I admit I was briefly swept up in the Hold’em Poker Craze of the early aughts. I’m way too awkward and easily reddened to be a successful player, but I did host a few tournament-style games at my place in grad school for a paltry $5 buy-in. If you won, you collected the “pot” of buy-ins. If you lost in head’s up play, you got your money back. The chips were plastic, the beers were from Pennsylvania, and the games were over pretty quickly. I usually won, which is good because I am a horrible loser. One time I lost to a new player, someone I didn’t even really know. It was a bad beat made badder by the fact that she had no idea what she was doing. The games dried up shortly thereafter, and I stopped having people over. That wasn’t really poker’s fault, more the transportation time required to get to my place + inverted misanthropic tendencies.
I was never delusional enough to think I would start playing in casinos, but I liked watching poker on ESPN and I identified with the motley assortment of pros. I had been gambling my whole life and the popularity of poker somehow made it more socially acceptable. Our family trips each summer consisted of a few days spent in Saratoga Springs – specifically, at the race track. When asked on the last day of school where I’d be going for vacation (I was raised in an affluent suburb of NY), I would invariably mumble “upstate” and hope that the interrogation would end there. Usually it did. While most little girls wanted ponies so they could brush their pretty pretty hair, I was more interested in how they performed on a muddy track with a jockey change and Lasix added.
I spent my 21st birthday at a casino with my parents – the first of many trips – ushered in with a shrimp cocktail and a Dewar’s and soda. Twist of lemon please. My relationship with gambling is somewhat complicated, as I am a struggling writer. Recent financial distress has made me less prone to gamble. It’s something I enjoy, not something I intended to eke a living out of. But the sound of the Call to the Post still makes me smile each time I hear it.