Before Their Time
Four Vegas Veterans
Tell Their Tales of Woe in the Oh-Eight
3 - Saturday Begins
1 || Part 2 || Part
4 || Part 5
CONTINUES TO TALK:
Ah, the city by the bay. Cool breezes. Food and coffee and wine,
and the best dim sum outside of the Asian continent. And I don’t
mean San Francisco, either. San Francisco is for posers.
The East Bay is where it’s at. East Bay Rock
On! 33rd Street! Word to the 33rd! Huh! Except the dim sum, which
is in San Francisco after all. I’ll never forget dining at
Yank Sing. I can’t forget it because I go back any chance
I get. Each little dumpling is something special. So when Mike Ho
suggested a dim sum breakfast in Vegas, and not a stone’s
throw from the Poker Tournament, I was gung ho for dim sum, even
though the name of the restaurant was a bit befuddling.
Jerry and I arrived first at Ping Pang Pong. Wasn’t
that a song by Spike Milligan? We felt a little out of place in
the plaza-style restaurant that looked out onto--what else?--slot
machines. It wasn’t that we were Caucasian, but that the restaurant
was empty when we arrived. Nevertheless, I told the kimonoed waitstaff
that we expected about a dozen for breakfast, and they arranged
us at a long table.
famous masked wrestler "Pits McCoy" shows off the
classy 2008 Solar System Series of Poker T-shirt
given to all tournament entrants, whether they want one or
Soon, Mike Ho arrived with Fine Print, Bagels,
DJ Juice G, and a whole swaggle of hornswagglers. Thomas and Wolfgang
sat next to Jerry and I, regaling us with tales of poker and Germany.
Mike Ho, whose fine idea this was, stood over the table and helped
us order (though I was happy to try whatever passed on the steam
In general, the table happily tucked into the doughy,
greasy treats, but Jerry stuck with the most western of the dim
sum, things that resembled hot dogs in buns, or donuts. I liked
the shrimp shumai, and the steamed pork buns best. Yum! I found
myself eating far too much and enjoying every bite. I felt like
Robert Stack... until...
I looked over Thomas’s shoulder at the table
next to ours and saw a man greedily devouring chicken’s feet.
That wasn’t such a problem, except that his style of eating
the feet consisted of:
- Phase one: putting each entire foot into his mouth,
- Phase two: letting the tiny phalanges trickle off his lips back
onto his plate, while...
- Phase three, talking non-stop to his dining partner.
So basically, chicken bones fell from his mouth
like words. For him it was nothing unusual. For me it was off-putting.
The tiny bones dropped like punched-out teeth. And they hit his
plate with small impacts. They made a distinct sound: "Ping.
I patted my lips, stifled a wet belch and asked to be excused. I
figured Mike would pick up the tab. Or Jerry. Or the German guys.
Anyway, I needed to get to the poker room early so I could rig up
my secret spy cams.
You didn’t read that.
Finally, the Solar System Series of Poker 2008 Tournament arrived,
following four very necessary plates (plus three dessert plates)
at Main Street Station. I needed nourishment to thrive through so
many hours of poker. I save my serious aggression for the all-important
consumption of food. I really should apologize to the old lady whose
ankle I may or may not have twisted when we crossed paths on the
way to the roast beef carving station. But food comes first, and
I'm sure she was all right after she got up.
By the time I reached the tournament all my aggression had been
spent. At the poker tables, I stayed and played, and played...and
played. But really I played very little.
Pocket King-Nine,suited? Kind of risky with that
nine messing things up. No thanks.
tables of the 2008 Solar System Series of Poker were made
up of pros, toughs, ruffians, hooligans and a few flat-out
Eventually the blinds leached my money, and when
I finally was forced to play and win with pocket aces, I made enough
to stay in all the way to the final table. Of course, by then, the
sharks were out. While other sharks had been knocked out by my cunningly
passive play, those remaining soon stripped me of everything I had
once I was forced to go all-in as a really, really big blind.
I was ecstatic to win, where "win" means
"didn't come in dead last".
Arriving at the poker room, a gentleman I’d never seen before
asked what my user name was. When I said I didn’t have one,
he snubbed me as though I were an interloper, or someone who was
letting chicken foot bones fall out of his mouth while talking.
But then, to make me feel at home, Scott from Canada greeted me
and told me all about his credit card’s airlines rewards program.
Darleen Skier from Alabama greeted me, too. She claimed to be feeling
lousy. I offered condolences, but her doldrums made me feel a little
more lucky since she had done so well in the tournament the year
I want to say that I love this part of the annual
Vegas trip. I love greeting the Bills; saying hi to Jacqueline,
Burt, Andrew, Cameron, Walt, and all the usual suspects. We’ve
been coming here for years. We pick up threads of conversation from
the summer before like no time had passed. I am generous with gracious
hugs, knowing that this is the year these folks will not foil my
plans for winning the tournament.
One of these days, guys, you really should just
let me win. It’s easy:
- Step one: Go all-in against me on the flop.
- Step two: Wink at me, so I know what you’re doing. I’ll
- Step three: Fold on the turn.
Thanks in advance.
This year, I had a few tricks up my sleeve, borrowed
from my 2-year old daughter’s extensive collection of playing
cards. Her decks include phonics, old maid, random picture words,
plus a chewed up pack of El Cortez playing cards. In my pocket I
held the four of Apes, the House, the Nuts, and several other important
cards that would come in handy.
But though I played the four apes a couple times
and also threw out the picture of the number seven holding a saw
under the heading "S," I never did get to play The Nuts.
I guess it’s because I’m pretty bad at poker.
Early in the game, for instance, I hit a full house
against a very possible flush and raised modestly. I’m not
sure why modestly. I guess so as not to scare anybody out. I got
raised back. It was the showdown. I didn’t want to scare anyone
out, so I called. Of course I won, but my chicken-bones play failed
to bring the ammo to take the bracelet this year even with all the
cards up my sleeve. In time, my chips trickled away. Soon I was
all in. Then I was all out.
It came down to Scott, Walt and Bill Turk.. Like
watching reruns of Joanie Loves Chachi.
Big Empire's Matt congratulate 2008 champ and two-time bracelet
winner Scott. Later, Scott was mysteriously stabbed with a
shiv in the men's room.
"Screw this," I said and hijacked Shakes,
fresh out of chips, to take me--and Jeff Barr--to check out the
Palazzo. I don’t know who won. Neither does Shakes. And Matt
doesn’t mention it in his part of the report. Nor Phil, who
was sipping a sticky glass of brown liquid. So if you’re reading
this to find out who won, then your luck is as good as mine was
the day of the tournament.
If you haven’t been there, you may be surprised
to learn that Palazzo is a hotel / casino. It’s grand. It’s
big. It’s swank. Other than that, it isn’t too surprising.
Shakes and I were happy to sign up for the Palazzo Player’s
club for free slot play, which we staked on video roulette. I tried
the "make a smiley face with your chips" tactic, but
the magic wasn’t there. But Shakes, playing video roulette
as blandly as he plays poker, shook up a $40 jackpot. Free money!
Jeff, Shakes and I flitted through the shopping
areas. Palazzo’s premium retail shops include Barney’s
of New York. That’s mainly it. Therein we saw an ugly line
of naked mannequins wearing sale signs. Jeff went to shoot it, but
the clerks at Barneys are more private about their imagery than
the security staff in the casinos these days. Jeff was tersely asked
not to take photos at risk of losing his camera.
"Why?" he asked innocently.
"It’s proprietary," said the
"But that’s butt ugly," I commented
of their sales mannequins. "Who’s going to steal that
She wasn’t sure, but Jeff still couldn’t
shoot it. So he did it on the sly instead. Yeah, Jeff!
We went up to the third floor of Barney’s
where I spotted the ugliest jacket I’d ever seen. A raunchy
plaid cloth cut in an unflatteringly short style. It was $2000.
I guess my taste doesn’t match the taste of people who spend
$2000 on jackets. I’m glad. But I bought it anyway.
We left Barney’s on the top floor and quickly
saw that the rest of the Palazzo’s suite-level shops are not
yet occupied. The only other thing on that floor was a pigeon trap
holding a lone, rather confused pigeon. Inside the cage was a bowl
of corn. A one-way door permitted pigeon entry, but not pigeon exit--without
severe tire damage. We considered letting the little bird go, but
instead, Jeff shot it. With his camera. That would teach them. Then
we lingered over the bird’s eye view of two cute "co-op
slappers" handing out pamphlets at the bottom of the escalator.
After winning free money, it was time to see the mall portion of
the shiny new Palazzo. What dazzled me most was its pigeon cage
way up on the top floor--it held a real, angry, live pigeon! Could
this be some kind of training for a spectacular new show featuring...
I've always had such respect for pigeons, because
they'll eat anything and be happy with it. I understand that. In
fact, the more I looked at the trapped pigeon, the more I noticed
the plumpness of its little thighs, the possible succulence of its
wings. I began to gather scraps of cardboard and paper to start
the roasting fire, but Jeff dissuaded me with the promise of some
candy from the Venetian mall, which adjoins that of Palazzo.
to Part 4