May 09, 2003

May 2003 (Vol 2., Issue 5)

Welcome to my monthly blog-zine and the "Vegas Reprise" edition of Truckin'! This month's issue includes six stories from me and three of them, Betty's New Shoes, Crispy Lineta, and The World Series of Poker, were inspired from my second trip to Sin City in less than a month. You can read about my attempt to get into the World Series of Poker. This month marks the debut of Haley Slovin and her first story: Ingrid. I also wrote some new fiction. Baby's Steak Knife and Winky's Salad brings back characters from a story I wrote last month. In addition to the subway story: May Flowers, I also reviewed five more flicks for this month's Indie Film Review. Sit back, relax, and enjoy! Be Sweet, McG

1. Subway Story: May Flowers by Tenzin McGrupp
She closed her eyes after she bent her head and smelled each one, taking the time to individually check out every flower. I was enamored by her technique. Somehow she got intoxicated by the sweet aroma of each sniff, enthusiastically drifting off into her dreamland, like a Lower East Side junkie getting his morning fix plunging a spike into his weathered vein... More

2. Baby's Steak Knife and Winky's Salad by Tenzin McGrupp
There was a couple of seconds after she stabbed me and before the blood started squirting out where Baby and I calmly stared at each other. Our glances lovingly locked onto one another and we had a tranquil moment. Our symbiotic original connection only lasted for a second maybe two, but it was one of those eternal seconds that seem to last forever and you never want to end... More

3. Crispy Lineta by Tenzin McGrupp
The first time I saw Crispy Lineta was in Spring of 1993. It was 2 AM and he was wearing a Hawaiian shirt and Bermuda shorts. Crispy was being dragged out of the Casino Magic in Biloxi, Mississippi by three oversized security guards with uneven buzz cuts that wore mirrored sunglasses... More

4. Betty's New Shoes by Tenzin McGrupp
She rambled on for a page about a weird dream she had where she lost a pet tarantula in her Aunt Margaret’s bedroom. She was desperately looking for the hairy arachnid, which surprised her since she didn’t have a pet spider and hated creepy things like bugs, tape worms, cockroaches and fashionably challenged guys that wore white pants after Labor Day... More

5. Ingrid by Haley Slovin
Ingrid was always ten minutes early. She was scheduled to meet him exactly at Noon. She waited in front of the diner until 12:15 before she took a deep breath and went inside... More

6. The World Series of Poker by Tenzin McGrupp
The World Series of Poker is not for amateurs. I found out the hard way. But if you’re a dreamer and a disciplined gambler, you shouldn’t miss out. The game is No Limit Texas Hold ‘Em. All you need is $10,000 and a pair of balls... More

7. Indie Film Review by Tenzin McGrupp
I wrote up reviews of the films: 13 Conversations About One Thing (2001), Todo Sobre Mi Madre (1999), Timecode (2000), Roger Dodger (2002), and Seceretay (2002)... More

Subway Story: May Flowers

By Tenzin McGrupp © 2003

4 May 03

3:17 AM. The subway fares jumped to $2 a few hours earlier at the stroke of Midnight. The uptown #1 subway was running behind schedule. Already I forked over more money for shitty service. When the train arrived it was crowded with late Saturday night partiers. Sure it was technically Sunday, but these folks were going out, going home, or just going. You’ll catch a bevy of drunks on the train at that hour. A group of unsullied college kids from Columbia stood in the middle of the post Midnight Saturday crammed full train happily laughing and recanting the highlights of the night’s festivities which included illegal cigarette smoking (NYC banned all smoking a month earlier), a lost cellphone, under aged binge drinking, and an unsolicited hand job in the bathroom at the Dakota Roadhouse. Scattered among the seats were passed out lightweights amid tired and grumpy restaurant workers… un-amused bartenders, single-mom waitresses, ethnic busboys, and ex-con line cooks. Their weary glances and dirty work attire gave themselves away. This is their rush hour.

At 96th Street a young man with gold teeth got on the train with three young children. The oldest was ten and the youngest five or six. Two boys, both wearing baseball hats, and a young girl with glasses each held flowers. Bright red tulips. Bright. So bright that they illuminated the subway car. Two of the kids sat down while the father stood in front of me as he clutched white and yellow tulips. The bottoms of the flowers were covered in dirt and their long stems were attached to bulbs. These weren’t freshly cut flowers bought from a corner bodega. They were stolen. I wondered if Dad took his kids on a Midnight walk through Central Park? Possibly smoking a joint of seedy dime bag weed, as he stumbled upon a newly planted bed of Dutch tulips, which populated the park in the last few weeks. The guy got his kids to steal the flowers! I assumed my tax dollars paid for the maintenance for all of the city’s parks and the planted flowers were a part of that deal. Technically I paid for the flowers. And that’s what the guy thought during a stoned moment of ingenuity. He got down on one knee, whispered half jokingly and half seriously as he convinced his kids to quickly hop a fence. They followed their father’s orders and pulled up as many flowers as they could carry before anybody saw them.

The youngest child split the flowers apart, first beginning with the petals, plucking them off one by one as they floated to the grimy subway floor. They slowly fell as their shocking color disappeared instantly. When life was ripped from them, their bold colors faded. His sister held tightly onto her neatly bundled batch. Was it her first bouquet of flowers? Possibly. She closed her eyes after she bent her head and smelled each one, taking the time to individually check out every flower. I was enamored by her technique. Somehow she got intoxicated by the sweet aroma of each sniff, enthusiastically drifting off into her dreamland, like a Lower East Side junkie getting his morning fix plunging a spike into his weathered vein.

After a couple of minutes the father grabbed the kids and told them to prepare to exit at the next stop. As she got up she saw me staring at her flowers. Her taught grip relaxed and she pulled one out from the middle. The young girl handed a flower to me as the subway doors flew open and she got swept away from the drunken rowdy flood of exiting passengers. I tried to look out the door to say, “Thanks.” But I could not see her as the doors abruptly closed. The train sped off towards the Bronx and I closed my inebriated eyes and bent forward to smell the fragrance of the stolen tulip.

Tenzin McGrupp is a writer from New York City.

Baby's Steak Knife and Winky's Salad

By Tenzin McGrupp © 2003

I was in the middle of a dream playing basketball one-on-one with Walt “Clyde” Frazier in the alley way behind an Italian restaurant in Chicago. There was a hoop set up next to a dumpster and we would stop in between play to sit on folding chairs and drink Gatorade and talk about various things, like the John Locke’s Treatise on Liberty or if Clyde consciously knew what the point spreads were for NY Knicks game before tip-off. A few minutes later, after taking a jump shot, I felt a sharp biting pain in my left arm. I looked down to see that nothing was wrong. A minute later I felt it again, this time the pain seared throughout my bones, which made me start sweating. I fell to my knees and yelled like a rat caught in a glue trap. That’s when I awoke and found Baby pulling a knife out of my arm. The Alabama hellcat stabbed me while I was passed out.

There were a couple of seconds after she stabbed me and before the blood started squirting out where Baby and I calmly stared at each other. Our glances lovingly locked onto one another and we had a tranquil moment. Our symbiotic original connection only lasted for a second maybe two, but it was one of those eternal seconds that seem to last forever and you never want to end. It’s those eclectic moments you come across while thinking about life’s odd idiosyncrasies, while stuck in a sullen slouch at the end of a bar, drinking away the roughness of the day’s grind. Or perhaps that treasured moment comes to mind while staring out the window of an airplane, your eyes bouncing back and forth between the clouds and the endless horizon and your shared memories burn a hole in your pants pocket, like a firecracker with a slow fuse that you lit years ago and simply forgot it was there until one day, POP! It goes off. And as our still bodies breathed together and our moment ended, all serenity vanished and I saw panic, fear, desperation, anger, and redemption jump on top of each other in a scrum and hide behind the pupils in her sky blue eyes. Simultaneously, heavy drops of tears rained from her swollen eyes as intense globs of menacing red blood bubbled out of the two inch cut on my bicep, forming an oval pool on our Salvation Army bought $18 couch.

I gazed at my wound with an elated surprise reaction. Shocked, indeed. Impressed, you betcha. Baby was the type of girl who talked shit about doing things (e.g. getting her G.E.D. and going to beautician school, or kicking out her half-witted half-sister whom had been crashing with us since 9.11, or her many promises to stop smoking Kools) and not once did she ever follow through on any of her shit talking. Until now, that is. For months she threatened to stab me and she finally achieved one of her goals. I beamed with astonished pride on our way to the hospital.

“You know Winky Junior, someday I’m gonna stab yewwwwwwwwwwwwww!” she taunted me one afternoon after she drank too many $1 shots of the daily tequila special held every morning from opening to Noon at Connie’s Lounge, the bar near the airport that she and her half-sister Beatrice would frequent on Sunday mornings before they went to church. When she got wicked wasted, Baby loved making a funny face and pointed her finger at me like a disappointed geriatric Montessori Day school principal who just caught the school’s compulsive masturbator engrossed in a wild whacking off session in the girl’s locker room.

“You’re no good. And I‘m gonna fix your wagon, mister. I’m gonna stab yewwwwwwww! Just like when your Momma stabbed your Daddy and then she had to go to county lock up for six months!!” she screamed almost falling down, “And all your friends made fun of you and your Daddy for losing his eye after your Momma took it out with a salad fork! And that’s when they started calling your Daddy… Winky!”

And soon after all the annoying neighborhood kids started calling me… Winky Junior. It wasn’t funny. I cried myself asleep for 1,457 consecutive dreadful nights. A night out for dinner at Sizzler turned into a calamity, a wretched story told nightly at the local tavern by Angry Petey Picarelli to anyone within earshot after pounding a couple of Boilermakers. And the story unfolds as my family walked to our table from the “All you can eat” salad bar at Sizzler, when I heard my father curse at my mother. The next thing I saw, my mom was storming out of the restaurant and my father’s plate of salad was covered in blood and croutons. I was seven at the time and silently watched in morbid curiosity as the paramedic dislodged the salad fork from my father’s left eye, unable to save it, nor my family’s dignity. In case you were wondering, I haven’t eaten a salad in twenty years.

Baby audaciously sped to the county hospital and I sat unbuckled in the passenger’s seat holding my poorly bandaged arm as high as I could because it seemed to be the right thing to do at the time. She whimpered hysterically and her large tears blurred her vision. Baby’s driving was never stellar, with seven accidents in three years, but both her DUI charges were dropped due to lack of evidence (and because the arresting officer both times was her Uncle Hank.) I took a long look at a distressed Baby. I was disgusted with her crying.

“What the fuck is your problem? I’m the one who got stabbed!”

“I know,” she sniffled, as a mixture of tears and snot made it’s way down her chin and dripped onto the steering wheel.

“You are some piece of work, Baby. For fuck’s sakes! Why is my life with you like a terrible Jerry Springer episode on six hits of bad acid? Complete with vodka induced knife fights, crystal meth smuggling Klansmen, and other various deviant canine S & M trailer park sexcapades!

“And I’m so sorry Winky. I’ll never do this again. I’ll do anything right now for you. Anything!”

Baby was a mess. I know why she stabbed me. I probably deserved it. I lost her inheritance when the Dork Brothers scammed me on a ghastly drug deal a few weeks earlier. I slowly plotted my revenge and I was going to get her money back. My plan was underway and needed more time to let everything evolve. Baby was impatient. In a hissy rage fueled by unfounded jealousy, Baby flipped out. Mulva, the sixteen year old girl who worked at Popeye’s gave me an extra biscuit earlier in the day, which Baby psychotically mistook for a secret sign that Mulva was giving me blow jobs behind Popeye’s when Baby was at work. After I fell asleep, Baby snorted all my cocaine then drank a half a bottle of Stoli Orange. When she found the steak knife, she took a deep breath and prayed. Moments later, she thrust it into my arm.

“Pull over right now. You’re going to get us killed the way you’re fucking driving. I’ll drive the rest of the way.”

Baby slammed on the breaks and she got out of her car. I slid over into the driver’s seat, but before I did that I locked all the doors. Baby was locked out. As she pounded her fists on the window I pulled away and drove off to the hospital alone. And that was last time I saw Baby. She was jumping up and down hysterically on Route 56, drunker than Ted Kennedy on Patriots Day, cursing like a Marine with shrapnel in his foot, and wearing nothing but flip flops and her favorite Dixie Chicks T-shirt which she wore to bed every night.

As her image grew smaller and smaller in the rear view mirror, all I could think about was how she’d angelically kiss me on the forehead before she went to sleep and she’d soothingly whisper, “G’niiiiite Winky Junior.”

Tenzin McGrupp is a writer from New York City.

Crispy Lineta

By Tenzin McGrupp © 2003

Crispy Lineta was a legendary paradox. Considered the luckiest and unluckiest man in many gambling circles, his reputation of a being shrewd card player enabled him to become the youngest World Champion in poker. In the same instance his inability to apply his precise and systematic winning methods of card playing towards his everyday life often guided him face first into the gutter and eventually led up to his untimely murder. While taking a shit, Crispy was shot four times in the head by the voluptuous strawberry blonde, Alberta Desjardins, a jealous ex-girlfriend high on Prozac, Lithium and Pabst Blue Ribbon. The six fingered, former weather girl from Sweetwater, Tennessee was the mother of his myopic twins: Acey and Deucey. For every exciting, nail biting, surreal story told and re-told about Crispy winning tournament after tournament in the early 1990s, there were twice as many sordid tales of his financial demise. Ex-wives, a half of dozen kids, junkie siblings, overly litigious neighbors, and a slew of cash burning girlfriends and pricey hookers vacuumed every cent out Crispy’s bank account, his wallet, and his left shoe, a size ten (he actually was an 8 ½), where he was always carried no less than $3,000 in cash. Card games often pop up in the most random locales, and if there was money to be won playing poker, Crispy wanted to buy in.

The first time I saw Crispy Lineta was in Spring of 1993. It was 2 AM and he was wearing a Hawaiian shirt and Bermuda shorts. Crispy was being dragged out of the Casino Magic in Biloxi, Mississippi by three oversized security guards with uneven buzz cuts that wore mirrored sunglasses. They tossed Crispy off into an empty handicapped parking spot after they each took turns and kicked him in the groin. He smelled like he’d been drinking for three or four days and a bloody nose and puffy lip rounded out the rest of his attire. I never met him before, but I glanced at his picture a couple of times in various poker and gambling magazines. I also watched Crispy win the World Series of Poker on ESPN the year before, walking away with $800,000 and the coveted winner’s gold bracelet. I stood over him and peered into his glazed eyes.

“Any good games tonight?”

He laughed, rolled over, and puked.

The day after he won $800,000 and became a four time World Champion, Crispy broke up with his girlfriend of two years as they sat at the $4.95 “All you can eat” breakfast buffet at the Circus Circus casino. Dolly was a plump curious girl with stringy blonde hair, lots of freckles, and wild purple eyes (not real, but contacts lenses that Crispy bought her for her 17th birthday a year earlier). As Crispy shoved strawberry pancakes into his mouth, drenched in dark maple syrup, Dolly flailed hysterically. She cried so hard that one of her lenses popped out and vanished into the vast lake of syrup on Crispy’s plate. The overflow and the thick viscosity of the syrup was no match for Dolly’s purple contact. It disappeared within seconds, only to be shoved into Crispy’s mouth during his voracious feeding frenzy. She struggled to exit the buffet, sobbing non stop and falling down a few times, bouncing off of tourists uncontrollably like a tilted pinball, hopeless waiting to fall to the bottom, tragically ending the game.

Within hours Crispy headed off to the Lady Lotus, a seedy strip bar near the airport. He blew a couple of thousands of dollars on lap dances and champagne before he invited two dancers to accompany him to London where he was scheduled to be interviewed on a talk show broadcast on the BBC. They agreed and without packing anything except their passports, Crispy and his new girlfriends flew to Europe. Ida was a slender black girl from East Texas with false teeth and 44DDD sized surgically enhanced breasts that loved karaoke and Omaha was a half-Cherokee, half-Polish teenager from Chicago. Her two biggest goals in life were to meet President Bill Clinton and to become a contestant on Wheel of Fortune.

When they arrived at Heathrow, three surly Scotland Yard investigators met them. Apparently Crispy and his girlfriends’ bathroom hijinks got them busted. Crispy and Omaha’s sexcapades in the bathroom in business class lasted for over two hours, as they both joined the international Mile High Club. That is not uncommon, but they managed to leave the door open the entire time. At first the flight crew and suits in business class were amused and thrilled with the show (the movie being shown was a bad eight hour Kevin Costner flick). An excited group of bankers from Tokyo took pictures and videotaped the tryst. But after twenty minutes Crispy and Omaha’s sex show got perverse and disgusting. As one passenger was quoted during Crispy’s indecency trial, “I didn’t know you could put your whole foot up there!”

Alas, that was not the only problem aboard British Airways flight # 604. Ida locked herself in the bathroom in First Class shortly after take off for the entire duration of the flight. She shot up a batch of poorly cooked black tar heroin and died before they arrived in Europe. The British tabloids and newspapers had a field day with Crispy’s uncanny entrance into London with two Vegas strippers, one dead on arrival and the other one was younger than five of Crispy’s six children.

His appearance on the BBC’s version of the Tonight Show was one of the highest rated of they year. Crsipy talked softly about his humble upbringing in Detroit, Michigan, and how his grandfather taught him to play cards and steal cars the summer he turned eight. Later that November on a brisk, snowy, Sunday morning, Grandpa Alfonse “Sticky” Lineta was busted by the FBI for fixing Central Michigan football games. Led away in handcuffs by stiff G-men in black overcoats, the old man shouted one last bit of advice to his aloof grandson, “Keep gambling, Crispy. It beats working like a chump!”

Tenzin McGrupp is a writer from New York City.

Betty's New Shoes

By Tenzin McGrupp © 2003

Betty woke up five minutes before her scheduled wake up call. She stretched for a six minutes before beginning her yoga. She wanted to check her messages but she recalled that she locked her cell phone in the safe upon her arrival. She shrugged her shoulders and made coffee, then took a quick seven minute shower. She slipped on a comfortable robe, courtesy of the Bellagio, and casually sipped her Nigeria blended coffee that she bought for $8 at an espresso stand in the Venetian. Betty put on her headphones and wrote in her journal for nine minutes. She scribbled about her thoughts during yoga, and included a couple of quick sketches of odd symbols she thought she saw during one of her morning visions in the shower. She rambled on for a page about a weird dream she had where she lost a pet tarantula in her Aunt Margaret’s bedroom. She was desperately looking for the hairy arachnid, which surprised her since she didn’t have a pet spider and hated creepy things like bugs, tape worms, cockroaches and fashionably challenged guys that wore white pants after Labor Day.

Although she understood that McGrupp preferred not to have her sit and watch him play poker, she confessed that she knew it was distracting but she did it anyway. Off to the side of the poker room, a row of slot machines provided the perfect camouflaged viewpoint. If Betty sat strategically in the middle of a row of Wheel of Fortune fifty-cent slots she could watch McGrupp play without being seen. Betty learned the basic concepts of poker but never played in a casino. Her grandfather taught her and her sisters how to play poker and Hearts during the summer in the mountains when she turned eleven. Betty knew the game but was reluctant to play. She loved hearing the stories that McGrupp told her about the seedy players with hundreds of sad stories to tell and the ingenious layouts of the different poker rooms all over the country and in casinos in Vegas and Reno, on Native American reservations in Washington, in casinos in Connecticut, on riverboats in Mississippi, and in illegal games in Knights of Columbus lodges all over Brooklyn.

She keenly watched McGrupp as she noted that he was the youngest player at the table by at least twenty years, yet sat comfortably knowing every other player was paying sharp attention to his play. She giggled when McGrupp threw his hands in the air after he lost a bad hand to a guy in a wheel chair. She smiled when she saw him make a joke afterwards and the other players, including the dealer, laughed heartily. She marveled at the devious duality behind that grin. She knew that in one moment he could sit down with complete strangers and appear gregarious, warm-hearted, disarming and comedic, yet in the very next instance be ready to rob them all blind without hesitation, coldly taking every dollar from their pockets while morally, philosophically, and financially justifying his thievery.

“Call it Zen Poker,” he’d say.

After Betty finished up her journal entry for the day, she made a list of things to do. She had an appointment at the spa downstairs. She was excited for a hot stone massage and a lemon ginger scrub with a kiwi-cucumber facial wash. Afterwards, she needed to finish studying a couple of paintings at the Guggenheim to include them in part of her thesis in the Classical Influences of Italian Renaissance Painting in Modern Day Reality TV Programming. If there’s a connection to be made between Titian and Joe Millionaire, Betty will unearth the correlation and get a Doctorate for her research. She also needed to buy a t-shirt for her niece. She was looking for something really cheesy and layman, which would piss her sister off since she only dressed her daughter in GAP*KIDS or Beneton for Kids clothes exclusively.

Most importantly, Betty needed to buy shoes that would match a dress she bought the day before at Prada. She was invited to her best friend Susie’s third wedding (the second one since the millennium) and this one was expected to be traditional and the most formal of the three. Her first wedding was done at Midnight while standing on a beach in Santa Cruz, during a full moon and on three hits of liquid acid. The cool waves rolled up onto the bare feet of the bride, groom, members of the wedding party, and half the guests who had tripped their minds out and grooved to a Grateful Dead cover band that performed at the ceremony. The second wedding was less psychedelic and much quicker, as a six month pregnant Susie was married to a minor league baseball player by an Elvis impersonator (old fat Elvis) at the chapel in the Stardust casino. This time she’s getting married at a swanky country club to a Silicon Valley computer guru, one of the few thirtysomething millionaires that didn’t lose all his money when the dotcom bubble burst. And since Betty was the last one of her friends that wasn’t married at least once or had any kids, she wanted to make sure she showed up at Susie’s wedding looking stunning, elegant, and absolutely gorgeous.

But before Betty did any of the things on her list, she dressed and went downstairs. She slowly walked over to the Sports Book and took out a gambling slip. She placed a $500 bet on the Sacramento Kings the night before. The Kings were her grandfather’s favorite basketball team and she found out they won, which meant she won. She walked up to the counter and cashed her winning ticket. As she counted her cash and put away the roll of hundred dollar bills, all she could think about was the new shoes she was going to by later that day.

Tenzin McGrupp is a writer from New York City.


By Haley Slovin © 2003

Ingrid was always ten minutes early. She was scheduled to meet him exactly at Noon. She waited in front of the diner until 12:15 before she took a deep breath and went inside. When she sat down at a booth, she asked the waitress to bring two menus. The busboy brought over two ice waters and she sat in silence with her eyes fixated on the diner’s entrance. Anxiety filled her body while she waited to see him and that was testing her patience. Every time the door opened, the butterflies bounced around her stomach and she’d squint her eyes in desperate hopes that it was him.

After waiting five more minutes Ingrid finally opened up her menu. She knew exactly what she wanted to eat. Her favorite meal at the diner was a grilled cheese sandwich with tomatoes and avocadoes, potato salad, and a diet coke with two lemon slices. She ordered that three times a week, sometimes she substituted fries for the potato salad.

He was always late and never had the common courtesy to call her to explain himself. She didn’t mind because she knew he was busy. Any amount of time she could spend with him was more than she could ever hoped for. She silently sat and every few minutes would gesture to the waitress that she was still waiting for her guest to arrive. She glanced at the menu like it was a brand new book. She’d read it so many times before that she practically had it memorized. He was late a lot and Ingrid did that to pass the time. One day she memorized all the appetizers; Mozzarella Sticks, Cheese Fries, Garlic Toast, Chicken Fingers, Extreme Nachos, Onion Rings, and Buffalo Chicken Wings. That was simple. The next time she memorized the Sandwich and Soup section, then the Entrees, and eventually she learned all the Desserts. Ingrid spent a lot of time looking at the menu.

She sat for almost forty minutes before she reluctantly placed her usual lunch order. The waitress tried to pick up the menus but she refused to let her take his.

“He’ll want to look at it as soon as he gets here,” she said.

She continued to sit in silence as she leisurely ate her grilled cheese. She took four times longer than it normally would take for a twenty-two year old to eat a sandwich. She was trying to spread out her time and her sandwich got cold. When she finished all the food on her plate, she ordered a slice of lemon pie and a cup of tea. She stretched out her eating time once again. When she was ready to leave the diner, it was almost two o’clock and she’d been there for almost two hours. She walked over to the cashier to pay and leaned in to give him a message.

“If he shows up, can you tell him I waited for a while?”

Ingrid exited the diner and stood outside for ten more minutes before taking another deep breath. She walked to the corner and hailed a taxicab.

A man in a UPS uniform sat at the counter in the diner while Ingrid ate her pie. When he paid, he asked the cashier a question.

“Hey, I’ve been coming in here for a couple of years and I keep seeing that lady over there in the corner.”

He pointed to the empty booth where Ingrid spent the last two hours memorizing the menu, watching the front door, and slowly eating a cold grilled cheese sandwich.

“What’s her story?”

The cashier shrugged his shoulders and with a sorrowful look answered, “I don’t know. We think she’s a little crazy. At least four times a week for the last couple years she shows up by herself. She stands outside for a ten minutes before she sits down at the same booth. She always asks for two menus and two ice waters, but not once have I ever seen anyone come meet her. It’s very sad. I always wanted to say something, but it’s none of my business. She’d been waiting for someone to come by for a long time. I figured it’s better to let her have hope then to let her think that she’s really alone.”

Haley Slovin is a writer and actress living in New York City. She's originally from Santa Fe, New Mexico.

The Dream -- WSOP

By Tenzin McGrupp © 2003

I remember the old slogan for Lotto. “A dollar and a dream.” That was the hook into one of the biggest scams in the free world. The lottery. Sure people win, but we never will honestly know the truth about how much money is collected for each drawing. The contestants don’t get to count the money and the entire amount collected is never paid out in full. Lotto is the scam of all scams and millions of Americans play it once and twice a week with their thoughts of their dream vacation sizzling in their mind as they willingly stand in line for upwards of a half an hour to two hours, days before the huge multi-million drawing. They foolishly fork over their cash for the hopes that air blown ping pong balls will magically appear before their eyes awarding them a small cut of the weekly shakedown, while some fat cats are hording billions into banks in places like the Cayman Islands and St. Maarten, the final destinations for some of the ticket buyer’s dreams. I feel sorry for those suckers.

The World Series of Poker was the brain child of Benny Binion. The man who never saw a bet that he would not cover and first started serving “free drinks” in his casino (now a traditional standard in every casino in Vegas and America), had a dream to bring the world’s best poker players together. It started in 1949 with a one on one match set up between Nick the Greek and Johnny Moss, at the time the world’s two best card players. They played in public view at Binion’s casino various poker games for five months straight, only taking breaks for sleep! Moss finally walked away with close to $2 Million after winning the “biggest game in town” after Nick the Greek bowed his head and replied, “Mr. Moss, I’ll have to let you go.” Then he went upstairs and went to sleep.

In 1970 Benny Binion decided to create the World Series of Poker after realizing that people lined up outside his casino just to watch the best gamblers play cards, like any other fan of a major sporting team. At the inaugural World Series, seven players showed up. After it’s 34th year, his vision has exploded. Not only does the winner walk away with a hefty payout, but they also get the recognition and respect of becoming one of the greatest card players of all time, with the likes of Amarillo Slim, Johnny Chan, Johnny Moss, Stu Ungar, and Doyle Brunson. This year’s event, starting May 19th, is expected to be the biggest tournament to date, hoping to draw almost 700 players and paying out over $7 Million in prize money, with every dollar going to the players.

The World Series of Poker is not for amateurs. I found out the hard way. But if you’re a dreamer and a disciplined gambler, you shouldn’t miss out. The game is No Limit Texas Hold ‘Em. Each player is dealt two cards face down and they share five community cards with the rest of the table. You play and wager based on your five best cards. All you need is $10,000 and a pair of balls. Last year at the World Series, there were 614 contestants that paid the mandatory $10,000 fee. Every cent of the $6,140,000 was divided among the top finishers. The 2002 winner, Robert Varkonyi, an amateur from Brooklyn left Las Vegas with $2 plus million and the coveted platinum and diamond bracelet, worn only by the winner. This is the equivalent of the Stanley Cup or the Master’s Green Jacket. Shit, even the guy who came in 16th place went home with almost $50,000. The guy in 45th place went home with $20,000. What do you get when you finish in 10th place in Lotto? Jack shit. That’s what.

And here’s the best part. Anyone can participate. Anybody with $10,000 can enter the World Series of Poker. I can. You can. For fuck’s sake, my grandmother can. Just show up to Vegas with 10 Gs and you’re in. You can’t show up with your golf clubs at the Masters to play a round against Tiger Woods. You can’t bring your basketball to Madison Square Garden and expect to play one on one with Latrell Sprewell. You can’t roll up next to Jeff Gordon and challenge him to a race. But if you got a bankroll, you can sit down with legends of Poker and try to take them down. No other event has the freedom and opportunity like the World Series of Poker, where you can sit and challenge the world’s best players, and that’s why the World Series of Poker is the single most thrilling event in tournament and gambling activities and is rapidly gaining more popularity every year.

These days you don’t even need $10,000 to get into the World Series. All you need is as little as $125 for the entry fee for any of the many satellite tournaments that Binion’s holds weeks before the World Series. The winners of the satellites win the $10,000 entry fee into the World Series. Last year’s World Series Champion, Robert Varkonyi, was an amateur and got to sit down at the World Series by winning a satellite tournament.

After I watched the action for a few hours, I decided to go for it. I entered one of the satellites at Binion’s. I paid my $125 fee, got $250 in chips and sat down with 100 other players (divided up into 10 tables), all trying to win the $10,000 entry fee. I came down to the next to last guy at my first table. I beat out eight other guys and if I beat the last guy, I would advance to the Final Table (if I beat all nine guys at the Final Table, I win the $10,000 entry fee). I knew I could not win because I never played in a No Limit tournament, let alone a No Limit game. I decided to play for practice, for the experience, for a few stories, and most of all for the thrill of gambling. I never figured I’d make it as far as I did, but when I got knocked out of the tournament, I was really pissed. In a matter of a couple of hours I went from the reluctant spectator to fierce card player. I had a chance to advance and I blew it. Now instead of thinking “I could never win this” my thought process shifted. With confidence and experience, I now have fleeting thoughts of “I have a chance to win… if I play smart enough.”

I played in a few tournaments before I got to Vegas. These were Low Limit games with a maximum on how much you can bet each hand. Sometimes the pots get big. Most of the time the best players win Low Limit games because there is a cap on how much you can win or lose for each hand dealt. In No Limit Texas Hold ‘Em, you can lose all your money in one second. You can double your money in another second. It does not matter how many chips you have left on the table. As long as you have one, you still have a chance. Most professionals refuse to play No Limit because of the huge losses they could possibly incur. There’s more bluffing in No Limit because when you have thousands and thousands of dollars being wagered, you’d assume only players with the best hands would play. Not all the time. Players will often go “all-in” and bet all their chips in an attempt to steal the pot and scare off other players. Sometimes nobody buys your bluff and you get fucked. Most of the time bluffers in No Limit scare me off. I’m still learning the game (I’m fairly versed at Low Limit Hold ‘em), and the few times I was convinced the guy across from me was bluffing, I found out the hard was that he was holding a great hand.

The rush of adrenaline hits you when you have to make a decision to go “all-in”. When you come to this decision you realize one of two things. If I have the best hand at the table, I’m going to back it up with my entire stacks of chips in order to maximize my win with higher stakes in my winning pot. The other thing I think about is this: most likely will be my last hand of the day because if I lose, that’s it. I have no more chips. There were times I knew I was beat and eked out a win, while there were definitive moments when I was convinced that I would walk away with a huge pot, only to get beat down like a Cuban dissident.

I’ll be back next year, with a full year of tournament poker experience under my belt. Will I win? Probably not, but I have a much better chance than winning Lotto, and I’ll have a much better time trying!

Tenzin McGrupp is a writer from New York City.

May Indie Film Review

By Tenzin McGrupp © 2003

13 Conversations About One Thing (2001)

Writer and director Jill Sprecher weaves multiple stories and conversations about happiness, life, and love within several seemingly unrelated characters, that are all linked and associated in an unusual way. Troy (Matt McConaughey) is a young hot shot lawyer. His life gets changed for the worse when he’s involved in an unexpected hit and run accident. Beatrice (Clea DuVall) is an optimistic cleaning lady, secretly in love with one of her wealthy clients, and awaiting a miracle that never happens. Walker (John Turturro) is a rigid Physics professor who is cheating on his wife (Amy Irving) that attempts to grapple with her suspicions of her husband’s infidelity. Gene English (Alan Arkin, whom was nominated for an Independent Spirit Award for his role) is a grumpy office manager, dealing with his son’s legal troubles, and looking to exact revenge on a carefree, happy-go-lucky always positive co-worker, while waiting for his promotion to become effective. The story lines jump back and forth between characters in real time and in flashbacks. If you are not paying attention, it’s easy to get confused. One of the last lines of the film, uttered in a bar, paraphrases one of my favorite lines from the philosopher Kierkegaard, “Life can only be understood backwards, but must be lived forwards.”

Todo Sobre Mi Madre (1999)

“All About My Mother” is the best film from renowned Spanish director Pedro Almodovar. Shot on location in Barcelona and Madrid, his film follows the life of Manuela (Ceclia Roth). She is recovering from the tragic death of her teenage son after he gets hit by a car trying to get the autograph of his favorite actress, Huma Rojo (Marisa Paredes). She travels to Barcelona to reunite with her son’s father, a transvestite named Lola who has disappeared. He/she has no clue that he’s/she’s been a father for almost twenty years. Manuela meets up with an old friend Agrado (hilariously played by Antonia San Juan), yet another aging, foul mouthed, wacky, trick turning transvestite. She introduces Manuela to a pregnant nun, Sister Maria (Penelope Cruz), a young and misguided woman headed for El Salvador. Manuela gets hired by Huma as her personal assistant, with one of her tasks caring for Huma’s junkie girlfriend Nina. Pedro Almodovar’s film won an Oscar for Best Foreign Film in 1999. A well written script, eccentric characters, and excellent performances from the ensemble cast made this film one of Pedro’s best to date. He manages to jab at serious themes of life and death, womanhood and motherhood, sexuality, and overcoming life’s obstacles, while incorporating classic pieces of theater and film, the likes of “A Street Car Named Desire” and “All About Eve”.

Timecode (2000)

Written and directed by Mike Figgis, this is one of the most ingenious films I have ever seen. Shot digitally in real time, in one take, he incorporates a split screen throughout his entire film, having four separate cameras follow four different story lines. He had a loosely written script and depended on the actors to do a fair amount of improvisation in their scenes. Taking place in Los Angeles, and primarily at a Hollywood production office, the action shifts back and forth between places and people. Lauren (Jeanne Tripplehorn) is jealous of her lover Rose (Salma Hayek). She suspects she’s cheating on her with film producer Alex (Stellan Skarsgard) and tries to catch them. Alex is a self-serving, self-destructive, booze guzzling, coke snorting asshole considering his retirement from the industry. Alex’s wife Emma (Saffron Burrows) walks from her therapist’s office to see Alex to tell him that their marriage is done. She ends up hooking up with a coked up actress friend (Leslie Mann) after they run into each other at a bookstore. Alex is busy trying to have an afternoon tryst with Rose, while fending off bad ideas and suggestions for future film projects. Overall, the film and plot is not really great. But considering what Figgis was trying to accomplish, it was a ballsy chance. Shooting a feature film in real time, in one continuous take, and relying upon smooth improvisations from his actors required a lot of trust as well as ingenuity. I heard that he shot the film over two weeks, each day being a different continuous take, and that he ended up using the first take in the film. If you get the DVD, in the Special Features Menu, you can watch another alternate version of a different take, and see the subtle and drastic differences in both cuts.

Roger Dodger (2002)

Written and directed by Dylan Kid and shot on location in New York City, he introduces his main character Roger right away from the opening scene: Roger is lecturing his co-workers during lunch about his views on evolution and Darwinism regarding the futility of being a male and the eventual shift from reliance upon males in our culture towards a more dominated female culture. Roger is a smooth talker, with sharp wit and amazing observational skills who thinks he’s mastered the art of manipulating women for casual sex and has figured out exactly what women are all about. His chauvinistic approach to women becomes tested and his utopian views become sidetracked after an affair with his boss (Isabella Rossellini) abruptly ends and his shy nephew Nick (Jesse Eisenberg) from Ohio shows up unannounced, looking for tips on women. Roger takes Nick under his wing and in a late night crash course, begins to school the young, humble, bumbling virgin in the art of picking up women in NYC, where sex is everywhere and anywhere, and available to be had. Eventually things don’t go as planned, and Roger begins to realize that maybe the entire time he’s just as clueless as his nephew, after Nick seems to charm a couple of girls (Elizabeth Berkeley & Jennifer Beals) that Nick picks up at a bar (filmed on location at Opaline in the East Village) and they whisper to him “We need more men like you.”

Seceretay (2002)

Lee Holloway (Maggie Gyllenhaal) is a young woman that has been released from a mental hospital after being institutionalized for cutting herself after she becomes addicted with self mutilation. Although she hasn’t fully kicked her habit of self inflicted pain, she applies for a job as a legal secretay for Mr. Grey (James Spader). Mr. Grey is grouchy, temperamental, meticulous, slightly disturbed boss and Lee quickly develops a crush on him and his odd quirks. One day after Mr. Grey catches Lee trying to cut her self, he quickly steps in and assumes the dominator role in the beginnings of a lustful, sadomasochistic relationship. The S & M scenes are intense but not overly kinky and exaggerated. Sometimes they are more humorous and sad than anything else. But the director, Steven Shainberg, did an excellent job delving into the relationship between sexuality and power, and the intensity behind those relationships. Based on a short story by Mary Gatskill, the authority rapport between Lee and Mr. Grey is clearly defined, but underneath that twisted intensity is a sincere love story and a young woman’s struggle to maintain self affirmation in a world where’s she’s had little or no self esteem. The underlying framework takes away the abrasiveness of the overt S & M context. Both Spader and Gyllenhaal’s effort is some of their best to date. In each scene Spader does his job, because you are either rooting for him because you feel sorry for him, or you’re totally against him because he’s a selfish psycho.

Tenzin McGrupp is a writer from New York City.

What a Long Strange Trip it's Been...

From the Editor's Laptop:

Hey, it's the 12th issue of Truckin'! Wow! After writing writing six stories for this issue, I completed 50 stories for this blog-zine! I hope you enjoyed my Las Vegas and Poker related stories. It always feels good to be on the road again, getting new material for my ramblings and short stories. And thanks to Haley Slovin for her first story!

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Be Sweet,

"Most men pursue pleasure with such breathless haste that they hurry past it." - Soren Kierkegaard