Sunday Morning we woke up early and decided to head into the French capital of Marigot to find some breakfast. Kristy warned that it was highly likely that many of the places were going to be closed due to how religious the islands are. Man it was crazy. Places that were normally all hustle and bustle were ghost towns. We drove through Grand Case on the way and didn’t see a single restaurant open. Not a one. I’m going to open up some restaurant that will cater to all tourists and people who don’t want to cook but still would like breakfast before or after church. I will be so successful by being open on Sunday mornings that I will take the rest of the week off.
So, we finally find a pair of restaurants ish that are open with patio seating right near the water. Nice. We sit, both a little steamed cause we’re so hungry and it was such a goose chase to find somewhere open, and are approached by a server. She orders a Sprite, I’ll take a coffee, and Kristy asks for a pair of menus. About seven minutes later she returns with the drinks, Kristy asks for a menu again, and she walks away again. She comes back after a few steps and says, “Oh, well, all we’re serving right now is hamburgers and hot dogs.”
We both come close to blowing gaskets, but decide, whatevs, Island Time, mon. I’ll sit and enjoy a coffee. Now, I can drink most anything that is coffee, juice, or alcohol related. And I usually like it too. However this coffee was bitter and burnt and horrible and I was just waiting for Danny and Lizzy to pop out of some tiki hut with a camera and a “cptv” microphone yelling, “You’ve been punked! Hahahaha!”
X French = Assholes
X Locals = Assholes
[ ] St. Maarten = “The Friendly Island”
We go a couple other places, ask if they’re serving breakfast (it’s like 9:30 am right now), all say no, and we finally get somebody to give us directions to a French bakery.
This place was the nuts. We ordered a schmorgasbord of items, the best croissants I’ve ever had, etc. I order a coffee: gets a cup, pushes a button on a super duper espresso maker 2000 that grinds beans fresh and then brews me exactly one cup - of the most delicious coffee ever. I order an orange juice, she asks, “Fresh or bottle?” I choose fresh, she takes two oranges out of a basket, puts them into the top of another machine, and out of the bottom comes one cup of orange juice. It was wonderful and the day was wonderful again once more.
We then figured out our way up to Fort St. Louis (thats ‘Lou-ee’, you American bastard) overlooking the French capital of Marigot and providing excellent views of the rest of the island and Angulla to the North. I have always wanted to check out a place like this, and I wasn’t disappointed at all. It was basically abandoned. I was really surprised that we weren’t charged five euros a piece or something to walk around. There were two informational signs and a fence around most of the area, but the cannons still lay in their original placements. The only thing that disappointed me was the quantity of litter, but that has been pretty common throughout the island.
The story was quite Fascinating to me. The whole Dutch/French on the Island is a bit important, but basically every few years or so in the late 1700’s the British would come by and screw with the French in Marigot. The locals got sick of it, the local knight raised some money, and the town came together completing the fort in 1788 I believe.
Now, the only record of a battle that was posted at the fort was in 1808. The British were attacking once again, a couple hundred men from a few ships, and they were attacking the fort. According to the sign, the Brits were after their coffee. The French basically whipped the Brit’s ass, killing, wounding and capturing a big number of men with only suffering one wounded man who recovered after six days. The story is then finished saying that the entire fight went without cannon being fired using purely muskets, and “not a bean was stolen.”
Kristy and I giggle, I’m making fun of something like, “That’s the best battle story they could come up with?” She then offers up this beauty in her best (which is good) French accent, “F&%$ you, you British bastards! You will never take our fabulous espresso!”
After that we went home and decided to continue this mission for good food and found “Fiesta Mexicana” in the phone book (which is pretty difficult to read when you don’t read French), and since we had both woken up that morning craving tacos, we figured it was worth a shot. We were instantly rewarded with possibly the best margarita I had ever had, ordered the Beef Fajitas for two, and were not disappointed. Not nearly as good as my homies in LA or at El Torito, but considering the crap we’ve been fed all week it was like heaven. We then wandered to the beach and decided to rent a Sea Doo for a couple hours and do some exploring. We go to one island on our way to the other one about three miles out to sea. Just as we’re about to get there, perhaps 20 minutes into our journey, the “Low Fuel” Beep comes on, and continues to go “BEEP.. BEEP.. BEEP.. BEEP.. BEEP.. BEEP.. BEEP.. BEEP..,” all the way back to shore. I’m like, wtf, why do you rent me a boat for 2 hours with only 20 minutes worth of gas? He offers another one but by this point we’re so tilted that we’re over it, ask for our money back, obviously get refused, and accept the offer of time tomorrow.
We go back to the Villa/Pool, order Domino’s pizza, and have a great evening together swimming, drinking, and playing backgammon.
We were pretty much over the island by this point. The nice people were so few and far between, like the good meals, that we wouldn’t have minded going home on Monday. We had to take some jewelry back to Philipsburg because the workmanship on Kristy’s bracelets sucked. So we have to run this errand and end up following a small dump truck across a decent portion of the island. In this dump truck is a family, Mom, Dad, three young boys, 8-13ish. At first I think they’re waving to us, so I wave back. Then it turns out that they’re simply just making fun of us. The kids fire empty bottles into the bushes as they finish their cokes. The parent’s do nothing. I lost my hope for this island ever being a successful or happy place at that moment. It was really really sad.
We make it to town, find a good parking spot, walk easily to the shop, and they’re happy to fix them. Nice. Food? We look across the street, see a Chinese place, and we’re the only people there. Good news for us, because within ten minutes we have bomb Pineapple Chicken and Fried Rice in front of us. It was really really good and plenty cheap. Down to the casino, see if they have a game (nope, and sad… they have a table which is as close to being on the sand as possible. I would have loved to play there), but on the way we meet this awesome merchant who sells us bananas from Jamaica. They were delicious. We go to an outside bar, have a shot of rum and a beer, and go back to the jewelry store. Watch this:
Guy is talking to Kristy, Los Angeles comes up. He says, [this guy in his shop] goes to USC. She says, that’s where I went, he calls out the kid, we shake hands. He just finished his freshman year, we talk about some of the buildings and places to live, etc, and it turns out that he is the only kid to go to USC from St. Maarten ever. Well done. He asks what do I do, I tell him truthfully (probably only because he was a USC student… I usually don’t tell people), and he’s interested, but his (dad, brother, not sure) is really interested in poker and is across the other counter. He gets all excited, asks about Vegas, I live in Vegas, he says he’s going there on the 4th. I laugh, say I’m throwing a party for my WPT premiere and invite him (Speaking of that, I’m throwing a party at my brother’s bar, Half Shell on Eastern Ave, upstairs Monday the 4th whenever time the program starts). We chat some more, and then he ends up inviting Kristy and I to the wedding that he’s going to Vegas for. Turns out Indian weddings are super cultural and special events, lasting three days, and it’s super unusual for them to be in Las Vegas. The couple just loves Vegas though so they decided to do it there, and it happens to be next week, and we’re invited.
Wow, I was honored. I felt like this was pretty unusual, gringos being invited to a traditional Indian wedding, and from what I’ve heard since apparently it is a huge honor. We left Philipsburg with a renewed sense of good people on this island and were pretty stoked on the way back to the French side.
The rest of the evening was wonderful. The daughter of the Indian family at the jewelry store recommended this restaurant to us on the south side of the beach near the naturists, and we decided to check it out. On the way we walked past a sushi joint, and looking down the beach it didn’t look like our place was open. Kristy said, hold on, lemme throw this away, which gave us another 75 feet down the beach closer to our original destination. I realize that there’s people sitting on the patio, and it’s about a half dozen white people looking at us curiously as we approach.
“Y’all serving food?” Shit. Blown my cover already.
“Nooo, but wee arr haveing a dreink, com join us!”
Six frogs inviting a dude and his chick who are so obviously American to join them in their private gathering for a drink? Could be an ambush.
They pour us island-made guavaberry rum into a plastic shot cup, and we drink.
About 45 minutes later Kristy and I are looking at each other silly style cause we’re both pulling another sheet up the spinnaker and it’s about to catch the wind. Turns out that all the kids there, about my age, were raised in various areas of Southern France, came here one way or another, and were spending this afternoon sitting on this deck watching the sun set. One of them was a waiter at the restaurant and was also hired as the nighttime security guard. He was getting paid to take in the sun with his shirt off on a world class beach, meet some Americans, drink with his friends, and smoke a cigarette. Nice. They were awesome, we had an awesome time, and our faith in the French people was restored also.
We walked back to the village, had dinner at an Italian joint (delicious once again), came home, soaked in the pool, and called it an early night.
Today is day 9, and it’s been a pretty lazy one thus far. I left the villa to go to the market and get breakfast, we watched a couple halves of movies we hadn’t finished, and I wrote this mammoth blog. We head back tomorrow, and I’m ready to be back in the United States.
Peace and good luck,
I woke up the next morning wondering what happened the night before, but was surprisingly less hung over than I should have been after about 30 straight hours of drinking. That was a nice perk as I didn’t want to spend a day of drinking recovering from drinking. Kristy and I headed into town to do some exploring, did a little shopping, but were really itching to go do some sitting on the beach.
We posted up on Coco beach, and it was at this point that I realized that the French have an uncanny ability to artistically tell you that you’re an asshole without the smile leaving their face. Something in the overall tone and composition of words. Quite fascinating really, but somehow after waiting beerless on the beach for too long of a time, I wandered over to the bar to order a Carib (I fired the president) and felt guilty for doing so. Bartender tells me that he’ll bring me the beer, he tells me that he’ll bring me the beer, and I didn’t even have a chance to complain about not being served beer, and walked back to the beach kinda giggling really. Finally when he came back I asked for buckets of beer and this was acceptable to all parties involved (thank God).
When the sun was finally gone and the beers finally empty, we wandered a couple doors down for some dinner and had the most wonderful Pad Thai. We chatted with the French bartender (who was awesome) and learned about his adventures and how he ended up behind this bar on this beautiful beach. It was an awesomely relaxing day.
Day four was get out and explore day. We did a bunch of driving around but both ended up being pretty exhausted, came home early, and just hung out. I really got into a Richard Bach book called “A Bridge Across Forever.” It’s a somewhat autobiographical with some fictional flair thrown into the mix and is a style I really like. The book is both deep and a good read and has definitely influenced my thinking.
Day five, happy birthday to me, happy birthday to me.. No cake, no party, no moment of celebration, but it was the best birthday of my life. Kristy and I headed to Baie Le Galion, this beach we found just down the coast that was a bit less untouched. At this beach is the Saint Martin surf club. Met the guy who runs the thing, French guy, and super cool. Basically he was running a surf camp for groms and every once in a while a tourist would show up and rent a board or ask for lessons. I rented a board, a decent enough 8′6″, and asked him about the break.
Apparently I had picked a good time to go out wave wise, but man was it a paddle to get out there. It was a reef break and not very big at that. I guess that the Atlantic and Caribbean are not known for their waves or swell energy, but I was stoked to be out there. The break was different than anything I had ever ridden before and it was fun to get out.
On the paddle back in (also something foreign to me… I’ve been spoiled in the ease of accessibility to awesome surf in Cali), the French launched their animal campaign to gross me out. In the middle of the bay with nobody looking or listening, I got the biggest handful of ooey gooey I have ever encountered in the water. It wiggled when I whacked it with my swim stroke, but the texture and lack of fin or anything in the entire palm of my hand made me wonder what it was. Naturally I let out a bit of a scream, but then found myself lying on a surfboard in the Atlantic ocean laughing my ass off.
After we closed down that beach, we drove to a different beach north of Orient Beach and found the dump on the French side, naturally right in the middle of paradise. Tucked back away on top of one of these mountains? Nah, right on the beach. Why? Because we are French. We ended up hanging out there as the sun set, and Kristy and I had a beautiful evening together. We came back to the villa and decided to simply go to the restaurant that was in the resort. It was very elegant, fine dining, and French. The food was very tasty (once I got over the fact of how different it was… no chance I eat any of the courses ten years ago). We shared a bottle of awesome Pinot Noir and sat for hours European style simply enjoying our meal together. As we relaxed on our table by the pool outside, towards the bottom of our glasses, I leaned back, put my right arm toward Kristy intending on resting it on the short glass wall behind me. My hand found the top of the post, and on top of that post was a toad. I make some high pitched embarrassing squeal which transitions into laughter within the same breath, and the toad is still sitting there looking at us like, “What?” I mean, wtf?!? I’m already surrounded by frogs but now this toad rubbernecking on my birthday dinner? LOL. Ended up holding the cute little amphibian for a bit but didn’t give him any of the funky food that I am sure he was interested in.
Day 6 was the quintessential lighting of money on fire for the Caribbean shopping spree, and between the two of us we created enough smoke that would have required a declaration through customs. I said happy birthday to me and got a nice Movado and a bracelet with almost 2 ct worth of bling in it. I’m not the fancy schmancy type, but I do like nice things in the right settings, and I like having a few nice pieces of jewelry. I also love Cuban cigars and bought a box of those, so smoking parties will be at my house for a while now :-).
So, after the nice evening on the beach, we ended up what is turning into what is rapidly becoming our favorite beach/spot on the island, Bikini Beach on the shores of Orient Bay. That evening we ran into our friends from the first evening on the island, and I felt like I was getting to know somebody that I knew I knew but didn’t know how I knew them. I re-learned all the basics, and we enjoyed the evening together. At one point it was Mark and I on one side of the bar, and about four feet away was Kristy and his girlfriend Brenda. Behind them on their bar-top a huge, ginormous French cockroach walked up behind the women. I was about to say something, give a warning, when Mark said, “No… wait.” At the moment I interpreted his warning as wisdom, ie. it doesn’t matter what they know as long as the cockroach doesn’t touch them, and it’s looking like it won’t.
Now, after that little piece of wisdom, aparrently I had infuriated the gods of karma, and within about 20 minutes I found myself screaming in a very high pitched tone, because the biggest cockroach I had ever seen in my life was on my arm. After much deduction, I realized that the damn bug had dive bombed me, falling/jumping/intentionally-attacking-with-ferouscious-downward-velocity, and ended up on my arm intentionally to freak me out. Anyways, not much I can do about it after the fact since the damn thing was vanished by the time I wanted to kill it, and I collapsed into laughter. The French women to my left scurried for the hills (sand dunes, rocks, barstools, taxis, etc…) while my friends Mark and Brenda laughed and Kristy smiled compassionately (but thoroughly glad that it was me not her :).
For the record, the last two paragraphs of this blog are written on the same bar where the cockroach attacked me. They have free wi-fi, and good for all involved I get to post thing and read things here now on this Island, mon. As far as my last (important) blog is concerned, THANK YOU so much for all the comments left. Y’all have no idea how important they are to me, and it has made me infinitely happier on this already paradise-like island.
Peace and good luck,
Sunday night I got onto an airplane with my girlfriend Kristy (surprise!) in Los Angeles. 17 days earlier we had placed six destinations into a hat (Hawaii, NYC, Alaska, Costa Rica, Amsterdam, and Sint Maarten. Kristy, eighteen hours after the start of our first date, drew St. Maarten and we bought tickets through travelocity. Sunday night we got onto the plane together, having only been apart for maybe 24 hours in the past 17 days, and never for more than a 12 hour stretch. By the end of the first night I had gotten drunk from a beer named Presidente, lost my sandals, and swam naked in the Caribbean. This is our story.
11:45pm, Sunday night, LAX. We breeze through security and head straight for the bar. We drink enough to make the idea of getting onto a plane where our seats are reserved for the last row and I’m in the middle an exciting proposition. She whips my ass at gin twice but still won’t gamble with me on the game. We watch about half of “I Am Legend” on the laptop and spend the next several hours passing in and out of consciousness.
At 9:30 whatever coast time (I really am not sure whether we’re in east coast or east coast + 1 time zone) we land in San Juan, Puerto Rico. We wander around a bit, go outside, and finally decide to just chill at the airport. We go back through the empty security, and suddenly the half full water bottle on my backpack is a security risk. I laughed at the absurdity of it all since I had not lost sight of the security line at all in my time outside of the sterile airport area. We played some more gin, she whipped my ass some more, and she still won’t gamble with me. Good news for me, cause I’d be stuck $300 on games plus the points at $5/point. I think I need to stop gambling on trips with my friends cause I don’t win ever and usually end up losing what I spend on the trip in the first place (see: Alaska, Canada, etc.). Also for the record, two more beers went down each chute with a really not tasty breakfast.
The hop over to Sint. Maarten was 55 minutes long. The Caribbean sure is beautiful, and I spent most of the flight staring outside watching islands pass below. This was the first time that I’ve flown since I’ve started learning how to fly, so it was fascinating watching everything from the traffic patterns to the control surfaces at work. On our descent, I realized that we were getting really really low and were still over water. Then in about a three second period, I saw a very small stretch of beach, probably ten feet wide from the water to the rocks. Little did I know that in about eight hours I would be standing in that exact spot and would lose my sandals somehow in the process. So, small beach, rocks, packed two lane road, fence, ten feet of grass, and SCREECH *thump* we were on the ground. LOL Islands. We hit the brakes hard (must be a short field), came to a stop, turned around, and drove right back down the runway towards the beach of missing slippers. “Haha… the runway is the taxiway too, mon!”
We breeze through customs, and I’m pretty stoked for my first stamp in my passport to say, “St Maarten: The Friendly Island, 21 Jul 08.” We retrieve our bags no problem, walk to the Thrifty Car Rental booth, and this lady with a Thrifty shirt says, “Reservation?” I say yes, “OK, come with me,” and she turns around and walks out of the airport. She takes us to the end of the sidewalk and points to a series of car rental signs which happen to be the shuttle pickup. After about ten minutes of waiting there were about ten of us mainlanders standing on one concrete island admist a sea of blacktop, wondering why all of our other car rental neighbor islands were empty. Finally the “shuttle” pulls up. It’s one of those Eurpoean style mini-vans and looks like it has 6 seats, and the French family of six has a metric shit-ton of luggage. Kristy bag is 65 pounds, I have a guitar, regular luggage bag, and my backpack (which all weigh less than 65 pounds together), and in very forceful nature the man crammed the entire French family, Kristy and myself into this shuttle. He was about to put the guitar onto a different shuttle, and I didn’t like that idea one bit and said the guitar doesn’t leave. It went on the dash. LOL.
So, we get to the car rental place, obv get the supplemental insurance, one of the locals decides to screw with me and tell me how insane everybody is that drives on the island, and we pull out into the insane traffic and head that way . We have no clue how to get to the place we’re staying. So, I pull out what resembles a map, and start to learn about the island we are on. Sint Maarten/Saint Martin has 35 beaches on 35 miles of shoreline. It is the smallest land mass occupied by two completely sovereign nations. The side that we had landed on was the Dutch side, and if you were looking at this map, you would see that we were in the bottom left corner. I figured out that the beach we needed to get to was on the top right corner, and I had a choice of several squiggly yellow lines to get us there. There isn’t any easy road around the island, no pch if you will. These major roads were two lanes, one each direction, very narrow at times, and people pretty much just did what they wanted. It was a very controlled chaos and I felt right at home in my mustang convertible.
We made it to the Esmerelda Resort with only two wrong turns, and both were caught quickly. We checked in, un-packed, and were on an immediate mission to acquire food. We walked down to the beach, sat down on a table under a palm branch hut, ordered two Presidentes, and officially started our vacation.
After we finished eating we started walking south on the beach, which meant that the water was on the left, which really screwed with this left coaster. We passed other resorts and bar hopped our way to the end of the beach where we saw a sign that said, “Please, no cameras or cell phones.” Yup. Turns out is was more of a nobody cares what you wear or don’t wear beach, but most dudes were nude and most chicks were topless. To the bar, more presidentes, naked swim in the perfect water of this part of the Atlantic Ocean, back to the bar for more presidentes (it was happy hour at the nude beach bar… 2 fer 1’s), and we started our journey back towards Coco beach.
About halfway there we stop at the next bar and end up not leaving for a while. We have a great chat with the bartender who is American and how she ended up there, etc. Jared and I have talked many times about ending up at some place like this. We met some people who invited us to karaoke, we accepted, and were back in time to hop in the cab to take us wherever it was we were going. We end up at a bar that is squeezed in there between the ocean, beach, rocks, road, and runway. I love planes, and this was the closest I have ever been to being under a runway of an International Airport, so as soon as the first shot of rum went down the chute and I had a fresh Presidente in hand, I was on the little stretch of beach that I had flown over earlier that day, and I enjoyed the sea breeze waiting for the next plane to land. Turns out many of them don’t come in at 10pm, but I did watch one land, and when my Presidente ran out I walked back to the bar to acquire another: barefoot.
The rest of the night is pretty foggy, but lets just say that I made it home without my rainbow sandals, and I have zero clue where they might have gone to. We finally made it back across the island, again, and made it to sleep in a real bed for the first time in two days and many presidentes later.
Peace and good luck,
I was reminded yesterday that there once was a time when my soul was truly happy. It wasn’t so much of a reminder in a bad way though, it was a reminder through action as my soul was truly happy last night. There has been a conflict within my heart in the past several years between who I was then and who I am now over who I am going to be. I have always felt like some really wacky shaped peg that can’t ever really find a hole that fits. I have always been different, and while it has been much of the source of the conflicts, yesterday it was okay. It was okay to be somebody who loves Jesus and hates religion, somebody who loves poker but hates money, and somebody who has always felt a little bit lost.
When I came to Forest Home for the first time as an adult, one day after my 18th birthday, I was at a critical breaking point in my life. The only thing that was keeping me from going off the deep end was morning surf sessions with Sean and David, guys who knew all the shit going on with my father, knew that I was hurting and helpless, yet gave me some semblance of normalcy and brotherhood. I was pretty beat up but didn’t really know it as I had secluded myself to a lifestyle of solidarity and isolation because it just plain hurt too much to try to deal with they way that life had shit on me in the past two years. I came to the Home broken, lost, and confused, and over the course of the second half of the summer of 1999, I realized that this was okay, and I learned to forgive my father. For the first time in my life I felt like what I was doing mattered, and for the first time I felt happy doing what I was doing. They named me Maverick, and it had nothing to do with cards. A maverick is a “non-conformist”. Do not conform any longer to the patterns of this world, but rather be transformed by the renewing of your mind. I have always done well at the first part but not so well at the second part.
The problem over the years was that I was too much of a Maverick for a church stuck in a modern mindset. I got started in ministry, well, the day after I turned 18 I suppose with the chillens, but I was officially hired by Bel Air Pres when I was barely 19. They treated me well overall, but halfway through my two year stint with them I was fired for basically being too young. Within a week or so I was unfired though, as when the parents of the kids I was working with got word of my lynching they threw a fit and I stayed with the program to see my class move on to high school. It really stung at the time, being fired by a man that I greatly respect. It was the first time that I was shown the cruelty of the church and its legalism at times.
Yesterday while I was walking through main camp I heard, “Bryan!!!” I turned to see Caitlyn Collier running towards me. We shared a big ol’ hug and my heart smiled. She is the younger sister of Clay, one of the first students I worked with at Bel Air. I never worked directly with her in any sort of youth ministry format, but I have known her since she was in 5th grade now, and in a setting that is very hard at times, connections with kids like this are all that can keep you going. It was a very happy moment for me, but as I sit here in Van Nuys and think about yesterday, it kinda makes me a little sad, because I don’t have anything going on in my life where I am building those connections, speaking into lives, and making a difference. I miss it a lot.
But I don’t miss the judgement. About six months after turning pro I was sent a letter by a church just down the street from my house in Colorado Springs. This church had found me, already checked my references at Bel Air and the Home, and were basically offering me a position as their director of student ministries. However, there was no position, no student ministries, and a very small budget to do anything with. I accepted the position because it was what I wanted to do. Poker was never meant to be a career, never meant to be what I did. I happened to be pro because I didn’t have another job and was making enough money to keep the bills paid. I accepted this job at “20″ hours / week, $900/month. For the record, youth ministry jobs often involve significantly more time than their job descriptions state, and since this was basically a start-from-scratch operation, I knew that I was going to be putting in some hours. I could not get another job and maintain the freedom to dedicate time to the church, so I continued to play poker on the side, and made enough money to keep me in the black financially. This enabled me to really dedicate myself to what I loved doing, working with kids, and I did good.
The problem for them was that I wasn’t doing good enough. Now that I had a bunch of kids coming regularly and had a roster with even more kids that came sometimes, they wanted kids to start coming to Sunday morning service. What I said that evening lead to me eventually quitting. I told them that I would not make the kids come Sunday mornings and that they would come if they wanted to, and the way the service is now, they don’t want to. What high school kid wants to be at church at 9am when the average attendance and median age were both between 60-70 every week? I wasn’t a high school kid and I was only there because I had to be, because I was getting paid to be there. This isn’t a bad thing either - the service was designed and geared for that age range, and that’s okay. But, you can’t expect high school kids to just show up there when they don’t want to be there unless you give them something that they like or are interested in there.
Anyways, I could have used a little more tact while explaining this, but I suppose a few years of bitterness at a legalistic, numbers based church had jaded me into reacting as strongly as I did. I was sick of the mindset, sick of the judgment, sick of the church being like a hospital that didn’t let bleeding people into the door. I quit a few months after that as there was a constant tension and I couldn’t take it anymore.
I was hurt, I was bitter, but life went on. I spent that summer on the river, moved to Minnesota, and continued playing poker full time. With that move I was playing 15-30 full time and making some decent money, but poker was still just a means to an end. My wife (ex) and I were planning on moving to Colorado, she was going to continue pursuing the church, and I was going to pursue the outdoors more. She had a job in the pocket basically until they found out what I did. Now, she wasn’t applying for a pastoral or a director position, she was applying for an assistant jr. high director position (when she had already been a student ministry director for 7 years) and was way overqualified. They rejected her for the sole reason of what I did for a living. Shortly thereafter I went to Vegas for the 2006 WSOP, took 2nd in the first event that I played, and the story from there is pretty well documented through this blog.
So, here I am having a career year, but I am still not as happy as I was in those summers at Forest Home (don’t get me wrong… I’m still very happy). I don’t feel like the ministry has passed me by and that my role has deteriorated to benefactor.
I feel like the church has done their best to turn themselves into a religion, standing as the gateway to a faith based on Jesus Christ. You can find your favorite church in the yellow pages. If you donate enough money, you can influence the decisions and programming of the church. Also, if you donate a lot, you can be assured that the church will never do anything to piss you off, but this is all a necessary evil really since the church will not run without money, because we need to pay salaries, bills, etc. You will feel happy and safe in the church that you have a part of, and you will feel religious.
I have news though - the church is not a building. The church is not a staff. The church is not this denomination or that denomination, the church is a body of believers. Period. The act of “going to church” does not exist. Our concepts of “church” in today’s society are so far off base that we as a Christian culture have perpetuated a fantasy utopian bubble society, where everything “non-christian” is bad, hanging out with non-christians is bad, etc, etc.
There was a group of people like this when Jesus wandered around Israel wearing sandals and traveling with twelve dudes. He called them the Pharisees, and he spoke out against them more than any other facet of society. The Pharisees were the church leaders of the Jewish culture and community, and they had turned getting to God into a business.
So today I find myself puking on this page feeling still like a funny shaped peg. I have been hurt much and disagree greatly with the church in many areas, but I still love Jesus. I have been rejected by a Christian community because of my “sinful nature”, but last time I checked we all had that personality trait. I find it sad that a community of degenerate gamblers have accepted me and loved me much more than a community of “Christ-like” people ever did.
Until yesterday. Thanks Tam. After spending time at Indian Village, I wandered over to the Jr. High camp to visit my former youth pastor, Nate Rice. I was in Nate’s first class and he was instrumental in my journey through the hell that was my junior and senior years of high school. His wife, Tamara, has always been there, but I had never really connected with her, until yesterday. I’m not really sure how it happened, but before I knew it the dining room, which was packed with 200+ jr. highers, counselors, and staff, was desolate except for her and I. We talked, we shared, we laughed, and for the first time in longer than I can remember, I felt like it was okay to be me. I felt like it was okay to be a professional gambler who also loves Jesus. I’ve learned that it’s really hard to be both because they are both faux pas to each other. The poker community doesn’t really appreciate “religious” talk too much (although they have never judged me on it, they just don’t like it) and the Christian community often cannot tolerate gambling, drinking, smoking, etc.
But yesterday it was okay. Yesterday I found out that her and Nate were proud of me. Leaders of a major Christian ministry, proud of me, a fallen youth pastor, a broken kid, a professional degenerate gambler living in sin, a broken individual who wonders deep down where his life is going. They are proud of me.
There need to be more Nate and Tamara’s in the world. There needs to be more people, especially in the Christian community, who love unconditionally as Jesus did. That unconditional love yesterday changed my life. I’m not sure how yet, but it has made me happier today and given me so much more of a hope and positive outlook on tomorrow.
Peace and good luck,
Last event before vacation, and they really had to run me through the grinder on day one. There was nothing easy about today. Here’s the lineup in order of position from the start:
10: Phil Laak
1: Richard Lee
3: Sir Watts
4: Shane “Stainiac” Schleger
5: Raymond Davis
6: John Phan
7: Random dude that I would lay my bankroll at 1000-1 against winning, busted level 3
8: Random that busted in 3rd, replaced by a young Asian woman who’s name was pronounced “Twee” but I forgot the spelling she gave Shane. She was good and had no problem putting chips into the middle.
9: Random that was your typical average player.
So, it was a ridiculous lineup, and the cards didn’t cooperate with me at all. It was pretty tough to find an exploitable spot. I ended the day with 36,100 from our 45k start, right on pace with my 2007 25k day one that I did well in. We’re playing super deep and being 9k down going into tomorrow, while isn’t where I wanted to be, still gives me plenty of room and time Monday as we start at 400-800/25.
It had been a long time since I had laughed myself crying at a poker table. Shane and Raymond in the 4-5 were on fire together. Raymond came up with most of the material, with gems such as “The Allen Kessler Plot: Exploitation of Homeless for Freeroll Casino Promotions,” or the “Raymond Davis & Vanessa Selbst Matchmaking to Produce Sicko Poker Players and Threesomes.” Richard Lee was a pleasure to play with and had his fair share of zingers. John got into me in the 2nd level for not playing a single hand in 60 minutes, calling me every nit joke he could for 20 minutes, and then this hand came up. Limp, limp, I make it a dime with KQo, he calls on the button and says, “Let’s bust this nit,” and both limpers call. They wonder why I was playing tight. This pot turns retarded fast, flop QT5 with two spades. Check, check, I bet 2425, John thinks for a bit and calls, fold fold. Turn a brick, I bet 5800, John quickly calls. River 7s, I quickly check, John bets 7k, I tank for longer than I have ever tanked and called in a tournament situation, finally call, he says, “You probably got me…” and tables 35cc. Such a sicko. I’ve been thinking a ton lately about what live studs like John are doing that we’re completely unaware of, and there is something here. My call was more his mistake than my sick read. I was so torn on the hand but ultimately decided, “Well, I’m getting like 3.5-1, I have the top pair, and it’s John.”
About two minutes later I was pleasantly reminded of how much fun it is to play with John. He starts going into Phil about how tight he is. “Why you gotta pick on the tight white guys John?” LOL.
I’ve had a great week and am ready and excited to get out of dodge after doing well in this thing. I’m vanishing to the Caribbean on the 20th and am super excited to unplug for a while. Now I’m yelling at too many inches of LCD monitor since it is Sunday, and I must depart you.
Peace and good luck,