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Conflict Resolution, Part II

Sally McCloskey photographed by Donald English

I’m back home again – or rather, I have no home, I’m just somewhere else – and it seems, my mother may not have hers that much longer either. I no longer have the funds to pay her new and catastrophic debt, yet my sister has a spot for her in a future house. The world revolves and problems are solved unexpectedly.

I appreciate, more than ever, her perhaps completed work here, the years of turning a mere house into a home. This green, feral yard with its bunny holes and the little snakes, its scent of the ocean and chorus of frogs, its informal garden. This peaceful personal corner is so valuable, it now seems: how could I not, in light of the years, of learning to appreciate the real, of having felt the passing of lives, of lost love whose only remaining touch is her grip upon my throat? Yet when I look around the endangered property, I am still searching for something new, a way out of destiny, a way better than all this. There have been so many goodbyes, so many absences that led to this desolation. My mind is elsewhere, unresolved.

It’s probably intentional. I cling to it like there is possibility, I cling to what conflict might still ignite the fire I need.

Flames in the poker world are the normal and healthy state of the industry, despite the endless whinging about behaviors. If poker still hasn’t taught you that there are winners and losers, consequences and results, you are hopeless, anyway. It may be a silly universe full of silly spokesmen, but it still a real one, full of hunger and aimlessness and fury. However, poker is not a community so much as a pack. Maintaining your place in a pack usually requires obeisance – I’m thinking of the acting and cinema world, which I am equally familiar with in fact, I was ripped from in the years leading me to poker.

Of late, the big boys demonstrated this pack mentality in all its communal animalism, from Phil Galfond’s fear to Fernando Habegger’s frustration to Matt Berkey’s impatience, much of it focused on industry mover and shaker extraordinaire Doug Polk. Yet the resolution was not what they thought it would be, not at all. The vivaciousness and pure male disagreeableness of the embroiled poker world left Phil damaged as never before, Fernando with the audience he needed but still unquenched, and Matt, on the precipice of popularity, still disliked, all while Doug simply shed their accusations like skin.

It wasn’t a lucky escape, either: Lizard Doug simply knew the rocks and sand better and defeated his enemies methodically, refusing to cower. He out-debated the ridiculous Galfond, tactically acknowledged his slip-up with Carrel, and then hung in long enough to let Berkey finally make a mistake. It was both maddening and impressive to see Doug rope-a-dope rehab himself in a time measured only in hours. (And you think he doesn’t have EQ, do you? Who doesn’t understand humanity, exactly?)

You see, war and its arts know no sentimentality. It doesn’t matter how beautiful a man Charlie Carrel is, with his bravery, his impressive artistry and voice, his sweet wife and baby – the world can’t bear his openness and turns to the warrior and his conniving, not because empathy has no place, but because empathy is a wound, because Phil is hurt, because Matt is hurt, Fernando is hurt. Doug the warrior thus appears unscathed to the upper tiers, to the peanut gallery who above all imagine themselves on the stage, sword in hand and unbloodied.

The world cheers only winners in the end, because the winner, they know, gets to live unabashedly. It is continuity, after all, that in a changing world, that is at the heart of admiration and jealousy.  The repeat champion is adored by all, the unabandoned woman is impeccable in her social armor of fashion, the curious, unmolested child faces the world without shame or regret.

Losers amend, winners ascend.

Still, that’s fine, because there are many battles to come, and the war is never really over. In fact, within hours as well, Matt crushed his misunderstood heads-up rival in legendary fashion. Charlie did actually salvage much of his reputation and finds his platform increased. The others will find their wins, too, even if the big prize has escaped for now, ready for more videos and send-ups and training cash.

For the rest? Rationalize your failures any way you can, as the good doctor said.

Because yes, some must indeed lose. I contact the FBI and the police, but I can’t even get a call back. The problem is that abuse of the elderly by international tricksters just doesn’t fall into any of our endless laws or even its clearest incentives. I think about these treacherous southeast Asians, now fat on my mother’s life savings, the eked-out retirement of an abandoned divorcee nurse, having delivered their aimless vengeance for their colonial losses. I know they think they were doing their job – you can hear them in scammer vids online – they are working hard. How amusing that they are annoyed when toyed with because someone is wasting their time!

Whatever we do, there lies our vocation. Be the scammer, perhaps, but if so, do it well.

I wish I was as professional as the scammers. I don’t have their grit. I’m back in Vegas, on the grind, but it’s a struggle. At first, it seems I am on the path, but soon I take a terrible loss, instigated by an opponent flopping a precious set in a four-bet pot; I deliver the heat, the action comes through me, but hey, just flop a set. Still, I have a stack, piled high with small chips, signs of taking small pots, the sign and measure of actual strong play working. Yet I lose the rest to two more sets. I’m mentally done, I have reserves but choose despair. I’m so angry, so tired of not just months, but years of nights like this, where I break my back bluffing but just get cooled off anyway, I fail my vow and am rude to a sensitive dealer. Now I have to apologize or be ashamed next time, but I’m so furious it doesn’t even register.

It’s just too much, and too much because I see how easy it could be. Just a seat and a universe over, a fish gives a nit hundreds of blinds in one spot where the nit never has any bluffs – I could name his exact hand from one action. I’m out here making all-star plays, showing impossible cards, and these two cretins are conspiring in acts of redistribution. I don’t want to see their loathsome, indolent faces anymore. I end up on the pavement, ready to fight, pushing through the disorderly crowd, hoping some car honks at me so I can rip open the driver’s door. I’m ready, ready to be tried. My right fist clenches as some fratboy feigns to get in my way before realizing what he’s about to get involved with – the hungry, wounded animal looking for blood.

The grinder.

“I don’t like grinders,” the overpraised sunrunner tells Sarah Herring in some podcast video. “Why don’t they do something else if they are unhappy?”

Genius, Marie. Why didn’t I think of having cake when the bread ran out?

Ultimately, I don’t want to follow any of them, these Lords and Ladies, as the other Fernando, Options Fernando, called them, but they are here with me. I watch Berkey cash in the last of Nik’s Resorts World chips and think of saying hello before realizing it’s just one more imposition he doesn’t need, it’s clout I don’t want, it’s the pack instinct I don’t endorse. They crowd around him, looking to be seen, to be picked, to be a part of thing they are not.

That’s not for me; go back to counting and texting, sir, if I know you, you’ve had some choice GIFs idling. No, we’re just trapped in the room together, that’s all it is. So don’t get too close – I’ve had about enough idiocy for one lifetime. I don’t want resolution, I don’t want compromise with what the world thinks. I’m not ready for the backyard, for my eyes to glaze over on Homestretch, for kumbayas on Spaces and Slack and whining about your latest disrespected and pathetic group, your personal therapy and all the losers who demand society fix their problems, the people who can’t pay the rent or won’t pay the driver, to have to countenance the illusions of every dumb couple that won’t have children, every extra dollar the Treasury prints as a fuck-you to the future and that congress demands for the war machine, and for all the lame dogs of the world that, to paraphrase Lenin, are fit only to be shot.

Next time, I’ll make the soul read, since that’s what the Goddess wants from me: effort, perfection, pain. Many do it better than me, but I have my gifts. In fact, she seems to be telling me that I’ve been lazy, that I’ve been wanting a yard, a garden, a world of memories, one without villains and scammers and cutthroats; she hurts me for liking ease, sleep, money, twitterers and daisy-chain spaces and gossip and the mental cuckoldry of approval. Doug is an ass, but the moral of the story is that he is. A subtle one, this moral: beyond the crowd’s understanding, and maybe misunderstood by the very Lords and Ladies we obey too often as well.

I push on through the crowd, la foule. The air is a touch cool, and the moon is backing off from the Strip. A busker prepares to sing while another coaxes tourists to drinks; the slow ones can be peeled off, they know. These aren’t my neon lights, there is no Miss Atomic Bomb, just endless hungry fat faces and blind greedy eyes. Come closer, ask me something, tell me you want something, too, and make your demand. I want conflict.

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