North Dakota Short Stories.
Until recently, five miles had been the closest that I’d ever come to being in North Dakota.
Five miles — as in 35,000 feet high.
And why would I ever go to North Dakota? Nothing against the fine people of that proud red-state voting, red-eat meating giant walk-in outdoor freeezer, but as far as I was concerned that territory might as well be called South Saskatchewan. Or Mongolia.
If there’s a lesson to be learned about how our perceptions often do (and should) change over time, it’s that exposure to something you know nothing about often makes you gain an appreciate for it. Except for Anthrax and FOX News, of course.
Fulfilling this pedestrian philosophical prophesy, days ago I penned the following narrative on what it’s like to stay in Downtown Fargo for a whole week. Read “FARGO” here.
What I didn’t reveal to you then are a few of the many things that surprised me about North Dakota. Did you know that:
Notice to the world: Do not, I repeat DO NOT, ask me to watch NFL football in a public place.
I have no interest in making small talk when my mortgage payment might be at stake. And since another losing wager probably means the humiliation of taking out a cash advance on my last credit card, I’m not really interested in hearing your personal problems.
Have a nice day and leave me the fuck alone!
But some people can’t resist what’s a natural temptation. Because my company is cherished by so many, I receive far more invitations to football watching parties that I can possibly accept. Sort of like being George Clooney. Inevitably, those who invite me end up disappointed and emotionally crushed. Sorry, but football watching isn’t mindless entertainment. It’s more like a financial lobotomy (especially true, if you’ve been following my plays).
However, over the last 11 years I’ve made one notable exception. I join some of my (few remaining) friends at Monday Night Football viewing gatherings here in Las Vegas.
Executive Producer Graham King at the 2007 Academy Awards, accepting the Best Picture Oscar
If you don’t know the name Graham King, you most certainly know his movies.
He’s produced many of the most widely acclaimed films of the last decade including — Traffic, Ali, Gangs of New York, The Aviator, The Departed, Blood Diamond, The Young Victoria, The Tourist, Rango, The Rum Diary, Hugo, Argo, World War Z, and more.
That’s a stunning list. In fact, two of those movies won the Academy Award for “Best Picture” — The Departed (2006) and Argo (2012).
When The Departed won Best Picture, it wasn’t Martin Scorsese, the film’s legendary director who accepted the year’s most prestigious Oscar. It was Graham King himself upon the stage alone — the mastermind behind the movie’s creation. He accepted the golden statue and then gave a rousing victory speech.
So, what does this have to do with Stu Ungar?
I’m about tell you the story.
As September nears a close, I’d be remiss were I not to acknowledge what would have been the 60th birthday of the late Stu Ungar.
The gin and poker savant was born September 8, 1953. Also worth remembering — in a few months, it will be the 15th anniversary of his death.
Over the years, much has been written about the man-myth-legend, some by my hand in One of a Kind: The Rise and Fall of Stuey ‘the Kid’ Ungar, his biography and swan song.
During the many interviews I’ve done since, I’m most frequently asked how Stuey would fare in today’s poker world. Certainly, the game is much different now than when the three-time world champion was at his very best. This is a complex question,, which calls purely upon speculation. No one really knows the answer. I suppose it’s the universal question asked of all past greats who die too early — from Marilyn Monroe to James Dean to Jimmy Hendrix.
Tell someone you’re spending a week in Fargo, and a blank stare is likely to be chaperoned by a single word.
I had no idea what to expect on this, my first trip to Fargo, North Dakota. Well, I thought I knew what to expect — which turned out to be completely wrong.
What I knew about Fargo was pretty much limited to the wonderful 1996 movie of the same name, written and directed by Joel and Ethan Coen, a.k.a. the Coen Brothers. Oddly enough, practically none of Fargo was actually filmed here, nor anywhere nearby. In fact, just about every scene was shot a few hundred miles away, in Brainerd (Minnesota) and the suburbs around Minneapolis. The Coen Brothers know this territory well, since they were born and raised in St. Louis Park, just outside the Twin Cities.
When I asked a local resident why they decided to call the movie “Fargo,” he told me, “because it sounds a helluva’ lot better than Brainerd.”