Serendipity, Fame, Penn . . .

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(sadly, this is another one of those posts that’s inexplicably appeared all in italics – thanks wordpress.)

So after Penn gave me back my table at Greenfield Coffee a couple days ago, what with the serendipity of my heading off to an event at the theater that bears his name, I felt I had to buy his latest atheism book and go listen him talk at GCC. He’s a gigantic man with a gigantic brain full of gigantic thoughts and even gigantic-er opinions (that he expresses very eloquently in speech, less so on paper), and he seems to have a gigantic heart to match, and a gigantic ego to go with all that. He EXPANDS on subjects grandly and eloquently, from atheism to magic to music to comedy to racism to having children to being friends with Glenn Beck, to being from Greenfield, MA, to behaving with integrity and being kind, and back again.

Penn’s polymathicity and opinionated-ness, with moral integrity and generosity thrown in, remind me a lot of the many attributes beyond pure skill at cards needed to be great poker player and, in particular, of my friend Annie Duke – without Annie’s intense confidence, a brashness bordering on arrogance to go with her intense intelligence, drive, and beliefs, she could never have become such a success in the world of such egotistical, smart, often deeply cynical men as most poker players are.

(I met Amir and his family in person yesterday. His gentility and unassuming nature were beyond refreshing to find in a poker pro under the age of fifty. He’s 38, the oldest at the Final Table, btw.)

At this point, there may be someone out there reading this and thinking wtf did I just click on wasn’t this supposed to be a poker blog? Well, yes, sir or madam, it was, and it will be again.

The Penn lecture was one of those experiences I have sometimes when watching a famous person speak when, as the event progresses, I really start to feel like said famous person and I really have a lot to say to each other and we should sit down and have a conversation sometime and see where it leads. But that’s not usually going to happen. It’s frustrating and inspiring at the same time.

I’ve never been a fan (or a hater) of the man they call Penn. He was erudite and thoughtful and seemingly appreciative of his audience. Or, well, he was both appreciative and was doing that thing that happens to some people when they get very famous and/or rich. They OVERgive. They strain just a bit (in Penn’s case) or way more than a bit to be SO gracious because the spotlight is ALWAYS on and they’re good people and they know they’re good people (pretty much) but if someone sees them doing just one bad thing the world will think they’re BAD people so they act just a bit TOO good all the time. Penn’s excessive adoration of his home town, Greenfield, during his first visit back in years smelled a little of this kind of well-intentioned pandering. There’s the general embarrassment at extreme and extremely public success that comes into play here, as well, of course. And I’m pretty sure that’s somewhat how I’d act at times, if I were in Penn’s shoes, and I’d hate myself for it, so I don’t blame him, and, at such moments, I’m very happy I’m not rich and famous.

Which is not to say I’m not jealous as well, less of the money and fame than of the ability to collaborate with amazing artists on interesting projects all the time and get very well paid for doing so. And I should note that I’m typing from my hotel room in a building the outside of which is plastered with a twenty-story Penn Jillette.

But what I began writing this to tell you is that was a really inspiring talk that ranged from the Bible to parenthood to the history of American comedy and magic, to the greatness of Martin and Lewis, to how to make a long-term collaboration work, one that made me consider large issues about my own existence.

I like to think that I’m not a superstitious person, but, well, I’m a pretty fucking superstitious person, especially about the number nine (In fact, one of my worst poker leaks is playing A-9 and 99 in spots where they absolutely should be mucked), As I said, having run in to Penn as I was sitting down to write a post about travelling to his theater told me it was fated that I had to go to his event. During that day leading up to the event, I thought, well, he’ll probably be kinda interesting and then afterward maybe I can tell him about the serendipity (although, admittedly it’s way more interesting for me than him, as he has a theater with his name on it and people run into him before heading off to it every now and then, I’d imagine), and then I’ll give him one of the spiffy new business cards that had just arrived Friday morning. And he will take the card, scan the magic QR code on the back, take a look at the blog, think, hey, this looks kind of cool, I should tweet this, and I’ll have a few thousand more readers for the Final Table posts. That is what I felt fate had offered me, best case scenario.

But what I realized during the speech was that although I still wanted to give him the card (which I did, hurriedly, awkwardly, on the book-signing line, no time for even an elevator pitch), the real reason I was meant to run into him and go see him speak is that he made me think about what and why I’m writing here, why I’m here in Vegas now for the November Nine. I don’t know the answer, but I’m pretty sure that because of Penn Jillette the coming days’ posts, while chock full of November nine poker-y tidbits, will also have a bit more of the “Mom, and everything” stuff in them than I thought they might, and I hope that works for you.

We’ll be back with more great stuff, in just a few, live from LAS VEGAS!!!!

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