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!

Chicago 2019

Four years is too long to stay away from your favorite place on earth, and 30 hours isn’t nearly enough time to spend there. But I had a great time and packed about as much as possible into my quick trip to Chicago this week.

I had been talking to my friend Randy, an equally avid Cubs fan, about going for years, but with seven kids between us it’s hard to find the time. About a month ago, we were playing poker and Randy says, “We just need to make this happen. Talk to Missy, figure out what dates work and we’ll go.”

If I were to go, it needed to be before September when Missy’s teaching gig at OU starts back up, and the Cubs were on the road for 10 straight games in mid-August, so we didn’t have a lot of options. I suggested going Wednesday, attending the game that night and the game the next afternoon, then coming home Friday. But Randy needed to be back Thursday night so we settled on the super quick trip.

Wednesday was a long day. It started at 5 a.m. when we headed to the airport for our 6 a.m. flight. I usually don’t wake up quite that early. But it allowed us to be in Chicago before noon, so we had time for a quick nap before the game. Randy’s daughter lives in Chicago and found a perfect hotel for us in an area of the city I hadn’t stayed in before. One of my favorite things about Chicago is walking through the neighborhoods, so after resting for a couple of hours that’s what we did. We were near the Lincoln Zoo which was a cool neighborhood only about 10 minutes from Wrigleyville.

We ate a late lunch at a sports pub in the neighborhood. Can’t say it was one of the better meals I’ve ever had but the White Sox were playing a day game and we got to see the end of that, so it was a good way to get integrated into the city and the baseball vibe. Then we headed to Wrigleyville, arriving about two-and-a-half hours before the 7 p.m. start.

Randy and I in front of the famous Wrigley Field marquee.

The last time I had been to Chicago was in 2015, which was a year before the greatest World Series ever played. The Cubs were in the middle of their Wrigley Field renovations then, so I got to see the new giant scoreboards but not the completely redone area around the ballfield. It was bizarre, seeing a stadium I’ve been to about 10 times surrounded by strangely new buildings and attractions, with several of the old merchandise shops and bars like Murphy’s Bleachers sprinkled in and still looking exactly the same as they always have.

We hit a home run on the weather, if you’ll pardon the pun. It was about 80 degrees with a cool breeze coming in off the lake. It actually rained for about 15 minutes before the start of Wednesday’s game while we were sampling a couple of Chicago’s finest beers at the Big Star next to the stadium. The perfect weather continued a streak for me on my short baseball trips the last few years. Chad and I had magnificent weather in Minneapolis, Denver and Phoenix the last three years, and this was just as good. It felt amazing to get out of the sweltering Oklahoma heat.

We were planning on buying tickets from the scalpers in front of the stadium but there weren’t many of those to be found. The scalpers were all yelling at people trying to buy tickets, so we figured we’d have better luck online. At Rizzo’s Bar and Inn, while drinking a Next Coast IPA from Chicago’s own Goose Island brewery, we found the seats we wanted to buy. Randy ordered them on his phone, then received a text from his bank to check whether this was a fraudulent purchase. The text said to reply “YES” if this was a legitimate purchase or “NO” if it was not. Despite being one of the smartest people I know, Randy managed to fail this 50/50 test. (And we had only had a couple beers, I promise!) So he had to deal with that headache before getting it sorted out and getting our tickets.

Our seats were great, on the lower level down the first base line. And it was quite a game we got to see. The only other MLB game I’ve been to this season was the first weekend of the year, when James and I went to Arlington to watch the Cubs against the Texas Rangers. Texas won that game 11-10, and for awhile it looked like the Giants were going to beat the Cubs 11-10 on Wednesday night too. That was the score in the bottom of the eighth inning when Kris Bryant played the hero to give the Cubs the lead. Craig Kimbrel closed it out in the ninth and the Cubs won 12-11.

Our view for Wednesday night’s 12-11 victory over the Giants.

After the game, which lasted about three and a half hours, I was pretty well exhausted. But getting to bed wasn’t quite the emergency our taxi driver seemed to think it was. This guy put New York City cabbies to shame. Randy thinks he might have hit 100 mph on Clark Street at one point. By the time he slammed on the brakes directly in front of our hotel, I was about ready to throw up.

On Thursday, the Cubs had a 1:20 p.m. game and our flight was scheduled to leave Midway at 5:30 p.m. We decided to go back to Wrigleyville and watch from one of the bars there until we needed to leave for the airport. We asked multiple people how long it would take to get from there to Midway and everyone said an hour. So we figured we could hang out until 3:30 p.m. and still make it an hour before our flight.

Despite the perfect weather and the fact that the Cubs had just moved back into first place the night before, the old-school scalpers were out in force on Thursday hawking tickets. We weren’t planning on attending the game, especially since we’d have to leave early, but figured it couldn’t hurt to see if the scalpers would give us a good deal. Although the negotiating process was predictably annoying, we did manage to score tickets for less than face value.

Our view for Thursday’s game. The Cubs won 1-0 behind a gem from my favorite Cubs pitcher, Kyle Hendricks (below).

We sat in right field, under the second deck, which was perfect because we would have gotten sunburned in the bleachers. Again, the weather was perfect. I have to confess that Chicago style pizza isn’t my favorite thing, but I felt like I had to get a mini Giordano’s and a beer while I watched this one. It was blissful.

Giordano’s + pale ale + baseball = magic.

If the game progressed at normal pace, we would get to watch about six innings before needing to leave for the airport. But this game went very quickly as both pitchers threw gems. The Cubs scored a run in the fourth thanks to a routine fly ball that was lost in the sun. With both teams putting zeroes onto the scoreboard, our 3:30 p.m. deadline didn’t arrive until the bottom of the eighth inning, with the Cubs clinging to that 1-0 lead.

The Cubs closed out the 1-0 victory as Randy and I were on our way to the airport. That routine fly ball which fell for a hit and the subsequent Anthony Rizzo RBI single were the Cubs’ only hits the entire game, making it just the fifth game since 1990 that the Cubs have won with two hits or less. And it was quite the departure from Wednesday night’s game, when the Cubs needed every one of 14 hits to eek out a victory. Things like that are what make baseball so fun.

Our Uber driver on Thursday was the polar opposite of the insane guy we had Wednesday night. He was very safe and in no hurry, which turned out to be a bit unfortunate since we mistimed our trip to the airport. With traffic, it took a full 90 minutes, which meant we arrived at Midway at 5 p.m. for a 5:30 p.m. flight. We were getting a little stressed but got lucky that there was virtually no line at security. We walked up to the gate as our boarding group was getting on the plane.

It was great to see my family again when we got back. The whole trip kind of felt like a dream since it was so quick. And I did a lot of dreaming last night, when I passed out and slept like a baby to make up for a little of the deprivation I had accrued over the previous two days.

See you soon, Chicago. Hopefully in less than four years.

Anniversary Surprise :/

August 12, 2006 is a day I’ll never forget for the best of reasons. Eventually I’ll write a whole post on that singular day but for now I’ll just mention that it was my wedding day.

August 12, 2019 is a day I’ll probably never forget, for less impressive reasons. I was getting my car window replaced after someone smashed into it and stole our stuff on our anniversary date.

When it comes to our anniversary, Missy and I have a strict routine. We get a hotel here in Oklahoma City, eat at the same restaurant and go to the same bar every year. (A big thank you to Missy’s family for coming down to watch the kids to make this happen).

We start our date the same way every year. We check into the hotel and Missy takes a nap while I go to the hotel pool and alternate between actual swimming (5%) and sitting by the pool reading a book and drinking beer (95%). We have stayed at a few different hotels over the years but the only requirements are a pool and a bar, for the aforementioned reasons. This year we stayed at the Holiday Inn right off I-35 near downtown. Part 1 of our date was a success.

Before our fancy dinner, we decided to run to Wal Mart so Missy could buy a few back-to-school clothes and a couple of presents for the kids. I dropped Missy off at the door, then went across the street and treated myself to a cherry vanilla coke from Sonic. She was only in there for about 15 minutes and then I picked her up at the front door and we headed back to the hotel to get ready for our dinner.

When we were engaged, Missy went to a bridal fair and entered some drawings. She won a $100 gift card to Boulevard Steakhouse in Edmond. That restaurant has made quite an impressive return on that investment despite the fact that we only eat there once a year. We used the gift card on our first anniversary and have gone back every year since for that specific date. If you’ve eaten at Boulevard before (or just glance at the menu in the picture below) you know this means they’ve gotten a couple thousand dollars from us over the years.

Boulevard Steakhouse gave us a coupon and some fresh rose petals
Missy is just as beautiful as she was the day I married her!

Our dinner was great, like it always is. Missy always gets the same thing, filet tips with wild mushrooms. I get a different steak every year but this time settled on some tenderloin medallions with mashed potatoes and asparagus. Part 2 of our date was a success.

After dinner we always go to Junior’s on Northwest Expressway. It’s a throwback to another era. The average customer is about 75 years old, almost everybody in there is smoking, and there’s a live band playing the classics. It has a “Cheers” feel to it; everybody seems to know everybody. Missy discovered it before we were married and like Boulevard we only make it there once a year. The same two main bartenders are still there and they remember us despite our infrequent appearances. We have a couple drinks and do a lot of people watching while I smoke an anniversary cigar. Part 3 of our date was a success.

Part 4 of our date was a success.

Part 5 of our date simply involved driving home the next day, and that was less of a success. We woke up to find our car had been broken into at the hotel parking lot. They smashed in the rear door window on the driver’s side and took our Wal Mart sacks, as well as everything in the center console. Like I said, the Wal Mart sacks contained kids’ clothes and presents (a Nerf gun being the highlight, nothing technological). Missy remembers the total cost being $143 but probably roughly $0 in value to the looters. In the center console they took two pairs of Missy’s prescription sunglasses. Cost us about $350 total but again, roughly $0 in value to the looters. They did get a few pens and a tire pressure gauge. Treat them well, bastards.

It appears that the robber or robbers got a couple other cars in the same lot. We filed a police report and they had some surveillance footage from the parking lot so hopefully justice is served but of course that’s unlikely.

How our car looked in the parking lot of the Holiday Inn off I-35 near downtown OKC.
Glass all over the car seat. Got a few knicks cleaning it up that afternoon.

Ultimately, the whole thing was just an inconvenience. Jim Gray Auto Glass came out the next day and replaced the window at our house for a great price (less than half of what Safelite was going to charge us). I would highly recommend him. We had to replace the Wal Mart purchases and will have to replace Missy’s sunglasses but at least nothing of real value (sentimental or monetary) was taken. And while it might not have been the best anniversary date we’ve ever had, it was probably the most memorable.

Favorite Westbrook story

After last weekend’s tragedies, I was planning to write about guns and my opinions on gun rights this week.

But I tell ya what, it’s a hard time to try to share an opinion in America. I understand that none of you care what I think on that topic, but it’s really sad that you can’t even have a discussion on anything semi-political without the immediate butwhatabouts or youdrankthekoolaids. Why can’t we have a conversation (or even a disagreement) without it immediately turning into name calling or ridiculous statements that end the dialogue? Yes, there is more to the issue than just the guns. Obviously, but does that mean we can’t also talk about the guns? Yes, Trump does some stupid stuff. Obviously, but does that mean every single issue is 100% his fault? It’s incredibly frustrating, especially for someone who doesn’t identify with either major party.

Eventually I might decide to weigh in on this topic anyway, since it’s my blog and you are under a court order to read it every week. But for now I thought it a good time to revisit my favorite Russell Westbrook poker story, since it’s highly possible I will never play with him again. Even though this happened more than four years ago, it still gets referenced every once in awhile. In fact, just last week Chad mentioned being worried about making the same mistake I did that night.

I’m also going to include the cracked windshield story that appeared in my original blog post about it, because I had completely forgotten about that part of the story and it still made me laugh today.

——

Once upon a time I had a cracked windshield.

To fix that problem, I called Safelite, which has a catchy commercial jingle that is obviously way more important than actual competence. They were nice on the phone and I scheduled the windshield replacement for Thursday, July 9, at 1 p.m.
However, on July 3 Missy’s sister Terri went into labor a tish early, and Missy already had planned to fly up to New Jersey to spend some time with her. So Missy moved her flight up to spend the week with Terri, leaving me home alone with the kid and needing to reschedule the windshield appointment. No problem, I call Safelite and they give me several other times, including 1 p.m. on July 16, exactly a week after the original appointment. That seemed pretty convenient so I booked it.
Everything went great with Missy gone. The kids had McDonald’s and Mountain Dew every day and went to bed at midnight. On Wednesday I’m waking up to get the kids around when my phone rings. It’s Safelite calling to confirm my appointment for the next day, July 9. I tell the guy that I have already rescheduled that appointment for July 16. He doesn’t say a word, just lets out the most exasperated deep and audible sigh that I have ever heard in my life. I hear some computer keys clicking and another one of these sighs, which are similar to the ones I have when I look across the room and see Maddux dumping a cup of milk all over the couch but know it’s too late to do anything to stop it.
I’m just sitting there listening to these click-sighs for about 30 seconds before he says, “We don’t have an opening on July 16.” I tell him I already talked to someone several days ago and it should be booked. He starts in on another round of clicking and sighing, sounding just like I sound when I look across the room and see Myra coloring directly on the kitchen table but know it’s too late to do anything about it. Finally he says, “Nope, we’re all booked up on the 16th, and your name’s not on here.”
Then he mumbles something about, “Let me check here…” and starts the clicking and typing. After about a minute of that I finally say, “It’s fine, we can do it another day. It doesn’t have to be the 16th. But I can’t do it tomorrow so just tell me what you do have open and we will reschedule this.”
Now he takes it up a notch, with the loudest sigh in the history of the universe, even louder than the time I walked into Addie’s play room and saw that she had taken the real maple syrup from our pantry and dumped the whole thing all over her play kitchen. He keeps clicking and sighing and doesn’t say anything at all, so finally I say, “Look dude I’m sorry but I have to get my kids up and around. Just call me back later and we can reschedule the thing, I’m pretty flexible.”
After a few more clicks and sighs, he says, “We can do July 20 at 4 p.m.” I have no idea what day of the week July 20 is or what we might have going on but I say, “That’s perfect,” and get off the phone.
The next day I wake up to see I have a missed call from Safelite. (Who calls people at 7 a.m.?) and a voicemail that says they have a question for me. So I call back and talk to a young lady who says, “We were just calling to let you know we have an opening next week if you want to bring you car in.” I ask when it is and she says…(drumroll please)….July 16th, at 1 p.m. I inform her that I briefly held that exact appointment time but was booted out of it by a guy who was sighing like I do every time my kids fight over a free Happy Meal toy when they have hundreds of dollars worth of better toys in their rooms. She didn’t seem too interested in my story and got off the phone with me as fast as I did with the Sigh Guy.

P.S. my windshield did in fact get fixed that day, and since then I now have one additional child. Hawk makes me sigh like the Safelite guy when he sneaks into the pantry and I find 12 empty candy wrappers and a huge smile on his face.

——

What does that story have to do with Russell Westbrook? Well, the reason I need a new windshield is because I was texting and driving in a parking lot and ran right over him. Smacked his head right on my windshield and broke it. He’ll probably never play basketball again. Gotcha! That didn’t really happen.

But I really did get the Russell Westbrook stink face and live to tell about it. While Missy was gone, my mom agreed to come watch the kids one day so I could play poker. It just so happened that Russell Westbrook was in the mood to play poker that day and it just so happened that I ended up playing at his table. I’ve gotten to play with RWB maybe 10 or 12 times over the years, and he’s a cool enough guy to be around. He’ll answer questions about where his favorite places to travel are or what his opinion is of infamous referee Joey Crawford. About the only thing he won’t do is take a picture with you, and I can respect that. He makes it pretty clear that he doesn’t want his picture taken in the casino. Westbrook is my mom’s favorite player, so since she was watching my kids I texted her and told her that I was playing poker with her favorite basketball player. The first thing she says is, “take a picture and send it to me.” I said no, he doesn’t like his picture taken. She says, “Just tell him it’s for your dear old mother and he is her favorite player in the world.”

I didn’t want to get into a back-and-forth with her about it so I figured I’d just sneak a quick picture when he wasn’t looking and send it to her. He was only two seats away from me so I had to be in stealth mode but at the same time it wouldn’t look totally awkward like it would if I was on the other end of the table and trying to lean around to point my phone at him. I made sure my phone was on silent so it wouldn’t make a loud clicking sound and then I snapped the thing. What I didn’t realize was that for the first time in 5 years of owning this phone I somehow had the flash on and it was pretty daggone bright and directly in his eyes.

As soon as I saw the flash I jerked the phone down and pretended to type on the phone as if I was texting someone and the flash just accidentally went off and/or had nothing to do with me taking a picture of Russell Westbrook. I saw his head snap over in my direction and he was giving me pretty much the exact same look he is giving in this gif.

I felt like the biggest idiot in the world and just kept my head down pretending to type. I may have soiled myself.┬áLuckily, I’ve played with RWB enough that he knows me and likes me. Regardless, he didn’t say anything (and I’ve heard him call out other people for picture snapping at the table) and we interacted normally the rest of the night. I never mentioned my mom or admitted to anything. I just wanted it to go away. I went ahead and sent the picture to my mom. Ironically, the picture is quite blurry because I jerked the phone down as soon as the flash started going off. She texted back and said the pic was too blurry and I needed to take another one. I said there’s no way I’m pointing my phone in his direction the rest of the night. And I didn’t.

P.S. I played with Russ several times after this and he obviously didn’t care about it. In fact, he liked when I had the mohawk haircut, especially when I told him I did it in honor of naming my youngest son Hawk. We got to talking about our kids and he would always ask me how they were doing as soon as he sat down at the poker table. I’ll be rooting for him in Houston.

Pee and Poop

In the last blog, I discussed my personal policy on panhandlers.

What I didn’t include in that post was my dealings with poker players who ask to borrow money. They are the casino cousins of the street version, with the difference being that the street people who have never played in their lives are probably better at poker.

Because you generally play with the same people all the time, you develop a familiarity and in many cases a friendship with these players. Thus it’s not uncommon to see people passing money back and forth like it’s the guac at a football party.

When I first started playing recreationally, I’d hear stories from the 70s about poker loans that reached five or six figures, and they were told with a level of nonchalance that was shocking to a guy whose net worth was less than the smallest of these loans. Personally I witnessed loans of a couple thousand dollars going to and from people whose net worth was probably not much greater than mine.

Pretty much anyone who has ever played poker has been burned on a poker loan at least once. I never loaned out more than a few hundred dollars, and can only remember being stiffed twice. But those two happened more or less simultaneously, and they more or less ended my participation in the money-swapping business. Missy was probably more mad about it than I was, and she told me to use her as the bad guy anytime anyone asked me for a loan. So I just told people my wife wouldn’t let me do it.

It was pretty stupid for me to ever do it anyway, since I was never on the receiving end of one of these loans. A couple of times I have gone to the casino and forgotten my poker money, which seems like something nobody would be stupid enough to do. Only once or twice have I ever borrowed money to play, and those were from some of my closest friends. Usually I would realize it when I was halfway to the casino and make a slight detour to my bank to withdraw my own money. Once I’m at the casino and playing, if I ever run out of money, that’s the end of my day at the poker table. I always felt awkward about losing someone else’s money, and I can’t even imagine losing money I had no means of repaying. To me, the choice between paying a $5 ATM fee to access my own money or borrowing from someone else is a no-brainer.

But obviously gambling can take a serious hold on some people and cause them to do things they wouldn’t do in their normal lives. And some people are just shitheads. (Poop reference #1! I bet you were wondering what any of this has to do with the title of this blog.)

In 1975 it made a lot more sense to need to borrow money from a friend. Many poker games were held in underground spots that were frequently robbed or busted by the cops, so there was reason to not carry around a lot of cash even if the game you were playing in was pretty big. And it’s not like there was an ATM on every corner like there is now. In 2019, I figure if you don’t have a way to get your own money into a poker game, it’s probably best to just not play that day. There are only a handful of people I’d loan money to and they are my closest friends.

Of course, those people never ask me for a loan because they don’t need one. When I do get asked, there’s a 95% chance the phrase, “You know I’m good for it” will be invoked. Generally when I decline it’s not a big deal, the guy just says he understands and moves on. Maybe he’s pissed at me but I don’t really know or care.

One guy who asked me and my friends for loans several times was named Jack. He was a quirky dude but he was nice enough. Made some crazy plays at the poker table which occasionally led to him really cleaning up but more frequently led to him needing a loan.

One night a few years back he asked me for a loan. I declined. He then went and played at a smaller-stakes game than the one I was in. A few hours later, probably around 1 a.m., I cashed out and was about to head home. Jack cornered me, said he’d just lost in his game and asked me again for a loan. I again declined. He said he didn’t want more money for poker, he needed $50 to get a cab or an Uber ride home from the casino because the guy he rode with had left earlier.

Much like my policy on the panhandlers, I didn’t want to give Jack cash that probably wouldn’t be used to get him a ride home and probably wouldn’t ever be repaid to me. I also wanted him to get home safely. I was heading home and I had a perfectly good car and nowhere else I had to be at 1 a.m. so I offered to give him a ride.

(Several people who know this story think I was stupid to offer him a ride because of the risk of getting robbed by Jack. Obviously I suppose it was in play but he was probably 20 years older than I and not in good health. I didn’t see that as a risk or I wouldn’t have done it.)

We were at Riverwind, which is about 15 miles south of Oklahoma City. I live in South OKC. Jack lived way up in Northwest OKC near Edmond. Basically it added an hour onto what would have been a 30-minute trip home.

On the drive I asked him about his kids. He gushed about his daughter, who was about 9 years old at the time. After talking about her for 10 minutes, he said, “I also have a son who is grown up. He’s a piece of shit.” (Poop reference #2!) Kind of an awkward silence after that because I didn’t know what to say. Jack filled in the void by telling me exactly why he was a POS for the next 30 minutes.

Finally we get within a couple of miles of Jack’s house. We’re off the highway but not into the neighborhood yet. Out of nowhere Jack yells, “Pull over right now. I’ve got to take a piss.”

I ask if he knows if there’s a convenience store nearby. He says, “I ain’t got time for that. I’m about to piss all over myself and your car. You need to pull over now.”

I’m not really sure what to do because we are on a 40-mph street with no open businesses in sight. Jack points to a house on the corner of the street and yells, “Right here! Now!!”

I slam on the brakes and pull off the main road onto the side street. Jack is mumbling under his breath and fumbling with the car door. I unlock it and he sprints out of the car but only takes about three steps. He whips it out and lets it fly. I mean, he’s square in the middle of someone’s front lawn at 2 a.m. taking a whiz. My first thought was hoping that the owners didn’t happen to be gun owners who also happened to look out their window and see this. I thought about moving the car so I wasn’t in the line of fire but Jack’s door was still open. I was also sweating a police officer driving by. I wondered if I could be charged with accessory to public urination. I damn sure didn’t want to have to go down to the police station or bail him out of jail.

When he got done, Jack calmly got back in the car and told me how to get to his house. I still have no idea why he went from 0 to 60 on the need-to-piss scale so quickly. He hadn’t been drinking (in fact his liver was failing, and it would claim his life a year or so later). He never said anything about it, just thanked me for the ride when I dropped him off. It definitely ranks near the top of the list of bizarre incidents in my life.

Slightly less bizarre, but also involving bodily waste, is an incident that happened to me just a few days ago. For some reason I couldn’t get to sleep that night. I wasn’t overly depressed or anything but while I was laying there I was thinking about how I needed to do a better job of keeping my patience with the kids.

We were watching our friend’s puppy while she was out of town working, and she is a typically rambunctious puppy. She knocked over Hawk a few times which concerned me. Then she jumped up and snagged a piece of chicken off my plate while I was eating. Then Addison spilled milk at the table and made no effort to clean it up. All of this happened in a short span and I could have done a better job handling it with patience and grace. So that night while I couldn’t sleep I prayed for an extra measure of patience at home and with the kids.

I got about four hours of sleep when Hawk came into my room and woke me up to tell me he had a poopy diaper. So I’m still half asleep when I take him back to his room to change it. I woke all the way up pretty quickly when I stepped into a warm, squishy substance in Hawk’s room that got right in between all my toes. Yessir, I started my day by stepping in dog poop. After praying for patience the night before. It must have been the timing of that prayer because I somehow managed to hold my shit together, making me the only member of the dog-Hawk-me triumvirate to do so. I had to hop into the bathroom on my other foot so I could clean up the dirty one, then clean up the poop on the floor of Hawk’s room, then clean up Hawk and his dirty diaper.

I took the kids to the gym where I worked out for an hour or so. On the way home, Myra said, “You know Sadie pooped in our room too, right?” I did not know this, or else I would have cleaned that up immediately instead of letting that smell marinate in the girls’ room for a couple of additional and unnecessary hours.

Addison with Sadie, who is a good dog and hasn’t pooped any more since that first day.

Growing up in the church, I’d always heard the phrase, “Be careful when you ask God for patience, He might give you something to be patient about.”

Now I’ve lived it.