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Posted by on Jul 10, 2019 in Blog, Essays, Politics | 0 comments

“Chasing the Moon” is a Blast [Review]

 

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Now approaching the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 space mission, get ready for a bombardment of well-intended but predictable homages and historical remembrances to humanity’s greatest technical achievement.  However, one documentary towers above the rest.  The latest episodes “American Experience” on PBS take a familiar story you may think you already know and add some unexpectedly compelling twists and turns — making this the best documentary of the year.  In short, watching “Chasing the Moon” is a blast.

 

Chasing the Moon is a three-part television series running this week on PBS stations all over the country.  It’s the latest offering from American Experience, the typically outstanding weekly documentary which has run for 31 straight years (and counting), yet it somehow still manages to stay fresh with every new episode.

This latest series divided chronologically into three parts at two-hours each (six hours, total) might be the most compelling of what’s been an extensive historical canon, which is really saying something given that American Experience has aired 337 episodes, to date.  Rarely have we collectively watched such an authentic, unabridged, behind-the-scenes story told with such a perfect balance of accuracy and entertainment.

So, what else makes this show so good?

Try this — brutal honesty.  Most, if not all previous documentaries on America’s space program treat the subject with jingoistic reverence.  The astronauts are heroes.  The United States beat the Soviet Union in the race to the moon.  Each successive space program — Saturn, Gemini, and Apollo — represented a concoctive triumph of American ingenuity.

Each one of these points is undeniably true.  Yes, the astronauts were heroes.  Yes, the USA did beat the Soviet Union in the space race.  And yes, Apollo 11 was indeed justification for worldwide celebration — the glorious equivalent which had not seen before, nor since.

Chasing the Moon, made by Robert Stone, extends far beyond what’s been a standard fluffy newsreel-driven, school-classroom interpretation of American history, both in terms of which stories are told and how they are portrayed.  It’s far better than a Tom Hanks’ movie.  It’s even better than the wonderful CNN-produced movie on the space program released earlier this year, which I saw and enjoyed.  This series takes that concept, then digs much deeper.

If you think you already know about the space program and the remarkable story of Apollo 11, consider just a few eye-opening, jaw-dropping facts purveyed from the first episode titled, “A Place Beyond the Sky,” which covers the early period of the American space program, roughly years 1957 through 1963:

FACT #1 — Americans landed on the moon (first) because we got the smarter Nazis.  We were lucky.  After World War II and the downfall of Nazi Germany, the East and West divided former-Nazi scientists who had been the first to develop advanced rocket technology.  Ugly pasts were scrubbed.  Old associations were buried.  History was forgotten.  This story isn’t exactly new, of course.  But it’s told in this documentary with refreshing candor that lends to credibility for other controversial aspects of the film.

FACT #2 –— America’s space program had absolutely nothing to do with the pursuit of scientific progress, at least in terms of attracting popular support.  The NASA space program was all about one thing only — winning the Cold War.  Early on, America was losing that crucial battle.  1. The Sputnik satellite in 1957, followed in short order by 2. Laika the Dog’s orbit (the first living creature in space), and 3. Yuri Gagarin’s manned-space mission, 4. the first woman in space, 5. the first multiple manned mission,  and 5. first spacewalk outside the capsule — ALL these Red Scare triumphs scared the hell out of most Americans, who thought the United States was falling behind the Soviets.  This fear (recall the phantom  “missile gap”) probably swung the outcome of the 1960 presidential election, resulting in John F. Kennedy’s election.  The average American wasn’t/isn’t interested in science.  He/she wants to be better than the other guy.

FACT #3 — We forget just how dangerous early space flights were for the astronauts who boarded those rockets.  At least a dozen test-rockets blew up on the launching pad.  Each disaster is shown here on film, in astonishing clarity.  It took someone truly special, with “the right stuff,” to strap himself into a tin can with enough high-octane fuel and explosives underneath the seat to blow up ten city blocks, trusting one’s fate entirely to engineers.  Moreover, let’s also remember the astronauts were civil servants.  They didn’t earn much money.  They were expected to look and act like celebrities, on the salary of a mid-grade military officer, with a growing family.  The financial burdens of being an astronaut are explored here for the first time on film.

FACT #4 — President John F. Kennedy gets most of the credit for the success of the space program and mission to the moon (six years after his death).  But it was President Lyndon B. Johnson who twisted arms of reluctant senators and drove the budgets through Congress.  LBJ got things done.  Kennedy gave great speeches and pontificated his dream of sending a man to the moon.  It was Johnson who actually made it happen, politically speaking.  Unfortunately, our perceptions do not reflect reality.

FACT #5 — The three primary focal points of NASA’s space program were/are in Florida, Alabama, and Texas.  This was not a random occurrence.  The high-tech space sites were not chosen for any geographic advantages.  Each location was nothing more than a political payoff to swing key senators and congressman to vote for the most expensive high-tech program in history.  Furthermore, most of the country (about 60 percent) was AGAINST funding the space program, at least in the early years.  The documentary reveals how the opposition turned into supporters.

FACT #6 — Initially, ten astronauts were picked for the space program.  Make that — ten WHITE, MALE astronauts were chosen for the space program.  Certainly, this lineup was a reflection of the time.  However, in the second phase of the program, Robert F. Kennedy (then, Attorney General) pushed for the inclusion of at least one Black astronaut.  Later, a Black Air Force fighter pilot was chosen — Ed Dwight (not to be confused with counterpart Ed White).  He successfully completed all the grueling astronaut training and passed the tests, along with his colleagues.  However, Dwight was eventually relegated to a remote assignment and never made it into space, largely due to the despicable treatment received from so-called American hero Chuck Yeager, who comes across horribly in this documentary.  The Kennedy Administration, which actually did so little on civil rights, failed to push for Dwight’s inclusion in the program.  Three years later, during the Johnson Administration, Robert H. Lawrence, Jr. became the first to break NASA’s color barrier.

FACT #7 — Here’s a historical fact you’ve likely never heard before.  JFK was uncertain as to whether he could fulfill his 1962 pronouncement at Rice University about putting a man on the moon.  He secretly agreed to a collaborative deal with Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev that the two countries would work together on the space mission.  However, JFK was shot and killed before the joint international venture was initiated.  Then a short time later, Khrushchev was ousted from power.  Hence, the demise of these two men derailed what might have been the most unlikely of cooperative efforts.

FACT #8 — Cape Canaveral, Florida (later re-named Cape Kennedy) exploded by 300 percent in population, due entirely to the space program.  New homes had to be built for workers.  That meant a boom, but also higher prices and even some resentment from older natives.  The documentary focuses on how those communities changed with the influx of astronauts, government workers, and tourists.

FACT #9 — Astronauts are unwaveringly portrayed in a positive light, as loyal and faithful men devoted to country and family.  While this is somewhat true, it’s not the whole picture.  Let’s also remember the astronauts were good-looking, age 30-something, strong virile men who were national heroes, who were used to living their lives on the edge.  They were more popular than movie stars.  And, they loved to take chances.  They liked being in the limelight.  High-risk behavior was in their DNA.  It’s why they were chosen.  The documentary touches on NASA having to do some “clean up” on the astronaut’s behavior.  Hey, let’s not kid ourselves.  They were remarkable men, but they were also human.  Bars.  Women.  Work hard.  Play harder.  Bravo to this program for revealing who these men really were, instead of the icons we often associate with their acts of bravery.

FACT #10 — All these incredible events and achievements in outer space took place during a period of revolutionary change, racial upheaval, and intense division within America.  Incredibly, some of the astronauts even confessed they had intense feelings of guilt for being involved the space program while many of their military colleagues in the were fighting in battle, and some were even shot down in Vietnam.  This emotional reaction to being an astronaut and a national hero wasn’t something I’d heard, nor considered before.

FACT #11 — What does a TV network do if the rocket explodes in mid-flight?  Remember, the earliest space missions were highly risky.  No one knew how the public might react to seeing a man die on national television, in an explosion on a rocket.  Television networks and the White House didn’t know if the launch should even be covered live.  What if the space capsule exploded?  Remember, this was 1962.  The viewing public wasn’t used to seeing dangerous, cutting edge, live events broadcast on television.  This is one of many reasons we often see crowds of people crowding around television sets.  It all seems surreal now.  But this was a difficult possibility to ponder, back then.

FACT #12 — Even a bigger problem for CBS, NBC, and ABC — what does a national network show for hours at a time during the coverage?  Relay technology didn’t exist back then.  There were no cameras of the space capsule after a few minutes of taking off.  One executive was interviewed who said, “60 million people were basically watching nothing but live radio broadcast.  There was absolutely nothing to show the public.  We winged it.”

Indeed, America’s space program was “winging it.”  Astronauts.  Engineers.  Politicians.  Television networks.  Everyone was winging it.  No one really had much of a clue what they were doing.  No one had ever done anything like that before.  Everyone looked to the heavens.  Everyone took a shot in the dark.  Thanks to some genius, long hours, trial and error, and even a little luck — it all worked.

This is the remarkable message and story of Chasing the Moon.  It’s an astonishing collection of unearthed footage and facts.  It’s real history.  It’s incredible entertainment.  It’s must-see television.

Lest you think this review has been a spoiler — these highlights are my recollections just from Part 1.  There’s so much more to learn and enjoy in Parts 2 and 3.  Trust me.  Seek out this remarkable program and watch.  Please — aim high.  Chase the moon.  This is what great filmmaking and storytelling are all about.

Here’s a short preview:

 

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Posted by on Jul 10, 2019 in Blog, Essays, General Poker, Las Vegas | 4 comments

BARGEian Rhapsody: My 2019 Trip Report

 

 

BARGEIAN RHAPSODY

Is this the real life?  Is this just fantasy?

Caught in a landslide, no escape from reality.

Open your eyes, look up to the skies, and see….

 

PRE-BARGE REPORT

This marks my 23rd consecutive year to attend BARGE, which stands for Big August Recreational Gambling Excursion.  BARGE is an annual gathering of fun-minded poker players who meet once a year in Las Vegas.  The excursion began back in 1990 as a gambling geek squad of about a dozen.  Now, it’s far more diverse, attracting nearly 200 poker players from all over the country, and even a few attendees from abroad.  Previous BARGE gatherings mostly took place at Binion’s (the old Horseshoe) downtown.  This year was the first time BARGE was held at Green Valley Ranch, part of Stations Casinos, in Henderson. BARGE events are spread out over about a week.  This year’s BARGE took place from Monday, July 29th through Sunday, August 4th.

This year, I tried something new.  For the first time, I solicited investment capital so I could play in more poker events than usual.  I raised enough funds to play in six official BARGE events, in addition to having a sufficient bankroll for cash games, tips, drinks, and the occasional sports wager.  Betting sports — otherwise known as my bailout insurance.  I named this high-risk investment fund “BIG FISHH.” What this meant was, BARGE 2019 was practically a freeroll for me.

Imagine:  A total freeroll to hang out with my best friends, drink as much as I want, gamble as much as I want, bet on any sporting event with the fund’s money, eat fine meals, sing my heart out, and laugh my ass off.  Not a bad deal.  Great work, if you can get it.  

The following trip report is lengthy but is by no means complete.  I encourage readers to learn more about BARGE by visiting the official webpage HERE.  Note that our group not only welcomes new members;  The fact is, we need new people.  So, please — give us a look.  Joining us is as simple as signing up to the BARGE email list and registering for the next ARGE-related event.  I promise you’ll get more out of the group than you put in.  BARGE is a vast reservoir of interesting people having fun while playing poker.  It’s what poker should be. 

Trip reports are a tradition which has become part of poker folklore.  We’ve had former world poker champions as members.  We provided fodder for the infamous “Tiltboys.”  Trip reports are a fun reflection on good times among good people.  I confess that this is my first trip report in at least ten years, so I intend to make this one really count.  Moreover, I feel compelled to share far more this year than usual since my backers are entitled to know where their money went.  So, here it goes.

The following narrative contains a daily diary in 100 bullet points.  If one bullet item bores you, then skip it and move on to the next.  These bullet points of BARGEian Rhapsody contain my general thoughts, stories, and investment updates.

TOTAL INVESTMENT FUND (MONEY RAISED PRE-BARGE): $2,280.

[PHOTO CREDIT:  Rodney Chen took the photo above of this year’s BARGE gathering, which was taken during the Main Event last Saturday.]

 

NOTE:  I did NO EDITS in this report.  Unless something is glaring, don’t bother me with corrections.  Thanks.

 

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DAY ONE REPORT

[1]  We Don’t Need No Stinkin’ Badges!” — Within five minutes of my arrival, organizer emeritus Kevin Un is standing near the main entrance to the GVR poker room. Sharon Goldman walks up to Kevin, jokingly yanks down his BARGE badge attached to a long stretch string. Kevin instinctively looks down, and Sharon then (accidentally?) snaps the badge like a slingshot which blasts Kevin across the face in the rudest bitchslap BARGE evah! Kevin looks shocked. Sharon is speechless and then apologizes profusely. I can’t believe in all these years, no one has pranked anyone with the badge, until now. Reminds me of the old locker room whip-the-towel prank.  Don’t try this, people — it’s dangerous. And if Sharon approaches you, run away!

[2}  Yummy Gin Rummy from Kenny — Kenny Shei approaches me once inside the poker room and presents me with a glorious bottle of HA’ PENNY IRISH GIN. Kenny visited Ireland earlier this year and thought of me, and brought the gin back all that distance. I’m nearly in tears. Really, I’m overwhelmed. That someone would bring me a gift from the other side of the world is very touching. This generosity embodies the *spirit* of the BARGE community. Coming together. Renewing old friendships.  Making new friends. Honestly, I didn’t even know the Irish made gin. I’m looking forward to sharing Kenny’s generous gift at the first-ever *Gin Tasting* seminar, hosted by Patti Beadles. Thank you, Kenny!

Postscript:  I finally get a chance to try Kenny’s gin on Sunday, which is discussed later in this report.

 

[3]  BJ Champion! — Kasie Young is shown in the photo above. Doesn’t she look great!  And, guess what? Kasie attended BARGE for the very first time this year, and she won the first tournament she played! Kasie won the BJ Tournament. See Kasie posing proudly with her BJ trophy.* Kasie is the wife of my dear friend Eric Schneller, who also attended BARGE for the first time this year. Eric also cashed in his first tournament. Hey, who the hell invited these two people?

* oh, BJ stands for blackjack — sorry for any confusion.  This politically-incorrect joke was cleared in advance with Kacie and Eric.  I’m prepping my readers for a gradual slide into an R-Rated report.

[4]  Who Wants the Pot? — My Six-Handed Dealers Choice Mix tournament begins. Before cards fly into the air, I get asked if I want some pot. Seriously.  I’ve never smoked marijuana in my life, but it’s perfectly legal now in the state of Nevada. Some BARGErs do enjoy a little harmless refreshment, from time to time, and it’s certainly far better for the body than the ravages of alcohol. I decline this tempting offer, appealing as it may have been. I even get offered something called a “Gummy Bear.”  Gee, I don’t think that’s the candy I remember as a kid. But if you are into that sort of thing, we have some connoisseurs of the trade within our midst. When you hear “poker pot” they might not always be talking about the cards. Light ’em up!*

*All smoking takes place outside the poker room, of course.

[5]  Making Up the Rules As We Go! — We’re playing Dealer’s Choice Mix, which is something like 25 different poker games, each called in rotation by choice as to who has the button. It’s interesting to observe who calls what game, and how strong-weak each of us is in certain forms of poker. I have trouble keeping games like the 2-7 Triple Draw Badugi Split completely straight in my head, since I so rarely play any of these games. But I’m hardly alone in my confusion. Eric Schneller, who really was a pro poker grinder for years, is sitting in the tournament with the Official BARGE Rulebook sitting in his lap. Funny optics, seeing Eric yell out “I RAISE!” as he’s thumbing through the rules on Badaci. Bagugi and Badaci split games are way my weakest games. Pot-Limit Omaha and No-Limit 2-7 Lowball Single-Draw are my best games, which may not be saying much. Of course, I get crushed on my best games and win in the games I’ve almost never played before. Dumb blind luck, I guess.

[6]  Running on Empty — This REALLY happened. First-time evah! I ordered a JWR/soda/twist from the cocktail waitress. Her name is Brandy. So, Brandy returns a few minutes later. I reach for a chip and hand her a dollar toke. She takes the chip and merrily walks away. A few minutes pass, and I realize Brandy took my tip but didn’t deliver my Johnny Walker! Now, that’s a helluva’ angle. Getting tipped and not even bringing the drink! Damn! Brandy returns a few minutes later and realized she “forgot” to give me my drink. Come to think about it, I look waaaaaaay worse in this story, don’t I? I tipped the waitress and didn’t even notice coming up empty.

[7]  Sucks to Lose to the Gone Guy — Jeff Deitch is so damn good, he didn’t show up but still outlasted half the field! Jeff was in Seat 6, and gradually got blinded off. He said he found a party elsewhere and decided to skip this tourney. So, we played 5-handed instead of 6 at our table for at least three hours. Well, half the players were eliminated by the time Jeff’s final chip went into the pot. Now, that’s what I call “talent.”

[8]  Watch Out for the Quiet Guy — While most of the room is littered with BARGErs, and while our group has invaded just about every cash game table at GVR, I notice Michael Brennan sitting in a sappy game with a bunch of bored-ass fossil logs who don’t seem to be having any fun at all. Michael is splashing pots and stacking chips like a madman. I walk up and blurt out, “Hey, you’re the only BARGEr in this game.”………Michael snaps back quietly, “Shhhhhhhh, I’m perfectly fine with that,” as he cocks his head and does his best Cheshire Cat look. Bravo! Ahh, the economics of redistribution in action!

[9]  It’s Official! — I was card dead for three hours but played with extra patience that otherwise would have knocked me out of any other tournament. In other words, my dumb old self probably would have busted out midway.  But instead, I have investors to protect.  Playing for backers *is* extra motivation. Somehow, I finished in the money, made the final table, and cashed in sixth place. My payout was $315. Sweet! The official results were as follows:

1 Deron “ADB Neon” Brod $1,320

2 Alex “Maverick600” Ziselman $990

3 JP “Mr. M” Massar $750

4 Dean “MrBookworm” Kerl $605

5 Becca “Redbird” Kerl $460

6 Nolan “ADB DARKSIDE” Dalla $315

7 Sean “oscar” McGuiness $220

8 Guy “Grizz” Berentsen $140

[10]  Deron — My Best Brod — I’m soo proud of Deron Brod. The 11-year BARGE vet won the tourney, which was so well deserved. Deron played like a shark, and even went card dead for a while, but still took the trophy. A big hand happened when 10 players were left and the game was No-Limit Five-Card Draw. I was dealt K-K-T-T-X and didn’t improve on the draw with my two pair. JP James P. Massar with the biggest stack in the tourney was dealt T-T-6-6-X and didn’t improve his two pair either. Deron was dealt a 7-high straight, which tripled up and catapulted him near the chip lead. I was just as impressed with JP, who took a horrible spot there, was low on chips, and then still managed to finish in third place.

[11]  Keep an Eye on the Kerls — Dean Kerl and redheaded wifey Redbird Becca Lynn the dynamic husband/wife duo finished 4th-5th in the tournament, making the final table for the first time in a BARGE event together. That’s two cashes already for Redbird (she would end up with a record FIVE cashes this year). Dean cashed in the WSOP main this year ($15K plus). Oh, and Dean knocked me out of the tournament.  Dirty Bastid.

[12]  I’m Out! — My elimination hand was interesting. Called NL 2-7 Single Draw as my game. Was dealt a pat T-6. Shoved my stack. Remember, blinds are high. Dean in small blind snap calls and has me covered. Shit! Well, now what? Dean doesn’t hesitate. He stands pat. Now, I have a tough decision to make. With my tournament life on the line, I decide there’s no fucking way Dean is doing with a J-X. At worst, he’s got a T-X. And he’s probably got an 8-X or 9-X. I’m in a bad spot with my T-6, as the lowest hand wins, with 7-X being the idea low. I decide to break the T-X which is more difficult because I have four fewer outs than I would like. My hand is T-6-5-4-2. So, if I catch a 3, I’m screwed since the straight counts against me. Now, I only have 12 outs, perhaps 14 with two extra T’s, but certainly, some of those cards are counterfeited. I’ll look like an idiot standing pat and losing. So, I ditch the Ten and draw a king. Bummer! Dean shows T-8 which means I would have won a huge pot, had I stood pat!  Faaaaaaawck!  I still think I made the right decision, but I might be persuaded I was wrong. Still, a fun tournament, indicative of BARGE which is fun but also VERY competitive.

Now, for my updated results:

Day One — Gross Profit +$315

Minus Expenses:

BARGE TOKES (to dealer) — $33

COCKTAIL TOKES — $12

TOURNAMENT TIP — $25

TOURNAMENT ENTRY FEE — $140

NET RESULT: +105

Up + $105 for the day, heading into Day 2!

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DAY TWO REPORT

[13]  Wednesday is a disaster. There’s a day tournament and then a night tournament.  I whiff them both and go zero for 2. My investment fund is now -$225 in the red. The first tournament was uneventful, Busted about midway through. The second tournament was far more frustrating because I had a chip lead at one point and then played poorly, making several risky decisions that were totally unnecessary. So, it was a long painful unprofitable drive home and a moment of reflection. I can’t say there were any low points of BARGE, but this would be it from an emotional and financial standpoint, especially since I blame myself for poor play in the night tourney.  Nonetheless, BARGE continued to be a blast! How often can you say in poker, “I lost, but I had a great time!” Well, that’s BARGE.

[14]  The day began with me writing my report, posted to Facebook at 10:28 am. Somehow, I then dressed and showered (not necessarily in that order), hit the highway, and was in my tournament seat by 11;13 with a fresh cocktail in my hand. Chris Mecklin — a.k.a. Tom Bayes — ordered a greyhound….err. the drink, not the race dog……in remembrance of the late great Gavin Smith, and I had to join that fitting tribute. Gavin was the BARGE champion in 2003, which was my favorite BARGE year because I was working at the Horseshoe at the time. Gavin, who passed away in Jan. of this year, also did a fabulous job as BARGE banquet speaker, only a few years later. It was nice to remember Gavin as being one of our own. BARGE history is rich in characters and memories. Funny line from Chris as he chugged Gavin’s favorite drink: “I don’t even like these, but it seems kinda’ breakfast-y.”

[15]  The day tournament was PL-HORSE, which means the rotation of games normally played in a limit format, juiced up to pot-limit. Although I didn’t fare well, I REALLY liked this tournament. Every decision became really consequential. Cool thing about the BARGE events is the wide variety of games on the menu, which changes every year. I hear so many people say they are sick of Hold’em.  Well, I got just the remedy.  Sick of the same ole’ NLHE games with boring people and jackasses in hoodies with their faces buried in their cell phones? Fuck them!  Come — join us.  We don’t know how to play these crazy games either!

[16]  A Really Cool moment: Gerald Peterson and I were talking during the tournament. Learned that this marks his 25th straight year. Not sure who holds the record, but that number is certainly up there.  John Reed — are you the all-time Lou Gehrig of our group?  Edmund Hack I think is also in the 25+ year club.

[17]  Don’t try this at home. Most everyone talks at the table. That’s the way we roll at BARGE. Problem is, sometimes that can lead to a mistake. Since the games change, you MUST pay attention to the placard, with the game displayed. About an hour into the tournament, one of the players at our table misread the game. It had just changed over from Stud-High to Razz, which means instead of highest hand winning, making the lowest hand was the goal. The player got all the way to fourth street and fumbled in a pot-sized bet, before realizing his trip tens in Razz wasn’t a very good hand. What an idiot that player was. Oh, the name of the player won’t be disclosed to protect his identity. However, his initials were N.D. and he was drinking a greyhound as the insistence of Chris Mecklin.  What a fool.

[18]  I love talking to BARGE people. Sabyl Cohen Landrum comes in late to our table. She’s an attorney practicing for a non-profit who does lots of amazing work for economically disadvantaged people in the Bay area — poor people getting screwed by landlords, and lawsuits like that. I ask Sabyl more about her work and she shares how tough it can sometimes be, but also reveals that it has its rewards. This is but one of more than a few conversations daily that make the group so interesting.  There’s not much of a story here, but it shows that every moment is a chance to gain something and learn something new.

[19]  Patti Beadles hosts her amazing “Gin Tasting” party and seminar in a huge hotel suite, stocked plentifully with food, and top-flight gins. During our tournament break, I grab a few BARGErs and we run-up to the suite, raid the food cart, enjoy Patti’s gin, and then storm out the door and go back downstairs to return to our seats within 10 minutes. Funny thing was, we were rude as fuck to do that (crashing the party) but everyone totally understood. Hell, they would have done the same thing!  So, I lasted just long enough in the tourney to miss the gin party.

[20]  After busting about four hours in, I head over to my favorite Las Vegas seafood place, King’s Fish House, which is walking distance from the casino.  Our party of four explodes like a refugee camp on the Chad border and we eventually top out with a full table including Kevin Un, Eric Schneller, Michael Brennan, (his wife Courtney), Caryl Aronson, and David Aronson. The Trout Almondine is every bit as good as I remember. Thanks Eric, for picking up my portion of the tab!

[21]  At our late lunch-early dunner, Kevin shares some worrisome news concerning one of the great BARGE people of all-time. Monte Christensen didn’t make this year’s BARGE. He was diagnosed with tongue cancer nearly a year ago and is currently undergoing treatment. All cancers are serious, but this one is really serious.  Monte has had a profound influence on my life (I’ve written about this in the past and will relate more about this another time). Monte is just one of those larger than life personalities, almost too big to absorb. His stories of high-stakes gambling, and getting thrown out of casinos are legendary. I know all BARGErs are thinking of Monte at this time. If you can swing it, I suggest sending him a message on Facebook occasionally.  I think he’d like that.  He’s been one of us for more than 20 years. Fortunately, Monte is one of the toughest fucks I’ve ever met. Cancer is gonna’ lose this one, if Monte plays his A-game. And Monte ALWAYS plays his A-game — in blackjack, in poker, and in life. Man, fuck cancer. We love you, Monte Christensen.

[22]  Bob Ogus just has a way about him that makes you want to strangle the man. He drew out on Rich Bremer on some big hands, where Bremer practically stomped out of the room like a wild stallion. I recall Bremer has a MONSTER BARGE last year (I think) where he won a few events and cashed like 3-4 times. So, Bremer was on his way to immortality before Ogus played the Ogus card. Funny thing about Ogus is, when he drags that huge pot, he kinda’ looks at you like “what the hell were you doing in the hand?” when he was 10-1 dog and hit the four-outer. A word of advice: Do not ever try to bluff this man!

[23]  Question: How many BARGErs does it take to change a _____________? I haven’t figured out a punch line, yet. So, I’m putting that out there. Our night tournament starts at 7 pm and I’m seated at a rule-sticky nit table. Cards barely flow. We can’t see the board (bad table location). Everyone is arguing. Stoppage. We even had to call the floor a few times. This disaster is a precursor of what’s to come.

[24]  The tournament is a rotation of limit poker games. I run good for about three hours. In fact, I have what appears to be the chip lead with about half the field of 80+ eliminated. I’m in a perfect spot, it seems. Then, I turn into an idiot. BADACY is a game I’ve covered when I worked at the WSOP, but I don’t know the game particularly well. I’m dealt a pat 8-X four-card Badaci one three straight hands. Seriously.  Three times in a row, a marginal “pat” hand.  What do I win for finishing second three straight times?  Well, I manage to go from chip leader to the felt in like 12 excruciating minutes of hell. What to I do with the dumbass game — pitch the Badaci? Should I draw to an 8? I could have nested on my 50K in chips with blinds at $3K per round and waited for a game I knew better, but I get fish hooked into disaster with these morsels of shit, better known as the 8-X Badaci. My chips get ripped up like red meat in a wolves den. Final hand, I’m sitting on A-2-4 Badaci, with THREE draws. All my chips are in the pot in a possible triple up hand with Kenny Shei and Peter Caldes — aka Taki.

First Draw–Paint.Paint. 

Second Draw–Paint.Paint. 

Third Draw–Four.Four (for trip fours in a lowball game)

Andres, the Austrian BARGEr from NC is laughing his ass off and I blow up and spill my Perrier in frustration. I stomp out of the room like a wild stallion. Hey, where the fuck is Rich Bremer?  I have a story to tell him!

[25]  David Croson is an economics professor at Michigan State. I think that’s a university up north somewhere.  The team I’ve lost lots of money betting on.  Dr. Croson came into BARGE about the same time as I did, back in 1996. Croson is so much fun but also so interesting. I always perk up in my seat when Croson makes a post because I’ll probably learn something and he might be correcting one of my errors. Anyway, Croson has just arrived in the room and brings me a bag. He has smuggled contraband into the poker room! A criminal!  No, it’s not pot.  It’s better than that.  Croson read my earlier report about CVR serving shitty wine, and my desire to work around the restrictions with, let’s just say a “little creativity.” Croson has bought me a stainless steel flask and a beautiful bottle of Guy Mousset Cotes du Rhone. Cotes do Rhones are my favorite wines, and Croson has clearly done his homework. I’m thinking — in the coming days, if you see me with a large flask, you won’t get a taste of my “Diet Coke.” I’m not sharing. Except with Croson. Simple economics — keep your friends close and your gift-master closer. Thanks, Dave. Really cool gesture. I will enjoy that wine.

Postscript:  I’m about to open it now while writing these reports.  Thanks again, professor!  

[26]  Grizz, who looks exactly the same NOW as 20 YEARS AGO, and I make an iron-clad man-pact. If one of us wins BARGE 2019 Main Event, we are ordering top-flight champagne. Mark it down. Hell, order it! I have faith in Grizz’s poker game, more than my own.

Postscript:  I made the Main Event final table.  But I didn’t win.  Grizz still came through, as you will read later.

[27]  Jeff Deitch didn’t bother to show up for the Tuesday night tourney, and got blinded off but then played in the Wednesday “Oklahoma” tournament, and managed to win it! Apparently, he took a break from the dope-smoking for a few hours enough to waltz in, play, and win a trophy. What’d he do to celebrate, smoke a bag of heroin?  Afterward, I asked Jeff if I could mention his affection for the natural herb. “Yeah no problem, go ahead — it’s kinda’ already out there,” Deitch snapped as he hoisted his trophy and then mysteriously headed out into a dark corner of the East parking garage for some odd reason.

Okay, so he didn’t really head to the parking garage.  That would have been a violation of Green Valley Ranch’s guest policy.  Wink.  Wink.

[28]  One of these times, just fucking once, I’m going to stick my hand under the faucet in the public restroom and the automatic “eye” will actually fucking work and I’ll get WATER on the first attempt. I have faith. It *has* to happen. It’s just pure odds. One time! One time!  After today, I think I’m on an 0-67 run with the working water auto-faucet.

After a good day on Tuesday and a bad day on Wednesday, the BIG FISHH investment fund is now stuck.  My updated results are:

Day Two — Expenses:

— Tokes (to dealers) — $35

— Tokes (for cocktails) — $15

— Tournament Entry Fee — $280

NET DAILY RESULT: – $330.

PREVIOUS FUND STATUS:  +105.

NET OVERALL RESULT:  – $225

Finally, in tribute to organizer emeritus Peter Secor here’s a cool photo from Wednesday.  He’s the best of the best, folks.

__________

DAY THREE REPORT

[29]  It’s Thursday and here’s a question:  What’s up with the Amish-looking women?  In a casino?  I’ve lived in Las Vegas for 17 years.  I’ve seen everything in this city.  Naked people walking down the street.  People vomiting on BJ tables (remember that one, Larry Greenfield?).  Elvis impersonators.  People in restrooms doing blow.  But until this day I had never seen the religious sect that keeps women living in the 1700s with Mayflower-era bonnets on their heads wandering around a temple of sin.  I’m talking about packs of them.  I have no idea if they’re really Amish, or not.  Later, this mystery is settled when Bruce Kramer and I walk into a restroom and see a man who is with the Amish group, who’s apparently part of some multi-level marketing scheme.  “They’re really into it,” the man said as he shook his dick at the urinal.  By “it” he meant some sales scam like Amway.  I have no idea what the product was, but the Amish women apparently drank the Koolaide.  Fucking Capitalists have even ruined the Amish.

[30]  The tournament starts at 4 pm, which is Pot-Limit Omaha, my fave game.  I really feel good about this one, especially since I play it the most and final tabled last year’s BARGE PLO event.  I learn that Jacob Rieck (Bingo’s son) has entered.  He’s playing the first legal poker live poker tournament of his life.  He’s even seated at the same table as Bingo!  Naturally, we have to sweeten the pot.  I take $40 out of the investment fund and pay all of Jacob’s dealer tokes.  Dan Goldman, always one to match generosity, decides to do the same, which means the dealers are getting double-tipped with Jacob rakes a pot.  I announce Jacob’s foray into the BARGE madness and the room gives him a rousing welcome.  BARGE will be in good hands and has a very bright future if we can attract a few more all-around good people like Jacob to attend.  Fortunately, I get to spend some time with Jacob in the coming days and am really impressed.  There’s a joke in there somewhere about Bingo as his dad, but I’ll bypass the easy target and just say these two are the quintessential personalities of BARGE.  I have a dollar for anyone who can ever tell me a time when they saw Bingo angry or in a bad mood.  See me at next year’s BARGE.  I won’t believe you.  Oh, and Bingo, a.k.a. Don Rieck is the defending BARGE Main Event champion, too.  I snapped this picture as the appropriate spot.

 

[31]  The Things You Learn at a Poker Table! — How the hell did I not know this?  Bob Gilbert, from the Boston area, owns a wine store!   Oh, and he’s a Harvard Law grad, but who the fuck cares about that?  It’s the wine, baby!  I ramble on about cheap wines at the table in a 15-minute conversation, and then I learn Bob owns Andover Classic Wines, which has got to have some expensive as shit stuff because it’s Boston.  Was really cool hearing about the wine and liquor trade from Bob, which only enhanced the Pot-Limit Omaha enjoyment.  Too bad I didn’t last so long.

[32]  Early on, I triple up on a big hand against two suckers.  Then, Alex Z. joins our table and I tangle with the other big stack, which isn’t advised.  A huge hand comes up about four hours into the PLO tourney where Alex raises pre-flop.  I’ve got one of those cutesy hands that can break somebody easy…..T-T-9-8 double sooooooted and of course, the person who gets broke is —– me.  Flop a set of tens.  By the turn, I jam, all the money goes in, and Alex ponders the call.  I like this.  A lot.  He calls with a flush draw (straight draw too, I think) and bam!  Gets there.  Nolan exits two hands later.  Fuck me.  Has to be Alex, too.  Which stings extra.

[33]  During the early breaks, I rush into the sportsbook to get down our first sports wager of the BARGE trip.  First NFL pre-season game.  Gotta’ fire!  I’ve capped this game until my eyes were blue, and have Denver as a lock to win the game.  So, it’s worth $280 of the fund’s money to win back +$200 going off at -140 on the moneyline.  Atlanta, the opponent, has lost 11-straight pre-season games with this head coach.  He doesn’t give a Falcon fuck about pre-season, while Denver is breaking in a new staff and offense.  Broncos roar to a 7-0 lead and I don’t even look at the TV again until the 4th quarter where I see the shit Broncos have fallen asleep and the Falcons have taken a 10-7 lead.  Fortunately, my “LOCK” comes in with a late touchdown, which of course, I totally foresaw in my pregame handicapping.  Final score:  Denver wins 14-10.  Sweet money.  This sports wager takes some of the stain of the PLO loss for the day.  I’ll take a win any way I can get it.  Here’s the winning ticket:

 

[34]  Randy Collack has organized a Thursday night dinner outing to Nataya’s Secret Garden, one of my favorite restaurants in the city, and very close to where I live.   I didn’t plan on attending.  I expected to go deep in the PLO tourney.  But the cards have a funny way of making sudden dinner plans.  Bruce asks if I want to join, and remembering that Thursday is HALF-PRICE bottles of wine at Nataya, that becomes the tipping point (yeah, my friends are great — whatever).  Seriously, it’s hot as fuck outside the small and always packed restaurant, so Bruce orders a great wine from Alsace, the glorious Gewurtztraminer (perfect for Thai pairing).  I usually like my alcohol alone and never with food, but we end up enjoying five marvelous bottles at our table (assorted selections, including a nice Paso Robles red, and a crispy Souv. Blanc from NZ).  I hate long tables because that means missing out on the other half of the table conversation, but this feast has no shortage of talkers, with our end consisting of Randy (who never has an opinion about anything), George Wattman, Jeff Siegel, MickDog (Michael Patterson), et. al.  Things are more than civil.  Great food and people and conversation.  Afterward, Deron Brod and Mickdog pile into the SRX and we head back to GVR.  I can’t say often than busting out of a poker tournament had a benefit, but this dinner more than made up for the disappointment.  Oh, and even with appetizers, main dishes, and wine, it came out to like $60 per person.  What a deal!

After being stuck after Wednesday, Thursday looks to be mostly break-even.  My updated results are:

Day Three — Expenses:

— Tokes (to dealers) — $20

— Tokes (for cocktails) — $10

— Tournament Entry Fee — $140

— Sports Bet Winnings — +$200

NET DAILY RESULT: + $30.

NET OVERALL RESULT:  – $195

__________

DAY FOUR REPORT

[35]  Friday is a blend of agony and ecstasy.  Confidence wise, I had high hopes for smashing tournament success this year after cashing in the first event of this year’s BARGE.  But since then, I’ve gone 0-3.  And now, I’ll be bitterly disappointed if I strike out on these final two events and end up with a lackluster batting average.

Today is Friday.  This is always the longest BARGE day, for several reasons.  Certain to run at least 18 hours with all the planned activities, with no break time.

The TOC is the perfect recoup event.  The TOC is a mix of three games I’ve played way too many hours than I care to admit.  It’s a little more prestigious since this is our customary BARGE Friday event.  The TOC stands for “Tournament of Champions,” a mixed-game tournament created 25 years ago by Poker Hall of Famer Mike Sexton and Chuck Humphrey (a former BARGE champ).  BARGEr Matt Matros, who has won three WSOP gold bracelets and has a new poker book soon coming out, final tabled that first year which was televised.  Our group essentially stole took the concept and made it our own.  This is a long way of saying — I really, really, really want to final table this tournament.

[36]  Let’s end my suspense.  I bust out about 18th, six spots from the money.  What an emotional ballbuster.  Nonetheless, I felt really good about the way I played.  Can’t say I made any serious errors.  It just wasn’t in the cards.  In other words — that’s poker.  So, now I’m on a four-tournament losing streak.  Yuck!  As for positives, Scott Byron won this year’s TOC.  Scott and I go back more than two decades together when every Hold’em player in Atlantic City used to know each other.  I’ve played tons of hours with Scott.  He was one of BARGE’s first breakout players to enjoy success on the poker circuit.  Scott later worked for many years (some with me) at PokerStars.  Much respect for Scott and congrats to him for the victory.

[37]  One interesting conversation among out table during the TOC is the throwback feel to BARGE — and this event in particular.  Since it’s a *limit* format until the final table, that creates even more table conversation.  There’s a snowball effect.  Perhaps this has a lot to do with the fact there are almost no smartphones in use during play.  This is so damned refreshing.  I’m a guilty violator of the smartphone invasion that has overtaken live-action and squeezed the fun out of the game, as a constant social media hound.  But to now play in a tournament where people actually talk, and look at each other, and follow the action in the proper turn, is a real breath of fresh air.  It’s like it’s 1996 all over again.  I can’t stress enough how much more enjoyable this made the game.

[38]  I’ve arrived at bullet point 38 and I didn’t even mention other BARGE events such as the Sushi outing organized by Asya Kamsky (I don’t like sushi, so don’t attend), the golf outing (which I passed this year because there just wasn’t enough time or energy), the fun run (ibid), and so many other activities that make BARGE so diverse.  It’s not just about poker.  One thing for certain is — there’s no time to be bored at BARGE.  Hell, there’s no time to sleep!

[39]  I need to whisk up a winner in sports betting today.  Since the tournaments are going south for me, we need to get more aggressive with our investment fund.  I’m not on tilt, not quite yet, anyway.  But that’s a serious possibility if things don’t reverse themselves.  So, Bruce Kramer and I head into the GVR sportsbook searching for the lock of the day.  I already have the Texas Rangers pounding the Detroit Tigers in my data set (don’t ask about my data set, or I will have to invent something).  The kitties have lost 33 of their last 40 games.  This is the worst team in the majors, right now.  Trouble is, Texas is laying a whopping -240 and they’re the fucking Rangers.  I decide this is no matter since the Detroit pitcher is garbage.  Bruce suddenly becomes a baseball capper in front of my eyes, and smart-ass yaps back at me…..“I know this is unheard of, but have you ever considered PASSING on the game when you see a bad line?”  See, I told you.   Bruce and I argue back and forth for five minutes, which makes me eye-roll why I invited him along in the first place.  Okay, so Bruce talks me out of betting on the Rangers.  Instead, I opt for a wager on the Minor League Baseball team from Oklahoma City.  Don’t ask.  I just had this feeling.  Like an itch.  The Oklahomans are playing the Las Vegas local team, called the Aviators.  I think Chuck Weinstock took a group to the game this night, so this must be an omen.  It’s surely a sign from above.  I’m not getting suckered into the local team, so the betting contrarian in me comes out and I place a $110 wager on Oklahoma City.  I didn’t watch the game, of course.  Hell, I won’t even watch the World Series of Baseball.  Somebody posted on the Facebook page my team was up 4 runs, blew it late, the game went into extra innings, we got a run in the top of the 10th, only to see disaster strike when some lowly .179 hitter smashed a three-run homer to win a meaningless game, except for the fucking $100 I blew on those assholes.  The only reprieve I have is that I didn’t watch it.  Okay, so it’s only $100, but now the investment fund is starting to get buried.  That leaves one thing to do……sing!

 

[40]  I lasted in the TOC until about 9 pm, when I finally busted out.  Fortunately, sometime earlier they gave us a lengthy break to attend the symposium and Calcutta.  So, I took full advantage by having a nice quiet dinner with Bruce and his lovely wife Shirley (A BARGE veteran in her own right) at King’s Fish House.  I order the usual, which is scrumptious.  I planned on passing on the symposium (no reason specifically) but then curiosity got the best of Bruce and I.  We didn’t mean to invade, so we quietly came into the conference room and sat in the back while Adam Pliska, the CEO of the World Poker Tour, spoke to a packed and attentive audience.  I don’t know Pliska well, only met him a few times, since he played on the rival team when I was heavily involved in poker.  It was a strangely emotional experience for me listing to the last 20 minutes of Pliska, who turned out to be a marvelous speaker and gracious guest.  I have less than zero interest in the business side of poker and any rumor mill these days, and in fact, I find the topic personally distasteful.  Pliska’s speech was the first real exposure I’ve had to the heights of poker in more than three years (I haven’t watched a single minute of poker on TV since).  I must say, his stories and positive energy did move me in a way I wasn’t expecting.  I’ll just leave that there for now.

Bruce, thank you for picking up my meal at King’s.  Since you talked me out of a winner on the Rangers, who won the game and then you bought me a meal, I’m letting this one slide.  We’re even.

[41] Charles Natkins, a.k.a Chic and I are teamed up on the Calcutta like two wild horses swimming across Lake Mead.  We go for the princely sum for $100.  That means I get to buy back my action for $25.  Here’s the guy I’m teamed up with (another damned attorney)……inspires loads of confidence heading into the Main Event tomorrow, doesn’t it?

 

[42]  Peter Caldes a.k.a. “Taki” informs that he’s brought a gift for me.  Caldes is 100 percent Greek heritage.  Like Zorba himself.  What’s that old saying, “beware of Greeks bearing gifts?”  Well, Peter Caldes obliterated that myth.  I love Greeks bearing gifts, especially Taki.  He presented me with a boxed set of my favorite wine in the whole world — Chevrey Chambertin.  CC is a wine commune in the Côte-d’Or area of France located in the Bourgogne-Franche-Comté region.  The CC wine appellation is known for producing robust and full-bodied wines, which are also full of complexity and sophistication.  My review pending.  I received vintages from 2016 and 2017 courtesy of Peter.  Accordingly, I made a pact that I’ll share one bottle with Peter during his next visit to Las Vegas.  I’m not sure about the other bottle, which mysteriously seems to have disappeared in the week since BARGE ended.

Thank you, Peter.  I came out really good this year at BARGE.  A bottle of gin from Kenny.  A bottle of Cotes du Rhone from David.  And two one bottle left of the Gevrey Chambertin to share with you when you make your return.

[43]  It wasn’t planned.  But it was planned.  I’ve marveled at Becca’s voice for years at our annual karaoke fest.  However, until this year I never had the chance to sing with her.  Not once.  Karaoke started as an impromptu sing-a-long at the Golden Nugget coffee shop on the graveyard shift about 15 years ago.  Somehow, Sharon and Dan Goldman, Peter Secor, and the rest morphed this into an actual party — complete with our own private conference room, a full bar, and a DJ.  Some of the BARGE performers are remarkably good.  Scott “Samarai” Samarel played the sax last year.  He was amazing.  Eileen Mulligan again played the violin, which was incredible (she can do almost any kind of music).  And Kevin Un customarily entertains us with an original song on guitar, which leaves us both laughing and in tears.  Then, there’s always a few surprises.  A few weeks ago, Becca agreed to support the investment fund with a couple of shares and in a short email I expected to go nowhere, Becca and I agreed that we would not only sing together during karaoke, we would also go full regalia blast.  Becca said she’d wear her wedding dress (which still fits!) and I climbed into a double-breasted tuxedo that’s been hanging in the closet begging for a chance to breathe.  We selected two songs (actually, Becca gave me a list and we settled on these), one modern and the other more classical.  We agreed on the timeliness of the “Best Original Song” Oscar Winner, “Shallow” written and performed by Lady Gaga and Bradley Cooper.  Then, we closed with Andrew Lloyd Weber’s “All I Ask of You,” from the musical Phantom of the Opera.  My parts were easy.  Becca, on the other hand, had to pull off Lady Gaga and Sarah Brightman, two of the highest and toughest female voices in the world to match.  Here, I’ll let you decide how Becca performed.  I think she was amazing!

LINK TO “SHALLOW” HERE:

https://www.facebook.com/deankerl/videos/2813977111951848/

LINK TO “ALL I ASK OF YOU” HERE:

https://www.facebook.com/deankerl/videos/2818763161473243/

Thanks to the audience who made it fun by cheering and clapping.  We could feel the love.  Also, the following must be said — hats off to Dean (Becca’s super cool husband) for having no issues allowing me to perform with Becca in these two love songs.  All joking aside, I appreciate the confidence of that gesture.  Letting Becca shine in her element was a gift to me, and to everyone.

Speaking of Becca’s element, about a dozen of us retired up to the post-Karaoke unplugged and acoustic version, which was a first.  This happened because the ballroom closed at midnight.  So, we took this opportunity to do more mellow music than usual, mostly done in unison as a group, in the large hotel suite which was stocked with a grand piano.  Eileen played the violin, Becca sang and showed off her piano skills (she won a teenage piano title as the best in the state of Michigan, when in high school), and we emptied out the booze in the fridge.  That room charge is going to be through the roof.  Anyway, we did mostly show tunes, lots of James Taylor-type stuff about love and friendship.  You get the drift.  It wasn’t just special.  It was magical.  I wish everyone could experience moments like this.

When my Friday ends, it’s actually well into Saturday.  Home in bed at 4 am.  “Tomorrow” is another long day and will only get about four hours sleep.  Who’s got time for sleep, anyway?

Financially, Friday was a bad day.  But the intangible payoff of memories eclipsed any negatives.  My updated results are:

Day Four — Expenses:

— Tokes (to dealers) — $30

— Tokes (for cocktails) — $20

— Tournament Entry Fee — $140

— Calcutta Buy-Back — $25

— Tip to Rodney and Misc. — $45

— Sports Bet Loss (thanks Bruce) — $110.

NET DAILY RESULT: – $370.

NET OVERALL RESULT:  – $565.

__________

DAY FIVE REPORT

[44]  The Main Event is to BARGE what the $10,000 buy-in world championship is to the WSOP.  It’s the big dance.  The one.  Our championship.  The tournament starts at 11 am.

After a long Friday, I do manage about four hours rest, get up at 8 am, run a few personal errands, and then I’m on the highway by 10:30.  Oblivious to just about everything around me, I get on the 215 Beltway at Durango.  GVR is 9 miles straight ahead.  I should be in my seat just as the tournament starts.

About a mile down the road, I’m in the passing lane doing what I call the “Las Vegas speed limit,” which means the actual posted legal speed limit…..  plus 10 mph.  So, coasting along at 75 mph and listening to Van Morrison’s “Common One” album, the vastly overlooked 1978 masterpiece, is going to put me in the perfect, peaceful frame of mind.  One wants to come into a tournament on an emotional keel.

Without warning, the car begins making a slight humming sound.  Then suddenly, there’s no power.  I press the gas and get nothing.  The pedal goes to the floor.  Nothing.  Then, the lights on the dash light up.  Then, it’s 65, 55, 45, and as I pull off to the right in a desperate attempt to avoid blocking traffic, I get honked at by a few assholes.  The speedometer reads 45, then 40, 39, 38, 37, 36, 35……

Fuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuck!

The next exit ramp coming up is Rainbow, about a quarter-mile on a flat surface.  Now, I’m coasting on the shoulder.  35, 34, 33, 32, 31, 30, 25…..

Shiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiit!

I feel like Dennis Weaver in “Duel.”

C’mon, c’mon, you son of a bitch…..go!  Go!  Move!  C’mon, where’s the fumes?  Give me fumes!  One time!  One time!  If there’s anyplace to use my “one time, it’s now.

25, 24, 23, 22, 21, 20……finally, I’m on the service road which is mercifully a slight downhill grade.  I run a red line to keep the car’s momentum in effect, hoping for enough of a roll to find a spot to park safely.  While look for a place to land, strangely all I can think of is getting to my poker tournament.  Like an oasis in the desert, I spot an industrial park which I pull into just as the car coasts to its final resting spot, completely exhausted of fuel.

I try to restart.  Ttttttttttttttt.tttttttttttt.ttttttttttttttt.tttttttttttttt.  Ttttttttttttttt.tttttttttttt.ttttttttttttttt.tttttttttttttt.  Ttttttttttttttt.tttttttttttt.ttttttttttttttt.tttttttttttttt.

Yep, I’m out of gas.  Given all the poker, the dinners, the drinks, the singing, the conversations, and the distractions, I never bothered to check the fuel gauge and the bings must have been drowned out my Van Morrison.  Blame it on Van.

Park and lock and leave.  Fuck it.  I’ve got fish to try.  I’ll deal with the car later.  Where’s my Lyft app?

Of course, in my haste, I never bothered to re-charge the smartphone.  the phone has like 2 percent battery life.  I get just enough juice to make one quick request and I pound the confirm button just as the phone goes black.  A Lyft driver pulls up 5 minutes later (what a deal this Lyft is! — someone should write about that).  By this time, it’s 11 am, cards are in the air, and I’m climbing into a fucking Lyft car in an industrial park in SW LV about 20 minutes from the casino in a cold sweat.

I tell the driver not to drive but to fly and he manages to get me there by 11:15.  I’m in my seat by 11:20, perspiring like a farm animal.  Wonderful way to come in focused into the biggest poker tournament of the year, for me.

And so, my BARGE Main Event begins.

[45]  I didn’t take many notes.  I’m not into hands much.  I did that kind of reporting for 20 years in big tournaments and now just kinda’ rebel against it.  I don’t even like talking about hands.  But, given the course of events, I have to share just a few remembrances and key moments.

During the first half of the tournament, there were no huge hands for me.  I didn’t double up at any point.  It was more like a slow chip accumulation.  I also got some cards.  You have to get cards to go deep.  You also have to get cards and hope someone else doesn’t get better cards, or get really lucky and draw out when you’re the favorite.

I manage to navigate the minefield for several hours.  By the time about half the field is gone, things are going good.  I’m starting to “feel it.”

[45]  Goldie, a.k.a. Steven Goldman has made his customary last-longer bet.  Basically, dozens of players have up to a $20 bet with Goldie that’s a last longer.  So, when Goldie busts out, which happens sometime around 3 pm, the room erupts in a roar.  Goldie gets up from his seat, and there’s a murmur of applause, which grows louder, and then becomes the backslapping joyous roar.  Goldie is the willful foil of this self-induced fun.  He then proceeds to walk around the room, visiting several tables, paying off debts.  Someone shouts out, “Make it rain, Goldie!  Make it rain!”  More roars of laughter.  Even Goldie laughs.  Just another memorable BARGE moment.

[46]  Bust out gifts have become another BARGE tradition.  I accumulated several prizes over the course of nearly 12 hours of play.  When someone gets eliminated, he/she often presents the villain with a small token, like a toy or small bottle of liquor, or something poker related.  It’s all in good fun.  The funniest bust-out gift I saw went to someone else (I forgot who).  Steve W. gets eliminated, stands up, and then hands a 2-cent pen to someone at the table.  Puzzled by the gift of an ordinary pen, which could have been plucked right out of the dealer tray, Steve W. settles any lingering mystery by announcing — “that’s my bust out gift…..it’s a poker tracker.”  Nice one, Steve.

[47]  During a break, I have to get down on a baseball game.  All my data points say the Minnesota Twins are the lock on the sheet.  Fortunately, Bruce Framer isn’t around to pester me, be negative, and talk me out of a winner this time, and I get down the winnings from the previous ticket and roll it into a big worthy favorite.  Let it ride!

[48]  Sometime around 6 pm we break for dinner.  I really like this format.  For the first time I can remember, there’s no banquet (which was kinda’ Friday night) and we all split into groups and go where we want.  It’s the last night of BARGE at GVR, and there’s only about 100 people I wanted to spend more time with who have completely been ignored on this trip.  We make a reservation for about 15 at Bottaglia, the upscale Italian restaurant inside the casino.

Funny moment happens when we are discussing drinks.  I have a big stack and am up near the chip lead with 30 players left.  Fifteen players are getting paid.  I must cash in this event.  Simple as that.  Alcohol has never impacted my play, and I tend to pace myself pretty well.  And the temptation of enjoying a cocktail with friends at our final dinner makes this obligatory.  Sharon (I think) decides it’s party time and orders a giant jug of booze.  It’s like one of the iced tea urns you see at a self-serve restaurant, only it’s filled with Vodka and some pink colored fruit juice.  I have no idea what was in it, but it served a dozen.  I wasn’t sure if I like it, so I had to have a second glass.  Then, a third.  Okay, it’s pretty good.  As for the table discussion, we had an all-star group of conversationalists.  That seems to be a BARGE certainty.  Great meal, outstanding company.

[49]  By 10 pm, we’re in-the-money.  I’m at or near the chip lead.  Fantasies of winning begin swirling.  I can’t shut it off.  Having interviewed perhaps 500-600 WSOP gold bracelet winners, one thing I remember was that most champions never got distracted with touchdown dance/spike the ball fantasies.  After playing in 22 previous Main Events, I wanted to dance like a maniac and hurl the proverbial ball out of the park.  But still, 15 or so opponents stood in the way of me and the goal line.

An oddity:  I have about 30 backers.  Invariably, I ran into several of them at my tables this week, including the Main Event.  Jim Anderson has gone deep.  He’s one of my investors.  Same with others who I neglected to write down.  I don’t think even one time anyone made mention of it at the table.  It certainly didn’t affect anyone’s play.  However, I must say there was at least one moment of tail-between-the-legs embarrassment.

J.P. Massar, a legend in his own right, ends up winning this year’s BARGE Best All-Around award, scored by Crunch Daniel.  J.P. had a great BARGE.  However, I busted him from the Main Even in the worst way.  J.P. bought 2.5 shares and perhaps wishes he hadn’t when he was down to perhaps a dozen players and was dealt pocket aces.   I had the biggest stack at my table and in the big blind found 6-5 of diamonds.  J.P. moves all-in on a short stack of about 225K.  I have more than a million in chips and with a blind and ante already committed, it’s a mandatory call with the suited connector.  The flop is a nightmare for J.P.  I flop and up and down straight draw, and two diamonds, good also for a flush draw.  All suspense ends on the turn when a third diamond comes, and J.P. is drawing dead.  J.P. is stone cool at the table but when he busts, he’s got a fuse (like me).  I try to console J.P. on my bad beat to his aces.  He looks at me like I’ve landed from a different planet, shakes his head, mumbles something and walks off.  Well, at least J.P.’s chips will be put to good use.

One final thought on the pre-final table:  Amber Hotchkiss Cropsey sat to my left much of the last half of the tourney.  I believe this was her first Main Event at BARGE.  Well, she played great.  Amber finished just a few spots out of the money but showed patience and displayed abilities far beyond her level of experience.  Be proud, Amber.  Well done.

[50]  Final table starts about 11ish.  I love this table.  First time I think I’ve ever played with Roy Cooke, the noted poker author.  But he corrects me and insists we’ve played a few times.  BTW, a really cool bust out gift was John Scarne’s book on cards, a classic published in 1953.  I forgot who brought that gift (Postscript–it was Chic Natkins), but that was PURE CLASS.  John Scarne set the foundation of gambling writing back in the 1940s and 1950s and to find an original copy of his book was something special.  Sorry, I forgot the details of who went to the trouble and brought that book, but it should be noted for its uniqueness.

I arrive at the final table second in chips to Oliver Juang.  Then, I go card dead for the next 45 minutes.  The chips begin to dwindle, especially at 150K, then 200K, and then 250K an orbit.  A million in chips isn’t really that big a stack.

A few memorable hands:

I’m sitting with about 700K, and there’s a raise and an all-in re-raise by Paul McMillan.  I’m in the small blind with A-J suited.  I ditch the hand.  Tough lay down, but you can’t call re-raises with hands like that, even with high blinds.

Down to five players, Llew makes an amazing comeback.  She was down to less than a blind in chips, and I’m already looking at the board and fantasizing about the $500 pay jump between 5th and 4th.  Get out Llew!  I love you, but be gone!  Llew won’t give in.  She claws.  She fights.  She manages to build the stack to about 300K.  I’m sitting on 700K.  Llew shoves her stack.  I look down at A-T.  Funny that I folded A-J earlier, but this spot is different.  Llew has been raising a lot and seems to be freerolling in a sense.  She could certainly have two paints here, or even a weak Ace.  I don’t like my spot, so I tank for perhaps 30 seconds because losing this pot will really hurt and put me on life support.  I make a crying call with A-T and Llew flips up pocket Jacks.  No ace, no improvement for either hand and now Llew is in the middle of the pack and I’m the short stack.

Orbits come fast.  Perhaps 10 minutes later, I’m under the gun with K-9, not the greatest hand, but at this point, I’ve got about four more hands to play and decide to go with it.  Oliver is in the blind, wakes up with a big Ace, and takes my final chips.  I’m out fifth, good for $1,300 and change.

Bittersweet.

[51]  Scottro, a.k.a. Scott Harker is about a polar opposite from me as it gets politically and philosophically, but this has never impacted our friendship or mutual respect.  I really respect Scottro because while I disagree with him on many things, he lives and stays true to his principles.  He’s no hypocrite.  That’s worthy of admiration.  Scottro is also fun to play poker with, even though he’s a tough player.  During much of the later stages of the Main Event, I had position to Scottro’s left, which really gave me an extra advantage.  I’m glad for my lucky seat.

In all honesty, as much as I respected Llew’s comeback and like Scottro’s playing style, I thought among the last four that Dan Nussbaum and Oliver Juang would be the faves.  They had the big stacks.  Llew has won more ARGE Main Events than anyone (four different titles!) and she knows how to close.  Scottro is solid.  But I just didn’t see Oliver or Dan making a mistake.

Turns out, no mistakes were made.  After Llew busted fourth, Scottro just played his heart out and his ass off.  Nothing against Oliver or Dan, who I don’t know all the well (my loss, for sure), but I was jubilant for Scottro when I heard he won and is now the 2019 BARGE CHAMPION.  I was sad for myself, but seeing Scottro get there, especially knowing he’s gone through some personal trials of his own, was a fist-pumping moment for me.  Bingo won last year.  Scottro won this year.  I’m all out of fist pumps.

 

[52]  What does one do after busting from the Main Event after 12 hours?  Well that answer’s easy!  Let’s play some more poker!

Eric and Bruce are nesting in some bottom-feeder $4-8 Dealers Choice game with a half-kill.  Patti’s in also.  I can’t resist temptation.  I take $100 from my poker winnings and get dealt one hand.  It’s Badaci, a game I loathe.  Pot is big for a game of this limit and when the hand is over, I’m stacking $32 in profit.

I decide then and there, this is the perfect time to quit.

In my life, I have played exactly ONE HAND of live poker inside the GVR poker room.  Honestly, I had never played here before.  I had not played ONE HAND of live poker during BARGE.  So, to win the ONE HAND I play and chalk up a winner seems like a perfect exclamation point.

Take that, fuckers.  !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

[53]  Bingalaha is my favortie BARGE poker playing pastime.  It’s a game we invented about ten years ago, credited to Bingo.  I’ve endured massive swings in that game, stacking up more than $5,000 a few times, and losing nearly as much the one time this group took our merry poker circus to the Venetian.  I love Bingalaha, which is a PLO High/Low variation with dice.

For the first time, I decide to skip the game.  I’m tired.  I’m ahead, by a nice score.  My Minnesota Twins sports ticket won, I see.  This has been a helluva’ day.  Oh, and my car’s sitting in an industrial park in SW Las Vegas past midnight out of gas.

I do the responsible thing.  Let’s wrap.  Let’s call it a BARGE.

On the way, back — I have to call another Lyft.  A woman picks me up and I explain I ran out of gas 14 hours ago and have been at the casino since 11 this morning.  We need to stop at the gas station, then take me to the car.

LYFT DRIVER:  “You left your car and played at the casino since this morning?”

ME:  “That’s right.”

LYFT DRIVER:  [Silence.  I can only imagine what’s swimming inside her head — *RED FLAG:  COMPULSIVE GAMBLER*]

We stop at a gas station, where I buy a half-gallon of Sprite that’s on sale.  The Sprite gets poured out in the parking lot.  Now, I have a gas can.  Fill ‘er up!

The half-gallon is enough to re-start the car and get me back on the road.  Meanwhile, the Lyft driver, who has no clue I did that drudgery for a full month, has to be thinking….what a loser.

Saturday was a smash hit in every way imaginable (except for running out of gas).  I got into the black in every investment sector and closed with a nice profit.  My updated results are:

Day Five– Expenses:

— Tokes (to dealers) — $40

— Tournament Staff Toke — $50

— Tokes (for cocktails) — $30

— Tournament Entry Fee — $140

Winnings:

— 5th-Place Finish in Main Event — + $1,371

— ADB Last Longer Win — + $200

— Calcutta ROI — + $97

— Winning Sports Wager — + $208

NET DAILY RESULT: + $1,516 .

[See Overall Final BARGE results below]

__________

 

DAY SIX REPORT

[54]  Dan and Sharon Goldman live a half-mile from me.  In fact, I can walk to their house.  This makes for an odd reality that I’ve skipped several BARGE after-parties in recent years.  I ascribe my absence to some genuine fatigue and the long-lost responsibilities of being back home after a week-long poker vacation.  In other words, there’s a tap out factor at every BARGE and I usually reach it by late Saturday night.

This year, however, I was inspired to attend for several valid reasons.  First, my BARGE experience connected to so many people, including backers, wouldn’t be complete without a wind-down gathering.  I suppose it’s like going into the clubhouse after playing 18 holes of golf.  It’s an encore.  Dan and Sharon’s place is the BARGE clubhouse and the show-stopping curtain closer on a spectacular week of fun.

The other reason I attended had everything to do with liquor multiplied by a factor of three.

  1. I missed Patti’s gin tasting.  So, she promised a reprise of the experience.
  2. Rodney Chen mentioned he had a special gift for Dan and Sharon which was inspired by one of my rants.  He asked me to be there, and I was obliged to oblige.
  3. I was promised champagne.

The merry gathering drew about 50-60 guests, plus assorted dogs and cats, and who knows what other furry beasts.  Which reminds me — Grizz was there, too.  Honestly, I have no idea how Dan and Sharon allow us to turn their home into what amounts to poker’s Woodstock.  I don’t want to say that we trash their house, but we do trash their house.  FWIW, I remembered to toss away all my garbage, except when the trash can overflowed and then I just said — “ah, fuck it.”  It looked like a stadium after a football game.

Speaking of Grizz, he brought some cold crisp champagne, and I enjoyed his treat — a celebration of his word to share some bubbly if one of us went deep in the Main Event.  Thanks, Grizz (I think he cashed 2 or 3 times, BTW — nice run!).  Sorry for th4 furry beast comment, earlier.  Furry would have been more than enough adjectives.

[55]  Chris Quan spent years together traveling the poker tournament circuit.  The Queens native is someone I’ve known and respected a long time and I was glad to see him join BARGE around five years ago.  Chris and I make a pact to get together next time, which always seems to lead to another unkept promise.  And this brings me to the sadness of BARGE.

In this report, I’ve cited perhaps 30-35 names, but also omitted another 150.  It’s one of the reasons I didn’t write trip reports for many years.  I don’t like leaving people out.  I fear they might think their friendships didn’t have as much of an impact.  This isn’t the case, of course.  I just want to point out that this is just ONE single report.  It’s just a scratch on the surface.  I’m at 12,000 words already, and the full rhapsody of BARGE seems woefully inadequate here on these pages.

[56]  Patti Beadles gives me a gift I can possibly replay.  This gift consists of her knowledge, her time, and her passion (one of many).  Patti mentioned that she’d do a gin-tasting redux on Sunday.  What I didn’t expect was this to be a one-on-one experience.

Patti called me over.  She lined up multiple bottles of gin, ranging from very good to world-class and the proceded to stand with me at the Goldman bar while she poured and lectured about the uniqueness of each distillery and flavor.  Admittedly, I’m no aficionado of gin.  Hence, this was not just an eye-opening experience, but a revelation of new tastes.

Patti first poured me the classic London Dry, then we sampled the Irish gin, and so on.  Here was the order of consumption:

Sipsmith: Basic London Dry

Five Saints: from Philadelphia, a bit peppery

Ha’Penny: from Ireland, a basic London Dry

Hayman’s Old Tom: Sweet

St. George Terroir: Chewing on a forest

Hendricks Summer Solstice: Floral, very lavender

The standout among these gin beauties was the artisan liquid craft called St. George Terroir, from Alameda, CA — which coincidentally is close to where Patti lives.  I mentioned that I’d had three memorable gin experiences in my life — the first time I had a gin and tonic, the first time I tasted Hendricks, and then this tasting, and especially the St. George Terroir, which was the first and only gin I would order alone and savor.  It’s that damn good.

Thanks, Patti, for sharing.  I learned quite a lot about gin and for the first time came to appreciate the nuances of taste.

[57]  Rodney Chen has his own tradition.  He’s the BARGE photographer, who spends countless hours and resources making photos for all the attendees.  Some of the tips cover his costs, but Rodney clearly does this purely for the love of giving.  He also live-streamed the final table the previous night, over Facebook.  Pretty amazing set-up.  Rodney is our documentation.

And yet, he’s the one who’s giving something away.  For hosting the party each year, Rodney brings Dan a special bottle of bourbon, which is Dan’s thing (well, one of Dan’s things).  Trouble is, Dan has tasted just about every bourbon on the market, and some that are so rare you’ve never heard of them.  There’s no way to really surprise him given his vast experience and expertise.  However, about a month ago, I trashed Bob Dylan’s-branded bourbon, which is labeled Heaven’s Door.  It runs about $60 a bottle.  Remarkably, Dan had never tried this before and so Rodney thought it was the ideal gift since we are all disciples of Bob Dylan’s “spirit,” in philosophy, if not in mass consumerism.

Anyway, we make an earnest presentation to Dan (and Sharon).  I ask Dan to put on Dylan’s “Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door” and then say a few words, which were in gratitude to our hosts.  Then, Rodney presents the bourbon, which causes Dan to sparkle.  Somehow, the Dylan batch gets passed around like Army soldiers swigging moonshine around a campfire, and Dan has perhaps half of his “gift” remaining by the time we’re retired to other activities.

Speaking of which, the final chapter……

[58]  I find parties distasteful.  Really, I do.  Standing around.  Shit food.  Boring small talk.  I don’t like to go to parties.  But this one is different.

Lots of BARGErs are off in the dining room, doing what BARGErs do — playing some ridiculous gambling game with dice.  I have no idea what’s happening but about every 5 minutes, there’s a loud roar and then someone stands up from the table.  So, I guess this is kinda’ like some tournament where dice have replaced cards.

I mozy outside, which by 6 pm is nice and dry and comfortable for August in Las Vegas.  We’re out by the pool, and the group of 3 turns to 5, then to 7, and by 8 pm with the sunset on the Western horizon and the dawn of yet another BARGE just over the ridge, we get to share, and laugh, and ponder, and reflect.  Of all the BARGE moments, I think I most enjoyed this final two hours where I got to listen to people I have known for 10, 15, and 20 years or more and then really find out more about them, in this group setting as we go around the circle and share memories and opinions on just about everything.  BARGE events do tend to be distracting and can be overwhelming, at times.  So, this moment of quiet reflection is an ideal close to the evening and the week.

[59]  Finally, a closing note to say that the entire BARGE contingent will be in action this coming NFL season.  Since the BARGE fund is short and needs donations, we took an extra $40 from the Saturday night dinner and rolled it into an NFL future bet.  We wanted a longshot, but not such a longshot that the team had no chance.  So, we looked for a team in the middle of the pack, and we found the perfect representation of a glorious train wreck.  We wagered on the Cleveland Browns to win the Super Bowl.  Bingo took the extra $40 from dinner and placed it on behalf of all BARGErs on the Browns to win the championship.  If the impossible happens, and the team which hasn’t won an NFL title since 1964 gets there, our futures ticket will pay $929.  Go Browns!

Postscript:  Oops!  I meant “Go Steelers!”  We talked about betting the Browns at dinner, but then Eric Schneller put the $4o BARGE fund on the rival Steelers at 22-1, which I agree is a far better value.  Go Steelers!

 

FINAL INVESTMENT FUND NET-RESULTS:

Tournament Results (6 Events):   + $774.

Cash Game Results (1 Playing Session):   + $32.

Sports Wagers (3 Bets):  + 298.

ADB Last Longer Wagers (3 Bets):  + $180.

Calcutta ROI (1 Investment):  +$72.

Sabyl Cohen-Landrum Investment Fund:  +$34 

Gross Gambling Profits from BARGE 2019:  + $1,590. 

 

A big thank you to the BARGE organizers.  A big thank you to Kathy Raymond and the Green Valley Ranch poker room staff.  A big thank you to Virtue Poker for funding the Karaoke event.  A big thank you to those who presented me with gifts.  A big thank you to those who bought me dinners.  A big thank you to each of my backers.  A big thank you to Eric Schneller and Kacie Young for joining us as BARGE virgins this year.  And finally, a big thank you to everyone who attended BARGE.

Finally, thank you for reading.  I hope these memories will inspire each of you to create a few of your own and others might join us at BARGE 2020.

 

Nothing really matters — anyone can see.

Nothing really matters.

Nothing really matters — to me.

….Any way the wind blows.

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Posted by on Jul 4, 2019 in Blog, Essays | 0 comments

July 4th, 2019

 

 

MY INDEPENDENCE DAY MESSAGE:  July 4, 2019

WHEN THE REPUBLICAN PARTY HAD A SOUL

 

I was there in the hall that night at the Dallas Convention Center during the 1984 Republican National Convention when Ray Charles belted out the greatest of all odes — “America the Beautiful.” What a gorgeous melody and moment.

I sat midway back in the audience, dead center aisle, one of the best seats in the house (I got media credentials, then tagged on an “ABC News” badge someone gave me, so I got total access throughout the hall, even to the stage area). I wept with joy.

I fondly remember those wondrous days of yesteryear so long ago when the Republican Party had a soul. Even those who disagreed with Ronald Reagan’s policies — and there were valid reasons for protest — *still* largely liked him and thought of him as a civil and decent man. How times have changed, especially on the political Right.

I love America — but I also loathe nationalism. I weep at the Star Spangled Banner when it’s done right — but acknowledge it’s a horrible anthem, inappropriate for its glorification of war and overt racism. I am lucky to be born in this country — but am often ashamed by it — its leaders, its people, and i’s policies. I’m acutely aware our prosperity was built on the backs of millions of slaves, indigenous people, and immigrants. I believe my understanding of my place in time as an American makes me a true patriot, even though I don’t consider myself particularly patriotic. Patriotism isn’t measured by the size of a flag. It’s reflected in ideas and courage and conviction about what our country should stand for and strive for.

For as many years as I can remember as a homeowner, we always put out the American flag on our doorstep. Strangely, it seemed out of place, on occasion, especially here in Las Vegas where money and corporations are worshipped, fame and celebrity are confused with wisdom, and where most citizens can’t identify the Bill of Rights. But we hung it out anyway. We were usually the only people on our block with an American flag outside. How odd that must seem given the Marxist leanings of the Dalla household.

This year, I elected to keep my flag indoors. My American flag will not hang outside. I will not partake in the politicization of my national holiday by a president who disrespects the U.S. Constitution, lacks a fundamental understanding of American history, and who coddles the world’s most despicable dictators. That’s not “American.” I will celebrate democracy when it genuinely means something. I refuse to be a part of any partisan parade or faux military spectacle. No, I won’t go along with the motions.

I will not allow this president to co-opt all that America stands for, which isn’t tanks in the streets and children locked in cages. I want not lend my name, nor presence, nor participation, to any 4th of July with that ugly message. It’s un-American.

Instead, I will reflect with admiration of that time 35 long years ago when our friends in the Republican Party were once good and decent people. Perhaps someday they will reclaim that marvelous pinnacle of political and moral authority.

I wonder. I hope.

Look at the faces of the people in this video.

My message to you all, everywhere, on this Independence Day.

 

 

__________

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Posted by on Jun 1, 2019 in Blog, Essays, Movie Reviews, Music and Concert Reviews | 0 comments

Movie Review: Elton John Musical Biopic “Rocketman” Crashes and Burns

 

"Rocketman"

 

Elton John’s preeminence as a flamboyant rock n’ roll troubadour is deeply grooved into our vinyl consciousness.

His mesmerizing 1970’s songbook is arguably the most astounding output of any solo artist over the past 50 years.  While his gold records revolved at 33 rpm, his fame spiraled at 78 speed.  His eccentricities, outlandish stage costumes, a sham marriage when he tried to play it straight, and hypersexuality were fodder for ceaseless gossip and scandal.

His musical career soared to extraordinary highs, packed sports stadiums, and survived craterous lows.  His celebrity remains indisputably global, gender neutral, cross-generational, and yet all of his music is crassly commercial.  To millions of fans and even those who aren’t, but can’t help but hum the harmonies to his hit songs, Elton John isn’t just a stylish trendsetter.  He’s painfully honest, wallowed in imperfection.

“I have taken every drug; I have fucked everything that moves,” Elton John once told a startled interviewer.

So given these realities, a well-documented public life, combined with Elton’s John’s unapologetic openness about his private ordeals, how is Rocketman, the purported collaborative movie biography, such a misfire?

There’s no excuse for this.  None.  I should have loved Rocketman.  Ostensibly,  I’m the target audience.  This movie was custom-made for devoted fans who grew up with his music.  Consider Goodbye Yellow Brick Road, Elton John’s 1973 double album masterpiece, was one of the first records I ever purchased with allowance money.  I recall the excitement, hastily unwrapping the new album jacket encased in cellophane, the smell of the record, carefully placing vinyl discs upon the family turntable so as not to scratch it, hoisting the needle, sprawling myself across the shag carpet, and then following along with liner notes penned by lyricist Bernie Taupin as Elton John’s music took me to imaginary places that seemed otherworldly.

How could they possibly blow this?

There are so many things annoying about this movie, I don’t know where to begin.  So, let’s start at the beginning.

In the opening scene, Elton John enters rehab.  He’s been on a steady decline for a decade.  He joins a group therapy session at what looks to be an AA meeting.  Inexplicably, he’s dressed in full stage regalia — looking something like a giant insect that swallowed a court jester.  Yet no one in the group seems to think it’s a big deal that Elton John, one of the most famous people in the world at the time, is sitting there, about to tell us his life story.  Are these people alive?  The rest of the addicts just sit there the whole time like they’re listening to Joe the Plumber apologize about drinking way too many beers at the company picnic.

So, the next two hours of therapy are utterly dominated by this self-centered superstar obsessing about his life, causing me to wonder — hey, what about the other poor souls who have their own addiction problems?  Don’t they get some talk time?  Do they have to sit here for two hours and listen to this guy babble?  I guess so  — because it’s Elton John.

Snippets of Elton John’s many hits appear throughout the film, although he sings none of them.  More on that creative oddity in just a moment.  Most of us will recognize every song.  There’s no filler, nor experimentation here.  We get a predictable stream of best sellers.  The movie soundtrack has all the originality of a “Greatest Hits” compilation.

The songs intend to stitch together some hopelessly disjoined biographical timeline when none actually exists.  To illustrate the awkward misuse of music, when Elton John launches into his lengthy confessional by reminiscing about his early childhood growing up as Reginald Dwight (his real name), a flashback transposes us into a 1950s street dance overlapped with The Bitch is Back, off the 1974 album Caribou.  How did this scene make it past the first draft?  Why is a 7-year-old boy from Middlesex barking out The Bitch is Back?  That was the first instant I leaned forward in my theater seat and went — “huh?”

That bizarre opener pretty much obliterated any appreciation of artistic expression.  Elton John’s hits are recklessly scattered all over the storyline.  Wherever any lyric might coincidentally connect to a real event in his life, it’s exploited to the max, though in no way reflected what was going on at the time.  For instance, we hear the early songs, mostly composed when Elton John had no discernable demons nor any destructive bad habits, which are misused contextually so as to imply that each song was a cry for help, the emotional intensity magnified by the succession of each album.  Moreover, Elton John’s song lyrics — so often sweltering in pain and loss — was almost entirely the creation of collaborative co-writer Bernie Taupin, who for the most part escaped his songwriting partner’s voyage aboard the paparazzi parade branded the Titanic.  Taupin may indeed have projected some emotions onto Elton John, the performer.  But the film’s quilting of music and narrative is disingenuous.

To the film’s credit, all songs were re-recorded and sung by Taron Egerton, who does quite an admirable job playing Elton John.  Egerton, not widely known before taking this role, was a bold casting decision and he delivers both commanding vocals and convincing performance.  Egerton’s challenges cannot be understated.  Other rockstar movie bios usually miss the target, often embarrassingly so, which is tough to hit when the superstar is as prominent a public figure as Elton John.  However, Egerton nails both the incomparable musical demands and the swaggering persona.  Even more impressive, the actor gives a credible performance transforming into the self-destructive rock icon over the span of a decade, meandering back and forth between a joyously contrived onstage performer juxtaposed against the miserable misanthrope left alone in hotel suites with a bottle of vodka and spoon piled with cocaine.

Way too much of the movie focuses on Elton John’s continuous slide into addiction — with drugs, alcohol, and sex.  It’s an all-too-familiar story we’ve seen before.  There’s nothing new here.  While Elton John’s personal problems do make for an empathetic confessional, I’d have preferred greater insight into his songwriting and the creative collaboration between John and Taupin.  The movie cheapens what must have been a grueling artistic process — releasing ten gold albums in just six years — grossly oversimplifying the effort it took to create so many memorable pop songs.  Artistic revelation is reduced to the pianist taking a sheet of paper with lyrics scribbled by Taubin and then composing a near perfect melody within 15 seconds.  Frankly, it’s ridiculous.

Audiences may have some difficulty commensurating with Elton John’s problems.  By the mid-1970s, the rock icon was reportedly pulling in $85 million a year.  He had everything going his direction — prodigal talent, fame, riches, and the creative freedom to do anything he wanted.  Yet, Rocketman crashes and burns.  Yes, this did happen.  Just don’t expect me to be sympathetic.

The film goes to painstaking lengths to convince us Elton John’s emotional breakdown was borne out of a childhood void of love.  His parents, who divorced, are reduced to cruel caricatures.  Neither are appreciative of his talent or success.  In real life, Elton John has spoken affectionately about his parents, especially his mother.  A 2013 interview with NPR’s Terry Gross on NPR provided the revelation that even when young and confused about his sexual orientation, Elton John’s mother was emotionally supportive.  So, either Elton John was lying then in the interview or the filmmakers now have taken their artistic license and run off a cliff.

Rocketman does manage to take its touchiest subject and portray it in a manner so as to be both true to the subject matter while not ruffling feathers of the conventional mainstream.  Portraying homosexual acts on film does pose a serious dilemma for filmmakers.  Whether we’ll admit it or not, that remains taboo in cinema.  Unlike Bohemian Rhapsody, which somehow managed to brush the gay Freddie Mercury completely under the rug, this film portrays Elton John’s steady romances and flings with credibility, without the exploitation and sensationalism.  Straight men won’t wince.

Rocketman has received mostly positive reviews.  Perhaps this speaks to the evergreen nature of Elton John’s immense musical catalog.  Or maybe, critics rightly perceive this film biography as honest to its subject matter.  Then, there’s Taron Egerton’s magnificent performance.  There are things to like about Rocketman. 

Unfortunately, this marvelous musical journey is marred by unnecessary distractions and way too many voids.  By the final scene where Elton John enters the MTV age and performs what turns out to be the self-prophetic I’m Still Standing, a catchy ripoff of Gloria Gayner’s mega-hit I Will Survive, we’ve gained no added insight as to the man behind the glittery glasses nor his music.  Never mind that I’m Still Standing was written years before Elton John entered rehab in 1990 and had nothing all to do with the recovery process.   Like more than a dozen annoyances in this film, the truth isn’t bent.  It’s broken.

Perhaps the gravest falsehood in the film is an early scene when Elton John is asked by music publisher Dick James what stage name he’ll take for his first record.  On a whim, the young pianist says “Elton”……and then “John” as his eyes wander and fixate on a photograph of John Lennon hanging in James’ London office.  Fact is, Elton John actually took his stage name from London bluesman Long John Baldry.  So, why lie?

Quoting Elton John, the appropriate description of Rocketman is indeed a sad situation:

It’s sad, so sad
It’s a sad, sad situation
And it’s getting more and more absurd.
It’s sad, so sad
Why can’t we talk it over?
Oh, it seems to me
That sorry seems to be the hardest word.

MY RATING:  I give Rocketman 3 stars out of 1o.  This film is a pass, even if you’re a big fan of Elton John’s music.

 

Image result for rocketman movie poster

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Posted by on May 31, 2019 in Blog, Essays, Travel | 0 comments

Champagne is for All Seasons

 

 

Next time, skip the Dom Perignon and Cristal, grossly overrated, mass-produced, factory-manufactured, overhyped, big-name brands which leverage decades of clever corporate-driven global marketing and hype. 

Instead, try a smaller-scale, hand-made, family-produced Grand Cru Champagne from a single vineyard — which offers far more distinctive taste and unique character, often at less than half the price.

 

It’s time for Americans to demystify Champagne.

We tend to view Champagne as a once-a-year luxury.  We drink champagne mostly on special occasions — like New Year’s Eve and at weddings.

In this country, Champagne is largely associated with celebration.  Order champagne in a restaurant sometime, and the first question you’re likely to be asked is, “what are you celebrating.”

Actually, Champagne is a treat for all occasions.  In fact, Champagne deserves to be experienced year round.  It should be enjoyed by everyone.  Champagne and its close cousin sparking wine are both accessible and affordable to drinkers on all budgets.

Unfortunately, Champagne is widely perceived as expensive.  Indeed, some rare vintages can cost thousands of dollars.  But there are also some wonderfully drinkable and affordably-priced Champagnes worth trying which are indistinguishable to everyone except those with the most sophisticated palates.  Of special note is sparkling wine, deserving far closer attention than they’ve been given.

Don’t be fooled by the distinction between the classic “Champagne” versus “sparkling wine.”  The only difference lies in geography.  The grapes are mostly the same.  Sparkling wine uses identical production techniques as Champagne.  While the world’s supreme bottles tend to be from France, far more economical options are readily available from Spain, Italy, California, and other regions of the wine-making world.

Fact is, I’m a budget-conscious drinker.  I’ve enjoyed plenty of delicious sparkling wines costing under $10 a bottle.  I like to get the most taste bang for my buck.

Here are two very affordable recommendations which are widely available just about everywhere:

Rondel — This is a Spanish-made Cava offered in Brut, Semi Seco, Rosé, Gold and Platinum styles.  It’s a fantastic buy for the money, typically about $8 a bottle.  It’s a perfect Summer refreshment.

Segura Viudas — Here’s another Spanish Cava with a much wider range of price points.  However, the simple $9 bottle (Brut) is every bubble as enjoyable as the costlier options.

When it comes to bona fide Champagne, which is always made exclusively from grapes produced in the region of France with the same name, we’ve largely been fooled.  We’ve been led astray.  We fell for the hype.  So now, let’s clear up some gross misperceptions and try and set the record straight.

Ask most Americans to pick the best Champagne, and Dom Perignon or Cristal always are the odds on favorites.  They’re certainly the best-known brands in the U.S. and throughout the world.  Truth is, however, Dom Perignon and Cristal are grossly overrated, mass-produced, factory-manufactured, overhyped big-name brands which leverage decades of clever corporate-driven global marketing.  They are coasting purely on reputation.

In other words, you’re forking over big bucks for the label, paying a premium price just for the popular name.  Please, quit buying the hype.  Stop it.  Quit being a sucker for overpriced Champagne.

Dom Perignon, manufactured by Moet Chandon, produces about 5 million bottles annually.  Five million.  Hence, there’s nothing exclusive about it.  Grapes are grown in multiple vineyards (most not even on the Moet Chandon estate) and processed inside a mass factory.  All production is automated.  The first time most of these expensive bottles have been touched by any human hand is the time you open it.  Each bottle of Dom has about as much independent character and personality as a can of  Coke.

Cristal, the other well-known premium Champagne, is made by Louis Roederer.  Production levels run about one-million bottles per year.  One million bottles.  That’s not exclusive.  That’s Pepsi with a cork.  Cristal was originally the favorite drink of Russian royalty during the mid-19th Century.  More recently, it’s become associated with Hip Hop culture.  It’s the “go to” beverage at bottle service in nightclubs.  Ordering a bottle of Cristal is a calling card announcing that you’ve made it big.  Actually, it shows you’re a chump who knows next to nothing about Champagne.

It’s all hype, folks.

Admittedly, Dom Perignon and Cristal do buy the very best grapes grown by growers in the Champagne region.  Their standards are exceedingly high.  Accordingly, these Champagnes are always outstanding.  But they’re also way too pricey.  The average bottle runs about $150 to $250 — double that figure in fine restaurants and then quadruple the retail price at nightclubs.  They’re a rip-off.  Let me put it even more bluntly — if you’re ordering Dom Perignon or Cristal, you have more money than brains and are demonstrating zero Champagne appreciation.

Here’s my suggested alternative.

Instead, try a smaller-scale Grand Cru Champagne that’s hand-made from a single vineyard — which is far more distinctive, usually at less than half the price.  You’ll also be supporting a private, independent grower.  So many are marvelous!

There are dozens of phenomenal Champagnes priced at less than $100 a bottle.  Some are much cheaper, scanning at around $30 to $50.  Many of these tasty Champagnes are family-run businesses dating back more than a century.  Each bottle in the vineyard is stored away and hand-turned.  Grapevines are decades old and cultivated with great care.  Each and every bottle is different.

A few weeks ago, I tasted the very best bottle of Champagne in my life.  I’d like to share this moment of pure bliss.  My epiphany took place at a special tasting consisting here in Las Vegas consisting of eight Grand Cru Champagnes.  All of them were absolutely wonderful.  This one particular vintage was off the charts.

Pertois Moriset Camille is a golden, honey-sweet single vintage Blanc de Blanc Champagne made with 100 percent Grand Cru Chardonnay grapes.  It’s from a small scale vineyard with a limited production of only about 5,000 bottles annually.  Five thousand bottles.  Not five million.  Now, that’s what I call — exclusive.

Regarding the taste, this is a slightly darker, richer, fuller body than we’re customarily used to experiencing with most Champagne.  One can even taste the yeast in the bubbly.  You can almost chew it.  It’s fabulous.  Breathtaking for the money and a steal of a buy.

Price:  $62 per bottle.

I can’t stress enough how much better, how much more interesting, how much more enjoyable a tasting experience the Pertois Moriset Camille was versus the more popular Dom Perignon and Kristal, which were 3-times and 4-times the price of the smaller, more exclusive production.  To me, the Pertois Moriset Camille — hand grown, produced by a family, made individually, and far rarer — should command the $200 per bottle price.  The Dom and Kristal should be $50 a pop.  Our perceptions of Champagne are upside down and inside out, turned on its collective ass by mass marketers and pop culture.

One more reason to buy the smaller production labels:  Most of these vineyards are co-ops.  They grow their own grapes and share the facilities of production.  Meanwhile, Dom and Kristal are multi-national corporations.  You tell me which bottle likely has more character.

So, here’s my final plea:  Stop ordering the Dom and Kristal.  Next time you want to celebrate a special occasion or have to pay for the big wedding, go the far more creative route.  Superior taste and great stories rest within frosty bottles from Pertois Moriset Camille and all the small independent producers of Champagne.  And please — pour me a glass!

Cheers!

 

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