(for part 1, click HERE)
My mother was an ardent 1970’s feminist, and like most of her feminist friends I knew growing up, bore a fierce antipathy to the religion/culture she was raised in (European Jew, Italian or Irish Roman Catholic, WASP, take your pick – they were all heartily patriarchal and undeniably sexist in varying ways.). She straightened the Jewish kinks out of her hair all her life, then loved when people mistook her for Italian. She loved Christmas. We decorated the house with ornaments and evergreen branches in December, and I got (and gave) Christmas presents galore. I also went to a little private school in Albany, NY, in which I was one of three (or was it two?) Jews in my graduating class.
This is all to say that, while I didn’t precisely share my mother’s hostility to Judaism (and even greater antipathy toward Israel), I never thought of myself as Jewish beyond that others labelled me as such and there wasn’t much I could do about it. To me, Judaism was a religion – one that I, the atheist my parents raised, didn’t practice – not a biological destiny to embrace or deny. After high school, I moved to New York City for college, where, I sometimes joke that eveybody’s Jewish, or at least “ethnic” enough to allow for a great deal of cultural anonymity if one chooses that route. So, in a much less active way than did my mom, I too remained distant from my family, if not genetic, heritage. It was only at 27, when I moved to San Francisco, where people are blond-er and WASPier than even at the Albany Academy, and where I suddenly found myself recruited by Jews to do Jewish things, that I attended my first Seder.
Now back East, but in a tiny New England town, I’ve pretty much returned to my full-on secularity as best I can. Coincidentally, though, this “Thanksgivikah” week has brought the issue a bit to the fore. I wished one person a happy Thanksgiving and she responded with a quick, “Happy Hannukah!” To my brain, that read as well-intentioned but also as thanks, and/but I hope you enjoy your holiday too, as if Thanksgiving weren’t quite mine, especially this year. I asked someone else what they were up to for Thanksgiving, and they too responded, “Happy Hannukah!” I said thanks and then repeated my question. She replied, but didn’t ask me what I was doing for mine. I was suprized and a big more miffed by both interactions than I should’ve bothered to be. And a question, as ever, lingered: since I’ve never discussed religion with either of them, what made them so sure I was Jewish in the first place? My neurotic, comedic patter? The talking with my hands? The nose?
In those fourteen years in California, though, I grew to accept and even identify somewhat with what I’m seen as (a Jew), but I still remain about as a-religious and a-cultural (as opposed to Mom’s “anti-“) as any Jew I’ve ever met.
Huge digression aside (or, well, vaguely relevant), when I walked into that hotel room, after a moment of unease at just how many Lehavots I was meeting all at once, I felt right at home.
When I headed back to my room after hanging out and chatting with Amir and his nearest and dearest for a bit, I knew absolutely that I’d much rather spend my time in Vegas as a friend than a fan or a member of the press. On Monday, I met up with Team Amir and we fought off the Riess throngs (a bit of actual physical shoving by some Riess stooges took place) to take our little section in the front-right of the audience, screaming as Amir took down the first hand of the night, and on we went from there. It was nine hours of AWESOME! (Okay, there were tedious moments now and then, but mostly.) Of course, seeing as Amir finished third, not first, there were disappointments along the way, Amir’s losing with trip kings to McLaughlin’s runner-runner kings full is of course atop that list – Amir played a very strong hand perfectly, but still lost – “That’s poker, folks.” Amir lost a big hand he couldn’t have won or folded, but, through pot control, managed to lose about as little as he could’ve in doing so. Here it is:
But there a few great “ups” to counter the “downs,” tops among them the JJ vs A-6 hand against Riess that catapulted Amir from fifth to third with five left, hugely helping him toward his third place finish a little while later.
By choosing to go the friend route, of course I was very likely to face eventual disappointment; after all, as I wrote before the Final Table began, the best player only wins maybe 40% of one-table sit-and-gos, no matter how bad the opponents. The opponents Amir faced ranged from very, very good to at least okay. So I was a heavy favorite to lose by proxy when my friend eventually busted out.
But anticlimax really never happened, but for a brief few minutes. Amir’s joy at his accomplishment when we gathered at one of the Rio’s bars just a few minutes later was infectious.
On top of the thrill of watching Amir, rooting him on and celebrating with him and the team, I got to spend a couple days with one of my oldest and dearest friends, who drove in from LA to come along for the ride.
My friend Case, and let’s call him Case, because it’s his name (that’s us, in the background behind Lon & Norman, here), is fascinated by casinos and gambling, but he’s not very experienced at poker. Sitting with him in the theater gave me a great view of the perspective non-fans have to all this ridiculousness, although I think Case found it all more fascinating than ridiculous. And explaining (as best I could) some of the intricacies of the poker being played made me realize that, regardless of my lifetime poker R.O.I., I’ve learned a LOT in these last five years. Plus we had a buncha fun when we weren’t in the theater!
If I’d gone the journalist route more, gotten myself a press pass, etc. I could’ve guaranteed myself material, gotten a little more access – to all the players, to the stage, etc. – and maybe I could’ve even found a publication where I could publish an account of the experience.
Instead, I made a friend, a few of them actually. I watched and rooted said friend on as he excelled at the highest level of his profession, and celebrated with him and his afterward. Many near-perfect moments experienced, all (reasonable) expectations exceeded!