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Tuesday, January 25, 2005

Rapid Eye Real Life

If you're arriving here by some other means than a click-over from Up For Poker, I'd suggest you read this first. It will make this post make a lot more sense

Over the years here on RER, I've written a lot about my dad. Many of you got to know him last year, either personally or through a blog, as he battled death and survived. I realized a lot of things during those months about my relationship with my father. I realized that I'd spent my entire life trying to impress him with my career instead of taking some risks and following my dreams. What was harder to realize is that I couldn't blame him for that. All along, Dad had been the one trying to convince me that I should chase rainbows and silly dreams. Dad, while one of the most practical people I've ever known, is a dreamer deep down. And he worked his entire life so I could dream out the life he knew I wanted to dream

When I thought Dad was going to die, I spent hours staring into the darkness realizing that by trying to impress my father with my practicality, I had been doing the exact opposite of what he'd dreamed for me. The cognitive dissonance mixed with the tears was a little too much for me to handle.

Here's something that a lot of people don't know about my dad. When I was still very young and my brother was a baby, Dad had a regular job and was essentially partners with a guy he didn't care much for.

See, Dad came from a very humble background. Countless brothers and sisters, living in a small house, transplants from some Texas dustfield. He told me stories when I was young (I never knew whether to believe them) about sharing bath water with his siblings to conserve on the water bill.

And as such, he was a bit of a dreamer. He did a little time in college, but never finished. Still he dreamed of owning his own business. And so, when he was in his early 30s, with two kids and a stay-at-home wife, Dad decided he was going to open his own business. For a man who was the only income for a family of four, and with a mortgage and bills up to his eyes, it was a decidedly risky move.

And you know what? It worked.

A few years back, Dad sold his business and, not yet 60, Dad is retired, playing golf and spending time with his family, especially his only grandson.

When my Dad was about to go into a surgery that could've killed him, I sat alone at his bedside and told him what I'd never told him before. I'd lived my life by his example and only wanted to impress him with whatever success I could find.

And for the most part, that was true. Except for one thing: I've not taken many risks in my day. With the exception of moving to GreenVegas with no solid job in place so that I could be with my wife, I've lived a fairly practical, risk-free life.

If I'm going to make good on what I told my dad when I thought he was going to die, if I'm going to be any kind of success in my life, if I have any hope of living out a life of accomplisment and self-worth, I'm going to have to live by my dad's example and take some risks.

Easier said than done, I suppose.

Back to a mainland mindset

By the time I made it back from the Bahamas, I'd sobered up a bit. Being a writer is a fun thing to think about and all, but the impracticality of it all just seemed too much. Still, I started doing some calculations with my wife's salary and trying to figure out how much I would have make to quit my job and write fulltime.

I'd made some contacts in the Bahamas that sounded promising. But they weren't enough to justify quitting my job. And so I resigned myself to working my fulltime job, hoping that something potentially good might hapen in that arena, and writing when I could.

Writing that paragraph makes it all the more odd to write this:

About an hour ago, I turned in my two weeks notice.

Wha happened?!

Funny thing, life.

For many years I've been a big believer that good things happen to me and if I just wait long enough, something will come along that is so obvious that I won't have to think about it. I'll just know.

Last Spring I started re-evaluating that concept. I'd been waiting for a while for something obvious to come along and it hadn't. I started thinking that maybe I'd have to take some proactive measure to make something happen for me.

While I suppose I did that to some degree, in all honestly, I was just having fun, writing about poker and being Otis.

And then last week an opportunity presented itself. It's an opportunity that will essentially allow me to do everything I've always wanted to do. What's more, it will pay me well enough that I don't have to worry about my kid going hungry.

With it, though, comes some risk. While I'm going to have a steady gig, I'm going to be out on my own, without a net. I'm leaving behind the only career I've ever known. In the TV business, getting out of the business ain't necessarily suicide, but it's damn close. What's more, my new gig will be closely related to an industry that is still in its infancy.

Simply put, I put all my chips out there and Life called.

I'm not quite ready to fully disclose exactly what I'll be doing. Some discretion is required here, and I'd appreciate it if you would keep from speculating in the comments. If you know me, you likely have a pretty good idea what it is. And if you don't have a good idea, shoot me an e-mail and I'll fill you in.

Let's put it this way: On Thursday I'm flying to Denmark for the Scandanavian Open poker tournament. Next stop? Deauville, France and the French Open.

There are some sacrifices involved in this new life of mine which I'll detail at another time. I just figured since this became official today, you, my friends, deserved to be the first to know.


I don't know where we're going, folks. I'd be lying if I didn't admit that I'm about as scared as I ever been professionally. But it is a good scared. And as Mrs. Otis said the other night, "If it doesn't scare the hell out of you, it's probably not the right thing to do."

I owe a lot of people for what's about to happen to me. You all know who you are and don't need public thanks. You've all been reading me for some time and encouraged me to live out this dream. At the same time, I think you all should know that without my mom, dad, brother, and wife, I'd never have the courage to do this. I love you guys in a way that I'll never be able to write.

And lastly, toWil Wheaton: I've never met you, but you've had more of an effect on my life than you'll ever know.

Here we go, folks.

Holy freakin' cow.

Thursday, January 20, 2005

A Presidential Parade, briefly

The Presidential Caddy Batmobile is getting more coverage today than the nation's leader.

I can't help but wonder why the PCB didn't give the innaugural address. I haven't seen such continuous coverage of a slow-moving vehicle since OJ and the elusive white Bronco.

Hundreds, nay, thousands of people are crowded at the roadsides to watch two flatbed trucks of media and a convoy of black vehicles with tinted windows drive down the street.

NBC News just took a five-second close-up shot of someone flipping the bird to the PCB.

I've never like parades that much. Unless there is the chance an inflatable Woody Woodpecker will fall on the crowd or some New Orleans floozy will show her happy parts for beads, I don't see the excitment.

Save all that, I sort of wished I lived in a time when the President could walk the parade route.

Who ruined that for me? Was it John Wilkes Booth? Lee Harvey Oswald? Squeaky Fromme? John Hinkley? Or was it Osama?

I think I may need to go to Mardi Gras again sometime soon. At least there what I want to see isn't relegated to the PCB.

UPDATE: The PCB is now second fiddle. The Pres is out and a walkin'. Somehow I find myself still more focused on the Secret Service guys and Laura's white coat and gloves.

Monday, January 17, 2005


I disappointed my wife, I think, by being on the poker machine when she got home from work Friday night. I hadn't intended to be, although my reasoning was a bit shortsighted. I'd entered a fairly large buy-in tournament at ten o'clock. As I've told other players: don't enter a tournament of such a size unless you intend to finish it five hours later. If you don't have that intention, you've set yourself up for failure. Either you bust out early, meaning you finish by the time you need to be finished. Or, you're still playing when you didn't want to be and you're ill-equipped to be playing because you wish you hadn't started in the first place.

The latter was my problem when my wife stumbled in from work at 12:30am, I was still playing and getting desperately close to the money. Good sense and the financial realities of a tournament in which the first prize was $29,000 required I continue to play. Good manners indicated I should give up and spend some QT with Mrs. Otis.

The reason I love this woman is because rather than bitch about me starting a poker tournament two hours before she was due home (against all better judgment), she curled up next to me on the couch, watched me play, and indulged my ramblings about what is required of a short-stacked player who is very close to the money-bubble.

Before all was said and done, I busted out in 79th place out of 600-something players. Nine short of the money. I think it was karma suggesting that I shouldn't have been playing anyway. A sort of, "take that three and half hours of wasted time and shove it down your neck, you heartless, addicted bastard."

Verily, verily, though, I vowed that Mrs. Otis would get my full attention for the rest of the weekend. I'd abandoned her too many times in the past month. She deserved a weekend of devotion.

I crawled into bed with her and fell asleep, planning for a Saturday of two-hand tag football, grilling, and L'il Otis time.


Normally when I wake up at three in the morning with an odd feeling in my gut, it has something to do with a boys' night out. Too many of what an old football coach used to call, "brown sodies."

However, just an hour into sleep, not quite to the REM stage, my eyes popped open.

This isn't right, I thought.

Wait. Maybe it is right. We'll get back to considering that after I...

Oh, jesus.


Earlier in the night, just about six hours before I'd fallen asleep, I'd found msyelf a little hungry and investigated the fridge for something to nibble on. I'd found some egg dish that my mom had made while she was in town.

Eggs, I thought. Can't be too bad.

Eggs don't go bad, right?


I was puking so hard and so loud that my back muscles were straining against my spine. My wife who has loved me through so many disgusting moments went to sleep in the guest room. The dog monitored my condition from a safe distance. I may have woken the baby at a couple of points.

I puked on a bath mat.

And on my own underwear.


Six hours later, the vomitting stopped and the incredible sense that I might have died and gone to hell for my indiscretions began. I slipped into a fugue state and buried my head under a pillow.

At 5pm, I rolled out of bed with the intention of watching the Steelers game with the wife. It was part of our plan for a good husband-wife weekend. She'd ordered pizza.

One slice of pizza and I was back in bed by 6:30. Later, Mrs. Otis told me the Steelers won in OT after the Jets kicker missed two field goals.

I didn't get out of bed again until Sunday morning. Turns out the Rams lost. We're now destined to a birds vs. humans Super Bowl.


It's now lunchtime on Monday and I still don't feel right. I'm using my lunch hour to blog because eating sounds like the worse possible thing I could do to my body.

And while it is an uneventful blog post, it's about all I can think about right now.

So, you get a little taste of the eggs, too.

Friday, January 14, 2005

Finding Little Italy

I looked for the sign as we drove down the country highway.

"It's right across from Little It-lee," the 65-year-old woman had said.

I knew what she meant. In country-speak, she meant "Little Italy." And in this little corner of the country, Little Italy wasn't an ages-old Italian-American neighborhood. It was a pizza joint, and likely not a very good one.

Nevertheless, I spotted the faded read and green sign sitting at the fork in the road. My destination was, indeed, across the street. This was a mundane day full of mundane activities, and this little jaunt into the country, into a place where people pronounce the name of the big-boot country as "it-lee," promised to be nothing more than a mundane visit to an equally mundane place.

After all, it was no more than an old boneyard.


When I made it home from the islands on Wednesday, my folks met me at the airport. They'd done as I'd hoped, even though I didn't ask them to. Instead of taking L'il Otis to daycare, they'd brought him to meet me at the international airport that has no real international flights. I grabbed him up from my mom's arms and gave him a hug. He gave me a funny look that I immediately interpreted as confusion, a sort of "who the hell are you and why are you holding me" look.

I'd be a liar if I didn't admit that it made me little sad. I'd been on the road quite a bit in the past month and I hated the idea that my kid had forgotten who I was in the eight days I'd been missing in action. My mom suggested that L'il Otis was just waking up from a nap and was likely just tired. When, after an hour of the same confusing non-smiling look, the kid still hadn't warmed up to me, Mom tried to be reassuring by telling me that he probably was scared by my baseball cap.

My mom is like that. Reassuring to the point of downright silliness. That's one of the reasons I love her, I guess.


I'll admit, I was a little cranky today. I'd spent more than a week in a world of gross extravagance, where beers were six dollars and cheeseburgers cost more than $20. I'd spent a week watching guys younger than me bet $8000 on one card. I'd spent a week living out a dream and wondering if somehow I could sleep just a little longer so the dream would last a little longer.

Today, I was back in the world of the not-so-rapid eye reality, where good dreams go to--if not die--retire into senility and worthlessness. Back into the land of bosses and demands. Back into the world where people ten years my junior control my fate with wanton needs and little regard for the fact that my mind was drifting back to a time that when I worked my ass off, people said thank you.

And now I was standing in a cemetery established in the Recontruction years, and looking around at toppled headstones as far as the sun would let my eyes see. Presumably, some drunk kids got it in their head that it would be a real gas to spend a night throwing their shoulders into 300-pound pieces of granite and watching them tumble over. Laying on the ground next to me was the headstone of a guy who had died in 1908.

This stupid fucking world, I thought.


L'il Otis warmed up to me as the hours wore on. I took off the hat, if only to convince myself that it wasn't the hat that was scaring him off. Eventually, the kid reached up and grabbed my nose and held on like he'd found the world's greatest--and, perhaps, biggest--toy.

While I was gone, the kid had started using his hands more and had put on some weight he'd lost when he'd been sick. He looked older, somehow bigger than just nine days earlier.

One night when I'd been looking out over the ocean and trying to decide whether to go to bed or head back out into the fray that was Paradise Island, Bahamas, I found myself longing to be back home. I don't remember many times in my life I've felt legitimately homesick while on the road. I love being out there, in the words of some of the better road gamblers and truckers, fading the white line. So, it struck me as odd that I'd be so painfully aware of how much I missed my family.

I pushed the thoughts aside as much as I could, though, because I was doing the kind of work I love. I told myself that maybe I could someday see my family more if I kept working hard.

I still believe that's possible, but that's not the point of this story.


After meeting the Little It-lee woman and doing the work required of me, I walked around the old cemetery and took a look at some of the old tombstones. Call it odd if you will, but I find it a lot like reading old diaries or notes in family bibles. They were people leading lives like us, just with greater struggles than we face now.

I looked down, almost at my feet, and saw a tiny headstone. It read, "James W., son of S.W. April 14, 1904 to April 14 1905."

I looked again, thinking I'd seen the second year wrong. I thought maybe the baby had died at birth. But when I looked again, I saw I'd seen it correctly the first time. The baby, little James W., had lived exactly one year, then died, only to buried on a little hill in the middle of an unincorporated country town.

I thought about my little kid, just five months old today, and thought how I wouldn't be able to breathe if I lost him. I thought about him grabbing my nose and holding on. I thought about how strong his legs are getting and how he hurts my ribs when he kicks me.

How fucking horrible it must've been for S.W. and his wife to lose a baby who was only a year old.

I let my eyes pass over to the next stone. It was another of S.W.'s kids. That baby had only lived five months. The next headstone over was another baby. Just six months.

For a moment, I didn't want to breathe.

I walked around so I could look at the big headstone sitting next to the others. S.W. turned out to be Samuel Wright, husband of Lula Wright. Both were born in the years right after the Civil War ended here. I started doing the math in my head and discovered that the Wrights likely started having kids when they were about my age.

I did another quick review of the years of the children's deaths. It became apparent that Sam and Lula Wright were either pregnant or grieving the death of one of their babies for every month between 1903 and 1910.

Lula died in 1919 and was buried beside her three dead children. Her husband lived another decade and a half, no doubt remembering every smile and every gut-tearing sob he'd experienced with his wife and three babies.

I know that people did live to ripe old ages back in those days and people were given to dying from just about anything.

I'm just surprised the grief didn't kill old Sam any earlier than it did.


When I started to write this post, I didn't really know where I was going with it, and I'm not sure I even know now.

But I know this: I find myself living in many an alternate universe and often times have a difficult time of jumping from plane to plane. It used to be a lot harder. This time, the jump was a lot easier. After I'd breached the pain of thinking my kid thought I was a stranger, we slipped into a familiar routine and I felt like I was at home.

I realize this about my recent good fortune: it's meant to teach me something. It may turn out to be no more than a few months good luck, what we in the gambling world call a rush. However, I think I'm learning what I love and what I don't. It's not always been easy for me.

I mentioned a few months ago that I had an unexplained sense of optimism, and it appears my senses were right on.

Good things happen to me and I should learn to accept that. What's more, an afternoon reading the short-worded tales of the Wright family made me realize that what I often say is even more true than I'll usually admit: My life ain't that bad.

In fact, it's pretty damned good.

Now comes the work of actually doing something with the good life I've been afforded.

Monday, January 03, 2005

Otis the Islander

I'm going to be away for the next eight days. However, you'll be able to keep up with me at The Caribbean Poker Adventure.

That will be my online home during my eight-day stay in the Bahamas.

I'll be back to the mainland sometimes in the middle of next week.

Advertisting inquiries to:
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Rapid Eye Reality is the personal blog of writer Brad Willis, aka Otis.
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