Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Catman, Policeman and Pusherman

By Pauly
New York City

Mustafa gave me the pills.

One of the benefits of being shot four times, Mustafa explained, was a perpetual prescription to various pain medications and opiates. I can't recall if there's an actual bullet wedged behind his spleen, or if that was part of the urban legend which accompanied Mustafa wherever he went. He was shot for sure. That's no bullshit. If you ever spent time with him, he'd be more than happy to pull up his shirt and show you his different scars. He'd even give you the run down on the ballistics report.

It had been a couple of months since I last hung out with Mustafa. I always see him when I go to NYC. But this instance, when I ran into him last week, he had just gotten out of jail.

"They fast track those Occupy protesters," he said. "There's fucking hundreds of 'em. All processed first. When all the protesters are cleared out and it looks like I'm gonna get called, the fucking cops bring in a new batch. Another fucking hundred hippies. Occupy always gets called before me. They fast track 'em. Easy money for the city. Me? I fucking sat around for three days. Three. Fucking. Days. I didn't take a shit for three days. Not once. I held it for three days."

Mustafa gave me the pills as a gift the last time I was in the City. I left a few behind as an emergency stash, because I can never predict when my back will go out. At the same time, I hid a few at my mother's apartment -- cached in a stack of boxes of old books and Dead bootlegs. Sometimes my mother gets a little out of hand and in order for me to deal with her, I have to be faded to the tits. That's the best way I figured out how to cope with all uncomfortable family situations -- get schwasted and numb to everything around me so I'm able to insulate myself from all insults, critiques, and attempts to goad me into an unwinnable argument. Any kind of discussion with my mother gets twisted and mutilated into a quagmire of circular logic resulting in migraine headaches and the desire to throw myself in front of a bus.

Anyway, Mustafa got pinched for smoking a blunt in the middle of the street. He knew better than to blatantly flaunt behavior like that, but he was wasted and made a terrible mistake. Cops don't care what you do in your own home, but they don't want you to rub in in their faces. That's what happened to Mustafa. He was blazing up at the wrong time and wrong place. When he got pinched, he thought he was being set up or got taken down as part of some vast stake out.

"Are you DEA, FBI? Homeland Security?" he quizzed the cops the moment he was taken into custody. It turned out he was collared by a regular narcotics officer who was looking for someone else but Mustafa happened to walk by him at the wrong time. Let that be a lesson to you kids!

* * *

I didn't come face-to-face with the guy that my brother and I call the "serial killer" -- a weird guy who lives in my mother's building. My brother said he used to see the guy crying in the stairwell at different times. Anyway, I saw the serial killer down the hallway, but purposely slowed down so I didn't have to ride the elevator with him. I lingered when I passed his apartment and it smelled like cat piss. It made me wonder... was he an animal hoarder?

Sure, I've been watching too many hours of hoarding-themed reality TV, but there were a significant amount of old people living in my mom's apartment building. The percentages suggested that at least one of them is an extreme hoarder with a hundred boxes of stuff everywhere and that someone in the building is an animal hoarder, you know, the proverbial cat lady. All signs pointed toward the serial killer as the guy who also doubled as the weird, lazy cat dude who let his cat(s) piss everywhere and multiple towers of crusted cat feces are constructed throughout the apartment.

* * *

It's always mind-boggling to walk around the old neighborhood. Some things change, while others stay the same. The stores that stood the test of time are firm anchors in my fuzzy memory, but then there's new businesses in storefronts that seem strange and out of place to me because that particular space had always been the same thing since I could remember. For example, a local drug store was always in one big white brick building. It was the place to go in the neighborhood for most of the 1980s and early 1990s until the chain drug stores moved in on the racket and the local store was getting squeezed by the big dogs. The had to raise their prices while the chain drug stores undercut everything. I'm surprised the old store stayed in business, but somehow it survived but with a drastic change. The old store had to move a few storefronts down the street to a smaller property. Rents were getting high and they couldn't afford to stay in the same spot. So they consolidated and opted for a smaller store. At least -- it still lives. I wish I could say the same about the book store or the Greek diner.

Yeah, I was bummed out when I saw all the white paper blocking out the windows at the Greek diner. A small hand written sign indicated that the diner had been sold and the new owners would be opening up soon. They didn't indicate a specific date. The place was empty and I was without an opportunity to enjoy the best bacon, egg, and cheese sandwiches on the planet.

Man, I expect the neighborhood to change, but I missed the Greek diner. I used to go in there half asleep, mumble my order, and listen to the old Jewish guys in the back booth argue about sports, specifically verbally castrating the quarterbacks -- Eli Manning and Mark Sanchez. For some reason Eli drew the most ire from the old guys.

Without the Greek diner and access to bacon, egg and cheese sandwiches, I was rudderless every morning.

* * *

I spent a full day wandering around the Met and meandering through Central Park while listening to music. A visit to a museum is something that I do every time I'm in town. If I have the chance, I'll hit up three or more, but even on short trip, I make an effort to pop into the Met to see a few old friends.

Thanks to Mustafa, I got faded on some of his powerful pills, and stumbled through a couple of special exhibits. The Stieglitz stuff was interesting -- a mixture of photographs and friends of his who were painters, but the subject matter was popular because it included Georgia O'Keefe paintings. The special exhibit gallery was crowded, so I rushed through that show. O'Keefe's subversive vag paintings reminded me of the Rhino in Vegas. Alas, I doubt that was her intention -- but when I see her paintings, I can't help but think of -- strippers.

Although parts of the museum were crowded, I found a few empty places where I could sit down and think. Sometimes I got lost in the art, but mostly, I got lost in my own thoughts -- trying to figure out the long term, dreading the near future of Christmas with the family, and letting random flashbacks of my previous lives in New York City enter my bloodstream. I used to fight the waves of memories, but now, I welcome them with open arms. Sometimes they are too immense and I have to sit down to absorb all of the energy that is jogging my memory. It's never easy to explain how/why we get blasted with memories from two or three decades ago.

I spent all afternoon in the museum juggling the variety of emotions that accompanied decades of flashbacks and got lost in the American Wing, which included all of these period rooms, mostly empty aside from a few curious tourists of the German and French persuasion. I hung out in different alcoves in secluded galleries in the Asian Art section after I got a rare batch of claustrophobia when I tried to check out the newly, refurbished Islamic Art galleries.

After an intense visit to the museum, I cooled off by walking through Central Park and listening to a Phish bootleg. Mustafa said to call him in a few days. I hoped he didn't get into trouble again.

Monday, December 26, 2011

New Kindle User? Buy Lost Vegas and Jack Tripper Stole My Dog

By Pauly
New York City

Merry Day-After Christmas everyone!

Were you a good boy/girl this year? We're you naughty, dirty, and got into tons of trouble? Did Santa Claus hook you up with a new Kindle Fire? If so, you're in luck because the e-book version of Lost Vegas is only a few clicks away.

Click here to buy Lost Vegas for Kindle and iPads.

Click here to buy Lost Vegas for the Nook

Click here to buy a print copy of Lost Vegas on Amazon.com.

* * * *

And if you're totally bored and looking for a trashy novel, then indulge yourself with an e-book Kindle version of Jack Tripper Stole My Dog.

I recorded a podcast with Nicky six or seven months ago. She asked me questions about the origins of Jack Tripper Stole My Dog. If you haven't heard it yet, well, here it is via SoundCloud...

JTSMD - Episode 1: The 10-Day Novel by taopauly

* * * *

And if you like opera music, then here's the trailer...

Thanks for all of your support, kindness, tolerance, patience, understanding, and gratitude. Oh, and thanks for the cashola. Every book you buy indirectly supports my drug habit, which in turn fuels my passion to write dark, crazy smut like e-book Kindle version of Jack Tripper Stole My Dog. Keep supporting the arts and I'll keep churning out cheese-slathered tripe.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Advice to Chip Bitch and Recent College Graduates

By Pauly
San Francisco, CA

It's a little strange what happened in the poker world the last few years, especially after the Poker Shrink retired, because I became the resident head shrinker at the WSOP. I was the on-site psychiatrist in the press box. It happened because I was one of the veterans in the industry with the most experience (and if I wasn't going through what they went through, I knew someone who was faced with a similar situation) and more importantly -- because I had access to a cornucopia of pills.

On a typical day at the WSOP in Vegas, I usually spent at least an hour talking to different friends and colleagues about a variety of topics. I mostly listened because most of the time, people don't want actually answers -- they just want someone to listen to them work things out in their head. More often than not, I dispatched words of encouragement telling them to focus on the light at the end of the tunnel. Unlike life, when you never knew it would end, the seven-week long WSOP had a finish point. So as long as I could get everyone focused on something positive, I felt as though I did my civic duty.

Part of me felt compelled to help friends and colleagues because deep down I wish I had someone to give me words of advice, especially when I was stuck in a rough spot. I had a few mentors along the way like John Caldwell and Flipchip, but never had a consistent go-to guy (or girl) that I could chat about my woes and fears.

Anyway, over the last few years, I found myself mentoring a couple of the younger writers/reporters that came through the biz. One of them, Chip Bitch, just graduated college. Our little side kick is all grown up now. He's come a long way from the days when he worked for peanuts (literally: zero dollars) and snorted crushed up candy for peanuts (literally: zero dollars). Chip Bitch posted something where he reflected on what it's like to be a college graduate and taking his first steps in the real world. He thanked a small group of my colleagues for keeping him on the right track over the last few years. Check out his post... Thanks.

I wanted to give him some words of encouragement in a comment, but realized I was getting a little too verbose, so I decided to post my thoughts here. Anyway, in honor of Chip Bitch, here's a list of 10 Things I Wish I Was Told When I Graduated College....
1. There is no permanent record...unless you count the Echelon project that has downloaded every single email, DM, text message, and whatever update you posted on Facebook.

2. No matter how much you've drank and no matter what you've ingested, smoked, or snorted... you CANNOT fly.

3. Contrary to what she said, she actually faked 98% of the orgasms.

4. You're professors drank as much, if not more, than you. Many of them we're popping pills... just before class.

5. Dick Cheney shot JFK. Courtney killed Kurt. The "Moon" landings were real.

6. Always wipe and stay off the (crack) pipe.

7. Avoid the shrimp and seafood in any buffet that cost less than minimum wage.

8. Read every day. Just because you're done with school doesn't mean you have to end your education. Your mind is a terrible thing to waste on The Jersey Shore.

9. As Polonious said in Hamlet, "Neither a borrower nor a lender be." Don't loan friends money. More importantly, credit cards are evil. If you can't afford it, then don't buy it. If you really want it, I suggest that you steal it. Whatever you do, don't charge it. Banks/credit card companies are more ruthless than the mafia. Don't become a debt slave.

10. People generally suck and will always let you down. Don't sweat the small stuff. Don't worry... just be yourself.
I hope some of this helps. But no matter what you do, never forget rule #2. Oh, and the ubiquitous Golden Rule of Las Vegas.... don't get rolled by a hooker.

Wednesday, December 07, 2011

Four Haikus: Lost Vegas

By Pauly
Las Vegas, NV

Photo by Flipchip

Four Haikus - Lost Vegas

Stale cigarette smoke
Boulevard of broken dreams
Cowboys shooting dice

Wafting puke odor
Bright lights of white trash city
Cheap liquor cheap thrills

Porn slappers on post
Hustling cocaine-eyed strippers
Hooker or a ho?

Cougars and hipsters
Desperate degradation
Vast cesspool of filth

Thursday, December 01, 2011

Divisidero Dog Fight

By Pauly
San Francisco, CA

Several friends asked me when I was going to write lengthy diatribes about living in San Francisco. I appreciate the interest but I'm in "L-I-V-I-N" mode right now when I soak up as much experience as possible before I sit down, patch my bones, and write about the previous few months.

Soon come. The SF stories will be coming soon. But for now, here's a random tidbit that I acquired wile wandering around the dirty streets of San Francisco...

* * *

I was almost attacked by a cougar carrying a wicker reindeer. I had been holed up writing all morning and afternoon and needed a break. I went outside to grab a cup of hot chocolate from the corner cafe. On my way, I nearly collided with a peeved scion that almost gorged me with a wicker reindeer.

What the hell is wicker anyway? All I know is that you can't smoke it. I gleaned this intel NOT by personal experience, rather from someone I know who once attempted to smoke wicker. Or maybe it was marijuana soaked in PCP? I forget. Either way, wicker will not get you stoned.

Cougars, on the other hand, are detrimental to your health in Lo Pac, which is my nick name to Lower Pacific Heights. It's San Francisco's equivalent to Beverly Hills Adjacent or the Slums of Beverly Hills.

The coug bolted out of one of the many antique stores situated around the corner from my apartment. She was carry a big, white wicker reindeer with a nifty red bow tied around its neck. She screamed into her mobile phone and was too self-involved to see me as she stormed out of the store.

Sometimes, I'm just an invisible peasant.

Cougars abound in my hood. In New York terminology, it's sort of like the Upper West Side meets Park Slope. Plenty of nannies pushing double strollers. Lots of tiny purse dogs shitting all over the streets with owners too lazy to clean it up. The filthy sidewalks are congested with 20-somethings in tight black yoga pants with pastel-colored yoga mats rolled up under their arm. Street parking is non-existent in the LoPac and Nicky is constantly fighting Lexus SUVs and Minicoopers for the last available spot.

I walk everywhere, but had a few close calls -- I was almost hit by a vehicle at least four times. Near misses. One scared the bejesus outta me. I lived in LA for four years and only had once close call in the parking lot at The Grove. But three months into San Francisco, and I've almost got nailed by four different SUVs driven my myopic morons on their phones.

That's nothing compared to the mauling I escaped on Divisidero when two yapping dogs wanted to go at each other. The female owners of the hellions were distracted multi-taskers -- a pair of hipsters: one a member of the brown boot mafia in skinny black jeans and the other was your typical neo-eco-crunchy trophy wife in the ubiquitous tight black yoga pants. Their purse dogs looked like over-sized rats. What have such tiny animals? Why not get a cat?

The women stood on the same corner, backs turned and about five feet apart from each other. The both talked on their iPhones while their respective dogs anxiously clocked each other. The tension thickened as I approached. I wanted to avoid the potential clusterfuck as the dogs snarled and growled at each other. A dogfight was nigh. Blood would be shed on Divisidero. Iconsidered whipping out my CrackBerry to record the fight -- but then I'd get hate mail from PETA for supporting cruelty to animals.

Instead, I foolishly tried to walk in between the distracted women at the same moment their dogs lunged at each other. The brown-booted hipster yanked on her leash and her dog yelped. The woman in yoga pants dropped her cell phone to grab her dog when it attacked the cuff of my jeans. That little fucker almost chewed up my Achilles.

Small dogs in Lo Pac. What's the fucking point?

Our downstairs neighbor has a big-ass dog. BIG. DOG. How big? It bangs up against the front door whenever someone is outside. The big dog scares the shit out of the mailman. Some of them are afraid to deliver mail. I'm convinced my packages are always late because of the monstrous, fear-instilling dog.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Jack Tripper Stole My Dog - The Podcast and Trailer

By Pauly
San Francisco, CA

Six months ago I recorded a podcast with my girlfriend and she asked me questions about Jack Tripper Stole My Dog. I recently re-uploaded it to Sound Cloud. If you haven't heard it yet, well, here it is...

Jack Tripper Stole My Dog - Podcast Episode 1: The 10-Day Novel by taopauly

* * * *

If you haven't seen the epic trailer, here it is...

Jack Tripper Stole My Dog would be a great stocking stuffer! The novel and Kindle version are both available on Amazon.com.

Sunday, October 02, 2011

Risky Bizness

By Pauly
San Francisco, CA

A lesbian flirted with me.

It's happened before, but never in a grocery store. It had been a while and was so taken aback by the situation that I forgot to smile. Hey, everyone likes to be wanted, right? Especially by lesbians. I assumed this would happen frequently in San Francisco, a city that has become a haven for lesbian activity, but, I was unprepared for any sort of banter over chocolate milk of all things, especially with short-haired lesbians that usually want to beat me up for having a cock swinging between my legs, and not flirt with me.

I blame the special atomic brownie I had ingested a couple of hours earlier. I probably should not have been out roaming around the streets of San Francisco and interacting with the public during those highest levels of toxicity. I probably should've just stayed home and zoned out in front of the TV flipping back and forth between college football and the baseball playoffs. Alas, my sweet tooth got the best of me. I craved two things that we didn't have in the apartment: Joe-Joe's and chocolate milk.

If you have never been to Trader Joe's, they sell cookie product that is crack-like. It's a knock-off version of an Oreo called Joe-Joe's. They taste delicious and are slightly more healthy than the typical Oreo. Sure, if you eat 20 in a sitting, that's bad for you, but one or two Joe-Joe's ain't gonna kill anyone. They also make a second kind of Joe-Joe's with special chocolate covered filling. Yeah, now you know why I'm addicted to boxes of Joe-Joe's. Chocolate plus chocolate. Yeah, those delectable cookies are packaged in boxes which has a cute little toucan on the front. I assume his name is Joe and those are his fucking cookies. I really don't care for semantics when it comes to stoner food stuffs, so I never spent more than two seconds inspecting the box before I tore it open.

An open box of Joe-Joe's gets eaten within a few hours in my apartment. I could blame my roomies Halli and Nicky for devouring the cookies while I'm not looking. Sometimes I have to hide the boxes or they will get devoured by folks when they stop over on Monday nights to play poker.

Or maybe there's an invisible ghost that floats around, or a grey alien colony behind our house that sneaks in while I'm sleeping to polish off the rest of the cookies.

Anyway, with a Yankees game (or moreso the continuation of a rain delay from game 1 which lasted 23 hours) on the agenda, I had to make sure I had a proper snack to keep up my inflated energy levels during the baseball game. Hence, why I actually snuck out and wandered around Trader Joes during a worst possible time -- when it was super crowded, like it always is. Some reason, Saturday afternoons are hell at Trader Joes because hipsters, hippies and parents with strollers converge on the local grocery store in my neighborhood.

Busy super markets were not designed for fucked up people. Yes, those 24-hour mega-stores are perfect for stoners and drug fiends during late night "I got the munchies" runs at 2am when the store is practically empty and you can roam the brightly-lit aisles without fear of bugging out other customers because you reek like weed and eyeballs are bright fucking red.

The Trader Joes in my hood is not designed for intoxicated freaks at 2pm, right around the time the brownie kicked in and minor hallucinations bombarded me as I walked down the street. Whoever made the atomic brownie, specifically designed for medicinal marijuana cancer patients, was right to advise me to only eat half.

I took one step into Trader Joes and was already miserable because I got stuck walking behind a very rotund lady. I was a little slow to "hit the hole" whenever a small gap of space opened up. The New Yorker in me often feels like a running back in a crowded situation, ready to be pounced up by blood-thirsty defensive linemen, so I quickly hit a tiny gap in the crowd to avoid the crush. My quick feet became stumps caught in sand. I hesitated and failed to rush ahead, so instead I kinda slowly waddled through the flower section before I got up the nerve to hit the hole when the next gap presented itself in front of a fruit stand. Instead of a smooth transition, I banged into the lady and she almost fell over into the oranges.

"So sorry ma'am," I half-assed apologized, "I'm here to get Joe-Joe's."

I quickly disappeared into the crowd and remembered to get the only thing that Nicky asked for -- a small carton of half and half for her coffee. While in the milk/dairy section I found the mother load of chocolate milk. But not just any chocolate milk, but Trader Joe's super, smooth special organic chocolate milk, that tastes like silk-flavored chocolate cascading down your windpipe.

I'm not much of a milk guy and I'm very paranoid that any Fukushima radioactive fallout with manifest itself in the US by disrupting milk production, but I put my fears aside and pulled the carton of chocolate milk into my basket. I had to have the chocolate milk. So silky...

I rounded up a couple of total stoner items like graham crackers, Joe-Joe's, and chocolate covered raisins. I got freaked out by a hippie girl arguing with someone over the "free trade" cocoa label and quickly abandoned the aisle. I found myself at the front of the store and assessed the line situation. I had fewer than six items, but usually the "12 items or less" was longer than the regular lanes due to angle-shooting hispters. I stood in what I thought was the shortest line and patiently waited for my turn, hoping that everyone around me didn't notice how wasted I was. That's when it was time for me to get my good scanned and the lesbian hit on me.

"Oh my god," said the lesbian, who looked like Tom Cruise circa Risky Business, "I looooove this chocolate milk. It takes so silky and smoooooth, like I'm drinking a chocolate shake."

She said this while caressing the carton before slowly putting it in a paper bag. She then gave me the gaga eyes. I did a doubletake. Did she really say that? Did she really look at me that way? Seriously, I know I was fucked up, but was a lesbian actually hitting on me?

The only thing I could muster up was... "Thanks. This is the best chocolate milk in the solar system. My kids love it."

Yes, I know what you're thinking... I don't have kids (at least that I'm aware of). And no, I have no clue why I blurted that out. I blamed the brownie and the lesbian really knocked me off my game, so much so that I started talking about my imaginary kids. Lesbians have that strange mystical power, and the ones I've encountered love organic chocolate milk. I better get used to that fact, because lesbians are a dime a dozen in San Francisco.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Flash Crash and the Now Moment

By Pauly
San Francisco, CA

Have you ever had a near death experience?

I was involved in a car accident and for a few seconds after impact, I thought I was dead. I know that sounds spooky and out right scary, but because I didn't see any blood anywhere, I assumed that I died and passed over into the next life. When I climbed out of the wrecked vehicle, I could barely feel my body. It was like I was floating. Of course, that was all from the shock and trauma of the incident, but during that minute or so before I started shaking and had "sea legs" and needed to sit down on a curb, I kept thinking, "Wow... so there's a seamless transition between life and the after-life...like, one second you're alive, then WHAM!!!!!!...an SUV plows into you and you die just like that."

It really took a couple of hours before I stopped asking myself, "Wait, am I really alive?"

That realization coincided with aches and pains all over my body. If you've been in an accident, you know what I'm describing -- how it takes a couple of hours or even a couple of days for the weirdest spots on your body to ache. Once the pain pulsated through my body, I knew that I was still alive. You feel no pain in death right? That's why so many people commit suicide, or so many terminally ill people want assisted suicide -- to get over the intense pain they have in every day life -- to null it, to void it, to become one with nothingness. Of course, the soul is eternal and no matter what, you'll still harbor a bit of pain for eternity until you make peace with yourself.

Then again, the more I thought about the accident, I started to think that maybe I did die and I was feeling pain because I was shipped off to hell. After all, I lived a life that was less than angelic. I called Sin City my home for a while, and heck, I lived in the modern day Gomorrah every summer for two months. I might as well have a Nevada driver's license. Surely those in charge of the afterlife know my vices and proclivities to not-so-pious lifestyle. Maybe I was experiencing hell? After all, it was hot as balls and looked a lot like Las Vegas. Maybe hell is what you despise the most? Sartre thought hell was other people. Maybe hell becomes your greatest fears. For example, if you hate Dave Matthews Band in real life, but when you die, then you get stuck being a roadie for DMB in your alternative hell.

During the millisecond of impact during my accident, I had a strange flash. It wasn't the white light. I want to say I saw sparkles, but it wasn't as cosmic or dramatic like that, rather it was burst of the windows shattering into a million little shards. I didn't have the white light or a have a million warm and fuzzy memories flash before me. It's not how some people describe it -- you know -- "your life flashes before your eyes." Rather, I had a what I would describe as a quick burst of... love.

That's right. Love.

I'm not what you call a sappy person. I respect the past, but I'm someone who lives in the moment. The now. But at the moment of impact in the accident, it's hard to describe that moment which triggered an outpour of deep, emotional feelings of love because I had immediate, almost concurrent thoughts of three people: my brother, my mother, and my girlfriend. I had an immediate memory burst of the people who obviously mattered to me the most, but not so much in the mind, but I kinda felt it all over my mind and body. I guess you can say it encompassed me.

A month after the accident, I had a Reiki Master tell me that I lost part of my soul in the accident because it's a natural thing that sometimes the soul jumps out of your body during accidents or traumatic incidents -- as a means of self-preservation. Whether or not it's true, or whether you believe that hokey spiritual mish mash, it doesn't matter because the person who told me was deadly serious, and I knew something was wrong with me -- I wasn't quite there. Luckily, I was about to see a few Phish concerts, and the band is highly inspirational. I hoped the music or a mind-melting party favors would get me back on track. And yeah, the band and the concerts helped get my soul back. I didn't have to hire a soul retrieval specialist. I just took matters into my own hands.

It's hard to describe that "life flashes before your eyes" moment any other way. It's taken me a few months before I could even begin to write about the accident. And yes, I've been afraid to ask any of my loved ones if they felt a jolt of energy at the precise moment of impact. I don't want to freak them out. The accident was crazy enough and they worry about me as much as is, so I really don't need to be digging into other people's psyches.

Life is strange. The mind is even more bizarre. As I try to find more answers, the more I come up empty handed. But I flirted with the life's razor's edge for a brief moment and walked away with my soul outta whack, my hip all kinds of fucked up, little nicks on my hands and arms, bruised ribs, and a piece of windshield glass that got stuck in my palm for several weeks before I managed to pull it out with tweezers. At that point when the shard was expelled from my palm, I knew it was time for me to mentally heal myself, because I knew there would be a major event happening in the ensuing year or so. I needed to get healthy to help prepare for that defining moment -- whatever it might be.

Now, that defining moment is drawing close. The event is nigh. I can't explain it any other way but the chronic insomnia is as worse as it's ever been. When I do sleep, I'm bombarded with the most bizarre dreams that are too intricate for me to even begin to analyze.

With that said, it's important to take time this week and really figure out what's important in life and stop being irked by the little things. Because when the proverbial shit inevitably hits the fan, you're gonna be kicking yourself in the gonads thinking, "Why did I even waste all that energy on that, when I could have been spending time with the people I care about, or the things that bring me the most happiness."

If I told you a flash was coming soon, what would pass through your mind? Loved ones? Moments of glory? Pangs of guilt on the things you didn't do, or the people you might have hurt along the way?

I know this is a lot to think about, especially from me. Shit, just the other day I posted a video about titties and carrot cake, and now I'm asking you to go hug your kids and step outside and enjoy the moment.

The moment, the now, is all we got.

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Empty Shelf

By Pauly
San Francisco, CA

About a week ago, I sat in my office and looked at my bookcase. It was almost empty save for three or four books. The bookcase was part of a birthday present from Nicky a few years ago. She renovated the space for me so I had a comfortable place to write. At the time, I only had a handful of books in LA but over the last couple of years, I slowly filled up the numerous shelves, so much so that I created different categories. One "cube" had books from authors I knew in real life (like Wil Wheaton, Martin Harris, Jonathon Schanzer, John Hartness) and another was filled with poker books (from authors Johnny Hughes, Michael Craig, Jim McManus, Amy Calistri & Tim Lavalli). Other sections included music/music writing, fiction (Bill Sytron, Tom Robbins, Arthur Nersesian), and "apocalyptia", which can only be described as books about the forthcoming financial collapse, peak oil, the war machine, and the deterioration of civil discourse.

About nine months ago, I realized I had accumulated too many books because one of the few things I spend money on is... books... especially used books. Amazon.com is an evil genius, but they introduced me to the swift ability to buy a book for cheap and under a buck. The scam was in the postage (up to $3 from third-party sellers), but I must've bought almost a hundred used books for under $5 total (including shipping). With Amazon's free two-day Prime shipping, I was able to get books in under 48 hours, which was a blessing because I hated buying books in Los Angeles. If you ever lived in LA, you know how horrible it is to go to a bookstore in behemoth malls like the Grove or Century City, because parking is a fucking chore and you have to fight the over-consuming sheeple just to get a bit of enlightenment. Plus, the bookstore chains were always located in the shittiest spots in these mega-malls because Americans (especially the vapid denizens in Los Angeles) don't read books. Thankfully, courtesy of Amazon, I steadily filled the empty spaces, cubes, and shelves on my bookcase.

In NYC, I had easier access to books because I made weekly trips down to the Strand to read (yeah, I was that guy who clogged up the aisle) and purchase as many used books as I could for $20 (usually 2 or 3, but somedays I got lucky and scored 5 or more). When I was at the lowest of the lowest in the broke-as-a-joke unemployed wanna-be-writer phase just before I got into poker, I used to spend most of my days wandering around bookstores. Before 9/11, I spent at least one day a week at the Borders on the ground floor of the North Tower in the World Trade Center. The rest of my weekday browsing was spread out between the Strand and different Barnes and Noble locations. I read a lot of poker strategy books at the store on Union Square, then went around the corner to play cards in an underground room.

I sat in my office last week and noticed the empty shelves. That was the first time the reality of the move had sunk in. I was finally leaving Los Angeles and got my wish, but for the first time since we pulled the trigger on moving, I had a tinge of... sadness. I looked around the office and realized I will never write there again. I have no idea how many words I wrote at the desk, but that's where I finished off Lost Vegas and re-edited Jack Tripper Stole My Dog. Love it or hate it, I polished off two books in LA and that's something I'll never forget.

The flood gates opened. The room itself has its own memories. Before Showcase moved out, that's where he lived for a few years as a struggling actor in Hollywood. And before that? Who knows how many people sat in the same room (and while in bed and starring up at the ceiling) and wondered if their dreams were going to be fulfilled or come to a scathing halt.

Me? I was living the dream and reached the misty mountain top. As the saying goes, "it's all downhill from there."

I see dreams shattered every summer in Las Vegas, but the City of Angels has its own share of demoralized souls. Everyone seemed so detached from reality. Maybe it's all the botox and spray tans?

I walked into different parts of the apartment including the living room. It was the cleanest I had ever seen it, but it was just a mere skeleton of what it used to be. The picture frames and the good DVDs were already boxed up and driven to San Francisco a few weeks earlier. Our token poker trophies were in storage at Nicky's parents' house.

We're subletting the place in the Slums of BH to a colleague, so Nicky left all of her furniture in the apartment for the meantime. We moved into Halli's massive apartment in San Francisco, which was fully furnished except a bed. Thanks to Dirk Nowitzki and the Dallas Mavs, I won enough money betting on the NBA finals to fund a new bed, which I need for my aching hip and back. But aside from that, we escaped the headache of moving a shit ton of furniture up North. Besides, whatever Halli didn't have, we could buy disposable Swedish furniture at Ikea.

The only items in LA that I owned -- a desk, chair, and bookcase. All three items Nicky bought me for a birthday-office-renovation-surprise. That all stayed behind for now. Oh, and I forgot about the futon I bought (the only thing in the apartment which I actually purchased), which also served as the guest bed. Benjo used it the most over the last few years when he crashed in my office whenever he came to visit. He even worked on the French translation of Lost Vegas sitting in the same spot where I penned the manuscript.

I guess the real weirdness will happen in four to six months when we have to make an official decision on San Francisco and figure out what to do with Nicky's furnishings and my office stuff. Do we stay in SF and sell all her furnishings on Craigslist? Do we go back to LA? Or is it time to move to Colorado? I won't have answers to that for a few more months of living in our new place and new city.

Alas, LA is in the past, San Francisco is the present.

Friday, August 26, 2011

Intimidating Pancakes

By Pauly
Los Angeles, CA

The old man with the walking stick glared at me. I paid no attention and eyeballed the betting lines for tonight's baseball games. The bookies set the run total for the Yankees/Baltimore game at 10.5....at least 1 run higher than normal. That meant only one thing -- the lackluster A.J. Burnett was taking the mound for the Yanks.

The old man's wife also glared at me with mean eyes that had not been hugged since the early days of the Reagan administration. I sat in their usual seat and methodically carved through a stack of chocolate chip pancakes. Instead of sitting at a different table or booth, they kinda made a scene, or at least tried to. I ignored them and enjoyed my breakfast. The staff ignored them and continued on with their morning duties.

The SoCal sun battled through the feisty marine layer and shiny rays poker through the clouds. The biggest drawback to moving to San Francisco is the lack of an every mornin breakfast joint, because the closest diner to us is an utter shithole. I'm gonna miss the coffeeshop around the corner from us in the Slums of Beverly Hills.Yes, one of the best things about living in Los Angeles is the local coffeeshop. I eat there as much as 5 or 6 times a week when I'm not on the road and have an extended amount of time in LA. Lord knows how much I've written about the coffeeshop on my blog, but it's truly an essential part to my daily routine.

I'm sure the old couple has been coming into the coffeeshop for much longer than someone like myself, but I betcha I tip better than they do, which is why I get more attentive service than they do. If a server knows they have a good tipper in front of them, they will put forth a much better effort. In short, good tippers bring out top notch service.

I'm a low maintenance customer -- just keep filling up a glass of iced tea and let me read a book in peace and the world is a perfect place. I eat rather quickly and usually never linger because I want to go back home for a smoke and then sit down in my office to write. On some mornings, I've been writing for a few hours before I take a walk and grab grub. But most of the time, I'm thinking about what I want to write about when I walk through the front door. For example, on my way home this morning, the old couple popped into my head.

I didn't like their smug attitude and sense of entitlement. There's a pair of two tops up front. When it's busy, I sit at the counter. When it's not busy, I sit at the tables because it has the best light in the coffeeshop. The cops always sit in the back room or in the last booth. The weird old guys sit up at the counter. The mechanics from the auto body shops in the area squeeze into the booths. They always eat in trios or quartets and two of them are always on the obese side. I never understood how a mechanic could be fat, how the hell do they squeeze underneath cars and such?

The old couple sat up front at a specific table, and I was sitting in their spot, with the other table wide open and a couple of booths available as well. When I noticed they were trying to intimidate me with sighs and glances in a weak ass attempt to speed up my meal, that irked me. I slowed down the consumption of chocolate chip pancakes. I took longer glances at my CrackBerry in between bites. I had over 124 un-read emails for four different accounts and I slowly sifted through them all.

Had the couple been nicer about it, I would have probably would have offered to switch spots. I noticed the staff didn't rush to greet them or say much to the grumps. They served the grumps for over a decade and we not fighting for the right to serve them. The grumps glared at me. Their rude sense of entitlement made me flip the switch from breezy easy-going nice guy, to "fuck you fucktard.... I got here first."

Besides, it could very well be the last time I ever ate at the coffeeshop before I moved on. The least they could've done was suck it up for five minutes and politely wait for me to finish my meal. The last breakfast. Instead, they tried to intimidate me over pancakes.

The coffeeshop is something that I'll never forget about LA, it's something I will miss dearly, and my last visit was soured by the pissed off old couple. Oh well, now I'll have to pop in on a weekend (which I rarely do because it's so fucking busy) to say goodbye to the Mexican cooks and members of the family who owns/operates the joint.

Yeah, I know I moan about the plasticity of LA and the traffic, which everyone from NYC bitches about when they migrate to the City of Angeles, but I do have a few things that I'll miss about LA. In case you were wondering about the list....
1. Breakfast time in LA... both the coffeeshop (daily) and O'Groats (weekly) are among my favorite places to eat in the city. The bacon at O'Groats is a Top 3 all time.

2. Sunshine. The welcomed warmth of the sun as it hits my face, protected my Retro-turtle Ray Bans. The warm weather is why so many people put up with all the bullshit of living in LA and maybe if I was 10-15 years older, I'd welcome the warmth without the sticky, muggy humidity of the East Coast and Deep South.

3. Palm trees. Waking up next to my girlfriend and looking out the bedroom window to see palm trees shooting up out of the ground is how my scatter-brained mind, constantly on the road, helps trigger a reminder that I'm in LA. Sometimes I'm traveling so much for work, I'll wake up in a slight panic because I don't recognize where I crashed and don't know what city I'm in.

4. In-N-Out Burger.

5. Singers singing. Either the violin girl upstairs working on vocals or the waitress/aspiring actress across the alley singing in the shower or practicing harmonies at random times. The waitress/actress had a roommate, who also was in a holding pattern while she waited tables until she got her big break as a singer. Well, she got her first taste of the Big Time and the clock started ticking of her 15-minutes of fame when she finished in the Top 10 of American Idol. Ah, that's the magical allure of Hollywood Dreamers... one day you're bitching about getting stiffed in tips, and the next day you're covering Elton John songs on national TV.
Yep, that's all I got for now.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

The Daily Weirdness in the Slums of BH

By Pauly
Los Angeles, CA

The ebbs and flow of our building. Maybe it's the transient nature of the neighborhood -- the Slums of Beverly Hills -- where very few people stay here for very long. Maybe it's the physical limitations to living in the actual apartment building. It's over 60 years old and it's rundown. Sure, it's in better shape than the bug bed infested slum next door with all of the weird Persian people talking on cell phones at odd hours, and a husky woman hanging out of her window and chain smoking menthols.

The only reason Nicky stuck around as long this in our apartment was because of the price tag. She originally moved here because of the proximity to where she worked in Beverly Hills. Even when Showcase moved out to WeHo and I officially ended my vagabond status and moved some stuff in, I was always trying to get Nicky to think about some place else. Unfortunately, the timing was never right because we were constantly on the road for work, or I needed to stay put to finish a book, and then she lost her steady gig last year. Sure, there were other neighborhoods in LA where I would have rather lived but those places are more expensive, rivaling NYC, and if I was going to pay NYC rent prices to live in a bungalow in the Hills, then I wanted to live in NYC.

Our two-story boxed building in the Slums of BH has seven units: 2 two bedrooms, 4 one bedrooms, and one studio. We have six parking spots (each spot can fit two vehicles) and the last fucker to rent the apartment gets shit out of luck with a space and has to settle for street parking. During Spaceman's first visit, he said the alley reminded him of The Big Lebowski. With the exception of the artist renting out the only studio, we've been here the longest. Yep, long lasting tenants. No wonder the landlord doesn't like us too much because we probably pay the less than he knows he could get if he fixed it up and found some hipsters or rich kids to rent it out for redonkulous prices.

Two of the front units, both single bedroom units, have been constantly changing, shifting, never static. When we returned from Vegas, I noticed that both front units had brand new tenants moving in their stuff -- both were couples renting out one bedrooms. Gone from the first floor was the sad French lady with thousands of cooking books who smoked Virginia Slims. Also gone from the second floor was the ginger hipster with his Asian girlfriend, who looked like she was 16.

The last time our landlord had a pair of vacant apartments, it took him several months to finally rent them both out -- and this was with the assistance of a rental agent. We suspected he was asking too much above market price, especially because the 60-year old building is in a major demand for an overhaul, especially the plumbing, which is absolute shit. But... maybe he finally lowered his price? Besides, times are tough and both vacancies were snatched up rather quickly.

I haven't seen much of the first couple, a pair of twenty-somethings, save for one of them throwing out trash one night. They looked like post-college kids, but I didn't see anything flashy or extraordinary about them. Nicky and I met the other couple when they moved in - a skinny guy in his late 20s who shacked up with an older woman in her late 30s or early 40s. She had the day job and used the solo car, which left him with a skateboard as his only mode of transportation. I've seen him with it a couple of times in the mornings, as he skated away with a bag and a saxaphone case slung around his shoulder. I haven't heard him practice at all. Maybe he smuggles shit back and forth in his sax box?

The hipster couple above us have been mellow this summer compared to the tempestuous and furious verbal jousts we were used to hearing all Spring. The recent newlyweds who were fighting almost nightly before we left for Vegas. I guess their "moving to LA from the East Coast" honeymoon was over, and the gloves came off. Some of the arguments were vicious screaming matches. Stressed. They were both stressed about trying to follow their dreams and trying to deal with the harsh grimness of reality. Jobs are tough, especially in the entertainment world. The pay is horrible and you hump shitty day jobs while everyone else around you lives the good life. The LA grind is demoralizing for anyone, even for the few successful artisans.

Since we got back, I noticed the couple upstairs have been both working a lot, so that means less time to worry about money and more money coming in. Money is a dream crusher in LA, well, either the pursuit of money drags you down, or not having enough money to survive causes intense emotional pain -- both situations are disastrous for dreamers trying to make a name for themselves in Tinseltown.

The hipster couple upstairs must think that Nicky and I are getting along great, because they never hear us fighting anymore, but that's because we've eliminated a main source of our friction -- living in LA. She finally pulled the trigger on leaving LA, and I finally got my wish -- to live somewhere that isn't Vegas or LA. Yep, that's why we don't argue as much, other than the usual bickering that comes with the territory of any serious relationship in excess of five years.

The guy across the way is still bitter suit guy. He angrily leaves every morning and speeds off in his Beamer, then angrily returns at night only to crank up his TV and watch baseball or Sportscenter. He repeats the process on weekdays and I've never seen him with a female visitor. Either he has zero luck with the ladies or he's a sad homo. Either way, I always saw a dark cloud around him and after spying on him over the last year or so, I've come to conclusion that he follows a sullen routine. No wonder he never says hello. I avoid the pissed off guy as much as possible.

I'm not very friendly with the girl who lives above him. The dark haired in her early 20s and is always wearing the typical restaurant garb -- white collared shirt and black pants. She hasn't been around much so I have to assume she's working lots of shifts at the restaurant. I don't think I've seen her with a guy more than once or twice, so assumed that she liked girls and was having a torrid affair with a female friend who often dropped by her place. They'd get super drunk on wine and scream and laugh a lot. I have a dirty mind, so I assumed they also did lots of lewd things to each other. I dunno how a recent USC grad can earn enough in the food industry to pay rent on a one bedroom in the Slums of BH, pay school loans, and a car payment? Unless... she's dealing phramies on the side. Most likely she's subsidized by her country club parents. I think she'll be moving on soon. 20-somethings have short attention spans. She'll finally move out when finds a boyfriend and she moves in with him, or has enough courage to tell her parents she's a lipstick lesbian and move in with her lover. Otherwise, she'll get frustrated with being a waitress with a meaningless degree in Psychology and eventually get into an awful fight with her parents, then sell her car and move to Bali in protest.

In the meantime, the slumlord who owns the join next door has been renovating different ground floor apartments all summer long, which means there's random workers, all non-English speaking illegals, showing up at 7am and sawing shit and running all sorts of power tools. They greet me every morning, but not really because they are afraid I'll call Immigration and they'll get tossed into a secret ICE facility for three weeks before deported back home to Pakistan, Mexico, and Panama.

Every morning, the alley smells like spoiled milk, cat piss, and turpentine. Ah, I'm gonna miss LA in the summer.... but not really.

The actress/waitress who lives across the alley still sings and that's one of the few things I'll actually miss about living in LA -- my office, especially the open window and hearing the melodious sounds of someone practicing their craft. The hipster girl who lives above us, uses the second bedroom as her practice space and I hear her strumming along on the violin frequently. Those sounds also create a mellow and creative environment when I'm below her pecking away at the keyboard. I'm a sponge and soak up the vibe and energy of people around me -- so if I hear sounds that remind me of noble artistic pursuits, then I welcome those sounds into my ears and I'll let my brain feed off it, which in turn will help fuel my own endeavors.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Out the Front Door

By Pauly
Los Angeles, CA

One week ago, I stepped off a redeye flight from San Francisco and wandered around Chicago's O'Hare's airport bleary-eyed as I struggled to read an email from my French editor, Jerome. I scrolled through my CrackBerry and read about a potential future project. I was surprised and honored because it came out of nowhere. I have no idea if it will even take off, but it was the first non-poker project I heard of in a while that seemed intriguing.

I was supposed to be on vacation and not thinking about work, or more importantly, not worrying about writing because that's what I do 24/7. By the mere definition, a vacation was supposed to be just that -- time away from the grind of the daily activities that cause you grief, heartburn, and insomnia. The hardest part about being a writer is that most of your time is spent connected to a laptop and flirting between real life and the complex, virtual world.

The summer assignment in Vegas always fucks me up both mentally and physically. Two months in Sin City will do that to anyone. This summer was probably the worse in both respects, but at least, I had something positive happen from the summer of hell because I'm finally realizing that I'm the warden who committed myself to live out a life sentence in the asylum. All I had to do was walk out at any time and life would be... different... albeit somewhat normal again.

Sometimes we forget that the biggest obstacles in our lives are the ones we created ourselves, so more often than not we're paralyzed by whatever mental prisons where we sentenced ourselves. It took a couple of painstaking experiences to finally figure a way out -- which is something I had access to the entire time. A way out.

So, now I stand on the other side of life's tunnel....and I feel like the lone survivor in a bad disaster movie. I'm very sore, dirty, and surprised that I'm on this side of things. A lot of folks and dear friends will never get out because they got stuck inside, or they weren't aware of their own demise and got sucked away into the void -- self-imprisoned in the darkened hallways in their minds.

I've been ready to walk the walk. I've been shit talkin' for a while and it's time to really do those things that make a life worth living. For example, instead of bitching about how much I can't stand LA... I'm making the change and moving. That's just the beginning. I'm trying to apply that shift in thinking to my career path. You'd be surprised on how much time I wasted trying to appease others at the expense on my own development. With that said, I've had to make a lot of rough decisions -- sort of rip-the-band aid-off-quickly decisions that hurt no matter what. So, instead of being paralyzed by indecision, it was time to have the courage and balls to make those decisions. Shit, sometimes any decision is better than indecision. The bottom line is that it's not the time to be afraid of making mistakes. Sometimes I have to look like a fool to get to where I want to go.

Hence, the last couple of weeks. Lots of different thoughts rattled around inside my head about projects, places, and the future. So many in fact that I did everything in my power to contain those thoughts to a few trusted people and I avoided posting anything for the public's consumption (on the blogs, Twat-stream, or other tentacles of social media). Sometimes an existentialist crisis is best had in the privacy of one's internal chatter, but at the same time, sometimes it's best to just keep enlightenment to oneself, especially when most people around you don't really want to be unplugged. The herd is always upset by the rogue salmon swimming upstream.

In short, I feel as though I've returned to someone slightly resembling my old self after a couple of months of internal reflection which was both a humbling and frightening undertaking. I've come a long way in a short time and although I've been incredibly lucky in many instances, I also know that I worked diligently to put myself in a position to get lucky. I had a colleague once say, "Never apologize for taking a vacation if you've been working your ass off."

But that's the problem because I've been apologizing to myself over the last few years because I was either working on vacations or felt guilty for not working on them. I learned the hard way that sometimes, a break is a break, and necessary for the future -- both in terms of growth and development, and the necessity of everyone once in a while to stop and sniff the proverbial roses, even if said roses are sprinkled in cat urine.

I took a vacation and for the first time in a while, I really avoided the pitfalls of getting sucked back into the black cloud of conversation that was just within arms reach on the horizon. Some days I feel so far removed from it all that the last few years seems like a daydream. I have to pick up a copy of Lost Vegas and fan the pages to remind myself that all of that actually happened and it wasn't just a dream. Yet other days, when I'm trying to step back to gain perspective, I'm being chased by the dark clouds. No matter were I go, there they are. I can't even ditch my CrackBerry and hide among the hippies without poker rearing its ugly head. Such is life. That's the life I chose to lead and no matter where I go, it'll always be there. Took me a while to figure that out, which is the sad and inevitable result that anyone ever finds when they are trying to flee a problem, places, or a person.

No matter where you go, you can't escape until you finally unlock the doors in your own mental prison.

Snoopy said that I reminded him of Andy, one of the characters from the Shawshank Redemption because I was slowly and methodically plotting my escape one day at a time. Little did Snoopy know, but I could've walked out the front door anytime.

* * *

I finally got some sleep, which I desperately needed after a few months of horrible insomnia. When you're sucked in a pharmie coma for weeks on end due to heavy dosages of medication, you kind of forget what it's like to live every day in the same cloudy, foggy, haze that never goes away. Unless you live in the Pacific Northwest or San Francisco, then you know what I'm talking about when it starts to rain one day and then it's just grey and bleh and drizzly for several months straight before you finally get a bit of sunshine and then summer is around for a while before the depressing cycle repeats itself.

Numb to it all is the best way to describe the daze or the morning after that some friends of mine refer to as "the noon slouch." Shit, I have at least a novel's worth of stories to share about what it's like living in a daze in the City of Angels. Maybe I'll finally sit down to write that book as soon as I leave LA. I always do a better job writing about a city when I remove myself from said city.

Well, for me, I'm hoping this isn't a short-term cycle, and that the most-recent sunshine that has burst through the greyness sticks around for a while. I felt as though I turned a corner in the last few weeks both philosophically and artistically. I've been caught in limbo for a bit and had no idea what was going on, but a sudden wave of clarity washed over me, followed by another and another within a short time. No coincidence that most of these triggers happened on the road, while on vacation, when I'm supposed to be relaxing and not worrying about work. Letting go was the best thing I've done in a while.

Now comes the tough part -- which is implementing a lot of changes I know I have to make, while continuing to adapt/overcome in other areas, while saying goodbye to a lot of things that need to be left behind.

I'm the personification of Aloha. The Hawaiians had it right -- goodbyes and hellos are the same word. It's truly time to be moving along. Hello. Goodbye. Goodbye. Hello.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Hills, Dive Bars, and Walking Around City Streets

By Pauly
San Francisco, CA

I've been in San Francisco since Monday. I won't gush too much about the change in my post-WSOP routine. In the past, I spent a week on the beach in Malibu decompressing with Nicky. This year, we opted for a few days in San Francisco. It was the wise choice.

Our friend Halli lives in Lower Pacific Heights and has the entire second story of one of those Victorians you see on TV and in the movies. We let her crash at our house in Vegas for a couple of days and she wanted to pay us back with an open invite to San Francisco. It was hard to pass up even though we had to head back on the road only three days after unpacking from Vegas. But hell, it was worth it.

I forgot how much I missed living in a real city. LA is a fake city and Vegas is hardly a city -- it's America's playground and a tourist destination, but it hardly constitutes my definition of real city. Think NYC, London, Tokyo. I've always said that I'd feel more comfortable living in Tokyo than having to live in a small town in Iowa. I'm a city guy. That's just how I am, which complicated my living situation in LA the last few years. Let's be honest -- I was only in LA because it's where my girlfriend lived and it was somewhat close to Vegas, which I had to be for work.

But San Francisco... is definitely more akin to my personality than the plasticity of Los Angeles. Best example is this -- inside of 2 days, I visited more bars in San Francisco than I did living in LA for four fucking years. Yeah, Nicky and I never went out to bars, and if we did it was to see a band at a club or other music venue. We're fans of Stout, but we're really there for the burgers and not the bar aspect of the joint. I think the last time we went out to a different bars was when Benjo was visiting two summers ago and last summer when a couple of colleagues (Remko the Dutchie and Alex the Aussie) stopped by to visit LA. Aside from that, the bars are simply too pretentious to visit. And don't get Nicky started on the annoyance of parking and drinking/driving.

Drinking in San Francisco is a different beast. You can hit up a few bars within a few block radius. Throw in a couple of cabs and some walking, and you can hit up ten different bars in an evening.

Nicky and I have been to San Francisco numerous times so we didn't give a shit about doing nay tourist stuff. We had a chance to stay with Halli and experience the city as a local. We basically asked Halli to do what she usually does and we'd just tag along. Monday night was a poker game with her brother and close friends. Tuesday night included bar hopping -- in the Haight, in Lower Haight, in Lower Pacific Heights, and the Marina. I made a joke that we think Halli's an alcoholic because in two days the only places she showed us were dive bars. In her defense, that's what I requested.

Bars in Vegas are either bars in casinos that hav video poker machines embedded into them, or it's a trendy, chic club with red ropes and long ass lines to get in. Neither are not my speed. I'm not a club guy and I'm not an alkie/degen slots player that I'd spend all my time at those types of casino bars. Alas, I'm not usually drinking unless it's at a Pai Gow table with friends.

In Denver, the Joker introduced us to a couple of cool spots where you could hang out and listen to kick ass music without dealing with the uber-Vegas party scene or stuck-up lounge LA scene. Nicky preferred those bars because she didn't get annoying glances from other chicks judging her on her selection of shoes and purse. Me? I liked Denver bars because you don't have to shout to be heard (no thumping terrible DJ) and you can toke a doobie in the back without being 86'd by a burly security guard.

San Francisco bars have the similar vibe to Denver. Sure, there's a few hipster-laden joints and clubs with ropes that I'd never be caught dead in, but the city has more than its share of places where I'd be comfortable to drink. Halli took us to a few of those places over the last two nights. I'm not much of a bar person, but I definitely enjoyed myself -- especially because I wasn't drinking that much and never felt pressured to keep on drinking. Laid back. That's what I like about going out to have fun. A laid back approach to socializing. Yep, I'm all about kicking back and enjoying life with a small group of people, enlightened and loosened-up by booze but involved in stimulating conversation. The alternative is going out to be seen or heading a specific club to increase your coolness factor, or have pics to brag to your fake Facebook friends.

Then again, I'm approaching 40. You don't go out to bars when you're 40+ unless you're in a mid-life crisis or trying to get laid or an alcoholic. At least, that's how I felt in Vegas and LA. Both cities were blunt about not catering to my needs as a social drinker. That's what I missed about New York City -- because within a ten block radius you could usually find a bar to cater to different groups of people and personalities. Same thing applies to San Francisco. Just a quick jaunt around the San Francisco with Halli and we were aware of so many more fun options.

Ah, enough about bars. How about those hills? Yeah, the hills are tough, especially someone like me with a bum back and sore hip. But luckily Halli lives near the bottom of Pacific Heights so we didn't have any of those monstrous hills to deal with. I definitely enjoyed the ability to walk around the city -- something I never do in Vegas (it's too hot and everything is spread out) and in LA (I'm like the only person walking around sometimes that isn't walking to their parked car). Yeah, whenever I went back to NYC, I also set aside a few hours to just walk around the city and let my mind wander. I always feel as though I write better after those meandering sessions, because it allows me to work out a few things. The alternative is to sit on your ass and nu,b yourself with bad TV shows and handcuff yourself to the machines/intertubes and get caught up in the static stream (Twitter) or wasting hours and hours on random stupid sites like Lesbians Who Look Like Justin Beiber.

Walking around. Hanging out in dive bars. Listening to people make fun of LA. Yeah, it's been a fun few days. I'm actually bummed out that I have to go back to LA, but at least I will return in a couple of weeks to see Phish play in Golden Gate Park. Now, if I can only figure out how to actually stay here longer and ditch the plastic hills of Hollyweird...

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Home Sweet Hollyweird

By Pauly
Los Angeles, CA

"You've been gone for two months. It's good to see you."

That's what the staff at the local coffeeshop in the Slums of Beverly Hills told me when I walked inside for breakfast. A couple of the staff members did a double take when I opened the door -- it was like seeing a ghost -- which freaked me out because I had a near death experience in Vegas and I'm not 100% convinced I'm alive which is why I have moments every day when I think I'm dead and my active experience is not life, but post-life so I'm just haunting my friends and girlfriend.

I never said goodbye to the kitchen staff when I departed LA just before Memorial Day. I never like goodbyes anyway, but the staff at the coffeeshop is used to my odd schedule -- sometimes they will see me every day for a couple of weeks, then I don't show up for a week or so because I'm on the road traveling or working. I lived in the Slums for almost four years now, so they know I leave Los Angeles for two months at the start of every summer for a work assignment. Regardless, they still did a double take when I walked inside. After the initial wave of shock, they welcomed me back.

It felt good to be missed. Being a good tipper will earn you that sort of loyalty.

Even the hipsters upstairs missed me and I don't tip them. Well, at the least they missed my belligerent outbursts that I was prone to during basketball games. As one of them said to Nicky, "It was weird not hearing your boyfriend scream at the TV during the NBA finals."

Yes, I reserved the "Hit your fucking free throws!" vitriol for sessions when I was sweating the game(s) in Vegas at a sportsbook or McFadden's pub with AlCantHang. The upstairs hipsters had a calm and soothing two months of quiet. Luckily football season doesn't start for another month or so, and even then I might not be here when it begins. The upstairs couple still has to deal with my morning routine of opening up all of the windows in the apartment while I write and jamming jazz tunes from different iPod mixes as the melodious sounds spill out into the alley. The sounds inside the apartment help drown out any of annoying sounds of the daily grind in the Slums of Beverly Hills -- from eardrum shattering leaf blowers, the woman leaning out her second-story window and chain smoking menthols while conversing on her cell phone in Farsi, the incessant barking dogs, the random old Asian lady across the way yelling at her deaf husband, and the steady flow of dumpster divers rattling around the recycle bins for beer bottles and soda cans.

I missed LA. I missed the perpetual sunshine and swaying palm trees and the soupy smog and even the jackoff texting while driving his shiny Beamer who cut you off on Olympic Blvd. That's what happens when you loathe Vegas so much, but after another arduous summer, I fled Vegas with a new-found disdain. I'm caught up in a rut that's tough to break out of -- I need Vegas as a hub of commerce. It's the only city where I know I can make money because I'm virtually unemployable anywhere else on the planet (well, with the exception of Paris -- because thanks to Benjo's translation and Jerome's PR strategy, Lost Vegas in French is a huge success -- but as much as I'd like to live in Paris someday, the language barrier is too difficult, plus it's too fucking expensive). Yeah, I'm torn because I need some time away from Vegas for an indefinite amount of time before I return, but that's problematic because Vegas is the only place where I can generate money, and that cash is the fuel that funds group projects, personal writing projects, and travel excursions.

I doubt I'll be spending much time in Vegas in the future and I need a new place for me to hunker down for a while to reflect on life and heal my mind and body. Vegas is the last place I want to be. I don't have time to explain everything right now, but the story will definitely unfold over the next few weeks and months. But for now, all you need to know is -- I'm loving every second I'm in LA, which is bizarre because I can't stand Hollyweird.

There's only two times a year I enjoy living in the City of Angels...
1) Immediately after the holidays when I fly back home after spending Christmas vacation with my family and need to get as far away from my crazy mother as possible, not to mention my body is not used to the frigid New York temperatures because the balmy California sun in January is a welcomed contrast to the dreary winter of discontent on the East Coast.

2) When I return home from Las Vegas after I cover the WSOP during a two-month assignment. It's like getting out of jail because covering the WSOP is like a prison sentence. In fact, my favorite day of the year is not my birthday, or Christmas, or the first day of March Madness, or a Phish festival, or some other holiday -- rather it's the day I leave Vegas with my girlfriend and we drive back to California.
I can't describe the happiness, the jubilation, the excitement of leaving Vegas behind in the rear-view mirror of life. It's a chapter I hope to never re-live, especially backwards in Kierkegaard terms. I'm always drained and exhausted at this time of the year, but this summer was as tough as I ever had it with a couple of unexpected twists and turns. The more I think about it -- 2011 might be the worst WSOP I've ever had since I started covering the most prestigious festival of poker in 2005. The 2007 WSOP was sheer hell because I had one day off and was overworked and underpaid. That'll always be my least favorite year but the 2011 WSOP is edging closer and closer to becoming my worst Vegas experience.

So much happened that future trips to Vegas are in jeopardy. I'm supposed to return in November (for work) and again in December (for play) but if I had to commit to going right now -- I'd opt out of both -- especially the December trip because I could think of a lot more other places I'd like to party with friends than Vegas. That's how much disdain I have for that city that almost killed me a second time. I'm not brave or foolish enough to volunteer to return so quickly. It'll take a huge bag of money to lure me back to Sin City and crawl back into the anus of the beast, but in these difficult times, there's less and less money flying around the poker industry, so I doubt I'll be back for a while unless someone "shows me the money!"

This summer had several highlights that matched many of my favorite Vegas experiences of all time. I guess that tells you how awful the lowlights were -- because even my most favorite memories of this summer were tainted by all of the darkness that engulfed me, my soul, and my brainwaves. Alas, I try to focus on the happy, fun memories from this summer in order to quell the negative thoughts and demons that followed me home from Vegas, a city in the middle of the desert that is nothing more than a black hole for souls. I lost a lot a respect for some colleagues, which happens every summer, because you never really know if you can trust people until they are put to the stress test. It's a necessary process, sort of like Friendship Darwinism, when you see which ones evolve and which ones fail to adapt.

I want to end on a positive note, so I look toward the bright side of life (in a very ironic Monty Python sort of way) because I made a couple of new friends, strengthened older friendships, and mended a couple of broken ones. It's going to take a while before I look back on the last two months on think about the fun and bubbly times, but as the saying goes, time heals all wounds.

What a fucked up world it is when I seeking solace in the City of Angels. Such is life, but I'm thrilled to be home, that is, if I'm actually alive. If Vegas is hell, then I hate to think Hollyweird is heaven. Or then again, maybe this is hell, which means I'm equally fucked.

Monday, July 11, 2011

The Circuit

By Pauly
Las Vegas, NV

My colleague Alexander Bradley (an Aussie ex-pat living in Paris) started an amazing project called The Circuit, which focuses on life on the international poker circuit. Alexander focused on Europe the last few months but has since arrived in Vegas to shoot a couple new covers, in addition to creating video versions for PokerListings.

Here's my cover of The Circuit...

And here's the video...

Check out more editions of The Circuit.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Jack Tripper Stole My Dog Now Available for Kindles and iPads

By Pauly
Las Vegas, NV

The moment hath arrived. Great news to all of you Kindle junkies.... Jack Tripper Stole My Dog is now available to download for only $8.88!

Click here to buy your copy of JTSMD for a Kindle.

The e-book can be read on iPads (make sure you have a Kindle app).

The NOOK version is still a few weeks away. Thanks for your patience!

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Jack Tripper Stole My Dog = Now Available

By Pauly
Los Angeles, CA

The moment has finally arrived. You can now buy a print copy of Jack Tripper Stole My Dog. The best way is to use this link:
Please note the Kindle/e-book version will not be available until mid-June.

In case you missed the trailer...

Click here to buy a copy.

Here's some info like FAQs, the website, Facebook page, and @JackTripperBook on Twitter.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Jack Tripper Stole My Dog Podcast, Episode 1: The 10-Day Novel and Flushy

By Pauly
Los Angeles, CA

I recorded a brand new podcast (around 5 minutes in length) to promote Jack Tripper Stole My Dog. Nicky interviewed me about the accelerated writing process surrounding the novel and she questioned me about the highly controversial scene involving someone's head getting flushed in the toilet.

Listen here...

If you want to download the mp3 and listen to it later, click here to obtain the link.

Buy your copy here.

Monday, May 23, 2011

French Debut

By Pauly
Los Angeles, CA

While I'm banging my head against the wall with Jack Tripper Stole My Dog and trying to punch the ball into the end zone, across the pond Lost Vegas made its French debut to many positive reviews from non-poker press. My editor Jerome told me the French version was released on Friday, which meant I officially made it as a writer.

Lost Vegas will be getting comprehensive coverage in the national French media, and maybe this DSK scandal will boost sales? Here's what to look out for....
- radio coverage on Europe 1, France Culture

- TV coverage on Canal plus on two shows at least : La Matinale and Edition

- national press coverage : Les Inrockuptibles (best cultural weekly magazine),
Rock&Folk, Libération (daily press), Magic, Vice Magazine (pretty good hipster
stuff), Le Monde 2, Alibi magazine, etc.
So if you're in France the next few weeks, keep an eye out for any press about Lost Vegas!

While I'm mentally drained about the final stages of JTSMD, the news about Lost Vegas's successful launch in France came at the perfect time. Jerome and Benjo (who translated it) worked hard on this project for almost 2 years, so I'm glad their diligent work is being recognized and the project is off to an auspicious start!

By the way, follow @JackTripperBook on Twitter to get advanced info on the specific release date for JTSMD.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Monday, May 16, 2011

West L.A. Punk

By Pauly
Los Angeles, CA

I sat in the diner this morning and looked up at a patch of blue sky above the bank across the street. A couple of chemtrails zig-zagged above. I ask myself every day, "What the fuck are they spraying?" And why are they trying to manipulate the weather?

The older I get, the weirder and more complicated basic things seem to be. And the more I read, I come across more and more questions. And as I true to figure out answers, I have thousands more unanswered questions and very few answers -- and even then, most of those answer seem like hogwash to me, which is to say, any melancholy is derived from questions that can be answered, but are not.

Someone once asked Buddha about the meaning of life. Buddha responded by saying that some questions in life will never be answered, so you should stop asking stupid fucking questions.

The fucking is my emphasis. Even Buddha had the occasional bad day. If I was Buddha, I'd be on mega-tilt from sheeple asking stupid questions like "what is the meaning of life?" and "why is the government spraying shit into our atmosphere?"

Buddha also said life is suffering. Now you know what it's like living in Los Angeles. This city is the ultimate test of Buddhist principles of tolerance and forgiveness.

Case in point: the old man who challenged me to a fight.

Not just any fight, a bare knuckle brawl to the death in the middle of the intersection of Westwood and Olympic Blvd. Here's the backstory -- I had an early dinner with Nicky. She was working and I had the day off but I didn't want to miss the end of the basketball game (technically that's work, but that's a story for another time), so we opted for an early Sunday meal at the diner. We finished up and I was antsy about the score which I religiously checked on my CrackBerry. Nicky was driving and we got stuck behind a car going 5 mph in a 25 mph. I must have said something like, "Fucking Sunday drivers! I gotta watch D-Rose dismantle LeBron and D-Wade!"

Nicky tooted her horn. Perfectly acceptable considering the circumstances. At a red light, the passenger side window rolled down and an old guy popped his head out the window and started screaming at us. Our initial reaction was -- laughter. Then he opened up the car door and screamed some more. He was wearing a suit. He looked like a cross between Montgomery Burns from The Simpsons and of JD Rockefeller (from old photographs when he lost most of his hair). I couldn't hear what he was saying because Nicky was laughing so hard I thought she was going to wet herself.

The laughing provoked the old guy.

He was even more pissed off and he wasn't even driving. Those duties belonged to a woman in her 40s (dressed in black with a weird hat). The old man was simmering over with road rage. Using a cane, he made his way to our car. I rolled up the window and locked the door -- just in case.

The old man stood in the middle of the second lane of Olympic Blvd. and screaming, yelling, and challenging me to a fight. I noticed he was missing the most of his teeth. He had what looked like several ID badges around his neck. I wondered if he had escaped from a nursing home.

I was in a no-win situation. If I accepted his challenge and proceeded to deck the old crazy man, then I'm the bad guy who beat up an old man. All I kept thinking was "I hope the light changes soon" because I didn't want him to start banging on the window with his cane.

I was reminded of the Yanks-Sox brawl with Pedro Martinez and Don Zimmer. As much as I can't stand Pedro, he did the only thing he could do -- push a charging Zimmer aside -- and even then he took a ton of guff for defending himself. As much as Pedro had no problems plunking Yanks hitters, he had some semblance of compassion when a pissed old guy challenged him to go at it.

The light changed. Nicky was still laughing as she peeled away. Laughter subsided into sober reality. Thank God he didn't have a gun.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Cusco > Ollantaytambo > Aguas Calientes > Machu Picchu

By Pauly

The wake-up call was set for 4:30 -- that's AM, in the fucking morning -- a time when I'm usually winding down the night and going to sleep. I passed out around around Midnight after chewing on a Vicodin to help ease the throbbing headache that accompanied altitude sickness after my abrupt ascent into the 11,000+ zone.

Our caravan had to ship out of Cusco no later than 6am if we wanted to catch the 8am train out of Ollantaytambo to Aguas Calientes, which was at least a 100-minute drive away. The breakfast buffet started at 5am and I was still in bed at that time, although I heard the shower running in the adjacent room where Sos and Shirley were staying. I assumed the former military man in Sos was up and at 'em before the wake call echoed in the room. I skipped a shower in favor of checking the previous night's scores from the NBA playoffs via wifi that was a step quicker than dial-up, before I made my way downstairs to the dim dining area.

The majority of the lights were shut off in the lobby with the exception of a few stray lights illuminating the dining room. I peeked into the metal buffet tins and didn't see much edible fare to my liking. No bacon, instead, they offered up what looked like mini-hot dogs as their breakfast meat du jour, the Peruvian version of nitrate-riddled breakfast sausages. I skipped the dogs and scooped up two spoonfuls of runny puke-yellow tinged scrambled eggs, then tossed a couple of hard rolls on my plate next to a couple of slices of fruit. Along with a glass of orange juice and a cup of coca tea -- that might have been my only fuel to carry me atop of Machu Picchu. The runny eggs tasted as expected -- like runny eggs. I just prayed that the eggs wouldn't run right through me with a two hour ride in the Peruvian countryside ahead of me. I'd really hate to have to shit on the side of the road and I made sure I took some extra TP with me -- just in case.

By 5:55am, I checked out of my room and waited in the lobby with Sos and Shirley for the little old lady with the limp who spearheaded our entire tour. Two large groups of other travelers surrounded us, one American and the other Brits, where the median age was anywhere from 15-20 years old than us and everyone looked like wealthy retirees of the adventurous sort, spending a portion of their savings on a trip of a lifetime. I felt a tinge of luck because I got to embark on the same trip at a much earlier juncture in my life and sorta got paid to do it because my client got me halfway there -- I was already in Peru, all I had to do was figure out how to get from Lima to Machu Picchu in order to cross off an exotic destination that appeared in the Top 5 on my bucket list. That's where the little old lady with the limp came in.

Two huge buses idled in front of our hotel, but we were not on neither bus. The little old lady with the limp waved over to us and we followed her to a white station wagon parked behind the buses. She arranged a private car to take us from Cusco to Ollantaytambo. Our driver, Joseph, spoke passable English and cranked up a mix of reggae songs on his car stereo. I stuffed my bag in the back and slid into the front seat. I was gonna be riding shotgun all the way to Ollantaytambo and hoped that I didn't have to shit my pants.

Our route took us up to the outskirts of Cusco up into the hills and we quickly passed any of the big buses on the way. We reached a valley surrounded by rolling hills and farmland that was flanked by the ominous Andes Mountains in the background. At one point, Joseph stopped the car and parked on top of a vista for us to snap a few photos. After an hour or so of driving, we reached the town of Ollantaytambo, located in a valley, and we made our way down from the mountain. We drove through the main part of town, the only route to the train station on the outskirts. We got caught up in traffic at the end of one square. A clusterfuck of small vans and buses filled with tourists were trying to force themselves into a one-way cobblestone road. An exhausted solider with a rifle slung over his shoulder acted as a traffic cop, but there was nowhere to go. We had about ten minutes before our train left the station. At some point I wondered if we should start walking...but then the traffic miraculously subsided and Joseph dropped us off in a parking lot adjacent to the train station.

Vendors as young as six years old swarmed us as we walked down a hill to the depot. It reminded me of Shakedown Street in the parking lot of a Phish or Grateful Dead show -- minus the spun-out wooks slinging drugs -- instead locals were hawking hats, sunscreen, bottles of water, and batteries.

We found the toilet, but it cost 1 soles (35 cents) to get in, and an old lady on a stool front handed you two squares of toilet paper -- hardly enough to clean yourself if you seriously busted ass. The runny eggs were rumbling inside of me and I rushed for one of the two stalls. I was greeted by no toilet seat and the toilet itself was rather small, only a few inches off the dirt floor. I had a false alarm, which was good, because I wasn't prepared to shit in a hole in the ground.

We approached the platform and got caught in a crossfire of mass confusion. People were streaming in all directions from all areas. A group of Peruvian guides, all short men around 5 feet in height with reddish brown skin in alpaca hats, had disembarked from what looked like a cattle car and two Peruvian rail workers at the train's doors hurled backpacks into a pile on the platform, where the guides hovered to retrieve their gear. Meanwhile, hundreds of tourists were getting off the train, while hundreds more were scrambling to catch the train before the doors closed. The train from Ollantaytambo to Machu Picchu ran on the same singular track. A couple of times a day it transported tourists and supplies back and forth, back and forth.

Sos found a Peru Rail worker who pointed out our exact train. We had less than a few minutes to spare when we boarded what appeared to be a "first class" car. The little old lady with the limp arranged us passage in the "vistadome" car which had windows partially built into the ceilings to view the Andes on our two hour trip to Aguas Calientes.

I had a window seat and noticed that a Japanese guy sat in the aisle seat in my row and his girlfriend sat across from him in the aisle. With the few Japanese phrases I knew, I excused myself and asked him if they wanted to sit together. They were extremely grateful for the gesture and continuously thanked me as the train pulled out of the station, even offering to take a photo of me. Sos gave me a little guff for becoming their new best friend and a celebrity in Japan.

I kept my camera out of sight. I shot a few minutes of video en route to Ollantaytambo, but didn't want to shoot my load taking photos/videos of the mountains along the Urubamba River, an uniquely dangerous waterway where no boats could traverse the narrow river because of all the jagged rocks underneath the water that created rapids that were unnavigable, even for the most astute class five rapids adventurers. I understood why the Spanish never conquered or reached Machu Picchu, because it was in such a remote place, then boats could not get in and the only way to reach the spiritual center of the Incan empire as by foot on the Incan trail.

The railroad had been built at the turn of the 20th century and it followed alongside the Urubamba River, which I nicknamed as the Chocolate Milk River because of it's milky brown color. On the other side of the river, you could see the infamous Incan trail, and a few brave souls were in the middle of their arduous hike.

Our first class car was filled with tourists from all over the globe, which I quickly learned from the variety of languages spoken. A teenager next to me was from Argentina. In front of Shirley and Sos were Germans. A few Brits were in front and a horde of Brazilians were behind us. They went a little loco when the train pulled out of the station and made its first turn through the mountains. Everyone with a video camera or professional camera went berserk in the narrow aisle of the train, elbowing each other for a shot of the mountains. At first I was perplexed -- it was just mountains and not Machu Picchu -- why the fuck was everyone going apeshit trying to get a few seconds of videos in the mountains?

That frenzy died down after twenty minutes and it felt good not to have someone's sweaty ass in my face trying to steady themselves to snap photos of cloudy mountains. I ignored the vapid jackals and settled in with my iPod and mentally prepared myself for the eventual summit at Machu Picchu.

An hour into our voyage, the crew served us a snack in baskets comprised of cookies, fruit, and a roll with a slice of ham and cheese. I skipped the cheese and ate everything. I ordered a coca matte to drink because I needed another injection of Incan Red Bull before we reached the end of the line.

As we inched closer to Aguas Calinetes, the rolling hills and farmland gave way to thick, jungle canopy cover. The mugginess set in and the train grew eerily quiet as we inched into the station. Aguas Calinetes had hot springs at the edge of town, but the mood seemed somber and intense. The lush, green mountains shot up all around us like New York City skyscrapers, but it was surrounded by puffy white and grey clouds, which blocked out the sun and gave the air a smoky, dreamlike quality to it.

We found a woman in an orange jacket at the station waving a piece of paper with Shirley's name on it, after a slight miscommunication about our accommodations, we figured out what hotel we were booked in, but our rooms weren't ready. We had to dump our bags into a metal wagon, which was guarded by a guy in a green doorman's outfit with a name tag for our hotel. The process seemed a little sketchy, but we had no choice but to leave our bags with the wagon because we were scheduled to be on a private tour in less then thirty minutes.

We ditched our bags and I only took a liter of water and my camera with me. The lady in an orange jacket practically dragged us out of the train station, begging us to hurry every few seconds, because we needed to get to the bus depot as soon as possible. I had just stepped off the train and was still trying to get my bearings when the lady in the orange jacket was leading us through a darkened maze of a market with tin roofs and filled with tons of cheap tourist stuff. I told Sos that I'd catch up with them, so I stopped at a stand to purchase a contraption that allowed you to carry a water bottle in a pouch slung over your shoulder. It cost me 5 soles and ended up being a clutch purchase. I also picked up a couple of crystal stones which I intended to carry the top of Machu Picchu with me, whereby allow the rocks to absorb the energy of the pyramids, and then take those rocks back to the States with me to disperse to a couple of friends who actually believed in that sort of mystical power.

We crossed a bridge into the actual town of Aguas Calientes, practically jogging in order to keep up with the lady in the orange jacket. She eventually stopped alongside a street that had two big tour buses. We stood in a single queue and waited to board the bus. The first one filled up and sped away, literally leaving behind a cough-inducing dust cloud. We were the last people to board the second bus as dozens and dozens of other tourists stood in line behind us.

The entire morning had been hectic -- wake up at 4:30am, breakfast at 5am, check out of the hotel, get a ride from Cusco to Ollantaytambo, then take the train from Ollantaytambo to Aguas Caliente, only to be rushed off the train, dragged through a darkened market, and tossed on a bus. I was a tad frazzled, but Sos bubbled over with excitement. He couldn't contain himself and he looked like a kid on Christmas morning. We all sat in the last row of the bus and I took the center seat. Shirley had the window and I could tell that she was slightly freaked out at the sheer drop off from the menacing cliffs as the bus rocketed up the mountain on a dirt road that kept winding up and around, and up and around, and up and around.

It's at that moment when terror set in. We've all experienced that moment in a foreign land when you start questioning and doubting everything. My mind was paralyzed with a morbid thought: if the bus fell off the side of the mountain, then we were properly fucked because if the rescue teams got to us by the end of the day, maybe we'd have a slight chance of reaching a hospital by the next day, so I calculated how much blood could I lose before I either 1) passed out, or 2) died.

At that point I blurted out, "Machu Picchu is a wonderful place to die."

Sos didn't blink and said, "Absolutely."

That's when the terror subsided into a calming, soothing realization that I had no control over the next twenty minutes, let alone major aspects of my life. Surrender to the flow, even if it's morbid flashes of death.

I sincerely hoped that the driver was well paid and more importantly, that he was having a good day. Personally, I got paid an absurd amount of money to visit exotic locations to write about people playing cards, so I hoped that whomever owned the buses (the Peruvian government or Ministry of Tourism), paid the drivers, especially our driver, a very good and competitive wage. After all, our lives were in his capable hands as he swerved to the side to allow a bus pass us in the opposite direction.

"Holy shit! I thought this was a one-way road!"

Yes, despite the narrow, windy road, buses traversed both ways.

I always thought that I'd die in a place crash, but I looked off the side of the cliff and reminded myself, "Machu Picchu would be a good place to die."

By the look of Shirley's face, I assumed she had similar thoughts as me with her eyes fixated on the drop off from the side of the mountain, whereas Sos was all smiles for the entire ride. He was a kid in a candy store on Christmas morning and he couldn't have run off the bus fast enough.

We were greeted by a man named Augustine, our private guide for the morning. He assembled a small group of about eight of us including a British couple in their late 60s and an American woman about my age and her elderly mother. Both older women carried walking sticks, and I kinda wished I had bug spray. Our guide pointed to the toilets, "This is your only chance to relieve yourself because there are no toilets inside Machu Picchu."

As per the norm in Peru, you had to pay 1 soles to use public toilets. The guard handed me a receipt and pointed at a roll of toilet paper next to her guard desk. We got unlimited TP, unlike the train station in Ollantaytambo. Sos and I joked that were were going to take a shit and that we should have made shirts that said, "I dropped a deuce at Machu Picchu."

With a cleared out digestive tract, I was ready to enter the holy sanctuary of Machu Picchu. The guards checked your passport and scanned your ticket. Our guide pointed out that you could go to a different window to get your passport stamped with Machu Picchu on it and I decided that was going to be the coolest stamp on my passport (with the exception of Antarctica which I probably will never achieve, but it's on the bucket list).

Once inside, I followed the guide along a narrow path. To the left, a couple of tourists snapped photos of the dedication plaques while to the right, a flimsy wooden rail as the only thing that prevented me from falling off the side of the mountain.

I never heard the introduction from the guide. I was caught up in my own world, soaking up the truly awesome sight. The journey had taken over 24 hours since I left Lima for Machu Picchu and despite the stay over in Cusco, we had finally arrived. I kept snapping my own internal photos to ensure memory burns, whereas I could hear Sos muttering, "This is so fucking cool. This is so fucking cool."

I got smiles writing that because his phrase succinctly described what was going on inside my head.

Our guide

After the initial shock of being at Machu Picchu wore off, I began documenting my visit with videos and pictures, and I attentively listened to our guide reveal insights into Machu Picchu.

Sos went nuts when we reached the Temple of the Sun. I joined in on his enthusiasm, because that was the one piece of masonry that I was the most curious about. The theory goes that the Incas constructed almost all of the structures on top of Machu Picchu, but aliens built the original temples, like the Temple of the Sun, and the Incans built on top of them. The vast difference in construction styles were staggering from other structures compared to the Temple of the Sun, which had smooth, polished rocks that were earthquake proof and so densely stacked together that I couldn't squeeze a business card through the cracks.

Temple of the Sun

The question remains -- how the hell did the original architects get those huge stones to the top of the mountain? And how were they able to create such a flawless structure that withstood seismic events and hundreds of years of inclement weather?

Like I wrote in my last piece Lima > Cusco: Coca Tea, Alien Stonework, and Saqsayhuaman, many Peruvians get pissed at you if you even hint at alien technological assistance, let alone theorize that aliens built it themselves. I understand how they view those assertions without proof as insulting, but then again, do they have any proof that their ancestors did it all by themselves? The lack of evidence on both sides allows speculation from half-baked scribes and amateur philosophers like myself.

I didn't climb Machu Picchu as a religious quest, especially because I don't consider myself religious or spiritual at all. I'm a born skeptic, and an existentialist Jeffersonian anarchist, even though I was raised in the Christian diet of buffet Catholicism. But it's hard for me to deny what I saw with my own eyes on top of Machu Picchu.

So, does God exist? If so, where was God on Black Friday when all of my friends lost their jobs? Or how about on 9/11 when the world as we know it shifted into a paradigm of fear mongering and disaster capitalism? Is God really a singular, omnipotent God, or a collection of celestial gods? Or are we really an experiment by the Anunnaki, who left us all behind?

Was I really ready to tackle all of those impossible-to-answer questions on this trip? Or was I supposed to confront those exact tough queries if all of my Catholic upbringing and rigorous education from the Jesuits aptly prepared me to engage in an internal symposium of religion, astrology, engineering, and philosophy... and if not on top of Machu Picchu, then where else was I going to seek answers to those questions?

I stood inside the Temple of the Sun passing my hands over the smooth stones and asking the same questions that many greater, more intelligent, more pious men before me asked...

Who is God? What is God? Does God exist?

Our guide, Augustine, mentioned that he's a devout Catholic and he believed that Jesus was the Son of God (and thereby believed in the Holy Trinity of God, Jesus, and the Holy Ghost aka the Holy Spirit), but he also was adamant when he said that he believed in Inti, the Sun God and Viracocha (the ocean god, or sea foam, which Incans believe is the source of life).

Although it was cloudy all morning, we were fortunate to experience huge chunks of time when the clouds dissipated and the strong sun shone directly onto our faces. I was bummed out that I didn't come better prepared (no sunscreen or bug spray), but at least I heeded Owen's advice of taking water with me to Machu Picchu since they didn't sell anything inside the ruins. With the powerful sun hovering above us, it was easy to understand the relationship between Incans worshiping Inti the Sun God, because the sun is the source of life in our solar system, because without it, Earth would be a frozen rock at the edge of the universe. But with the sun's warmth, we have life, and it's a life enriched by rivers, oceans, mountains, fruits, vegetation, cattle to be slaughtered for In-N-Out Burgers, and most importantly, Atlanta Braves baseball (I once heard a story, and sincerely doubt that it's true, but it's fun to spread the urban myth that Ted Turner said he was positive that God's favorite baseball team was the Atlanta Braves).

You didn't have to scan back and forth on top of Machu Picchu for more than a few seconds to understand why that particular mountain top was chosen as the spiritual epicenter of the Incan Empire. Cusco was the political and commercial center, but the mountainous retreat of Machu Picchu allowed the intellectuals and religious leaders to get as close to the gods as possible.

The steps that our guide pointed out as farmland were amazing. He gave us a quick tutorial on step farming that included building a retaining wall and filling in the gaps with materials as it flushed against the side of the mountain. Among the fillers included sand -- mainly from the bottom of the chocolate-milk covered Urubamba River -- but he also noted that archeologists noted that Machu Picchu's farming steps included sand from the beaches alongside the Pacific Ocean, imported from several hundred miles away. The Incans treated sand as a powerful commodity and I wondered the hell they were able to transport all that sand from the ocean to Machu Picchu -- that takes a lot of llamas dragging sandbags through the jungle and mountains.

Animals and wildlife were prevalent on top of Machu Picchu, including llamas and lizards, both incidentally were titles for Phish songs. The llamas roamed freely in Machu Picchu grazing on grass in the large courtyards, but they were nimble enough to climb up and down steps that were five feet or higher. I tried to visualize a few hundred or so people living up on Machu Picchu all year round -- farming high-altitude crops of potatoes, maize, quinona, passion fruit, and coca leaves. Our guide mentioned that the Incans feasted on guinea pigs and even llamas. He even referenced human sacrifice to appease the gods during times of tumultuous natural disasters.

We made our way to the top of one pyramid like structure where the Inca Stone was located. The Stone had been rumored to have special magical powers due to its mystical energy. The stone didn't look like many of the other stones at Machu Picchu and was the source of controversy among archeologists, ufologists and geologists. Much like the stones at Saqsayhuaman, it had a "porcelaneous" quality to them. I read somewhere that the Inca Stone could not have been cut that way and that it was thermally disaggregated, just like the stones from the Temple of the Sun. If that's the case, then how did the original engineers acquire a heat source to alter the thermal dynamics of the stones?

You're not supposed to touch the Inca Stone, rather, you're supposed to get as close to it as possible without touching it in order to harness the positive energy of the stone.

After visiting the stone, I was struck with an emotional moment after being jarred with the spirit of my grandmother. I never fully had any closure because I never got to say goodbye before she died while I was away on an assignment when I first got into poker. In many ways, I achieved closure on top of Machu Picchu with a lot of internal family stuff. The entire trip to Machu Picchu was surrounded with many "opened" and "closed" doors in my inner reality as I realized I was standing on the most powerful fields of energy on the planet. Whether or not it was its intention, but I was confronted with an opportunity to let a lot of mental baggage go, and at the same time, find the courage to deal with a monumental tsunami of change that is headed my way as the insanity of the world seems to be accelerating at a rapid pace that any day now, it can all blow up.

After an intense few hours, our guide said it was time for a lunch break and that he'd be leaving us behind to explore Machu Picchu on our own. We exited the park and grabbed a quick bite at the snack bar because paying $33 for a buffet that was not the Bellagio seemed absurd. After lunch, we hiked up to the highest point of Machu Picchu to snap some photos. I almost slipped on one of the stone paths but caught myself before anything bad happened. The way my body spasticly jerked, Shirley freaked out because it appeared as though I was about to tumble off the side. I assured her it looked more dangerous than my body responded, but I was lucky -- it was a lot closer of a call than I suggested.

At that point, I needed some alone time after an intense situation with the Inca Stone, so Sos and Shirley decided to see if they could keep hiking up to the top of the mountain, meanwhile, I settled into a grassy knoll on one of the farming steps and fired up my iPod. I specifically wanted to listen to a version of 2001 by Phish when I reached the top of Machu Picchu -- and I got my wish. I listened to 2001 and highlights from the infamous Charleston, SC show from last October. I actually dozed off for a few minutes and could only wonder what sort of dreams I had because I couldn't recall any of them when I woke up.

By the time Sos and Shirley returned it was mid-afternoon and had spent almost six hours at Machu Picchu. It was time to head back to reality and take a bus back to the bottom of the mountain. It wasn't as scary going down as you were going up, probably because of the calming nature of visiting Machu Picchu had on everyone, particularly me.

We checked into our hotel without an problems, and we were set up in one of the nicest joints in town on the same block that ran along the Chocolate Milk River. I could see and hear the raging rapids out of my window as I slowly took off my drenched clothes. My room was swanky enough that it had DirectTV and the bathroom had a bidet. I actually broke the toilet in my room.... I flushed it, hopped into the shower, and when I ended my shower I heard water running. I thought I left the bidet running but it was the toilet that couldn't stop flushing. I had to call down to the front desk and explain in broken Spanish that I broke the toilet. It was fixed, but I'm sure they made fun of me as the gringo who broke the toilet.

Shirley, Sos, and I were famished so we ate at one of the dozens of "pizzerias" in Aguas Calientes. The menus looked the same and I assume one guy probably owned all of them, so it didn't matter which one we ate at because it was a virtual monopoly. The thin crust pizza was surprisingly good for South America and fired up in a wood-burning oven. I opted for bacon pizza and a Susquena, a local beer... and that beer never tasted better after a long day. Machu Picchu was a few thousand feet lower than Cusco, so we adjusted to the altitude with ease. No headaches, but I had wicked sunburn on my neck and ears, plus my back was sore and I had a shin splint in one of my legs (opposite my bum knee). I was hurting like beat-up veteran catcher Jake Taylor after his first Spring Training game with the Indians, but all of that pain was welcomed because it came at the expense of a bit of spiritual clarity and revitalization.

After dinner, I collapsed in bed and watched the Yankees-Blue Jays game on satellite TV. The announcers were Mexican and I was in the Andes of Peru watching my Bronx Bombers play a team from Canada. Thomas Friedman would call that globalization at its finest hour. I passed out as the game went into extra innings. After an hour or so nap, I looked in the mirror at my bright red ears, popped a Vicodin, and decided to wander around town in search of the local produce or hash. I noticed signs for hostels and figured an influx of hippies could mean potential flourishing black market for hashish. After all, at all the tourist shops in town, they had a decent collection of stone pipes. Now only to find something to put in it...

The main square had a three-story tall 24-hour cafe and restaurant across the street from the police station, which was bigger than the school. I ordered a beer and made small chit-chat with a trio of Scandis. They were in their 50s and looked more like European businessmen on a holiday, than the hemp-toking beatniks I was hoping to find. The waiter suggested I checkout the disco or one of the karaoke bars around the corner, but the directions he gave me were bunk and I didn't find any karaoke joints, nor a disco. I found a shoeless wook sitting in front of a hostel strumming a guitar and thought I hit the jackpot, but he was Brazilian and didn't know what the fuck I was taking about when I asked, "Donde esta la mota?"

I gave up, bought a big-assed orange Gatorade and chocolate-covered wafers at an all night store for the equivalent of $1.75, and went back to my hotel room. I uploaded all of the photos off my camera and onto my laptop. The hotel didn't have wifi, which was good. I didn't want to jump onto the grid just yet. Instead, I created a blank word document, slid open the window to hear the raging Chocolate River, and began writing... "The wake-up call was set for 4:30."

* * *

I posted four complete galleries of photos, including almost 180 photos of Machu Picchu...
Machu Picchu
Aguas Calientes
Cusco, Peru and Saqsayhuaman Ruins
Lima, Peru
Stay tuned for a video(s).