Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Is this terrorism?

Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab didn't succeed in blowing up an airliner. 
He was caught, and if he is guilty, he'll go behind bars.
Meanwhile, the rest of us millions are now screwed even more when we go to the airport.
Already the song and dance with security is a pain in the ass. Remove your shoes. Get scanned 20 times. When I went to Vegas a couple weeks ago, I had to undergo what was, in effect, an interrogation, answering questions about why I was there, what I blogged about, what my complete agenda was, all while a line of passengers rolled their eyes and shoved my laptop out of the way, nearly breaking it, so they could grab their bags.
I suppose these measures are necessary, though they didn't seem that effective, did they? Abdulmutallah still got enough explosives on the plane to do some serious damage, if not make it crash, though all he managed to do was light a few firecrackers and burn a hand or two.
Thanks, man. Now we can't leave our seats during our flights, get anything from the overhead bins or carry any pillows or blankets on board. We're closer than ever to being treated like cows heading for slaughter. Though at least we get peanuts.
As I said, I seem to understand the need for such measures, and yet, well, the last two "attacks" on airplanes that seem to have affected security the most came from lonely, disturbed guys acting alone. When I heard about this attack, my first thought was there was no way this was planned by Al-Qaeda. It seemed too, well, unprofessional. I hate to put it that way but that was my first thought. 
After 9/11, a well-conceived, horrific attack that took years to plan, security measures tightened, and I was all for it. They were looking at bags more, enacting rules that quite frankly should have been enacted years ago (no knives in carry-on bags) and being more careful about liquids on a plane.
But since then, a guy tries to blow up a plane with a poorly made shoe bomb, and now we're not only taking our shoes off but dealing with antsy security officers. 
And now this. Now even stricter standards, and we're spending far more time in airports than we will on the plane itself, and no one trusts anyone, and everyone's a suspect, and traveling to see our loved ones almost really isn't worth it any longer.
I don't think, really, that either one was working for Al-Qaeda, but maybe they should sign those guys up.
Those nutbags may not have succeeded in their goals, whatever they were, but I can't help but think they're winning.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Inglorious bastards

I risk telling you this because you will most likely make fun of me. 
But I'm afraid of the dark. 
More specifically, things that go bump in the night.
Like ghosts and demons.
OK, OK, I'll give you time to stop laughing.
Look, it's a phobia. That's how I excuse myself. Yes, I know how stupid it is. Yes, it's completely illogical to hear the house squeak at 3:30 a.m. and believe that some shadowy horned thing is disrupting your sleep. Yes, I know. Hey, stop laughing!
But phobias are not logical. Not at all. Kate is deathly afraid of snakes. Like Indiana Jones afraid. Only worse. She's refused to go into the reptile house at the zoo. She won't pick up Jayden's stuffed snake. And it probably doesn't help that her husband LOVES snakes. Seriously. They're my favorite animal. I'd own one if I could, but owning one would mean instant divorce. And she used to think that I liked them just to irritate her, but Mom confirmed that, yes, I read about a dozen snake books as a kid.
It's a phobia. It's not logical.
I saw "Poltergeist" as a kid, and that's still the scariest movie I've ever seen (and I've seen scary). As a kid, I used to yell in my room, "If there's a ghost in there, please communicate my moving the pen I've set on the ground."
I saw "Paranormal Activity" just a month ago, and I thought I was over my little quirk. Oh, no. I saw it more than a month ago, and I'm just now getting over it.
And why am I getting over it?
Well, we returned from a weekend in Winter Park to find our front door open. We generally remember to do things such as close the door before we leave for three days, so we knew something was wrong. And something was wrong. Our plasma TV was gone. Kate's jewelry box was gone.
Kate found our back sliding door open. I had forgotten to lock it or the gate. We even had three days' worth of papers in the yard. Stupid, I know. I'm still kicking myself.
They were thoughtful thieves. They set our ceramic snowmen gently on the floor. They didn't trash the place. They even left $1,000 in cash I had from my Vegas trip in the basement. Suckers! They only took the TV. And Kate's almost worthless jewelry.
How nice of them.
We're hearing from our neighbors that we think they were over there Friday night. And that makes us wonder if it's not someone we knew who knew we were leaving. I'll never post a vacation on Facebook again. That was stupid as well. But could it be a co-worker? A student of Kate's? We'll probably never know. 
The thieves did me one favor. I don't think I'm afraid of the dark any longer. Thoughts of ghosts and demons haven't kept me awake the last couple of nights.
Why would I worry about those when I need to take a hard look at humans?

Monday, December 21, 2009

Hello, my old friend

At the end of my week off from running - a week that included all kinds of drinking, staying up hours past my bedtime and lots of Vegas time with 80 of my closest friends - I honestly began to question why it is such a part of my life.

I was relatively pain free. I had more time to do stuff that was, well, fun. Despite a lot of my running friends telling me it would drive me crazy to take so much time off, I honestly didn't miss it.

Still, I had worked too hard to throw it all away because a week off felt good, and I started throwing on my running gear last Tuesday, two days after my Vegas trip, more out of habit than actual desire.

I expected my body to protest a bit more than usual as I started up the same old hill from my driveway and into my tempo-run route, even if I'd be taking it easier than normal. But it was more like a handshake with a buddy, something I didn't have to think about too much, and as I began to breathe hard, the machine started pumping again with only a few hiccups.

Still, that day was not about breathing hard. It was about getting back into a groove, and so I eased off a bit. Whoa, Tiger, I thought to myself (and won't that phrase take on an entirely different meaning now, given the headlines these days?).

In fact, the mechanics were so familiar to me, I found myself thinking about the past weekend, Christmas, a few stories I needed to write at work and, yes, even a couple world affairs, albeit briefly. I thought about poker and whether I really did play well at those live sessions or whether I just got the cards to do so, and how often the cards really can make us believe how well or how poorly we played when the opposite might be true. I solved a sticky point in a story I'm writing for New Year's Day about a family who battled cancer and a car crash in one year. I felt refreshed after the run, and for the first time in more than a week, my mind was clear.

The next day, our running group held its annual Christmas lights run. It's exactly how it sounds: We run around Greeley and look at holiday lighting displays. We got to one of those houses where you wonder if the owner really is a Christmas vampire (which is about the only Vampire plot I can think of that hasn't been covered this year) who doesn't sleep and instead works on his house. He even sets his house to music via a computer program, and we begged a guy to roll down the window so we could hear the music on the radio and watch the lights.

About a dozen of us went on the run, and there was laughing through the snow, as we went o'er the hills and our spirits were bright. Some of my best friends, who I hadn't seen in more than a week, were there with me.

It was wonderful.

Today, on our last day in Winter Park, Colorado, my alarm beeped me awake at 6 a.m., and I snuck out of our condo (where we're staying, it's not OUR condo) for a getaway weekend.

It was a hilly start, and we're kinda high up here (I believe around 9,000 feet), so it was cold and I was breathing hard right away. Yet the best part about going up for two miles is you get to go back down, and after a slow climb, I found myself running free and easy.

The snow crunched under my shoes, smoke seemed to curl from my mouth as I panted and the trees were coated in winter's beauty as the sun rose, spilling pink light over millions of flakes.

I'm a touch tired and sore as I finish this, but running is much more than a way to work my body.

It's a time to reflect, a time to restore relationships and a time to rejoice.

God how I missed it so.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Let it ride - WPBT Trip Report December 2009

3 a.m. hasn't been a particularly good time for me lately. It's either a time when I let the ethos of "Paranormal Activity" continue to haunt me with every creek or groan or our wooden floor downstairs, or it's an opportunity to fret.
The day before the annual WPBT gathering, I was, of course, back to my usual indecisions, two hours before my alarm would go off and I would drive to the airport on frozen asphalt and through a cold that could crack steel. And of course it was my early arrival in Vegas that would cause me such consternation.
Do I rage solo and play in a poker room I haven't played? Or do I call some blogger friends, namely Bad Blood and StB, and see what they were doing?
Really, I hear you saying. This is what you were crunching in your cerebral cortex. You're right, of course. But yes.
I am type A. I actually like this about myself. It is why I'm successful at work: I never, ever miss a deadline. It is why I'm reasonably successful with my friends: I never, ever show up late or forget gatherings. It is why I can train for races, even half marathons: I never, ever blow the chunks of time it requires to do that and raise the wild animals that are our young children and keep the wife reasonably content.
But with the benefits come the issues, and anxiety can be a shadow of mine. 3 a.m. is the price I pay for that. It's though it's my biggest asset at work (besides my, um, creativity), it's also my biggest flaw: The news breaks when it wants, not at 9 a.m. when you've got three hours in your planner to handle it. When an editor approaches me with a story, I'm not always as, um, flexible as I should be. But I am creative!!!111
So planning out every detail of a weekend is not only smart, it's soothing. A place for everything and everything in its place, even the seconds of the day. Ahh.
Of course, one of the main reasons I come to the WPBT - the other is all the wonderful people - is the fact that I can live a weekend completely the opposite of my life back home. I can drink, stay up really late, wake up at 10 a.m., eat bad food, leave my running shoes at home and, most importantly, I can Let It Ride.
If you're truly going to enjoy a WBPT event, you can't plan it out. You really can't. Yes, you can have an agenda, but you also have to understand it may not be followed. It's an ethereal event, and the best moments are in the spur.
I always have a requirement to play in a poker room I haven't played before when I come to Vegas. I like the $1 chip that comes from that. All I have to do is look at the chip in my Man Room downstairs, and that triggers a rush of memories.
Of course, knowing how WBPT events work (you have to grab moments to EAT, let alone play in a poker room that probably won't interest anyone else since I've covered the big ones), I was worried I wouldn't get to that. So do I do that first, or see what the day brings Thursday?
(Yes, this is what Type A people worry about. At least I fret over things I can control, like my weekend, instead of how many women Tiger holed-in-one).
I'm not a "see what the day brings" kind of guy. I prefer to read the directions to the puzzle rather than just dumping the pieces on the floor and going with it.
But, like George in "Seinfeld" discovered, sometimes doing the opposite of what you would normally do can be a wonderful thing. And so I texted StB as soon as I got in my room.
"Hey," I said. "I'm here. Whatcha doing?"
• • •
Thursday after lunch, Stb asked me what I wanted to do. This is always a test. Do I push the poker room, even knowing that there would be plenty of poker that weekend, or do I Let It Ride? I took a deep breath.
"I don't care," I said. "What's going on?"
I was not only relaxing, I was BREAKING plans I had already made with Bad Blood and the G-Vegas crew to meet them at the Venetian poker room to play. But I'd get there. Stb wanted to head to the IP. Pauly and Speaker and Derek and AlCan'tHang were already there. Some guys, and more importantly writers, I truly admire, in other words. Sold!
I headed over to the Venetian buzzed after a couple hours of intoxicating conversation with some truly brilliant scribes. Or maybe it was just the boobies. The first sighting of Vegas itself is like that first hard shot. You have to just let it smack you and then you can shake your head and start to enjoy the buzz.
I've struggled this year online, as I said a couple of posts before (I refuse to link myself, sorry JJOK), but the Venetian gave me exactly the jolt I needed, like a gel in the middle of a half marathon. My table was as soft as my girls' cheeks. I knew exactly where I was almost all of the time and never, ever worried about getting pushed off a hand. I finished up $100 after two hours and realized online is much tougher than I remembered. I also found myself wishing I could play live more.
I think Thursday might be my favorite night of a WPBT gathering. There is a certain, addicting joy from seeing someone you haven't in a year and watching their eyes light up when they recognize you and beckon you over for a hug (even the guys, though that, of course, is mostly shoulder to shoulder, coughcoughcough). And there were SO MANY moments like that Thursday. Really, it's like being a kid at Christmas, only a really, really spoiled kid who gets like five presents to unwrap just from his uncle.
My tree held a small mountain of presents, and unwrapping them slowly, going from person to person, was so delicious.
And then the fun begins, and the alcohol flows and the stories start.
As you all know, I'm a runner, so I was determined to pace myself. A WPBT weekend is a half marathon (I would say a full but I don't know what that's like), a 14er, a backpacking trip, and you can't blow it in the first mile. At least I can't. By the second beer a slow buzz started to creep behind my skull, and I stopped, knowing that I'd be out in an hour if I continued.
Didn't stop me from going to bed at 3:30 a.m. tho. Which, from what I hear, was early.
• • •
Friday I got up at 8:30 a.m. - damn body clock - and ran 10 miles. Hah! Just kidding!!!1111. No, as I was still fully enjoying my week off from running, I jerked around on Facebook and then prepared for the day.
Friday is always a rager. I mean, it's Steel Panther day. That says it all, doesn't it?
It started with a good, long lunch with The Wife. As much as I love everyone at the WPBT, I still get a little edgy in large crowds and find myself preferring the small, sweet company with a few select, treasured friends. Jordan is one, and The Wife is another.
I didn't have dessert. I didn't need to.
I was, however, pleasantly surprised at how often so many others could fit that bill at any given moment. I felt far more comfortable this year than any other, and the reason is they are all friends now and seemed as genuinely happy to see me as I was to see them. Maybe I'm just a wide receiver. I need a third year.
The day sort of melted into traveling back and forth and gazing at all the mind candy until Jordan and I headed to the Hard Rock to play and wait for Pokerati' s 1/2 Pot Limit Omaha/NLHE game. What a wonderful present. Free food, good conversation and Omaha (!) live. It was dead when we got there - which is too bad, it really is a nice room - but our No Limit table eventually filled, and Jordan and I sat down to a bunch of tight players again. Jordan's antics eventually loosened them up, and I finished $50 up after three hours and the Omaha game began.
It was tighter than I thought it would be but a blast. I got involved in one huge hand with Jordan when I held top set and an open-ended straight draw and he flopped the straight. I got it all-in on the turn (which was a mistake, I should have done so on the flop, as CK pointed out) but we ran it twice and we split the pot. I got there on the first and didn't on the second.
And then....Steel Panther. What can I say that would truly capture the genius of that band? I can't. So I won't.
Plans formed out of thin air after the show - I think I was getting the hang of that - and we played 2/4 Limit with a full table of bloggers. As proof that I was fully embracing Let It Ride, the inevitable three-outer suckouts that cost me monster pots didn't even phase me.
Damn you, Doc and Drizz.
• • •
I sensed an early exit was coming in Saturday's blogger tournament. I had too much good fortune last year and finished 6th, and finished strong the year before as well, and sure enough, I was out way early, after only two hours. Eh. I thought so.
The Wife and I headed to the MGM poker room after a bite to eat, and occasionally I would ask her what was going on. There was this, there was that, and she constantly reassured me we could check it out if I wanted.
But I kept finding myself feeling...content. It was really fun, the table was easy and relatively douchebag free, and the lady sitting on my right was a good player and friendly. I could tell exactly where her narcolepsy uppers were in her bloodstream by the way she either chattered my cortex off or sat silently like a wax museum display. People stopped by. I told myself I should probably go back to the IP and take full advantage of the people I rarely get to see, but I finally decided that was not Letting It Ride. That was me being a planner.
I was having fun watching The Wife through her first 1-2 NL game, texting Doc to give him shit for sitting across from her and playing good poker. Plus I was winning again, and that always helps. Two big hands - my AK versus an older lady's KK dressed in a red sweatshirt with a Royal Flush embroidered on the left breast (she glared at me three hours later when she got KK again, but my Ace didn't hit that time) and my set of 6s against another set and two-pair - won me $500.
I went to bed Saturday night at 3 a.m. and set my alarm for 8:30 a.m.
• • •
I said my good-byes Sunday at the extremely hollerballa sports lounge CJ/Luckbox set up and went back to the airport to reflect and type this out. I wanted to finish this now because when I get home, it would be all kids, all the time (something I was looking forward to this time, I miss my little gals and the force that is my 4-year-old).
And so here I am.
It might be a bit of an eye-roller to call these trips life-changing. Really, I'm leaving my family and going to Vegas to see a bunch of gambling, drinking, hard-living degenerates. That's a bit irresponsible and maybe even childish.
But nah. Because not only are they insanely fun, I always learn so much about myself on these trips. And I always learn that perhaps a change or two is in order.
In 2007, my first time out, I learned to try new things, even doing something as crazy as flying to Vegas to meet a bunch of people I had only talked to online a few times. I knew them by their blogs, and that was it. Since then I've tried trail runs, races in the dirt and done things I would not have done before that trip.
In 2008, I learned to talk to anyone, not just those I believe will talk to me or, on the flip side, I believed I should talk to. Since then I've formed solid friendships with people in Colorado that I did not, and would not, have before that trip. I've even got what I consider a crew now, a group of people who meet every week to run for a couple hours, something I'll lean on even more starting in January (and more on that in a future post).
This year? Well, I've learned that my Type A personality is OK. It's served me well. But occasionally, it needs to be put to bed.
When you plan out every hour of your life, you're blocking and whacking away the little opportunities and moments that might otherwise slip through those creases. And those little opportunities and moments form some pretty damn good memories, and it's those memories that get me through traffic, or a high-decible tantrum, or the last mile of a tough race when I all I want to do is collapse.
Sometimes you just need to Let It Ride. And Monday, when my life returns to normal, I'll get up early, maybe get back on my running plan, and then I'll shower, smile and, after my 10 a.m. interview in my planner, go back and write the story.
And then I'll see what the day brings.

Tuesday, December 08, 2009

Ah, the good 'ole days

Moments in 60s Rankin/Bass claymation specials that probably wouldn't fly today (we are currently watching them with our little ones, who love them):

Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer - Narrator: "Well, they were very sad at the loss of their friend, but they knew the best thing would be to get the women back to Christmas town."

Santa Claus is Comin' To Town - Santa (he's not really even Santa yet, just some stranger who wants to give cute little children toys): "If you sit on my lap today, a kiss a toy is the price you'll pay." (They even show scenes where he looks to the sky in apparent ecstasy when the kids kiss him). 

Frosty the Snowman - Is that girl wearing any pants at all in the dead of winter?

Sunday, December 06, 2009

Why I play

Many times this year, I have questioned why I play poker.
A bad streak started with the coming of the new year and, save for one or two good months, has hammered away at me throughout 2009. When I finally posted a great month in September and a decent month in October, I thought it was over - I mean, really, I've suffered enough - but November and now December crushed any of those hopes. Not even a healthy chunk I got from my e-mail being selected to win 500,000 euros helped.
I play at fairly low stakes and only a few hours a week, so it's not like my bankroll is in any danger of disappearing. In fact, I've still lost less than four figures this year. I know some players who lose that much in a day. But after posting wins into the thousands every year since 2006, it's hard not to look at all the time I've spent playing this year as a wasted opportunity. It's not just the losses. It's the money I should be making per hour that isn't there. At least in my mind.
I won't lie. The losses have hurt. They've drained most of the joy I had for a game I truly loved. Most of the time, most sessions are winning ones, or at least break-even, until one or two inevitable hands ruin it for me. That's how most sessions go, I realize, but the countless times it's happened to me this year, especially recently, make me wonder about the point of this game. For instance, if I spent weeks training for an event, and then, on my last run before the race, I got hurt, I'd have a hard time not mourning all that training time. And if this happened over and over and over, I'd probably give up running.
I've tried not to obsess over all the bad beats, the multitudes of draws my opponents have hit against me this year or the lack of draws or hands I've hit this year. That does me no good. Bad luck and bad beats are a part of poker, and it's your job as a player to overcome them.
Sometimes, though, it's hard. Opponents, for instance, have flopped sets against my A-A the last seven times I've played them. I've either stacked off, or when I've correctly folded them, my opponents have flashed their sets to me.
And two nights ago was a perfect example of the way this year's gone. I hadn't flopped a set in a week. 0-60, which was my longest streak ever. I played 4-4 to a single raise and finally hit on a board of 8-4-K. I sarcastically grabbed my heart. When my opponent shoved on me, I happily called. My opponent showed 8-8.
I also realize that I'm not playing especially well. I've always played too tight, and that was fine three years ago, when opponents continued to make mistakes and all I had to do was wait for them. Now they're three-betting at .10/.25 pre-flop, and I still haven't found a way to completely deal with it. Sometimes I push back too hard, other times I play way too many hands to appear unpredictable, and other times I fold way too much because I still lack the indifference you need to have toward money to be a better player.
So why do I continue to play? Well, the answer came Friday night. I haven't lost touch with my two best friends in Greeley, but I haven't seen them nearly as much as I would like lately. 
Friday we played poker. We all enjoy the game. I suffered a couple horrible suckouts, of course, but after some initial bitching, I laughed them off. Mostly we drank beer and ate queso and caught up. 
Poker allows good friends to catch up. That's worth the money it might cost me if this streak continues.
I look forward to catching up with more starting Thursday.
See you in Vegas.