Thursday, March 13, 2008

Grandfather. Hustler.

My grandfather was 65 when he began to take poker seriously, although he was always a sharp hustler. He hustled on the basketball court for Villanova prior to the invention of the jump shot. He paid his own way through medical school hustling pool in the forties, and then hustled over to Germany for the end of the war. Throughout his life, he hustled himself into seven marriages, and out of six, all the while hustling around town in a Porsche.

Silk shirted, chain smoking, hard drinking, gold chain wearing, womanizing, joke cracking, rat-pack era hustler with a brilliant mind. Growing up he was my absolute hero. Still is.

Age began to remove his need for sleep, but limited his physical activity. He fell in with a crowd of like-minded retirees. Like him, they had all been hustlers. Among them were two doctors, a university president, a general, the owner of a ski resort, the founder of an airline, and a guy named Happy Jack whose background remains unclear. So they started a no-limit, cash poker game.

The set up ran like this: Park your car in the lot of a nearby grocery store in a leafy, upper class suburb. The dealer and his wife shuttle you from the lot to their house. The games typically ran 24-48 hours, so the wife made food while the husband dealt. There were guest rooms to crash in, and plenty of booze.

Always was a friendly game. I think it added ten years to my grandfather's life. I can't say the same for Happy Jack.

One night my grandfather was betting a straight against a possible flush when he went all-in against Happy Jack. He was waiting for Jack to call, sure he was bluffing. It was a big pot.

Seconds later, the plate glass window bursts, the door flies in, and the entire first line of the varsity SWAT team appears, automatic weapons trained on the players.

Like true hustlers, nobody bats an eyelash. Slowly, Happy Jack pushes his chips to the center of the table, looks my grandfather dead in the eye, and says, "I call."


The next thing my grandfather knew he was on the floor. After he was cuffed and read his rights, he was hustled out the door. He looked back to the room one more time. Happy Jack was still sitting at the table like he just called, still looking at where my grandfather had been sitting.

The next time my grandfather saw Happy Jack was at his funeral. The only people that showed were the very same ones that had been sitting around the poker table the night he died; left sitting in that very same position until the ambulance took him away. No one ever found out if he had the flush.

I like to think Happy died the way he wanted. Not winning the hand, but just on the cusp of it.

That's where the true hustler is happiest.


Kimberly said...

I just so happened to randomly find your blog in the midst of seeking a solution for my own procrastination issues. Well, as you can probably imagine, I read "Grandfather. Hustler." and find myself inclined to say a few words: Holy crap. Though very brief, this story is incredible. Though not terribly in depth or detailed, the imagery is rich and sharp. I thoroughly enjoyed it and thought you should know (even if this story was actually written about 3 years ago).

dpm said...

Thanks Kimberly. I put stuff up on the internet so it doesn't get misplaced. Aside from the scientific publications, I was sure I was wholly unread. Your comments are insightful, and appreciated more so because of it. You made my day. Thanks.