Monday, January 28, 2019

A Dark Secret From the Past Is Revealed

Last night was what I would usually consider a pretty fun night. I had been to the Par-A-Dice Casino in the afternoon to play poker, but after two hours of being card dead (following a first hand double up plus), I decided to drive home and not worry about fighting a little snow that was forecast for the late evening. I picked up some barbecued chicken from my favorite place in town and some Taco Bell for my daughter, headed home, and then saw that the end to The Godfather was on AMC. It was followed by The Godfather II, another one of my all-time favorite movies. As The Godfather II was nearing an end, I was pretty tired and drifted off to sleep.

With the television on and my night light still on, I woke up in the wee hours of the morning. I looked at my cell phone and saw that someone had left me a message. I was surprised to discover that the private message was from someone I had not seen since high school. She had sent me a friend request a year or two ago, and had commented on one of my Facebook posts dealing with one of my trips. That had been the extent of our contact since we graduated from high school. I was saddened to read the message that she wrote:

Hi lightning: Not sure if you remember me,  but you knew me as Joanie back in school.  I wanted to thank you for your friendship and acceptance of me back then.  I was quite the mess.  What you didn't know was that all through my growing up years,  my siblings and I were being physically, sexually,  and emotionally abused.  Your kindness to me helped keep me from committing suicide all those years ago.  I wanted to thank you for that.

Now it's not like I was any type of hero or anything. I met Joanie (not her real name) when I began my freshman year of high school. We were in the same homeroom. The thing that stood out most about Joanie was her size. She was big -- really big. I wasn't really fast friends with her, but rather was an acquaintance. She always seemed to have a cheery personality and got along well in school. Although extremely large people can be ostracized in school, I don't believe that ever happened to her.

When she sent me a friend request on Facebook, I was quite surprised. She had changed her first name, and I had wondered why. I looked at some of her posts and pictures (my kids would saying that I was "creeping" on her!), saw that she had lost a lot of weight, and appeared to be married and have a couple of kids. It looked like she was leading a great life, which, of course, made me happy.

I am guessing that she changed  her first name to symbolically get away from the pain she had growing up. And back in high school, I and likely most others had no idea of the struggles that she had gone through. I just felt really bad as I have always thought that I lived a pretty good life and didn't face challenges that some people have had to face.

My guess is that Joanie is sending the same message to several of our old high school classmates who were nice to her and just treated her like everyone else when she was going through such turmoil and was an easy target because of her weight. Maybe it is part of ongoing healing for her. I certainly give her major props for living through a hellish life and becoming a happy, fulfilled adult.

If there was any lesson I had reinforced early this morning, it is this: Be careful about the assumptions you make about people, for you may have no idea of the conditions under which they live and have no control. And treat people with kindness as much as possible, for you never know when a friendly smile, an offer to help, or even just  random regular behavior may be things that help someone out when they are at their lowest point and their life could radically change one way or another.

Epilog: I responded to Joanie and received the following reply:

Thanks,  lightning.  It took me until my mid-30s to truly start putting it all together.  I vowed as a child that I wasn't going to be my parents.  Resiliency is key: it can be learned,  but seems to be more an innate trail.  My youngest sister and I made it,  but my other sister and youngest brother did not.

Thanks for reading.

Thursday, January 24, 2019

Uneven Start to the Poker Year

With the beginning of a new year, I decided for the first time to carefully track my poker cash game wins and losses. Being someone who is not always able to get to a casino but instead goes in spurts, I have never taken a solid, realistic look at how much I win or how much I lose. Almost always, I play $1/2 or $1/3 No Limit.

This past fall/winter, I felt pretty good about poker whenever I took trips. While in Australia in early September, I made a good haul when playing at the Crown Casino in Melbourne. The cash games seemed pretty soft and I was able to play some good, aggressive poker. Between Christmas and New Year, I had some great sessions at Harrah's New Orleans.

However, in generic trips to casinos, I didn't fare quite so well. I had very uneven results at some of the local charitable games and at select casinos I can get to by car (Par-A-Dice Casino in East Peoria, IL, Harrah's in Joliet, IL, Grand Victoria Casino in Elgin, IL and the Horseshoe in Hammond, IN). It's interesting how sometimes the wins in poker rooms come in bunches. The ol' sockroll seems to get a bit thick, and then suddenly I wonder where it all went. The next thing you know, the bills have been replenished.

I started off 2019 by playing two sessions in the local charitable games. They actually are run by Chicago Charitable Games, which comes down about twice a month. I got nowhere in these games and lost a bit. Then last Sunday, I went to the riverboat (Par-A-Dice) and had a great afternoon/early evening session. How to explain this? I don't know.

This coming weekend, weather permitting, I will be back at Par-A-Dice. Even though the boat isn't that great, it certainly beats the charitable games atmosphere -- uncomfortable chairs in a Moose or Elks hall, little food, nothing else there. Hopefully I will be able to sharpen my skills a tad before returning to Las Vegas the night of February 10. In Las Vegas, I have noticed that I seem to play better and win more at the nicer places with $1/3 poker like Wynn and Aria. Still, Bally's Mirage and MGM are the places where I feel very comfortable.

Of course, it might also be time to face what could be the real story: until I retire and get to spend more time pokering, I might not be quite as good as I'd like to be. I could make that sound much worse, but I won't degrade my skills more than that!

Thanks for reading!

Thursday, January 17, 2019

Back in Las Vegas Feb 10 - 15

After a long hiatus, I am on track to return to Las Vegas for some cash game poker action February 10-15. This nine-month gap (since last June) between visits is the longest I can remember since I have been making multiple trips to Las Vegas over the most of my adult life. There were a few years when I made as many as five trips to Las Vegas in a year, but more often, I made two, three or four.

A combination of things made the gap this long. I traditionally make a Las Vegas trip right around Labor Day, but chose last year to visit my brother, thundering36, in Australia instead. In recent years, I have also made a few combined Seattle-Phoenix trips (my son lives in Seattle and Phoenix is my proposed retirement area), which lessened my ability to schedule in Las Vegas. And also, to be honest, the "changing" of Las Vegas made traveling there less desirable. The comped rooms I had formerly received from Caesars Entertainment were no longer there. Bullshit resort fees that surpassed $30/night made trips less cost effective. My tier credits on my Caesars Rewards card will be zeroed out at the end of the month, meaning that I would have to pay to park at several casinos, lessening my desire to rent a car. All in all, just more examples of how the way that Las Vegas properties are doing business are turning away people like me. They certainly do not give the impression that they care about recreational low rollers.

So here is my first shout out to friends who live in or will be in Las Vegas the week that I am there. If you'd like to get together to toss some cards or grab a meal or a few drinks, let me know via comments on this blog, private messaging through Twitter, or text messages if you have my cell phone number. I currently have few solid plans. I am planning on playing at TheTrooper97's Thursday afternoon game at Westgate. I am considering going to the Golden Knights game against Phoenix on Tuesday night and have thought about extending the trip a half day to catch the KISS concert at T-Mobile on Friday night. However, once in Las Vegas I tend to not to want to go to special events, preferring to spend more time donking off chips at the poker tables instead.

I imagine I'll be playing at some of my usual favorite rooms -- Bally's, MGM and Mirage. I also hope to get in at least one session at Aria and one at Wynn. And if someone is willing to provide private Uber service for me, I'd like to give poker another try at Green Valley Ranch. A year ago, I had a blast playing a late-night session there with ManInBlack and Chris A.

As I get ready for the supposed blizzard to tear through Illinois the next few days, visions of Las Vegas are already going through my head. I'll be loading up my car for the drive to the airport in exactly 24 days. The countdown begins ...

Thanks for reading!

Note: The picture at the top of the blog was taken at an Ultimate Bet party at Ghostbar at the Palms Casino many, many moons ago. At least one of us had his fair share of free booze at the party!

Friday, January 11, 2019

Women Done Me Wrong!

Thursday - January 10, 2019

Item: Wife takes close look at one of our cats, Sophie. Guess what? Sophie has worms! Of course, where does Sophie usually sleep? You guessed it - our bed! Other cat, Holly, decides to tackle Sophie. Likely both have worms. I don't want to touch anything. Trip to vet is in near future . Cha-ching! Excellent start to the day.

Item: Wife has day off while I have extremely busy day ahead of me. Apparently, she has nothing better to do than send me text messages like this: "If you don't stop leaving toothpicks laying on the floor, I'm going to cut you off forever. From toothpicks, not from me. One of these days you're going to swallow it instead of having it fall on the floor." Ho hum. What a terrible human being I am.

Item: Guy in the office next to mine shows me the check-in sheet of female student he just saw. In the area where students could specify a preference for who they would like to see, she wrote in "not lightning." What? Apparently this past summer I was the bearer of bad news to her. After informing her that she would not be able to get into the health program she wanted, I also told her that she should not arrange the school and work schedule she planned. I guess that made me the bad guy. I'm sure that under the guidance of someone else she will do better than two C and two F grades.

Item: Getting ready to pick up dinner order at Buffalo Wild Wings when daughter calls and asks if I can go to her house in the next town, grab a pair of her jeans, and take them to her back in my town where she is working a part-time job. I was guessing there had been some sort of "female issue" and didn't question why. I make the drive to her house, rummage around, get the jeans only to find out ... that her girlfriend had already grabbed a pair and was a few blocks away from delivering  them. I rode out there for nothing except being a dedicated father.

No wonder Superman had a Fortress of Solitude!

Monday, January 07, 2019

My Wife Just Doesn't Understand

Last night was a horrific night for Chicago Bears fans across the universe as the Chicago Bears's kicker Cody Parkey hit the post and crossbar on a kick that would have given Da Bears a post-season win over the Philadelphia Eagles. Parkey had hit the post on several kicks previously in the season (four in one game!), and the miss, foreseen by many Bears fans, left me and, I'm sure, others stunned and numb.

After having a little time to lick my wounds, I went out with my wife to get some new tennis shoes for myself, then a late dinner. Over dinner, we rehashed the Bears game and talked about being a sports fan and following teams. My wife has never really been  into sports and finds it difficult to understand how something like a lost game can mean so much and affect so many fans to the extent that it does.

To explain it, I reference my background in viewing sports and rooting for teams. I grew up in the Chicago suburbs and all my life, I have rooted for all the Chicago professional sports teams -- Bears, Blackhawks, Bulls, Cubs and White Sox. There were even some years of rooting for professional soccer teams like the Chicago Sting, but I am not including those teams here. I therefore rooted for five sport teams each year. How was my dedication rewarded with championships?

I grew up in the 1960's and was too young for the 1961 Blackhawks Stanley Cup victory and the Bears 1963 championship. My sports memories began around 1966-1967. I faithfully cheered for all the Chicago teams, but dang -- what about some team winning a championship? I finally got my first one with the Bears Super Bowl victory in 1986. In effect, I had rooted for Chicago teams for about 100 seasons until one finally took home a championship.

The Chicago Bulls totally became the Chicago's team with the first real dynasty in my lifetime, capturing six championships in eight years in the 1990's. My usual poker gear includes a hat from that era that celebrates the double triple crowns.

Throw in more years of waiting, and finally my beloved White Sox won the World Series in 2005. They did not repeat, so there were more years of waiting until the Blackhawks, a team that had always been good while I was growing up and then were terrible in some of my adult years, won three Stanley Cups in  a five year span. Pretty heady stuff. While not quite as great as the Bulls dynasty, the mini-dynasty was quite a ride.

In 2016, the ultimate Chicago sports orgasm occurred when the Cubbies won their first World Series in over 100 years. Although they haven't repeated, they are still a threat for 2019.

So ... in approximately 250 seasons of sports fandom and dedication, I have seen 12 championships. As for Da Bears, they have only been to two Super Bowls and have won one -- not quite so rewarding for my 40+ years of following the team. They have not won a championship for 32 years. Whenever I hear things like "Bears football" -- which really means having a crushing defense, to me the Bears football tradition includes lots of years of suckage. They were not even projected to have a winning record this season, so to see the team play so well was quite a trip. They could have won almost every regular season game and lost some close ones. If only they had inched a little better toward the top and could have had a bye for this year's Wild Card Weekend.

I know my wife cannot possibly understand how much sports means to some people, especially when we pour our heart and soul into our teams -- and how a sudden, bitter defeat can just knock the wind out of our sails. How a championship can sometimes relieve all the hurt spent rooting and rooting and rooting for a team to win.

I distinctly remember when the Bears won that Super Bowl in 1986. I still have packed away the Super Bowl program from that event -- stained with champagne that I happily slurped that wonderful day. My wife was there to hug me when my tears flowed when Patrick Kane scored the winning phantom goal to nab the Stanley Cup in  2010. But there were other not-so-glorious moments: Black Wednesday for the White Sox; the collapse of the 1969 Cubs; the Blackhawks painful Game 7 Stanley Cup loss to the Canadiens; the Bartman game; and last night.  And through it all, my wife just doesn't understand ...