Paul called me this morning from Vermont, agitated. He’s always agitated. He drinks, he doesn’t hold a job, and he plays too much poker. His poker debts run into the thousands. He once wanted to be a writer. He was good at it, too. But he has yet to finish anything. He’s one of those people who has become paralyzed by the dismay he feels for the world’s hypocrisies and impurities. People disappoint him; he wallows in the fraudulence of college professors spouting old insights and bosses small-mindedly pushing their power around. Most of us acknowledge these deep human flaws from which no one is immune and then we move on. Paul can’t move on. He’s trapped himself.
He called to talk about his latest poker fiasco. Like me, he plays online. He’ll win great sums and just as quickly lose it all. Sometimes, he calls begging me to stake him a bit and so I transfer a few dollars to his account. “Stake” is too generous a term, since he never returns the money.
“I hate poker,” he said this morning.
“You lost everything again?” He had called a few days earlier, singing of his big wins.
“I got bored. I played badly. I started throwing away chips.”
This can happen when you play too much. Playing good poker is mostly boring. I get jealous watching the reckless players win and lose huge numbers of chips. They seem to enjoy themselves much more than the rest of us.
“Where are you playing?”
I worried that he might ask for more money. But I had already killed my bankroll under pretty much the same circumstances as Paul had: boredom that had translated into recklessness. Whenever I try to get a little fancy with my poker play, I invariably lose big.
Paul named a poker site where I didn’t have an account. He moaned a little more about his losses.
“You have to quit for a few days when that happens,” I said. I hate myself when I talk to Paul; I sound like a scolding uncle.
“I know, I know.”
“You need to get a job to distract you a bit.” I couldn’t remember the last time he had held one.
He ignored my advice and then said, “Hey, have you heard about this new law they want to pass in the Netherlands?”
“Basically, any money you lose, the poker house has to pay it back to you.”
“What? That’s ridiculous.”
“Instead of making it illegal,” Paul said laughing a little hysterically, “they’re making it so if you win you have to return the money!”
“I don’t get it. What’s the point of playing, then?”
“So I’m thinking maybe I can get some of my money back.”
“How? None of those poker companies are based in the Netherlands.”
“Right, you mean they’re all off-shore.”
“Like in Gibraltar.”
“But still, maybe.”
“Look, you lost that money. That’s poker. What if you had won? You wouldn’t want to suddenly pay it back. Anyway, it’s the Netherlands.”
“But maybe there’ll be a law like that in America soon.”
“No, I doubt that would happen. And still, the Gibraltar thing.”
“If something like that passed in America, maybe, maybe I could get some of the money back.”
He really needed to get a job; he was free-associating like some old lady parked in a chair in front of a window. He was mangling his hopes with total fantasy.
“Just stop playing for a few days. You’ll get your game back.”