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One in a 100

28 Mar

WHO: Amtrak Holiday Party
WHAT: Poker Dealer
WHERE: Emeryville
HOW MUCH: $20/hour
WHY: Money

STORY: It was a chilly Friday night during Winter Holidays 2011, and one Bart ride and Emeryville Go Around bus trip later, I was in what seemed like corporate wasteland. Those who’ve visited the teeny city know what I mean (buildings, clean streets, no people). I spotted one such building lit romantically with dim chandeliers and bustling with smartly dressed middle-agers. This was one of my first gigs and also the first time I’d be dealing poker. I walked in defiantly, if not a bit nervous.

At a meager 5’2″, I had some difficulty wading through the crowd of high-heeled redwoods to locate the “game room” at the back, tucked behind purple velvet curtains (mmhmm, purple velvet). I found John, the man who hired me, an amiable big-bellied fellow who looked descended from a long line of van-driving entertainment men. He pointed me to my table and handed me a new deck of cards. “Just hang out for awhile,  we’ll get started in a few minutes,” he said. I eagerly settled into my dealer’s seat, unwrapped the cards, and spread them meticulously on the table, face up to show the players all the cards were there.

Another 20, and they opened up the velvet curtains to the party goers. A range of salt-and-peppered gentlemen and pungently perfumed ladies filtered in. “Oh my god! This is SO fun!” “I don’t know how to play! Can you teach me how to play! I DON’T KNOW HOW TO PLAY!” “They have a wheel? Now that’s a game I can play!”


How to Deal Hold ‘Em… Sort of

Everyone got one gold coin, which they could exchange for “$1,000” worth of chips to play craps, black jack, or no-limit hold em. At the end of the night, the person with the most chips got a grand prize (an apple iPad!)

The first to sit at my table was a friendly couple, I’ll call them Jill and Jack; Jill, a thick white woman who worked for the company and Jack, a close-shaved black man who “banged nails for a living.” We quickly struck up a conversation and Jill told me about all the properties the company owned, including the neighboring Amtrak station. We also celebrated her recently obtained bachelor’s degree. Cheers!

After the table filled up, I began to distribute chips in exchange for gold coins. A young, Justin Timberlake type sat down and cooly engaged me in poker talk — the local card clubs he frequented, what games were good, what limits he played. He complimented me on my chip-handling skills. Well, thanks. He then turned to his friend for more poker small talk, and knocked over his fresh cranberry vodka all over the felt, including on the beautiful spread of cards. Never good to be too cocky at a poker table, IMO.

Several apologies and paper towels later we were back on track. Hands were dealt, people began playing (badly, of course), and all was fun and well in amateur poker hour. And then Scrooge showed up. Scrooge (not his real name, obviously), was a wiry and mean-spirited older white man. He raised every hand, gloated every win, and violently splashed the pot every bet (a poker no-no). I’m all for aggression at the poker table, but this man wasn’t there for fun. He was there to humiliate his opponents.

After about an hour, Jill had lost all her chips, while Jack was still hanging on with a few hundred. Jill wished her honey good luck, and got up to peruse the other games. As people busted and as attention spans waned, the table began to empty. Jack got up to find another beer and, I presumed, to play a different game. About 30 minutes later, Jack returned, and to our great surprise exclaimed, “Hey! Where are my chips?”

“I thought you were gone,” Scrooge mumbled. “Here!” Scrooge threw some chips back to Jack.

“YOU TOOK HIS CHIPS?” I gasped.

“I thought he was done playing,” Scrooge defended. “Besides, that’s more than what you originally had. I’m giving you like a hundred more.”

Lo and behold, Scrooge had slid Jack’s chips over to his own stack after he got up while no one was looking. WTF. NEVER do you take someone else’s chips at a poker table. In fact, it’s illegal to give your chips away even if you wanted to.

Jack, though perturbed, took it surprisingly well, and sat down to play. Thanks to some intel from a couple of players, we found out Scrooge was an extremely wealthy accountant. Of course, with all the dialogue of class and ethics happening at the time, this was a painfully obvious metaphor of the 1 and the 99. And this one was a total jerk.

Eventually, the MC called an end to the night, Jill returned to the table to fetch Jack, and both of them shook my hand and thanked me for dealing a good game. Satisfyingly, Scrooge, tho deep-stacked, was not among the top winners of the night. I cleaned up my table, took my rack back to John, and waited outside for the last Go-Around. Scrooge shuffled by me, head down, and gruffly wished me a good night. Even more than I despised him, I felt sad for this man who was going home alone, unattractive, and probably unhappy. I realized riches come in all forms, but no amount of money can rival the value of an honest man.


Geraldine performs the theme song to “Creepy Poker Video”

Place Yer Bets! … or How to be an Amateur Blackjack Dealer

5 Jan

WHO: Rachel’s House Party
WHAT: Blackjack Dealer
WHERE: San Jose
HOW MUCH: $20/hour
WHY: Money

Open table

STORY: New Year’s Eve, 2011, I get a gig dealing blackjack for an ambiguous NYE party. The post reads “don’t need to be super experienced, just know the basics.” Just the basics—music to my ears. I named my price ($20/hour), and in a matter of minutes was hired via email by “Rachel.”

Carless, I borrowed a friend’s for the day, and on December 31 drove from Oakland to the enigmatic South Bay. Before that, though, there were several things I needed to do: 1) Take a shower, 2) Iron a dirty black shirt, 3) Learn how to deal blackjack.

Hours before the gig, I was still in my red thermals, sitting in a giant pile of laundry, and had no idea what the basic rules of blackjack were, no less how to deal the game. What to do in such situations? Call my brother, of course.

“Hi Danny.” Hey. “I need you to teach me how to deal blackjack.” Okay. My brother is not a gambler nor is he a blackjack specialist, but he is quick. He’s also the guy who built my 7th grade bottle rocket, painted my 9th grade student body posters, and snuck into a house in the middle of the night to retrieve my belongings. So I know he’s used to this shit. I quickly spread laptop, chips and several decks of cards on my studio floor, and for the next two hours my brother teaches me, via google video chat, the order of dealing, what to do for double down’s, splits, insurance, etc. Having dated a poker pro, I already knew how to shuffle cards (face down and toward you) and cut chips. But by far the hardest, most nerve-wracking part of blackjack is quite simply… adding to 21.

Close companions know I have the mathematical skills of a 10-year-old, a stupid 10-year-old. So on the way to San Jose, I dictate basic addition to myself: Five + Two + Seven = FOURTEEN. Ten + Nine + Two = TWENTY-ONE . Nine + Five + Eight equals … Oh crap, stupid eight! I hate you!

Chandelier of Dreams

I arrive at the destination, an average one-story suburban home, and upon entering meet Rachel, the Craigslist woman. “Hi, are you Rachel?” Yes! I am! But I’m not the Rachel you’re looking for. A stout Caucasian woman streaks down the hallway with one large curler in her bangs. Hi! I’m Rachel! Are you Christine? Why, yes I am. How cute. Rachel #2 takes me on a quick tour of the home, which is decorated ceiling to floor with casino paraphernalia. She introduces me to my station: a blackjack table measuring 1 by 1 and 1/2 feet, accompanied by an automatic card shuffler that spits cards across the room. Also very cute. In the backyard, I meet the men of the house, two young-adult types anxiously counting out chips: red, white and blue. One of them is Rachel’s husband, and in addition to being the end of the bloody year, it’s also his birthday, his 30th birthday. I try to hide my disgust (inner monologue: Oh gawd, thirty, yuck, pyoo, ick, gross), and congratulate him with my signature “service” smile. Looks a little like this.

Steve, Craps Enthusiast

After the chips are counted, I go back to my station where I’m joined by an older gentleman wearing a black button-up I can only describe as a “confetti” shirt. This is Steve, the craps dealer. He, too, is not a real dealer. But he does get free rooms at the Wynn because his girlfriend is a video slots vixen. He also likes shouting things like “Winner! Winner! Chicken dinner!” and other classic casino sayings. I make the mistake of asking Steve how to play craps, or what should really be called, THE WORLD’S MOST COMPLICATED GAME.

Thankfully, the guests begin to arrive. They consist of mostly 20/30’s cusps, some with kids in tow, some tacky bump-and-grinders. Each player gets a bag of fake plastic chips with no actual money on the line. I deal for several hours, methodically and slowly, so I have at least 5-10 seconds to add up their cards. Mostly, I keep quiet and pray they add their own damn cards. But as the night wears on and the drinks get drunken, more and more players ask “What is that? What do I have?” Ayeee-uhhh know that 8+6=14, and that there are three 7’s in 21 and two 7’s in 14. If another 7 comes, I can be sure it’s 21. And even if I’m not, the stakes are so very, very low, it really doesn’t matter.

At the end of the night, Rachel #2 walks me to the door and thanks me. “I’ll definitely refer you if I hear of any other positions,” she says. I smile at her graciously because I know, even in low stakes games, a girl still needs a few bucks in her pocket.

SCRAPIN’ THE BARREL

22 Dec

I'll order a glass of water and free saltines, please.

I’m at that very special age where all of my friends and colleagues are having some form of a nervous breakdown, psychological or otherwise. Not one to be left out, I decided I also wanted to have a crisis, and that came in the form of being absolutely, and totally broke. What we all know as NO JOKE BROKE.

And so, one day, when the existence of NO JOKE BROKE became unbearable, I turned to my old friend Craigslist for help, only to make the discovery of a lifetime. The Craigslist “Gigs” section. Filled with short-term work, often one-time events, this “Gigs” section was perfect for someone with few bankable or technical skills (moi), and required predominantly the ability to work on your feet and learn fast (I could do that).

Thus began my escapade into the gig world, where you could show up at a place and really have no idea what to expect. (See penguin float above). While I’m tremendously grateful to find any work that pays, so many odd and surreal things happen and I feel I should share them with you through this blog.

 

 

 

This blog is also a way for me to cope with the fact that I am holding a giant penguin float (see above). Enjoy.

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