HIGH-STAKES BRIEFING
Shut Up and Deal

Mar. 14 - I'm discouraged by the sudden popularity of poker. It's not that I don't like poker—on the contrary, since I've always found American currency a little too rough to use as toilet paper, poker's always been my favorite way to throw money away. My discouragement is that of the kid whose favorite obscure garage band suddenly breaks into the top forty.

"Aren't The Morphemic Indicators great?" all his friends ask.

"Yeah," he grouses, "they used to be pretty good..."

It's sour grapes or something—a weird and inappropriate sense of propriety betrayed. But that's exactly how I feel about poker these days. In the early nineties, sitting around a table drinking, smoking, and playing cards for money was a niche thing. It wasn't a secret—millions of people across the nation had their regular poker nights—but it was the kind of low-brow entertainment you could enjoy without being bombarded by television shows, magazines, and celebrities telling you how badly you were doing it. Hollywood's flavors-of-the-moment weren't running around Vegas tyring to look cool while they angled for an outside straight. Cottage industries weren't trying to sell you novelty chips, or "official" Texas Hold 'Em cards. It was a guilty pleasure.

Now it's just another goddam side-dish on the popular culture buffet. Everyone plays it, it's all over television (yes, yes, in Denmark as well as the states), and as childish as it may be to say so—or to feel so—I hate it. It makes me never want to play poker again. Of course I will, but it won't give me the same satisfaction.

The worst thing about all this is that once the currently swelling bubble of popularity bursts, poker is going to quickly become an ex-fad. That'll only make it harder to play poker.

"What'd you do over the weekend?"

"Not much. Had a good night of poker with some friends."

"Poker? Whoa! That is so last year!"

"Actually, I was playing it before the whole fad began..."

"Sure you were, dude. Sure you were."

The really appalling thing, to me, is the number of people who aren't playing for money. "Just for fun," they say. I don't buy it. Money is to poker what an orgasm is to sex. It's the whole point. How hard is it to bluff when you don't have anything to lose? And where's the pleasure in winning if all you gain is the satisfaction of having won?

Try this. Take a pair of dice and roll them. If you get a seven or an eleven, declare yourself a winner. If you roll a two, three, or twelve, declare yourself a loser. If you roll anything else, keep rolling and try to roll the same value again before you roll a seven. If you do, declare yourself a winner. Otherwise you lose. Repeat this several times. Very good. You've just played craps. Enjoy that? I know I didn't.

I'm probably starting to sound like Andy Rooney. I know I'm starting to feel like Andy Rooney. So I'm going to have to change gears quickly.

* * *

Over the weekend several people wrote to inform me that Douglas Adams was, as one writer put it, "not turning anything" on March 11. That's because he's dead. I often make errors of this type, but rarely with people whose work I admire as much as I admire that of Douglas Adams. He was, one reader informs me, 49 years old when he died a few years ago.

If you've never read the four books of the Hitch-Hiker trilogy, you've missed one of the great comedic achievements of the last century. His non-fiction Last Chance to See, in which he tours the endangered species of the world, is also brilliant.

* * *

I turn forty tomorrow. I may or may not have anything to say about it. It's hard to tell. I'm beginning to think it may come as a great relief, since I've been bracing for it since more or less the moment I turned 39. My twenty-ninth birthday actually ended up having been harder than my thirtieth, so I'm hoping history repeats itself in that way.

I don't ordinarily think about my age very often, but Forty sort of screams in your face. "Acknowledge me!" it shouts.

"Shush," you say, averting your eyes.

"Look at me!" it roars.

"No," you mumble.

"I'm right here and I'm going to jump up and down and scream until you acknowledge me!"

"I acknowledge you. Now go away."

"No, no, not like that. You have to really acknowledge me."

"You didn't use italics the first time."

"Goddammit, I am the sign of your mortality! I am the passing of your youth! I am—"

"You are the number of revolutions the earth has made around the sun since I was born. Nothing more, nothing less. You know I'm not interested in astronomy."

"But you're a Pisces, you have to be interested in—"

"That's astrology, dumb-ass. I said astronomy."

"They're different?"

"Totally."

"Oh. All right. Where was I? Wait a minute—who are you? What am I doing here, again?"

"You're the absent-minded anthropomorphic representation of a number."

"Right. Good. Okay. And. . .?"

"And the door is over there."

"Sure. Thanks."

See? No problem.

* * *

Today is the birthday of Billy Crystal (1947), Michael Caine (1933), Quincy Jones (1933), Frank Borman (1928), Hank Ketcham (1920), and Albert Einstein (1879).

It's Constitution Day in Andorra.

Happy Monday!

2005, The Moron's Almanac™

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