I have this friend. We’ll call him “Rich,” mostly because that’s his real name. Rich is not unlike the Tasmanian Devil from Looney Toons. Now, imagine taking the Tasmanian Devil with you out into public. Imagine doing it after the Tasmanian Devil has just ingested a third of his weight in alcohol.
That’s Rich. It’s always a good time.
And so, we journey together into what I have often called the best summer of my life, where I, wealthy off the spoils of my college graduation and blissfully unemployed, grew into a fantastic friendship with Rich and two other guys who helped completely shift my view of the world at a time when my view of the world really needed it. I had spent the better part of the last 12 months doing nothing but research projects and failing with women, and a summer spent swigging Coronas and playing no-limit Texas Hold’em in people’s garages was just what the doctor ordered. I wouldn’t be a happy, confident person today without that summer. A month after it ended I moved back to Bloomington for good and met my future wife, who I never would’ve had the gumption to speak to had I not changed so much in the previous 100 days. In a way, those guys saved me. Even Taz has his redeeming qualities, folks.
But life after the summer of 2004 is a story for another day. Maybe a memoir that I doubt anyone would buy or even read if presented with a free copy. This entry refers to the summer of 2004 itself, and one of the most classic Rich stories I can think to tell.
Two months into the summer we had been playing poker so much (literally 3-4 times a week) that we all had started taking it entirely too seriously. It’s like when kids get so into a video game that they start having dreams about beating the game, and everything else in their lives suffer until the damn thing is conquered. Sorta how our lives were in regards to cards that July.
We’re in Cole’s garage with the poker table set up, the usually quartet anteing up conservatively and dragging the games out as long as we could to make sure everyone had an equal shot at stealing the $20 pot. We had been playing for quite a while, and the competition in this particular game was getting heavy, when Rich’s phone rang.
Those of you that have played poker with buddies before know that when the phone rings, proper etiquette is to either hit “silence,” or answer it and immediately tell the caller you’ll hit them up once you win or once you’re out. This usually works out fine, unless the caller is the callee’s girlfriend, as was the case in this particular instance.
So Rich starts cooing and kissing into the phone for a few minutes, then he says, “Hang on. Deal it up and I’ll be back in a second” and heads outside to complete his Duncan Hines cake conversation in privacy to avoid being chastised by Cole, Sean, and myself (which, by the way, always happened anyway).
Ten minutes, fifteen minutes, thirty minutes pass. The three of us are sitting there sipping on warm beer swill while we wait for Mr. Betty Crocker to return to the table. It’s at this point we get the idea to stack the deck.
Going into this we knew that Rich, who turns into a wiry little Incredible Hulk when he’s pissed off, would go apey when he discovered the ruse, but at this point we were all pretty annoyed and thought the risk could be worth the rewards. We didn’t deal, but just set up the deck so that Rich would get a straight flush to the King (literally the second-highest hand in poker) and Cole would get a royal flush (the only hand that can beat it).
After about a half-hour (but what felt like an evening-and-a-half), Rich comes moseying back in like he’d just been laid. “Alright, let’s do this,” he says, and Sean deals.
The cards come spraying out like an automatic sprinkler, and everything is set up like we planned out. The first three cards get flipped onto the table, and we’re well aware that Rich has four of a suit and an open-ended straight draw. He’s going to bet strong, and he does.
We’re all holding back snickers, trying to look as serious as possible. The Turn gives Rich his flush, but the straight flush won’t come until the River. Even still, it’s enough for him to start betting like a moron because he’s got it King-high. Quickly it becomes too right for Sean’s and my blood, so we fold while Cole keeps pushing Rich, who looks extremely confident. We suppress laughter watching him try unsuccessfully to suppress his cool. Rich is a talker during cards. Whenever he gets really quiet and serious, you know there’s got to be something good in his craw. This was common knowledge, but seeing it all unfold was just too great for words.
Finally the last card rolls out and it gives Rich his straight flush to the King. When the card came down and he sort of adjusted himself in his chair, like a contestant on “Who Wants to be a Millionaire” that has just answered the final question correctly and is waiting for Regis to announce him as the winner. A small tear of joy welled up in his right eye, and it’s absolutely probably that a small squirt of pee escaped from his body the moment that card hit the table.
“All in,” he tries to say casual, as if it’s really no big deal. Sean and I start making cat calls at the ballsy move, as if we don’t know what the result is going to be. Rich leans back and waits on Cole, who seems to be deliberating for a moment, just to create success, but it’s not long before he finally comes back with, “I call.”
Rich flips over his fantastic hand and starts talking about he couldn’t believe the hand while starting to rake the chips towards him.
But then Cole says, “Uh, Rich.. hang on a second, buddy,” and lays down his royal flush.
The kid’s entire body went slack, like someone who had just been shot right through the heart. He couldn’t believe it. Didn’t even see it coming. The odds were absolutely impossible. This kind of thing only happens in movies, right? The only way something this happens in a garage in Clifton is if somebody stacks the de…
Wait a tick.
It’s at this point Rich realizes he’s been had. The three of us had a good 20 seconds of uproarious laughter before he caught on and every glorious one of them was bliss.
But then Rich released the Tasmanian Devil.
His first instinct, and I don’t know why this would be anyone’s first instinct, was to look for a hammer. We all scattered like Japanese civilians fleeing from Godzilla. Cole had the hand that won, so that’s the direction Rich took, chasing the poor kid out into the cornfields, claw of the hammer raining down on him in little bursts. I like to think that if Cole actually had gotten caught he would’ve gotten through it alive, but today I’m not so sure.
Eventually Sean and I returned to the garage to wait for those two to come back, and we waited for quite some time with no returns.
“You think Rich killed him?” Sean asked.
Just then Cole ran into the garage, alive, praise Allah, and locked everything up. Everything was quiet for a solid minute before I asked Cole in a whisper, “Where is he?”
Afraid to even move, Cole answered, “I don’t know, he was right behind me.” And then more silence.
But in a moment, the door leading from the garage to house, which could not be locked from outside, swung open and a maniacal Rich stood silhouetted in the dark doorframe, hammer in hand. I half-expected him to say something witty in a gruff voice, like “Hammertime, boys,” but he didn’t. He ran straight for Cole, gave him a few solid whacks in the ribs with the tool and slumped down into a chair to regain his breath.
When it returned, he cursed us all out and we all laughed again. Cole ended up with only a couple of bruises, but that’s fair payment for one of the best memories of that fantastic summer. The night Taz got served and ran loose with a hammer. Like I said, always a good time.