A poker game, a story and a glass that’s always half-full
My daughter is drinking grape juice out of my special cocktail glass. It’s the one I stole from the Bellagio casino, although let’s not get hung up on the word “stole.” I just sort of walked out with it, which is different from larceny, right? My point is that it’s a very special glass. I use it almost every night. It makes me think about two Vietnamese guys and fist bumps.
I’ve never been a fan of the adult fist bump, but the Vietnamese gang member wanted one, so I gave him one, because we were in Las Vegas, bonding as the only two guys at the poker table laughing, and because, well, he was a Vietnamese gang member.
He didn’t admit it outright. It’s not like I asked, “What do you do for work?” and he replied, “I’m employed by a Southeast Asian organized crime outfit,” but the gold chains, gun tattoos, Breitling watch, and vague references to self-employment gave one the impression.
Overall I found him to be very pleasant, although I’m sure the people he killed would disagree.
He was just one of the many characters I’ve meet playing poker. That’s partly why I love to play. I don’t run in these circles. You don’t see many dangerous thugs at the Chick-fil-A by Walmart.
A Las Vegas casino poker table, however, is the ultimate melting pot. You’re seated randomly and stuck there for hours, with strangers. Sometimes the person next to you is obnoxious and smells like hot dogs. Sometimes they are interesting and funny, and you like them immensely, even after they’ve taken your money.
Never mind the “Everything I Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten” posters. These are stupid, because otherwise we should eliminate first grade on up and have public service ads teaching people how to share graham crackers.
Everything I need to know I learned at the poker table: social skills, math, money management, and emotional control.
Like when there is a big pot in the middle, you have a great hand, and you’re counting the money coming your way, when suddenly your unbeatable hand loses to an even better hand. Worse, the annoying winner proceeds to rub it in.
You learn a lot about yourself then. In such scenarios, I’ve seen men fight, curse, pout, and even cry. But you have to learn to deal with it by, say, going outside to take a walk, calming down, and then slashing his tires with a steak knife.
No, I’m kidding.
You swallow and force yourself to say “nice hand” while taking the high road because karma is coming for the poor sport. Maybe not tonight, but it’s most certainly coming for him. As it is for us all.
I’ve played poker with the wealthy and downtrodden. There was a night at the Stardust on the Las Vegas Strip where I sat next to a dishwasher/aspiring rapper from Haiti who only spoke in rhyming sentences. Like Dr. Seuss with dreadlocks.
Once during a break in a poker tournament — inside a casino bathroom of all places — I found myself discussing a poker hand with Rene Angelil, Celion Dion’s husband, who is now deceased, although he wasn’t at the time.
Then there was the man I met one August night at the Bellagio.
It was one of those frustrating days when the cards weren’t going my way, and I lost hand after hand. Nursing my glass of Crown and Coke, depressed and feeling sorry for myself, I struck up a conversation with the middle-aged man across from me, who said he was originally from Vietnam. (Southeast Asians love their poker).
We arrived at the topic of kids. I said I had two. He said he had one, a 16-year-old daughter, but that she had been killed two years earlier after being hit by a car while riding her bicycle. He bowed his head.
Normally, I don’t steal, but I walked out of the Bellagio that day with that cocktail glass, just as a reminder. I still have it. My daughter sometimes drinks grape juice out of it. I think about him almost every night.