I discovered the casinos soon after we moved to L.A. They amazed me. I could play poker! All night! With tattooed, limping Mexican guys and old Korean ladies! There was free tea and cheap Chinese food. The atmosphere was at once tense and laid-back, leisurely and desperate, and the décor was pure Armenian fancy-car dealership. There were no hedonistic distractions, other than the gambling; the flat beer didn't exactly over-tempt.
My wife indulged my new hobby. I'd never lost more than $100 in one table sitting, and that was usually on vacation, when it had been written into the budget. But one night I came back $500 richer than when I'd left. She pulled the plug.
"What do you mean, you don't want me going back?" I said. "I'm winning!"
"Now you're going to think you're good," she said. "And you'll bankrupt our asses."
"I don't think I'm good," I said. "I am good."
"Well, I don't want you playing poker anymore," she said. "Or only very occasionally. Please? For me? It's such a huge risk."
"Okay, babe," I said. "For you."
After that, I started going once a week. I could always pull out some excuse: A drinking night with a buddy she'd never met, a Dodgers game, a movie I simply "had" to see for work. And then later on, when I actually had a project going on in Culver City, I could usually slip down the 105 and squeeze in an hour-and-a-half of poker before going home. I did this about three times a week.
Over six months, my initial $1,000 stake puffed up to about four grand, and then back down to $500, and then back up to $3,000, finally settling at about 250 bucks more than what I started with; by this point, I found myself dominating the low-stakes tables, but I was pretty much break even when the limits got high.
One Friday night, I ran into a Russian who liked to bluff, but didn't seem to care what he got dealt. He'd raise me if he got nothing, or if he flopped trips on pocket aces. Two hours and ten grand later, I felt pretty good. When I got home, I finally popped my poker secret to the wife.
"I've been playing cards," I said. "A lot."
"I had to tell you. I felt guilty."
Winning at poker can make the grandest skeptic horny.
"But you promised me . . . " I could tell she felt betrayed. And I recognized that I'd violated some sacred bond of trust, but it wasn't as though I'd been off getting my dick sucked, or even going to strip clubs. I knew lots of guys who did that kind of stuff. It didn't even occur to me. But sometimes a man's got to lie to give himself a little free time.
"I know I did, baby," I said. "But it's not gonna happen again." I pulled an envelope out of my coat pocket. From that envelope, I pulled a thousand-dollar bill, and I handed it to her.
"Here," I said. "Go buy yourself something pretty."
"Are you serious?" she said.
I wasn't the kind of guy who usually said "go buy yourself something pretty," and she wasn't the kind of woman who went and bought herself something pretty when a guy told her to, but on that night, she pinned me on the living-room carpet and gave me everything she had. Winning at poker, I guess, can make even the grandest skeptic horny.
A few nights later, I was foundering at a six-twelve table when I felt a hand on my shoulder. I turned around. A sharp-looking woman, about five-foot-six, with slightly more-than-average Hollywood meat on her bones, was standing behind me.
"Looks like you could use some motivation," she said.
"I'll work through it."
"Why don't you sit out a hand?" she said. "I've got a proposition for you."
It had been a while since anyone had propositioned me for anything, so I folded a J-9 and moved the little black button to my spot. We took a table near a sushi bar that didn't seem to have too much traffic. She put her hand on my knee.
"I'm married," I said.
"Not my concern," she said. "I want you to play for me."
"Me?" I wasn't even close to being the best player there. But my ego had been riding tall since the wife jumped me. At your average L.A. bar, I thought, I was just another $12-mochatini consumer. Here, where the median player looked like William Burroughs on a bad-hair day, I considered myself a little nugget of male obsidian.
"Here's the deal: I stake you to a little money. You win, like crazy. I get half the winnings, and you get whatever my services will buy with your half."
"Services?" She moved her hand a little farther up my leg.
"Ah," I said. "But why do it this way?"
"You hook up with the right player, it's a lot more profitable than a straight trick," she said.
"Fair enough," I said, though if I'd thought about it more, the arrangement really wouldn't have made much sense. It's hard to think, though, when a hot hooker has her fingers on your balls. Under a table. At a sleazy casino. At midnight.
"Here's $500," she said, sliding me an envelope. "Get to work." I should have turned her down. But then again: The wife would get a report of an average night at the tables. I would get something much more than average. And no one would go to bed unhappy.
"You'd better get ready to deliver a lot of services," I said.
Three hours later, I was up $350, but with this woman, that wouldn't have brought me much more than a tug and a tickle.
|"You were gonna fuck a hooker with poker money she staked you."
"This isn't getting us anywhere," she said. "Why don't we go a little higher-end?" She suggested we move to a no-limit table. I didn't usually like to play at that level, but what did I care? At best, I'd get the craziest fuck of my life. At worst, I'd go home to my wife, not a dollar more broke than when I'd left.
The table was populated entirely by goons, the kinds of players who like to bluff big and who never fold on the flop. Plus, they had forearms the size of Christmas hams. I smelled a setup. The smell got even stronger when I suddenly found myself up $2,500 after five hands. Still, what did I care? It wasn't my money.
Then I drew pocket queens. I made a strong play. By the turn, I had two pair, queen high, eights low, with no aces or kings showing. The other cards were a lonely seven, and a worthless ten. When the river showed a two of hearts, I knew this hand was mine.
Except that one of the goons was sitting on a pocket pair of twos. Who the hell hung on to a hand like that? Regardless, I'd busted.
"That's my night, babe," I said to my friend. "Sorry."
"You owe us $2,500," she said.
"My associates and me."
"Wait. I don't owe you anything. You staked me to . . . "
The goons all stood up at once.
"Maybe we should take him up to our suite and explain the rules," said one of them.
"This is illegal," I said.
"You were gonna fuck a hooker with poker money that she staked you," said my now ex-friend. "You don't exactly have much legal standing."
I didn't have to think further on the subject. "Walk me to my car," I said. "I'll get my checkbook."
It was 6:30 a.m. by the time I got home. My wife was in the kitchen already, with a pot of fresh fair-trade coffee.
"How'd it go?" she said.
"I lost," I said. "Big time." n°
©2006 Neal Pollack and Nerve.com.