and where my wife's best friend lives. My thought is that we would rent a place for a year and see how we like it. I was just reminded last night as snow came down how I have finally had enough of the cold weather the Midwest gets in the winter. I know that adjusting to the blazing heat of the Arizona summers will be a challenge, but having an abrupt change in my life will be good for me. I have never lived outside Illinois, spending basically the first third of my life in suburban Chicago and the last two thirds in central Illinois.

Of course (u see), being a poker addict, I would like to give Las Vegas a try. However, my wife has never been a fan of Sin City since she is not a gambler and has only been there a limited amount of times, mostly on or near the Strip. I've tried to tell her that t is much different when you get away from that area, but ...

So ... if everything goes well, before 2020 is over, I hope to be one of the regs at Talking Stick Resort and Casino, playing poker in my spare time and living a moderately paced life. Now if I can only make it through the next seven months ...

Thanks for reading!

Wednesday, November 27, 2019

Tickets, Anyone?

A new post by fellow blogger Ace told of his recent traffic ticket and the Notice to Appear that he received. I was reminded of a somewhat humorous situation that I dealt with many years ago. I hate to mention how many years ago it actually was because I will just depress myself at the holiday season as I remember that I am getting old!

I did post the story as part of a multi-themed post almost five years ago. This is what I wrote back then.

The Traffic Ticket and the Concert
I worked all day on Friday and then headed off to see Heart and Joan Jett and the Blackhearts in concert. Just a few blocks away from my house, I got pulled over by a deputy sheriff who thought that a car zipping by at 20 miles over the speed limit should not get away unscathed.

I can't even remember how long it has been since I got a conviction on a ticket. Even the last ticket I received was over ten years ago. I got it late one night coming off an interstate highway in a desolate area. I unfortunately did not come to a complete stop at a stop sign -- something done by many that time of night. Unfortunately, the county police used that intersection as a money making project for the county. Even while getting the ticket, I was advised by the deputy sheriff to ask for court supervision, which would add additional revenue to the county.

I went to the courthouse on the designated day ... along with probably over 100 more suckers. The process was fast -- plead guilty, ask for supervision, pay a little extra money, go home. Sweet way to gouge us chumps who got caught in the late-night trap. My moment in open court was a tad funny.

Court officer: Mr. lightning, are you currently on court supervision?

Me: No. However, in the state of Indiana, I believe I am currently on some sort of driver's diversion program.

Court officer: We don't care about Indiana. Are you pleading guilty and asking for court supervision?

Me: Yes.

Judge: Approved. Pay the clerk. Next case ...

Mrs. lightning and I got to the concert in plenty of time despite the unanticipated delay. My wife was extremely tired from a long week at work and fought to stay awake at the concert.

The concert itself: meh. Both groups sounded really good, but it ended up seeming like some rather boring 1980's flashback to me.
Have a wonderful Thanksgiving! And for all my friends outside the United States - have a great day!

Wednesday, November 06, 2019

Hotel Tony Bigcharles: You Can Check Out Any Time You Like, But You Can Never Leave

The other day I happened to look at a post I wrote in December 2014 -- almost five years ago. At that particular time, I had become frustrated being the assumed head (or Grand Exalted Poobah, as I liked to call myself) of the Tony Bigcharles Inner Circle, a small group of friends that Tony had to complain to, share ideas with, etc.
My post was titled "On Leaving Walden" and quoted Thoreau:

I left the woods for as good a reason as I went there. Perhaps it seemed to me that I had several more lives to live, and could not spare any more time for that one. It is remarkable how easily and insensibly we fall into a particular route, and make a beaten track for ourselves. I had not lived there a week before my feet wore a path from my door to the pond-side; and though it is five or six years since I trod it, it is still quite distinct. It is true, I fear, that others may have fallen into it, and so helped to keep it open. The surface of the earth is soft and impressible by the feet of men; and so with the paths which the mind travels. How worn and dusty, then, must be the highways of the world, how deep the ruts of tradition and conformity! I did not wish to take a cabin passage, but rather to go before the mast and on the deck of the world, for there I could best see the moonlight amid the mountains. I do not wish to go below now.

I had just returned for a trip to Las Vegas and had, actually, one of my all-time favorite trips. I spent time playing poker and hanging out with two of my poker buddies -- Rob and Nick. I won a lot at poker that particular trip (except at, of all places, Bally's!), and had fun doing some other things like participating in the old WPBT (World Poker Bloggers Tournament) and playing Cards Against Humanity with Rob, Nick, Alysia Chang, Rob's old poker friend "Prudence," and via computer for part of the game, Poker Grump. I had hung out with TBC for a bit, but he was being a dick this particular visit and my frustrations with him were at an all-time high. After I got back home, I thought it was time to give up the leadership of the TBC Inner Circle.

I first met TBC in February 2012.  As I recall, I somehow assumed Inner Circle leadership after it was abandoned by poker friend grrouchie. Very Josie had been kind of the interim leader for a time, but she felt like she needed to back away and reclaim some of her life. That was also my intention as 2014 came to an end.

It is funny how time flies. In the almost five years after I decided to back away from the day-to-day life of TBC, I find that I am still connected to him. We don't communicate as frequently as we used to, but I believe and I hope that he still considers me one of the friends that he can depend upon. I sometimes hear from him when he is stressing out or has some big decision to make, or is scared that someone is going to kill him and steal the sockroll. He knows that I am honest with him, and hey -- friends sometimes get upset with each other but still stay friends.

One of the big benefits from being part of the TBC story is the many, many TBC followers whom I've met over the years. I can truly say that almost all of them have been good people who, at one time or another, attempted to help out Tony. Sometimes they get a little frustrated at the progress, which I have sometimes compared to drilling through rock with water - one drip at a time. But their good intentions were there.

This coming February will mark eight years since I first met TBC and became involved in the circus. I must say that the ongoing TBC story provided some light to me on some of the dark, crappy days of my life. Like a lonnnnng book that takes seemingly forever to read, there is always another chapter to try to sneak in before you call it a day. The sockroll lives on!

Thanks for reading!

Friday, October 18, 2019

For Emily, Whenever I May Find Her

Yesterday, I was reminded of kind of a funny/weird family story. It goes back to when my kids were really young.

Friends of mine know that I am a bargain hunter.Years ago when my kids were small, my family stopped at a McDonald's for lunch. While buying a few Happy Meals, I noticed a promotion by McDonald's: fill out a form with a child's name, address, date of birth, etc., and McDonald's would send the child a certificate for a free Happy Meal on his/her birthday. Sounds kind of sweet to a bargain hunter, right? The only problem was that none of my kids had a birthday coming up in the immediate future. So what did I do? I filled out a form for a make believe daughter, whom I named Emily, and assigned her a birthday in about a month so that a certificate for a free Happy Meal would come before any of the real birthdays of my kids. Anytime there was a promotion similar to this, I resurrected my third daughter, Emily. Mind you, this was all back some time ago -- like around 20 years ago.

It was amazing how giving this information on a few innocent looking cards sent to businesses reverberated. Pretty soon, Emily received more mail than any of my real kids. Some of the mailings were a real hoot, such as her invitation to join something like "Outstanding Junior High School Students in America." Her invitation was purportedly based upon a "personal recommendation from her school's administrators" and was based upon her academic achievement and involvement in school activities. Well, I was sure a proud papa!

Over the years, the number of pieces of mail for Emily decreased to almost nothing. However, once every blue moon, we would get something for Emily.

After I finished my work day yesterday, I came home and stopped at the mailbox. I was surprised to see that my wife and I must have raised Emily right as she received a mailing from the St. Jude Children's Research Hospital in Tennessee. Apparently, Emily had contributed one or more times. That's my girl!

Does anyone else have a similar story, or am I the only cheap ass around?

Simon and Garfunkel's "For Emily, Whenever I May Find Her"