Know when to hold them and know when to run like hell

Two days ago I received a text message from a buddy of mine, Dino. It was his birthday and they were heading to a casino in Marina California. It’s an hour drive south of here. I’ve got great friends. I haven’t seen Dino in months. I don’t call him very often on the phone. Yet on his birthday he invites me to spend it with him and he knows I’ll drive an hour south for him. My friends Steve, Jackie and many others are the same. I have faults too many to start listing all of them now. One is I’m not the type to keep in constant contact but my friends still love me. I’m a lucky and fortunate man. Jerry O’Dovero, jer177.com, c-6 quadriplegic, living with disabilities

The last time Dino and I went to the casino I won over $100 dollars. I think that night he called me at 9 o’clock on a Tuesday night and wanted to know if I’d go. I’m not a gambler, I’m more of the ‘’give me a reason to leave my place’’ and I’m gone. That first time we went, I couldn’t do anything wrong at the casino. We were playing texas holdem. I think I had four suited cards after the flop on my second hand and a flush by the turn. Have you ever seen the movie, the color of money staring Paul Newman and Tom Cruise? Tom Cruise’ character was kind of a naive pool player that played pool for the love of the game. While Tom Cruise’ character had natural talent and often won because of it, his mouth would be yapping all night long about the dumbest things. That’s me when I leave my apartment. Once I start talking I can’t stop. Pat is right. Once I start talking the only way to stop me is to interrupt me. I laughed when he said that one day, because it’s so true. Well that first night at the casino I had three monster hands in the first 8 or 10. After that, no one could read me. I was just yapping about dumb things and raising – even when the cards didn’t go my way. People couldn’t scare me out of a hand because I acted like I didn’t care what their cards were. I acted like I had a monster hand and if they had a better hand then great. I’ll beat them the next time.

Now that first night at the casino with Dino I’m up $150 and having fun yapping. I’ve got a jack of spades or maybe even the queen of spades and another lower spade in my hand. On the flop comes three spades. All lower cards. Dino, who is sitting next to me raises, lady across from us raises and I do the same. Dino raises again, the lady raises and I do the same again. I don’t remember, but the raises were like $6. On the turn, the next card is another lower spade. Dino raises, the lady raises and I fold. I’ve got a queen high flush, but I fold. I knew someone had the ace. Last night Dino said I said it out loud at the table after I folded when I was telling this story to a buddy of his. Sure enough, when the dust settled and there was well over $100, maybe $200 or more in the pot someone had the ace of spades. Dino flips the ace of spades over with authority. If the card was made out of glass, it would have shattered when it hit the felt table. Dino turns to me and smiles. His emotions are high, his heart is pounding, but instantly we both turn to look at the lady across the table. As much as Dino and I wanted to high five, you don’t count your money while at the table, or is it you don’t count your chickens before they hatch?  Anyway the lady flips over two lower spades. I’m not wearing my glasses so I look at Dino then over to the dealer as he readjusts the cards. My look turns back to Dino as the massive high he just had turns into disappointment. The lady had a straight flush. While I knew my queen high flush was never going to win, I was so sure Dino had it with the ace.

So last night I pull into the parking lot of the casino in my 1994 polo green metallic 1994 Cadillac El Dorado. It’s a dark green color that looks black in the shade or at night. I had a forest green 1971 Chevrolet Chevelle with a pea soup green interior. I hated that interior color. I hated it so much I gave my brother Pete the car for free and promised myself I’d never buy another green car again. But then the green motor home came along and finally the green 1994 Cadillac El Dorado. The Cadillac was only $3,500. I need a little bigger 2 door car so I can fit my wheelchair behind the driver’s seat. Within 30 seconds of putting the car in park, Dino texted me. R u coming? I’m in the parking lot right now. I already had the wheelchair out of the car when Dino walked up. We go inside where Dino was playing pool with his buddy Jim. A little while later I’m playing pool.

I’ll never forget my first game of pool game after the accident. It was in Green Bay Wisconsin. Jay Are and I are down there in January. It was frigging cold. It was -10 to -15 degrees out. It was so cold the cruise control froze on on the ride down. The cruise control being froze on wasn’t a big problem.  It was weird though. Every mile or so the van would gain a mile an hour in speed. When we’d get near 5 mph over the 55 mph speed limit, Jay Are would brake the van down to 50 mph and start over. Things were going fine for an hour, but then all of a sudden a police car is following us. Soon the van is going 56 mph, then 57 mph, then 58 mph. We’re in Wisconsin, if you get a ticket in Wisconsin and you’re from out of state, you have to pay the fine on the spot. While we did have a cooler with some beer in it, Jay Are and I never drink and have open cans or bottles while driving. But does the cop give a ticket for something anyway? It’s our word against his. Jay Are says he needs to brake at 59 mph, only a minute away. Braking will put the brake lights on that’s what he didn’t want. Right as Jay Are is about to brake, the cop pulls to the side of the road so you can pull a u-turn on the road.

As cold as it was, I’ve lived through colder weather. One winter it never got above -20 degrees for a month. At times it was -40 degrees and colder during that winter. The city water at my house froze. The city water for most of Marquette froze that winter. They couldn’t thaw it out at my house so we got our water from my neighbor, Mrs. Zenti’s house through a garden hose. The garden hose was wrapped in insulation and buried under snow. Then we never turned the water off until spring. If you don’t know, running or moving water doesn’t freeze. That winter the city told everyone to let their water run in a sink until spring when it warmed up. No one in Marquette received a water bill that winter. So Jay Are and I drove my still empty (no interior) 1984 ford van to Green Bay to buy swivel bases for the captain’s chairs. I also bought a tri-fold electric sofa bed. Actually I bought two $350 plastic can holders and received a free bed. It’s a joke because I negotiated with the salesman for a half hour to give me the can holders for free if I bought the bed. Oh, that reminds me while I’m trying to get the free can holders, for fun Jay Are asks the salesman if they had a sliding glass window for a 1972 El Camino. It turned out they did.

After our fun at the custom auto parts store, we went to a sports bar for dinner. Jay Are asked me if I wanted to play pool. Jay Are was in a pool league and shot pool all the time. Me, if I said I played more than three games since the accident I’d be lying. But Jay Are’s a great guy, so why not. It wasn’t long into the game when the ball I wanted to shoot in was next to a pocket and the cue ball was inches away. It was a shot that most would lean across the table, maybe lifting a leg to really stretch for it and tap it in. that shot was never going to work for me – even with that stick that has the weird thing that kind of looks like the knuckle of a hand that you put your stick in to use as a guide wouldn’t work. I just couldn’t reach. Jay Are then says, why don’t you bank the shot. I laughed. Jay Are’s always been a comedian. Back in the 80’s he was the type that could remember jokes and tell them later on. He also could make up jokes on his own. He had a bunch of skinny jokes. Jay Are was skinny, probably still is I haven’t seen him in a while. I’m so skinny that when I wear a striped shirt it has only one strip. Or something like that. I can’t remember or tell jokes. Jay Are could. But the great friend Jay are is he walks over to the rail on the other side of the pool table, puts his finger on the rail of the table and tells me to aim my shot with the cue ball at his finger. I trust Jay Are, so I take the shot at his finger. I make the shot. It turns out my next shot was going to be a bank shot as well. Jay Are shows me with his finger where to hit the rail and I make that shot as well. Two or three shots later and I win the game. Then some guy walks up to the table and racks the balls. He had a quarter hiding on the edge of the table making him the next in line to play the winner – me. With Jay Are’s help, I win the game. The guy was nice about it, he didn’t mind Jay Are helping me. He even congratulated me and told me I played a good game. That night of playing pool changed my life. I now knew I could play pool. Thanks Jay Are. I’m sorry I don’t say it enough.

I moved to California in 1995, by myself. My first friend was a neighbor in my apartment complex. The door to his apartment was right across from mine. I open my door, look 20 feet and see his door. One Thursday night I get a knock on my door. It was Al. I had already prepared my dinner. I was about to make a salad and eat, but when he asked if I wanted to go to the Elks Lodge for prime rib dinner, I said sure. It was the first time Al ever knocked on my door. We said hi to each other from time to time, but nothing for more than a minute or two.

Al was a small skinny 80 year old Italian guy. Al was one of those kind of guys that was locked into his routine and he was never going to change. Ops, that a lie, but I’ll get to that soon this is a shorter story. I still have to get to gambling with Dino later night before you get bored.

Al was a member of the Elks lodge for years. As a member, he could invite a guest every night he went. That turned out to be me, for a year until I joined and became a member. Every Thursday night Al ate the prime rib dinner. The few times they had New York strip instead of the prime rib he complained about something. It was too tough, or over cooked or something was wrong every time. You had to love Al for who he was you weren’t going to change him. After dinner we’d play five or six games of pool on the Elks big regulation sized pool tables. If I couldn’t reach a lot of shots on a bar smaller tables, I was reaching a lot less on the Elks tables. I had to try bank half my shots. Oh, Al played pool hall rules, not bar rules. In a bar, once a ball is sunk in a pocket it’s out of play the rest of the game. Al’s pool hall rules were different. If you scratched you had to take a ball you already sunk and put it back on the table. Al’s rules for a scratch were not only when you put the cue ball in a pocket, but you also had to hit one of your balls when you shot. You also had to make a ball or hit a rail with either the cue ball or the ball you hit. You couldn’t just tap the cue ball into one of your balls to hide it so the other guy didn’t have a shot and would scratch if he didn’t his ball. To make a long story not as long as it could be, I often had a ball placed back on the table. There were times when they were several balls lined up because I’d keep scratching under Al’s rules. Oh, Al had two store bought pool cues. Well one he won playing pool in a tournament, and one his wife bought him. He hated the one his wife bought him. It was simple. Al was an old Italian that grew up during the recession. Al didn’t waste money. His wife gave him a pool cue for Christmas. What bothered him was she paid $400 for a cue stick he didn’t need. He had one. Al didn’t understand the concept of giving.

I have to speed this story up. I have to get going pretty soon. Al and I played five or six games when at the Elks. Al won five or six games a night. A good night for me was when I won a game. On the rare nights I won two, oh my god I was the happiest guy on earth. Al never missed a shot on purpose. It wasn’t until years later when my brother Paul came out to live with me that Al started to miss. I knew he was missing on purpose because he’d miss by a country mile. Unlike Al, sometimes my friends Kip and Steve will miss a ball once in a while. I know they’re doing it. They know I know they’re doing it, but it makes the game last a little long and we all have fun. For us it’s about the fun first, winning third. Back at the Elks the three of us Al, Paul and myself would play cut throat where the three of us would play. Each of us would get 5 of the 15 balls. To win the game you had to knock in the other 10 balls while not yours. Basically, the guy with a ball on the table at the end won. For whatever reason, Al never played his A game once Paul moved here. Al never played his B game once Paul moved here. I often told Paul Al was a poll shark, but he didn’t believe me. One night at the Elks before we moved Al to the veterans’ center in Napa he said he was tired. I knew what that meant, so I told Paul to watch Al. between Paul and I, we had eight balls on the table. For Al to win, no for the game to end so Al could go home he needed to make eight balls. Al sunk all eight balls in a row. I don’t think it took him a minute. I think it was the way he controlled the cue ball that got to Paul. After the ball went in, the cue ball would roll forward, backwards or bounce off the rail to line up perfect for the next shot. Paul just gave me a look of dismay.

Even though I lost 90% of the games I played with Al, I loved going to the Elks with him. thanks Al for the wonderful memories.

Back to the casino with Dino the other night, I won a game of pool. OK the guy scratched on the eight ball, but he was up five balls on me right away before I made my first ball. Then I made the next five balls before he scratched, so I felt pretty good. But it got me thinking of my early pool days and it got me yapping. Then we went into the casino side of the building to play texas holdem. My yapping carried over. If you’ve never played texas holdem live with others, most of the time the room is quieter then church. Most of the players don’t says anything but check, raise or fold. Before I arrived at the table, I bet half the players didn’t say much more than that. Me, I was talking. Now if I don’t get lucky in the first 10 hands and win a big pot or two, I go into silent mode too. I didn’t have any money on me, so I told Dino I needed to hit a cash machine. Dino says not too that he had me covered. I got to the table and there was $100 in chips waiting for me. I’m not even completely pulled up to the table when the dealer dealt me two cards. Wait I said. He said, it’s a free ride, thought you wanted to be in? what? The blinds are right here (he points to someone else). The gray haired man with a gray beard sitting next to me says it’s fine I don’t have to put any chips in. OK. I look at the two hold cards that had nothing in common, throw them away when it’s my turn and say, it’s a good thing they were free. I won’t want to pay for them. On the third hand everyone stops and looks at me. The older gentleman next to me says I’m in the big blind. Ok how much? You owe $2. Oh OK! I look at my two cards that are dealt face down. I have a king jack suited and I’m in the big blind. That means my $2 are in the pot whether I like my cards or not. 4 or 5 of the 9 other players toss in $2 and call me. On the flop the first three cards the dealer flips over that everyone uses to make their hand is a jack and two lower cards. I’ve got top pair on the board, my jacks with a king kicker. The next card the dealer flips over is another lower card that doesn’t match up well with any of the other cards. By the time it came around to me there was another $24 in the pot and I had to pony up $6, which I do. The last card is a jack. I now have three of a kind. Again, by the time it was my turn there was more money in the pot and I owe $6 to stay in. I do. After everyone flips over their cards, I flip over the winning hand. As I’m pulling in my chips, the older gentleman next to me says, don’t be fooled by him (me) he knows how to play. That was beautiful. A couple of hands later I get dealt an ace queen of spades. On the flop are three lower cards and only one spade. Only two people before me stayed in with a $2 call. I raise to $6 and say something like it’s such a nice number. The next card was a ten and not a spade. Again I push in the $6 and say something. The last card was a two. I only had a king high. I hear a check. Without looking to see who even said it, I say $6 more for me. I didn’t even get the chips in the pot when I hear, I fold. If the others at the table think you’re a good player, it’s hard for them to know when you’re bluffing.

The night went on and I had fun. I won a few more hands, one with a full house and lost a few especially near the end. When Dino asked for trays to put his winnings in I did the same. Sorry everyone, he’s my driver, I told them even though I drove. I toss the dealer $5 in chips that Dino didn’t see because when he racked my chips he threw the dealer at least that many. I was told I won $30 when all was said and done. It was Dino’s birthday and I played with his money. I wasn’t taking a penny of it. I only wished it could have been more. I’m a lucky man. I have great friends.

Happy birthday Dino!!