Monday, April 20, 2009

The Vicodin Diaries Vol. 3: Stray Dogs, One-Armed Bums, Paint Huffers, and Bar Fights

By Pauly
Mar del Plata, Argentina

Editor's note: This portion of The Vicodin Diaries originally appeared on the Tao of Poker. Feel free to check out Vol. 1 and Vol 2...

* * * * *

Although the Brazilian models busted out on Day 1a, they returned on Day 1b and played in a second chance tournament. Those tables ran right in front of media row. Nicky scoffed at me as I wiped the pool of drool that collected on my clothes. Otis flatly refused to look up in order to avoid mega-braless-Brazilian model-tilt.

"Have you seen the amount of beer that those Brazilian models have been consuming?" said Otis at one point.

They chugged beer like it was apple juice. I was in awe.

The state run casino was housed in a sprawling complex of brick. You passed through heavy revolving doors and walked up a marble staircase, sort of like entering a palace. My hotel had similar doors and bellboys strategically positioned themselves in front of the doors. Their sole purpose in life? Pushing the revolving doors for patrons. Their extra shove definitely helped especially when you carried around a lot of gear.

There wasn't an infestation of feral dogs, but a handful randomly roamed around the square in front of the casino. One dog in particular, a gaunt German Shepherd, took up a position right in front of the casino. The starving canine laid down near one of the revolving doors. The security never bothered to shoo it away and the first time I saw the pooch, I honestly thought it was dead.

I'm not an overly superstitious person, but the mere act of stepping over a dead dog to enter a casino could not have been good mojo. Alas, my fears were nixed. The dog was sleeping or that was his way of trying to hustle some scraps of high quality yet overcooked Argentinian beef from sympathetic gamblers.

The casino had three separate revolving doors and a one-armed panhandler sat on a milk crate inside the doorway. The simpleton mooched cigarettes and random food stuffs. Again, I was sort of surprised that the chain-smoking heavily-armed security did not usher him away. That sort of plight would never be tolerated in Las Vegas.... today. However, if the current economic state of affairs continues to spiral downward towards complete financial collapse in the Untied states, I'm envisioning that sort of desperate scene becoming common place in Las Vegas. Bums and hungry dogs camping out in front of the valet at the Bellagio being ignored and passed over by the few wealthy elite would could afford to pay passage to and from Sin City. Next thing you know it, there will be hungry kids hustling for pennies at traffic lights on Las Vegas Blvd. and lepers taking up shop in front of McCarran airport.

Oh, and did I mention the casino security included chain-smoking cops that were armed to the hilt? In Vegas, you might see the occasional rent-a-cop security guard sporting a six shooter, a taser, or billy club. In Argentina, the security forces were not fuckin' around.

At one point on Day 2, a couple of mean-eyed law enforcement officers stood behind Mean Gene and I as we covered the tournament. They wore black military fatigues with semi-automatic pistols on their hip. I took special notice of their extra ammunition. They were prepared for a serious fire fight if by chance one broke out.

Pray for the best, but prepare for the worst.

A couple of police officers were stationed in front of our hotel (located next door to the casino). There were also two sparkling shiny new ambulances adorned in red ribbons. They contained some PokerStars branding on the side and a sign explaining that they were donated by PokerStars. A nice gift to the local officials to ensure that the tournament ran smoothly, especially after the fiasco in Mexico last December.

I heard a couple of stories about trying to score party favors from different locals. Supposedly the windshield washers at traffic lights were the primary source of yerba. At one point, I was offered to huff paint out of a paper bag. Although I considered the option for a brief moment, I respectfully declined. I have not huffed paint thinner on a street corner since the summer of 1997 (that's a very long story that I'll save for another time) and I had no intentions of going that far off the reservation... at least while the tournament was still running.

On the first night in Mar del Plata, I noticed a sign across the street that said, "Friends." I mentioned that to one of my Costa Rican colleagues and asked if it was a strip club. He said that it looked like a hair salon. Fair enough. But less than 24 hours later, I discovered that the joint was a brothel. The girls cost 80 pesos or roughly $24.


And then there was the guy in the market place selling knives. I almost bought three. By reading enough Jose Luis Borges short stories, I learned that having a bigger knife during a potential mugging almost always thwarted the alleged assailants.

"Dude, you're gonna need this, especially walking around at night," as I stealthily handed Otis and MeanGene a seven inch blade.

I decided against it because the last thing I wanted to do was send those guys on mega-knife-fight-tilt. But just in case something happened to Otis, he asked me to deliver his watch to his first born son back in G-Vegas.
"The way your dad looked at it, this watch was your birthright. He'd be damned if anyone was gonna put their greasy hands on his boy's birthright... And now, little man, I give the watch to you."
I'm glad we didn't have the knives because someone would have gotten stabbed at the wrap party.

We went to a club. Free booze. Lots of weird late 80s music. Everyone was celebrating the end of a tough assignment. Everything was groovy until around 3:30am. I was about to leave when something happened. Apparently there was a drunk guy (not a player but the brother of a player) hanging around the tournament the last few days harassing all the models and some of the female staff. He crossed a serious line at the party and groped someone he should not have been touching... particularly a friend's wife.

When the drunken nimrod was repeatedly warned by my buddy and told to stop, the drunk responded with a sucker punch. It caught my friend off guard and the two tumbled over a couch and fell onto the dance floor right in front of me. I was caught up in the middle of it as everyone on the dance floor parted as the music continued to blast in the club and the two grappled on the ground. My buddy's wife tried to intervene and I was trying to pull her away so she didn't get hurt. Sometimes, things are best left to two guys settling a problem themselves. A near brawl ensued. I expected the security to break it up, but no one was in that part of the club. As soon as another friend pulled my buddy away, the drunken molester bolted. He tried to run into the bathroom with an angry mob of Costa Ricans and Argentinians in pursuit. Luckily the club security caught the drunken molester before the angry mob tore him to pieces. The drunken scumbag was quickly 86'd from the club. Everything happened so fast and there was a ton of confusion. I was glad that Nicky and my friend's wife were not harmed in the fracas. As soon as the fight ended, the dance floor quickly filled up with people dancing... like nothing happened.

Stray dogs. One-armed bums. Chain-smoking federales packing heat. Paint huffing windshield washers. $24 harlots. Beer guzzling Brazilian models. And a good old fashioned bar fight.

Just another Sunday night in Argentina.

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