Rapid Eye Reality -- Home of Brad Willis' writing on family life, travel adventures, and life inside the poker world

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Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Oh, I'm fine

Things get so crazy here. I met a guy the other night who claimed to be the former bodyguard of the late Benny Binion, one-time Vegas casino owner and the man who hosted the World Series of Poker for years.

"I'm Otis," I said.

"Cowboy," the man said through a mouth that maybe didn't have any top teeth. He wore an Appalachian-style leather hillbilly hat and a give-away online poker shirt.

I don't believe many people around here. Unless I'd feel comfortable asking said person to hold a few grand for me, I don't believe a word they say. It's the safest way to survive here without getting conned, hustled, or robbed. So, when this guy told me he was the former bodyguard to one of Vegas' biggest legends, I didn't believe him. Oh, and if you think I'm going to end this story by offering some life-affirming denouement, don't get your hopes up. Affirmation in Las Vegas comes by way of getting out alive.

"People ask me how I can always make decisions so fast," Cowboy said, apropos of nothing. "I tell them it's because the last time I had to make decisions, people could've died."

A Vietnam vet. That's what he said he was. I could believe that part. He seemed about old enough. He was certainly the sterotypical vet persona.

"You haven't made decisions until you have four bullets shot in your ass."

I didn't have much a response to that. Hell, a couple nights later, my only decision was whether to eat two keno crayons for $400. I decided it was a good idea.

Cowboy shuffled off. He followed a group of 20-something nouveau rich poker players. He said he was going to teach them someting about deuce to seven lowball.

Ellix Powers is a real person. I know this because he's been on TV. He also happens to be, as I put it so eloquently to Pauly, "a freeloading dick." A one-time homeless person, Powers turned 15 minutes of poker celebrity (earned by being a complete dick in the first place) into a belief that he can pull the old "Don't you know who I am?" trick when trying to scam free food or other stuff. The other day I saw him screaming at one of the hostess models around here--literally screaming--when she asked him for a $1 charity donation in return for a bag of popcorn.

I really hadn't planned on bringing up these two guys, but they are the ones that stick in my head when the day is done. This is the type of place where integrity escapes into a sick vacuum and 30-something guys like me actually starting worrying about a generation of 20-somethings who apparently have no moral foundation at all.

Anyway, while I sat back absorbing all of this, I missed a couple of phone calls. One was from my friend, T.

"I never read your blog," he said. I could hear the wind whooshing by an I knew he must be on his way home from work. "I never read your blog."

It doesn't surprise me that T doesn't read the blog. Most of what he knows about me (which is just about everything, and then some things I probably don't even know about myself) comes from nights sitting in basement bars, driving around, or sitting on one of our decks pretending we're musicians.

The voicemail continued: "But I read your blog today. And I'm worried about you."

I realized that the few posts I've put up here since I life the confines of home have been rather dire. I realize they made me sound a little crazy. To be fair, there have been times I have been pretty sure I was a little on the nuts side. Since I took a few days off (when was that again?), I've been a little more sane.

Today, I took the afternoon off to play in my only WSOP event of the year. In short, it was short. I didn't play badly, but I didn't play like a superstar, either. I also didn't get lucky and said goodbye to my $1,500.

Now, I sit in my 14th floor room (don't try to find me--I'm staying under an assumed name) and the Vegas sun is breaking through the clouds, bouncing off the glass facade of the hotel, and hurting my eyes. The Wood Brothers (thanks, Pauly) plays on my little laptop speakers.

So, T, if you decide to read this before I get home, I'm fine. I'm a little different than the last time we sat down for beers, but I don't think I'm any worse. I've been on the edge a couple of times, but I'm doing well enough to make it home. And when I get there, I'm staying for a while.

That's the one good thing about going home. When I get there, I plan to believe everything everybody tells me. And even if they lie, at least I'll feel okay about believing in people again.

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Pauly looks at Otis

Pauly always seems to catch my mood, my mindset, my soul when he snaps a picture of me. Last week, when I was at my worst, Pauly caught me in the sea of humanity that is the World Series of Poker. I don't even remember him taking the picture. This is what I look like when my heart is filled with hell.

Pauly is in WSOP freedomland at the moment, writing whatever he wants to write and telling the stories the way they should be told. Check him out at Tao of Poker when you get the chance.

Monday, July 17, 2006

A moment of clarity

Though some people might protest, and though I might protest too much, I am not an alcoholic. That said, I am fully familiar with what the afflicted call a "moment of clarity." We don't get them very often. When we do (and by we, I mean me, of course) we generally ignore them.

I've learned a lot about myself in the past three weeks. I learned even more when I got three quick days outside of Vegas and with my family. Though much of it was spent comatose, the time I was awake made me realize a lot about who I am, and more importantly, who I should be.

I've made a lot of promises in my day. I usually try to live up to my word. There have been times, though, that I have failed. Usually, those failures come when I vow to be better. Often, my attempts at being better make me worse.

To all the people who have tried to talk to me in the past three weeks, to all the people who have e-mailed or commented with concern, to all the people who have tried to reach out, I can only say I'm sorry. I haven't been myself. I'm still not entirely myself and I'm not sure if I will be for the next little while. I'm a thin layer of latex away from crazy. For people who live their life on the crazy line, I'm just another guy. However, more often than not, I consider myself the most sane person I know.

Right now, I'm not that guy.

So, this will all be over in a few weeks and I hope to return to the sane Otis everyone knows. However, this time, I'm hoping the sane Otis is a better Otis. A better father. A better husband. A better friend. A better person overall.

Who knows. I may come out of this worse than I was before. However, this time, I'm paying heed to this moment of clarity. As long as I can keep it in my sights for another month or so, I may just end up learning something from all this.

Sunday, July 09, 2006

Alone in a crowd

After writing consistently here for the last six months, I haven't even bothered to log on in the past two weeks. For the past 13 days, I have been in Las Vegas covering the World Series of Poker. It's something that I wanted--nay, fought--to do. It's something I've enjoyed in the past and wanted to do again. While I am still glad I'm here, I've been beset with something that is a little foreign to me.

I have always loved crowds. If I can bury myself in a 5000-person-strong microcosm of the world, I am usually quite happy. It's inspirational. It's educational. It's even sometimes fun. This time though, I have found myself more lonely than I have been in recent memory. A lot of it has to do with the fact that I miss my wife and kid more than I ever have. After his first trip to Chuck-E-Cheese, my boy has taken to answering the phone when I call, "Hello, Cheese!" It breaks my heart every time.

If you've never been a road person and had to leave people behind, it might be a little difficult to grasp. See, I'm surrounded by people every waking hour. What's more, those waking hours far outnumber the moments I am asleep. Sleep is no more than a four-hour coma, in which I am unconcious, but settled with such fitful dreams that I feel like the ghost of Stanley Kubrick has gotten hold of my noodle and is producing his posthumous Oscar winner. I mean, in what other mindset would I dream extensively about my wife having an affair with my gay friend? In what other mindset would I have a dream that my dog is lost and I have to find her before I wake up? I'm the type of guy that has a collection of 20 dreams he has over and over. Now, the dreams are all new and none of them are good.

After a while, a sort of bunker mentality sets in. I try to feel real in any way I can. Nothing works. Drinking just makes me feel worse. Sleeping makes me feel guilty. Eating feels like a waste of time. I just don't feel real. The only time I smile with any legitimacy is when I hear "Hello, Cheese!" on the other end of the line.

An odd by-product of this mentality is an overwhelming sense of affection for people and gestures that I normally would take in stride. Small gestures like a compliment or having a drink bought for me turn me into a babbling "thank you" idiot. Large gestures, one of which I received today, almost move me to tears.

Take none of the above as whining. There are scores of people here working just as hard as I am. There are people who hide their fatigue better than I do. I'd estimate I've lost ten pounds in the past two weeks. I have ever-present bags under my bloodshot eyes.

Overall, though, I am lonely. I have had maybe three real conversations in the past 13 days. A few minutes ago, I was standing outside with some fellow journos having a dinner break drink. The hostess brought us our drinks and accidentally brushed my arm as she poured. It was accidental human touch, but it felt good.

I announced to the people nearby that I'd just found "Reason #87 I need to get home to my wife--Clumsy cocktail hostesses are making me feel loopy." A co-worker said, "Reason #88 will be when that guy over there makes you feel the same way."

That made me laugh, which felt nice. But right now, I want to do more than laugh. I want go home and have my kid call me "Cheese." I want to go home and fall asleep with my wife. I want to eat a meal sitting down. I want to stop feeling like I'm going to cry when someone does something nice for me.

I write all of this not as a plea for sympathy. Trust me, I know I've got it pretty damned good. I only write this to remind myself later how it feels. When it's all over, I know it will feel like a dream. Right now, though, it all feels very real...in a very manufactured way.

Hope everyone out there is doing well. I miss everybody. Even you.

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Rapid Eye Reality is the personal blog of writer Brad Willis, aka Otis.
All poker stories, travelogues, food writing, parenting and marriage advice, crime stories, and other writing should be taken with a grain of salt. It is also all protected under a Creative Commons license