Fifty-Seven Things You Don’t Know About Me (and May Not Care) on the Glorious Occasion of My 57th Birthday
57 Things You Don’t Know About Me (and May Not Care) on the Glorious Occasion of My 57th Birthday
Writer’s Note: Time now for another self-indulgent article on the special occasion of my 57th birthday. This column has become an annual tradition for me. If you can spare a little generosity to help keep this website going and allow me to pay my webmaster Ernst Dieter Martin a few bucks for all his hard work, I would be most grateful. Please click the CONTRIBUTE button to the right side if you care to lend your support. If not, then please enjoy anyways. I have lots of new exciting projects coming up in the weeks and months ahead. Thanks for reading.
 Max Dallavalle, my great-grandfather, was murdered. Apparently, he was so disliked that two people confessed to the crime — my great-grandmother Rosa Dallavalle and another Italian immigrant named Victor Pangrazi. My great-grandfather’s murder was quite a big news story. [See headlines above]
 My paternal side of the family immigrated from the northernmost point in Italy, in the Tyrol Mountains near the Italian-Austrian-German border. On the Italian boot, it would be the upper ankle part. They were dirt poor. Max Dallavalle worked in mining. [A picture of the Dallavalle Family appears at the end of this article — but don’t scroll down just yet, there’s a surprise.]
 “Dalla” in Italian language means from the…. “Valle” means valley. Hence, Dallavalle literally means from the valley. Max and Rosa Dallavalle came from the small mountain village of Rabbi in the Trentino province of Italy. Yes, Rabbi lies in the valley.
 My great-grandparents had four children. One of them was my grandfather. He lost his hearing as a baby and was deaf for almost all of his life. Still, he was a smart and tough man. He was a vociferous reader. He even taught himself how to speak, which was unusual for deaf people at that time. They used to use a phrase “deaf and dumb.” My grandfather was deaf. But he was never dumb. Upon arriving in America, part of the Dallavalle family moved to Colorado to work in mining. Others stayed behind in the northern New Jersey area, around the NYC suburb of Palisades Park, across what’s now the George Washington Bridge from Manhattan.
 My grandfather was an amazing man. He was entirely self-supporting since he was a teenager. Raymond Dalla moved to Dallas and worked for many years as a shoe repairman. He also played minor league baseball for a time and even pitched once to Babe Ruth in an exhibition game. True story: My grandfather struck out Babe Ruth! (True Confession: This was long after Ruth’s retirement. But still — he struck out the Babe!).
 My father was one of five children. He was in the union and worked as an Air Traffic Controller for 20 years and was fired by Ronald Reagan in the famous 1982 PATCO strike. Nonetheless, my father was always staunchly conservative and Republican, and remains so to the day. Growing up, politics was always part of our daily life and discussion. My father was the first person in our family to earn a college degree. Actually, he earned two degrees while working as a controller full-time! My father also ran 26-mile marathons when he was younger. I guess you could say, my father is an amazing man, too!
 My father had four siblings — one who was an Army career man for many years and lived in the Washington, DC area. My father and uncle have always been very competitive. When my uncle enlisted in the Army, my father went out and enlisted in the Navy. Every time we’re together, we argue. My uncle is pretty amazing, too.
 I have two amazing aunts. One is a talkative liberal chain-smoking barrel of brutal honesty named Rosemary Dalla Paone who lives in the Socialist Republic of Austin. My other aunt is Deborah Massoletti. She’s the quiet, artistic type who owned a couple of dry cleaning stores around New Orleans, in Metairie and Mandeville. I love them both dearly. My aunts, I mean — not the dry cleaners.
 I have another amazing uncle named Ronnie Massoletti. He’s the best salesman I’ve ever seen. He could sell anything to anybody. A natural-born talent. Ronnie is big in the auto racing circuit. He’s owned racecars and travels around the country going to the biggest races. Ronnie lives in central Texas. He even owns one of the horses that’s the foal of Secretariat, the greatest thoroughbred racehorse of all-time. The horse is named “Batman.”
 The Massoletti side of our family once owned Massoletti’s authentic Italian restaurant off Water St. in New York City.
 My parents divorced when I was 2. Still, my father was just the opposite of a deadbeat dad. He was always there. Every two weeks with visitation. Always lent financial support. Never missed a school play or a ballgame of mine. Not once. Kids remember things like that. Trust me. They remember. I remember.
 My mother was born Rebecca Schmitz. She raised me as an only child and a single mother. She’s an amazing woman. My father and mother attended South Oak Cliff High School, in Dallas, who’s most famous graduate is Dennis Rodman. Next year, on my 58th birthday, I’ll write about my mother’s side of the family.
 I have two half-sisters (father remarried), both who are also amazing. One is Cindy Mosher. She lives in Denver. She’s rich. She has two daughters,both of whom even danced several times at Denver Bronco home games. My other sister is Rhonda Trapp Casciato, who lives in Phoenix. She’s the mother of five incredible children, two now attending college — one in Colorado and the other at Arizona State.
 I was born in Dallas on February 6, 1962. The most famous person also born that exact same day and year is Axl Rose — the lead singer for Guns and Roses. So today, we both turned age 57. Oh, oh, oh, oh — sweet child of mine!
 While growing up, I lived in Dallas, Chicago, and Albuquerque. I changed schools five times between the grades of 1-6. Each time we moved, I had to make new friends. That probably made more into an outgoing person. It also made me independent-minded. My mother made me clean house every single day. She also taught me to cook and then made me cook us dinner many nights. I can’t even begin to explain how valuable both of those life lessons were to me.
 I attended both Catholic school and private school. The Catholic school I attended was Holy Trinty in the Oak Lawn section of Dallas. The priest-headmaster of my school administered President John F. Kennedy his last rites when he was assassinated in 1963.
 Although I am now an atheist, I am proud of my upbringing and exposure to both religion and secularism. That allowed me to get many perspectives and make up my own mind on the origins of our existence. I despise indoctrination. I loathe it. I think indoctrination is terrible.
 I had speaking and singing roles in all four of my high school musicals. My senior year, I had the lead role in “Bye Bye Birdie.” I play the guitar badly. I play the piano much worse. If I have any deep personal regret, it’s that I never learned the piano. I think that’s one key to happiness. If you have a piano, you the world is at your fingertips. A pianist is limited only by the boundaries of the imagination. I guess the same thing is kinda’ true for writers, also. But damn, I regret not being able to play the piano.
 I tear up when I hear great music, watch sad movies, and am confronted with the many things in life I’ve missed. I’m not ashamed to admit it. I’m proud of my emotional vulnerability.
 My junior year of high school, I got expelled for drinking alcohol and had to go to an alternative school for troublemakers. The alternative school was filled with drug offenders, fighters, gangs, and some really tough kids. I got into a few brawls — something I’m not proud of. Still, I learned more things spending three months in detention than anything in regular school.
 I was elected my high school senior class president.
 I love drinking and make absolutely no apologies for it. I’ve never once had a DUI or DWI. Nonetheless, I recognize alcohol for what it is — a potential destructive vice for many. Alcohol has even killed some of my friends. So, I fully understand why many chose not to drink. Twice each year, for two weeks at a time, I go cold turkey on all alcohol consumption. I have practiced this self-constraint ever since I worked as a bartender in college. I think it’s important to step back and evaluate sometimes. No matter what the ordeal or passion, I think breaks are essential to gaining a greater sense of perspective.
 Fresh out of college, I tried to enlist in the U.S. Marine Corps as an officer, but was rejected for flight school because I’m colorblind. I have what’s called a red-green deficiency, which is the most common form of color blindness. About 3 percent of all people have this vision defect, which predominantly afflicts males.
 I worked for the Embassy of the Republic of Turkey in Washington, D.C. full time for seven years (1994-2000). While working there, I developed a deep love and respect for Turkish people and culture. Witnessing the rise of Recep Erdogan is something I understand, can appreciate, and also regret.
 I really do try to see all sides of every conflict. I can get along with almost anyone. While ideologically rigid, I also value practicality and pragmatism. I don’t have many talents, but diplomacy is one.
 I once worked for the Republican National Senatorial Committee in Washington. I greatly value those years and those experiences because they remind me of what Republicans once were, and how decent that party used to be. Not anymore.
 I was always liberal on social issues. I’ve always despised religious conservatives and still do. I shifted my political allegiances around 2000 when neo-conservatives hijacked the Republican Party. Then later, I became a socialist around 2005 after doing substantial reading and recognizing that Scandinavian-style democratic-socialism provides the fairest system for the most people. They key word in socialism is SOCIAL. The key word in Capitalism is CAPITAL. I believe social cooperation is far more beneficial than capitalist competition. Virtually all political, social, and cultural advances resulted from social cooperation rather than cutthroat competition. That’s the essence of true socialism as an economic construct.
 I have a degree in political science. My undergraduate studies included a specialization in Eastern European Communist Systems. I was enrolled in a Masters program in Public Policy Administration. I obtained just short of enough credits to receive an M.A. but didn’t complete my Masters Thesis. I also flunked the LSAT exam (law school), which means I scored low, the only time I took it. I was only a slightly above average student in most of my studies.
 I took the Foreign Service Officer Examination three times before finally passing it. It’s a brutal test. Eventually, I was hired by the U.S. State Department in 1988 and graduated from the Foreign Service Institute. My first post assignment was the American Embassy in Bucharest during the harsh regime of dictator Nicolae Ceausescu.
 I lost my highly-coveted Top Secret Security Clearance for marrying a Romanian (East Bloc) citizen. However, Main State/DS couldn’t fire me. So, they busted me down to civil service where I worked for nearly two years. I was a federal employee at the Washington Passport Agency, on K Street. That was a horrible job. I tried to move to the Bureau of African Affairs at one point, as that was one of the departments many diplomats didn’t want to work. But I got shitcanned because I had no TS Clearance. So around 1994, I bolted to go work for the Turkish Government. About that same time, poker was legalized in Atlantic City. That little-noticed development 190 miles to the north was life-changing.
 Sometime around 1994, then-Card Player magazine editor and owner Linda Johnson came through Atlantic City and invited me to lunch. I had just begun writing a regular freelance column about the Atlantic City poker scene. Linda was so supportive that I vowed to take writing about poker more seriously. That impromptu meeting also changed my life.
 My years 1994 through 2000 included the Monday through Friday grind at the Turkish Embassy, and most weekends playing poker in Atlantic City. I rode Amtrak every Friday afternoon for $42 round trip to Atlantic City, played poker for 35-40 hours straight, then slept on the train on the way back. Sometimes, I would crash at the hotel pools, unless security threw me out.
 Me and a couple of other people (Ray Didonato, Herbie, Jazbo) were responsible for creating the first regular Pot-Limit Hold’em games on the East Coast. We spread them Friday nights at Resorts International, then the Sands, and finally at the Tropicana. Those games were legendary. One time, some crazy rich guy bought into the game with a brown paper bag filled with $25,000 in cash. Then, he played every hand blind (without looking at his cards) until the river. In my 25 years in poker, that’s the wildest things I’ve ever witnessed, playing against that guy and everyone having no ideas what his cards were. I should write that story sometime. Remember that, Ray?
 I lived across the street from the Pentagon for eight years. The 9/11 plane crash woke me up. A few months later, I decided to move to Las Vegas. Marieta wasn’t too keen on the idea. She joined me about eight months later.
 I don’t seek out perfect people because perfect people do not exist. I like flawed people, even people with problems. I think if we accept most people for who they are instead of trying to change them, or ridicule them behind their backs, most of us would get along much better and be happier.
 When I first moved to Las Vegas, I had no job. No career prospects. I didn’t even own a car. It was both horrible and fantastic. All I did was play poker and bet sports. The first six months, I rode a bicycle everywhere. I lived off Decatur and Sahara and often rode ten miles a day in 110-degree heat. Sometimes, I rode my bike at 4 am and had $5,000 in my pocket. Thing was, not once did anyone ever try to rob me. No one would rob some 40-year-old dude with long blonde hair riding a bike at 4 am. People used to come up to me and ask where to buy drugs. What a perfect cover.
 I’ve never done illegal drugs of any kind, including smoking marijuana. Not once.
 Except on very rare occasions, I do not read fiction. With so much going on that’s real, why waste time with make-believe?
 Everything is evolution. Every thought. Every action. You are not the same person you were even two seconds ago, before reading this sentence. Two more seconds from now, and you will be different again. And once you ponder the power of what I’ve just written here, a few seconds from now you shall again be a changed person. Such is the process of evolution. Every experience, every thought is a building block to the next.
 If you go back and read #39, you will understand why I value the capacity to change. It’s why people who have done wrong things can do better when given opportunity and the right path. It’s how disadvantaged youth become successful adults. It’s how addicts become sober. It’s how the dumb become smart. Everyone is on a perpetual trajectory. We must never inhibit someone for a chance at redemption, for discovery, for the inherent capacity to be better and smarter people than we are right now.
 The best movie ever made was Schindler’s List. This isn’t open for discussion. It’s a fact. That film is a masterpiece.
 I’ve met and spoken with Donald Trump four times.
 I’ve once spent five minutes talking to Richard Nixon.
 Rich people do not impress me, at least not due to their wealth. Cars, homes, clothes, material possessions, gadgets — nothing matters if you’re not a good person. The fundamental flaw of capitalism is that the creation of wealth presumably makes us happy. It does not. All evidence shows that once basic sustenance is achieved, there’s no correlation to owning a bunch of stuff and being happy. Our economic system is built on a lie, a mirage, a false profit.
 I do not believe in a religion of any kind. I do not believe in UFOs. I do not believe in superstition. I do not believe in astrology. I do not believe in faith-based healing or prayer. I think churches should be taxed as profit centers and fortune tellers should be imprisoned for fraud. I do believe in inquiry and science.
 I do not believe it is shameful to have tried and failed. My life is filled with failures.
 I’ve enjoyed a more interesting life than most. But I’ve also failed in many ways. The last few years of my life have been a great disappointment. I am seeking a way to make ammends and come to peace.
 I think introspection is important. Vital even. If you’re not looking into the mirror from time to time, there’s little point in gazing upon what’s beyond. Without introspection, all else is viewed through a distorted lens.
 Political correctness enrages me. No words offend me. None whatsoever. Wop, Kike, Nigger, cunt, faggot, fuck, prick — I will use any word in the language I want to express a valid thought and I won’t apologize for those words being available to me. I’m a writer and want every letter and every word available to me in the linguistic toolbox. Do I think incendiary language should be used indiscriminately? No. But there’s a reason why so-called bad words exist. The older I get, the less I care what other people think. Adopt that attitude. Trust me — it’s liberating.
 I’ve witnessed and interviewed about half of all the World Series of Poker gold bracelet winners in history, dating back to my first WSOP in the 1980s. My rough count is about 600 out of 1.200. That chapter of my life is over.
 Most celebrities I met bored me. They just weren’t interesting. The people I admire most are those who rarely get any praise, like medical caregivers and those who work with animals, especially solving animal abuse cases. I’m weak. I’m soft. I’m not courageous at all. I do not think I could do those kinds of jobs, so I really admire those who do. Let’s quit fawning over athletes and movie stars and supermodels. Fuck that. Show me someone volunteering in a nursing home or trying to feed starving puppies being held in a cage. That’s a hero.
 I once ripped up an airline ticket, spent $800 on a one-way rental a car and drove 2,000 miles from New Orleans to Las Vegas because Marieta found a wounded Ring-Necked Dove struggling in the middle of Canal Street and didn’t want to leave it behind to die. True story. I think that says more about her, than me. We released the dove in our backyard. We named it “Orly.” I loved seeing the dove, but damn — I could sure use that $800 right now.
 If I could do my life all over again, I’d make many different choices and decisions. However, I would not change my essential belief systems. I’m proud of my beliefs and my path to a personal philosophy. Those beliefs continue to evolve. If you’re not evolving and occasionally changing your mind about things, I think that’s sad.
 I’m ridiculously fortunate to have wonderful family and friends, far better than I deserve.
 Writing is easy. Editing is hard. Satisfaction is impossible.
 On my previous birthday, number 56, I used the customary birthday announcement posted on Facebook to ask for donations to St. Jude, instead. So many of you gave generously and we somehow raised $1,600. We have no idea which family or patients received those funds, but because of so much love and generosity, you made a difference to someone in ways we shall never know. Thank you.
 This was supposed to be the bombshell, a closer, the grand slam finale. Confessional Number 57, Rather, allow me to use this occasion of my 57th birthday to convey a thought. Remember Max Dallavalle? Remember his wife, Rosa Dallavalle? Remember what happened? Here they are, in the photo below. Think about how remarkable it is, to be sitting here nearly a century later, writing a blog post, recalling the memory of ancestors one never met, but still grateful for that struggle and sacrifice and perils and mistakes and anguish they went through to make our lives possible. I have yet to honor their sacrifice in the way that’s deserving. But perhaps by sharing, poking a few of you now, some of you might be better and honor those who came before us and made us, for better and worse, who we are.
Even a terrible relationship, and a murder, ultimately produced scores of children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren filled with wonderous experiences and joys. Out of the ashes grew many flowers. In loving memory of Max and Rosa….
Addendum: Each year I write this is going to become a little tougher. Not sure what I’ll post if I live to 100.