Poker is Life

Self Awareness and Self Improvement through the game of Texas Hold'em

  1. 2010-09-19 20:20:45

    Tales from the Felt ??? Number 5 in a Series

    Written in July of 2009. ?? Philip Travisano

    It was a different kind of ?Tales from the Felt? last night. What started out as a typical bar-room poker tournament turned into a seemingly endless session of an old game called ?Tonk.? I learned it just last week, and made about $30 in 2 hours ??? more than I usually make in my weekly 3-hr. poker tournament.

    Last night it ended up being me, Alan the tournament organizer, and another regular named Tony.

    So, in case you didn?t know, my weekly game now takes place in the back section of a local bar called Behan?s in Burlingame. This place attracts more Irish people than any other place I???ve seen. And after midnight all the weirdos come out.

    The game of ?Tonk? is like Rummy. (Not that I?m familiar with rummy ? but that?s what I read on Wikipedia.) I also learned that this game was very popular in the ???30s and ???40s among jazz musicians because it?s quick and easy to play and involves lots of dollar bills flying back and forth. The guys at Behan?s have been playing it for years. They told me they learned it from some old black guy named Fred. Fred is no longer with us, so we won?t be able to ask him, but Alan somehow assumed that Tonk was a big prison game. Not sure if that was a racist assumption or if there really was something about Fred that made Alan think he???d been to prison.

    In any case, the game seemed to have attracted a new jailbird to our little table: A tall, somewhat attractive young woman named Tara. Tara swaggered over, towered above the table and inquired what we were playing. We told her a little about it, and she asked if she could play. Of course she could! She???d be back in a moment after a trip to the bathroom.

    Well, despite the wisecracking and horseplay among my newfound poker buddies, we really were mostly a bunch of nice guys, and we really didn???t want to take advantage of a young semi-toasted lady. But who were we to deprive her of some fun at the felt?

    While Tara was in the bathroom a guy who I?d learned was named Jay rolled up on his electric wheelchair. Not too hot with the brakes, Jay bumped the table and pushed it about 6 inches to my right. Alan seemed to know him, and they exchanged some playful words. Soon Tara came back and dove right into the game. It soon became apparent that Tara and Jay knew each other too: I couldn?t hear all the dialog between them over the blaring of the juke box, but every once in a while one of them would tell the other to SHUT THE FUCK UP! They were a cute duo. More like brother and sister. Or quarreling astronauts cooped up in a space capsule on a 3-year journey to Mars. I was a bit surprised when Tara gave Jay a little smack on the face. ... Yeah, she slapped the guy and kept playing the game. Odd, considering the guy wasn???t just a paraplegic; he also had impaired use of his arms. A few Tonk hands later Tara and Jay exchanged a few words and she gave him a quick kiss on the lips. ... What the heck!

    At one point Jay joined in the game. Not only did he seem to have little patience with listening to the rules, but he was definitely a little toasty himself, and he was having a hell of a time handling those cards. He got frustrated with losing 2 bucks here and 5 bucks there and eventually threw the cards onto the table the best he could, turned his vehicle around and wheeled away at about 12 mph. (Was there a speed limit in this place?)

    The game went on and Tara lost money on just about every hand, but kept on saying things like ?I?m still learning,? and ???I think I?m gettin??? it now.? At one point Alan began inquiring about Tara and Jay. ???So what?s yer deal?? asked Alan in his slightly diluted brogue. ???How d?ya know Jay?? ???We live together,? said Tara. ?He?s not my boyfriend. I?m his nanny.? Alan, Tony and I took a few seconds to process that one. At 12:30am on a Wednesday night, after a long day at work and an exhausting Texas hold?em tournament, I had no shyness about asking the question, ???Isn?t it a little unethical of a nanny to slap her client in the face?? I don?t think she responded. She was too busy trying to figure out how to stop giving us all money.

    ?I wish I could have a cigarette right now,? said Tara at one point. I think it was California which paved the way toward the abolishment of smoking in bars. A shame. Tara did seem to be getting a little better at Tonk, but that hadn?t yet helped her stop bleeding cash. ???I keep thinking poker! I?m a poker player! You should see me play!? ???We?d like to,? said Alan. ???You should come back next Wednesday at 8 o?clock.? ???I hope I can,? said Tara. ?I hope I?m not in jail.? More processing of information. ???Why would y? be in jail?? ???I have to go see if they?re going to extend my probation.? Then came Alan?s serious probing. ?What did you do? Have you served time?? Tara was reluctant to tell, but eventually let on that it had something to do with withholding information about some thefts. It seems she would rather do time in the bighouse than be a stooly for the man. (I stole that line from an old sit-com.) Tara was getting interestinger and interestinger.

    Time moved on, as it always does in a Tonk session. Tony must have said ?This is my last hand? about a dozen times, but found it hard to go home to his family while he was raking in so much drunken jailbird loot. And eventually Tara hit her streak. She had finally figured out a strategy to win a few hands. Then she thought she was hot. Then she was confident. And that?s when it turned around again and she morphed back into the walking ATM we knew she was from the beginning. Jay wheeled his ass back, pushing the poker table another half a foot to the right, and Tara said ???I need some money.? Jay put up no resistance as she reached toward his crotch and pried open his money belt for some quick cash. Alan, Tony and I looked at each other undoubtedly with the same thoughts in our heads: ?We?re taking money from an intoxicated woman who?s stealing it from a cripple.? Were we bad, bad people? There really wasn?t much time to ponder such existential conundrums ? we were having too much fun.

    Well it wasn?t long before Tara was cleaned out again. We occasionally said things like ???We should stop. You?ve lost too much.? And Tara would say ???That?s alright. It?s not MY money!? After another dip into the piggy bank on wheels, Tara was broke again, but insisted on continuing to play. Alan said, ?But y?ve got no money! How?r y?gonna PAY us?? ???I don?t know. I?ll figure something.? ?You?ll have to flash us,? said Alan with a big laugh. ???Okay,? said Tara. ?Oh no,? I said, thinking of my wife who was innocently sleeping at home, ?I can?t go along with this.? Alan began laughing at me at that point. ???What, yer not gonna look?? ?No,? I said, ?if it happens I?m just gonna look straight ahead. I?ll just see her through my peripheral vision.? ?But you?ll still be looking!? said Tara. ???No I won?t,? I defended, ???It?ll be peripheral vision! That doesn?t count!?

    So we played. And sure enough she lost. Tara slumped down in her chair actually looking defeated for the first time that night. ?Now what am I gonna do?? For a second she looked toward the greater part of the bar. In my mind this was clearly a scan to determine how many people would see her if she did in fact lift her shirt for us. Then she turned back. I noticed a fresh pack of Marlboro Menthols sitting on the felt in front of her. I said, ?You can pay me in cigarettes. They?re worth about a dollar each now anyway, aren?t they?? So she tossed me two cigarettes. Then Alan made a crack at Tara, ?You?ll have to get used to that. That?s what they play for in prison.? Tara flashed him a dirty look. So in a way she did pay up what she agreed to.

    So here I sit, writing this latest ?Tale from the Felt,? an unlit Marlboro Methol between my lips ? one of 4 that I walked away from the bar with last night... 2am, through the desolate streets of Burlingame, laughing out loud at the surreal and ridiculous evening I?d spent. Ah, the life of a gambling lounge-lizard.

    Posted by Phil at 2010-09-19 20:20:45

Comments on “Tales from the Felt ??? Number 5 in a Series”

    • avatar for Phil
    • Hey, Jason, thanks for the comments. I can't believe it's taken me so long to notice you responded.

      Number 5 in a Series. Yes, I've been writing these things over the years, but only a few of them have been blog-worthy in my opinion. This is one of them. A great story. All completely true.

      The follow-up is I never saw or heard from the girl again. Maybe she did get put away. As for Jay, the guy in the wheelchair ??? I have seen him a few times since at the same bar, though I never asked him about the weird relationship. If I learn or witness a worthy sequel to this story I will surely post it. -Phil

      P.S. What's with all the quote marks and apostrophes getting turned into ?'s?

    • avatar for Jason M
    • Is this like Star Wars, except it starts on number 5? Oh, and WTF?! That's one hell of a crazy story. This happened so long ago, so did they come back or did you learn anything else about that relationship? How weird!