Returning the Favor and other Slices of Life

Returning the Favor
Returning the Favor
Now Available on Smashwords for Kindle and other ebook readers!

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

A night of firsts

So there was this long-haired hippy in town for a little more than a day before heading down to G-Vegas to prep for the Mastodon Weekend. After giving him directions on which sports bar along the light rail line would most likely show the soccer game on tv (I'll let Al tell you how he got lost between the light rail station and the bar that is 50 yards from the station), I finished up my workday, headed home to grab the Mrs., and then picked up Special K on our way to meet Al for a beer, food and more drinks.

Apparently there was some big festival going on somewhere in the world, so a lot of people wanted to go out and drink. Which was fine, but didn't bode well for finding parking in Charlotte's crowded South End district. After a couple of laps around buildings getting annoyed, I pulled into a parking lot that I totally wasn't supposed to park in and told the attendant we'd go in and get Al and then just head downtown (or uptown, or whatever they call it here, I get confused). He said that once the new manager came on they'd probably let people park there, just charge for parking. I asked him how he'd feel if I just gave him $20 and went on my merry way, and he didn't have a problem with that. He wandered off to deal with another car full of people, I stuck a twenty under his cigarette pack, and went into the bar.

We hung out there for a while, then decided to go downtown to eat. As we headed towards the car, the parking attendant said "As long as you're alrady here, it'd be easier just to take the light rail downtown and leave the car here." Figuring he was right, and since I'd already paid $20 to park, we trooped over to the light rail and bought our tickets. Al had an all-day pass, but Suzy, Special K and I had never ridden Charlotte's newest transportation device. So we picked up our tickets ($3 roundtrip, even though there was no one collecting the tickets or checking them) and headed downtown.

It's a light rail, pretty much like any other metro train system. Gets from point A to point B. Cheap, clean, not too crowded. So we got off at the 7th streeet station, which I had to confess I didn't know exactly where it was on 7th street. Then I realized that the big-ass parking deck that they built some years before the light rail ever actually happened and named the 7th street station parking deck was actually the location of the 7th street rail station. Al didn't forget to give me endless shit for not realizing this. Sometimes I'm not the sharpest knife in the drawer.

So we headed around the corner to Mert's Heart and Soul, the finest soul food restaurant in Charlotte. Or at least that I've been to. Suzy and Special K had never been there, so it was cool to show them part of their town they didn't know, especially since they are both pretty much native Charlatans. The food was killer, then we meandered over to Dixie's Tavern for a few more drinks. None of us had ever been there before, either, so that was cool. Suzy and I aren't much of the go out downtown types, so there's plenty of places in Charlotte that we've never been to. Dixie's was cool enough, your basic dive bar with decent-looking bartender chicks and the usual assortment of douchebags. One guy in particular made me go over the douchebag checklist, and he hit pretty much all of them.

Soul Patch - check
Sideburns - check
Multiple Hair Products on hair roughly the length of BadBlood's - check
Popped collar on his North Face jacket - check
Fat friend with all the same characteristics - check

I'm pretty sure there's a picture floating around somewhere with him in the background, hopefully it turns up.

Alas, it was a school night, so we had to turn in early. We sent Al off to his fleabag hotel and hopped the train back to our car. Same homie watching the car, and we headed off into the night. Now just a couple days until I really make an idiot out of myself and try to behave like I'm 25 again. Can't wait!

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

On Frugality

I know, two posts in two days. Don't even think about getting used to this. But I found some of my endeavors yesterday in reducing my monthly payments interesting, and thought some of you might as well. I'm not going to discuss too much my colossal fail at refinancing my house to a sufficient rate to make it worth doing (at least with Wachovia - I haven't given up hope entirely, but the ability to make a weekly mortgage payment by simply automatically transferring from my checking account to my mortgage account is pretty sweet).

But I looked at my cable bill, and again wanted to vomit a little. I do the digital cable thing, and I do the DVR thing, and I do the cable modem thing, so I appreciate the fact that I'm a pretty sizable consumer of their services. But I thought $134/month was a little excessive, so I decided to call and whine about it. After three or four phone trees and a couple of useless customer service reps I actually got to a guy who could help me, and when he looked at my bill he said that the best thing for me (assuming I wasn't planning on leaving my house or their service in the near future) was their new program that locks in pricing for two years.

Now this is a 2-year service contract, just like a cell phone. And it has a hefty early termination fee, just like a cell phone. But since I have no intention of leaving my house or Time Warner Cable's services within the next two years, a reduction of $30/month worked pretty well for me. i wouldn't do it if I were a renter, or if I thought I'd be moving any time soon. But since we've had digital cable for several years and have no real inclination to change, and I'm certainly not killing my cable modem any time soon, the potential to save $720 over two years was certainly worth it.

Then I moved on to XM Radio. After being one of the people who swore they'd never pay for radio, I quickly became addicted to XM when I got my Honda. Then I picked up a coule of SkyFi jukeboxes for $40/each at Best Buy, and signed them both up for service. So I was paying about $30/month for radio. Not bad, except that two of them never got used. So I called in to cancel the two portable radios, which will be finding their way to Craigslist soon. While I was talking to the customer service dude, he mentioned that they have a promotion going that would let me switch my quarterly 12.99/month service on my radio to a $30 every six months plan. So let me get this straight - I can pay $12.99/month, or I can pay $5/month? I'll take the cheap-o plan. Same service, just cheaper. Now it's a promotion, so I have to call back in August to extend the promotion for another six months, but it's worth it to me.

So there you go, a couple tips to save a little money. Cause a penny saved is a beer earned.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Ugh. Just Ugh.

I sat around a table with some friends Saturday night, and there were chips and cards moved around, but I can't with any degree of honesty call what I did playing poker. It wasn't just that I was running bad, which I was. It wasn't just that I had a couple of bad beats, which I did (although I dished out as many as I took, not that you ever feel the memory of the beats you lay on someone quite as keenly). It wasn't just that I was playing perhaps the worst poker I've played in some number of months, which I was.

It was that all of those things were going on and I felt completely powerless to stop it. For much of the night, it was as if I were playing poker in a dream. I saw my hands doing things with chips, and as the sane part of me screamed "NOOOOOOO!!!!" from inside my head, my hands threw out ridiculous overbets, stupid call after stupid call, and shoved my entire stack into the middle more times than I care to recall. There was a tournament to start the evening, of which I recall exactly one hand - my pocket queens held up very early to bust Mark, who shipped it in over the top of my raise with pocket tens. We peeked at the burn cards later to find that both remaining queens had been burned, which was nothing more than an interesting factoid.

I didn't win. I didn't cash. I didn't even sniff the money. I don't remember how I went out, but I'm pretty sure I got it in bad. I coulda saved myself the $30 if I'd just done like Special K and showed up late for the cash game. Frankly, I shouldn't play tournaments with extremely low buy-ins. I don't play tournaments that well to begin with, and if I'm not gonna be able to focus on the play because the payout is too low to be interesting, then I should just avoid them. I won't, because typically the tourneys are hosted by my friends, but I can pretty much just chalk them up to a predetermined loss.

At one point in the cash game, I thought to myself - "wow, I'm playing like crap. And I can't stop myself. I should leave early or this could get expensive." And I didn't. And it did. At one point I was $210 into the $.25/.50 cash game, following buy-ins of $60, $50 and $100. Somehow I managed to struggle back to even, including my tournament buy-in, on the back of catching cards and actually playing one or two hands well. And really, that's about all I played well. I think there was a hand where I flopped a straight and Jim rivered trips that I got paid on every street. There was another hand where Brian the Red doubled me up, although I don't remember anything about the hand. Then, just as I thought "there's about 45 minutes left in the night, I'm even, or just a hair ahead, I should go into complete lockdown and get outta here with my skin intact" I picked up pocket Kings.

Now, Special K had just had his Kowboys cracked on an Ace-high board the hand before, so I thought ugly things about my kings. But I dutifully raised about 8x the blinds and got a couple of callers. I know T and Skoon hung around, and there might have been one more to the flop. Flop comes down Q-J-x, Skoon checks and I fire $15 into a $16ish pot. T calls and Skoon raises me $30 more. He's pot-committed at this point, so I'm 95% sure all his money is going in. I look around at T's stack and she's got about $60-75 in front of her. I raise another $50 on top to make sure that anybody in the hand with me is playing for all their chips. T folds, which I kinda hated, and Skoon calls. I ask him "do you have two pair?" and he shakes his head. Until the 6 on the river comes down and he says "now I do," and turns over Q-6o. I double him up, and feel a little grossed out.

Now comes the worst part. Instead of regrouping, getting my head straight over the next few hands and recapturing my losings, I go on drunken monkey tilt and call Jim's preflop raise the very next hand with 6-8o. Flop comes down 7-6-7, and I call his flop bet. Turn is a 7, giving me a boat, and he bets out strong. Of course, in the depths of my rational soul I knew he had an overpair, but the monkey tilt that was controlling my hands shipped all my chips into the middle. I ask him if he has the case seven, he says no and tables queens. I mention that I'm drawing dead, ship him my stack, and go home.

It's not so much the money, as the tilt. I've had a real problem controlling tilt lately, and I'm not sure what it is. I have a theory that it's money. Before I was paying attention to my real-world finances outside of poker, I'd go busto, reload, build my bankroll up, take money out for real-life things, whatever. My bankroll wasn't really a solid thing, just another fluid place to park money. Now that I'm trying to be more conscientious about my household finances, and now that my freelance writing money has dipped by at least $10K this year, I'm much more conscious of not going broke. And I think it's fucking up my game. A lot. I'm pretty sure that contributed to me playing like scared money in W-Vegas, and I'm pretty sure that's what made me try so hard Saturday night to force things to go my way. So I'm gonna take some time this week to try and figure out where my head is at about bankroll before I go off with the other mastodons this weekend.

And I apologize to the people who had to put up with my tilt Saturday night. It felt as bad to me as it did to you, I promise.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

If you're not familiar with the finest musical act to come out of Concord, NC in perhaps forever, then you owe it to yourself to get familiar. Especially since they just hired the finest lighting designer in my house to do their summer tour this year! Yup, I will be designing lights for the Avett Brothers summer tour, and couldn't be more excited. One of the things I've never done in lighting is a tour, so this presents a whole new set of challenges, and I get to work with some really nice guys who make amazing music. Check them out on YouTube and iTunes, they kick ass. My favorite albums are Emotionalism and Gleam II.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Nanny State

I have allergies. They're not crippling, and it's not that there's any one thing that I'm allergic to. It's just a standard way of life that if I'm not medicated, and regularly, I'm a bit stuffy and sniffly. And since snot is no fun in a meeting, I take allergy drugs. I figured out that Claritin-D is the best thing for me, mostly because I'm a little clueless about most things and can't be trusted to remember to take anything more than once a day. Plus I don't want to be bothered.

Enter the nanny state. Because Claritin-D contains psuedoephedrine, and some folks can use psuedoephedrine to cook up a nice batch of methamphetamine, it's a regulated substance. So every two weeks when I buy my allergy drugs I get to go to the back of the pharmacy and ask for my drugs like I'm buying cigarettes at the grocery store. Then I get my driver's license scanned, sign the little box that says I understand that you can only buy so much cold medicine in a week, and go on my merry way.

Except this weekend. As I was packing for Atlanta, I noticed that I only had three pills left. Now I've run into issues buying my allergy meds in states that don't match my driver's license before, so I figured I'd pick some up on my way out of town. WRONG!

I go to my local drug store, and as the pharmacist scans my license, the machine beeps unpleasantly at him and refuses to sell me my drugs. Seems that since I had only bought these drugs a week or so ago (I had pills left, and had shared my allergy meds at a poker game where other folks were suffering) I couldn't purchase my cold medicine again because I was obviously going to cook up some meth. Fortunately for me the pharmacist wasn't a complete douchebag and he overrode the system, telling me to bring my wife's license in next time. So now I know that I'll have to alternate drug store chains where I buy my medicine so that I can actually continue to breathe easily. Fuckers.

The nanny-state mentality makes me sick. Wouldn't it make sense to just ask the checkout folks at the drug stores to think a moment before they sell someone a case of cold medicine instead of making it difficult for normal people to get their drugs? I mean damn, next thing you know they're going to legislate seat belt use for my own good, and make people wear helmets when they ride motorcycles. Oh wait...

On another front, I'm thinking of acquiring a handgun for the house. Any suggestions on preferred home defense handguns. I'm not looking for something to carry around concealed, I'm not that paranoid. But I think that it's probably time to have a pistol floating around somewhere in case of emergencies.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Interesting tidbit from W-by god Vegas

This is really Special K's story to tell, but I don't see a write up from him, and he's off winning won in K-Vegas, so I'll recount an interesting event from our trip to Charleston a couple weeks ago. It's hard to find something I've never seen in a casino anymore, but this certainly qualifies. I'm going to write this from the perspective of someone who actually saw what happened, which is stretching things a bit, but you'll have to live with it.

So in the middle of a down, a replacement dealer wanders over to Special K's table, taps out the current dealer, and motions to some Mounties that want to have a chat with him. He walks over, talks to the cops for a few minutes, and then the cops turn him around, cuff him, and perp-walk him through the casino out the front door and apparently into a waiting ride to the lockup. It took a little while of quizzing subsequent dealers to get an idea what happened, but it seems that since the dealers there use a toke box that hooks on to the rail of the table, and they hook it onto the table directly behind the slot for the jackpot drop, this dealer had been just scooping the jackpot drop into his toke box instead of into the slot in the table for the jackpot.

So for a couple dollars a down, maybe $100/day in a good day, homeboy got himself escorted off the property, never to work there again, and likely will never work in a casino anywhere again. Not to mention the night he got to spend with his new boyfriends in the West Virginia lockup. Real smart, buddy.

It was the best of times...

A tale of two home games...

So Friday night I rolled south to G-Vegas to play with Bad Blood, the recently un-retired from poker G-Rob, Otis, Lee Jones, Gucci Rick and a host of other degenerates. Over the course of the evening I managed to uphold one goal - to not get my money in bad more than once per orbit. That didn't stop me losing three buy-ins, but given the fact that I may actually have been a slight favorite (still behind, but a slight favorite) for at least half the last pot I lost, I think my PLO game might actually be improving by the most incremental of degrees. At this rate by 2020 I'll be a break-even PLO player.

So my love of PLO dims a bit whenever I pick up a big hand in early position, because I can't raise enough to get anyone to fold. So when I pick up AA72 with one suit under the gun, I can only make it $5 to go (1/1 PLO with a straddle). Several callers come along, but Lee makes my dream move and re-pots it. I'm fairly short already, and with aces and the hammer, I ship it in. Everyone else folds and we're heads up.

Of course he has the other two aces, and he's suited in clubs to my diamonds (or vice versa, but we each had one suit). Rainbow flop, no flush on the turn, but my hammer makes trips on the river to double through. Hammer good! That got me back to even for buy-in #2, and I don't remember how I lost the rest of it, but I'm sure I was overvaluing two pair chasing the boat or something equally inane. So let's fast forward to the end of the evening, in what became a pretty interesting hand. Otis raised it up preflop, and several of us called, including myself (10-10-J-9 with two crubs) and Bad Blood.

The flop came down with about everything I could ask for in a board - 8-9-4 with two clubs. I didn't have the open-ended straight flush draw, but I did have the open-ender and a decent flush draw. We had switched to PLO8 by this point, so I was less than thrilled about the two low cards on the board, but I led out anyway. My recollection is a little fuzzy, but I think I moved all in on the flop, Blood called and Otis moved all in over the top. I may have led out with a pot-sized bet, Blood called, Otis shoved, and Blood and I called. Either way, all the money ended up in the middle. I showed my crub flush draw and straight draw, Otis showed A-A-3-5 with the 3 and 5 of clubs, and Blood showed A-9-rag-rag for a silly call that I asked him about the next night. He didn't really defend it other than mumbling something about Grey Goose. EDIT - Mr. Blood has reminded me that he had A239 for top pair, nut low draw, so he made a good call for 25% of the pot :).

I had a pile of outs for half the pot, which I think made me around 60% to chop and around 20% to scoop. But the turn and river didn't bring me a 10, 7, Q or a club, and I was done for the night.Otis scooped the pot with his unimproved aces to get himself unstuck for the night. I think it was one of the less bad moves I made all night, but of course, I was working on a fundamental theorem of poker that proved to be faulty - crubs always get there.

The next night the degeneracy moved to my house, and it might be the fastest I've ever seen Nate blow through 5 buy-ins (at $60 per). I stacked him once in the first orbit when my flush got there on the river to bust his turned straight. Brian the Red stacked him later when his flush got there on the flop to crack Nate's pair (or maybe it was a smaller flush). It was actually kinda gross to watch as he just turned over second-best hand after second-best hand, which gets expensive in short order.

I had a rare evening at my home game where I bought in just the once, and built a ridiculous stack early, but bled off some of it late in the game. It was a jovial game, and great fun for all but probably Nate, who was busto by 10PM. I thought that in the absence of Special K and Jim the Knife that the game would play smaller, but every chip I had under $20 was on the table by 8:30, and I don't think we've ever had that many black ($20) chips on the table before. So it was a fun game, and I made back 2/3 of what I left in G-Vegas, so that's always helpful. I don't really remember many hands, but my reads were at least as bad as they usually are, and I resorted to suckouts on more than one occassion after I decided to call with crap because I was sire somebody was raising light preflop. They weren't, and I had to get lucky to win, but since I've given up on being good, I'll take lucky whenever I can get it :).

Tuesday, February 03, 2009

Lovin' the ATL?

Not really. I don't dislike it, and I think I've located the hotel that I'll make my base of operations whenever I'm here, so that's helpful. It's a straight shot down 85 to the office, and there are plenty of places to eat around the hotel, plus it has the most important thing for me - comfortable beds!

But I promised the story of my amazing fall from grace in West Virginia, so here it is in short order. I spent the first four hours of Friday night on the most amazing run of cards I've ever experienced, picking up aces, kings, queens, jacks, tens and most of them multiple times. I also found action almost every time, which is always a bonus. My table started off a dream, several very loose-passive players, with a couple of gambooly bigger stacks. I managed to chip up from my initial $100 buy-in to $300 in short order, then doubled through the other big stack when I picked up aces for the second time in four hands. He didn't give me credit for yet another big pair, so he paid me off on every street with an inferior hand. He didn't show, but I'm assuming he had top pair on the king-high board. With him gone, I had the rest of the table covered.

No, add everyone's chips together, and I had them covered. Now it's not that I had that much money in front of me, about $650. It's that these guys were playing that short. I looked around and decided that I should probably rack up in a little bit, since only one other guy had more than $300 in front of him, and he was pretty tight.

Then I stacked him to bring my total chips up over $850. I was looking at a +$750 night, and didn't rack up when the table went to shit. It's all my fault, I could have gotten up, checked on the others, and maybe gone to the hotel early. Or not. Just gone south with my profit and tried the Stud game for a little while. Or just gone south with my profit and moved to a better table. Or played slots. Or whatever.

But since I don't often get the chance to play casino poker, it's hard for me to get up and cut my sessions short. And this time it got really expensive. Three young guys who could play all sat down at my table, then T and Special K moved over, and by the time the night was over I'd given away $500 in profits. So I learned a lesson - if I've got the table covered by such a huge margin, move on to greener pastures. At that point there was no significant reward left for me, just risk. And as I doubled up short stack after short stack, I kept on risking. So rather than doubling my bankroll on the trip, I finished down $100 after playing like ass the next day.

Yeah, winning $750 would have almost doubled my paltry bankroll. After some Christmas purchases, and the Macbook I bought last summer, not to mention a gross losing streak the last half of 2008, I've barely cracked a four-digit bankroll since October. At one point at Bad Blood's last month, I was within one buy-in of busto again before Brian the Red gifted me his stack a couple of times. So I'm trying not to play like as much of a dumbass without playing too much like scared money, which is a delicate balance. And really, I'm typically neither delicate nor particularly well-balanced. I'll keep you posted.