I was fresh out of college, jobless, and excited to be living in Denver for the 2008 Democratic Convention. Summer was in full swing and the city was abuzz with excitement. The soon-to-be president was coming to town and local businesses were happily raking in the profits. So were the strippers.
I, however, was neither fat-cat politico nor a scintillating pole dancer. I was a penniless writer, and not a very good one, at that. Which is why I was sitting at home, perusing the event calendar for the convention that week. As it turned out, there was a celebrity charity poker game that night, benefitting war vets whose time overseas had earned them permanent paralysis. There was a suggested entry fee of $500. I called the event organizer to get a better definition of “suggested.” The nice woman was irritated, but explained it would have been considered “illegal gambling” to actually demand $500 for an entry fee, but it was still highly encouraged. She begrudgingly admitted that a person could technically enter the game for free. But that wasn’t advertised, presumably to keep the riff-raff at bay.
I paid three dollars at the door. And before you go thinking me a cheap bastard, three bucks was ten percent of my bank account.
I walked into the club level of Coors Field, which had been transformed from its typical use as a room full of beer-soaked millionaires and buffets, into a room full of beer-soaked millionaires, buffets, and poker tables.
Half the oval room was occupied by empty gaming tables. The other half was filled with caterers and tastefully stocked food stands. Charitable people milled about, looking comfortable, while a dozen or so paraplegics wheeled around the room offering up hands from their chrome chairs. A few mid-tier celebrities were posing for cameras against a backdrop. Ben Affleck grinned into a lightning storm of flashbulbs. Across the room, Richard Dreyfuss was attacking a buffet table with more starved fervor than Jaws himself.
I worked my way to the bar.
“How much for a draught?” I asked.
The bartender smirked. “It’s an open bar, sir.”
The man beside me laughed. “For the money we paid to get in here, it ought to be.”
I nodded coolly. “In that case, let’s forego the cheap shit. Fat Tire and a Glenfiddich, if you please, barkeep.”
A few rounds later I was moderately intoxicated, much more comfortable. I hoped that the tang of alcohol would overpower the stench of my covert proletariatism. I sat at the bar, talking Warren Zevon with a man who owned a hip-hop radio station. He hated radio hip-hop even more than I did, which made up for the fact that he was drinking hard lemonade.
A voice crackled over the loudspeaker, informing the players to take their seats.
I pried myself away from the bar, looking at the little seat assignment card I’d been given at the door, and started wending my through the jubilant crowd. And just when I thought I was headed in the right direction—somewhere between a Salvadoran food cart and the men’s crapper—I nearly dumped my beer onto a pleasant-smelling midget. I did a double-take, which revealed two things. The first, was that the woman I’d just run into was not a little person, she was actually of average height, and I cursed my inebriated perception. The second, was that I recognized her.
“Hey,” I said. “I know you. I remember you from…well…you’ve been in stuff, right?”
She said nothing, but gave me a sweet smile.
I pointed a finger at her and recall saying the following, which was undoubtedly sloppy. “Oh, crap. Yeah, Sarah Silverman, right? You’re really funny. I love the crass shit. How’s it going?”
I offered her my most charming smile.
“Good, thanks. But I’ve really gotta pee before the game starts! Sorry!”
With that, she skirted me like a professional running back and disappeared into the Women’s room.
I shrugged. Then I thought of Jimmy Kimmel’s jiggling body and shuddered.
I took my seat as the tournament began, maybe twenty tables worth of players in all. The game was a joke. Despite the handful of “professional” World Series players attendant, the event was sloppy. The clock was too fast, the blind increases inadequately spaced. Our dealer was a boob, an admitted carnival huckster who’d been contracted to deal poker specifically for this event. For the first ten minutes I had to point out rules and help interpret hands. My cards were shit, but fortunately the scotch still flowed freely. I hit a couple lucky hands and managed to stay alive.
I was moved to a new table as the field shrunk and found myself seated between Richard Dreyfuss’s son and a guy who shared the same last name as me. Affleck was seated directly behind me at the next table, his back facing mine. I gave him a cursory glance. He just looked like some bearded joe in Chuck Taylors.
Son of Dreyfuss was a dandy prick, with no redeeming qualities whatsoever, including poker prowess. I teased him about his terribly lucky full house, which had just gotten stomped by an even bigger full house.
“You’re going to need a bigger boat,” I said.
His dad stood looking on, scraping his paper plate clean with a Dorito.
“I don’t get it,” Son of Dreyfuss said irritably.
“Poker joke. A full house is called a ‘boat.’”
“Oh. Yeah, I know that.”
The man beside me laughed, made note of our identical last names, and told me he was a regular on Saturday Night Live. I admitted I wasn’t a fan, but that it was a pretty sweet gig.
The beer and whiskey mustn’t have agreed with my stomach, because a terrible gas bubble was forcing itself through my guts.
What can I say? I cut the cheese. It was silent, but godawful toxic. The whole table caught the fallout, and when accusatory glances started being thrown around, I simply hooked a thumb over my shoulder to the movie star sitting behind me.
“It was Affleck,” I said, with darkest conviction.
Not everybody laughed, but at least Seth did. He had obviously seen Pearl Harbor and knew what Affleck was capable of in those days. We didn’t talk much after that because I got knocked out of the game in the next hand, but Seth Meyers was a damn decent guy.
I wished everyone good luck, and made my way back to the bar. I regretted not giving Dreyfuss Jr. the finger, just on principle.
I looked around the room. Off in the far corner, Montell Williams sat erect at his table with an huge stack of chips in front of him, and an even huger bodyguard standing behind. I didn’t blame him. In a roomful of affluent gringos, a fellow couldn’t be too careful. I ordered another round.
A few minutes later I stumbled outside to hail a cab. The lot valet pushed me aside and gave the taxi to a Congressman.
I started walking.
And that's that. Whatever that is.
Beer: Ace Ale
Music: Joe Bonamassa