Poker Shark


I was a poker shark when I was a kid. I was proud of my abilities. “I’m like Batman with poker," I said to my friend Doug, who was crazy.

"Batman didn't play Poker," said Doug.

"It's a metaphor."

"Whatever. If you're so good, let's see the money. I want to stick it in my pants.”

"That's crazy."

"He he. I know."

“Anyway, I can’t show you the money now. It’s in pennies.”

“All of it?”

“Of course. I'm a penny ante poker shark.”

Lugging my winnings around the neighborhood had become exhausting. After carrying my pennies to the Dancing Sandwich Bar, I vowed never to do it again. Dick-Face Ken acted impressed. He gathered the drunks around. They patted me on the back and said I must have had sex with a leprechaun. But Dick Face didn’t offer me a beer like he did to Andy Roster after he turned his dad in for beating up his mom.

 I had fallen down a hill and into a ditch along the way. My arms were aching and shaking by the time I got home. Blood was dripping out of my nose. My clothes were torn and soaked.

My sister took a look at me and said, “What’s in the bag?”

“Blood money," I said. "Don’t touch it." I fell face first on the couch where I slept for two days.

“You’re making it up,” said Doug. “You don’t have any poker winnings. You’re a liar.”

His words would hurt my feelings if I didn't know he was crazy.

Aside from the weight, I loved my penny coins. They were smooth and shiny. I polished and recounted them. I stacked them in various configurations. I walked into our middle school cafeteria feeling taller, knowing if anyone crossed me, I could afford to take a hit out on them.

I got my first girlfriend then. Her name was Sam, which I thought was an awesome name for a girl. She liked me because I was rich. I liked her because she was into pushing the boundaries of acceptable behavior. She taught me how to steal model airplane kits from Little Joe’s and how to top off a bottle of wine so grownups wouldn’t notice we drank it. “The first rule of tricking people is knowing how stupid they are,” she said.

I had fifty dollars in pennies. Fifty dollars! It was an impossible sum to imagine.

But then Doug showed me his bank booklet: He had more. His balance was written and stamped by a teller at Genessee Bank; $85.00

That was an atrocity. I was a talented gambler, an adventurer. I had a gift. Doug was a crazy person!!! He had a fat face. Everyone knew he was unstable. He had ran around with his penis out trying to pee on his birthday party guests. I only hung out with him to make myself feel superior. How was a cretin like him able to get that much money?

He told me his dad sent him five dollars every month from Florida where he worked as an alligator wrangler. He’d been doing that for years, so his son could one day afford to go to air conditioning repair school. Well fuck me. That was unfair. I wished my dad would leave, and go to Florida and send me money.

From then on I only pretended to be Doug’s friend. I hated him for having money and vowed to sabotage him when possible. It depressed me to see his face.

But I nursed my stash, which was growing, thanks to my twelve grandmothers.

My great grandmother, Mammy, long before I showed up, had given birth to fourteen kids. Despite the odds, twelve were girls, and these girls all lived long and interesting lives. For instance, one was a renowned cook who won the Pillsbury Pie Bake Off, one had led her basketball team to the women’s NCAA playoffs, one had been a secret agent during the cold war, and one was a successful businesswoman in the adult spirits industry: she was a moonshiner.

These woman were all very different from each other but they all were successful and they all liked to play penny-ante poker.

In 1980 there wasn’t much to do so we threw lots of family picnics. I usually spent these poking my cousin Danny in the eye but that Summer, as if by magic, I discovered penny-ante poker and my life would never be the same.

I sat at the poker table with several of my Grandmothers. “You people have been doing this all this time and I had no idea?! Why didn’t someone tell me about this sooner? Gambling is fucking awesome.”

“The Savior would not need to speak that way,” said my Pentecostal Grandmother.

“Oh let the boy go,” said my Moonshine Grandmother. “He ain’t no savior.”

I liked Moonshine Grandma the best. I vowed to be like her when I grew up. She drove a Cadillac and didn’t have any responsibilities other than brewing her Triple A White Lighting Green-Snake Home Brew. ‘If it doesn’t kill you, it’ll make you happy.’ That was the slogan. It was popular in the mountains of Applache with coal miners and mine owners alike.

I quickly became a dominant poker player.

“Looks like the Little Stinker won again,” said Honest Sister. “Congratulations Little Stinker. Who’s kid is he anyway?” I had a gazillion 2nd cousins running around. Nobody knew who anyone was. I didn’t even know most of them. I was surprised to find out I had Mexican cousins, German cousins,  

“I think he’s Pat’s kid,” someone said.

“I’m nobodies kid,” I said. “I was just walking by on the street.”

Mooonshine Grandma laughed.

I scooped in the pennies, “Muahahahaha…”

“Not so fast,” said my Dolly Parton Grandma. who of course, looked like Dolly Parton. “I think those pennies are mine.” She laid her cards face-up on the table.

“No. No.” said Moonshine Grandma. “Four pair don’t beat no full house.”

Dolly Parton Grandma, who was acknowledged as the dumbest of the sisters, slapped her face with her palm. “I thought they did. Lord-o-mighty I been playing this entire time thinking they did!”

“Too bad for you,” I said, hauling in my mountain of new pennies.  I couldn’t wait to get them home and stacked up.

“I think the rules state clearly…” began Pentecostal Grandmother.

“Shush now,” Moonshine Grandmother cut her off. “Let Little Stinker be happy with his winnings.”

My secret to winning was simple. When my hand was sub-par I folded quickly. But when it was good I bet heavy and pushed all my chips into the pot, going all in. I lost a little on the hands I folded but make it back, and more, on the hands I went all in on. I was a genius! I can’t believe the grandmas didn’t catch on. Suckerssss…..

Many years later I was sitting in the basement bar of Milk and Honey in London, next to an attractive English girl, trying to figure out how to get into her knickers.

This girl really had me going. Not only was I attracted to her physically but she was a complete scammer. She came from an underpriveleged background and had hustled and scammed her way into her position. She said she worked for an antiques dealer on Portolbello Road but I knew that was really code for a ‘shady fence for illegal goods. I was impressed. The combination of crime-chick schick and shapely legs had me in the worst way. I was salivating. I could imagine us screwing on top of a dead body like in a Guy Richie movie.

“So what’s going on with the relationship situation?” I asked.

“I don’t really know at the moment,” she said.

“Yeah, sometimes things are like that. I guess if relationships were straight forward they’d be called ‘the postal service’.”


“Forget it. That joke was funnier in my head.”

She was dating an electronic music DJ and if anything says open-relationship, it’s dating an electronic DJ. And now there seemed to be some murkiness lurking. Score! He was on a gig in Kirkistand or some such and you just knew those crazy Kirkistanian raver girls were going to be pressing their long, sweaty bodies up against his turn-table and tugging on his headphone cord. It seemed fair play for her to get her proper English tea and crumpets on with a polite but sexually dominating American.

She threw back a shot of vodka holding it with her thumb and pinkie finger.

“That’s Russian mafia style, isn’t it?” I said.

“Sorry? No. We did it this way at University. It’s an English club thing.”

I nodded knowingly. “Sure it is.”

“Lucy and I are going to call it a night soon. What are you going to be up to then?”

People mistake my job. They often think I’m offering to turn my clients into seduction artists who, armed with the right lines and wearing their hat tilted ’just so’, can seduce others into doing things against their will. “Look deep into my eyes. You’re under my spell! Go to the store, buy twinkies, come back, mush the Twinkies and smoother your body with them while I prepare my Shitzus to lick you clean.”

“Yes, master…” She zombie walks out.

The truth is you can’t get people to do things against their will. Not really. Not without a whip and a long leash. And that’s not my style.  

But you don’t have to get people to do things against their will to have a fulfilling love life. Most people want to do things willingly. You just got to find out what those are.

The tragedy is when two people dig each other and their lives point to a mutual enjoyable path together, but they don’t take it together. They can’t seem to hurdle the chasm of vulernabilyt and desire.

So how do you get from A. nice chat to B. our clothes together in a pile on the floor? This is a question that’s as old as humankind from when the first cave man was contemplating hooking up with the first cave woman who was holding a rock over his head, ready to dash his brains out.

I was about to launch into a story about my hotel room and the time the WWE got in a huge real fight in the lobby (or at least I thought it was real), when then there was a blistering light and an image came into my mind, floating in front of me in the mirror was Moonshine Grandmother.

She was drinking from a gallon bottle of moonshine. She didn’t have an eye patch in real life but she did in my daydream so I went with it. She laughed. “Hey there, Little Stinker, you want to be a winner don’t you?”

“Yes. Of course.”

“Well then, what are you waiting for? Go all in.”

“What? How?”

“We let you win.”


“Yeah. We let you win. You were so much fun when you went all in, we couldn’t stand to see you lose. We liked your young-in brovado. You were a Little Stinker. We wanted to build your confidence.”

“Why would you do that?”

“For this moment.”

“Huh? So you want me to get this girl? That’s so twisted Moonshine Grandma.”


She began to fade.

“No! Wait! Don’t go!”

Her voice came as if from a distance, fading. “Go all in….”

The image was gone.

“You okay there?” said the girl.

“I’m fine.”

“So what are you up to then?”

I knew what I had to do. I turned to her and said, “I’d like to take you back to my hotel room and spend the rest of the night making love to you.”

My heart was racing. I was all in. But I maintained eye contact and tried to look calm and serious.

She turned red. “I can’t do that,” she said. “I have my boyfriend to think of.”

I nodded. “Of course you do. I respect that. Relationships are important. Too bad for me though.”

I slept alone that night and left London the next day.

It was a week later when I receive an email from the girl.

She wrote: ‘I can’t stop thinking about what you said to me. I don’t think I’ve ever been hit on for real until that very moment. I have to come see you.’

She then broke up with her boyfriend and flew to America to spend two weeks with me. Then she went back to her boyfriend as if nothing happened.

Wow, I thought. I’m going to do that every time.

There’s magic in going all in. So often we are afraid of saying what we know would be good for both of us. want in a direct and respectful way. It’s easy to just go along and hope for the best or try to manipulate the situation.

We instead do the ‘let’s hang out’ close or we try to push the other person towards an unsaid but obvious goal.

Going all in makes us feel vulnerable. We’re saying what we want. We’re speaking our desire. Few things are as close to our core. And yet, when we go all-in, we inspire people. We become clear and easy to buy. This is important because rarely do we have perfect timing. The other person may need to think about it, they may need to arrange their life in a new way to take advantage of the opportunity we present.

Doug ended up moving to Florida and opening a chain of Alligator farms and other tourist attractions. I’m certain his bank balance is still much larger than my own.

Most of my Grandmothers are passed from this life, though actual Grandmother Lucille is still alive and kicking. She lives with my aunt and shops at Target. She’s in her late nineties, half blind but other wise very independent. She insists she could still hit a penny with her silver plated 38 at a hundred yards.