Tuesday, February 21, 2006

The Prairie Rider

On the Road, in search of peace, healing, contentment, and hash browns. Come along for the ride...

Guitarist - Rock Bottom

Garner's, Roodhouse IL Saturday, February 18th

I received a last minute call from my daughter’s softball coach that they were to practice at an indoor facility in Livingston, IL, south of Litchfield. Now, I love watching my daughter’s softball skill develop, and she’s doing so very well. So, I arranged so I could attend that, then travel from Livingston to Roodhouse to the show. Of course, I got wrapped up in the session, and left about 20 minutes later than I’d planned, but if everything went well, I’d still be alright to make it on time (have I documented about my “luck”?).

I forced myself to leave the softball facility right before 7PM, and it become very dark out. Something I’d forgotten about, and had I’d counted on that, I’d perhaps had left while it was still day light. Travelling through the dark night through unfamiliar territory can cause unwanted anxiety, I feel. You feel sometimes like your sitting still, out on the prairie, and nothing hardly seems to move, or change around you.

After glancing at a Yahoo map at home, I’d made a mental picture of the route I’d take, and made my best estimation at how long this journey would take me, and what time I’ll end up there. We started at 9, so I wanted to be there at 8, no later than 8:30. Of course, this was across small town Illinois, so no telling how long it will really take.

After filling up with gas in Livingston, I wound my way across the Illinois prairie. With my trusty radar detector to protect me, I cautiously scooted through each small hamlet and village. I saw no less than three cops on my journey! That radar detector probably paid for itself on this trip alone!

It was a long journey across the pitch black heartland, westward through sleepy towns like Benld, Gillespie, and Shipman to the larger city of Jerseyville, where I cut north through Carrollton, White Hall, and finally Roodhouse. I pegged my arrival at 8:20, later than I intended, but still enough wiggle room to be on time.

I loaded in to greet Craig setting up his drum cage, and soundman Jeff stringing cords. No sign of Chuck or Steve. The cavernous “bingo parlor” setting was populated by a modest gathering of people watching slides projected on the wall. The whole area was decorated with “happy birthday” streamers, and helium filled “over the hill” foil balloons. Hmm, I sensed that this bunch wasn’t staying for the festivities afterwards…

The room was mammoth. Bigger than Diamonds/Side Pocket. The sign outside the bar noted this building’s dual purpose. One entrance said “Garner’s Archery”. The other just said “Garner’s”, and sported a caricature of a martini glass. I came to realize that his place was one and the same…

“Hey, Craig,” I chirped as I unpacked my gear. He paused from his duties and shot me a glance. “Archery range by day, night club by night! Gotta love it!”

Craig flashed a wry smile, and added “lets hope they don’t get the two confused!”

I chuckled.

“And if they request Ted Nugent, we’d better play it!” I replied.

Upon the course of discussion, I learned that Chuck was in town already, had booked a room in White Hall, but his van was broke down, and no one was quite sure how he was arriving, or when. I finished setting up my rig, and noted that I was on time, but we were no where near ready to start.

Chuck rolled in not long thereafter, and with a small entourage, he was loaded in and set up with a quickness. Some gentleman with a ladder went around pulling down the streamers from the party, and quickly all clues that someone was “over the hill” had vanished. The overhead fluorescent house lights were killed, and our dimmed lightshow cast a rock and roll glow across the rows and rows of empty folding tables and chairs.

Steve checked in on the cell phone; he was passing New Delhi, which placed him about 8 miles south of Jerseyville, or over a half hour away. Splendid! It was already ten after 9, and this put us on starting here in the neighborhood of, oh, quarter to 10? That’s not going to be a big hit.

In the back bar area, a group of what I deemed regulars had gathered, and I’m not sure if I’d considered them big “80’s hair band” nostalgia types. More like Waylon Jennings nostalgia types. As I passed towards the bathroom to change out of my “Softball Dad” sweatshirt into my “rockstar” shirt, a kindly old grey haired gentleman surprised me with a “hey, how’s it going” in a warm, friendly tone.

“Oh, just fine, thank you!” I cheerfully declared.

What the hell was that all about? Well, small towns. People are just more friendly, I suppose.

I swapped out the sweatshirt (that I knew I’d need later to load out in this frigid cold), and peeled off my ball cap, mussing my hair, trying to look like some kind of Rock God. It wasn’t working, really.

On the way back, I was stopped by a very attractive young woman in probably her early thirties. Always nice to catch the attention of the attractive locals!

“Can I ask you question?” she asked.

Ah, breaking the ice is she? A little flirtatious banter?

“Sure,” I said, sizing her up. Very attractive brunette. Her eyes were soft, and inviting, and she flashed a coy smile as she spoke.

“Is that guy," she asked, "in your band, is his hair real?”

Wow! Shot down again right out of the box! She was referring to Chuck and his Nikki Sixx haircut. Visions and flashbacks swirled through my head of smoking hot young girls running up to me in the days of Kulprit and Nassty, talking to me and getting my hopes up only to pepper me with questions about our heart throb drummer, Kevin, and if he had a girlfriend. I’ll never be more than an errand boy!

I assured her it was, and slinked off from the bar with my can of beer towards the stage.

We decided to kick off the night without Steve, and I had the ignominious honor of kicking off the show with Metallica’s Enter Sandman. It’s not like we had many choices to pick from. We're still feeling our way through songs. On the surface, this seemed like a safe choice. It’s a good danceable song that guys like too, and usually works quite well. But, as an opener, I think it gave off an air that we were a hell of a lot heavier than were actually are, and everyone seemed to stay all the way in back, alienating us.

After Chuck sang a Kiss song, Steve arrived, set up his mic, and joined the fray. Breaking the ice seemed really difficult with this crowd. A decent size gathering formed in the back, but all of them seemed afraid to venture out into the seats, towards us. Steve wasn’t feeling his best, and began complaining about a cold he’d been suffering from for a few days. I honestly couldn’t tell though, as he belted them out as he always does. Chest cold or no, Steve knows how to kick ass and deliver.

We took a break after a modest set, and I wandered up to the restroom, and then over to grab a beer. A few patrons shot glances at me, but they seemed friendly enough, actually. As I went to get a beer, a guy motioned, and bought me one. Tough read on this crowd! They seemed amicable enough, but they weren’t overly friendly.

And, it became apparent to me who the old grey haired gentleman was. He was Garner. This was his place. Glad I wasn’t cold and aloof to him when he greeted me! And I noticed that they left the birthday cake out, so I grabbed a couple pieces. I was starving!

Mmmmmm. Birthday cake. (I know what you’re thinking, Paul, but that’s another story for another time…)

We rolled onto the next set, and the response was lukewarm yet again. When I started Talk Dirty To Me though, the flood gates opened, and every woman in the bar poured out onto the dance floor. Wow! Now we’re talking! But, as soon as that was over, even though I tried to keep it flowing shooting into another song, they all trailed back to the back bar. Odd! I shot Craig a puzzled look, and he just shrugged his shoulders. Craig's wife Chrissy and Steve's girlfriend Theresa kept dancing, but the rest of them ran for the hills.

We did manage to bring them out again, and again, and started to keep them out there. The flow began to roll, and we were feeling our way again, much like we did at 501. Now, by no means was it as electric as that weekend was, but it was satisfying to know that we were starting to connect with this foreign crowd, and doing our job. More and more blank faces became illuminated with pleasure, and I could tell we were growing on the increasingly younger crowd that was beginning to stroll in. Several of the young girls were quite attractive, and most of them had some young beau they were attached to.

During the second break, where we played a mixture of dance and country on our break music, the mood was pretty jovial. Everyone complimented us, and some told us they plan to drive down to Wood River and see us next time at 501. I noticed that, while there were a good number of cute, young girls, every single young male was wearing a ball cap! I began to rethink my strategy for taking off my cap and trying to salvage my coif. It was like a “Larry The Cable Guy” festival in here! Git ‘er Done!

Garner looked very pleased, and Craig told me that while this crowd seemed small, this was as good a crowd as they’ve had in there when they’ve played there before. Perhaps this was becoming a success? He assured us we'll be back soon. Hey, the money's good, and they seem to enjoy us. I'm all for coming back!

With our new found confidence, we tore into the final set. My guitar was sounding particularly good, in fact I almost think someone turned it up! The amp just seemed to sing, every note and tone I played flowed from my soul to my fingers into everyone's ears. My playing over the past few weeks has really been gelling with the set list, as I’ve become much more comfortable with the songs, and what I can do with them, and add to them.

While I miss the familiarity of Paul Joseph and the flexibility that comes with our 20 some years of association, I’m starting to feel really comfortable with my playing, my rig, the setup of both my Les Paul, Black, and my newer Ibanez, Violet. Perhaps playing with Paul for so long, it became somewhat of a crutch, a high, a fix. Now, I depend more on myself than I ever had in as long as I can remember.

In short, I’m starting to enjoy this again, looking forward to the challenges every weekend, and improving my playing. I haven’t felt that way since, well, for probably 15 years or more. We’re discussing practicing, learning some new songs, and I’m relishing the opportunity to do that. This is getting fun, and I wasn’t sure I’d have fun without Knucklehead, because I don’t think I’d have fun just concentrating on my playing. But I am.

So much of the enjoyment of Knucklehead was the camaraderie between the four of us, and the challenge of playing as a group, pushing our limits. Turn goat piss into gasoline, as we used to say. What songs could we pull off? What strange tune, floating through our transom would emerge? The crowd was often secondary, to be honest. Our rehersals, when we had them, were almost as fun as the shows.

The challenges I’m driven by in Rock Bottom are more related to pleasing the crowd, and creating the flow, with more focus on my playing and singing. And it’s very rewarding in its own right. It may seem slight to those outside, but I can sense the difference.

At one point in the final set, a large commotion erupted at the bar in back as a fight must have broken out. The crowd piled towards the door, following the commotion, and we glanced puzzled looks towards one another on stage. Cleared the bar out, pretty much. It seemed the crowd never really did return after that, and the night kind of fizzled from there.

Before long, we were done, my gear was packed, the money paid out, and I was rolling southward down the long, dark highway US67 towards home. The highways were fairly empty, passing one or two cars on the long ride home. Each town I passed was a ghost town; their sidewalks rolled up, businesses vacant, and homes cloaked in darkness.

I made it into Granite around 3:20, and decided to stop in at Waffle House. The birthday cake did little to satiate my appetite, and I wanted to stop and rest, unwind a bit before hitting the homestead.

Karen set me up with the usual, and I dug into my hash browns covered “all ways”, and smoked a Backwoods cigar. While there were only a few patrons when I arrived, the diner gradually began to bustle with activity as other joints around were closing and boisterous revelers stumbled in.

I ran into Roy and Carol, old time friends and Knucklehead fans. Roy was pretty talkative, but I was worn out from a long weekend and a long trek. I tried to engage out of courtesy, but I didn’t have the energy to keep up with Roy.

As I cleaned my plate, savoring the sting of the jalepenos, and the rich flavor of Bert's chili, I finished a few drags of my cigar and rolled out as another rowdy crowd of Saturday night drunks rolled in.

Use The Force, Luke!

another brief installment of how I put my years of classical musical training and education to good use:

Subject: Bass Guitarist - Ivory Tiger

Stratford Inn, Fenton MO Friday, February 17th

Geo was forced to work overtime, so at the last minute, they frantically called me to cover bass for him at the Stratford Inn in Fenton. Without hesitation I agreed. Good money, a new bar, and I enjoy playing bass once in a while, just for the novelty. Plus, the Ivory Tiger chaps are a pleasure to work with, so I knew it would be a good time.

As I understood it, they play to a Happy Hour crowd early, take a break, then play ‘til 12:30. Free food and beer. Hey! Now you’re talking. Good money, too. So much, the better.

I showed up a little after 5:30 to a PACKED house. I mean PACKED! Wow, happy hour! They did away with those in Illinois years ago. I'm sure it made sense back then.

It was bedlam in there. I set up the rig, and went searching for this free beer and food. Wes pointed me to the buffet set up in back, and said “just ask one of the bars for a beer. Tell ‘em you’re with the band”. I set towards the back and perused the buffet. About all I found appetizing were the sausage and kraut. I tried one of the burritos, and while it was eatable, all of it was kind of cold. I asked the gorgeous bar maid about the drink specials for the band, and while she admitted she didn’t know, she’d give me a bottle anyway. Sweet girl!

We fired off the “Happy Hour” set, and I was less than stellar. The “Force” was not with me, tonight, Obi-Wan. I’d played most of their songs before, so I had a rough idea what I was in for. But, I fumbled my way through, and certainly didn’t impress myself. With the addition of B.C. on drums in the band, he takes care of much of the harmony vocals that I would tend to add, so that allowed me to shut the hell up and try not to fuck up the bass lines too much. Not that it helped. Focus Daniel-san!

On our long break before the later part of the show, I learned that the “Happy Hour” buffet had been put away. Damn, I was hungry, even for cold sausage and kraut! There were also some questions about the status of our “free beer” as well. Jimmy B had alluded to the buckets of beer they brought them last show, but they weren’t there now. Rather than impose myself as some “rock star”, started to dig into my pocket and buy the rest of my beers. $3 a pop no less. I sat on the hour long break reading a new Zen book I’d picked up from Borders, smoked a cigar, and pounded my longnecks.

I did run into Kenny Pick, and old friend from the SoCo area, who would road trip to see Knucklehead shows. We rapped about he future of Knucklehead, Rock Bottom, and getting more gigs on his side of the river, in his neck of the woods. He bought me some beers, introduced me to some sweet gals, and we tossed back shots of Cabo Wabo tequila. Mas tequila!

The rest of my bass virtuosity through the course of the evening was unimpressive, but I got the job done, and we had a very warm response from the crowd. Many in attendance recognized the band when they opened up for Warrant at the Stratford, and all were overflowing with praise. One guy even had a big white sheet of paper, and asked for all our autographs! Lol! I’m not even in the friggin’ band! I almost signed it Geo Romer, just for yucks! Instead, I signed it “to Tom, why does this thing only have 4 strings?” I doubt he understood the joke.

The crowd thinned as the evening wore on, but there was no shortage of eye candy to gawk at. Some really good looking women at that bar, and many of them work there. They would jump up and dance on the bar when we’d play something that tickled their fancy. Bud Light sponsored a Rock/Paper/Sissor contest, and the Bud Light girls were, uh, smoking!

A rather forward blonde randomly started quizzing me about the band and the set list (and her husband quickly introduced himself, too…) and she hit me with an amazing question: what are your favorite songs? I was at a loss. I had to explain it wasn’t my band, and that I just played to fill in. So, she continued: what were my favorite songs then that we played. I was stymied. I had none. I guess that says something.

At the end, I quickly tore down, got paid, humbly thanked the boys for letting me fill in, and rushed home in the bitter cold evening. I stopped and had a beer at Eddie’s, and Katrina and Trish convinced me to grab a bite at Lisa’s. I hate Lisa’s! I did so grudgingly, and it was all I loathed it could be. Next time, it’s Waffle House for me, kids!

Long time, no see

The next installment of your humble narrator navigating through beer after beer, song after song, and night after night

Subject: Guitarist - Rock Bottom

Club 501, Wood River, IL, Friday and Saturday, February 10th & 11th

Friday night

Our return to 501 was much anticipated. It had been sometime since I’d played there in Knucklehead, and had been a while since Rock Bottom had been there as well. Jagertyme was on vacation, so I suspected that we’d see some of them show, as well as their regulars. I wasn’t disappointed, as when I arrived to set up, many of them were already there, including Derrick, and Jager Tommy. Angie/Jagermomma showed up as well, and then her and Derrick split before the show began, promising to return. Floyd and Chelly were about I believe. Hell, I can't remember when I'm not at 501 and I'm not seeing some part of Jagertyme! It all just blends together!

I offered, as I always do, for Jager Tommy to sit in on any song he wishes. He politely responded “I’m on vacation!” and flashed that exaggerated Jager Tommy grin. “Your turn to make the donuts!” I nodded in complete agreement.

I set up my rig, but had misplaced all my picks! I scoured my lunchbox, but only found one lonely pick! If I lost or dropped this guy, I was screwed! What the hell happend to all of them? I'd stocked up not that long ago. I have a habit of forgetting them on my mic stand at the end of the night. Looks like another stop at the music store tomorrow.

Our friends made the show worthwhile as they really pumped up the atmosphere. A good crowd showed up, and the vibe in the room was very positive. We were getting a better reception than we’d get with Knucklehead. I guess the songlist just connects better with “the masses”.

Without a formal set list, we navigated through the night, finding some grooves, and starting to gel. We've been together about 3 months now, but never formally rehersed. I think it's safe to say we're getting used to each other, and reading the vibe out there. That was a luxury in Knucklehead, the years together. In a few months, Rock Bottom is starting to scratch the surface of that, and it feels pretty solid.

DJ T-Bone hopped up and belted out a couple, and we rolled through our set list, seemingly doing no wrong. My rig felt and sounded good, and I was tweaking all the little things that make me smile when I play. Dropped a phrase or two here and there, but improvement is showing. I'm getting my groove back, it seems.

Good friends stopped by to say hello, from Dave "the magic chef" Stover, Dougie Ramone, Franco and Evil Angel, Lindsay, of course Howard and the whole 501 crew; wow, it was a warm welcome back!

Friday night was a smashing success.

Saturday night

So, that left an air of anticipation for Saturday night. From the get go, I didn’t see too many familiar faces. Our friends had made their appearances Friday, so I began to suspect that most of them would attend other places, and it seemed I was right. With a very sparse crowd to begin with, I had the feeling that tonight would be a let down.

We launched into the set anyway, and slowly, the place began to fill. I guess they were bussing them in from down the street, because as song after song played, more and more people began to appear. On break, I’d noticed how the place was beginning to fill, and apart from an old friend, Mere, and her boyfriend, I didn’t really recognize any of them as Knucklehead or Rock Bottom regulars!

We started the second set, and I started to take over managing the setlist, crafting them to flow as I did in Knucklehead. Once we got them dancing, and we had them dancing, I did my best to keep the whole flow moving through the set, with a couple breaks here and there. That’s what I notices works the best; several songs in succession, then a small break to interact with the crowd, then right back at them with more. It worked flawlessly. This pretty muched cinched it: The Rock Bottom Experience is starting to come together.

At the close of the second set, Craig leaned out from behind his cage and said “man, that was a great set!" Then he paused. "What the hell are we going to play now?”

Point taken. We’d pretty much used up all our “money songs” right there. How do we top that?

The bar star gods were with us that night, because we tore into the third set, and kept the vibe going. It was another strong set, and the crowd seemed really pleased. No one had left! I had my obligatory drunk dude in front of me, watching all my solos, and pumping his fists in the air. Some things never change! At the end of the night, the final song, the guy leaned over to me and asked “can I have your pick?” LOL! Not only did this seem ridiculous to me (what the hell does he want my pick for, a momento?!) but, it was my only pick! I have to give away my only pick!

I sheepishly agreed, and he seemed thrilled. To each their own! Later, he, or maybe it was someone else perhaps, came up with one of Craig’s drumsticks and a magic marker, asking me to sign the stick. Rock Bottom autograph “meet and greet” sessions at Club 501! A first for me there!

Yeah, I guess we were a hit! Man, was it good to be back!

Back To Bidnuss

After enough of having my ass handed to me at a poker table, it's time to get back to what I can do- drink beer and fake guitar solos!

Subject: Guitarist - Rock Bottom

Venues: Jolly Acres, Nashville IL, Saturday, February 4th

Things have been settling in quite well with Rock Bottom. Steve and I are having a terrific time, the money is good (better than Knucklehead), and I can concentrate on just playing guitar without the other bullshit of booking, negotiating, website, all that. Refreshing!

A couple Saturday’s ago, we found ourselves booked for a birthday party in Nashville, Illinois. Never played there. I like to go fishing down there, but never played there. Details were sketchy, but from what I gathered it was at a bar on the outskirts of town for one of the fans and friends of the band. A bit of a drive, but they ponied up the money for us, so what the hell!

While it wasn’t a terribly long drive, I decided to get a hotel room in Nashville anyway, so I could relax, enjoy the show, get as hammered as I wanted, and not have to worry about driving back to Granite. Besides, what road trip rockstar fantasy would be complete without staying in a hotel after the show?

The drive was a short one, because it’s familiar, and I was clocking about 80MPH all the way there. I pulled off I-64 to the Best Western on IL-127, and checked in. Now, there’s a little trucker’s diner called Little Nashville next door, but on my various fishing excursions I’d eaten there previously, and was unimpressed. Typical truckstop food, and not as good as say, Waffle House. I was determined to find some local restaurant in Nashville and sample the “local flavor” as I so love to do when I hit small towns. I knew there was a nice restaurant downtown in my trips here as a delivery driver. I couldn’t remember the name, but I knew where it was. Or maybe somewhere else I could discover, since it had been years since I’d been in Nashville.

Nashville is a cute little town, with some magnificent old homes along the main drag. I always take the time to admire them when I pass through. A couple have been turned into bed and breakfasts, and I have a mind to take a young lady to one sometime, just to say I did. Would be romantic, possibly. As romantic as Nashville, Illinois can get, I suspect.

I passed by a bar and grill looking place, but it didn’t seem to fit the bill. I was headed to the other place. As I approached it, to my horror I’d recognized that it was no longer the establishment that it once was, and had become a Chinese buffet. Ick! Not what I was hoping for. I circled around back past the parking lot, where the original restaurant name was displayed: “parking for The Derrick Inn”, festooned with a cartoon oil derrick. Ah! That’s what it was called. Oil and coal country here in these parts of southern Illinois. Now, like so many of the coal mines around here, it was a memory. Pity. I wanted to visit it, but I’d missed my chance years ago.

Other than the Chinese buffet, my choices were slim in this one horse town. Dairy Queen, Subway, or Hardees. After traveling to the edge of town, I doubled back and settled for Little Nashville. I bellied up to the diner counter and ordered a country fried steak with gravy and mashed potatoes, and it was as unspectacular as I figured it would be. But, it got the job done.

Time had slipped by, and I was off to discover the location of “Jolly Acres”. As best I knew, it was somewhere south of Nashville on IL127. I left the city lights of Nashville behind (basically the Casey’s General Store) and traveled into the country darkness. About 4 miles south of my favorite lake, at the crossroads of a country road, there sat a lonely building and a parking lot with an assortment of cars. A flashing lighted arrow sign which read about a birthday party pointed into the parking lot, so I figured this must be it!

Pulling into the lot, I surveyed the establishment. Painted on the side of the building was an 8 ft. black sign made to look like a Jack Daniels label which read “Jolly Acres”. This must be the place! I popped my head out of my truck, gazing off into the dark, barren, Illinois prairie that surrounded this lonely oasis. This was truly the middle of nowhere: Bum Fuck Egypt! Ha! Egypt! That’s the nickname for southern Illinois, you know!

I peeked inside to find Craig erecting his drum cage, and Jeff running cables to the sound board. It was a nice sized stage, but a little short with Craig’s cage up there. They’d created a make shift extension for Steve to stand on. The room was covered in carpet to help sound insulation, which meant I could turn up as loud as I wanted, and I did! Chuck’s gear was there set up, he was back at the hotel. Steve rolled in later, and surveyed the makeshift stage extension. It didn’t pass muster, and he tore it down, settling to sing on the floor in front of the drums.

They had an assortment of food to snack on for the party, and I made a small plate to sample. I wasn’t really that hungry. Beer was on the house, which was a dangerous thing! The crowd was modest, much like the surroundings.

All in all, it was an uneventful performance. I felt comfortable, and my playing seemed to start to gel. The amp sounded glorious, loud and full! The crowd filed in, and it seemed a very young crowd. Almost too young. I wondered how many were underage, and this is where they know they can get served. They seemed cautious, if not a bit skeptical about a band of long haired 80’s rock retreads. But, I received many nice compliments, a beer bought for me, and nothing but smiles. The birthday boy/host was profuse in his praise, and talked at length about what a great time it was, and what a great band we were. Terrific, I hope so. This party wasn’t cheap! I hoped he was getting his money’s worth.

So, with the free beer, and the couple shots I bought, I enjoyed my time at the “Jolly Acres”. They tell me we’ll be back, and I can’t say that I mind. It’s not too far, the money was good, and I think once we build a following there, it will be a fun little getaway. After the show, I drove back to the hotel. Chuck invited me down to his room, as he’d snagged some beers to go, and we put on a night cap, sharing stories. Later, I wandered down to my lonely room, and crashed under the covers.

Born To Lose

Another chapter in my ongoing search for, well, hell if I know what I'm searching for!

Venue: Ameristar Poker Room

February 6th, 2006

Hello again friends, blog fans, onlookers, and all around general voyeurs! Time to start writing a bit again, clue you in as to what’s going on in the wonderful world of bar stardom. I receive such wonderful comments about my stories, which are greatly appreciated I can humbly say, and I get a kick out of expressing myself in a separate medium other than a Les Paul and a Marshall clone amp turned to 11.

So, I’ve been looking forward to starting back up again. In fact, I had intended to continue writing through the hiatus, but, as I mentioned on the guest book message board, I transferred the website hosting from Yahoo (which billed me $10 a month) to one hosted by our site at Metro Computer Solutions, where I work, which will be free. A no brainer!

But, I lost the use of the handy, dandy file manager upload software, and the software I needed to upload here my partner didn’t get around to giving me until now. We’ve been quite busy, building customer base, growing the business, all that happy stuff that we’re learning as we give entrepreneurship and self employment a try. Here’s a shameless plug: need any computer work done for your home or office, give us a call. Metro Computer Solutions. We’re in the phone book. That ad cost a pretty penny, too. But, it’s been the best advertising vehicle we’ve used so far.

Since the last blog I’ve posted (my poker blog), things have altered course for me somewhat. I’ve retired from my poker phase. I truly love the game, and studied it intensely the last year or so. Online, live, tournament, cash game: you name it, I was playing it, and playing it constantly. I fancied myself really figuring out his game, and be as successful as I could, whatever that success may mean.

But, what I truly discovered, mainly about the more popular form, Texas Hold ‘em, is the high level of chance that exist in the game, which can negate the skill. I believe, rightly or wrongly, that some people are born inherently with a certain amount of luck, a Midas touch if you will. The ability to have things go their way, even when they seriously fuck up. I’m sure you’ve met people like this. Perhaps you yourself feel that way about yourself.

I seem to be more or less deficient in that particular realm of talent, and am too often reminded of it. If bad shit can happen, it most certainly seems to happen to me. Murphy’s law, my father used to call it. He also used to say something about my talent for screwing up a steel ball with a rubber hammer. I think that ties into it somewhere.

Couple that with my highly competitive nature, and I eventually found myself extremely frustrated when I’d make the right plays, read what my opponents were doing, calculate my odds and know I’m ahead, only to have some miracle draw waste me. Since I largely would play for fun, and that’s not fun, I convinced myself to give it up, and quit wasting my time.

As an example: I went to the boat recently with a friend, and had told her I had no intention of playing poker, just maybe some craps, and enjoy the evening. She convinced me to play anyway, so I took about $150 and sat at the $3/$6, figuring I’d give in another shot, and see what kind of crazy luck would get me and take my money. It wasn’t a disappointment. It didn’t take long!

Second hand in, I was dealt a pair of aces! AA! American Airlines! The Weapons of Mass Destruction! Now, I know many people hate being dealt AA, but that’s largely because they overplay them, or “expect” to win. As you can tell, I never expect to win! But, when you start, there are no better two cards to have than AA, percentagewise.

Now, at $3/$6 limit, I can only raise in increments of $3, and pretty much there’s little bluffing, as anyone with anything decent is going to call and try to get lucky. I was also in what’s called early position, because I’ll have to bet before the others. So, the strategy here is to jam the pot with as much money as possible, because odds are I have the best hand, and am favored to win. When it was my turn to bet, I raised from $3 to $6. Some stayed in, some folded. A player to my right a couple seats re-raised me! “Make it $9”, he belted out.

Well, I was in an interesting spot here. Obviously, I have a better starting hand than he had, because he can’t possibly beat two aces at this point. But, I was new to the table, and had no idea what kind of player he was. Was he tight, and only bet or raised when he had good cards? Was he a maniac, re-raising constantly with junk, trying to get lucky? Did he have a solid hand like two kings, or two queens? Perhaps a smaller pair, and he was trying to buy the pot and chase people out, since he didn’t want to see a flop. Or just a couple of suited cards that he’d try to make a flush with? This is why I’m drawn to the game, trying to read the possibilities!

Technically it didn’t matter, as my play here was certainly to re-raise him and jam more money into the pot, giving me an aggressive edge in the hand, which I did. “Twelve,” I coolly stated, reaching into my chip stack, selecting three more white $1 chips, stacking them next to my previous bets. Remember, while I know little about him, he also knew little about me, so we were even there. And aggression at a poker table can win hands without even showing cards, even at $3/$6. Part in parcel with that, huge pots will encourage people to stay in with junk, trying to catch a miracle card and get lucky, too. This was now a pretty nice sized pot, over $45 or so with four or five players playing. It was now worth chasing as the “pot odds” were making a solid payoff. Something firmly in the back of my mind as I wondered “how will I get my aces cracked?” Not pessimism, or defeatist negativity. Just being honest about myself. And hoping I’d prove myself wrong!

The flop came out, and it was a very nice flop for me. All low cards, 10 being the highest. They were different suits too, so odds someone drawing a flush was pretty slim, they were going to have to catch two suited cards on 4th and 5th street for that. Runner-runner, the poker gods call that.

That means that I won’t have as many chasers throwing money into the pot, but also a better chance that my aces will hold up. The straight possibilities were fairly slim too. For someone to catch that, they would need a strange hand like 7/5, or something, and catch a perfect card. I didn’t see that being out there, because the preflop betting was high. No one is that stupid. Well, no they are, and I don’t know who I’m sitting with. But, odds are, that’s not a real possibility either.

I was first to bet, and I led out with $3. A couple players called, and it got to Mr Re-raiser, who raised it up to $6. I re-raised him to $9. One player behind me called, and the others dropped out. Mr. Re-raiser just called my raise. That showed weakness; he was scared. Or trapping me.

The next card was what they call “a brick”, no visible help. I assessed the board, and thought “these are my chances.” Aces are the best here, unless someone had a pair and caught their set, or someone had two cards and caught them both for two pair. I had two players to read why they were still in this when I’m betting like I have been. Did they have anything to beat two aces? Were they morons? Do they think I’m a moron because I just sat down and started betting like crazy? Do they think I have two aces, because I’m betting like crazy, and they know they can beat even two aces. All these thoughts have to come into play when making decisions. What could they have?

Now, the set of three of a kind was difficult to read, because anyone could have stayed in with a pair and gotten lucky hitting their “trips”. The two pair was less likely, because these were all crappy low cards, and I doubted if anyone would have stayed in all this betting to catch, even with the pot approaching $75. As dumb as some of these people can play, they usually stay in with face cards, not low cards, and there were no face cards showing. The only way they’d stay in with low cards are if they were suited, and again, I didn’t see that playing out as a possibility, trying to catch runner-runner.

I bet $6 (the bet doubles on 4th street), the player on my left called, and Mr. Re-raiser raised it to $12 putting in his last chips and going “all in”. Did he hit his set? I called, and the player on my left folded. Ah! One less hand to worry about on 5th street! It was heads up.

Now, what about this guy? Mr. Re-Raiser. He called my bet with a raise, which put his last chips into the pot. That told me something else. Either this guy really thinks he has the best hand, or more likely he was chasing something, and was probably frustrated, getting short stacked, making that “all or nothing” push that is often called “going tilt”. He didn’t care, just throwing chips in to get lucky, and if he lost, he was ready to go home. If he’d hit his set, he would have re-raised me earlier, not called my flop re-raise. I was confident I was winning the hand.

With his chips all in, he flipped over his cards before 5th street, the River, and showed Jack/10 offsuit. Now, while this isn’t a great starting hand, it’s also one with good potential, so I can’t really fault him for playing it and a limit game, especially knowing he was tilting, and looking to give his chips away, and leave. It was reckless to re-raise me preflop, but that is the style player he is, and the kind of player I want to make a ton of money off of, playing stupid aggressive plays for little reason but to gamble.

Once the flop had came out with 10 high, and he had his Jack kicker, he was riding it down hoping his top pair would hold up and win the hand. Again, amateurish, but that’s the players you need to play to win money off of. You dream of a table full of morons like that. Easy money.

I flipped over my AA, and a smirk crept across his face. “Oh,” he moaned. “I knew it.” He shrugged in defeat, and his smirk turned into the “eh, what the fuck, I tried” expression that comes with resignation.

Of course, there was one catch, the hand wasn’t done. One more card. 5th street. The River.

The dealer rapped the green felt table gently before he turned the last card (as they always do before they turn over a card, dunno why), and revealed Mr. Re-raiser’s best friend, the Jack of Spades! That lucky suck out of a card gave him two pair, jacks and tens, and about a $100 pot. My second hand in after sitting down, and I’d been sucked out on the river with my aces cracked. More reinforcement that my decision to retire was a correct one.

The next hand I was dealt some kind of rags like 8-4 offsuit, and promptly folded as the preflop betting capped at $12 with about 5 players in the hand. It was a monster pot already! This must be a wild table! They played the hand out, with bets, raises, and re-raises. I watched the board, and wondered what each player might be playing with. In the end, the initial raiser won a monster pot of over $150 with…a pair of kings in the hole! Yup, his KK starters held up, while my AA starters went down in flames! Just piling on my list of reasons to quit!

The hands went on, and I had a couple hands that I won modest pots, and others where I couldn’t catch decent cards and folded out. I was still down about $35 or $40 from the AA hand.

In one hand, I was dealt Big Slick, or an ace and king. They were off suit. I “limped in” with his hand, not raising to mask my strength. The board wasn’t very helpful to me, and the bets and raises came flying, so I folded, instead of wasting money trying to catch. Good thing, too, I wouldn’t have won.

The very next hand I was dealt Big Slick again! Hmm! Twice in a row! Lets see here. This time I called a raise to $6 with a few players in to play the hand. A big ace fell on the flop, giving me top pair with a king kicker! Very strong. There didn’t seem to be any other scare cards on the board to caution me. The bets came and I raised, and we all danced. My assessments told me that barring some really bizarre hand someone was playing, I was the best hand at the table.

In the end, I found myself in a similar situation. My aces looked good, and I bet away at them. Everyone folded by 4th street except a quiet little Asian lady, who called my $12 raise with her last chips, going for broke. She flipped over a pair of threes in her hand, and I showed her my Big Slick for a pair of aces. She softly smiled, and looked resigned, as the last fellow did when I showed him what I had. She was “tilting” in frustration too, and knew she’d thrown her money away. With all those higher cards on the board, she was silly for staying in with a lowly pair of threes, especially with an ace on the flop. She had to know she was beaten then, before she called me

With a gentle rap on the felt, the deal turned over the River. It was a three! One of the two remaining threes in the deck! Sucked out again! The table erupted in disbelief, and the quiet Asian lady dropped her head, and shook it from side to side. “Sorry!” she said in condolence. I was a good sport. After all, I wasn’t surprised! I leaned back in my chair, and said “well, that’s enough.” I picked up my remaining $70, and bid the table adieu. My opinions had been confirmed yet again: I’m not a fortunate man, and I should stick to things that I can control the outcome of for my best chances for success.

That’s not to say I’ll never play poker again. I’ve just completely changed my attitude towards it. I don’t care if I ever play again, where as before, I couldn’t wait to play. Now, I can take it or leave it. Mostly leave it.

Well, as per usual, my verbose and descriptive narrative has taken up the bulk of this blog, and left little room to delve into my past performances with Rock Bottom. So, take a break, have a smoke or a sandwich (schmoke 'n' a pancake? bong and a blintz?), and I’ll continue on in part two of my “catch up blog”.