Mom, Dad and Sports

We were going to get Mom an ice maker. The kind that makes the Sonic-style ice that she loves so much.

So we went in with my sister and got Mom the ice maker for Christmas. The last couple of years, we had gotten her tickets to a Thunder game for her Christmas present. She loved those, but with the team trading Paul George and Russell Westbrook in the offseason it seemed like a good time to get her something different.

The ice maker was still sitting in its box a couple of weeks after Christmas. Mom said it was too tall for her to reach on her kitchen counter. I said it was no problem to take it back and asked what she might want instead. Of course, she said she didn’t want anything. Of course, my sister and I were not going to give mom nothing for Christmas.

I asked if she wanted to go another Thunder game. Her face lit up. “Well, if you want to. That would be fun.”

So we went. And it was a lot of fun, even though the Thunder got behind by quite a bit early and lost to the Toronto Raptors.

We posed with a cardboard cutout of Steven Adams, Mom’s favorite player.

This season was supposed to be something of a bummer after trading away the two big stars. Instead, fans have really embraced this squad that shares the ball and plays hard on both ends of the floor.

No one has gotten more emotionally involved in this team than my mom. I think the only reasons she owns a TV are Fox News and Fox Sports Oklahoma, and not in that order. She watches every game (at least the ones that aren’t played on the West Coast after her bedtime) and is very concerned with the health and well-being of the players. I get texts asking about Andre Roberson and Terrance Ferguson on a regular basis. Her favorite player is Steven Adams, whom she said she’d like to have dinner with.

These Thunder aren’t the first sports team my mom has been obsessed with. My dad was also very into sports. So I suppose I come by my attraction to sports honestly.

When Mom and Dad were growing up, baseball was king. And since MLB.TV hadn’t quite been invented yet, there weren’t a lot of options when it came to which teams to follow.

Growing up in Enid, Okla., Mom latched onto the New York Yankees and their Oklahoma-born superstar, Mickey Mantle. They were frequently on TV for the Game of the Week, and there were plenty of stories about the team and the Mick in the newspaper. Mom made a scrapbook of many of the newspaper clippings, which we still have. It’s pretty cool.

If you weren’t a fan of the Yankees in those days, the St. Louis Cardinals were probably your favorite team. Growing up in Jones, Okla., dad could pick up Harry Caray’s radio call of the Cardinal games and became a fan.

Both made treks to see their favorite teams before meeting each other. Mom got to go to a Yankee game in Kansas City and followed Mantle and a few of his teammates to a local watering hole after the game before avoiding further trouble. Dad joined the military and was stationed close enough to St. Louis to get to catch a few games when he was on leave. He said the longest home run he’s ever seen in person was hit by Willie Mays at one such contest.

When I was growing up, Dad put a basketball goal in our driveway. I used to throw the ball onto the roof of our house, wait for it to bounce off and then catch the “pass” and shoot. My goal was to be able to beat Dad at one-on-one, which was no easy task since he was 6-foot-4 and pretty good at basketball. I quickly learned to put a lot of arc on my shots since that was needed to get them over his arms.

Mom and Dad were great sports parents. Very encouraging and always attending our games but not berating the officials or telling us all the ways we messed up.

As far as their favorite teams went, Mom more or less abandoned the Yankees after growing up and having kids of her own. She really didn’t have time to be a fan of anything other than her kids. Dad never wavered from his Cardinals but didn’t get to watch many games.

One of my first sports-related memories was the 1987 World Series. The Cardinals were playing the Minnesota Twins and I was 7 years old. My bedtime was well before these games ended, but I snuck out of my room and into the hallway, where I could catch a glimpse of the small TV in our living room where Dad was watching the games. It was a great World Series, with Minnesota winning in 7 games. I loved the atmosphere in Minnesota for the games there, with the “homer hankies” and Kirby Puckett making great catches. I asked for something Twins-related for Christmas and got my first ever ballcap, a snapback with the Twins’ “M” logo.

Every Twins fan waved one of these at the Metrodome in 1987.
This is what my first ever baseball cap looked like. Now I have way too many of these things.

The 1987 World Series got me hooked on baseball, but there weren’t many ways for me to get a fix in those days. The only teams that were on TV regularly were the Chicago Cubs on WGN and the Atlanta Braves on TBS. Both teams stunk back then but the Cubs were on during the day and had the always-entertaining Harry Caray (the same guy that got my dad hooked on the Cardinals) calling the games, so I picked them.

I didn’t know that the Cardinals were the Cubs’ chief rival, and by the time I figured it out I was too entrenched to do anything about it. Ryne Sandberg was my favorite player.

Eventually I was able to beat my dad at basketball, mainly because he wasn’t great at dribbling and I could steal the ball from him. But he could always shoot it about as well as I could and I definitely couldn’t guard him in the post. Unfortunately, he had a bad back and was worried about making it worse so we didn’t get to play too much after I finally beat him.

We did, however, start golfing together. That was the one thing he almost always did on his day off from work if the weather was decent. He was a pretty good golfer, usually scoring around 85-90. Once at Earlywine he was hanging around even par for 9 or 10 holes, which was exciting. He tailed off at the end but still broke 80 which was a rare occurrence.

Once, we thought I might have hit a hole in one. Turns out the ball had either rolled into the pin and not stuck into the hole or it rolled just behind the hole. Either way it was about 6 inches from the hole directly behind the pin, but it was exciting nonetheless. I was never as good as dad but on a couple of lucky days I did manage to beat him, and that was always a good feeling. I very rarely golf anymore and the main reason is that it brings back so many memories of rounds with dad that I’ll never be able to play again.

When I graduated from high school in 1998, my graduation gift was my first ever trip to Chicago. Mom and Dad both went with me and we went to a pair of Cubs games. We sat in the bleachers for my first game ever, arriving early enough to sit on the front row in right field. I leaned over the wall and snatched a piece of ivy. I was scolded by security but I got to keep the ivy. That was a special season as Sammy Sosa hit 66 home runs and the Cubs made a rare playoff appearance. Sosa didn’t homer in that first game but we had a great view as he made his trademark sprint to right field to start the game, and the Cubs won.

Dad and I both got into the home run chase of 1998, which was eventually won by Cardinals slugger Mark McGwire. In 1999 Dad planned a trip to St. Louis for the two of us to watch a Cubs/Cards weekend series at Busch Stadium. On the drive up there, dad said he hoped to see McGwire and Sosa hit three home runs apiece and the Cardinals win two out of three. (This was generous of him, wanting me to get to see one Cub win. I of course wanted the Cubs to sweep the thing.) Sure enough, McGwire and Sosa hit three home runs apiece and the Cardinals won two out of three. It was a really memorable trip and a great time.

Around this time, perhaps because of some of the home run hype, Mom started getting back into baseball. All of us kids had graduated and she finally had some free time on her hands. If she had any struggle over which team to support, she didn’t show it. She got really into the Cubs.

In 2004, the three of us went to St. Louis for another Cubs/Cardinals series. While eating lunch before the game, we saw Cubs broadcaster Steve Stone. I was too intimidated to bother him but Dad walked right up and introduced himself. Stone was very generous and told us that if we wanted to see the Cubs players up close, we could go to such-and-such hotel at some specific time, as that’s when they’d board the team bus to head to the game.

Mom’s favorite player was Moises Alou. Let’s just say he was the Steven Adams of 2004. Mom was kind of obsessed with him. Anyway, Mom really wanted to see the Cubs up close so we went to the hotel at the time Stone told us to. Sure enough, we got to see the team. When Alou emerged from the building, Mom started yelling, “Moises! Moises! Moises!” and blowing him kisses. Mind you, we’re only standing a few feet away from him. Alou glanced our way and gave a wink, then started chuckling as he boarded the bus.

Dad passed away in November of 2004, which naturally changed everything. As far as the Cubs were concerned, Mom still rooted for them but not with the same vigor, especially since Moises left the team after that 2004 season.

Dad’s favorite Cardinal that year was Albert Pujols, who was emerging as a superstar. At first, Dad didn’t know how to pronounce his name (Pu-holes). But then, even after he learned, he would purposely mispronounce it (Pu-joles) because he thought it was funny. Dad did things like that a lot. It’s kind of crazy that Pujols is still collecting paychecks and home runs in the major leagues, more than 15 years after Dad quit calling him Pu-Joles.

Mom was never an NBA fan, but that changed when the Thunder came, as it did for many Oklahomans. When Kevin Durant left us for Golden State on July 4, it ruined Mom’s Independence Day. Truth be told, she probably didn’t get over KD leaving until Russ got traded this summer.

At the Thunder game we went to, Mom made fast friends with the young man sitting next to her. Between talking to him and yelling for the Thunder, I don’t know how she had a voice left at the end of the night. It was really cool to see how much fun she was having.

I think I know what I might get her for Christmas this year.

The Microtel in Ardmore Sucks

I recently had occasion to spend a night in Ardmore. Over the years, I’ve stayed several times at the Microtel there. I generally like it because it’s cheap and plenty nice enough for my meager needs. The room is tiny, which is why it’s called “Micro”tel, but all I do there is sleep and maybe read a book for 30 minutes. I don’t need a minibar. It’s far too small for my family of 6 but when it’s just me crashing for a few hours between poker stops, it’s fine.

Except the other night. That was not fine.

It started as soon as I walked in, when they couldn’t get me checked in properly. I use hotels.com so it’s not unusual for something to go wrong. Normally it wouldn’t even annoy me but on this particular night it was already after midnight when I was checking in and there were only about five cars in the parking lot. That, combined with the fact that the rate was the lowest I’ve ever paid there, led me to believe they had lots of open rooms. The lady could see that I had a reservation but for whatever reason couldn’t click on whatever she needed to in order to get from there to handing me a room key. I was dead tired after an 11-hour day of poker and driving so I just wanted to crash. The only good news was that she easily agreed to my request for a noon checkout.

Finally she gives me a key and a room number. I take the stairs to the room. Normally, this would be the part where I tell you that my key doesn’t work and I have to walk back down the stairs. This has happened to me before at this very establishment, but on this night the key worked fine and I entered the room. Notice I didn’t say “my” room, because it was somebody else’s. Thankfully there was nobody in the room or else I would probably either be dead or in therapy right now. I can report that the occupant in this room had done a very poor job of consuming popcorn in bed. There was popcorn everywhere. Like, an impossible amount of uneaten popcorn.

If it weren’t for the popcorn, I might have just gone to bed and rolled the dice on who might be joining me in a few hours. But no. The lady gave me a new key to a new room. It worked and the room was popcorn free.

Notice I didn’t say “smoke free.” Actually, at the time I entered the room was smoke free. I tossed the “do not disturb” sign on my door, tossed my bag on the floor and was asleep in a matter of minutes. But it didn’t stay smoke free for long. I was awakened by a massive fire, had to throw a chair through my second-story window and leap to the ground in my skivvies.

OK, that didn’t happen. But it’s possible I was dreaming about something like that when I actually was awakened by the smell of smoke. This, however, was not the kind of smoke you smell when your building is on fire. Unless your building was lit on fire with 150 pounds of marijuana.

My neighbor apparently liked to smoke at 4:20 a.m. as well as 4:20 p.m. I didn’t know that was a thing, but it didn’t bother me too much. I went back to sleep.

A couple of hours later, I was again awakened, this time by the Microtel manager banging on my neighbor’s door. They got into a bit of a shouting match about the smoke, which ended with the manager saying, “I’m charging you for a smoking room!!” That kind of made me chuckle but I still wasn’t thrilled about being awake at 6 a.m.

I managed to go back to sleep until 10:30, when housekeeping knocked on my door. They paid no heed to my “do not disturb” sign. I yelled that I was still in there and tried to go back to sleep.

This proved to be unsatisfactory to the housekeeping crew at the Microtel. They knocked on my door again 10 minutes later. I yelled that I had a noon checkout. Five minutes after that, the phone in my room rang. The lady asked if I would like to purchase an additional evening of elegance at the Microtel. It wasn’t even 11 a.m. yet, the standard checkout time.

Since I prefer snarkiness to pure confrontation, I calmly informed her that while I appreciated the free secondhand pot and the multiple interruptions to my sleep, I could not afford a second night of such luxurious bliss. I told her I had been granted a Noon checkout and promised I would vacate their hallowed premises by such time.

If I had had 150 pounds of pot in my car, I would have spread it around that piece of crap and set it on fire.

Charity

In the month of December, our household gets eight pieces of mail per day. Four are Christmas presents Missy ordered on Amazon, and four are letters from nonprofits soliciting donations.

Some of these places we’ve never even donated to. But it’s the end of the year, which means not only Christmas but also end-of-year tax deduction season.

Seems like an appropriate time to share our family’s thoughts and actions on charitable giving.

I grew up in a family that always stressed giving back to God. Every Sunday, I watched my parents put a check into the offering plate. A mailman and a schoolteacher with three kids, we were the definition of a middle class family in the 1980s and 1990s. We had everything we could ever need but not much more, so I understood the sacrifice my parents made by giving up 10% of their income every week. They didn’t view it as a sacrifice, however. They just saw it as being obedient to God.

So when I got my first jobs as a 16-year-old, writing for the local newspaper and bagging groceries at the old Buchanan’s, I immediately got in the habit of tithing that 10% from every paycheck.

I’m proud to say that I’ve maintained that habit for the past 25 years, although my reasons for doing so and the places that the money goes to have changed quite a bit over that time.

For years, I just gave the 10% to my local church, be it in Oklahoma City or Lawton once I moved there. It’s a habit that the church writ large does a relentless job in helping form.

I don’t want to make this post into a theological debate, and I don’t want to dump onto an institution that on the whole has done great things and helped countless people both in a spiritual and physical sense.

To put it simply, many churches (including the one we currently attend) believe that the Bible instructs its followers to give 10% to their local church. I used to share this but no longer do. You have to jump through some Biblical hoops to come to this belief, and I’d be happy to discuss it with anyone who wants to but don’t want to get into it here.

In a recent sermon at Draper Park Christian Church, my friend Clay Atchley did a great job of showing how Jesus and his disciples embodied the spirit of giving in a more extreme but less formulaic manner. The early church essentially gave everything to everyone. Instead of setting aside 10% of your pre-tax carpenter’s paycheck, you literally opened your home up to anyone who needed a place to stay or a meal to eat, even if it left you with nothing.

I also believe in helping others from a social/political standpoint. I want less government in my life. Less taxes. But we as a society have to take care of the less fortunate people who can’t take care of themselves. That means everyone who can needs to chip in so we can keep the government out of it. And yeah, we take the tax deductions when we donate.

Over time, I have been moved to give less and less money to the actual church and more and more to a variety of people and organizations. I should point out that thankfully Missy and I are in lockstep on this so it hasn’t been a source of friction.

Despite my changing views, the amount we give is essentially the same. But where I used to view 10% as a Biblical amount needed to be obedient to God, I now just view it as a good number that allows us to make a difference.

Because of poker, our monthly income fluctuates quite a bit. At the end of the month, we sit down and decide what to do with that 10%. Usually one or both of us has something on our heart so that’s what we’ll do.

About once per year, that 10% does go back to our church. I believe our church does a lot of great things for people.

Sometimes, our support goes to charities that we’ve personally volunteered with. The Regional Food Bank, Special Olympics, City Rescue Mission, Cookson Hills and Habitat For Humanity all fall under that, and I know I’m leaving some great ones out. Some of those have a religious element to them and others don’t, but Missy and I believe in what all of them are doing and love being able to help a little.

Many times, our 10% doesn’t involve an official organization. If some of our family or friends is in a time of need, we will help. It’s this kind of thing that I believe embodies what Jesus and his disciples were trying to communicate.

I don’t write any of this to make us seem like great people. Missy is great. I hate myself a pretty high percentage of the time — doing our monthly donations is one of the times I don’t.

I’d also love to learn about new places or causes to donate to. What moves your heart to action? Put them in the comments so we can learn more.

Merry Christmas, Happy New Year, and Happy Tax Deduction Season to you all.

40 Year Old Pillows

I didn’t think I’d ever make it to 40. Not specifically because I thought I’d die young, just because it seemed like a faraway number that only a different species of life could attain.

My family and friends made my 40th a special event. It was basically a full week’s worth of festivities. It kicked off on Nov. 9 when Chad was in town and took me to Bricktown Brewery for burgers and beer. On the 11th mom took me to my favorite restaurant, Charleston’s. On the 12th, my actual birthday, the kids made me custom birthday cards, while Missy made me a homemade pizza and a turtle cake (yum!). The next night I was treated to dinner, cigars and bar games by my friends. On the 15th I had lunch with my brother, and on the 16th I got a really nice card from my sister and her family in North Carolina.

Even considering that I snuck this picture without telling anyone, these guys look awful bored.

And that brings us to the pillow.

I’ve never bought one in my life. I went from using the one my mom got for me growing up to using the one my wife got for me a few years back. One of the many ways in which I am weird is my sleeping pattern. I fall asleep on my stomach and then switch to my side about halfway through the night. For the last several years, I’ve used the flat pillow I grew up with to fall asleep, then switch to the big tempurpedic one when I go to my side.

Thrilling blog so far.

A few weeks back Andrew asked me what I wanted for my birthday and I thought it might be nice to try to find one pillow that could work the whole night for me. Yes, I am aware that children are starving in Africa and I want an upgraded third pillow. Andrew and Allison were nice enough to go in together to get me that upgraded third pillow.

And so on Friday, after our lunch, Andrew and I went to Bed, Bath and Beyond to pick out a pillow. I hadn’t given any thought to this process beforehand. And I couldn’t tell you if my experience was a normal one, because it’s the only pillow-buying experience I’ve ever had. But it was kind of weird.

First off, I had assumed that the pillows would be included in the “Bed” portion of Bed, Bath and Beyond. But evidently it’s “Beyond.” Literally two sections beyond the beds. Not that I’m trying to get a 30-minute test drive/nap on these pillows, but how am I supposed to tell if I like the way my head feels on the pillow if I can’t lay my head on the pillow? I grabbed three or four pillows and took them over to the “bed” section, but that felt weird too.

For one thing, there were only three beds over there. If “Bed” comprises 33% of your store’s name, you need more than three damn beds in the place. If I were named CEO of Bed, Bath and Beyond — a very distinct possibility after their board of directors reads this piece — I would demand that one of two changes take place. They should either put in a crappy, unmade bed in the pillow section explicitly for pillow testing, or just change the name of the whole operation to “Beyond” and end the façade of selling beds and baths. Now that I think about it, I’m not even sure they sell baths there.

Like I said, I carried my pillows over to the fancy beds and tried to test them out, but I didn’t want to lay all the way down on a $1200 bed I had no interest in buying just to test a $30 pillow. They had the beds propped up kind of high, so I tried to just stand next to the bed, lean over onto the bed without laying down and try it that way. My 40-year-old back did not like that, plus I felt like an alcoholic trying to sneak a flask out of my pocket and take a swig before anyone saw because I knew it looked ridiculous.

So I took the walk of shame back to the pillow section, holding four pillows, zero shreds of dignity and zero firsthand knowledge about which of these pillows I might like to purchase.

Let me tell you something else about these sample pillows. They’re all nasty. I wouldn’t expect them to actually be clean, but I can’t really think of a reason why every single one of them has a stain. A couple of them had red stains, which means that either blood or ketchup was involved. I started to think of some scenarios by which different-colored stains would arrive upon the pillows, then figured it best to leave the subject alone. But trust me, they be nasty.

Around this time, a BB&B employee came up and asked us if we needed any help. I told her my pillow preference and asked if she had anything that would fit the bill. She gave a couple of recommendations, after which her presence was no longer required. Yet it persisted. I know she was just trying to be helpful, but it’s been a couple of decades since I squeezed a pillow and then looked directly into the eyes of a complete stranger. She started talking about her daughter’s pillow preferences, which did not help make things less weird.

Averting my eyes did not help matters, as it usually ended with me looking at this guy hugging his own pillow. So many questions here.

The My Pillow guy holding his pillow

“My pillow” is 100% a mafia thing, right? Seems like the only way that name could get to market. When 15 marketing executives tell you to give it a real name and Al Capone stands up and says, “It’s my pillow. That’s what we’re calling it,” you name it My Pillow.

Also seems like the only way they’d plaster this dude’s picture on everything. Those same marketing execs probably went to him and said, “Look boss, we’re not saying you look completely creepy, but we gave Bob Saget a couple grand and a free pillow to be the face of this thing.” To which Al Capone said, “We got a problem here?” To which the execs said, “You going to keep the necklace on or…yep, great. Necklace looks classy.”

I tested the My Pillow, and at the risk of getting whacked I’m going on the record and saying it sucked. Also, crème colored stain. Next I tried a Claritin pillow. Have to admit, did not know that was a thing. Somehow supposed to fix your allergies while you sleep. I was born 40 years ago, not last night. So I passed on that, as well as the pillows infused with charcoal and the pillows infused with CBD oil. Somehow, those are real products that people buy.

This epic business battle for my siblings’ pillow money came down to two pillows. One was called the 5 degree pillow and claims to be 5 degrees cooler than the rest of the room. The other was easily the best pillow in the room. I think it was made from clouds or something. The only problem is that it cost more than twice as much as the next most expensive pillow in the place.

I was skeptical about the 5 degree cooler thing, but I liked the firmness of the pillow. Seemed like it was right in the happy zone between too flat and too big. Our helpful sales lady said it really was 5 degrees cooler and I could take it out of the bag and test it. Son of a bitch really is cooler than everything else in the room. This might be the greatest worthless invention of our generation.

All things being equal, I would have bought the pillow made from slaughtered whale blubber but I couldn’t bear the idea of spending $200 on a pillow, even if it was my brother and sister’s money. So I’ve got this five degree thing. If you’d like to buy one without being stared at by a single mother working in the pillow section at Bed, Bath and Beyond, here’s a link.

So far, the pillow seems to be working out. I have woken up with frostbite on my ears the last two days, so that’s a plus. They didn’t sell me a crock of crap.

Thanks to my siblings for the pillow. Thanks to my wife, kids, mom and friends for the birthday gifts. Thanks to everyone who texted, emailed or Facebooked to pass along wishes. Thanks to the My Pillow guy for keeping it real. And thanks to all of you for reading a blog about pillows.

Spies and Thieves

Last Saturday, Missy and I had a date night.

Per usual, we waited until the last minute to decide what we were going to do. Finally, Missy said she didn’t want anything to do with the planning, she just wanted me to figure it out for us.

So I made a plan. I was kind of in the doghouse, so I tried to plan the evening to be exactly how Missy would want it. One of her favorite restaurants is Benvenuti’s in Norman. It’s a great Italian place on Main Street. I figured we’d eat there and then go to a late movie, another of Missy’s favorite activities.

So I called Benvenuti’s to get a reservation.

The lady put me on hold for a minute, then came back and said they only had two time slots available — 5 p.m. and 8 p.m. I looked at the clock. It was 4:58 p.m. So, um, I guess we’ll take the 8. I was hoping for a little earlier than that but our movie didn’t start until 10 p.m. so I figured we still had plenty of time. (Kids, that right there is what you call “foreshadowing.” We would not, in fact, have plenty of time).

Since we had a little time to kill before our dinner, we decided to go to The Winston, a trendy little bar directly across the street from Benvenuti’s. It was a perfect night outside, so we sat out front.

A short while later I received this picture.

Evidently, my friend Brant had also elected to have a date night at Benvenuti’s. But instead of walking across the street and saying hi like a normal human being he took a picture of us and put it in a group text. Somehow it looks like I’m staring right at him even though I have no idea he is there and can’t see anything. Funny thing is, he ended up having a 5 p.m. reservation, so we would have seen them if we had chosen that time slot and then made it from Oklahoma City to Norman in two minutes.

Side note: Congrats to Brant and Abby on the beautiful baby girl they had just a few days ago!

Since we were directly across the street, it was quite easy for us to be at Benvenuti’s on time for our 8 p.m. reservation. I think we got there five minutes early. We checked in and stood right next to the podium while we waited for our table, which they said would be ready soon.

A few minutes later, possibly right at 8 p.m., another couple walks in and says they have an 8 p.m. reservation. Then they ask to speak to the manager.

Immediately, Missy turns to me and says, “I don’t know what’s happening but I feel like we are about to get screwed.” (Kids, that right there is what you call “foreshadowing”. We did, in fact, get screwed.)

We were paying close attention when when the manager comes up to them. They point toward the bar area and say they’d like a table in there, because they are Oklahoma State University fans and OSU is playing Texas and they want to watch the game while they eat. We definitely did not hear every word of the conversation but that was the gist of it.

Fifteen minutes go by. Nobody has gotten a table. Now I’m getting a little bit worried about our movie plans. Then one of the hostesses (not the manager) goes up to them, and they are whisked off to a table right in front of us, in the bar area close to the TV.

Immediately I look over at the podium, where two hostesses are talking about the situation. Before I can open my mouth, one of the hostesses — the one who checked us in — says, “You’re Mr. Franklin, right?” I say yes. The other hostess says, “I asked them if they were Mr. and Mrs. Franklin and they said yes so I took them to their table.”

Then the first hostess says, “You should have gotten the first table. You both had 8 p.m. reservations but you checked in first. Let me talk to the manager.”

The manager comes over and says, “I’m sorry about that. Let me get you a glass of wine on the house.”

I tell her that normally we wouldn’t care but we are trying to make this movie. She says there should be another table available soon, and in the meantime we can drink for free.

I opt for a beer instead of the wine, and unfortunately another table does not come open soon. Nobody is leaving this restaurant. By the time I finish the beer, I have sat in the lobby long enough to be considered a camper, but I’m definitely not a happy one. The manager brings me another beer and says they will rush our food so we can make the movie. That’s a nice gesture but this isn’t the kind of restaurant you want to be rushing in and out of. It’s a great place with a great atmosphere and great food. They are certainly factoring the experience into their pricing, so I’m not pleased with having to choose between rushing our time there or missing the movie.

While we wait, Missy and I are debating how complicit this couple is in the whole affair. It was pretty annoying having to stand eight feet away from them while they got their food and watched the game. Did the hostess ask them if they were the Franklins, and they knowingly lied because they could see where the table was and it was where they wanted it? Did the manager instruct the hostess to give them the next available table when they talked to her?

We saw the whole thing go down. It was somewhat noisy in there, and Missy thought they never heard the hostess ask if they were the Franklins. She thinks there’s a good chance they never were asked if they were the Franklins, that the staff made that whole part up after they could tell I was unhappy. She thinks the manager figured it would be no big deal and gave them that table ahead of us since it was in their desired location.

Normally I would agree with that, and it’s certainly possible. But after the couple was seated and I went over to the podium, the two hostesses were already in the middle of a discussion about the whole thing. And the manager was not directly involved in any of the seating process, nor was she even up front during the time in question. To me, the hostesses seemed to be genuinely sorry that they seated the wrong couple, and I don’t think they are good enough actors to pull off that scene deliberately.

So, then, the real question is whether the other couple knew they were stealing our table. We didn’t get our table until a few minutes before 9 p.m. So the restaurant screwed that up pretty bad either way. Had we gotten the first table, the other couple would have had to wait an hour past their 8 p.m. reservation.

Apparently Benvenuti’s is about as good at holding reservations as this fictional car rental company from “Seinfeld.”

Ironically, the table that came open almost an hour late was directly next to this other couple. I was determined to use my poker skills to determine whether they knew they stole our table.

I stared them down. The dude pretended he didn’t see me, that he was too locked into the football game on the screen. That’s some BS. Men know when another man is staring them down. He’s just a coward.

The chick wore it all over her face. She was staring at me before I could stare at her, and she was trying to figure out if we knew that she knew that they had stolen our table. She might as well have admitted it out loud.

It seems fair to point out two mitigating factors, although these don’t in any way change the fact that these Gatsbys 100% knowingly stole our table. One, I was one old fashioned and two beers deep by this point. Second, it’s entirely feasible that this couple could have knowingly stolen someone’s table without knowing it was ours, since we had checked in before them and we didn’t cause a scene at the front when they got our table. We had no interaction with them whatsoever. So maybe the chick was just getting freaked out by a stranger giving her husband the stink eye, but probably she was having a hard time enjoying herself because she knew she was eating fruit from the poisonous tree, having sold her soul for a seat at the table where she could watch OSU lose to Texas.

We decided to just order pizzas, which could be made pretty quickly. They did indeed come quickly and were great. This kept the tab much lower than usual and also allowed us to make the movie on time (technically we were a few minutes late but we got there during the previews). I have to say, the pizza was delicious. Everything I’ve ever eaten there has been good.

The movie sucked. The plot to the dinner mystery was more entertaining.

Got some yummy leftovers from my prosciutto pizza at Benvenuto’s. Bet they tasted better than that loss to Texas, you thieving jerks.

Poker Innocence

“How’d you end up the other day?”

This was Thursday. Someone was asking me whether or not I had won in Tuesday’s poker game.

I thought for quite a while and came up with a complete blank. No idea. Less than 48 hours later and it was completely vanished from my mind.

Likewise, I was recently similarly flummoxed by someone who asked what cards I held on a particular hand. He described the cards on the board, the previous action, how much I bet…and I could not give him an answer because I didn’t remember any of that.

Sometimes, when I’m entering my results on my computer, I’ll look up and see a big number and it will come as a surprise. “Oh yeah, that day was brutal. I couldn’t win a single pot.” Or “Oh yeah, the deck just smashed my head in that day. I couldn’t lose a pot no matter what I had.”

I realize that some of this has to do with getting old, but I’m hoping that’s not most of it. The thing is, I have clear and precise memories of specific hands I played 15 years ago. And I even remember the exact amounts of a couple of my earliest big wins.

After I couldn’t answer my friend’s question about how my session went two days prior, I figured this was as good a time as any to document my poker origin story and recall some of those fond memories. Gotta do it now before I completely lose my mind.

As I wrote in this earlier post, I grew up playing all kinds of card games. I inherited a great card sense and general game strategy from my dad. It really didn’t matter what game we were playing, I regularly beat my family and friends at all of them. And I was in no way generally smarter than any of these people. I’ve just always enjoyed games and strategies and been pretty successful at them.

My first exposure to poker came with the movie “Rounders.” It came out the year I graduated high school and I still remember watching it then for the first time with my high school girlfriend. I was more enamored with the acting and the movie itself than I was with the game of poker, however. Back then there were no casinos with poker rooms in the state of Oklahoma, and I didn’t know anyone who played. Also, I was broke. That tends to hamper one’s poker career (although I know several people today who don’t let it stop them!)

Matt Damon and John Malkovich in “Rounders”

In college, I remember having a poker night once or maybe twice with my roommate Keith and a few of our friends. But we were so broke that we played with small change. It was literally a penny-ante poker game. You knew it was a big pot if there were quarters in it; most of the pots were just pennies, nickles and dimes. I don’t think any of us won or lost more than $5. We were much more into dominoes and PlayStation football back then, and we didn’t give poker any serious thought.

In 2003, ESPN aired Chris Moneymaker’s fairy tale run from Nashville accountant to World Series of Poker main event champion. I wasn’t watching from the start, but as people began talking about it I joined in. Missy and I were dating at the time and she liked watching it with me.

So yeah, I got into poker thanks to “Rounders” and Chris Moneymaker. Real unique poker story.

By 2003, I had graduated from OU with my journalism degree and was working in Lawton at the newspaper. In other words, I was STILL COMPLETELY BROKE. But, since I had no wife, no kids, and no expensive bad habits, I was able to scrape together enough to play some micro-stakes poker with my friends.

Mike Carroll organized the first actual poker games I ever played in. We’d usually do a $10 tournament and there would be cash games afterwards. You know, the silly dealer’s choice games like between the sheets and 727. I would just lose my $10 in the tournament and then either serve as the dealer or just leave, because I couldn’t even afford to play in cash games where I’d have to risk another $20 on top of my $10.

I was starting to develop quite an affinity for the game. I read several poker books and watched the dumb poker strategy shows that used to come on cable at 1 a.m. Even when I wasn’t any good, I was confident that it was something I would get good at fairly quickly because of my natural card sense. I had started playing competitive bridge when I moved to Lawton in 2002, and I was already pretty good at that despite it being a more difficult game than poker. So I stuck with poker even while going through the normal growing pains. I never thought it would be a career for me but I knew I could make some extra money doing it.

Before long I was posting some wins in our small stakes tournaments. I remember being elated one night when I won the tournament for $50 and then used that money to jump into the cash game where I won another $100. That night alone erased all of my previous $10 losses and put me into the black. I saved my profits and built my first tiny poker bankroll.

It didn’t take long for me to start preferring the cash games to the tournaments, although I never did care for those crazy dealer’s choice games because my fragile bankroll couldn’t withstand losing $80 on one bad card in between the sheets. So I still played way more tournaments than cash games, and began getting some regular wins.

Around this time is when Oklahoma changed its gambling laws and poker rooms started popping up around the state. At first there was no poker room in Lawton, but there was one in Randlett at the Texas border on I-44. It was about a 40-minute drive from Lawton.

I remember being extremely nervous the first time Mike and I went down there to play. I bought in for $100 in a $1-$2 no-limit hold em game and essentially blinded out. I didn’t get any good hands and didn’t have any more money to add on. I lost the $100 and went home sad, completely unaware of the fact that you shouldn’t even play in that game if you only have $100.

Another Red River Casino trip with Mike provided one of my favorite poker memories. We went down for a small stakes tournament. I don’t remember the exact buy-in but it was around $60 to $80. This was in the middle of the poker boom so there was lots of participation in tournaments like this. Long before the money bubble, I was down to just a few chips and had to go all in with a bad hand. I was dominated but got lucky and won the pot. A hand or two later I did the same thing, getting lucky again. Then I started getting hands that were actually good and before I knew it I had way more chips than anyone else. Mike was also doing well and eventually there were just three people left — the two of us and a random guy. I probably had 90% of the chips and they had the rest. They agreed to give me the first place money and split second and third evenly between them. My payout was $1560, which seemed like all the money in the world to me at the time. I don’t remember how much Mike got but I do remember having a celebratory beer at the casino bar and being on Cloud 9.

Soon they opened the casino in Lawton, and I went a couple nights per week after work. I didn’t get off until midnight so I’d only get to play from then until 3 a.m. when the poker room closed. Man, those games were crazy. You’d see some wild stuff every single day.

I shudder to think about how much money I could have won if I had actually been good at poker at this time. I wasn’t bad by any means but I just played extremely conservatively. It wasn’t a bad strategy considering how little money I had but I definitely left a lot on the table by sticking to my strict guidelines for which hands to play and how to play them.

In contrast to that, my poker bankroll management was extremely reckless, although I was completely oblivious to that fact. All I knew is that I was winning pretty regularly, so why wouldn’t I just keep playing higher and higher stakes? The only smart thing I did was keep my poker money completely separate from my real-life money.

After I had won a couple thousand dollars in the $1-$2 game, my friend John McGavic said I should play in Buddy Williams’ private $2-$5 game. I asked him how much money I needed for that and he said $200. Well, I had $200! What I didn’t know until I arrived was that $200 was the minimum buy-in. So I brought exactly $200 to that game, and that was probably about 10% of my entire poker bankroll.

Less than an hour into that session I was all in for my whole $200. That single $400 pot changed my life. I had already realized how short my money was in that game since several of the other players started off with $500 or $1000 and presumably had more in their pocket if they needed it. I had nothing else. Had I lost it I would have left and never come back again, at least for a long time. But I won that pot and won $900 that night, which was easily my biggest cash game win ever.

More important than the money was the fact that I met Buddy that night. He ended up being my poker mentor and teaching me so much. I tried to give him a proper tribute in this blog.

I became a regular in Buddy’s game and soon was so passionate about poker that I was playing all the time. Spike Seals became my poker partner in crime, and we would close down the room in Lawton and then occasionally even drive up to Riverwind where we could play until the sun came up. Breakfast at IHOP in Norman at 9 a.m. and then back home in time for a little sleep until I had to work again at 4 p.m. that afternoon. Wish I had that kind of energy these days.

A short night back then was simply quitting at 3 a.m. when the Lawton room closed. Of course we’d almost always end up at either Whataburger or, on a super successful night, The Junction for some amazing late-night Korean BBQ. We would always discuss strategy and helped make each other better at poker. Or sometimes just make fun of the crazy people.

Considering how often I was playing and how reckless I was with my bankroll, it didn’t take long to get to the point where 30 seconds in a poker game could have a much more serious impact on my net worth than 40 hours at my job. One year, I had to drive to Tulsa to cover a playoff football game. Buddy had been telling me about the $5-10 game at Newcastle Casino that ran every Friday. He thought I should play in it. In fact, I still shouldn’t have even been playing $2-5 with my bankroll at that time. But because I didn’t know that, I decided to stop at Newcastle and play for a few hours on my way to Tulsa. I bought in for $500 (the minimum in that game), lost it, rebought for another $500 and lost that too.

I was completely distraught on my drive to Tulsa. I had just lost probably half or a third of my entire poker bankroll in two hands. Furthermore, my job still paid only about $28k per year, which meant my bi-monthly paycheck after taxes and deductions was about $650. I had lost almost two full paychecks in a couple of hours.

I had started playing those $10 tournaments with Mike in late 2004. By the end of 2005 I had about $4k in my poker bankroll. I wanted to marry Missy but with my low-paying job I couldn’t afford a ring with my paycheck, which was going towards food and rent. So I blew the entire poker bankroll on her ring, which I gave her when I proposed on Christmas in 2005. I didn’t know what would happen with poker, but I knew that Missy was more important. I figured I could run it back up in the $10 tournaments, but if it didn’t work out I was prepared to give up poker. I wasn’t sure how much I’d get to play once I was married anyway.

That same year, my grandpa gave me a $500 check for my Christmas present. He usually gave us $100 but that year he gave us more. He had terminal cancer and would only live about six more months. He would never know how much he truly gave me with that check. I cashed that $500 and used it to start over with a poker bankroll. I remember being nervous those first couple of sessions playing $1-2 at the casino, knowing that if I was unlucky on that $500 and lost it that it would take me a long time to be able to play anything other than the $10 tournaments.

Fortunately I was able to run it up and soon was back playing $2-5 (far sooner than I should have been I’m sure). Missy and I were married in the fall of 2006, and she was very supportive of my frequent after-work trips to the casino. I’m sure there are a couple of women out there who wouldn’t care for their new husbands going to the casino and not getting home until 3 a.m.

We bought a house across the street from Spike, on the West side of town. This was the opposite side of town from the casino, about a 20 minute drive. The move ended up beginning a new and short-lived phase of my poker career, online poker.

Pretty much everyone in the United States was already playing online poker by 2007, so we were late to the game. You couldn’t beat the games at the Lawton casino, but you also couldn’t beat the convenience of online poker. Spike and I put $200 ($100 each) onto Doyle’s Room and created the rising star known as jmcenroe (a nod to Spike’s favorite tennis player. And yes, we often said “You cannot be serious!” after getting an unlucky card on the river.)

A couple of nights per week, instead of going across town to the casino, we’d just play online at Spike’s place. Jmcenroe ran his $200 into about $4k playing mostly cash games, but then he got into a bad run of cards and maybe just a little bit of tilt and lost half of it. We decided to just cash out the $2k for a tidy profit of about $1k each. Naturally, in keeping with online poker site tradition, it took several months for our check to arrive in the mail.

I decided to put $200 of my own onto Poker Stars, and the cycle repeated itself. I ran it up to over $5k in a pretty short amount of time, then lost more than half of it in one night.

In hindsight, that night was pretty funny. At the time it was shocking. I started out playing $0.50/$1 but lost a couple of buyins there. Soon I went to $1-2, then $2-4, then $3-6, then $5-10. Every time I lost I just jumped into a higher stakes game figuring I’d get even there. Obviously I was playing terrible by the end. I didn’t even realize how much I had lost until it was over. At that time I would have been upset over a $500 loss at the casino and I had just lost six times that amount in a couple of hours.

I immediately cashed out my remaining $2k and woke Missy up crying with my confession and guilt. I think she was more upset that I had woken her up than she was with the monetary loss. Anyway, that was the end of my online poker hobby.

I stuck to casino play after that, jumping into the weekly $5-10 game that had just begun at the Apache Casino. It felt like I couldn’t lose in those games, and being unknowingly reckless with my poker bankroll was paying off big time.

From 2007 to 2009, I made more money playing poker than I did at the newspaper (a low bar, I know). Finally I made the jump and did poker full time while doing sports writing on a part time basis.

I was extremely fortunate with both my luck (playing games I wasn’t bankrolled to play) and my timing (coming up in an era where there were crazy games 7 days a week and tons of money to be made without being great at poker).

I never thought I’d do this poker thing for more than 10 years, and I don’t know how long I’ll stay in it. I still enjoy it, but part of me wishes I was still as passionate about it as I was when it was just a hobby.

Books

Congratulations.

If you clicked on this link and have not moved on by this point, it’s safe to say you’ll read anything I write. I mean, “Books”??? How boring is that?

The inspiration for this post actually came from the biggest sports news of the week. Indianapolis Colts quarterback Andrew Luck abruptly retired from the NFL. I was reading a story about Luck, and it quoted an NFL executive who said that during the pre-draft process before Luck was chosen as the #1 overall pick, teams interviewing him asked for his favorite hobby. His answer was reading books, and the executive in the story said that was the first and last time in his three decades in the business that a player had given that as his answer.

Books certainly wouldn’t be at the very top of my list of hobbies, but it would be pretty darn close. I’d probably list pickup basketball number one, followed by bridge. The bronze medal would go to watching baseball but books would be a top-five finisher for sure.

Mom says I was constantly wanting books read to me as a child. I seem to have passed that trait onto my own kids, particularly Maddux. As far as reading them myself, the first type I latched onto was the kids’ mystery novels. Like Nancy Drew and such.

By the time I got into junior high, my sports fandom was starting to seep into my book choices. I would go to Southern Oaks library off Walker in South Oklahoma City and head straight for the nonfiction sports section. Once there, I almost exclusively read baseball autobiographies. I still remember factoids from Rickey Henderson’s, Kirby Puckett’s (hasn’t aged as well), Dave Dravecky’s, Orel Hershiser’s and of course Ryne Sandberg’s. In 2019 I now find these to be the lowest form of sports nonfiction, since the athletes themselves do none of the writing and the stories are all whitewashed to make them look infallible. But 13-year-old me didn’t know that and found these books very informative and entertaining. I also have to say that, based on Spike Seals’ recommendation, I read Andre Agassi’s autobiography a few years back and was very impressed. It’s probably the best sports autobiography I’ve ever read despite the fact that he pretends he only did meth three times. Nobody does meth three times. The only three options are never, once, or too many to count. But despite that flaw it’s a great book and one I would definitely recommend.

In college, most of my reading was forced upon me by professors. I still got my Sports Illustrated and went through that every week but that was the extent of my leisure reading. Perhaps because of being flooded with non-fiction books during the school year, I went through a phase during summers in college where I read almost exclusively fiction. This was back when John Grisham was on top of the world, and I gobbled up several of his books until figuring out that they’re all essentially the same. I also read many James Patterson thrillers until figuring out that they’re all essentially the same. In hindsight, that’s probably the reason I’ve mostly stayed away from fiction in the 16 years since then.

Once I moved to Lawton, I got back into the nonfiction universe, but still stuck mostly to sports. My favorite book of that era by far was Moneyball, by Michael Lewis. In Lawton, these were the types of books I gravitated toward. Still in the realm of sports but not autobiographies. I reviewed a few books for the Constitution and enjoyed doing that. I also picked up my poker habit down there and read several poker strategy books, most of which I would now laugh at. I definitely learned a lot from Doyle Brunson’s Super System 2, which somebody bought me. I believe it was my lovely bride-to-be Missy.

In general, I’m opposed to owning books. I can’t explain it any better than Jerry Seinfeld, so I’ll let his bit stand for me on this topic. In the case of Super System it actually helped to have the copy around so I could review the sections each time I tried a new form of poker (like Omaha hi/low). Every form of poker not named Texas hold em was new to me at that time it so actually made sense to keep that one handy.

But other than that, I prefer to just check them out at the library and return them when I’m finished. It’s free and I don’t have a worthless object on my hands that I’ll never read again once I’m finished. I’ve tried reading a few books on Kindle or on my phone but it doesn’t take long before my eyes start hurting. I also just like the feel of a book in my hands better than an electronic device.

Now that we are back in Oklahoma City, I usually go to the very same library I grew up in, Southern Oaks. Sometimes I’ll go to the Pioneer Library, which is equidistant to that from our house but has a smaller selection. My tastes have evolved somewhat over the last several years. Sports books only make up about one-third of my catalog now. The two best ones I’ve recently read in that category are Jane Leavy’s biography of Sandy Koufax and Jay Jaffe’s breakdown of the Baseball Hall of Fame.

Usually, however, I gravitate toward history books. Missy makes fun of just about every book I bring home. I’ve recently read about the War of the Roses (in England several centuries ago), the Osage murders in the Tulsa area about 100 years ago, and the United States’ miscommunication with and mishandling of both Native Americans and Mexicans when we were expanding westward.

Occasionally I’ll grab something theological. I really love Francis Chan, and Rob Bell’s book on the Bible was great.

A new (to me) genre that I’ve been more and more into lately is the memoir. I try to find memoirs not of famous people but of seemingly normal folks. In a sense that’s what I’ve tried to write with this blog, a memoir written in one chapter per week, bouncing all over the place. I’m too intimidated by the thought of putting it all together into one huge thing that actually makes sense, so this is my compromise.

Currently I’m reading a book that combines three things I enjoy: memoirs, history and journalism.

The book I’m currently reading. Shout out to Ryan Chittum for being on my bookmark from the 100th anniversary celebration of the OU newspaper.

My next book will also be a memoir, and from my all-time favorite author.

Back when I first subscribed to Sports Illustrated as a teenager, Rick Reilly was the king of the sportswriting universe. He got the back page of the magazine every week to write whatever he wanted, and he was brilliant. I loved him (and have read a couple of his fiction books) but I was especially impressed by the wordplay of Steve Rushin. He’s a genius when it comes to puns, plays on words, alliteration, palindromes, and all that jazz.

He’s written several books since leaving the magazine and they are all amazing. After a great fiction book and a couple of nonfiction books he dove into the memoir game with Sting Ray Afternoons. I loved it despite the fact that it covers the 1970s, of which I lived a through a mere 50 days. His follow up to that covers the 80s, which I most definitely lived through. Nights in White Castle just came out and I’m very much looking forward to it.

If you made it to the end of this post, I love you. I’d also love to hear any book recommendations you might have, either through the comments section here or on Facebook. Thanks in advance!