Friday, July 31, 2009

Napalm in the Morning

I was on my way to play poker this afternoon, and was feeling a bit hungry. I had finally remembered to bring with me the old sales receipt of a trip to Mickey D's that had ended badly. See, I had returned home with the food, on a prior trip, only to discover, much to my horror, that the bag was missing the most important portion of the entire order.

I had ordered one of their new-fangled, 1/3 pound burgers, with bacon and cheese for the expensive amount of $3.99. You understand this is all in relation to the normal price of a McDonald's burger, which should be at about 12 cents, instead normally cost about a dollar. So, 4 bucks is a lot for this food.

Anyhow, the big burger of my dreams was not in the bag when we got home. I naturally called the evil burger empire and a pleasant woman named Mandy told me to bring my receipt, anytime, to get my burger. No problem said I. I was disappointed, and maybe a bit sad that day, but that just meant that today I would be getting a "free" burger.

I pulled into the parking lot and parked along the side of the building. I figured it would make things a lot easier if I just went inside, instead of using the drive through. I jumped out, receipt in hand, and walked inside taking my place in line behind two other folks.

One older gentleman gets his food and kind of meanders off, and now I'm second in line. I was not really paying very close attention to the people in front of me because I was much busier studying the menu. These new burgers look like they have potential. An entire 1/3 of a pound of meat, with bacon, cheese, lettuce, tomato, and onion all on a sesame seed bun. I can't believe I just thought of this while I'm writing, but I should have had them put some of the Big Mac sauce on the burger. That might have made my knees buckle though, and we don't need any of that today.

I step up to explain to the cashier that I have my receipt, see, and I get a burger, see, cause when I came last time.... as I look up at the man. I realize he is about 6'2" tall, brown hair, blue eyes, and a complexion to die for! Let me explain, because I am not into guys, but I am sure this guy is going to be the prettiest man I see all day long. He is that good looking.

As I'm droning on about Mandy telling me to come and pick up my burger he says, with a perfectly straight face, "I'm Mandy". I hesitated, and I must have had a strange look on my face because he quickly laughed and said he was joking.

So, what is odd about this story you might ask? An employee at the Evil Burger Empire actually tried to be funny, and to top it off he actually was funny! When was the last time you met a fast food employee who appeared to be having a good time at work, in a manner that is acceptable to most people dining in the restaurant? This guy had actually tried to make a customer smile.

Well, it worked, and the burger was so good that I think I want to date that guy who served it to me. Since I didn't pay for the food today, and it felt like it was free, I almost feel like I owe the cashier a hand job, or something, because it was sort of like a date. He was good looking, made me laugh, and bought lunch to boot! Want to come in for coffee?

After scarfing down the burger I drove to the poker room. Before I went in I took another look at myself in the mirror. I had cut myself, pretty badly, while shaving this morning. Apparently, when you are careless with a razor that has 5 blades sometimes you can make a good sized cut on your cheek. It hadn't stopped bleeding and I had put a small band-aid on my cheek, under my right eye, but down low on my face, about even with my right nostril.

I was pretty sure, as I walked into the poker room, that people were going to inquire about my injury. Well, I was ready for them. The first person I ran into was another traveling poker player, named affectionately, Creature. He is referred to as Creature because he has very short hair, with no neck, and sort of sits hunched down low at the tables. He looks like a creature, more or less.

Creature said hello and then immediately "What did you do, cut yourself shaving?"

First of all, that was a lucky guess, because I have never seen a cut, such as this, being caused by shaving. Secondly thank you, Creature, for letting me test this first reason out.

"No man, I went to the dentist this morning, and I think the guy was drunk or something because he went to drill my tooth and hit my face!" Badump-Bump. Don't worry, he didn't laugh either. Well, he gave it a half hearted sort of smirk and then moved into "what's been going on, where you been playing, how is it goin, goin out of town soon?" and so on, and so forth.

Another person, a little bit later, asked again. My reply this time was that my son had accidentally shot me with his BB gun. This person believed that one. I let him walk away thinking my son shot me. I wonder if that will have any negative ramifications?

A woman, Nancy, asked and I told her "This is my attempt at impersonating Martin Sheen, ya know, from the movie Apocalypse Now, except that my Martin has a lazy eye that kind of hangs low". Nothing, just a stare. hmmmmmm. Are these not funny? Maybe I'm not as funny as I like to think.

Finally, at the poker table someone asked me and I yelled to them all, while pointing at my face "THIS IS WHAT YOU GET IN MY HOUSE WHEN YOU SPILL PAINT IN THE GARAGE!! DID I STUTTER?"

No one laughed. Come on, no one even gets the reference to "The Breakfast Club"? These guys are weak. Well, maybe it's just my audience. The kid to my right might be 19, and everyone else at the table is over 55. Maybe none of them saw Breakfast Club. Come on... Really?

They all laughed when a guy was chatting aloud about his having 17 skin tags removed from his underarm region. I know, it's not funny yet. It became funny when he was going on about how he should have had his wife remove them, instead of going to the doctor, but that she would not do it. Another guy, at the other end of the table, states "I know of a similar story but it was a ferret, on a guys face." They guffawed quite hard at that one. I laughed too because the use of the ferret was too random to not find funny.

The last one I left them with, in regards to the band aid, went like this. A guy sat down on the opposite end of the table. I had played with him on past occasions. He took one look at me and said "Hey, what happened to your face?". Just point blank. People don't mince words at the poker room.

I replied "My wife threw a knitting needle at me". I wanted to see his reaction. He paused, looked at me, and said "Well, you're lucky then".

This confused me a bit and I asked "Why is that lucky?" as I held both arms out, with my palms turned up to the sky as if to say "What in the hell are you talking about?"

He dryly stated "She could have got your eye!" HAW HAW HAW HAW "And you probably deserved it anyway!!" HAW HAW HAW HAW

Yup, good one sir. It sounds like you enjoyed it. I played for a bit longer and then just got up and left. I didn't correct him or anyone else on the story I told them about my face. I'm wondering how long it takes before someone down there asks me why my wife tried to stab me with her knitting needles.

This whole thing reminds me of something that happened at the County Fair, in my hometown of Lowville, this past week. My wife had taken our nephew to meet his grandmother near one of the entrances. I, my two kids, our friend Meg, and her three kids, were walking together while waiting for Michelle to come back. We wanted to get something to eat. Yes, big surprise, good one.

We come upon someone I had dated in the past, pre-children, when Michelle and I had been split up. She came walking along and stopped suddenly when she saw us. It was starting to rain, and getting kind of uncomfortable, and I didn't really want to stop and talk to her right at that very moment. I mean, I wanted to get out of the rain, and if I had to be a little bit rude, I was going to be.

I said "Hi! You remember Megan, don't you?"

She kind of shook her head and I could sort of tell what she was thinking. So, I went with it. Spur of the moment, not thinking of any consequences, just blurted it right out.

"Yeah, we got hitched a while ago, this is our family!! Well, those three are hers, and these two are mine, but now there ours!" I had a big smile on my face.

She just sort of stared, I looked at Megan and she kind of waved and said "hi" in that quiet, squeaky voice that she has. Megan I love you!!! Meg can sense a good gag as it is developing. I didn't give anyone a chance to say more. I sort of wrapped my arms around everyone and said in a loud, booming voice "well, come on family, let's get some chow". We just walked off. I asked Megan what my ex was doing, and she looked back and said "she's looking at us".

I had to laugh. I cannot wait until I hear about my new wife from someone.

It was a fun day.

CFF Lives

For all of the glory that June brought, winning at the cash games and winning way more than my share of the tournaments, July has been nothing but break even play. Couple that with my expenses for the month, and I'm a loser.

It's cool though. I mean, it happens all of the time. The key is to work your mind around the fact that sometimes you have to lose. Once in a while those sometimes come in bunches and I lose a lot. Occasionally, those sometimes come in the form of streaks that are unimaginable. I'm not going there, however, this is going to be a positive posting.

In all honesty I have been very lazy this month. I haven't played nearly the hours I need to in any given 30 day period. Of course, I was on vacation for 9 days. But, even so, I found it difficult to stay at the tables for any marathon sessions.

I'm pretty sure it was because of the tournaments I played. Tournaments are finite. You buy in, get your chips, and then play until the chips are gone or you win the whole thing. There is a starting point and an ending point. If you are lucky enough to make it to the money, and you play until there is a winner, it is really quite exciting. So, how do I transfer that excitement to the cash games?

I'm not sure. I play poker because it is fun. If it stops being fun then what am I to do? If it begins to feel like any other job, then what? What to do, what to do...

I could try to lay off the crack pipe that is tournament poker. No, I don't think I can do that, not completely anyway. I think, instead, I will limit my tournament play to only those tourney's that offer very deep stacks and a buy-in that makes people take notice. That way, I will still get my fix of the tournament action, while making it worth while (tournaments take time), and also take less total time away from the cash games. Plus, tournaments with larger buy-ins have less of a percentage taken out for the rake. The rake is what the house makes in putting on the tournament. I hate the rake.

Ok, that's a plan at least. No tournaments that have a buy-in of less than $150! Good, decision made. The second piece of the pie? Play longer hours!!! Stop being lazy and lethargic. I can remember, back when it was all so new, I could sit at the table for 8-12 hours at a time. I would only stop for a bathroom break, and I managed to stay focused. My focus window has decreased to about 35 minutes now.

Now, I'd much rather give my friends a hard time on Facebook rather then play cards. That can't be good. I like Facebook. I enjoy that I have reconnected with old friends, and also have met some new folks who are pretty cool people. Something else has occurred after drinking the grape Kool-Aid that is Facebook. I'm pretty sure, although I have no quantitative evidence, that people who partake in facebook are less likely to be mean jackoffs. Just like that bumper sticker you always see on the back of someone's bondo filled Jetta, mean people suck.

Facebook is what it is. To me it is a meeting place for people who are only trying to make their way on this ride called Life. It represents hope that we are not alone. I have found that literally millions of people feel exactly as I do on many subjects. I'm pretty sure I knew that before facebook, but it's nice to actually see it in print.

Facebook facilitated the first ever, at least that I know of, Coalition of Facebook Friends (CFF) Union. This started out as sort of a joke, but ballooned into a gathering of friends, old and new, who are looking for something. For me it turned into a crusade to see just how much I have changed since my high school days. I wanted to find out how different I was than the old friends I once hung with many years ago. Of course, I was a bit disappointed. I'm not much different now than I was once, back then. Although, I'm clearly not quite the same. Neither is anyone else, for that matter.

The get together took place in my small hometown of Lowville, NY. There was a lot of laughter, a bunch of hugs and smooches, and the drinks were flowing. The entire episode helped to make the trip back home, this year, something to remember. I have determined that my friends are cool. This has to mean that I am cool too! It's a logical conclusion, yes? Also, if I feel better about myself than it only makes sense that others, following the party, also feel better about themselves. If 50 people get together, coming from all over the place to meet, and they all leave in a better mood, aren't those good vibes going to circulate throughout the communities we all returned to?


We all could use more of this.


Monday, July 27, 2009

Home is Where the Heart Is

Traffic is starting to pick up a little bit as we head south on I-81. We're getting near Syracuse and as we pass by the airport exit I can see the look of three tired faces riding in the car with me. It had been a short, but exciting week as I and my wife Michelle, and our two kids Myah, age 13 and Sam, age 10, had spent the last 8 days in our hometown of Lowville, N.Y.

Make that 4 tired faces as I catch a glimpse of myself in the rearview. Jesus, I have bags under my eyes. We had a heckuva party the night before. A strange night out without the children, and without really needing to act too awfully mature. It had felt good, and everything had gone pretty smoothly, as far as I had been able to tell. Of course, I have an innate ability to block out someone else's obvious suffering, particularly when I am having a good time. I think maybe it might be a self protection response. I mean, why should I suddenly have a bad time just because one of my friends is having a bad time? Rather than try to fake sorrow, at such instances, I believe my mind allows me to "overlook" their pain, or disgust. It's good, and I recommend it to all.

Uh-oh, looks like the left lane is closed up ahead. It's right near the exit for the Carrier Dome. I often look up at that dome and think of the wasted opportunities I let slip through my fingers. I had an ROTC scholarship for tuition and books, and could have gone to basically any college that had an ROTC program, and was lenient enough for someone with a B+ average to get into. I chose Syracuse University because it had a great basketball team. If you're laughing you should stop because I am serious. I loved SU basketball more than life itself sometimes. So, that's where I went to school. Being away from home for the first time, and not really ready for the freedoms college has to offer, I partied way too hard and often. I got bad grades and had to drop my scholarship and finish college in the state school system. Of course, I paid for it all, and had no student loans afterwards, and ended up with a bachelor's degree in 4 1/2 years. So, I guess I figured it out, somehow.

I would recommend that kids work for a year or two (if they can) before going to college. It has to help you adjust better than just running off to school. Either that or give them more freedom and responsibility when they are younger in hopes of their developing, on a social level, quicker than most. I don't know. It's a thought.

I decide to move into the far right hand lane, because the far left hand lane is closed and the middle lane is bogging down. I like this kind of "city" traffic. It's not really a slowdown at all. Of course, that thought leaves my brain immediately as I now realize I am in a "exit only" lane. Jesus Christ. They have closed one lane, and now another is going off the off ramp, and I'm in the damn thing. I slow down hoping someone will mess up and give me some space to get in. Nope, they're riding bumper to bumper. Hmmmm, that in itself is suspicious. I see the exit fast approaching, and now realize, to my horror, that I have to rely on the good graces of a kind soul riding in the lane next to me to let me slide on in there.

I turn on my left hand signal light and coast forward. Come on, I'm looking in the mirror, just let me in. Looks like this guy in the silver car may be able to let me slide in... nope. He accelerates, and now I'm at the edge of the dividing paint between the road and the off ramp. I can't believe that jackass is not letting me in. I give him the "I can't believe this!" look and realize he probably can't see me well through the tinted windows. I quickly roll my window down so he can see the disbelief on my face. I look over at him and see, leaning across his wife or girlfriends, or future ex girlfriend's, or emotionally traumatized wife's lap, this very angry man flipping me off and yelling "Fuck You!" to my face.

All I can do is laugh. I slow down to a stop, and the next car lets me in. There was a time when I used to be like that guy. I was like him to a tee. What an ASSHOLE. Let me reiterate to all of you out there who think I should not have been in that lane to begin with, and you know who you are. You are technically correct. But, this man was an asshole. I was in the wrong and I suppose that guy may have had some right to be a dickhead. I, on the other hand, think not. I made a mistake. I'm not from Syracuse and drive through there one time per year. I don't know how their screwed up lane closures affect traffic. Why couldn't he just be cool and let me slide in? I mean, really. I'm sure he and his woman had a much worse day than I did. He had a chance to feel really good about things and instead chose the opposite direction. Life's too short buddy. He's young though, he has time to figure it out.

Now we're heading out of Syracuse and the guy who just flipped me off is up ahead. Finally he pulls into the far right lane and we take our turn passing him. Strange situation, that was. As we head south I can't help but think of the 17-19 hours of driving we still have ahead of us. I'm not looking forward to any of it, but I'm anxious to get home.

It was a good trip though. Thinking back on the drive north, just 8 days before, makes me realize just how much we did in the past week. We had left Jacksonville at 4 in the afternoon. The plan had been to drive straight through, all 18 hours of it, unless I started to feel really drowsy. Everything went perfectly well until we hit Washington D.C. It was here that my GPS decided to tell me to continue straight, on what looked like an interstate. directly through the heart of the DC. Unfortunately, the interstate just disappeared after we had gone through a tunnel. Suddenly, I was on a downtown DC street at 3 AM. No worries, all was fine and good. I figured it added about 40 to 60 minutes to our journey. Who knows though, maybe we avoided and accident, or a flat tire, or gunshots, or a rogue gang of motorcyclists riding Suzuki's. It could happen, who knows? My wife is always preaching that "things happen for a reason". I'm not sure I completely agree with her, but you can never be sure. It might be just a lot of coincidences.

We pulled off from Tug Hill, and route 177, at about 10 AM last Friday morning. The windmills still amaze me. They are incredibly large, and make Lowville look as eco-friendly as some west coast, liberally biased, organic shroom farm. I like it. I had heard, however, during the past week that the windmills sometimes do not turn. This is not just because the wind may be too slow, but also because it may cost too much to transport the energy downstate, to NYC. I know this cannot be true. I guess I have to investigate the situation. Or maybe not. I mean, what could I do if that was the case? Just complain about it, I suppose.

We visited family, and played golf, and went to the old Town Hall movie theatre to watch "the Proposal". The movie was so-so, but the popcorn at this theatre is the best. I think it's the butter, or maybe it the oil, or maybe it's the kernels. Most likely, I guess, it's probably the nostalgia associated with eating something I only had as a kid. A trip to the movies is something I try to do each time I'm in my hometown.

Originally I had been planning the entire trip around what is called the "Lowville Booster Club" annual golf tournament. My cousin had invited me, months before, to play with him in this tournament. He also had promised me we would win. Well, he was wrong. I played poorly and we didn't win. We had a lot of fun, and we drank heavily throughout the day. I got to see a lot of friends and family, and play a golf course I haven't been on in a number of years. Everything in upstate NY is very green right now, and I'm not referring to this country's ambition of getting off oil based energy. I'm referring to the constant rain they have received this spring and summer.

My cousin and I played with a cousin-in-law and a good friend. These two also came to South Carolina last fall on a golf trip. That trip was incredibly fun, but the cops did show up. That is a story for another time. No one was arrested and they both said they had a good time. Let me clarify something, I did nothing to prompt any police to arrive. It was a couple of other guys on our group of 12. Jackasses.

I decide to stop at the Pa Welcome Center just inside the Pa border on I-81 south. The kids are complaining about needing to go to the bathroom. I'm secretly wishing we had started later in the day so the little one's would go to sleep earlier in the trip. As it stands, we have entered Pa after driving 180 miles through NY state, and it feels like we're making headway. The rest area is nice, and I get a chance to sit back and smell the flowers as the kids hit the toilets. The kids got a big kick out of a sign which read "Smile, You're in Pennsylvania". Apparently this sign appears rather foolish to a 13 and 11 year old. Little did I realize that the sign should have read "Frown, because you may never get out of our state".

The roads in PA are in dire straits. So, they have decided it's time to repair Route 81. This has to be necessary, but I'm not sure it is necessary to make I-81 South a single lane for upwards of twenty miles at a time! Come on! Are you kidding me? It is probably safer to have long stretches shut down at once, and I'm sure it's less expensive, but what about convenience? We decide to get smart and turn to our trusty Tom Tom to figure out a route for us to bypass this construction. There are many signs suggesting we take alternate routes, and the most direct appears to be I-476 south.

It heads southeast towards philly, but at one point down the road it looks like we can connect with another road and get back on 81 south of the construction. Off we go. What's the first thing I notice? It's a freaking toll road!!!!!! These bastards tell me to take a different route, but then make me pay to use it. First toll 65 cents. Not a lot, no big deal. We drive on for another 10 miles or so and we hit another 65 cent toll. It's the kind where you just chuck the change into the bin and the arm goes up. I have a friend in Jax who swears you can throw a couple of nickels in these things and the arm still goes up. I'm not that angry, not yet, so I pay the full 65 cents both times. Now, we drive for another 15 miles or so and now we go through a toll booth in which we get a ticket. The exit the Tom Tom is telling us to take is quite a ways down the road and the cost is going to be about twenty bucks. Now, I'm pissed.

I think I hate Pennsylvania. I can see the politicians sitting around the meeting table, feverishly trying to figure out how to raise money for the state. Suddenly, one of them has a lightbulb go off and proclaims "We simply close down huge chunks of our free expressways and divert impatient drivers to our toll roads!!". Brilliant, you jackasses.

Needless to say, it takes a long while to get through Pennsylvania. I hate to say it, but I never liked that state anyways. This whole exercise simply strengthened my resolve. It's not a pretty state, not along I-81 anyhow. If you ever drive through there in the winter be sure to make note of the dirty snow. Yes, I have strange images stuck in my mind from my childhood. Dirty snow is only slightly better than yellow snow.

This gave me a lot of time to contemplate further the past week. The entire previous week had been snowballing towards yesterday afternoon. I had about six or so friends coming to play golf at my family's small, public golf course. It used to be owned and operated by my grandmother, but she is now at the ripe old age of 84, and the reigns have been passed onto my cousin, J.R.

The plan was to play golf during the day with friends and family, and then get cleaned up for the big party we were having at the Lowville Elks Club. The golf was great. Nobody played particularly well, but many of us hadn't seen each other in years. Plus, my son has reached the age where he can at least hit the golf ball far enough to be able to play with adults. Everything was perfect, and then, it happened.

Before I tell this next part let me say one thing. I should have gone up to my grandma's house as soon as I heard that the television remote was missing. I really didn't think it was a big deal, and at the time I wasn't sure how my looking was going to make any difference at all. I mean, it's a remote, and they get lost ALL OF THE TIME. They usually turn up, generally at about a 99% rate, under or in the a couch or chair. Is this not true? My aunt, my cousin, and both of my children had searched for the remote, apparently unable to locate it. What happened next is simply par for the course.

We were on the 17th hole, and the rain had held off. It had been overcast and the temperature was about 75 the entire day. The golf was ok, but the friendships were as strong today as they ever were 25 years ago. I was in a very mellow, and peaceful mood. I was feeling completely happy, when I noticed a golf cart coming down the fairway towards the 17th green. It looked like my aunt, with her mother, my grandma, coming to say hi. The only thing is that I know they're not just coming to just say hi, and if I had thought quickly enough I could have driven my cart away from the gathering of my friends. I could be wrong, of course, and maybe they're just coming out to see how we're all doing.

The cart pulls up, and as it passes my sister's golf cart, I can distinctly hear my grandma yell "I'm a sonofabitch today!!!". Uh-oh.

My aunt and gram pull up to my cart and my grandma is speaking incoherently to me. My aunt takes over and starts yelling at me that the remote is still missing. My initial feeling is that I have done something wrong, and I need to go find this remote, and fast. But then, as my aunt is continuing on, in front of my friends (and paying customers might I add), I start to think about the fact that I am 42 years old, and she can't really speak to me like I'm 15.

After she finally stops I say to her "Tracy, what do you want me to do"?

She starts in about how gram is 84 and that I don't care about her, so I cut her off and YELL "WHAT DO YOU WANT ME TO DO? Just tell me and I'll do it, right now, just TELL ME!!"

Of course she has no answer. I mean, they've all looked for the fucking remote, and if someone can tell me how I'm going to make a difference in this search I'd like to hear about it. So, they just drive off.

My friends, being the nice people they are, say things t make me feel better. One of them, I think it was Buzzy, says I should give my gram a golf club and put her chair close to the tv so she can change channels with the end of the club. That makes me laugh, which is good.

I have to admit though, and I told my friends this afterwards, this is the exact reason why I rarely invited my friends to play golf at my family's golf course. This type of scenario was literally a daily experience in my childhood. At one point, while being berated by my aunt, after she had started her sentence with "Your kids...", I stopped her and told her the only thing she wants me to do is yell at my children for losing the god damn remote. well, I wasn't going to do it just to please her. I mean, it's a remote control. It's lost, and if it's lost forever, which I'm sure it's not, then we can buy a new one for about 8 dollars. Fuck me.

After golf, and after my friends had left to go get ready for the party, I went up to my gram's house to look for the remote. This is where it all gets sort of surreal. I walk into my grandma's living room,and they're all there standing around, like someone had just died. My grandma has me lift a chair to look under it. of course there is no way the remote went under this chair because there is no room for it to fit. I lift it anyways, and them move over to the couch.

My son, Sam, had slept on the couch the night before. He had been watching tv and it makes sense that the remote was down inside the couch somewhere. Of course, I'm sure they've already looked, but now the fifth person needs to look here as well. So, I lift up the left hand cushion on this two section couch, nothing. I lift up the other cushion, and can see there is an area, about the width of, well, of a television remote, that leads down into the bowels of the couch.

At first I don't see anything. But then, there it is. Sitting right there, right where you would expect a lost remote to be located. I grab it and turn to my aunt, and say in a very cold and calm voice "I can't believe you couldn't find this".

I hand gram the remote and walk the hell out of there. Completely unbelievable.

I must say, and I am sorry to admit it, but this episode completely dominates my memory of the past week. Michelle, my wife, and I went to the Elks club for the gathering. We had a wonderful time seeing old friends and hopefully making new ones, but it was sort of hollow.

I've discussed this with my wife on multiple occasions since we have returned to Florida. We have both concluded, after an honest review of my life, that I would have been exactly like my family had I not moved away. It's sad that I say that as though it is a horrible thing to be like one's family, but in this instance I think it may be.

I also visited the Turning Stone Casino, in Verona, NY while I was up north. I'm going to write about the experience later. I'm so happy I live in Florida, and one week back home was plenty.

I feel sick after writing about my family. We were so dysfunctional, and yet we never realized it while growing up. I thought it was all normal. My family, on that side, is just like that guy who wouldn't let me into his lane while driving through Syracuse. What is the point? Isn't it easier to be nice to people? Too much pent up hate and aggression. I can't help it that you are miserable with how your life has become like a cancer that you have to wake up to each morning. Just please, stop taking it out on me. Thanks.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Rounders Changes Everything

People often ask me how I became involved in poker. I've written before about my very first exposure to poker. I was a teenager at hunting camp, and we used to play Liar's Poker while sitting around the fireplace and munching on venison tenderloin as we waited for dinner to be prepared. I learned a couple of valuable lessons from that game. I learned about the importance of position, and I learned how hard it was to make one pair, even with wild cards. I also seemed to have some innate ability to not only fool people into being led down a path, during the play of a hand, but also somehow sensing when someone else was trying to do the same to me.

My second foray, or memorable exposure to poker came at a friendly kitchen table game between friends. This was during my college years. There was quite a bit of drinking that night, and I think I lost around fifty dollars. This did not set well with me. In fact, it was so unsettling that I actually became convinced that there was something going on in the game that had to be cheating. I mean, how could I possibly lose hand after hand while one or two people seemed to win over and over again? Of course, there was no cheating. The losers lost because they played poorly. The winners won that night because they caught cards and knew when to release a hand. Of course, I didn't know any of this, and I did not play poker again until 1997.

In 1997 I was in my second year at Prudential Financial. They had hired a bunch of young, college graduates to fill in the expansion of their Underwriting department. Underwriting life insurance applications is akin to watching paint dry. You sit in a cubicle all day reviewing applications, urine and blood tests, medical reports, and sometimes financial records. Oh yeah, exciting stuff. In 1997, I and five or six of my workmates decided to play poker one evening. The only thing I remember about that night is that I lost, miserably.

It was right around this same time that the movie Rounders hit the big screen. It was while watching this movie that I realized you could beat the game of poker, and winning or losing was based on skill, not just random luck. I had tried many gambling forays before that moment. I had learned to bet the Greyhounds. I should have bet on the buses, but I was betting the dogs. I lost a lot of money on that one. I had tried my hand at blackjack and craps. I lost. But, here was something that looked possible. Besides, I only wanted to be good enough to beat the other jokers around that kitchen table. I rushed right out and bought my first "how to" book on poker.

I'll never forget that book. The book is called "Winning Poker for the Beginning Player" by Edward Silberstang. It was quite basic, and it covered a lot of different games. Hold em was not even the game of choice for most of us back then. We played dealer's choice. Silberstang basically preached a very tight, and very aggressive style of poker. He recommended folding most hands and playing only those in which you thought you probably had the best hand, at that moment.

Well, this was quite different from anything I had ever done before. Everyone I knew played every hand dealt to them, and usually to the bitter end. I read the book, and read it again, and then convinced everyone we needed to get together for another poker night. We had a minimum bet of 25 cents and a max bet of one dollar. I swear to God, this is no lie, I think I won every single time we played for about a year, straight. Seriously.

One thing that stands out about that first night playing, after reading the book, was my good buddy, Dean. Dean had won all kinds of cash the first night we had played, and he had a giant coffee can of change. It was full of quarters, dimes, and nickels. By the end of the second night he had lost every single coin in that coffee can. I had picked up most of it and needed a bag to take all of the change home with me. We made the move to poker chips shortly after that night.

I was in total amazement at how easy it seemed to be able to make money at this wonderful game called Poker. We played on Friday nights, usually every other week. This became our form of "going out". I loved it because I usually won around 30-50 dollars every night we played. I didn't tell my friends about the book I had read for quite some time. I know, I know, maybe I should have. The strange part is, once I did tell them, and they could see how I was beating them each week, they still never considered reading a book themselves, or adjusting their game much. I was in it to win it, and they did not appreciate how I kept folding, folding, folding. They were in it for the fun of it. They were in it for the lure of the next card. I wanted to win.

I was hooked. It all seemed too easy. Would it be possible to win 30 big bets all of the time? What if I moved up in stakes? If I played 1-5 limit stud poker, with the max bet being 5 dollars, would I win $150 each time I played? At the time my salary at Pru was less than 25k a year. $150 a day sounded like more money than someone needed to make. Not even I am devious enough to try to convince my friends to play for more money than I knew they could afford to lose. None of us had much, and gutting my buddies is not what I would call "fun". No, we had to travel to a place where the stakes were bigger, but legal. We needed to go to Vegas.

Saturday, July 11, 2009


Florida poker has become the poster child of how a government of the people, by the people, and for the people can, in reality, be a hypocritical exercise in the rich getting richer, and the poor getting the shaft. As I sit here and contemplate the current atmosphere of Florida poker I begin to feel an uneasiness in the pit of my stomach. Things are not as they seem.

The legislators in this great state have bamboozled the public into thinking they are acting in their best interest. The lawmakers have put in place certain rules that are supposedly designed to protect the Florida poker player because he/she is unable to protect themselves. I can understand this line of thinking. There are many laws on the books designed to protect us from our own ignorance. One that comes immediately to mind is the seat belt law. Does anyone really think that wearing a seat belt is less safe than not wearing one? Probably not. But, still some people will not put them on because of the belief that "it could never happen to me". So, we now have a law requiring people to wear seat belts.

Let's get back to poker though. In Florida there is a rule which states a person may not buy into a game for more than $100. If you happen to lose that hundred dollar buy-in you can certainly buy back in for another hundred, but no more than one hundred at a time. Presumably, this is to stop a person from going completely off the deep end and spending the kiddies entire college fund on an alcohol induced gambling binge. I, however, believe there is a far deeper, and more sinister reason. Sinister, at least, from where I sit.

I am sure this law, or regulation, or rule, or whatever you wish to call it was designed not by lawmakers with the public in mind, but by the gambling lobbyists here in our state. If the lawmakers had the best interest of the public in mind they would have limited the blind structure in both limit, and no-limit hold em. A poker game is only as big as the blind structure allows. Instead, our state has zero limits on the amount of the blinds in any game. That is to say, a poker room could conceivably spread a game with a hundred dollar buy-in and blinds of 50-100. Talk about gambling! Of course, I have never seen this because even the dumbest poker players know that putting your whole stack in on the big blind would surely lead to disaster, eventually. It does not matter if you were to win the first three or four hands you played, eventually you would lose all of it, and you could only buy back in with a hundred!

The hundred dollar maximum buy-in does not stop people from losing the kiddies college tuition. It allows them to lose it more slowly. Now, guess who gets the lions share of the money lost. The poker rooms! Now, guess who hires lobbyists to convince our legislators to make these laws. The poker rooms! Why does the poker room get the lions share, you might ask. It is very simple.

The rake, or what the poker room takes from each hand as their revenue, is capped at 10% of the size of the pot, up to an amount of five dollars. This does not include the dollar taken for the bad beat jackpot, which is a problem of a different nature, and I will cover that another time. In an hour of play the poker dealer can put out between 30 and 40 hands per hour. At the lower end of the spectrum that is $150 per hour, coming off the poker table, and going into the coffers of the poker room, as well as the tax revenue for our state.

The state is doing a fine job of protecting the losing payer from giving his hard earned money over to a winning player, but the state is not helping the losing player to win. The losing player is going to still lose, but a higher percentage of the loss is going to go to the poker room, rather than another player. Score a victory for big business. Yippee, I'm thrilled.

This probably sounds like sour grapes coming from a winning poker player. It is. Basically, the state is saying "you can gamble, but we'll determine who the real winners are in this whole business". The poker rooms would love to have a situation where we all came to play, pay our $150 an hour in table rake, and then, at the end, split up whatever money is left so we can all come back and do it again tomorrow.

Here is what happens in a typical poker hand in a Florida poker room. One person picks up a good starting hand, let's say he has AA. He raises it to $15. This represents three times the big blind in this hypothetical 2-5 NL game. He now has $85 left. Usually, this raise will not force many people out of the hand before the flop as 3 or 4 people will routinely call. If three people call there is now $60 dollars in the pot and our hero has only $85 left. The flop comes of three small cards and our hero bets out $45. This represents 3/4 of the pot, and is a healthy bet. The only problem is that he will also bet this same amount with AK, or pocket 2's. So, anyone who has any resemblance of a hand, whether it be a made hand or a hand that is now a draw, should not fold here. So, usually two or three people will be all-in on the flop, and the "playing" of the hand is finished. This form of No limit poker is closer to blackjack than poker. If this is what our lawmakers envisioned when they wrote the laws, they should have made it clear from the start, either that or just allow us to play blackjack.

It's all a sham! Of course, we Florida players are just as much at fault because we blindly followed this path. We were jonesing for poker to be legalized in our state. We were willing to accept nearly anything they offered to us. Shame on us. Shame on me. Of course, some people made adjustments to their game. Some people, in an almost fanatical desire to make money playing a game they love, made radical changes to the way they approached this bastardization of No Limit hold em. It was out of this desire to win that "To Prevail Takes Apathy" was born.

Along with a search to find a way to win at Florida poker came the realization that this strategy can be employed in any no limit poker game, in any state. It is, in effect, a blocker to the hyper-aggressive players which dominate most games. It may very well change the way the game is played as a whole across the country. Keep your eyes open for people routinely limping in (not raising) with hands that are universally accepted as raising hands. You know, the big pocket pairs and the big aces (AK, AQ, AJ). When you spot this at a table, be sure to check out what the overly-aggressive players do in return. The game changes. The aggressive players become a little less aggressive as they are continually trapped into donating a large portion of their stacks to apathetic at the table. If the apathetic continue to win, then eventually there are no more pre-flop raises. Once the aggressive raiser figures out that the only ones willing to give him action are those folks that have him in a very bad spot, he will cut down his rampant raising of the pot pre-flop. He will limp in, along with others, and the play of the poker hand will take place post-flop, as it should.

Eventually the aggressive player will learn that skillful playing after the flop is more valuable than blind aggression before the flop. Maybe I should thank Florida, and our lawmakers. We are on the cusp of a poker revolution. Our lawmakers, and the poker lobbyists, are directly responsible. In their desire to get ALL of the money they have unwittingly changed the face of poker. I guess I don't blame them though, because I want ALL of the money too. I'm just not willing to lie, cheat, or steal to get it.

Don't hide behind the mask of protecting the idiots. Just admit that you have the poker rooms best interests at the heart of your decisions, not the people's. Admit it you lying, cheating, stealing bastards!!!

Rant done. I must remember to talk about the jackpot drop, but that is for another time.

Friday, July 10, 2009

Fancy Play Equals No Pay

It is still quite astounding to me how I can continue to make the same tactical errors over and over again as I move forward in my evolution as a poker player. Yesterday I played for a little while in a 2-5 nl cash game. I made a couple of hundred dollars, and then the game I was playing in got short. "Get short" means the game had gone from 9 handed to 5 handed. Normally, I don't mind a short game, but the reason the game got short was because of the tournament that scheduled to start in about 5 minutes.

Since I did so well in last months tournaments I thought I'd give yesterday a roll as well. I still think the luck factor is large in tournaments, particularly as the blinds increase and the stacks dwindle, but they are quite fun to play. I rushed up to the cashier to buy-in to the tournament and then headed towards the back of the room to find my seat.

There were only 21 people in this tournament, which meant 2 people were going to get paid and everyone else was going to be disappointed. I am confident as I sit down, however, because I recognize all of the people at my table. I have played with them all, and while there are some very good players at the table I don't expect any real surprises in any one person's style of play. I expect there to be a lot of people seeing the flops early on, with little raising, and the game plays very similar to a cash game. The big raises and all-in bets would come later.

In the second level, when the blinds were 50-100, and I had nearly my full T6,000 in chips (the "T" is used to differentiate tournament chips to actual casino chips), I picked up QQ in middle position. Now, normally I would like to limp here (just call the big blind) and feel my way around, hoping to be able to pinpoint whether I have the best hand, or not. There are a couple of limpers in front of me, and a lot of people yet to act behind me, and I started to get that queasy feeling of "If I don't get some of these people out of the hand now, then these queens have no chance to win". Readers of this blog know, by now, that I have reasons for not playing "according to Hoyle". The standard play, a la "according to Hoyle", is to raise, narrow the field, and take down a small pot with my big pocket pair. This was my first clue that I was not on top of my game.

Instead of playing my style I decide to play like everyone else. I raised to T500. The field behind me is folding, which is good, because now I will be last to act on all future streets of the hand. It's good until the person in the big blind re-raises to T1050. Uh-oh, danger Will Robinson. My take on the player who re-raised is that he is a competent player, and a thinking player, and therefore capable of putting in a re-raise in this spot with pocket pairs AA-77, as well as AK, or maybe AQ. Well, you can see that if this is my read on this guy's range of hands that he will re-raise with, then I probably cannot fold. The only hands within that range that I am in big trouble to are AA and KK.

The other limpers fold and now it is my decision. I act quickly, three betting (re-re-raising) to T3,000. He immediately goes all-in for a total of T4050. Now I'm screwed. This completely changes things as now I can narrow his range down to AA, KK, QQ, JJ (maybe) and AK (maybe). The reason I can narrow it down this far is because he knows, being a thinking player, that while I may raise with crap the first time, I would not re-raise his raise without a big hand. Therefore, he HAS to have a big hand, and probably a VERY BIG hand, like AA.

It's back on me, and my first instinct is to just fold and save the extra T1,000. I count out all of my chips, and I realize that if I call I'll still have more than T2,000 left if I lose this hand. This, coupled with the idea that he may have JJ or AK, even though I really doubt it, I decide to call.

He turns over KK, and I table my QQ. I quietly condemn myself for committing all of these chips while being this far behind. Stupid, stupid, stupid. I knew he had me crushed, and yet, my over-thinking of the situation has led me to this very point. Bad poker, just bad poker all the way around. Of course, a queen rolls off on the flop and he is busted, and out. In retrospect I may have been better off losing that hand, because I am sure had I lost that hand I never would have played the next one.

About fifteen minutes later I'm dealt Ac3s in the big blind. No one raises and four of us take the flop. The flop comes 2c, 4d, 9c. I looked back to verify I had the ace of clubs, yup, I do. Good, I may be able to take this right now, and if I get called I'll have plenty of options on future streets. I bet out T500 into a pot of T800. If no one has much they should just give up now. An older gentleman, whom I have played with a bunch of late, raises to T1500. Damnit! The other two people fold and now it's on me. This is a simple fold. I have a gut shot straight draw, and a back-door flush draw to the nut(best) club flush since I have the lone ace of clubs. For some reason I really like this hand. I begin to think that if a club comes on the next card I can put a big bet in and he will have to fold, no matter what he has, unless HE has a club flush draw. I put him on a made hand though, so I believe in my heart that he will fold if the turn card is another club. There is also a chance that I can make the straight, or hit my ace, both of which I believe will win me the hand.

I decide the options are too great to just quit now. So, I call his raise. The dealer puts down the burn card, and turns over the 5 of clubs. Wow, I hadn't really expected that to happen. That card, although perfect for my hand, has caused a short circuit in my brain. Suddenly, I know I have the best hand because I now have a straight, with the draw to the best flush. Here is where it all goes south. Remember that I bet out on the flop, representing a pair of some sort? I decide to now check, trying to represent that I am afraid of the flush card. I'm hoping he sees this and bets his hand so I can raise, putting him all-in. I decide to get greedy and try to bust him, and it is my undoing. He checks quickly behind me, he sees the clubs and is not going to bet into that board. This is still alright though, because my check will probably make him curious enough to call a medium sized bet on the river.

The dealer puts down the burn card, and rolls over another 5. What a crappy card for me. For all the glory and hope that the 5 on the turn brought, the 5 on the river represents nothing but shattered dreams. I still believe I may have the best hand here. I mean, I have a straight, and unless he flopped a set (three of a kind) then I most likely have him beat. He'll still likely call out of curiosity, and he can only raise in this spot if he has just made a full house when the river card hit. I bet T1500, and he very quickly goes all-in. It takes me about two seconds to fold my hand.

Jesus! I played that hand about as bad as I could, just like with the pocket queens a little while earlier. The only difference is that I got very lucky with the queens, and I got what I deserved with the straight I just made. It's misstep after misstep and now I'm left with T3000.

I fold for a little while, the blinds are 100-200, and about to go up to 150-300. It is at this time that I make my last mistake of the day. Nobody is raising, and I look down to see an ace in the big blind. There are 3 limpers, plus the small blind, which means there is T800 in the middle when I see that ace. I push all-in. It is a hyper-aggressive move that I expect will make everyone fold and I will increase my stack by about 25%, which I need. Of course, the older gentleman who took most of my chips 10 minutes earlier, calls. He flips over pocket nines, and I pray my ace has a big card with it. I peek at it slowly, but no, it's a 5. I have A5 off suit. I mumble "uh-oh, this is bad" and table my hand. The flop, turn, and river are dealt out and no ace comes. I lose and am out of the tournament before it even got started.

It wouldn't be so bad if I didn't always preach about how patience was the key to victory. I don't get it. I don't understand what happens to me, or to my psyche, as I go through the decision making process. It's a perfect example of how one bad decision can compound itself as a hand plays out. On another note I just heard, on the news, that scientist think they have a pill that can improve your memory. Wow, do I need me some of those magic beans. I'm miserable.

The really nice part about it is that now I get to walk all the way back through the poker room, passing a lot of acquaintences, and all of them want to know what happened. What happened is I played like a damned donkey and now I'm so sick about it that I'm going the fuck home! Anything else? Of course, I don't necessarily voice my opinion exactly like that, but I think those who know me got the jist of what I had to say.

I'm thinking about going to Biloxi next week. It should make for more interesting writing, at least.

Thursday, July 09, 2009

The Caddy Chronicles part II

The actual drive over Tug Hill was not very eventful. There were no sudden slides off the side of road due to your front tire getting out of the tire track you've been following. It's always fun as your driving probably too fast, and you hit that slightly deeper snow outside the tire tracks, and your car is pulled right or left sharply. It usually leaves you wondering "why on earth was I going that fast?" as you climb out of your car, and begin trudging through the snow to the nearest farm house. If you end up in a snow bank up on Tug Hill you'd better hope there is something nearby. Because, chances are, there is nothing nearby. There is a whole lotta nuthin as your drive from Lowville to Adam's Center on route 177.

There is one small town. Town is not quite right though, and neither is village. It's just a crossroads really, and it used to have a bar on the right hand side, in almost the middle of what is Barnes Corners. I think the bar is gone now, but my cousin ended up in a snowbank just outside of Barnes Corners one winter evening. It was snowing like mad, and as he walked back to the bar for help he was wishing he had worn his boots. He walked inside of the bar room, and it was very dark, with about 5 or 6 men sitting at the bar. There was no one else, save the bartender, in the place. The television was playing above the bar, and the door had a bell on it that rang whenever the door opened or closed. My cousin stomped his snow covered shoes on the rubber mats just inside the door and, sounding quite out of breath after his hike through the blowing snowstorm, said "Hey, anyone got a truck with a chain? I'm down the road, stuck in a snowbank".

It was very quiet for about ten seconds, which seemed like an eternity to my cousin. The only sound was that of Wheel of Fortune on the t.v. Finally, one of the men looked over his right hand shoulder. He gave my cousin the once over, clearly sizing him up, and said in a slow, dry tone "Damn city slickers".

Of course, one of the men got up and offered to help, and my cousin was pulled from the snowbank, and sent on his way to wherever he was headed that winter evening. What was comical to me about the whole thing is my cousin lived somewhere between podunk Beaver Falls and the quaint, but still small, Croghan, NY. He was NO city slicker. He was however, an inexperienced driver. He was driving too fast for the conditions, and he ended up both in a snow bank and with a great story to tell, which I just stole. Oh well, sorry cousin.

I was not going to make the same mistake while driving my grandmother, cousin, aunt, and girlfriend over the Hill at 6 AM in the morning on our way to sunny and warm West Palm Beach, Fl. Of course, I was still not driving slow enough for some of the passengers.

"Riiiiiiick, sloooow down!" It was Kathy. Apparently I was going to fast for her liking. God, her voice was so whiny and piercing.

"Ok". I slowed down a little bit. I may as well try to keep everybody happy, and besides, slowing down just a little wouldn't be the worst idea.

"Dennis says ya get stranded up here you could be in trouble. He thought we should have gone through Watertown, but whatever...". Her voice sort of rambled off. It didn't bother me because I was concentrating on driving, and I wanted to get to Florida. We had 24 hours of driving in front of us, and I knew getting out of the snow would make things that much easier.

We kept going, once we got past Barnes Corners the wind was more evident. There were long wisps of snow that looked like mosquito netting as it was blown across the bare blacktop in front of us. At least it had stopped snowing. The road was clear, and our pace picked up. Through Adam's Center we drove. Past Bob's Doughnuts on the right, and over the railroad tracks. The road was very bumpy here as years and years of frost forming and melting had left the road pot marked. It was sort of like Nature's speed bumps, and a huge pain in the ass.

"Ya think they'll ever fix this road?" I wondered aloud. The road had been this way as long as I could remember.

My gram gave sort of a laugh and said "Adams Center is probably fighting with the state over who should fix it. They both probably want to spend the money because then their buddies could get the business and then they can get the kickbacks. If they don't get their kickbacks then they can't buy their hookers and booze".

We all cracked up. I think I realize where my distrust of government comes from. She continued "You think I'm joking, you'll learn". That is my grandma. She is very opinionated, and is never afraid to voice it. Kathy immediately threw in a "she's right" and the rest of us just chuckled.

We turned left onto the on ramp for I-81 south. We were over Tug Hill and it felt like the rest of the trip was going to be like a stroll down a grassy knoll. Of course, by the end some of us would end up wishing there was a gunman on that grassy knoll.

Friday, July 03, 2009

The Caddy Chronicles part I

"How many bags did you bring?" I asked my girlfriend of a couple of years, Michelle, when I walked up to her front door. It was snowing again, and we were picking her up early, at 5 AM, to get on the road for West Palm Beach, Florida. It was January in upstate New York, and the snow both on the ground and blowing in the air could be a potential adversity to driving over the Tug Hill plateau. That is to say, you probably had about a 10% chance of being stranded in a snowbank at this time of the year on your way from Lowville, over the hill on route 177, to Adams Center, and the entrance to interstate 81 south.

In the car, or I should say, getting out of the car, in the deepening snow, and now opening the trunk of her 1986 Sedan De Ville, was my grandmother. Gram was just 60, and probably the hardest working person I have ever known in my life. She, nearly single handily, had built a public golf course on her family's 120 acre farm. The course had opened in 1978 and Gram liked to say we were letting the golfers pay for our trips to Florida in the winter. Actually she used that excuse every time she opened her purse. Spending money for her, a child of the depression, was something that was not done lightly. This trip we were taking, with five of us riding hard for two days in close quarters, was her way of splurging. Yes, I said FIVE of us.

Michelle was allowed to bring only one suitcase because the trunk was full. The reason it was full was because of the two sets of golf clubs in the bottom of it. One set belonged to yours truly, of course, and the other set belonged to my 15 year old first cousin, Daryl. We were planning on doing some golf in sunny Florida, and as far as we were concerned this was the main reason for such a trip. Daryl and I both worked at Gram's golf course during the summer months, and we played a lot of golf together. Daryl was an only child, and I was until my sister was born when I was twelve years old. Our father's both hunted at the same hunting club, and Daryl and I both tagged along each fall. I guess because neither of us had siblings that we naturally became pretty close, at least as cousins go.

The real reason for this expedition was my great aunt, Julia. Julia was Gram's sister and lived in West Palm, just north of Miami. She had lived there since retiring a number of years ago, and Gram made it a point to visit her when she had the time and money. When I and my cousins were very young we always looked forward to seeing Aunt Julia because she used to give us a dollar whenever she saw us. I personally got a charge out of her because she spoke with a thick Hungarian accent, and cooked the best dishes I knew. She was always smiling and it was hard to feel down around her.

The last companion, seated in the back, passenger side seat, was my aunt Kathy. Kathy was not Daryl's mom. Kathy was not my mom. Kathy was not Michelle's mom. One of those folks, traveling with their child, and their mother, to Florida, would make way too much sense for this group. Kathy was the third child of my Gram, and I guess it was Kathy's turn to go to Florida. Kathy had two children of her own, two boys about Daryl's age. They were not going to Florida. Kathy was divorced from her kid's father and now living with a nice enough man, named Dennis. Kathy was always threatening to chop Dennis up and stick him in her kiln. It's sort of funny how you don't really consider things when you are young. Family life was just normal. As we all piled into the car, with Michelle squeezing into the back seat between Kathy and Gram, Kathy made sure I knew to be careful.

"Ya know, the hill is goen to be rough". She said with her nasally whine.

"Yup, we'll be good, it hasn't been snowing long". I replied, although I had no clue.

Kathy gave sort of a snort, and started a sentence with what would become a moniker for this trip. "Dennis said we ought to be goen through Watertown anyway, lot quicker and safer with the snow on the road."

"That might be true if we were leaving from Gram's, but we had to pick up Michelle". I answered. Watertown was north, and we were headed south. We were not going through Watertown. Kathy was the type of person to find the bad in whatever she could. This much I knew, and I didn't want to listen to her all the way to Florida. Maybe she'll sleep a lot.

"Well, Dennis said...". She sort of mumbled.

And with that, we were off. Down Park ave., turning right onto Shady Ave. driving by the movie theater and the Jrecks sub shop, and then up Dayan street and out towards West Lowville and Route 177.

Gram tried to spread the fun, and I'm sure she looked forward to these yearly excursions as she toiled on the golf course, sunup to sundown, each and every day, from the end of April until Halloween. We were all family, with a girlfriend thrown in, but I'm not sure any of us had spent more than two or three days in a row together. That didn't include Gram, of course. She had been like a second mother to Daryl and I. But the rest of us knew each other only through family holidays and random dinners. We all knew each other, but nobody KNEW each other. I didn't think about it at the time, but that was going to change on this trip.