Wednesday, December 04, 2019

"Poker & Pop Culture"

I recently finished reading Poker & Pop Culture: Telling the Story of America's Favorite Card Game by my friend Martin Harris, aka Shamus of Hard-Boiled Poker. (Amazon link here.) That's it up there on my Kindle, which is how I prefer to read most books these days. It was published six months ago, but I took a while to get through it because of my bad habits of (1) trying to read, like, five books at the same time, and (2) being easily distracted by whichever new one I just bought ("squirrel!") instead of sticking with one until it's finished.

The book has a fair amount of overlap with Cowboys Full: The Story of Poker by James McManus, and that work is cited extensively. If you've read it, you'll probably feel that there are whole chapters of Martin's book that you can skip over lightly. This is especially true near the beginning, where, of necessity, he starts with the origins of the game itself and how it spread.

But then he gets to the core of his subject: how poker appears in and has shaped popular culture--particularly books, magazine, movies, music, television, and radio. Martin has written about many facets of this before, but the essays are scattered around his blog and the various online outlets he has written for; here it's all in one place, plus a ton of details I don't recall seeing before. Martin practically has a corner on the market in this subject matter. Nobody else has written about or researched it as extensively as he has. He has even taught college courses on exactly this stuff.

Let me show you screen shots of some of the things I highlighted because I found them particularly surprising or interesting:

Truth! This is what makes playing poker with tourists in Vegas profitable.

WTF? R U SERIOUS? 66 cards, five suits, and a joker? I can't even imagine how this works. So, where do I sign up?

Also truth. Well, except for the making money part of it.

I don't see how there can be any argument to the contrary.

This sounds amazing. You had me at "Marlene Dietrich and James Stewart." Here's a list of where you can find it on various streaming services.

Back-story to the Kenny Rogers hit. I did not know that Cash had recorded it at roughly the same time. You can hear it on YouTube here. Maybe it's just familiarity, but I think Rogers's version is much better, even though I love Johnny Cash.

When I read this, I said to myself, "No effin' way!" and rushed to YouTube to find this thing. Here, let me save you the trouble, because you have to see this:

Perhaps oddly, my favorite part of the book is the appendix. In it, Martin lists 100 movies either about poker or with a key poker scene, and ranks them, best to worst. (Spoiler alert: "The Cincinnati Kid" nabs the #1 spot, and some piece of dreck called "Zeta One" brings up the rear.) I don't think I could have listed a hundred such movies if my life depended on it.

Between that appendix and the main chapter on poker in the movies, I've highlighted in the text maybe a dozen that sound good enough that I plan to seek them out and watch them. Some I've never heard of before, some are classics that I've inexcusably neglected all these years. My future viewing list includes "Winchester '73," "Rio Bravo," "Silverado," "Dr. Jack," "Poppy," "Tillie and Gus," and "Thursday's Game."

One quibble: The Kindle version has a glitch throughout, in which every ellipsis in the original text is rendered as an ampersand. There are dozens of these scattered throughout the book. But one soon learns to ignore the anomaly.

If the general subject matter interests you--and, since you're reading this blog, why wouldn't it?--then order it from Amazon or directly from the publisher, here. If you're going to read it on Kindle, I suggest buying it from Amazon, because it will be available across all your devices, which the eBook version from the publisher won't do. (Once you have the eBook file, you can install it in any device you want, but you have to do it separately for each one; with Amazon, it's automatic.)

In any format, there is much to learn and enjoy here.

Sunday, July 14, 2019


My second cat, Oliver, died yesterday. He had had low-grade chronic renal disease for a long time, and for unknown reasons it rapidly worsened over the past several days, to the point that his kidney were irreversibly shut down.

I don't know how old he was. The shelter from which I adopted him told the story in a newsletter a short time later:

It still makes me choke up to see how sick and miserable he was. Compare that to how cozy-comfy he got once he had settled in with me:

His favorite place to perch was on top of my recliner:

He thought it was an even better spot when I would sit in the chair with him above me:

Sometimes this would result in a head bath that I thought was unnecessary, but Oliver obviously thought otherwise. This was the first of what would turn out to be many:

My main regret is that I could never get Oliver and Lucy to be friends. Mostly, they just barely tolerated each other. This isn't a great photo, but it nicely illustrates the prevailing mood:

But once in a while, there would be a real dust-up. Oliver usually picked the fights, and always came out the loser:

Sometimes they would nap calmly in fairly close proximity, showing a glimmer of mutual tolerance:

And once in a great while, there were moments of what appeared to be affection, which would always send my hopes soaring that a better inter-feline relationship would come:

The best I can say is that in the last several months things were improving between them--though at a glacial pace.

He was a pretty derpy, messy cat. His tongue often stuck out, and he would make giant messes out of his food, water, litterbox, and everything else. But he did have his moments of letting his handsome flag fly:

One of his best features was that he had eyeliner on fleek. Women would die to get their eyes done this perfectly:

He was constantly affectionate.

He was endlessly funny and entertaining.

Looking through my photo/video archives, I just want to show you all of it. But that would be self-indulgent, rather than a proper tribute. So I'll call it quits with this:

For the last time, Oliver says "blep."

I already miss him terribly.

Monday, April 15, 2019

Historic playing cards

Mars Hill University is a small college just a little north of Asheville. I was at an event there today in the library, and the library had an exhibit about historical games. Nina spotted this on one of the walls. Unfortunately, I didn't think to take a wider picture of the whole deck, and the lighting didn't allow me to get good quality photos of the individual cards. But you can still see the general idea.

Saturday, January 05, 2019

It hasn't forgotten me

Yesterday I played online poker for the first time in a couple of years, I think. Just an easy $15 single-table sit-and-go.

This is what happened: