Remembering Darvin Moon
My memories of Darvin Moon, who died in 2020. He was best known to the public for finishing second in the Main Event Championship at the World Series of Poker.
Darvin Moon was as real as it gets.
No illusions. No pretense. The real deal.
The mirror may have two faces, but Darvin had just one, and it was freckled, usually decorated with an innocent smile and the confident look of being fully content, comfortable in his own skin with who he was and the proud man he came to be, particularly those who were lucky enough to know him.
I was lucky to know him. And the more time I spent with Darvin, the more humble I became merely by his presence and the more impressed I became with the sincerity and honesty of his character when such redeeming attributes have become increasingly scarce in a bravado world.
Darvin didn’t speak much but when he did, we listened. Less was more.
The first time I met Darvin I was sticking a microphone into his exhausted face at 2 am on a sizzling Las Vegas night at the World Series of Poker inside the Rio when no one in a tournament room filled with thousands was hotter than the unknown “lumberjack” from the Maryland panhandle who annihilated everyone in his path en route to the most unlikely Main Event chip leader in a decade.
Darvin, who I’d never met before and never heard of prior to that year’s world poker championship, seemed like he’d just fallen off a turnip truck into a pumpkin patch. The man could have been an extra in “Lil Abner.” It was hard to believe he was real.
“Is this your first time in Las Vegas, Darvin?” I asked.
“Yes Sir (he called everyone “Sir” or “Ma’am”). I flew here on a great big plane and got to the airport and all these people treated me really nice. It’s was the first time I’ve ever been on a plane.”
Wait. This guy can’t be serious, I thought. He’s got the chip lead in the WSOP and he’s never flown before this trip?
“I’ve never played out here before. This is my first tournament, other than the ones at Wheeling (West Virginia).”
Turns out, Darvin won his seat via some small buy-in satellite tourney at a casino near his home, that’s if memory serves (i’m writing this at past midnight from memory). Now, he was sitting at the center of the poker universe competing for nearly $10 million first prize and would be the star on national television.
“What are you going to do if you win it?” I asked Darvin, wondering where this past midnight conversation was headed and if my subject would ever be heard from again once this tournament ended.
“Oh, I’ll stay the same. I might buy myself a new pickup and get something nice for Wendy (his wife), but that’s it.”
Darvin went on to finish second to Joe Cada, the winner.
Someone else might correct me here, but I believe that’s Darvin’s only major cash in a tournament. Unlike most players who made the final table that year, Darvin didn’t bring a cheering section. He didn’t enjoy the roars of the gallery. His cheerleader was Wendy and she was right there, just as she always accompanied Darvin to every poker event. A delightful lady. A partner of life. An anchor of support. They seemed made for each other.
Darvin won millions of dollars, I don’t recall the amount exactly, but he went back to the rolling green hills of western Maryland and he bought that new pickup truck and he got something nice for Wendy and by the time I saw him again a few years later, he was back on his “farm” chopping wood. His farm consisted of something like 600 acres, which was his land before the big poker paycheck. 600 acres, hell that’s practically the size of a county.
That’s where Darvin was at home, most at ease. He was a real lumberjack — precisely what you expected when you heard that word LUMBERJACK — who chopped wood and had the Popeye-muscled forearms to prove it. He later told me he spent days at a time in the wilderness, connected to the earth, his spirit guided by the stars and the wind.
We saw each other on several occasions around that time, as Darvin was a popular fixture on the set of the TV show “Poker Night in America.” Darvin liked to come around the production and talk to the crew even when he wasn’t playing. Todd Anderson, the show’s creator came to be good friends with Darvin. His genuine kindness and perpetual good cheer were infectious. I think that’s why everyone loved being around Darvin, and Wendy, too.
One time, Darvin gave me a lecture on the most common body injuries of being a lumberjack. He broke his arm multiple times, cut through his flesh, and had scars up and down both arms.
“Those trees don’t mess around,” he said. “If I tree is falling, get out of the way — it’s gonna’ fall where it wants.”
You had to love it. Just listening to Darvin was a treat. It was like being given the wisdom of Yoggi Berra dressed up like a woodsman. Simple. But real. Always real.
With Darvin, the more you got to know him, the more you wanted to know. He spoke a simple language but with profound depth. I don’t think Darvin was capable of telling a lie, which makes me wonder if he ever successfully bluffed anyone in poker.
As for poker, Darvin never pretended to be anything other than Darvin, and that was fine. He could easily afford to play in big cash games with his millions and could have played in far more tournaments. But Darvin never wanted that lifestyle. It would have kept him out of the hills, away from his trees, and required too much flying on great big planes.
That wasn’t for Darvin. What was for Darvin was living with nature. Making his own moonshine, which he did and I sampled (more than once). Being loyal to Wendy. Being Darvin Moon.
Tonight, I learned Darvin passed away. I’m really sad. I could not sleep, especially after all we’ve been through. A shitty year just got shittier.
But hey the good news is at least I got to meet Darvin, and interview him, and eventually be his friend. How cool that is.
Next time I am in a forest, and I hope that day is soon, I will look around and observe the tall trees, and try to absorb the connection to the sacred land that Darvin must as felt and experienced hundreds of times in his joyously fulfilling life. I shall close my eyes and take it all in and listen for the sound of the wind. I am sure I will hear Darvin’s voice.
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