Halfway Home

Thursday, December 31st, 2009, 2:06 pm

Twelve hours remain of 2009–let’s see if I finish this post before the ball drops. Argentina was a good time, hanging with Pauly and Change and Otis and Joe Giron and Jonathan Boncek. While perhaps my proudest moment of the year came in Argentina–successfully getting from Pittsburgh to Mar del Plata all by myself–one of my more embarrassing incidents occurred there as well. Before the final table Jon and I decided to walk around town a bit, see the sights. We’d been warned not to walk around with our expensive camera gear, and at night at least that seemed fairly reasonable. So I left my SLR in my room and so missed the chance to take some shots of some really interesting architecture and street scenes. And walking around Mar del Plata in the daytime was like walking around any seaside resort town, though with more stray dogs snoozing beside statues.

Memorial in Argentina


That wasn’t the embarrassing part, though. No, what still makes me cringe was that on that sun-splashed morning I decided to wear a Polo shirt and cargo shorts. We went outside and it was like 50 degrees with a stiff sea breeze blowing. People were walking around with jackets on and scarves. And here I am freezing half to death and looking like a goddam idiot. I think I would’ve been less humiliated had I been wearing a sandwich board that read “JACKASS YANQUI TOURIST HERE!!!” Blend in when you’re traveling abroad, they say. Nicely done.

While we were there just about everyone got sick except me. I chalked this up to my oaken constitution and purity of essence. While I was in Argentina the Penguins began their playoff run and I missed the first few games against the Flyers, though I was out with friends just about every hockey night in Pittsburgh after that. We all gathered at Primanti’s in Cranberry for Game 7 against the hated Capitals and I knew something was wrong. I didn’t feel good, at all. Felt like someone had opened a tap and let my strength dribble away. The Pens blew the Caps out so there was no real drama and I found myself paying more attention to my rapidly declining condition. Went home, got under the covers, and prayed I’d feel OK come the morn.

Woke up feeling like I had a foot already in the grave. I’m pretty sure I had the H1N1 flu, and let me tell you, that’s a bad bug. For about three days I was  totally incapacitated, so weak that I lay on my couch for like three hours trying to summon the strength to get a glass of water. It never even occurred to me to call my parents and say, “Hey, I’m dying, could you bring over a jug of orange juice?”. I just lay there, staring at the shifting colors on the TV, hung up in limbo.

When I finally felt better, I still didn’t feel better. In fact it was more than two weeks before I felt even close to normal. I had no appetite, none, I’d go 24 hours without eating. I started forcing myself to eat peanut-butter toast just to get some nutrition. When I finally felt good enough to leave the house I went to JD’s Pub to watch my friends play some beach volleyball. They hadn’t seen me in weeks and everyone said, “Wow, you lost weight. And you don’t look right”. Mark offered to buy me a beer–I said I’d rather have a Gatorade. I was offered pizza and wings–no thank you, I’m not hungry. “Wow, you were really SICK” was the general reply to that.

Complicating matters was that I had to fly to Vegas a few days later for the WSOP. I was afraid that I was going to be a zombie for the whole Series but by the time my plane touched down I felt almost human. Walking around the Rio that first day to pick up my press pass was the usual surreal almost-out-of-body experience it always is, though seeing the ponytailed AlCantHang walking down that long corridor was a welcome sight that brought me back to reality…though Al’s sense of reality and yours are probably not all that similar. Chances are your work station and mine aren’t that similar and, yes, I do appreciate how lucky I am:

The most memorable aspect of the 2009 World Series of Poker was, of course, the Penguins winning the Stanley Cup. My last night in Pittsburgh we all watched the Pens clinch against Carolina so I was in Vegas for the Finals and I’d sneak away to watch the Finals. But I missed two games, both Pens’ victories, including that scintillating Game 6. Annie Duke made a final table and I HAD to be there in case she won the thing. She ended up going out in eighth and as I received updates via text and Twitter I told my brother I was going to race upstairs to catch the last ten minutes of the game. “STAY WHERE YOU ARE!!” he text-shrieked, “DONT JINX US!!”. Of course, how could I be so STUPID?? I sat at my usual seat on press row, watching the ESPN GameCast, quietly sweating blood.

Of course the Pens hung on to win and for Game 7 I went up to the Rio Sports Book to watch the game with Al and Jen Newell and Tim Lavalli. I think if you asked my poker friends they would describe me as a quiet sort, reserved, kinda chill. Laid-back, easy-going. After watching me scream and rant and nearly die right there in my chair during Game 7 I think their opinion may have changed slightly. When that puck slid out to Lidstrom, and Fleury flopped to his right and made himself big, I rose a few inches off my chair in a crouch in a position of almost incalculable tension. I saw the puck bounce off Fleury, it dribbled to the corner, and the clock read zeros. I jumped out of my chair, touched the ceiling (well, not really) and screamed something along the lines of “HOLY SHIT WE WON THE CUP!!!!”. The combination of the jumping and screaming drained all the blood from my head and I came this close to passing out. Seriously, everything went gray and until I sucked in a bushel of air and tucked my chin against my chest my legs were wobbly. Now THAT would’ve been fun, to see Al and Jen freak as I apparently have a coronary right there in the Rio.

A couple of days later the WSOP hosted a charity tournament that featured NHL players…and the Stanley Cup. My biggest regret of the year is probably not buttonholing WSOP Commissioner Jeffrey Pollack (the younger brother of NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman) and asking if I, a Penguin fan still giddy with triumph, could have 15 seconds with the Cup. I just wanted a picture, I just wanted to TOUCH the goddam thing. But I didn’t want to impose and I did get close enough to see the tarnish on the silver and the name ULF SAMUELSSON stamped into the metal. BJ Nemeth took this pic of me and Al staring at the Cup on stage…so that’s what longing looks like:

I was sick most of the goddam Series, picking up a cold that mutated into bronchitis that wouldn’t let go. “Gene, you need to see a doctor,” counseled sage Otis and after picking up some drugs that Pauly had no sporting interest in I started to improve. I worked every day of the WSOP but one, and that was the day Michael Jackson died. I spent most of it in bed, feeling awful, watching CNN repeat the same information over and over and over again. By the time the Main Event rolled around I was fried and never quite got my circuit-breaker to kick over. Next year I’m going to take more time off so I’m not a zombie come the most important event of the year.

OK, this is absurdly long already, so let’s see if I can sum things up quickly (not bloody likely). What I remember best of the Series was taking a midnight run to Binions to watch Drizz and CK final-table an O/8 tournament there (featuring the most batshit-insane couple I’ve ever seen in my life). Watching Pauly and Dan and Lana take down the Dream Team Poker event for $11K apiece was rather nice, yes. Heck, finishing third in the media Dream Team event was rather cool, even though it was Pauly’s 3rd-place finish that got us there. I remember Al bringing me muffins from Gold Coast every morning and, uh, I don’t remember much about that drunken night roaming around the MGM. Hanging out with the gang at the bar in Gold Coast’s bowling alley, those are good times. Jen Newell’s birthday bashes at Sapphire (that was the Bluff party too) and at Tryst with her gang of LA lovelies, yes, that was an absurd amount of fun. And, of course, perhaps the most life-changing moment of the Series came when Otis goaded me into getting my hair cut short, though in his defense he didn’t mean for me to get it cut as short as I did. I think I’ve found the happy medium between shaven and sheared, I’m still fine-tuning things.

If trying a new hairstyle is my tongue-in-cheek pick as most life-changing moment, then the REAL life-changer came on March 18th. I found myself sitting in a restaurant waiting to meet this girl I met online. My friends had goaded me into trying that again (my friends are a goady lot, are they not) and I was meeting this girl named Lindsay for drinks and, depending on how the night progressed, an appetizer. She was very pretty and smart and funny and so I naturally assumed she’d quickly toss me on her rejects pile. But no, we went out again, had a good time, had another good time, and then before I left for Argentina I met her family (and I mean her WHOLE family) and I thought, huh, this looks like it might be serious.

And then I got the flu and didn’t see her for two weeks. We met up the night before I left for the WSOP and that was another seven weeks. We kept in touch and when I landed in Pittsburgh late at night it was Lindsay who picked me up, and boy oh boy was it good to see her. So we’ve been together now about nine months and just about everyone who meets Lindsay says “She’s wonderful!” and “You really outkicked your coverage”.

Lindsey and me

So while 2009 wasn’t the greatest for lots and lots of people it was pretty good for me. Deathly illness aside I can’t complain, so I won’t. 2010 promises to be a busier year and might see some major changes in my life as well. Is that cryptic enough? Probably not.

I think tomorrow I’m going to post a bunch of my favorite pictures from the year. Right now I have to scrape the snow off my car and buy champagne and beer. 11 hours to go.

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8 Responses to “Halfway Home”

  1. Jen Says:

    Thanks for reminding me of some of the fun in Vegas this summer. There were some good times…your hockey moments that had me laughing hysterically among them. And I was so glad you were able to be a part of my birthday celebrations!

    I’m so glad you posted a pic of Lindsay – she’s beautiful! I’m so glad that you found the happiness you deserve. I can’t wait to hear about your 2010 changes, and I hope to see you again at the WSOP. I have a feeling this will be a better year for many of us. 🙂

    Happy New Year, Gene!

  2. BWoP Says:

    Thanks for trekking to downtown LV to watch Drizz and me pretend to play poker 🙂

    That GF of yours is pretty darned hot. Congrats!

  3. Cynthia Closkey Says:

    Excellent write-up, and hooray for a memorable year.

    Also, big ups for a fine “purity of essence” reference.

  4. AlCantHang Says:

    “Outkicked your coverage” is still one of my favorite comments, and now I see one of my more approriate comments.

    Good year sir, I will see you back at the Rio.

  5. Drizztdj Says:

    Thank YOU for coming down to Binions. I doubt I could have described those two if I tried.

    And the lady friend… well played sir. Hope to meet her sometime in the future.

  6. RBS Says:

    I wondered what you’ve been up to lately! See you next monday night? Congrats on your new friend

  7. Bruce Says:

    “Outkicked your coverage” is still one of my favorite comments, and now I see one of my more approriate comments.

    Good year sir, I will see you back at the Rio.

  8. Gavin Says:

    Thanks for sharing your info. I truly appreciate your efforts and I am waiting for your next post thanks once again.

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