Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Haunt Me



And from Virginia Ave.
(as far as Chelsea)
you want to be deaf
because as long
as your ears open
you might hear
in the shifting
of the dunes,
in the swaying
bayside marshes,
her melancholy
murmurings in Spring.
Even in Brigantine
the tsunami
of her voice
darkens the beach.
All stock in any love
still funds obsession.
So, with piles
of gray ash
you’ll draw the petunias
and all those fragrances,
which aren't your cologne.
Greenhead flies
bite exclamation points
into your ankles.
And in Ventnor
Mini cars are parked,
and the lights caution
that lips the color
of ripe cayenne
stain forever.
Your lips part
so ribbons of wind
can tongue their thin edges.
Seabirds
fold their wings
and caw mono-eyed,
you can't miss
their beaks of asphalt
and feathers of chalk,
claws of dusk and gloaming.
But here your myths
have no merge.

And your hands
are sweet with sweat,
unlike your boots
which are dotted
by questions.
Why is her voice
full of moons
whose shimmer
never quarters,
never wanes?

And until next we meet, may all your potatoes be sweet (and dusted with cinnamon.)

Thursday, December 13, 2012

A Very Good Year




SUPPOSE

a sunny,
almost winter day.
Overhead, the easy grace
of thirty-six geese,
as slender and swayed
by the supple breeze
as marsh grass rising
like the last note
of "Is it a Crime."
And isn't it the sixiest of numbers,
its square root
equally sixy in jeans or
a cocktail dress?
Lips full and shining
as the moon after
the last hurricane.
Thirty-six is a leg length
that fits me almost perfectly.
I set my Earl Grey tea
down on the flat top of the three,
place my breakfast sandwich
in the hungry hollow below,
wishing to pick up
the six and trill it like a whistle.
On the jitney journey here
there were three people in the first row,
six scattered in the back.
In the Starbucks
there is a woman in front of me.
Her choice of earrings says
that she is a fashionista
of her wants,
but that she cannot work
a map well enough
to find the North of her needs.
I know too,
that there are 360 degrees
in every circle and that she
has more than 180
degrees of vision.
She is almost as slick
as she thinks she is
as she pretends not to notice me.
I pretend not to notice her
pretending not to notice me.
We both enjoy this game,
two schoolkids at Recess.
Her smile
is thirty-six diamonds
set in sunlight,
6 x 6 candles
on a gourmet cake.
The sommeliers all say
1976 was a very good year.
I know nothing of wine,
but can admire the curve
of a well crafted bottle.
My eyes linger on
every letter on the label.
Have I forgotten
a card for a friend
whose birthday approaches?
In the Gift Shop
I eye a box of thirty-six
dark chocolates,
imagine a certain one
melting slowly
on the heat of my tongue.

And until next we meet, may all your potatoes be sweet (and dusted with cinnaomon.)

Friday, November 30, 2012

Seven Bean Salad



Following, find a Crown of seven word poems. This form has the brevity and economy of haiku, but allows a little more freedom. A few of these probably also qualify as Haiku or Senryu, but who's counting?

SEVEN BEAN SALAD

Her arms
pinned tight- my
tongue attacks.

How hot
her hands have
suddenly become.

So soft
in my mouth-
Her gasp.

Half moon-
Marked in my
shoulder blade.

Curling hard
for a moment-
Her toes.

Her snores
fall softly, turning-
Autumn leaves.

A scent
still sleeps here-
Coconut oil.

And until next we meet, may all your potatoes be sweet (and dusted with cinnamon.)

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Kissing the Sky (For Jimi on his birthday)







How Jimi
spangled our banner-
Star crossed eyes.

Reading Francis Scott Key
(through Jimi’s eyes)

Today, let's examine the most infamous performance of what is probably the most famous political poem in the USA, ‘The Defence of Fort McHenry’. Written in 1814 by a lawyer and amateur poet on a sloop outside of Baltimore Harbor during a naval bombardment of Fort McHenry, the poem was published widely in American newspapers in the days and weeks after the battle. It became famous as a poem but became immortal when re-published by a Baltimore sheet music publisher as a song, under the name ‘The Star Spangled Banner.’ It has always struck me as curious that discussions of ‘Political Poetry’ (by ‘Political Poetry’ I mean poems with socio-political import or concern) seldom mention this poem, despite the fact that its prevalence in American culture is at least a tacit admission of the power of poems to speak to ideas and concepts of deep socio-political impact. Perhaps this is simply due to the fact that people most commonly encounter the poem as a song, and therefore think of it as only such. It was however, conceived, written and originally published as a poem, and the fact that it could be sung to the tune of ‘To Anacreon in Heaven Forever’ (an English drinking song) had to be pointed out the poet by his brother-in-law Judge Joseph Nicholson. (This is not a unique feature of this poem. Metrical poems with a verse and chorus structure are often set to music, or sung to preexisting melodies. Some poems without such a structure share this feature, such as the poems of Emily Dickinson which can almost all be sung to the tune of “The Yellow Rose of Texas’).

Many people think of ‘The Star Spangled Banner’ as political only because it is the National Anthem, failing to realize that it became so (in 1931) because of its popularity resulting from its nationalistic political overtones. It would be almost impossible for a poem to have as its central image the national flag, depicted surviving an invasion of the country by a foreign power and for that poem not to be political. Written right after the British had captured Washington, DC and burned the (not yet) White House, the poem was published and re-published because it encapsulated a moment in the battle that could stand as symbolic of the entire young nation in its moment of crisis. That is, that like the battle-scarred flag that remained after the fierce bombardment, the nation would persevere and remain intact and free after winning the war with the British. But, the song became and remained popular (it was commonly sung at the beginnings of baseball games during WW1, before it became the national anthem) because it symbolized something important about the ideals on which the country was founded. That those ideals had to be fiercely fought for, and that the battle for them is ongoing (as the passage of the insidiously named Patriot Act reminds us) and never ending. An assertion of the poem’s fourth stanza that “this be our motto ‘in God is our trust’, is the source of the National Motto “In God we trust” adopted in 1954. This epitomizes the power of poetry to utilize images to communicate with readers in a deeply emotional and powerful manner. The poem has an interesting structure, each of the firs three stanzas opens with a question, and these questions are answered in the fourth stanza. The first stanza, which is the only one most Americans know (if they know it at all) is normally the only one sung, and is itself composed of three questions. Each line ranges from 11 to 13 syllables and overall average about 12 to a line.

O say, can you see, by the dawn's early light,
What so proudly we hail'd at the twilight's last gleaming?
Whose broad stripes and bright stars, thro' the perilous fight,
O'er the ramparts we watch'd, were so gallantly streaming?
And the rockets' red glare, the bombs bursting in air,
Gave proof thro' the night that our flag was still there.
O say, does that star-spangled banner yet wave
O'er the land of the free and the home of the brave?

The first verse is capable of standing alone as a complete poem or song, which is probably one of the reasons that the others are rarely sung. The fact that the third question of the first verse “O Say, does that star-spangled banner yet wave . . .” is left unanswered at the end gives the song its timeless quality. It also does not hurt that it can be interpreted as two different questions:

1. Does the flag still wave, as in Did it survive the battle ? (Key’s original intent)
2. Does the flag still wave over a free independent country?

The second question can continually be asked in times of crisis, which would explain its rise in popularity during WW1. In fact, in 1916 President Wilson ordered that the song be played on military occasions. Key’s use of a question as a rhetorical device, and use of a central concrete image “the star-spangled banner” as a symbol gives the poem its power. And allows (the first verse at least) to ‘show’ and not ‘tell’ and leave it open to some interpretation thereby avoiding the two most common pitfalls that plague the majority of poorly written political poems. However, as the National Anthem the song has also become a magnet for political protest, particularly by African-Americans who feel that the country might not be achieving the ideals espoused in the poem. The most world renowned of these protests occurred in 1968 during the Olympic games in Mexico City. Two US sprinters, Tommy Smith and John Carlos, winners of the 200 meter dash stood barefoot on the medal podium and during the customary playing of the national anthem of the gold medallist, each lowered their head and simultaneously raised a single black-gloved fist. This silent act of rebellion so enraged IOC and US Olympic officials, that Carlos and John were immediately withdrawn from the upcoming relays, stripped of their medals, barred from the Olympic Village and ordered to leave Mexico City.

Coming, as it did in the summer of ’68 it is entirely possible that this protest inspired Jimi Hendrix to begin playing the “Star-Spangled Banner” during his concerts the following year. Early in ’69 Hendrix played the song first in Stockholm, Sweden and then in Los Angeles, CA. It was however, his performance of the song on the last day of Woodstock that was captured on film and quickly became the most infamous instrumental performance in the song’s history. Hendrix’s brilliant use of the song to protest the expanded bombing (now including Cambodia and Laos) of the ongoing Viet Nam war sears into the senses like an aural burning of the flag. To many conservatives it sounds like a simple-minded desecration of the song by a guitarist in the midst of an LSD-induced rage. A careful and close reader however, cannot help but acknowledge it as pure genius. Hendrix’s particular genius lay in his use of the guitar to play not only music (melodies and harmonies), but also to create sound effects that illustrate the actions depicted by certain lyrics. Jimi’s use of the poem’s words, although never actually spoken may be the most remarkable thing about the entire performance. The key is to recite the lyrics as Jimi plays them. He opens with a bluesy but otherwise straightforward rendition of the song up until the words ‘the rocket’s red glare’, at this point he stops playing the melody and reproduces the sound of an incoming rocket and its explosion and resulting chaos. Another incoming rocket, a second explosion, and then screams and wails of anguish follow this. There is a third incoming rocket and explosion and then from amidst the roar of distorted feedback emerges a single musical phrase, the part of the melody which accompanies the words ‘the bombs bursting in air.’ The isolation of this single phrase makes it clear that this is a deliberate protest to the current bombing of Viet Nam. To eliminate any question about his intent, Hendrix (who served in the US Army in the 101st Airborne) follows the phrase ‘the bombs bursting in air’ with the sound of an air raid siren, then a duplication of roaring jet engines, and then the distinctive and unmistakable whistle of bombs falling through the air and exploding. Unlike the explosions of the earlier rockets, these explosions are much lower and more massive (this was the war that created the phrase ‘carpet-bombing’) and are followed by extended screams and cries of anguish. Hendrix then returns to next the part of the melody that corresponds with the lyrics ‘gave proof through the night that our flag was still there.’ He then delivers his ‘coup de grace’, interpolating almost two bars of the song “Taps.” This is probably the most stunningly creative and apt part of the entire performance, since the song “Taps” was composed by US Army General Daniel Adams Butterfield during the Civil War and is primarily used by the Army for two occasions; the nightly lowering and folding of the Post flag, and at military funerals right after the folding and presentation of the flag. Thus, “Taps” directly connects the US Army, the US flag, nightfall, and death. In fact, the song’s first verse concludes with the words ‘falls the night’, and its third verse concludes ‘Friend, Good Night.’ Hendrix follows this snippet of “Taps” with the third and concluding question of the first verse, ‘Oh Say does that star-spangled banner yet wave’, letting the notes of the word ‘wave’ trail and hang like a flag in a stiff breeze. He then continues with ‘O’er the land of the free’ and here he lets the notes of the word ‘free’ feedback into a high-pitched whistle which then plunges and falls like the earlier bomb sounds. The pun on the word ‘freefall’ is almost certainly intended, since that word is a perfect description of how bombs descend from planes, and Hendrix concludes with ‘and the home of the brave.’ His pause after the word ‘wave’ highlights the fact that the last question is really two different questions, and foregrounds the second of the two questions. Given that the original poem was written after a naval bombardment and that Hendrix’s recital (even though instrumental) foregrounds the poem’s words to protest the US bombing of another country, how could this not be a gorgeous example of political performance poetry?

And until next we meet, may all your potatoes be sweet (and dusted with cinnamon.)

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Gratitude



The heat of her hand
between bare shoulder blades-
Winter sunlight.

This summer I passed a half a hundred trips around the sun and have spent some of the ensuing time in reflection. In celebration, here are at least fifty things I've found to be thankful for;

The sliver of sunlight that fell across my face this morning and lifted my eyelashes from sleep.

My mother's encouragement in all my endeavors, even the ones she disagreed with.

My father's insistence on excellence, his attention to detail, his attempts (however unsuccessful) to embrace the awkwardness that was his oldest son.

The thirteen year old boy who kisses me on the forehead and says "Thanks Dad. " for no particular reason.

The twenty-eight of my thirty-two teeth that have stuck it out this long.

The biscuits in the Borgata Buffet at breakfast, the butter that colors their crannies, the syrup that sticks them to my tongue.

All Fifty Shades of Grey (Earl, that is)

For "Kind of Blue" and "A Love Supreme" and notes that always get taken and pondered.

The length of my arms, the strength of my fingers, the seams in my then two year old son's T-Shirt, that day he darted between two parked cars and I caught his collar inches before he reached the street and an oncoming Escalade.

For nipples that know the difference between the soft nap of a sweater and the tenderness of a tongue.

Hershey's Kisses.

Seeing Roberto Clemente round second base and dive headlong into whatever.

Every woman who's ever put up with me for longer than fifty minutes.

Soft hands and softer fingertips.

All the things I've learned (and will learn) from the woman whose eyes dot the punctuation of my poems, and who cares as much about me as I do her (even if she might not admit it)

The rolling hills and rusty bridges of a city that no matter where I currently reside, will always be home.

My cousins Robin and Lason, who are no longer here, but will always be with me.

A once fractured left wrist that aches when the pressure drops and reminds me I'm alive.

For Bruce Grover, Tor De Barros, Daniel Barnes, Kenny Carroll, Brian Gilmore, David Sherman, and Leonard Poulson who helped me learn the value of real and lifelong friendship.

Tongue kisses that curl toes.

The pallet of bricks that collapsed the ceiling above my bed and just missed me sleeping below.

The pancakes at Gilchrist's and the little bottles of syrup from Bread and Butter.

For the chance as a small child to look over my mother's shoulder as she read the Bible and figure out the squiggles.

All the blocks that made me stumble and forced me to learn to climb.

For Licorice, soft and black.

The rumble in the bottom of my baritone.

For my eyes (all four of them).

For the lint trap above my shoulders that doubles as a brain.

For the quirks, twitches and "No napkins Please" that make me sui generis.

For the tiny muscle that tightens and clenches just before I sigh and succumb.

For AC and DC and all the electricity in between.

The perpetual breeze off the ocean that keeps Atlantic City cool.

For the day I'll kiss her, and marrow deep, she'll know.

And until next we meet, may all your potatoes be sweet (and dusted with cinnamon.)

Friday, November 16, 2012

Two Trains Running (Into each other)



The Kiss

Shuns no shoulders,
queries ears
with quivers of fire.
Yet somehow more flower
than flare,
more tight splice
than splash.
Is the lipping
of the brim of me,
spiced rum
tipping the tongue of me.
Interlocks the fingers
and dilates all diligence
with a hiss from the heart
of  a rabid radiator.
All melting wax to
my stiff wick,
it burns the softest
and most breathless
of all silences,
such glossy velvet now
as it glances,
a moistness that veers
on voluptuous violence.

And until next we meet, may all your potatoes be sweet (and dusted with cinnamon.)

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Papa was a Rolling Stone (Part 2)



It was the last time I saw him for almost two months. In fact, I had begun to get so worried that I asked B. a pretty DayShift Dealer at Caesars if she had seen him either. She also was starting to get a little worried. Maybe two weeks after I asked B., I stopped past Caesars on my way to Kwi (their noodle bar, which is the best in the city) when I heard a familiar bellowing coming from the 2/5 NL table at the end of the room. I didn't have to look to know who it was, but I looked anyway. And there he was, he looked a little thinner, but otherwise the same. As soon as he saw me, he started yelling. One funny thing is that he's maybe the only person in AC who doesn't call me by any of my names; no Joel, no Pittsburgh, no Renegade. He usually just says Hey or Hey you or sometimes refers to me affectionately as 'Boy'. This time he called me something he had never called me ever before, "Son," as in "Hey Son, come here." I walked over and he gave me a great big bear hug and whispered in my ear "Thank you, thank you so much." It turns out that the night I had seen him he had had a big weekend, in fact he had won over 12k and had it on him in cash when he fell out. But even more importantly, he had gone to the doctor where he found out he had gallstones and that the episodes of pain he was experiencing meant that his condition was potentially life threatening. He doctor recommended surgery immediately and he was just recovering. He asked me if I needed anything, I told him I was just glad he was OK. The Dealer motioned to him that it was his turn to act on a new hand, he turned to the Dealer and said 'Don't be rushing me, I'm talking to my son, he saved my life, least I can do is say thanks." He told me there was no way that he could ever repay me, but if I ever needed anything to just ask. I told him it was cool, I was just glad I could help. He said "If I ever hit the Bad Beat Jackpot, the first thing I'm going to do is give you $1000." I said cool, if I ever hit it , I'll do the same.

Which leads me to my second favorite James memory. It was about six months after James had his operation, back when the Trump Plaza casino next to Caesars had opened a poker room with electronic PokerTek tables. I loved playing there, less rake, no dealer mistakes, faster dealing and thus more hands. I was playing in a tournament there and busted out on one of the worst beats I'd ever taken, where a guy put me all-in on the Turn when he was drawing to one out and then he hit it. I was so disgusted, I left the Plaza and walked over to Caesars, But I only had $400 on me and so I decided to only play 1/2 instead of 2/5. Problem was, it was Saturday night and all the 1/2 tables were full and there was a 30 + person list. They did have a few seats at 2/5 though, the Floorperson told me. I really didn't want to play 2/5 with only one Buy-in and didn't trust myself to be patient enough to only play with two $200 bullets. I walk back to check out the games and there is James complaining at the top of his lungs about a guy who just beat him out of a pot and is now leaving. "Where you going?" he asked "You afraid of me? You better be afraid, you better run if you wanna keep my money." He looked up and saw me "Hey Son." he said "Come on and sit here in this game."
I told him i didn't feel like playing 2/5, but he wasn't trying to hear it.
"Stop being silly and sit down, Son." he told me. I told him I'd wait for a 1/2 seat.  But he wouldn't stop, so after about five minutes, when another player left, I took the 5 seat. James was in the 8 seat at the end of the table and was having trouble seeing. He asked for the 5 seat and I took the 4 instead. To make a long story even longer, it was my Big Blind. I posted and mucked when someone raised. The next hand I posted my Small Blind. The 7 seat raised to $25 and the 10 seat made it $75 to go. I had A4 offsuit and folded, but when James looked at his cards, he hesitated. I knew right away he had a big hand. He looked to his left and then smooth called. It's been said that not all trappers wear furs and I was sure James was trying to trap these guys with his pocket Aces. The flop came AK9 and James checked, the 7 seat bet $90 and the 10 seat raised to $250. James couldn't get all his chips into the pot fast enough. Both remaining players called. The Turn was King and the River a four. James turned out Aces full of Kings, but the 10 seat turned over two black Kings for quad Kings. The Bad Beat Qualifying hand at that time was Aces full of Jacks which meant that James had just hit the BBJ. I checked the TV, the BBJ was 212k, James had just won 106k, the 10 seat had won 53k and the rest of us had won $6,600. I had only been at the table for two hands. James grabbed me as the table exploded with joy. "What just happened?" he asked me. I told him he'd hit the BBJ for over 100k. "Did I hit it?" he asked, over and over again. "Yes James" I kept saying "You hit it." Despite the fact that I'd won over six thousand, he still wanted to give me the thousand he'd promised. I said OK, but I was still going to give him a thousand too. We called it a push. He called me his lucky charm. To be honest, I didn't really care what he called me, as long as he still called me "Son."

 

Tuesday, November 06, 2012

17 for Sandy




“The wind came back with triple fury, and put out the light for the last time. They sat in company with the others in other shanties, their eyes straining against crude walls and their souls asking if He meant to measure their puny might against His. They seemed to be staring at the dark, but their eyes were watching God.”
― Zora Neale Hurston, Their Eyes Were Watching God


October dawn-
Carpet rolls rise from
Bungalow Park curbs

Sand dune-

halfway plugged in
Flat screen TV

Pathmark lot

every parking space full
Ocean waves

Winds subside-
Red eyes in Venice Park

Gardeners Basin
drying in the tree branches
seaweed
Receding tide-
Window planters sprout
broken shells

Crosswalk-
Half the lines in this street
are electric


Half full garage-
Refrigerator sideways
in the water

Wind whistles-

Rocking back and forth
Stop Sign

Shattered window-
Liquor store leaks
in the dark

Boardwalk dark-
"Just Don't Want To Be Lonely"
From casino speakers

seawater
between Ballys and Caesars-
Fire hydrant


Seaweed
inches from the ceiling-
Carpet squishy


Planted in yards
on this Brigantine street-
Pieces of seawall


Full moon
Brigantine seawall

High tide -
Brigantine mailboxes
almost full

Brigantine's North End-
Boats in front yards
couches on curbs


And until next we meet, may all your potatoes be sweet (and dusted with cinnamon.)





Friday, November 02, 2012

Post-Post Sandy Report



Played (poorly) at Harrahs Philadelphia on Thursday night and got broke. When I went to sleep I saw where AC Mayor Langford had requested that AC be allowed to reopen. Woke up this morning around 11am and saw that Governor Christie had complied with the request. The ride down was uneventful and aside from the roadside debris on the Expressway near AC things looked normal. Inside the city there were signs of storm damage including massive piles of seaweed and marsh grass along the roads near the bay, missing traffic lights and downed light poles along the sides of the roads. We went straight to the storage place, which is right off the bay on the mainland. The automatic gates weren't working due to a lack of power, but they had one gate propped open. As we approached our space I checked the ground for signs of flooding. The whole storage place is built on a small hill or rise about ten feet above the roadway. I saw lines of broken shells along some of the units which indicated some flooding. Our unit is towards the middle and I was heartened by the lack of shells or seaweed in our row of units. I unlocked the unit and held my breath before pulling the door up. If my boxes were still stacked, then I knew things were cool. As the door rose I saw one, two, three levels of boxes, leaning against the wall, but still stacked. My computer was atop a rubber tub in the middle just where I left it. I breathed a heavy sigh of relief, then grabbed my leather Steelers jacket. It's definitely cold enough for my most infamous piece of clothing to make its return.

We headed to the Borgata and got there ten minutes before four PM when they were due to open. The Surface Lot was closed, but the garage was open. The casino looked perfectly fine inside and out. Once inside I noticed that all the restaurants were closed, although the Gift Shop was open. That meant no Starbucks, free or otherwise. One of the benefits of having a deep, sexy voice is that the Starbucks manager has a massive crush on me and gives me my tea for free. But no tea today. By the time I got to the poker room two other players had beaten me there and were sitting around waiting on a game. It was 4:10. There were four dealers on dead spreads waiting to open games. By 4:30 there were two 1/2 NL games and a list for 2/5. By five PM there were three poker games and about fifteen bettors in the Racebook. There was one waitress in each station. The games featured mostly AC poker regulars, but weren't too bad. By nine PM there were ten games going. The Borgata seemed to be the only poker room in town that was open, although I heard that the Taj Mahal also had at least one game. I got a free room from a guy who owed me a favor for writing a letter for him. AC has most of its power back, but none north of New Jersey Ave or so. ACPD was out at dusk in Riot Gear patrolling the darkened sections which included parts of the Inlet, Bungalow Park, and Gardeners Basin. Those sections were hit hard by the flooding, especially the South Inlet and the sections of houses that border the Marina. There are no lights on the Boardwalk between Taj Mahal casino and Caesars. Also no power on Atlantic from Virginia Ave down to the Walk.

I was going to take a haiku walk, but wound up grinding instead. Sandy put a decent sized bite in my bankroll and FEMA won't be supplying me any relief.

As of midnight Borgata has 16 poker games and over 25 tables active in the Main Pit. Baby steps, baby steps.
And until next we meet, may all your potatoes be sweet (and dusted with cinnamon.)

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Post Sandy Report





I'm fine. I was going to do a narrative type blog post, but there was no drama really. I evacuated AC Sunday morning with a friend, we came to Chester PA near the Philly airport. I played at Harrahs Chester on Sunday. There was some wind and rain and then it was over. Harrahs Chester is still shut down as we speak. My only personal concern is that I have stuff in a storage place near Venice Park and it is right on the bay. It is very likely that it flooded. My computer is the main thing I'm worried about. I know so many dealers, floor people, waitresses, retail clerks and others who live in and around AC. I'm sure their problems are much worse than mine right now and I hope they all made it through this thing OK. If anybody needs any help give me a holler. I watched the storm on the news and kept up on Facebook and Twitter, both of which had near instant posting of photos from the island. Brigantine got it real bad, the ocean met the bay on the street I used to live on at the far northern end of the island. Even though the famous shark photo is a fake, the other photos aren't. It may be a month before folk on that island get back to anything remotely resembling normal life. On Absecon island; the Inlet, Margate, Ventnor, and Venice Park aming others, all got flooded bad. I hope those people can recover fairly easily. The casinos are all fine and can reopen as soon as the state allows them.

October night-
This wind pinging my glasses
is Sandy.

Outside Denny's-
Face wiped clean by
sideways rain

Atlantic Ave.-
Sidewalk full of
Boardwalk

They say the barometric pressure at the Marina measured at 27.99 inches, I've never even imagined to could go below 28. That's never happened in my lifetime, that is an incredibly powerful storm. Tide was 8.9 feet (9 is the record) which is .9 feet over major flood stage. Total rainfall for AC was over 14 inches. That's crazy. It might take the Cape Verde Islands five years to get that much rain. The Tropical Storm wind field for Sandy was 964 miles, another insane number, which means it was hitting AC, Pittsburgh and DC at the same time. The three cities where I've lived 48 of my 50 years. Triangulate that.

And until next we meet, may all your potatoes be sweet (and dusted with cinnamon.)

Friday, October 26, 2012

Papa was a rolling Stone.



I'm rolling south down Pacific Ave. Atlantic City's main strip where most of the casinos line the beach like Life Guard chairs, headed to McDonald's to grab a Sweet Tea, when I decide to stop by Caesar's poker room to see if Old Man James is in town. I slide into the poker room through the back door and right away I spot him seven tables away, headphones clamped over his ears, slightly slumped in his chair. And if I see James, before I hear him, then I know he's not winning. He's in a 1-2 No Limit game in the ten seat and never sees me until I tap him on the shoulder.
"Hey Son" he says, extending his hand.
"Hey Pop" I reply, taking his hand in our familiar shake.
He turns back to the hand in process and I survey the situation, he's got position on the other two guys in the hand who both check to him. As he bets, I notice how slowly he pushes the chips into the pot, which means he's been playing a long time. They both fold and after the dealer pushes him the pot, it takes him a long time to stack his chips.
"Long Session?" I ask.
"Too Long." he says, which means he's most likely been playing all night.
"You been playing all night?" I ask, although it's three in the afternoon.
"Yeah", he says "And these motherfuckers won't let me win nothing, they got $800 of my money and won't give me back a motherfucking dime."
Playing poker with James is like playing poker with Redd Foxx. he is nothing if not loud and profane. He can call you seven types of Motherfucker and mean seven different things, some of them even affectionate.
"You eat?" I ask, he shakes his head no.
"You take your medicine?" I query, again no.
"Get me out of here." he asks, and I nod OK.
"I need to go check into my room at Ballys, walk me over there." he says.
I tell the dealer James is done when the Big Blind comes to him, which is only a few hands away and the dealer Pete says OK, in his frog-like croak.
While I wait, I remeber the first time we met, in a 2-5 No Limit game right here in Caesar's where I used to play thousands of hours. Caesar's had the best 2-5 game in AC back then, better even than the games at the Borgata. There was tons of action and no shortage of bad players who came to gamble it up, as far as they were concerned poker was just another table game based on pure luck. James was winning that day and he was loud as hell, talking more shit than a septic tank. He got into a dispute with a dealer and cited a rule incorrectly. As I am wont to do, I interrupted and corrected him. He turned his then seventy-five year old white haired head my way and said
"Who asked you a motherfucking thing?"
"Nobody," I said, "but that aint never stopped me from talking."
He said "Well, fuck you, then."
"Sorry Pops" I replied, "You're not my type."
"Well double fuck you then" he said and we both burst out laughing.
I hadn't been at the table ten minutes, but I had already peeped his game. James liked to play the old fool and get under people's skin, which would then cause them to want to beat him and play poorly against him. But I know a hustle when I see one and this was a stone cold hustle, in fact although I didn't know it at the time, James was a legendary pool hustler from Brooklyn who had specialized in the game of One Pocket back in the 60s and 70s. Retired now from the hard green felt of the pool table, he had landed on the softer felt of the poker table. He played good cards in good position and let the idiots underestimate him, by the time the figured out he could play, he already had their chips stacked neatly in front of him. We became cool and I like playing with him, partly for the show and partly because he made the game good, getting folk riled up. But what really made us tight was the late Sunday night a few years ago when I was strolling down Pac. Ave after a big night at the Taj Mahal. I was taking my customary forty-five minute walk up and down the Strip before I headed to bed, when I approached Caesar's. The light turned green and I started crossing the street when, out of the corner of my eye, I saw someone stumble and fall, almost hitting their head on one of the concrete planters that front the casino. When I got to the other side the person was still there, layed out,  apparently unconscious on the sidewalk. I hurried over, it was Old Man James face down on the concrete. During my five years I spent working as a Unit Leader in a sleepover Summer Camp in Virginia I was trained as a First Responder, which included both Fire Suppression and Advanced First Aid. I kneeled down, but James was still out, his eyes open, but rolled up into his head. I leaned close to see if he was breathing, which he was, I then checked his pulse and it was good too. "James, James" I called to him. Slowly, his eyes rolled down and came into focus.
'What's going?"he asked, "What happened?"
I told him he had fallen out.
"Where am I ?" he asked. I told him he was in front of Caesar's.
"I got to catch my bus" he said. "I got to get back to Brooklyn before my wife gets worried."
I told him to slow down and stopped him from trying to get up until I asked hima few questions. After I was sure he was OK, I had him sit up. He was lucid now, his bus was leaving in ten minutes from the Bus depot across the street. I told him I'd walk him across the street, but that he had to go see a doctor as soon as he got home.
"Motherfuck a doctor." he told me, "I'm alright, now."
'James," I said, "you got to go see a doctor, find out what happened"
"Fuck you and the doctor too." he told me, "You starting to sound like my wife."
I wasn't budging though, more black men in America die of preventable diseases than any other demographic. "James," I insisted "You got to go see the doctor."
"I aint going to see no motherfucking doctor." he responded.
I said "If you want me to help you across the street so you can catch your bus, then you've got to promise me you'll see the doctor."
Due to his two artificial knees and artificial hip, I knew James couldn't get up off the ground on his own. He looked around, he knew time was running out before the last bus left for Brooklyn.
"You's a motherfucker, aint you?' he said.
"Yes James" I said "I am, in fact a motherfucker." A motherfucker who wasn't budging.
"You trying to catch that bus?" I asked
"You know god-damned well I am." he said.
"You going to the doctor? I asked.
"I guess I aint got no motherfucking choice" he said, "Help me up."
I refused to move until he promised me, which he did. I knew as an old school gambler that he'd keep his word, because in that world your word was bond, your whole reputation was based on keeping your word. I helped him across the street and stayed until he caught his bus. It was the last time I saw him . . .  (to be continued.)

And until next we meet, may all your potatoes be sweet (and dusted with cinnamon.)
 

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

The Strongest Clench



When a true genius appears in the world you may know him by this sign; that the dunces are all in confederacy against him."
Jonathan Swift


Here's an interesting article that confirms something we already knew about writers in general and poets in particular. The point is that being rejected and having the proper mindset to deal with it, actually seems to help spark creativity. This would help explain the last 3000 years of unrequited love poems. Dante's 'Divine Comedy' which is arguably the greatest poem in any language was inspired in large part by his unrequited love for Beatrice. Beatrice appears in the poem at the end and even though she (and his love for her) operate on a symbolic level, the point still stands. Shakespears wrote one of the greatest sonnet cycles in the English language and they're mostly about unrequited desire. Go figure. One the one hand this makes me happy, because it's always good to have company. On the other hand it's terribly depressing, because it means there's most likely no real way out of the dilemna of being mostly creative when things aren't going well. I used to know a poet who went around bragging that he was the only one of his poet friends who could still be productive when he was happy. He was also, unfortunately, the worst poet out of his group of friends. I write the most (and the best) when I'm obsessed with some woman whom I can't have. It totally sucks. But it's been that way my whole life. I don't just mean popems of unrequited desire, I mean poems about anything. My work is just better when I'm in "the strong clench of the madman," it is what it is, I suppose. Part of this is because for many writers writing is a coping mechanism, but it looks like part of it is just because of how our brains work.

Boardwalk sunset-
Sea gulls turn away
my crumbled bread

And until next we meet, may all your potatoes be sweet (and dusted with cinnamon.)

Thursday, October 18, 2012

October Haiku/Senryu



Horse Room
as I apologize
she shakes her ponytail

Sliver of moon
the fullness of her lip

Speck of white
floating in this evening's tea-
October moon.

Moonless night
filling the beach
sound of waves.

Waves
trying to erase
her footprints

October sun-
Last Lemonhead
in the box.

Her final moan-
moonlight.

UPDATE:I posted most of these to my Facebook Stautus at one time or another and several of them  generated a great deal of response. This whole batch has actually gotten a great deal of feedback, much of it from people who don't write haiku. One of my goals as a writer is to become a Haijin (a master of haiku), this is a lifelong journey. Aside from becoming a master in chess, there is no other goal that has meant more to me. One step in that journey is getting a haiku published in a Haiku journal. I have had many of my haiku and senryu published, one even in Time Magazine, but have yet to get any published by haiku specific journals or websites. I have a feeling that one of these might be the one that finally does the trick. The 'ponytail' senryu in particular, marks a new step for me, in that it is an unvarnished, true life experience, that I managed to make into a decent senryu. It has gotten a great deal of response and received a lot of comments on my Facebook. I can't say I knew how good it was when I finished it, but the response made it clear right away that it struck a chord with folk. I haven't been writing a lot of poetry lately, in part because I haven't been reading much poetry, so anything I squeeze out that's decent is a real blessing. Haiku are so hard to do well, so hard to master. I'm very grateful for any progress I make along this path. I may have turned a proverbial corner in my journey.

Yesterday my blog got its 15,000th pageview, which is a remarkable milestone. It took me eight years to get to 10k, but since I switched to mostly posting prose back in May I've gotten 5k pageviews in the last six months. I'm going to keep posting about 80% prose and 20% poems.

And until next we meet, may all your potatoes be sweet (and dusted with cinnamon).

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Message in a bottle


I'm rolling through the Showboat Casino when I run into J. and he has a question for me.
"Hey Pittsburgh" he asks "I heard you write good letters."
And I know right away what he wants and I say "Yeah. I'm alright."
And he cuts straight to the chase, six months ago he got in a fight and is now barred from the Taj Mahal casino. He needs to write a letter to the head of security to get his gaming privileges reinstated, can I do that for him? He's willing to pay $50- $100. And of course I can, because words are like Lego blocks in my hands and if you need me to build you a tank, no problem, a house? No problem. A fire truck? No problem. And truth be told, he's the 5th guy this year to ask me for such a letter. It started when my boy T got barred from the Borgata for a domestic incident with his girl, then Old Man James needed one for the time he cussed out a floorperson and got evicted, and so on. Somehow, the word got out and amongst poker players I became the literary equivalent of the cat with the best weed. Most of them don't know I'm a published poet and none of them know about or have read my blog, but still the word (like a twenty-four hour stomach flu virus), has spread. And it's ironic because although I love certain types of writing, I've never been much of a letter writer. In fact, I can count all the personal letters I've ever written on one hand. And I was already in my thirties when email replaced letters as the primary form of written communication between most people. When I was a kid, my Mom would send us off to Summer Camp for two weeks and always packed a pen and stationary. It would return unused. Then she started sending us off with postcards, pre addressed and stamped. All we had to do once we were at camp was write something and hand it to the counselor. I don't think I ever wrote a single word on any of them. I can't really explain it. I'm pretty articulate and unlike most guys, fairly articulate in expressing my emotions. But I never had any interest in writing letters. So of course, now I have people paying me to write letters for them. Got in a fight? No problem. Cashed a slot ticket that wasn't yours? No problem. Drunk and belligerent? No problem. It's nothing that a little written contrition can't fix. For some of these cats English is a foreign language, others are just intimidated by the task, still others just want a better letter than they feel they can write. So far, everyone has been reinstated. Including me, for my little contretemps in the bathroom at the Borgata.

I'm cruising through Caesars later, checking out the action and a floor person tells me that a cat I know got barred last week for pissing into a bottle under the table while playing poker. That's a new one for me and it's a tad trifling, but everybody needs a little side hustle, right? I know I'm probably going to hear from him soon and already I can feel the words lining up in my head like casino gamblers in a buffet line . . .


UPDATE: I ran into the bottle guy in Caesars, he says the bottle story isn't true. But he does need a letter for the Borgata. Done.
And until next we meet, may all your potatoes be sweet (and dusted with cinnamon).

Friday, October 12, 2012

Why I've always avoided Beauty Parlors.



What I remember most is the smell. Not the orange hunger of the flames as they devoured first the sleeve of her baby blue terry cloth robe, then the broad back, then the long curling black strands of her hair. Not the sound of her astonishment at the sharp bite of the flames, not the frenzy that propelled her shrieks into the morning air. Not even the aftertaste of smoke and ash that would later settle in the back of my two year old throat. What has stayed with me longest, deepest is the smell. The burning smell. Not the burning pure cotton of the terry cloth. Although it burned. Not the acrid smell of burnt skin or flesh. Though they too burned. But the smell of her hair, burning. It is the one thing that even across the broad expanse of these forty-eight years, I still cannot shake. The smell of hair-burning. Her hair. And if a human being is on fire in front of you, it shouldn't matter who it is, the experience sears into memory like a white hot brand into the flank of a cattle. But she was, is still, my mother. Aflame and fighting, twisting, swinging, swatting at the orange beast which had mounted her back. Then stumbling across the room towards the open door which lead to the basement.

I was seated at the kitchen table, facing her, looking at Mark, whose back was to her. We were waiting on breakfast, on oatmeal, a favorite. She was at the stove, the long blue sleeves of her bath robe swished elegantly through the air as she moved. We were two hungry toddlers, banging spoons against the sides of our green plastic bowls, singing, chanting, in anticipation of breakfast, my favorite meal. It was Spring, another kind of fire, mid-morning sunlight poured through the window to the left of her, through the doorway to my immediate right. It was an ordinary day, like any other. Unlike any other. What I remember most is the smells, of the kitchen, of Spring, of oatmeal, of grease loosening on the hot top of the stove. Of my mother's hair being greedily eaten by the bright lips of leaping flame.
I don't remember the ambulance's arrival, but well into my forties, ambulance was the single word I couldn't pronounce correctly. I recall little of the three months she spent in Intensive Care, burns scarring forty percent of her body, infection a constant threat. I remember that we then lived only two blocks from one of the best Burn Units in the country and that they tried some new experimental techniques. I don't remember the nine months I spent living with friends while she recovered. I do remember how she was changed when she came home. How she never wore sleeveless garments anymore. How she gave up two packs a day and bourbon neat. I do remember that her hair grew back, how fortunate she was that because of its length, her scalp itself never burned badly enough to scar and destroy the follicles.

I remember how, as a kid, if I entered a neighbor's house and someone was using a hot comb, I would have to turn and leave straight away. It wasn't the sight of the iron teeth glowing red on the gas burners. I never got that close. It was the smell wrapping its thick gray fingers around my throat long before I ever made it to their kitchen. It is why to this day, even fifty years later, I have never set foot in a black beauty parlor.

And until next we meet, may all your potatoes be sweet (and dusted with cinnamon.)

Tuesday, October 09, 2012

Serving time on the Chain Gang of Fools



I was sitting at a small table outside White House Sub shop's location in the upstairs section of the Taj Mahal Casino, about to take a second bite of my favorite sandwich; a turkey and provolone sub with mayo, onions, hot peppers and spinach in place of lettuce, when JS walked up.
"He's back." he said. The 'he' in question was the ex-boyfriend of a woman whose eyes dotted all of the punctuation in my poems.
"Yeah, I know" I responded. I had known for a while, over a week actually. I hadn't wanted to believe or accept it, but I had known. There had been an extra bounce in her step for more than a few days now. And for all the time I had known her, only one person had put that much extra wattage in her smile. And it wasn't me. And the beaming smile was back, had been back for maybe almost two weeks.
"You know what this means?" JS asked, somewhat rhetorically smiling like a man who just hit a lucky card on the River.
"Of course I do." I replied. It meant that I had just lost any desire to finish my sandwich, but more importantly it meant that I had lost yet another bet to JS. That for the first time in my life I had lost a prop bet twice to the same person. The bet was simple, JS had told me before she had even broken up with the guy, that if she did, she'd take him back. It was just after JS had collected from our first bet. He wanted to go Double or Nothing, but I declined that option. I couldn't see any way that she would figure this guy out, dump him and then take him back though. She seemed too smart for that. But as JS had pointed out to me, I seemed too smart to have taken the first bet, not to mention the second one. Which I had, in fact accepted. And now apparently, lost.
"Just like you believed in her better nature, she believes in his." he explained.
"But there's no evidence or anything yet." JS said, "So if you want to wait a few weeks for more proof, that's cool, I understand." The truth was that I already had all the proof I needed. If the return of the smile and the bounce hadn't been enough, the day before I had spoken to her and although she had responded, she had avoided my eyes momentarily when she did so. She had done a similar thing when I saw her a week earlier, turning her head so I couldn't see her face. I read people for a living, so this was a no brainer for me-she was hiding something, something she didn't want me to know, the rest of her expression told me it was because she was ashamed of it. She had put on a good face when she spoke back, but it was too late, the Gummi Bears were out of the bag and scattered across the floor.

If you know me, you know that I'm a guy who knows things.
The odds a flush will hit with two cards to come (35%).
The original name of the R+B group Tavares (Chubby and the Turnpikes).
The cloudiest city in the country outside of Washington State (Morgantown, WV).
And so on.
But knowing a lot of things means that sometimes you know stuff you don't want to know, like when I was six years old and realized that those long crooked scars on my Dad's arms were track marks from a needle. A needle that wasn't given to him by a doctor or a nurse. Or knowing that what she was hiding from me was the fact that she was again seeing a dude who had previously played her for her money and broken her heart. Realizing this, wrestling my disappointment down enough to accept it, I had decided later to go and apologize to her. For something I had said that was childish and wrong, but also for ever being in her business in the first place. Loving somebody aint no real reason to meddle, and besides, as the son of an addict I know full well that you can save people from everyone, but themselves.

But when I got there, she hadn't even wanted to look at me, let alone speak to me. I made the mistake of asking her if she had a minute. Of course she didn't.
"What do you want?" she'd asked.
"I wanted to apologize." I said. She cut me off.
"Why do you keep trying to talk to me? Why don't you just leave me alone?"
Her first question sliced through the distance between us with a sharp edge, but the second one trembled out like a desperate plea from a little girl. It fluttered up bright red as an autumn leaf and slowly floated in the air until it landed softy on the counter between us.  As it floated down, it seemed to echo, like the clang of a prison door rolling shut. But this door wasn't shutting me in, it was shutting me out. I was standing on top of a submarine, watching the hatch seal and turn shut, before submerging beneath the sea and disappearing forever.

Indeed. Why didn't I leave her alone? It wasn't because I was stubborn. Although I am. It wasn't because I'm obsessed with her. Although that's true too. The real answer, which was obvious to anyone who has ever listened to Aretha sing, was because I'm a fool. I'm not the first one, and maybe not the biggest one, and I certainly won't be the last in the chain, but at that moment I was definitely wearing Ye Olde Dunce Cap.

One of my favorite trivia questions to ask at a poker table involves Cuba Gooding Jr., or more precisely his father Cuba Gooding Sr. His father is world famous for singing a song that almost everyone knows the lyrics to. It stumps them every time. His dad was lead singer for "The Main Ingredient" who had two huge worldwide hits, one called "Just Don't want to be Lonely" and one called "Everybody Plays the Fool." If that song was so successful it's in part because I've got plenty of company in that regard. Not that that made me feel any better. But loving someone who doesn't know how to be loved, is most definitely a fool's errand. One that I was on. Even though I knew better. The tundra cold truth was that my money was counterfeit in her country. And yet, I kept trying to spend it. Which is exactly what was so foolish. I know the types of men she's attracted to, what they do, how they treat her and I know how to do those things. But I refuse on principle to do them and instead suffer without her. Which I suppose makes me doubly a fool.

When she said "Why don't you just leave me alone?" I immediately put my hand up. There was no need for her to go any further. There are some things that even a rented mule doesn't need to be told twice. I just backed up and walked away. That exchange was all the proof I needed, had I needed any, which I didn't.

I looked up at JS, "I don't need to wait." I said, "I just don't have the money to spare right now."
"That's OK." he smiled, "Take your time, I know you're good for it."
"So, how long is she gonna be with him?" I asked. In my bones, I already knew the answer, but just wanted to hear it out in the open air.
"As long as he wants to keep her around." JS said.
"I'm sure she read him the Riot Act and set up all kinds of rule and parameters for taking him back." he said, "And for now he's going to say and do all the right things, hell, he might even mean them. But eventually he'll tire of the restrictions and his true nature will come out." He paused, "When that happens, he'll move on."
"But for right now, she's All-In with him and she's going to do everything in her power to make the relationship work. She knows how things will look if it fails, she's going to avoid that at all cost."
"Look, I did this to women for the last thirty years." JS said "I know exactly how this game works, it doesn't matter how bad he treated her, she was going to take him back. He not only makes her feel incredibly good, he makes her feel good about herself, and that makes her happy in a way no one else has. Even though she knows his history, she believes that she's the one who can tame him. They all believe that." he said, "That's what hooks them."
He looked at me in a much more serious way.
"You know what this means, don't you?"
I nodded my head yes. I recalled another, entirely different situation. Once years ago, the guy who roomed next to me was outside in the hallway fighting with his girlfriend. I was in my room listening to new records, but could hear them shouting over the music. I turned the music down so I could yell through the door and ask them to quiet down, when I heard the sound of a fist hitting a face. I rushed into the hallway just as he cocked back for a second lick. I grabbed him from behind and pinned his arms to his sides so he couldn't hit her any more. We wrestled for a minute and then suddenly I felt a sharp pain through my left arm. I looked down and there was a pen knife sticking out like an exclamation point. When I looked up, her face was feral, her teeth bared, "Take your fucking hands off my man." she hissed. I released him in surprise. he stepped over and slapped her head sideways, "You stupid ass bitch." he said.
"Fuck you" she said to both of us "Nobody puts their hands on my man. Not if I can do something about it." I had meant well, but the person I was trying to save resented me most. Even though this situation didn't involve domestic violence, the outcome would be similar. I looked back at JS.
"Somebody has to be the bad guy, and right now you're wearing the black hat. It's over for you, that's it, you're finished. I don't know if you ever had a shot, but you're drawing dead now." he said.
He didn't need to go any further, I knew the math. There were only two things that could happen, one was that somehow they stayed together forever, the other most likely scenario, was that eventually it would end. And at that moment, I would become the man she hated most, partly for being right all along. It was time for me to move on.
"If they break up, when they break up" he corrected himself, "You'll be the one guy on the planet who will know just how foolish what she did was. So, she's never going to even want to see your face again, let alone have anything to do with you."
"Yeah", I said glumly "I know."
"I'll tell you something though," he continued "I used to think that guys like you were stupid, but at least you have something you believe in." He ran his hand over his face, "I had so many women, fine women, smart women, women with good jobs who loved me, who really, truly loved me. And I fucked it all up, time and time again.  I had a bunch of shots at making things right and never did. They all left me, some of them wised up and got a good man and some of them kept repeating the pattern, but they all left. And now, I'm sitting here empty handed just like you. I dont even have anything to believe in. I thought I was getting over, getting the best of it, but really I was just conning myself."
"Dude probably thinks he's slick too, he is slick, and very good at what he does, but in the end he's just hopping sideways from chick to chick going nowhere."
We both stared out the window at the shadows creeping up the side of the building across the street.
"Well, at least you learned something from the first bet." he said "You were smart enough not to take Double or Nothing."
I nodded.
"Yeah," I said "Once again, you were right and I was wrong. You win."
He shook his head from side to side,
"Let me tell you something, in this game, nobody wins."

And until next we meet, may all your potatoes be sweet (and dusted with cinnamon.)

Monday, October 08, 2012

I never loved a game the way . .



I was in the Borgata poker room waiting on a 1-2 No Limit seat when they announced an open seat at 1-2 Pot Limit Omaha (which is my favorite game), now, due to the crazy swings in Omaha and my current bankroll conditions, I shouldn't have been playing that game. And I'm a bright guy (no, really I am), but sometimes we all do things that we know aren't good for us and that we shouldn't be doing. And so I found myself buying in and taking a shot. I was also, I must admit, in an emotionally agitated state and distracted, two other reasons for me not to be playing a game with lots of temptation and four cards to pay attention to. I was dealt in and quickly started deviating from my gameplan of seeing only the cheapest flops. In poker, when one follows one bad decision with another, worse one, this is called a 'compounding error'. So, of course when I lost my first Buy-in while playing terribly, instead of going to No Limit, I bought back in and proceeded to play even worse, culminated by me playing one hand particularly badly. After a pot building raise put $60 in the pot four handed, the initial raiser bet out $30 and was called by two other players. I had flopped the Nut flush draw and a backdoor straight. My stack was $130, so if I call the $30, I have $100 left. In this situation, if I am going to play the hand I should raise all-in and try to get the pot heads up, but even if other players call, I 'm getting great odds. Instead, I just called and when I missed the Turn, got bet off my hand, even though I picked up top pair. It was pathetic to say the least and I couldn't stop thinking about my bad decision, which lead to me donking off the rest of my stack in frustration. At that point I realized that I needed to leave the Borgata and its distractions behind, so I hopped on a Jitney to the Taj. The ride over let me calm down a little. I clocked into a 1-2 NL game and started trying to work my way back from the morning's disaster. About an hour into it, I realized that I really didn't feel like playing. Just then, my man Footer comes out of the Horse Parlor, "Hey Pitts" he called out, "Check this out!" It turns out that a friend had given him two tickets to the Aretha Franklin concert that night, he asked me if I was interested in going. Of course, I was. The show was starting in 5 minutes, so I made my way to the arena. As I passed the stage I could see a Hammond B-3 organ set up down front. If Aretha had brought an organ, then this way going to be serious! I also could see that she hadn't brought just a band, but also a twenty plus piece orchestra and a bevy of backup singers. The percussionist had three congas, two symphony sized tympani and a vibraphone. Aretha wasn't playing! After about thirty minutes of recorded music, the lights dimmed and the orchestra got busy. They opened with a quick medley of her hits sung by the backups, which included "Daydreaming." The announcer gave her a James Brown style introduction that ened with "the undisputed Queen of Soul" and there she was. The only time I've ever seen her sing live was at the Inauguration of Barack Obama, a bitterly cold day that made it hard for her to warm her voice up and cost her the top quarter of her range. She looks a little slimmer, but still too big and was wearing a very shimmery silver dress. When she started singing a few things became quickly apparent; one is that years of cigarette smoking have seriously abraded her vocal cords, making her tone very raspy and taking away the very top of her range, the other is that her musicianship as a singer is impeccable and she instantly figured out just how much voice she was working with and sang right at that limit. She can still make those crazy melismatic runs and jump octaves whenever she feels like it, she just couldn't hit the highest notes in some of her recorded Ad Libs. She was born to sing and born to perform and was having a good time on stage. Two songs stood out for me; one was when she went over to the piano and sat down and started a long improvised vamp, the video screens started showing pictures of Whitney Houston and it became apparant that the song was "I will always love you." Aretha vamped and ad libbed for a few minutes, then sang the first verse. The musical arrangement was pure Gospel, the vocal arrangement pure Aretha. She made the song hers, similar to the way Isaac Hayes did on his many covers in the 70s. There were more than a few moist eyes in the audience. The other song that really got me was her rendition of "I never loved a man (the way that I love you)", it started out bluesy and gutbucket, with Aretha pouring out her soul across the stage. Her trail of bad and worse relationships is longer than a bridal train and well documented and she drew from that well to bring down the house. Just when one thought the song couldn't get any better, she turned to the band and gave them a signal and they turned the blue ballad into a Gospel stomp at double time. it was amazing to see and hear, now the man she loved more than all others was ostensibly Jesus and she danced holy roller style up and down the front off the stage, testifying to her heart's content. She performed "Daydreaming", "Chain of Fools" and a few other hits and then after a long Gospel number, she left the stage. She came back and did "Respect" as an encore and the show was over. My favorite song by her and the one I most wanted to hear was "Bridge Over troubled Waters" but she didn't perform that one. The show was barely an hour long, many in the audience were disappointed. I have a longstanding policy of not looking for reasons to be unhappy, I didn't get what I really wanted, but it was a good show and cost me nothing other than my time. I walked out of the arena in a much better frame of mind than when I entered. I decided to head over to the Showboat, it was almost 11:00 PM, although I had gotten crushed earlier, there was still plenty of time for me to bounce back from my loss at the Borgata. I always do.

And until next we meet, may all your potatoes be sweet (and dusted with cinnamon.)

Friday, September 28, 2012

In the Air Tonight



No moon
no birds, no bathers-
sound of waves

Waiting on a text-
where have all my
Swedish Fish gone?

As she approaches-
I pretend to meditate
on Starbucks logo

Until next we meet, may all your potatoes be sweet (and dusted with cinnamon.)

Friday, September 21, 2012

Outside My Window



All night long
waves trying to wash her
prints from the beach.

And until next we meet, may all your potatoes be sweet (and dusted with cinnamon.)

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Saints and Sinners



"I don't think you understand" he said, narrowing his eyes until they were two black slashes across his face.
"I don't think you understand" I said, "I don't take requests. Period"
"Do you know who the fuck I am?" he asked.
"A better question would be to ask if I cared." I replied. I knew who he was, he was known as 'Saint' and he was a NY drug dealer with a reputation for violence, who came down on the Amtrak every weekend from Brooklyn with his posse to sell crack on the street corners of DC.
He pulled out his wallet and removed a $50 bill. "Alright, no problem. I'll give you this if you play my record in the next ten minutes" he thrust the $50 forward. "I already told you." I said "I don't take requests." He nodded, "OK, then, I'll give you a ball." he took out another $50. "No bet." I said, "No requests."

He stepped back, his eyes now alive with anger. We were about the same height, same build. I wasn't afraid of fighting him, it was his posse that was the problem. They ran 12-15 deep, a pack of wild teenagers who rode the train with him and had no problems jumping somebody if so directed. I had seen them stomp out a dude once when Saint had asked his girlfriend for her phone number. When she refused, Saint smacked her in the face with an empty Moet bottle and when her boyfriend came to her aid, Saint's boys jumped him.

It was 1988 and Ronald Reagan's Central American policies had caused the country to be flooded with cheap cocaine. Smugglers returning from Nicaragua, generals in Guatemala, Noriega in Panama; all were US backed at home and had joined in on the cocaine pipeline on the side. The advent of cheap powder coke made crack cocaine possible, which had lead to an epidemic of abuse. New York City got crack first on the East Coast and soon dealers were spreading out looking for new territory. Washington DC had no local mafia to organize or restrict drug trade, so NY dealers set up wherever they wanted, battling local crews for the right to sell on that block. The resulting explosion of violence had made DC the "Murder Capitol" of the country.

Many of those kids after a weekend of making money would head to the Eastside nightclub in SW DC, where I was the Saturday night DJ, to spend their loot and release the day's tension. The Eastside was known for the pretty Howard coeds who flocked there in droves every Friday and Saturday night to get their boogie on. Wherever there are pretty young women, young men are sure to follow and so the Eastside quickly became the place to be. The club could hold about 1700 patrons at max capacity, but there would often be a line outside that stretched three city blocks. Half street, on the front side of the club would have bumper to bumper traffic for six or seven blocks before the block the club was on. We called the long line of cars 'the Parade', some kids would come every weekend just to hang outside the club and be seen and mingle.

It was just such a Saturday night when Saint had knocked on the door of the DJ booth to request a record, this despite the sign on the door that informed anyone who could read that we didn't take requests. Most DJs when faced with a record request, just lie and say they'll play it. Because most requests are for popular records that they will play at some point anyway, most patrons are none the wiser. But no nightclub DJ worth his salt would ever really take requests, because most of the skill in spinning records comes from knowing when to play what record, what we call 'building a set'. The Set list is what allows you to manipulate the crowd and build the intensity until it reaches a climax, then you hit them with your prime material to set them off.

Saint was now really upset, he was used to getting his way, when charm didn't work, he tried money and when that didn't work he generally got violent. He balled up the two bills in his hand and then hit me in the face with them. "Either you play my record or I'll bust a cap in your ass." The money bounced off my shoulders and fell to the floor of the DJ booth. He turned and left the booth and I quickly locked the door behind him. "What are you gonna do?" my light man Scooter wanted to know. "Fuck him" I said "I don't take requests and I aint starting now." Scooter had known me long enough to know how stubborn I was, but this time he thought I was just plain being stupid. he tried to talk me out of it, but I wasn't budging.

I paged Don, the biggest bouncer we had to the DJ booth. He was 6'6" and weighed 350 pounds if he weighed an ounce. "What's up?" he asked when Scooter let him in. "We got a slight problem." Scooter said. "Don't worry." Don said, "I'll squash it. Who is it?" "Saint" Scooter and I said at almost exactly the same time. Don turned ashen, "What's he want?" "He wants me to play a record" I said, "OK, play the record then" Don said. "No dice." I said, "He wants to hear 'It Takes Two' by Rob Base and I won't be playing that for at least two hours." Don wanted to know if I could just play it now and then play it again later. "No." I said. Don peeked out the giant plexiglas window that covered the front of the booth, Saint was standing at the front bar staring back at the DJ booth with a scowl on his face. "Well" said Don, "You got a problem I can't help you with, they don't pay me enough to eat bullets." he turned to leave, "You better call Johnny."

Johnny, was Johnny Walker, the head of our security and a DC cop. He was also the one Eastside employee that liked me the least. Johnny was one of those cats that was always mad and always miserable. There were two kinds of humans though, that he really couldn't stand, criminals and women. When he was in a good mood he treated them with disdain, when he was in a bad mood it was utter contempt. As was to be expected, he was very popular with the ladies. Despite the way he treated them, girls lined up to be with him. Part of it was the absolute confidence he strolled through the club with, a confidence partly born from the 9mm Glock in the small of his back and the snub-nosed .38 he wore strapped to his ankle. Johnny walked like somebody who was in charge and as head of security, he was. He answered only to the club's owner and the other managers steered clear of him. Everyone's safety depended on him and his team of bouncers and off-duty cops. The Eastside was very popular destination for drug dealers and Johnny's mantra was "No weapons and no product" in the club. Everyone who entered was frisked and wanded down, only Johnny and the other cops were armed inside the club.

Despite the fact that I was neither a criminal or a woman, Johnny had a special hatred for me. Every Friday I'd sit at the bar before the club opened and relax by reading a book and every Friday Johnny would come past and remind me that when he was in High School he used to beat up "book reading punks" just for exercise. He'd also remind me that if not for my spinning records "No bitch would ever give you the time of day." Which may have very well been true. Well, except of course for the nerdy ones. But Johnny fancied himself a player and me a lucky bum. As you might imagine, part of his anger was due to a situation with a particular woman. L was a very pretty Howard student who had shown up two Septembers ago with the current crop of Freshman, she ran with a crew of lovelies who used to show up real early and try to get into the club for free.

The Eastside like many other nightclubs would often let attractive women in for free, it was very, very good for business. Thus scores of young girls would arrive early hoping to be chosen that week. Johnny spotted L. right away and always chose her and her friends. What none of us knew then was that she was a sixteen year old Freshman. The drinking age in DC then was only 18, it was one of the last places in the country to raise the drinking age and did so only when forced to by the federal government. L. however had her older sister's ID and used it to gain entry to whatever club or party she wanted. To make a long story even longer, L. was extremely bright, as one might expect a sixteen year old attending college to be, she was also mature beyond her years. She peeped Johnny's game right away and refused all his advances. This frustrated him to no end, but didn't stop him from granting her free entry every week.

Her third week at the club, she passed my corner of the bar and asked me what I was reading, when I said Frantz Fanon, she asked "Black Skins, White Masks or The Wretched of the Earth?" Needless to say, I was impressed. We talked and exchanged numbers. When Johnny found out he was livid. He held his tongue for about a month, but when she started showing up at the club with me, it was too much for him to take. He cornered her and asked her how she could possibly reject him for me, her answer was because she found men who read books like her father to be sexy, and it drove him absolutely mad. He never passed up an opportunity to give me a side-eye or grit his grill. Eventually L. and I broke up, in part due to me finding out she was only sixteen years old. But Johnny never forgot.

Then came the incident. One weekend, I stepped outside the Emergency Exit next to the DJ Booth to catch a breath of fresh air. There was a group of young boys standing there and they asked me to let them in. When I refused they started offering me money, when they got to $200 apiece, I relented. It was a stupid thing to do, even for $1000 dollars. I had Shaun the bouncer who covered that door, frisk them real quick and they disappeared in to the darkness of the club. As Murphy's Law would have it, they ened up getting stupid drunk and starting a fight in the restroom, whereupon one of them pulled out a gun. He was disarmed before he got a chance to pull the trigger, but it didn't matter. When the bouncers sorted everything out and reported back to Johnny, he was highly upset. The kids had tried to get in the front door, but two of them were too young, Johnny recognized them and asked them how they got in. One thing lead to another and I found myself in the club owner's office. Johnny was insisting that I had endangered everyone's lives and should be fired. He was probably right. But I wasn't just any employee, I was the Right Reverend DJ Renegade and along with DJ Kool the club's most popular draw. I also had an impeccable record up until that lapse of sanity. The club owner decided to give me another chance, but Johnny was beside himself. It would be years before he would forgive me for that and it took me testifying on his behalf at a trial (something I was loathe to do and only did to return the favor to the club owner for not firing me) for him to let it go.

So, because of all of this, I really didn't want to call Johnny to deal with this situation with Saint, but I didn't want to get shot either. Scooter excused himself from the booth, leaving me alone. I looked up at the bar, Saint was still there, still scowling, he pointed to his watch, then looked back up at me. I wasn't playing the record, that wasn't going to happen. I tried to cue up the next record, but my hand was so shaky it was all I could do to get the needle in the groove. I played a few more records and was starting to tell myself that maybe playing that song twice wouldn't be so bad after all. I looked around the booth for a napkin, when all the amps started kicking it could get a little hot in there. I reached behind a stack of records and plugged up the extra air conditioner that we had in the booth. Scooter had been gone a long time, that wasn't like him.

I was cueing up another record and wondering where Scooter was, when suddenly a commotion at the bar caught my eye. I couldn't see what exactly had happened but there was a crowd around someone and people were calling for help. A couple of bouncers came over and cleared the crowd back, They seemed to be staring at someone on the ground. I scanned the crowd for Saint, but didn't see him. I checked again, but still didn't see him. Scooter came back to the booth, "What happened at the bar?" I asked him. "Looks like somebody collapsed" he said. I could see Jeff, one of the cops who worked security for us, on his radio. I looked around again for Saint, but still didn't see him. I decided to go see what was going on for myself. When I got there I could see that someone was out cold on the floor and they were pressing wet napkins against his face. It was Saint. Just then, a very soft hand brushed my arm, almost as if the person who touched me knew that I was very ticklish (which I am). I looked up, it was L. "Hey!" she said, 'What are you doing here?" I asked, "How did you get in?" She cocked her head, "Silly Rabbit, I turned 18 yesterday, remember?" I've always been great with numbers, but terrible with dates, mainly because I generally don't even know what day it is. "No" I said, "I forgot." "Figures" she said. I asked her if she had seen what had happened, she nodded with an impish little smile.

"I had just come in," she said "And this guy" she pointed at Saint "started trying to talk to me. He was talking all this shit about how he was gonna shoot the DJ if he didn't play a record for him." She tossed her hair back "I told him he could only have my number if he could hold his liquor, I don't like guys who get drunk off of one drink and get stupid." She leaned over and started whispering in my ear, "He was bragging about how much he could drink, so I told him that if he could drink three Kamikazes in five minutes that I'd go outside to his car and give him the best blowjob he'd ever had." "He downed them too." she said "But when he got up off the bar stool, he had a slight balance problem. Funny how that works." I nodded. She said "Look, I feel really bad about lying to you before and almost getting you into trouble." She kissed me on the cheek softly, "Now, we're even. Call, me sometime, I'm legal now."She smiled "I gotta run, before they want a statement or something", she said and disappeared into the crowd. I turned around and headed back to the booth, I had a full night ahead of me, there were still plenty records to spin, and not spin.

And until next we meet, may all your potatoes be sweet (and dusted with cinnamon.)