‘Got to know when to hold ‘em’
Poker Sympathy, C. M. Coolidge, 1906
I have a good poker face because I am half-dead inside. My particular combo of slack features, negligible affect, and soulless gaze had helped my game ever since I started playing 20 years ago, when I was ignorant of pot odds and M-theory and three-betting, and it gave me a boost as I collected my trove of lore, game by game, hand by hand. It had not helped me human relationships-wise over the years, but surely I am not alone here — anyone whose peculiar mix of genetic material and formative experiences had resulted in a near-expressionless mask could relate. Nature giveth, taketh, etc. You make the best of the hand you’re dealt.
This thing draped over my skull and fastened by muscle is also a not-too-bad public transportation face, a kind of wretched camouflage, which would come in handy on my trip to Atlantic City. Flash this mug and people didn’t mess with you on buses, and this day I was heading to training camp. I was being staked to play in the World Series of Poker for a magazine, and my regular game was a five-dollar buy-in where catching up with friends took precedence over pulverizing your opponents. I had to get in shape.
There was no question about taking a bus. I’m of that subset of native New Yorkers who can’t drive. Every spring, I made noises about getting my license, and I checked out the websites of local driving schools, which as a species embodied the most retrograde web design on the internet, real Galapagos stuff replete with frenetic logos and fonts they didn’t make any more, the HTML flourishes of the previous century. How could I give my money to a business with so incompetent a portal? My wife and I owned a car, and she drove us everywhere, which came to be hassle. I used to joke that I was afraid of getting my license — that I was at a point in my life that the first time I got behind the wheel, I’d just keep driving. The first couple of times I made this joke, people laughed. Then maybe my delivery began to falter, there was a change in tone, and they’d look around nervously, peek over my shoulder for another person to talk to. My wife had the car now. We got divorced four days before.
I’d been looking forward to a descent into some primo degradation to start my trip, a little atmosphere to match my mood, but of course the Port Authority was cleaned up now, like the rest of the city. In the daytime, anyway. Across the street, the shining New York Times tower watched over the entryway, a beacon of truth and justice and Renzo Piano, and inside the terminal corridors the stores were scrubbed nightly, well-buffed, the reassuring and familiar faces you’ve shopped at plenty of times, Duane Reade, Hudson News, the kiosks of big banks yet to fail. I could be anywhere, starting a journey to any place, a new life or a funeral.