Tuesday, April 14, 2020

It All Started With a Picture of an Easter Lily

Needing to buy some dog food and a few other items at my local Meijer store a few nights ago, I first went online to check the weekly ad. Looking at the special Easter ad, I believe, I saw a picture of an Easter Lily. My immediate thought was that my mom used to get an Easter Lily each year. She has been gone now for almost four years.

In the 14+ years of this blog, I have written many stories about my dad. However, I don't recall penning too many stories about my mother.

My mother was born in the mid 1920's in Chicago. She dropped out of high school so that she could work to help support her family during the lean years right after the great depression. After marrying my father, she spent her life dedicated to her family, never holding a job outside the house. In fact, she never learned to drive. Being a good Catholic wife, she was pregnant 13 times! thundering36 and I were lucky to make it as she miscarried eight times. She struggled with depression most of her adult life. I really don't know how much the miscarriages factored into that. She was very religious, and was known as being a very generous and sweet woman.

As I look back, there are certain times that vividly stand out in my memory. For your reading pleasure, I present a few of those times.

1) Little lightning messed up his homework
When I was young, I pretty much did what was asked of me in school. Once, in about fifth grade, I waited too long to do my homework. I tried doing it late in the evening, but I was so tired that I couldn't stay awake to concentrate. I thought it was the end of the world and was crying. She came to comfort me and helped me see that things would turn out okay, but that I couldn't be doing that to myself anymore. Funny how something like that has stuck with me until this day.

2) Little lightning was the most embarrassed guy in fifth grade
My younger brother had a case of school phobia. He would sometimes walk almost all the way to school, then ditch once he got there. One day my mom had her friend drive all of us to school, and my mom came along, too. There was a commotion outside the window of my classroom. One kid shouted out "Hey - lightning's brother is running away from school again." And to my absolute horror, a few seconds later I heard "And look: lightning's mom is running after him!" Yep - here was my idiot brother dashing away from school with my mom in hot pursuit. Gosh, was I embarrassed!

3) The hitchhiker
I was somewhere around 16 years old and driving my sister's smoking hot car, a Chevy Camaro. Unfortunately, I was also driving my mother to a store. Right along the roadside, the most beautiful girl in the world (you know - long, pretty hair, short shorts, great figure, cute face) was standing at the side of the road and was ... hitchhiking! Of course, this was every 16-year old guy's dream! Ummm ... but my mom was in the car. I swear that I didn't say anything but must have had the most pained expression in the world on my face. My mom initially said nothing, but after going a block or so down the road, she casually said "I sure bet you wish I wasn't in this car right now." Argggggg!

4) The name
One time, at around 16 years old, I got frustrated at my mom for something. And in the only nasty thing I EVER remember saying to my mom, I called her a bitch. And as you might guess, I paid for that many, many, many times over. 'nough said!

5) Tim Conway and Harvey Korman/The Stars on Ice show
I was looking to get a present for my parents and saw that Tim Conway and Harvey Korman from the Carol Burnett Show were going to be putting on a show in a small theater near my parent's house. I got online at exactly the right moment and was able to purchase two tickets: front row, dead center! As I recall, thundering36 and went inside the theater to help them get to their seats. They were amazed to be sitting in the absolute BEST seats in the house to see people from one of their favorite television shows.

My mom had always been a huge figure skating fan. One of the touring Stars on Ice shows was in my town around Mother's Day, so my wife and I both had our mothers in for the weekend. Once again, I was fortunate to get seats in the front row. As we walked down ... down ... down the stairs in the large hall, my mom was flabbergasted to see that all the skating stars she had watched on television were now skating a few feet away from her. That was the most excited that I had ever seen her in my life. She was like a little kid, telling us who everyone was, where they were from, what Olympic medals they had won, ... Clearly, those tickets had been the best purchase I had made in my entire life.

6) The teasing routines
It was inevitable that one or two things would come up in almost every conversation with my mom during the waning years of her life. One was that she would say "Well, you know, I'm getting older." Before she could even take a breath, I would immediately shout out "Getting? Getting older?" This would always bring a smile to her face. The other was the famous Roseanne Roseannadanna quote from Saturday Night Live: "Well, it just goes to show you: It's always something. If it's not one thing, it's another."
I guess that maybe this whole post was just a way of saying that I miss my mother during this Easter season. I was fortunate to have her for a mom, and I hope that some of her best qualities rubbed off on me. If you have a mother (or father) who is still alive, think about doing things for them now while you can. There is no way that you can ever pay them back, but being a parent now myself, I can tell you that even showing parents a little love goes a long way toward melting a loving heart.

Thanks for reading!

Thursday, April 09, 2020

I Was Thinking About Tony Bigcharles Last Night, and ...

Last night as I was getting ready to call it a day, I just didn't feel quite sleepy. I started looking at things on the net, and at some point saw a link to a blog post (one of many!) about Tony Bigcharles from about 8 1/2 years ago. The post was written by poker dealer and writer Jennifer Gay Pique, who many years ago would have probably been considered what my brother, thundering36, and others derisively called a "head patter" - one of the legion of poker people who were attempting to assist Tony Bigcharles but had not gotten frustrated and bitter enough to have turned into one of his detractors.

Even now, everyone knows, "Tony's gonna Tony." His latest exploits in private poker games in the Houston area while the rest of the country was practicing social distancing raised the ire of some, but also appeared to earn the admiration of some others. But how much has changed in those 8 1/2 years? I thought it would be fun to go back to Jennifer's post and see. Jennifer does a really good job in describing the many nuances of Tony and giving insight into his history.

The excerpts below are from Jennifer's blog post of December 20, 2011. I have put my commentary in red. Thanks, Jennifer, for permission to use your written material.

"Blog-A-Day Countdown to 2012: The Meltdown of a Fellow Blogger"
A meltdown? They come every so often ...

"This year I met a rather unusual blogger, while out in Vegas. His name is Tony Big Charles, and yes, I realize I am probably the last blog reader on Earth to not know who he is. His blog, aside from being one of the most well read in poker, is an anomaly.  It's painstaking to read. Mind numbing, and sort of like shooting yourself in the foot with a nail gun over and over again. And yet, I can't stop checking it... Two, sometimes three times a day. To understand why, I must first tell you a bit about Tony. I should also mention that it isn't always the blog itself that keeps me glued, but the comments from other readers. Pure f'ing comedic gold, his commenters are.
Some things never change!

Tony Big Charles is a poker player. Actually, that's probably a loose interpretation.  He's a gambler who also plays poker. He blogs about the trials and tribulations of life as a sort-of-homeless low-limit grinder. I don't mean your typical low limit grinder either.. I mean, literally.. he plays $1/$2 and below. $2/$5 if he's REALLY feeling froggy, and usually only in extremely short burst.

Tony defines himself as autistic, and as a natural card counter. He has a penchant for slot machines and an insatiable lust for that which eludes him most... Women. My description of Tony might make it sound like I don't like him.  Which really isn't the case at all.  I'm not sure how I feel about Tony.  He makes me sad, mostly, but you can't stay sad for long.. because 99% of the woes that plague him are self-inflicted.
It seems that Tony has sort of given up on women for now. If any eligible women want to hook up with him, consider using the lightning36 Escort Service. Reasonable rates. Dissatisfaction guaranteed! His wanderlust now seems to focus on finding one of dem GOOD machines, a beatable poker game, cheap housing and access to casinos.

I met Tony while dealing at the Riviera, during my brief stint passing through there. He was in the 7 seat, and I was struggling during my first or second shift dealing, ever.  The players were talking about his blog, and with me being the only female at the table, he honed in on me and asked where I was from. I told him, and he said "Oh, I read a blog by a girl from down there. From Tunica!" I knew instantly he was talking about me, but I was so focused on remembering to burn and turn without looking like a rookie that I didn't make much mention of it. He managed to put two and two together a few minutes later. "You're that girl! You're that girl blogger. I didn't know who you was, but now I do."

Really, our association had begun much earlier. I'd written a post about sex and the female poker player. Something about a genitalia buffet. I'll link it so you can read his comment.  Me being a relatively pleasant southern gal, when he shared with me his story of a lifetime of loneliness, I offered up that I was certain there was someone out there for him.. and that perhaps I would someday introduce him to the beautiful female poker players down here in the South.  Of course, this is before I knew him in person.. and I made the offer without ever expecting to be called on it.

Here we were, Tony Big Charles and I in Vegas, at the same poker table.  He immediately launched into tales of paying girls $100 to sit behind him and rub his shoulders.  Stories of hookers and degenerate females trying to take his money.  Anecdotes I wouldn't have believed, if I wasn't hearing it myself. Without stopping for a breath, he shared personal stories from my blog.. which granted aren't too personal if I'm typing them up for the world to read.. but not necessarily something I'm prepared to discuss while wearing my "Dealer" name tag.  I was literally just trying to not drop the deck, or push the pot to the wrong person.

It was socially awkward, and I escaped rather quickly. Happy to have it behind me, and certain it'd be the last I'd see of Mr. Big Charles.
Ha! Little did she know ... Oops - sorry to interfere with Jennifer's foreshadowing.

Fate wouldn't have it that way though, and as I made my way towards Reno to deal my first even on tour, Tony also decided to relocate. For the entire duration of the event. This wasn't a weekend tournament either.. but a month long extravaganza where we'd spend many hours within three feet of each other, every single day. 

I'd deal to him, listening to how he interacted with others (with about as much grace as a cat trying to swan dive), and then I'd go back to my hotel room and comb through his blog with the intensity of a college student cramming for finals.  It became a quirky obsession that I learn about the different blog readers leaving comments, and whether they were pro-Tony or anti-Tony. Either rooting for his imminent failure or for him to be a success story.. rags-to-nicer-rags if you will.
How many of us have stepped in that quicksand, never able to completely extricate ourselves?

Each day I would awake with new-found commitment to sharing a kind word with him, or genuinely befriending him.. the altruistic nature I want to believe I possess superseding the superficial, and allowing me to make a connection with someone who clearly, so desperately needs a real friend. And then he'd blurt something out, while I'm shuffling, about my personal life and proceed to tell me that a decision I'd made was stupid or didn't make sense. I'd forget, of course, my humanitarian plight and instead fantasize about strangling him. Momentarily. It always passed.
Jennifer's aha moment! How many of you can really relate to this?

Tony's story is overwhelmingly sad and inspiring. Both for the wrong reasons. I am unclear on all the details but the cliff notes include years of homelessness, mixed with a few rousing tales of sleeping on the roof of casinos and camping in sleeping bags outside Foxwoods.  One girlfriend, who he met in a mental ward of some nature, that he managed to procreate with.. before she left him for a "black guy". He seems to have a general distaste for "black guys", perhaps because of this.  He gave his son to his Mother, the child's grandmother, to raise.. and appears to have very little involvement in either of their lives. He now bounces around hotels rooms, primarily between the IP Vegas and the 4 Queens or CircusCircus, with his entire net worth stuffed into his sock. This, dubbed his "sock roll", is public knowledge as he updates daily exactly how many pennies he has to his name.
In case you don't know much of the TBC backstory ... I know you will read this, Tony. How much truth is there to stories that you were banned from different casinos due to: 1) Not flushing a toilet; 2) Sleeping on a casino's roof or in a closet inside a casino? 3) Getting into a fight/argument with a prostitute in a casino?

He says he's essentially scared of his own shadow.  He lives in perpetual belief that someone plans on shanking him in his sleep, and that monsters lurk under the bed. And yet, any girl can come along and con him out of limitless amounts of money in exchange for attention or a little physical affection.
Tony seems sometimes, to be so overwhelmingly helpless, while at the same time being perfectly capable.  He blames others for every bit of misfortune that comes his way, and expects his "friends" to take responsibility for every need he has.  If he can't figure out how to operate a can opener, he asks his readers if someone can please explain it to him. If he goes on tilt and loses a bunch of money in the video poker machines, it's a readers fault for telling him about a promotion.  He constantly asks for advice, and when honest advice is given.. he picks and chooses what he likes about it, argues with those trying to help him, and generally disregards all of it. For someone who has so little, he has an enormous sense of entitlement and very little about his nature that shows true kindness or generosity towards others.
I would say that this paragraph, in a nutshell, describes a TBC that looks and sounds somewhat familiar to many.

And yet, through his blog, I have been absolutely awe struck.. time and time again. Among the following and loyal readers, I see the tireless efforts of others to help him. To do HIM kindness. To shepherd him when he's wayward. Granted, he has a healthy crowd rooting against him.. but what really strikes me is the hearts of those who repeat, like a broken record, kind words urging him to succeed. Readers who have given him rides, and second hand clothing. People who have shared their time when he's been in a bind. Virtual friends who overlook the negative and pray for him. Poker players who wouldn't hesitate to beat him out of a healthy pot, should the opportunity arise, check on him and respond to him on a daily basis; simply because they are called to care about another human being who perpetually teeters on the brink of self-destruction. A lot of them, much kinder and more patient than myself, serve as a reminder that I shouldn't be so quick to judge and instead, more apt to care.
I truly believe that I have met many wonderful, decent people who have tried to help Tony. Several of these people are among the best friends that I have made due to poker.

I write this now, because for a long time, Tony has been beating the odds.  What started with just a couple hundred dollars, he managed and grew to over $15,000.  He'd been successfully living on the road for a few years without any major hitches, and seemed to be thriving in a world that's hard for someone without obstacles to overcome to make it in.  As much as some of the things he says and does grates on my very being, I was proud of Tony. I found myself slowly falling into the Pro-Tony camp.. the silent, and sometimes not so silent, readers who really wanted him to succeed. To find happiness, find peace and maybe someday find a woman who doesn't smoke crack or turn tricks, to settle down with.
This is another part of why the TBC story is compelling and amazing. Despite some of the vile crap that he posts on Twitter and his blog, the guy is an amazing human version of a cockroach. Despite having many things against him, he always finds a way to get by. It might not be glamorous, but he survives.

Then, like a time bomb tends to do, it all exploded. In a matter of just a couple of weeks.. without explanation (though not without foreshadowing), Tony went on life tilt. As one reader put it "Tony hit his panic button".  The sock-roll fell from $15,000+ to under $8,000.  Then to $5,500 or so. He left Reno, almost in an emergent state.. paying over $800 for a cab ride to Vegas. Rumors, just tonight on Twitter, suggest yet another melt-down. Tony is nearing broke, and he is out of options. After doing so well for so long, too. There is no doubt that slot machines and tilt-gambling are the culprits, and that Tony and Tony alone is to blame.
Surprisingly, Tony has been able to keep the sockroll above $10,000 for some time. He used to "turtle up" when he got down to almost nothing, but over the years he has learned how to keep the sockroll at $10K or more. And yes -- blackjack, video blackjack and video poker, along with a stubbornness to never be stuck and therefore martingale -- have been some of the main impediments to his having a higher quality of life.

I find myself firmly in the Pro-Tony side of things right now.  I feel bad for letting his social awkwardness get to me and the times I've cracked up over a witty insult left on his blog.  He's an odd critter for sure.  One that can be rude and hurtful with the things he says, and has little to no regard for the majority of the people in his life. His contributions to the online poker community have been tremendous, though not always for the reasons I think he anticipated, but I want more than ever for him to come out of this tailspin and get his life on track. He has always been open and honest about his gambling problems, and I think it's somewhat disheartening to see the grip our industry can have over one's soul.
Unfortunately, Jennifer once again hit the nail on the head. As much as people would like to see Tony get over the hump, the siren call of gambling continues to reverberate lovingly in his ears.

I don't have a clear cut solution to the problems that Tony's dealing with. The short and sweet answer would be.. "Quit gambling. Get an apartment. Get a job." But I feel like Vegas has it's talons in his heart, and he'll never be free of the destructive tendencies he exhibits. So, with that in mind, I don't have a way to close this blog on any sort of positive note. I suppose I'm just sharing my thoughts and inviting you all to read along with me, if you like. If you don't already. He is a living example at times, for everything in the casino industry. The opportunities it can provide the disciplined, and the far more common destruction that can befall those who lose control. If you're the praying, or charitable type.. I'd invite you to keep him in your thoughts, that someday he'll find a modicum of sanity and stability.
If only he could ...

I am certain Tony will read this.  I'm not certain how he'll take my perspective, but I know he'll appreciate that I didn't mince words over it. He too chronicles his every thought on a public forum, so he understands what he's opening himself up to. Nothing I've said here, is a unique or foreign concept when talking about Tony Big Charles.  I'll give him credit for one thing though.. his blog has me hooked.
Tony has certainly been forthcoming in his blog and social media. You can usually count on what he says, except for those somewhat rare circumstances when he makes up some story - usually to focus attention back on himself, or sometimes for other reasons that usually have at least some degree of wackiness to them.

Edited to Add: In an odd twist of events, within an hour of finishing this blog post.. Tony has decided to delete his blog, twitter and facebook and "disapear" in order to break his gambling demons and start anew. "
Even back then, he was really trying.

So ... there it is: a report on TBC from 8 1/2 years ago. Since then, he has gotten the sockroll up to close to $50,000 (the yearly salary at which, he once wrote, people are considered rich and should kill themselves) twice and doesn't (to my knowledge) waste his money anymore on female grifters who saw a guy who wanted attention and affection and took advantage of him. He's traveled all around the US going from poker room to poker room, world be damned. And while he isn't living a life of luxury, probably more than anyone I know, he does what he wants when he wants. It would be nice for some of us who are locked into jobs and responsibilities to taste at least a bit of that freedom. Yet, with that freedom comes an imprisonment due to his horrible addiction to blackjack, video blackjack and video poker, and his inability to accept that part of being a professional gambler is that you cannot end up a winner every single day.

What will happen to Tony in the future? I have seen this recurring show for years now. My best guess is that Tony will continue to "Tony" until some illness or disease finally slows down his gambling. Hopefully, he will still be okay to live at his mom's house or at the house of his friend, Ray, and somehow figure out how to live the rest of his life. However, his lifestyle and lack of attention to his health makes me fearful that there is some medical demon that will rear its ugly head, leaving us all to wistfully remember him and his exploits. Only time will tell. He'll probably outlive me!

Sockroll as of April 9, 2020: $11,300

Thanks for reading!

Wednesday, April 01, 2020

Could the COVID-19 Virus Be the Springboard for a Renaissance of Online Poker in the US?

Blog hero playing in a 2009 WSOP event

Oh, so many years ago, online poker life was sweet. I had over 30 poker room icons on my computer screen, I was part of several online poker groups (Cardschat.com, the Shark Poker Tour, the K-9 Poker Tour, the Online Poker Tour, and the WPBT - World Poker Bloggers Tour), had tons of great online poker buddies, played waaay too much online poker, and basically had a blast. As I look back, I can't believe that my wife didn't divorce me, throw me out on the street, or send me to live in a distant area of the house. My kids would routinely hear me scream as I took a bad beat late in a tournament. Yes, those were some glorious years!

I loved online poker, likely because I had always been a sports junkie and competition junkie and, let's face it, life, stress, age, responsibilities and injuries take their toll on the body and mind. Online poker was my outlet, my security, my refuge. I was relatively new to the game, having fooled around some in my younger years, but having no real concept of what poker was really about. I clearly identify myself as a member of the Moneymaker Generation, having really become enamored of poker beginning with those marvelous ESPN WSOP broadcasts.

Everything seemed to be moving swimmingly along when that terrible day hit: April 15, 2011. We know it more commonly as Black Friday. I remember (the details may be off here) that I had had this great month right before Black Friday, cashing out something like $5,000 from several sites, but mostly from my favorite, Poker.com, via $1/2 NL and other cash games. I had an $1,800 withdrawal that got caught right when Netteller payments stopped. Suddenly, the fun I had been having for many years just stopped.

With few outlets for online poker (watching sites suddenly disappear), I shifted my play to brick and mortar poker rooms. I must say, I love playing live and next to people just as much, if not more, than I loved playing online.

In the years since Black Friday, I occasionally played in some play money games and, via Cardschat.com, played some freerolls just on a whim. I used to be one of the "loyalers" on Cardschat, but I had that taken away since I didn't participate much in its forums or accounts. I played some on ACR and Bovada, but I never really felt the same way about online poker that I did before Black Friday. Which brings us to 2020 ...

I am amazed at how COVID-19 kicked major ass around the world and then finally, in the United States. Who could have ever believed that our society would be shut down so much? As for Las Vegas and other gambling destinations, could we ever have believed that casinos everywhere would be shut down? I remember being on The Strip one year when a torrential downpour suddenly came. Water was up to the seats of the bus stop shelters. I waded my way from the New Frontier back to Harrah's. When I got into Harrah's Casino, there was some water near the entrances, but otherwise gambling was going on like nothing happened. Ha - nothing could ever shut ALL those places down!

As many of us poker players began to jones with poker rooms shutting down and shelter in place and similar situations happening across the US, suddenly something began to look appealing: online poker! The fortunate residents of Nevada and a few other states might sometimes be critical of WSOP.com, but hey -- it's in this country and is LEGAL there. I became envious of my Las Vegas friends who could still play on a totally legit platform online. But ... the lure of poker began to suddenly make places like Bovada and ACR look more attractive, and even play money games (sometimes with private deals among players) are starting to become popular. Friends who play at different online poker sites started reporting that regular tournaments were suddenly having bloated fields. COVID-19 had become the impetus for increased traffic at online poker sites. Bazinga!

As we (US residents) collectively make our way through our struggles the next several months, it will be interesting to see what happens to online poker. My prediction is that the number of players will increase and continue to do so in the short run. It is hard to imagine what the US will be like once we largely move beyond COVID-19, but at that point, when casinos and poker rooms reopen, is when the rubber will hit the road. Will there indeed be an online renaissance in online poker, or will old habits return once our in-person options reopen? Only time will tell.

Thanks for reading!