Saturday, July 31, 2010

Ghetto Birds

By Pauly
Los Angeles, CA

The ghetto bird buzzed our apartment building. I didn't pay attention to the first two passes. The third one was close. Too close, hovering over our apartment building.

"They know I'm here," said Benjo as he stood up and walked over to the window in our living room.

Benjo has been our house guest since Sunday. He's stayed with us a few times before in the slums of Beverly Hills. He's used to the idiosyncrasies of the neighborhood that's just a stone's throw away from Beverly Hills. He was half-joking but with a tinge of concern on his face as the ghetto birds circled overhead. Me? I was curious. Nicky? Seemed uninterested and more concerned with her game of Shuffleboard on her iPad, which at this point has become one of her appendages.

The slums of BH is a relatively safe neighborhood. If anything, we're probably the biggest threats on the block, but in this instance the police were looking for someone else.

Nicky and I hear helicopters all the time, usually the ones that we hear during the day are news or traffic copters. The intimidating sounds of police choppers whomp whomp above during the evenings and sometimes you'll see a spotlight shining down somewhere a few blocks down. The biggest drama we experienced happened a few months ago when someone was shot and murdered on the other side of Crescent Heights. Choppers, both law enforcement and entertainment related, buzzed for hours.

I walked out to the alley and my neighbor Mack was peering over the fence. He took a drag on his cigarette and pointed down the alley at the structure two buildings down. It was dusk, but the last buts of daylight were fading fast. A spotlight from the helicopter illuminated the back of the building. Two people in the building next door stood on their terraces and shifted back and forth to get a better look at the commotion.

"I'm sort of hoping to see someone start running down the alley," said Mack as the ghetto birds above us continued it's circular path turning right over us. Mack is in the entertainment industry as a cameraman by trade. He pointed out a news chopper nearby.

"Maybe we're live on channel 11?" I said. "That would be cool if we could be seen smoking in the alley while the cops tackled some dude that they were chasing."

We kept a close eye on the back of the building and the area highlighted by the spotlight. We stood along the fence for a few minutes as Benjo and Nicky joined us. I walked to the front of our building to see if there were any squad cars blocking off the street. A few curious neighbors were also doing the same including a young mother who held her child's hand as the little one, maybe four-years-old, pointed up at the ghetto bird.

Two police cars with their red and blue lights on, but sirens mutes, sped through the intersection. Six or seven curious bystanders stood on the corner. I wanted to join them but was sorta worried if one of the criminals, er alleged criminals, broke free and sprinted down the alley towards us. I wasn't worried for Nicky's safety -- I had my camera and didn't want to miss any of the hijinks.

* * * * *

We have a new neighbor. The place across the hall has been a hot potato. I wonder if whoever rents that place simply hates living next to us, or if they have higher standards than we do and get fed up with this dump of a building?

Our previous neighbor was a lawyer in her 30s. She was blonde and drove a grey Jetta. She was never here and spent six nights a week at her boyfriend's apartment. I guess she was making so much money that she didn't mind spending almost $20,000/year on rent in a place she barely slept in. Her smoking hot younger sister drove a BMW and often stopped by to feed her lonely cat. We used to hear the loud meows through the walls. Sometimes the cat stood in the window in front of the blinds flashing a sullen look at me as I passed by.

We liked our old neighbor because she was never around and didn't mind that we'd be up late and that the alley often smelled like Reggae Fest. She left because of the shitty condition of the building. She skipped out in the middle of the night when she and her boyfriend quickly moved out all of her stuff at like 2am. A few weeks later we noticed an eviction notice on the front door. The place had been vacant for several months while the landlord did a bunch of annoyingly loud repair projects like redoing and sanding the hardwood floors.

Our slumlord rarely fixes shit, which ticked me off because he never gave us any warning when the workers showed up, none of whom spoke English so it was tough to communicate with them because they always thought it was OK to park their vans behind us and block us in. The repairs were always loud and it sounded like they were blasting tunnels on some days, which made it tough to work (I was in the home stretch of the Lost Vegas edits at the time).

This is the same slumlord waited a few days to fix leak in our bedroom room because it fell over Mother's Day weekend and the plumber he has on retainer was in Mexico visiting his mother. Anyway, while we were away for the summer, he fixed a bunch of stuff which means he wants to raise our rent so now he'll have justification. Plus, he got fined by a building inspector and had to fix some random window sills. They worked on those areas, and his crew did a crappy job on patching up the cracks and water marks on the ceiling of the bedroom. He did fix a broken window pane and installed a new bathroom floor. But that's like 1/3 of all of the things wrong with out place. I'm still going to resist a rent increase until everything is fixed. Heck, he should be giving us a discount.

Anyway, back to my original thought... since I started dating Nicky, the place across the hall has sat empty for long stretches of time. A female rabbi in her early 30s lived there for a bit and she bailed. We could tell she wanted no business with us, even though Nicky's former roommate Showcase is Jewish.

Our new neighbor moved in the day before we left for Vegas. He never bothered to say hello or even acknowledge me when we crossed passed in the alley. So he had a peaceful summer while we were gone for 2 months. When we returned from Vegas, we noticed our new neighbor pull up in a Beamer as he parked next to our spot. Ha, our neighbor is a suit and driving a luxury car.

"It's definitely a lease," said Nicky matter-of-factly. "That car seems fitting for our hood."

Just three cars down, a piece of shit that might as well be on cinder blocks sat covered by an garish baby blue car cover. In front of that sat an abandoned utility van. I used to think that the van was a weapons cache for the shady Middle Eastern men who lived across the alley. For a while I was convinced the van housed a bunch of Asian illegal immigrants a la Crash. I have no fucking clue what has been in there, but in four years it's never moved. Neither has the car on the cinder blocks behind it. Gotta love the slums of Beverly Hills. We have a Mercedes, Lexus, and BMW within a twenty foot radius of those two pieces of shit.

I've seen our neighbor a few times and he's yet to say a word to me. I wonder if I was using my powers of invisibility? Or if he's just an ass and typical LA douchebag blowing me off? Nicky nicknamed him "bitter BMW-driving suit" -- which seems accurate.

Well, if he wasn't so thorny, we would have told him to stop by the other night. A couple of colleagues (they actually worked with Nicky or for a subsidiary of one of Nicky's clients) stopped by for an impromptu party: Gloria is from Arizona but had a meeting in LA, while our two other friends, Alex and Remko, are members of the international press. Alex lived in Paris, but he'ss from Australia and Remko is a reporter from Holland. Good folks and it was cool to hang out with them on their last night in LA. So we were definitely loud but our neighbor never complained or called the cops, so deep down he must be an OK guy. Maybe "bitter BMW-driving suit" is just shy?

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

No to Diablo

By Pauly
Los Angeles, CA

The summer in Las Vegas changed me. Happens every fucking year, and not for the better. I often spend the rest of the year repairing the damage to my mind, body, and soul. And when the new year rolls around, I spend every waking hour enjoying my time before I start prepping for the summer in Las Vegas.

I my life had a sun, it would be the summers in Las Vegas because my entire life (Nicky's too) revolves around it.

The overload on stimulus due to working inside casinos for seven weeks and intense brainwashing from living in Sin City definitely affects me in negative ways. I've done what I can to allow myself a mental cleansing on the ride from Las Vegas to Los Angeles, but that's just a minor step into rediscovering myself, something that is impossible under the circumstances. At best, I'm a changed person for the worst and I'm trying to recapture some of the things that will make me "good" again. That's why I always go to Colorado after the WSOP ends in order to spend time with hippie friends with a completely different set of social and moral values, not to mention less-material and more community-based lifestyle choices.

I spend so many somber and isolated moments in the summer. Sure, I'm surrounded by thousands of people at any given time, but aside from a handful of good souls, mostly everyone is a dark hole for everything corrupt in the universe. If anything, I'm constantly being suffocated by my own isolation. I just see things vastly different than my peers and everyone in my industry that I often find myself struggling to make similar connections with people. Weeks of this emotional isolation really wears you down which is why I welcome the journeys to Colorado to hang out with old friends. They help revive and remind me about... me. Well, at least the lost me, the person who got buried underneath a ton of grimy emotional rubble.

Sleeping helps. It's really strange for me to enjoy sleep because I struggle to get 2 or 3 hours on an average night, so whenever I can get five or six solid hours, I view that as a true victory. My body was begging for a shutdown. Even though I took off nine days this summer, those nine days were spent traveling cross country and/or partying my ass off at Phish shows. Even though I had a mental break away from the grind of Las Vegas, my body was still worn down. On one of the last days before we left Vegas, I slept almost 12 hours. I never do that. On a bad week, that's all I get in total. Alas, last week was a time of sleep for me and more importantly without any pharmaceutical enhancements to knock me out. I was that run down that I did not need any. That's how severely low my tank was. I'm glad I did the wise thing and decided to fill 'er up.

I had many other things that I wanted to do last week during the slumberfest (like answer over 1,000 emails), but I stayed in bed as much as possible. By the end of the weekend, or roughly seven days after my assignment officially ended, I was refreshed and recharged. I hadn't felt this good in weeks, let alone months. I didn't do anything else except sleep and most of my catch-up work got postponed, but for a worthy reason. Sleep is luxury item that I am unable to buy, so I seize the opportunity when I get it.

I also didn't write at almost a week. I just couldn't bring myself to sit down at the laptop. A few times I sat down, looked out the window at the alley cat (his name is Diablo) and then I got up to do something else. I wanted to avoid the machines after being handcuffed to one for up to 20 hours a day, and for seven straight weeks. I was having too much fun dicking around on Nicky's new iPad and trying to beat Angry Birds. I really didn't have an urge to fire up the laptop and play online poker for hours on end (a former post-WSOP activity).

I also didn't want to write... just yet. I took plenty of notes on stuff, themes, and stories that I will eventually write. At the least, I was organizing my future writing schedule. As per usual, I have too much to write and not enough time. I signed up for a freelance project in September, but decided to take the rest of the summer off save for one column that I have to write which should not take more than three days (one day each of research, writing, and editing). But most of the stuff I want to write will not earn me a paycheck. I have this space to keep up because I feel uber-guilty about neglecting Tao of Pauly over the last few months. I have fall issues of Truckin' to put together (including new short stories to write). Plus, I still use writing as therapy and I still have all of those random thoughts and lingering issues from this summer that need to be worked out during my morning writing sessions. I wished that I could have totally left behind some emotional baggage in Vegas, alas, one or two pieces showed up on my doorstep.

Instead of writing, I spent decent amount of time catching up with the DVR. I don't watch much TV these days, but three programs that I keep tabs on had begun new seasons: Top Chef, Entourage, and Mad Men.

I'm not a reality show person, and loathe them on principle because I always wanted to be a sitcom writer and reality shows killed the sitcom market. With less writing jobs available, I had zero chance to get into a niche that I had to overcome overwhelming odds in order to get a shot in the first place. So I'm not much of a reality show person, however, I'm a food pornographer. I'm hooked on Top Chef, especially because I figured out how to gamble on it thanks to Aussie Garth who devised a point system which allowed us to have a fantasy Top Chef pool.

Entourage has always been a favorite, and ever since I loved to LA and started dating someone who used to work in the entertainment industry, I now have a deeper appreciation for the show and laugh at the LA-themed inside jokes and I'm even starting to get the obscure Hollyweird references. This town is filled with Johnny Dramas, and Lord knows how many poker equivalents to Johnny Drama that I know.

Mad Men is a show that I got into over the last year -- but only by default. It's a weird story so here it goes... I usually have one random show that I follow, and only one due to lack of free time and the fact that I don't have a conventional Monday thru Friday/9-5 schedule. Since I was never a Lost fan, it was Heroes for me. The show came out just when I started my job in poker so I used to watch it on the road, a few episodes at a time on my laptop while stuck on airplanes or in random hotel rooms. I quickly got bored of Heroes when the writing went to shit, so I jumped over to Breaking Bad and got sucked in after the first season. For some reason, I kept losing more and more interest in the one-dimensional characters and redundant storyline as season 2 progressed. I went from being a hardcore junkie waiting for it to come one every week to someone who would dick around on the internet with it on in the background, either online poker or reading email while Nicky attentively watched it. It came to a point when I stopped watching completely. Around the same time, I switched AMC dramas and got hooked on Mad Men. Nicky knows the actor who plays Don Draper (friends of friends), and he had struggled for a decade before he caught his big break. Despite knowing one of the principles, Nicky also mentioned that a lot of the production crew and writing staff were vets from The Sopranos. Mad Men slowly warmed up to me I guess the opposite happened to Breaking Bad -- I started hanging out in the living room when Nicky watched it, but not really paying too much attention while I grinded out a few online poker tables. After a few episodes of Mad Men, I started paying more and more attention. Since I caught the bug smack in the middle of season 3, I did what anyone else would do -- I bought season 1 on DVD and eventually watched it all. I had to postpone my Mad Men addiction while I finished up Lost Vegas. As soon as I was done, I sat on the couch and smoked hash for 2 days straight as I watched all of Season 2 and re-watched Season 3 in order to get up to speed. Heck, even before the new season began, Nicky and I watched the last 2 or 3 episodes from last season just to jog our memory about the storylines.

After I caught up on the boob tube programs, I finally tore into Hack, a book that I've been wanting to read that was penned by a former NYC cab driver, who happens to be a Jewish lesbian from the burbs. I used to read her blog before she became one of those fortunate bloggers who landed a book deal off of the content on her site. I was a little jealous, but at the same time thrilled because I always thought she was a compelling storyteller. Lucky for me, I read most of it while my feet were buried in the sand at Zuma Beach in Malibu. The waves were crashing all around me as I turned the pages, staining some of the corners with oily residue leftover from applying suntan lotion. I eventually finished it when I got home. It was formerly in the "TO READ" pile but I since moved it to "SEND TO FRIENDS" pile.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Where I Work...

By Pauly
Las Vegas, NV

If you were wondering what the two-level pressbox looked like, here's where I've been working almost every day since the end of May.

Les Miserables - the French press

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Radio Free Pauly: Lost Vegas Edition

By Pauly
Las Vegas, NV

I recorded a couple of radio spots over the last few days.

On Monday morning, I appeared on a very special episode of Poker Road Radio -- The Gavin Smith farewell episode. For non-poker people... Gavin Smith is a hysterical hard-drinking Canadian pro who has been one of the long-time host of Poker Road Radio (along with co-host and hetero-life-partner Joe Sebok). He's stepping down and the gang gave him a send off. I appeared at the end of the broadcast to plug Lost Vegas.

Listen to Poker Road Road's Gavin Smith Farewell Episode. My interview starts just before the 41 minute mark.

Over the weekend, I sat down with the venerable Jesse May (who wrote the best piece of poker fiction in the history of gambling literature - Shut Up and Deal) for his program, The Poker Show. We chat about Lost Vegas

Click here to download the show
. (Right click and Save As)

Click here if you just want to listen to the show and read more background info. My spot starts at 31:50.

Friday, July 09, 2010

Free Shipping for Lost Vegas

By Pauly
Las Vegas, NV

Click here to buy Lost Vegas. There are free shipping options available for U.S. residents. Take advantage of that discount and order your copy now!

You can officially buy a copy of Lost Vegas: The Redneck Riviera, Existentialist Conversations with Strippers, and the World Series of Poker.

If you have any questions, please visit the FAQs section.