Travelin' October

"Just before the death of flowers,

And before they are buried in snow,
There comes a festival season
When nature is all aglow."

I haven't seen a really good fall color display in four or five years. So I am looking forward to October. I will be heading out this weekend for parts north and east and midwest. My travels should take be through parts of Oregon, Washington, Idaho, Montana, North Dakota, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Illinois, Indiana, Michigan and Ohio.

I don't have how, when or why of the return trip yet. I don't actually know if there is going to be a return trip and if there is.... a return to where?

But for now I am anticipating the travel and the changes of scenery. While I will keep working on the Matusow screenplay, I am also going to be outlining more chapters of my travel monolog centered on the quest to rediscovery magic. I have light-heartedly referred to this work as a cross between Robert Pirsig and Douglas Adams. I do owe the mobile nature of my project to Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance and while my style may not be as flippant as the Hitchhiker's Guide; I do take a more conversational tone in this work. Although the topics of the dialog do vary a bit wildly from place to place.

I supposed I could do an synopsis or perhaps an excerpt from Magical Meandering (working title) here. I shall ponder that potentiality. In the meantime, the road beckons. All my bags aren't packed but that doesn't mean I am not ready to go.
photo credit: gardeningresource.net

Whether Fall Weather

No time for a summer friend

No time for the love you send
Seasons change and so do I
You need not wonder why
. . . Guess Who

Seasons change at different times for all of us. Geography makes
a difference, other times it's our own internal clock. Here in north
central California where I have been hanging out we have been
hitting 90 degrees nearly every day and even though it cools off
into the 40s at night, it still has not felt like fall, no matter what
the calendar or equinox says. Today as promised we just reached
80 and tomorrow the prediction is for a high of barely 60.
Overnight Tuesday could even bring the first frost. The slightly
higher elevations on Mt. Shasta will definitely be freezing as
soon as tonight.

Fall has locally arrived. I checked the national weather for my
northern route across the U.S. and found this headline: "Fall
Blows In Nationwide." It appears to be getting very close to
my time to wander on. Distant roads are calling me.

Interesting today has also been windy. I didn't have to close the
house up against the heat, so the wind snapping through the high
pines has been a foregrounded presence all day. It's just warm
enough today to put some electricity in the air. A good day for
domestic disputes and the ruby throated avians have been
chasing each other away from the feeder most of the afternoon.

I was having some problems with my writing, so a took a walk
and got in touch with the changing atmosphere. Its unsettled, a
bit hyper and twitchy jumpy. So when I got back I shifted to
working on several of the meth scenes in the Check Raising the
Devil screenplay. Gotta go with what the elementals give you.
Amy will probably have to round off some of the barbs in what
I create today, but she has lots of experience leveling out my
writing. You should have read the sex scenes from the book
before she got to them!

An edgy, high-strung, restless day calls for a long, slow, mellow
evening, I have the perfect plan. Therewill be a hot tub, perhaps
a cocktail and even some natural enhancements.

A solitary salute to autumn.

Meditations on Death & Dying

Do not go gentle into that good night,

Old age should burn and rave at close of day;
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.
. . . Dylan Thomas

Brave, powerful, encouraging words from Mr. Thomas. But in an expression of today: "Not so much." It would appear that the healthy, the living and the fearful are those who rage against death. Perhaps a reflection of survivors guilt or a sentiment for those taken too young. At the end of a long and fulfilling life, most individuals are long past raging. Acceptance of death is not a failure nor a surrender, unless it is a surrender to life in all its facets.

No, I am not ill; nor is anyone close to me. Always good to get that out there when communicating into the false fury of the internet. However, several of my friends have lost revered and loved relatives recently and several more have a failing uncle, sibling or parents. It would seem that part of my path this fall is to be flecked with others departures. Lessons learned must first be lessons acknowledged.

I may change my travel plans to provide some moral and logistical support in the midst of this wave of mortality. More and more I am blessed by the flexibility of my chosen lifestyle. I can write from anywhere and apparently am capable of adapting to casual chance and haphazard happenstance. Not qualities a hibernating bear is usually known for. But I am not too old to learn new behaviors in the midst of mortality.

Note to several of my readers. I do understand the requests for more concrete facts in my blog posts of late. Perhaps ambiguity is your lesson for this fall. Thanks for reading, I appreciate the comments, even when I do not act on them.
photo/art credit: Evening Light: Seasalter


Apophenia is the tendency to see connections where none exist. At least that is the definition from one side of the chasm. Science holds that observation that is not done within the parameters of the scientific method is anecdotal, not replicable and therefore subjective and unscientific. There argument goes that humans will by our nature seek to make order out of chaos and at times we find signs and images that do not exist, but we use them to support a theory or belief. Seeing Jesus in a tortilla is a prime humorous example. Unless you are a believer, in which case I have just committed blasphemy. Technically, the seeing of images or the hearing of sounds where none seem to exist is called pareidolia.

Now this is where it gets complicated or where science loses its way, once again, in attempting to explain the human condition with numbers and arrows. Originally, apophenia was used to describe the distortion of reality that is found in some psychosis. Included in such diagnostic groupings are autistic savants. Such individuals clearly do hear and do see aspects of reality that normal "sane" persons do not. Yet we know via scientific observation that these gifted individuals are in fact interpreting reality through sensory inputs that are real enough to them to show skills and talents far in advance of what any "ordinary" person can achieve.

So there's the rub. Some want to classify and categorize certainly levels of insight into the structure of reality as insane or abnormal. Yet at the same time we clearly observe evidence of certain individuals who see well beyond what is considered normal. So how is it that only those savants, who by definition have psychological problems in one or more aspects of their life. How is it that they can have such superhuman insights but the same capabilities are denied to healthy, stable individuals?

Apophenia is, as are many other clinical diagnoses, fraught with the demands of science for conformity and classification. Just because you see something that others do not, does not make you crazy, nor does it mean you did not see what you saw. Life is in the eye and the perception of each individual beholder.

And why did apophenia come up in today's blog? Well because I have for a couple of months now been attempting to pay very close attention to insights and information I may be receiving from all sources; scientific and otherwise. In fact, particularly the otherwise. Yet my rationally trained mind wants to already always apply the tenets of scientific discourse to what I see, hear, touch, taste and feel. Wouldn't want a phantom or a mirage to take me down the right path; now would I?
photo credit: Georgia O'Keefe "Ice Cave"

Laughable and Laudable Lyrics

Have you ever had the experience of a song lyric seeming to be perfect for a thought you wanted to convey, but when you got home and opened up the CD case or googled the artist, the lyrics fall flat. It must be the melody or the wailing axe that brought the words to such heights, because lain bare on the page the words could only have come from a lovesick teenager high on dirt weed and Boone's Farm.

Yes, that happened to me the other day (the lyric thing not the Boone's Farm). I was up on Mt. Shasta among the butterflies (see previous post for lepidoptaran reference). My car CD bag, holds lots of classic rock, several mixes from friends with ipods and some limited contemporary tracks including Annie Lennox and Enya for those long late afternoon highway expanses. It was a line from one of those lilting Enya ballads that got me:

"Is there a sign I should know?"

Clearly it was the music and not the words because the lyrics later inspected are saccharin and jejune. I am not sure I have ever used jejune (immature) in a sentence before. Anyway, like most road trippers I am fond of anthems, particularly rock anthems and while wandering about in that genre, I stumbled on one that I had never taken the time to lyrically ponder. As it turns out, the words mirror how I am feeling about stumbling around in my life these days. My thanks to Green Day and Good Riddance.

Another turning point;
a fork stuck in the road.

Time grabs you by the wrist;
directs you where to go.

So make the best of this test
and don't ask why.

It's not a question
but a lesson learned in time.

It's something unpredictable
but in the end it's right.
I hope you had the time of your life.

So take the photographs
and still frames in your mind.

Hang it on a shelf
In good health and good time.

Tattoos of memories
and dead skin on trial.

For what it's worth,
it was worth all the while.

It's something unpredictable
but in the end it's right
I hope you had the time of your life.

photo credit: Boutons

Autumnal Equinox

As I post this blog it is just a few hours until the fall equinox, for those who love precision; the event falls at 2:18 PM PDT today. At that moment the sun will be directly over the equator on its way south. A nearly perfect day of equal parts light and dark. Here in far north-central California the prediction is for several more days in the 90s before fall weather takes over late in the week. We already have low 40s overnight, so it really doesn't have the feel of summer anymore, despite what the mercury says around four in the afternoon.

Actually to have equal parts light and dark, one has to actually live on the equator. Here, even on this day, the sunrise and sunset are about nine minutes off a perfect 12 hour cycle. And for those sun worshipers, even on the equator the light creeps over the horizon in the morning and lingers far past it decension in the evening. Light wins over the dark every time, well at least in the movies.

I went up Mt. Shasta yesterday. For those unfamiliar with this place. The mountain is impressive not just for its height (14,179 ft.) but because it appears to erupt from the land which falls on all sides to below 4,000 ft. Mt. Shasta stands out because of the sheer elevation differential.

You can drive to nearly the 8,000 ft. level on the Everett Highway out of Mt. Shasta City. On a fall Monday the number of day hikers was quite low. But what caught me yesterday was not the majesty of the mountain but the swarm of butterflies. Depending on which website I believe either the Alfalfa or the Red Admiral. I gotta go with the Admiral because this is the right time of year for the southern migration to be in full swing and that would place them at the higher altitudes of the mountain.

[Addendum: I stand corrected, those were California Tortoiseshell Butterflies]

What was fascinating was slowly coasting back down the mountain thru the pine forest and having the road in bright sunlight that attracts the butterflies. Now you could just drive on down the road and in the process collect dozens of carcasses on your windshield and bumper. Or, as I did, a slow coast would create a gentle wind tunnel for the insects to funnel up and over the car. I only had to pull over twice to let other cars pass and both times a couple of the butterflies flew into my car and danced about before moving on.

photo credits: archives

Two Paths: A Time Worn Metaphor

No amount of Robert Frosting seems to be pointing me in either direction. Neither appears as the proverbial road less traveled. I see no elfin sprites lurking left or right. Neither hints at being either the high or the low road and if they did how would I know which is my direction? Today I shall resort to divination just short of reading entrails but somewhere beyond mere rational thought.

I suppose in the greater scheme of things this matters not so much, but for my immediate future both geographically and existentially... these are very different paths that diverge quite quickly in the forest of the near future.

I know, I know; what the hell are you talking about?

I have said often that I can write from anywhere on the road or not. The laptop travels better than I do, but my most recent story/book is actually set on the road of my current travels. Chapters and scenes are literally unfolding as I move about the country. Now, however, I have another possibility that would anchor me in Berkeley for some unforeseen chunk of time. While that conflicts with my travelogue muse, I can indeed write anywhere and as Amy has mentioned in her most recent brain dump blog, the Matusow screenplay is now back on the radar and perhaps even on final approach.

So I find myself at the fork in the road, where I have not been in a very long time, I wonder why there isn't a bench here for the weary traveler to rest and contemplate which path to tread next. And why does this big black cat keep walking on my keyboard? I did mention divination, didn't I.

[To avoid the google search that I have tweaked with my overmetaphorizing, here is the quote:

Two Roads Diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.
Robert Frost, The Road Not Taken]

photo credit: cashill.com

Exit Interview from the World of Poker

A few weeks ago I announced that I was getting out of the poker biz. Since then several of my poker media buddies have asked me why. Last night someone said: "You have any tips for those of us hanging in with the poker beat?" Well I learned long ago from my favorite writing cohort that every writer should learn the art of shameless self-promotion. So I offer here my poker exit interview. I asked a wise, honest, intelligent media maven to conduct the Q&A.

Why are you leaving Poker behind and abandoning all your friends in the poker media?

No one in the "poker media" would ask that question. It's the economy stupid. Along with the U.S. governments assault on internet freedom. With poker magazines down more than 50% in pages printed and online sites getting 90% less poker ad spots, there simply is no money left to pay for ongoing quality poker journalism. Besides that... aren't we all tired of hearing 'a queen and a queen only'?

How did you get started in the poker biz?

My poker buddy and co-author Amy Calistri called me up back in 2005 and asked me to cover a WSOP circuit event in Indiana for PokerPages. I told her I really wasn't interested and she told me that I really was but I just didn't know it yet. She was right, as she is about 50% of the time, and I started covering events for PokerPages.

Who else have you worked for in the biz?

I worked for PokerPages and then at the '06 WSOP, I wrote a Series for PokerNews, where I followed Liz Lieu, Gavin Smith and Tony G. for the entire WSOP. At the '07 Series, I started with PokerNews and then after some creative differences, I switched to CardPlayer doing their Pro Blogs. I was also writing on PokerBlog at this time for PartyPoker and covered the '08 Series on PokerBlog, while Amy and I were finishing our book with Mike Matusow. For the '09 WSOP, this past summer, I did a series with Negreanu, Hellmuth and Matusow on this little blog here. I have also written some magazine pieces and I have worked with ChiliPoker and MadeInPoker on their French language sites.

Who is the best poker player in the world?

Impossible question to answer. Day to day, year to year the success of professional poker players is dependent on table draws, suck-outs, cold weather and bad ju-ju. Johnny Moss or Stu Ungar might have been the best at one time, but today the fields are just too big to have someone dominate the game. I do have some favorites.

I learned the most about poker from Mike Matusow. Working on the book with Mike for nearly two years, I got to see him play a lot of poker and I spent a lot of time on the rail sweating him. He would often tell me his reads on the other players, so I got to watch a lot of high level poker and see the game through the eyes of a real professional.

OK, who is the best person in poker or are there any?

Well I am sure there are lots of good folks who I never met. It's actually easier to tell you about all of the idiots, jerks and fools who populate the poker rooms but on this one I do have an answer. The best person I met in five years of covering professional poker is Bill Edler. No one else even comes close. I won't go into detail, no need to embarrass Bill, but he calls everyone he likes "my friend" and he means it. I am proud to be Bill Edler's friend.

Well I gotta ask, who then are the top bad guys?

During the WSOP this past summer, I asked the senior staff a question like: "Who were the players that give you the most trouble at the tables." The list was surprisingly uniform.

Alan Kessler and Steve Zolotow were on the top of nearly every list. This is unfortunate because both Alan and Steve have some good insights about the game but they both will bitch about anything and everything, all day every day. The boys who cry wolf, as it were.

Next, came Brandon Cantu and David Singer. Again a lot of complaining about any and every aspect of the game but in this case seldom with any legitimate points. Just noize for the sake of noize.

Men Nguyen made every list for his nasty tirades against dealers and junior floor staff. The Master never takes on senior floor staff, he instead goes for the soft spots and makes a fuss about nothing. By the way if you are playing at a table with Men when he does this; his intention is to keep you from playing back at him. It's all an angle to intimidate other players. Don't fall for it.

Todd Brunson, Michael Binger and Andy Black got a lot of votes. Todd would be at the very top of my personal list because he is simply a mean, unhappy person and he often takes it out on dealers or new poker media. One would think that there was an award for random assholery.

Annie Duke would get everyone's award as Queen Bitch. Annie is much better than she used to be, but when she is in one of her moods. Well everyone, even Joe, gives her a wide berth. About as wide as what you have to give the Queen Mary under a full head of Bikram steam.

Special status goes to: Barry Greenstein, Andy Bloch and Howard Lederer. They do complain too often but most of the time they have valid points. Not always points of great import but they are generally right and therefore the staff has to take the time to listen.

Finally, most agreed that a special emeritus award has to be given to Sam Grisle for years of mean spirited nastiness.

Are the professionals really that much better than the rest of us?

Yes, so much better than ordinary players are just not able to comprehend how good they are.

Want to tell us why they are better?

For the same reason that Gretsky or Pele or Tiger Woods were just that much better than everyone else. I firmly believe you can learn a lot about poker but there is also an innate skill set that makes the really great just much better than the rest of us. I have heard the pros discuss thousands of hands and they are just taking in more information than we are and they have more options to react to that information than we do.

What's the best and the worse thing to happen to poker while you were covering it?

The takeover of poker by big corporations is my answer to both questions. Despite what the PR talking heads say, poker tournaments are run for the benefit of the sponsors and the owners not the players. On the other hand, the poker boom would never have been so big without corporate sponsorship. The main issue is, of course, money. Unless and until some of the profits from poker go back to the players, it will continue to be a game with unpaid actors making profits for the corporations.

By way of naming names, Harrah's is guilty in the sheer greed category. But the WPT wins the booby prize for complete business incompetence. The jury is still out on PokerStars and the EPT, APT, CCP and LSMFT.

Who are the best writers still covering poker?

Not that I was one of the best. I just wrote from a different perspective. A lot of very good writers have come and gone, just as I am going now. Those have to include Andy Glazer, Jay Greenspan and Amy Calistri. The best pure writer in poker now is Brad Willis. As an insider, no one finds more entertaining stories than Michael Craig. Dr Pauly is a force unto himself and I still do a complete read of the Tao once a week.

There are four or five more writers who are still doing the actual day-to-day around the felt reporting gig. Rather than insult those I leave off the list, let me just say I respect what you are doing, particularly in these times of shortened copy and small payment. Hang in there and try to enjoy the ride. Oh and one piece of advice: When the time comes, get out before you burn out.

Do you still play poker?

Not so much. I am going back to the midwest next month and will play an annual home game in Minnesota that one of my poker buddies runs. Maybe I will play one tournament at the Canterbury Park Fall Classic while I am there. But I really am done with poker. I don't have an addictive personality and given the choice between sitting through a day of Texas Hold'em or reading a good book. Well, no drunk with a baseball cap and sunglasses ever throws a Hellmuthian tantrum while I'm reading.

Any final words for the poker fans?

Read my next book, I promise to mention poker at least twice.
photo credit: archives

When in Weed

Today my stop here in Weed technically becomes the second longest stay on my meandering caravan. In January of this year I gave up the last vestiges of a domicile when I moved from the Vegas condo to my friend's cottage in Sebastopol. I was there for over three months while she was off chasing high desert gnomes in the Southwest. I guess actually the next major stopping point was longer than here in Weed, but I paid for my seven weeks at the Extended Stay in Las Vegas to cover the World Series, so I am not counting that as part of my moochers road trip. I will devulge that my current book project begins with a scene on my last day at the Extended Stay Hotel and the story probably will end at the finale of this trip. Unless, of course, I go down one of these rabbit holes that keep appearing in my peripheral visions.

Meanwhile back in Weed: Fall arrived in a rush of wind yesterday. The temperature dropped the pine needles rained down and hopes for some fall color on the next leg of my next journey increased. Also with the advent of cooler weather there is the hope that the hummingbird swarm will appear before I leave Weed. The feeder right outside the window where I write is visited all day long by the local hummers. But once fall is clearly here, there is often a day or two of intense feeding to prep the little birds for their long flight south. In past years the swarm as seen a dozen or more buzzing hummers queuing up for a nectar blast. I promise a picture if the hummers grace us with a fall feeding frenzy.

The indoor creatures seem calm today. Over the last week we have been trying to integrate a new dog with an older and very territorial cat. The relationship gets fractured about once a day with a loud yelp, a running dog, and a too satisfied look on the cat's face. But peace shall reign eventually, there was been a dog in Midnight's life in the past without daily incidents; this is a just a period of territorial statements being made and the cat wants to be clearly understood before agreeing to any truce terms.
photo credit: epodunk.com

Where Were You When?

A couple of weeks ago I commented on the forty year anniversaries of the first moon landing, Woodstock and the Manson murders. Today I woke up to wall-to-wall coverage of the eight year anniversary of 9-11. It made me wonder what events are stamped in the collective conscious of our memories. My apologies to my non-U.S. readers for the jingoism here.

What public events have made a permanent impression on you? The following list is what I think are the big public memory events, they are not necessarily my own personal biggies.

July 20, 1969 The first landing and walk on the moon.
April 12, 1961 Soviet Cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin, first human in space.

September 11, 2001 The 9-11.

November 9, 1989 The Berlin Wall comes down.
[June 15, 1961 The Berlin Wall goes up.]

December 25, 1991 The official end of the USSR

May 10, 1994 Nelson Mandela sworn in as President of South Africa

December 7, 1941 The Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, Hawaii.

August 16, 1977 Elvis Presley dies.
December 8, 1980 John Lennon dies.
May 14, 1998 Frank Sinatra dies.
November 29, 2001 George Harrison dies.
June 25, 2009 Michael Jackson dies.
September 16, 2009 Mary Travers

November 22, 1963 John F. Kennedy assassinated.
April 4, 1968 Martin Luther King Jr. assassinated.
June 6, 1968 Robert F. Kennedy assassinated

March 30, 1981 Assassination attempt on President Ronald Reagan
September 5, 1975 Assassination attempt on President Gerald Ford
September 22, 1975 another assassination attempt on President Ford

May 8, 1945 VE (Victory in Europe) Day ends WWII in half of the world.
August 6, 1945 Hiroshima, first atomic bomb dropped.
August 9, 1945 Nagasaki, second atomic bomb dropped.
August 14-15, 1945 VJ (Victory in Japan) Day ends WWII.

April 29, 1975 U.S. troops leave Vietnam.

After the assassination of JFK and the moon landing, my two biggest public memories are:

May 1968 France is shutdown by student/worker strike. I was a student in Germany.

August 9, 1974 Richard Nixon resigns the U.S. Presidency. Still one of the great highlites of my political life and one I still take way too much pleasure in. But . . . once again, "Ding-Dong The Dick is Dead!"

What did I miss from your memories? Remember these are shared public memories, leave out the 'First Time I had ...' send those stories in a private email.
photo credit: archives