Wednesday, November 22, 2006

The Personality of a Poker Player

A book that hasn't impressed me much (Larry W. Phillips, Zen and the Art of Poker. New York: Penguin Putnam Inc., 1999) has been relegated to my bathroom reading. In the midst of such unique advice as "don't tilt," I found this gem (pp.146–147), which somehow appeals to me:

(I'm re-editing this so that what is a long paragraph in the book is a numbered list here, in case I find I want to talk about specific points of the list. He also does one of my pet peeves—singular they—and I'm fixing that, too.)

The Personality of a Poker Player

It sometimes seems to be the case that people who are attracted to poker have lives that resemble (or parallel) a poker game. A list of these parallels might read like this:

  1. The suffering of some kind of slings and arrows,
  2. some brand of persecution;
  3. being ground down by events,
  4. yet having an occasional big triumph and rising above them;
  5. not terribly fond of physical work;
  6. a belief in the power of the rational mind to succeed, or make money (as opposed to back-breaking physical labor);
  7. believers in the analytical, problem-solving approach,
  8. but one also that contains a certain dash of flair;
  9. a person who likes to reduce the whole complex world to “the felt” (a small area taking place in front of [him]);
  10. a “simplifier,” a reducer of life's complexities;
  11. an escapist;
  12. a person with thick skin;
  13. yet a believer in hopefulness, possibilities,
  14. and good fortune, even last-second miracles;
  15. but a dark side, too—an occasional desire to “punish”
  16. (or to be punished);
  17. a belief in cameraderie;
  18. membership in cultural subgroups of one kind or another;
  19. societal mavericks or outcasts.

In short, their lives have actually been a poker game, and when they come across the game of poker itself, well … Eureka! They found a home … it was something that exactly mirrored their [lives].

All the time I've spent formatting that, and I find that I mostly want to let it stand on its own. If I talk about this post much, it will be in a future post, probably reaction to people's reaction to it. For now, though, I'm headed to Michigan City for some poker.

  Friday, November 17, 2006

Leaving "Leaving Las Vegas"

Actually, I never saw "Leaving Las Vegas," despite its critical acclaim and at least ostensible Vegas connection. But "Leaving Canadian Lakes" might be a little too obscure a title. Suffice it to say that the place I came to when I left Las Vegas, plans are being put in place to leave in turn, so that, indeed, I am “Leaving ‘Leaving Las Vegas.’ ”

I spent much of my last post talking about Gil's daughter Dagny, and how her current situation in some ways mirrors my own. One of the ways in which her situation does not mirror mine is that she's 25, as I mentioned; she still has most of her network of friends that she developed while she was in college. For reasons that are probably only entirely clear if you are also in that circle, she finds herself very frustrated by her circle of friends, to the point that she'd like to up and move out of the state to get away from them.

Now, I would caution her to be careful what you wish for; this is probably the last time in her life that she'll actually have a circle of friends in the sense that she currently does, and so dumping it overboard en masse (or another phrase that's not French) very definitely closes out a chapter of her life. That said, she'd probably tell me that this is exactly what she wants.

In any case, several days ago, she told me in chat that she was frustrated enough that she'd like to, as I said, up and leave the state. She knows her dad wants an excuse to move to Las Vegas, and I don't even need an excuse, I just need the means. Frankly, in all likelihood, she was baiting me to get excited about the possibility of a return to Vegas, sharing expenses. It took a day or two for it to percolate, but that's exactly what happened.

The casino in Michigan City, Indiana recently re-opened a poker room. This is only slightly farther from Grand Rapids than the casino in Mt. Pleasant, and despite some inexperienced dealers is a better-run room. Also, for some reason I don't entirely understand, the players there are regularly among the worst we've come across in the area. However, even if the casino is about as far for Gil, I'm staying with my folks a bit more than an hour north of Grand Rapids, and so Mt. Pleasant is much, much closer, a half-hour drive as opposed to a three-plus hour drive.

All of that said, I wanted to talk to Gil, feel him out about moving to Las Vegas, so I readily acquiesced when he suggested Michigan City rather than Mt. Pleasant for a midweek day of poker. We went and, almost as an aside to this post, we both did very well, mostly me, but since I was staked Gil did very well as well. The important part really was the conversation about the move itself.

Gil feels a lot of inertia about the possibility. He has a business here, which isn't doing that well but it's what he's done for twenty years. He also has friends here, people he's known since college in some cases. On the other hand, his daughter is, reasonably, more important to him, and if she were to move, he'd probably go with her. I estimate it this way: In the case of moving for the sake of moving, then he's probably about 40% on the scale of likely-to-move. But his daughter moving, immediately bumps that up to 80%. I also figure that in any case, when we get our first big snow of the year, he'll be at 60% anyway.

Gil, his daughter, and I spent a chunk of yesterday looking at three-bedroom apartments online. Generally speaking, they were in the $1000 to $1100/month range, with outliers at either end of that. Split three ways, that's reasonable, and so we looked at which apartments offered the most for our $1100. Dagny found what's probably the best complex in terms of location and amenities, but that's as far as we went yesterday.

The final thing Gil said yesterday on the topic was that the next step was up to us, Dagny and me, in terms of assembling the means to actually move. What he may not realize is that saying this pretty much meant that, indeed, he'll move west, making our expenses lower than if only Dagny and I were to go.

Assembling the means is more of a concern for me than for Dagny, truly, because Gil will probably carry Dagny at least in the short term. I said recently that I'd need to assemble $2000 to be able to do pretty much what I did last year, move west and get a job in Vegas. On the one hand, that number will go down if I'm splitting expenses three ways. On the other hand, my expenses will actually be higher in an unfurnished apartment; my furniture disappeared when Gil sold his house while I was in Vegas last year. The sum total of my property right now isn't much more than what fits into a big Chrysler.

In my mind, the move will happen in mid-January, which gets us past the holidays and, in all likelihood, past the family obligations I'll have as my grandmother passes away. This could mean that we're leaving while we're getting weather here in Michigan, and in any case will mean that the Route 66 path west is less likely to be, mmm, exciting than driving through the mountains west of Denver. (The one time I was on that stretch of road in the winter, right past our exit they were stopping traffic to check that chains were on the tires. Not only do I not own chains, I don't even know how to work them; Michigan gets a lot of snow but mostly doesn't have any mountains.)

In any case: It looks like January. And, unlike last time, this time I don't expect to disappear from the internet while I'm there: Those who love to read about my trials and tribulations will likely not be disappointed.

  Monday, November 13, 2006

Finally an Update (such as it is)

I've been taken to task for not updating lately. So:

As poker goes, I've been playing a lot of small-buyin tournaments. I've come to realize how thin the edge is that you have to walk, being aggressive without going over into stupidity. I find I often don't get it quite right, and cross the line with more frequency than I should. This isn't "tilt" per se, but it is a failure to strike the right balance in my play. And so, in the week since my last win in a $4 180-man sit-and-go (which pays $216, 54 buyins), I've had only the occasional minor cash, and my bankroll (such as it is) has been mainly going in the wrong direction. I think the best news I've got in the last week has been a fourth in one of those $4 180s, which paid around $55.

So now, you're up with where I've been pokerwise.

And Now, the News

I've talked with Gil's daughter, Dagny, more over the last month or so than I have in the previous years that I've known her and Gil, including when we were living under the same roof. I find that when I look at her situation, it is similar to mine.

Dagny went right from highschool into college (unlike me), got her degree (unlike me), and proceeded from college immediately onto graduate school (very unlike me), where she ended up with a Master of Library Science, or MLS. However, upon graduation she's found that libraries aren't exactly jumping at the chance to hire a freshly-minted MLS, that the openings at libraries are scarce enough that "networking" becomes the most important way to get one of those jobs. So, she's at loose ends, recently leaving in a huff a cashier's job at Meijer, a Michigan company that's been doing for more than forty years what Super Wal-Mart has only been doing for the last five or so. I'm not entirely clear on her reasons for leaving the cashier's job—it didn't pay much, but it paid something—but it sounded a bit like she was being, at least mildly, sexually harassed, and so she left rather than deal with it.

But her situation is similar to mine in this way: She's a bright person who can't find a place in the "straight" world. I don't remember if I blogged it or not, but she recently saw an opportunity to have her tuition paid for while she worked toward a Ph.D. in English (at UNLV). While she was at her alma mater looking for letters of recommendation toward UNLV's program, one of her professors essentially told her, "For the love of god, don't get a Ph.D. in English." Apparently there are enough English Ph.D.'s looking for university appointments that every opening has hundreds of applicants, and so one had better be prepared to hyper-compete for any opening one seeks. To my mind, if that's what you really want to do, you go ahead and hyper-compete, but I gather that she doesn't really want to be an English professor per se, she wants an English professor's lifestyle. I don't fault her for that, I find that lifestyle attractive as well.

One of the ways in which her situation does not resemble mine is that she's only 25, a year removed from college. It's less of a big deal for her to still be trying to find her place in the world. It is a big deal to be 36 and still trying to determine "what you want to be when you grow up."

Dagny's problem as I perceive it (and I don't know if I mentioned it to her in this many words, so she may be reading this for the first time) is that she's very poor at "office politics," broadly defined. She doesn't like her co-workers (outside work, she often expresses contempt for them), and so they don't like her. I conclude from this that even if she got a university appointment, or library job, she would suffer job failure for the same sort of nebulous reasons that I seem to: That even in her "dream job" she'd only be there for a short time (although at a university that's probably three to five years) before she quit or "was asked not to return."

The good news is that one can grow out of social awkwardness, if that's what it is; I'm a clear example of that. In the 1980s and into the 1990s, I was a nerd and well aware of it, and knowing I was a nerd kept me from engaging in any social situations up through highschool. For example, I didn't go to any of my highschool dances, including my prom, and this was not so much because of my awkwardness with girls (and, hey, that continues to this day), but because of my awkwardness with social situations generally: I didn't go because I wouldn't enjoy myself, and people would make fun of me because I was a nerd, or for some other reason. It was only later that I grew to revel in my nerdiness and to realize that it's not being the same as everyone else that makes one "popular," it's being different from everyone else and confident about it. My highschool had only a few black students (less than ten, out of 2500 students), but they were among the most popular people in school because they were different, and this was long enough after "I'm black and I'm proud" that they made no apologies for being black. (That could easily have gone the other way; they could have told themselves that they wouldn't fit in because they were black, but at least the ones in the class of '87, that I knew the best, weren't like that at all.)

I was going to wrap up this section with another look at how Dagny's situation and mine are similar, but that's not even really the important thing about our situations. The important thing is more that I found myself unable to really offer advice, and I'm ordinarily willing to do that if asked. If I knew a good thing to suggest that she should do, I'd probably be doing it myself.

(Barely relevant to this discussion: Dagny's working on a project for NaNoWriMo, and though she's not on track to make the goal that NaNo sets forth, she's reasonably happy with what she's turned out aside from that. If it ends up being good enough to be published, maybe her failure to find a library job will actually lead her into her true calling anyway.)

On a Return to Vegas

The possibility that Dagny might be moving to Vegas to study at UNLV, excited Gil and I more than was fair to Dagny at all. The non-McDonalds portion of Gil's business is failing, and the McDonalds part he could theoretically do from anywhere. So he considered it likely that if Dagny moved to Vegas, he'd probably move as well, and find a way out there to supplement his income from McDonalds. And I would have not only an excuse to move west, but people to share expenses with when I got there. In short, Gil and I were looking at Dagny's move as an opportunity and excuse to do something we'd sort of like to do anyway: Move west.

But, as my shrink pointed out, why does it have to be Dagny that leads our exodus? Although I do gather that she'd sort of like to move, Vegas wouldn't me a more likely destination than any other for her. And, if she decided to move to, say, Boise, Gil and I wouldn't be very likely to follow her out there. I mentioned this to Gil, and he pointed out the major problem with me leading an exodus to Vegas: My lack of bankroll enough even to get there. True enough. But I was sort of hinting in the other direction, that Gil should decide to move, and I'd follow, and likely Dagny would follow as well. Gil priced three-bedroom apartments in Vegas, and they were slightly less than I'd imagine. I didn't ask, but it suddenly occurs to me that the ones he saw might have been essentially university housing, apartments thrown up around UNLV to attract students, that would be cheaply-built apartments with lousy neighbors. But we haven't actually made plans to move.

Except: Gil saw a job online for a magic demonstrator, which would let Gil continue working in the magic field. I personally couldn't do the job as he describes it (learning the actual magic trick to demonstrate seems like the easy part), but it would let him supplement his income from McDonalds if he moved out there. He sent a résumé, but he's not sure he'll actually accept the job if it's offered to him.

And I myself am feeling differently about the possibility of a job. If I could do essentially what I did last year, move out to Vegas and get a job there, I'd do it. That wouldn't take a ton of money, certainly less than $2000. I've considered taking a job here to assemble the $2000, but a four-figure tournament score online is fairly likely before long anyway. (I don't enter a lot of tournaments with that kind of payday, but I enter some, and my results have been such that I think I can expect that kind of payday reasonably soon.)

This thought occurred to me this morning when I was thinking about my apparent change of heart: Why? Why was I convinced a short time ago that Job < Death, but now it's something I'd consider? I see a couple of possibilities (in no particular order):

First, it's possible that I've been in a clinical depression that's not only undiagnosed, but unrecognized by me. I don't feel any different than I did a few months ago, but now I'll consider a job and then I wouldn't. The fact that I don't actually feel any different leads me to discount this.

Second, well, this will sound childish, but it's possible. I react very badly to being told what to do, as I've posted before. And for the last six months, everyone's been telling me to get a job. But for the last month or so, they've backed off (my parents, for example, have been gone for the last week). It's possible that I'm okay with a job right now because I wouldn't be doing it because someone else told me to.

It's this third possibility that most worries me: I've been doing what I've been doing now for closing in on six months. Six months seems to be a magic number for me: When I quit or get fired, it's often at around the six month mark. One possible analysis is that I get bored at about that mark. Often, that's exactly what happens, but at other times, "bored" isn't clearly the right word. The possibility that I've become bored with not working worries me, because it'd be even more evidence that my whole life going forward will be no different from my life looking backward: A series of "episodes" of mostly around six months in length, some of them okay and some of them bad.

Maybe the thing to do is to roll with it, and seek "jobs" that are six months or so in length, on purpose. I'm coming up with this on the spur of the moment, but maybe the right way to go is to work within a temp agency, working for six months with about a month off between assignments. I'm not sure what I'd do for the temp agency, maybe I'd have to talk to them about what's available, but even the idea is worthwhile.