Devil dodging and the sanghoki World Series

Generally, people end up in hell because the in-road has so many fun attractions along the way.

The hell-heat of the sanghoki desert is the only thing that contradicts the axiom. There is nothing luring people to Las Vegas except the destination itself. I think people who routinely go to Vegas know in advance the part of their soul they will give up. It’s a cross-sectioned portion, like something out of a Science and Industry museum. Everybody knows it’s there, but until you see it sliced and exposed, the importance is only academic.

The last time I went to the World Series of Poker, I met the Devil. As I wrote after the fact, “The Devil knew my name. The Devil knew my patterns. The Devil knew where I was. The Devil knew Otis. And now Otis had seen the Devil.”

Aside from true, irrational fear, cold is the only thing I remember feeling at the end of the 2008 World Series. I shivered and shook my way through the final day of the main event. I thought I was dying and, ever so briefly, just wished I would so the Devil could take me wherever he wanted.

I survived, but I don’t know how.

***

I don’t really make many decisions in a vacuum anymore. Once I left my parents’ oversight back in 1992, I had about five years during which I got to experiment with the luxury of selfish, wanton, and irresponsible decision-making. I survived that, too, and looking back, I’m not sure how. Since then, my life has been largely governed by bosses and my love for my family. When work doesn’t control my life, I do my best to follow a path that will let my wife know I love her and give my son the attention he more than deserves. The boss-control I would give up if I was able. The family, never or for any amount of anything I want.

Still, in those fanciful hours when nobody is awake but me, I think about what the Devil would want for me, where he would drag me, and how much of my soul I would lose in the process. If work didn’t matter and I could keep my family, I would selfishly be packing my bags right now and burying myself at the tables in Vegas. I don’t even know why. The sensible part of me knows there is little chance for success and a huge chance that if I emerged alive, it would only be as a shell of myself. It doesn’t even sound like fun, and yet I think about it–because I’m sick or already more void of soul than I thought.

Beginning a few years ago, I started getting calls that would land me in Vegas for three consecutive summers. At the end of every one, I wanted nothing more than to be home. At the end of last year, I remember thinking that I’d be just fine if I never covered another Series. So, no one is more surprised than me at how conflicted I feel this week.

I’ve found myself surprisingly bemused as I read the run-up pieces written by all my friends and colleagues who are packing their bags right now. The veterans are, as expected, already too jaded to expect anything but the hell they are about to experience. The newcomers are rowdy and ready to jump in. I don’t look forward to seeing any of the hollow eyes.

Don’t get me wrong. It’s not all horrible. I have many fond memories from covering the Series. The bunker mentality that sets in after a few weeks helps build some pretty good friendships. Much of it–like limetossing, late night trips to Binion’s, and eating Keno crayons–has been chronicled across the ethersphere. I have to admit, I am a little disappointed that I am going to be missing most of it this year.

What’s that?

Well, yeah. This is something I’ve avoided writing about until now, largely because I’ve parachuted into the past threee World Series at the last minute. There was a part of me that believed there was still a chance that was going to happen this year. As it happens though, I’m going to miss most of the Series this year. The plan as it stands is to drop in on June 24, cover the $50,000 HORSE and Main Events, and get out.

As mentioned above, I don’t make many decisions by myself anymore. I had grand plans for this year that involved a house with a pool, sleeping with my wife every night, kissing my kid every day, and covering the ever-lovin’ hell out of 2008 Series. When it became clear that wasn’t going to be possible, any excitement I had about the Series vanished. Several other things happened in the meantime and suffice it to say, I have extremely mixed feelings about the next two months.

After covering the Series for four weeks, the Series’ press folks are naturally suspiscious of people who drop in for the big events. I can’t count the number of times I’ve heard the long-haul media bitch about the short-time crews. I’m now going to be part of the Parachute Crew and I’ll admit I’m not looking forward to the idea. Furthermore, regardless of its Big Picture importance, covering the Series for the full seven weeks provides context that the final few weeks can’t offer. As a pseudo writer, I am a tad embarassed about my role this year. That said, I’m going to spend four extra weeks with my wife and kid. That’s time that I’ve missed in previous years. It’s time I’ll never get back. It’s time I plan to spend wisely. In short, the soul-vacuum writer is depressed, but the rest of me is happy.

I’ve spent too much time in Las Vegas to confuse it with Paradise. I know where Vegas is, I know what it is, and I know who runs the show. If I made all the decisions in a vacuum, I would grab my parchment Moleskine, a good pen, and few thousand bucks. I’d get on a plane and snort the brimstone. I’d do it for the same reason I’d cover war, death, or mini-apocalypse. Many of the stories that need to be told are in hell.

That’s not my life, though. At least not right now. I’ll admit, I’m in a pretty odd place mentally, but I know, despite it not being the best thing for my career (such as it is), missing 80% of the World Series is going to be a good thing in the longrun.

As I reached this point in the writing of this post, a good friend sent me a text, “When do you get to Vegas?”

The answer, for better or worse, is June 24.

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