Old Dog

“If I could get back on that bus…I would do it in a second. I would ride it for every country mile.” – Minor league baseball player after being forced to retire.

Bench on the Wallkill River Rail Trail Bridge in Upstate New York with a view of the river through the bridge structure.

Enroute to Montreal

“I haven’t felt this good going to a poker tournament in…well, ever.”

***

My apartment in Newark reminds me of the souped-up digs described in Ready Player One. 

It’s built like a fortress. The door is five inches thick, with a lock the size of my fist. The walls are dense enough to be sound proof. I literally am not sure if the police could break in there.

My Air BnB came with a comfortable large bed, a small desk, and an ample closet. The heating and air conditioning work. There’s a big screen I use as a TV and second monitor. There’s an entertainment center for my Playstation 4. I have high-speed internet.

There are two kitchens in my rowhouse and two bathrooms. If somebody is using one I just use the other.

I finally whipped out my Costa Rican coffeemaker. That’s one of those “machines” where it looks like you’re filtering coffee through a sock.

To my surprise, that damn thing can make a good cup of coffee out of any gruel. I have a newfound use for the barrel of generic grounds the homeowner buys. I have stopped hemorrhaging money at Dunkin Donuts.

I sprung for Youtube TV. To my delight, I found Newark is in the Greater New York Area. I am in one of the five cities where you can buy a Youtube TV package. I signed up, and it’s like I have cable again.

I’ve never been a TV guy, but I get why men like sports so much now. There’s such a male aspect to it. “Rah Rah, performance, statistics, execution! Victory! Defeat!”

It reminds men they can reach for something greater. They can become another human being through their focus and drive.

I’ve found myself able to do more lessons than ever because I can just plop on my huge bed and catch up on SportsCenter between sessions. It’s a complete shut off of the mind. I never was able to relax reading between sessions.

Out of every ten people in East Newark, one is white. However, no one gives me a hard time. I get treated like the token white kid. I get fist bumps in the corner store. Puerto Ricans love my broken Spanish.

People keep telling me I’m nuts to live in Newark, but San Jose, Costa Rica was way worse than this city. Here, there are no police tanks running through the neighborhood constantly.

It’s the same rules wherever you go: Eyes low, avoid speaking, stay sober, walk by yourself, don’t hang around at night, and mind your business.

I guess it helps if you’re a six-foot male who constantly looks pissed…

There’s a library a three-minute walk from my house. Down the street is Newark Penn. I take one train there, transfer at World Trade Center, and take the R to Queens. I can get from Newark to Long Island City without ever setting foot outdoors.

Which is good. It’s cold out now.

***

Winter in New York / Pedestrians cross snow-covered Brooklyn Bridge in February 2015

Based on my observations, I’ve concluded that New York only has two seasons: Hellish summer followed by freezing winter.

I prefer the winter. The freezing cold puts my mind in the zone. I feel like I am staying alive traversing a cracked tundra.

In Seattle, 2006, when I went pro, I used to open my windows during the winter. I got it to the point where I could see my breath glide to my computer screen.

The temperature kept me alert.

The dark and cold reminds me of where I grew up. It reminds me of listening to Opeth’s Damnation CD while walking Nike Hill.

I loved my time in San Jose, Costa Rica but the heat didn’t agree with me. There was something to sweating on the street while the girls wore short shorts, sure. But I am almost worried by how much I like the Northeast. Everyone here is a wanderer. Everyone’s a little rude without meaning to be. These feel like my people.

***

I guess I like the the changing of the seasons too.

San Jose felt the same, always. Heat. Heat with rain. Heat. Years bled together.

The mind needs to see it’s outer world changing. It’s an impetus. Otherwise, it gets stuck.

***

I went to upstate New York once when I was 19 after a Turning Stone tournament. I looked at the tranquil houses on lakes and wondered, “what would it be like to be born into one of these? What would it be like to inherit a four-bedroom on a couple acres? You’d have all the time in the world to write. You could do anything you wanted artistically.”

Now, I know that is one of the worst things that could have happened to me.

Living in upstate New York is a fine life, but if you want to write you need to have life experiences, and if you want to be a road gambler you have to bleed.

And my God have I bled.

But in this moment of my life I am really grateful for all of it.

I can rest peacefully with my girlfriend’s head on my chest because I know there’s no greater feeling.

I can wake up after five hours of sleep to go to the gym because I know there is no greater feeling.

I can appreciate a freshly made bed because I know there is no greater feeling.

I have gambled for literal millions of dollars and lived out quite a few adolescent fantasies. And in the words of Solomon, it truly is a chasing after the wind.

I’m really really grateful for that.

You don’t know those things when you’re sheltered. How could you?

It’s as if I’m finally living as an adult. I don’t drink alcohol, smoke pot, eat junk food, sleep around, or any of that. I really am enjoying my physical training, my social life, and my poker study.

Every day I am making new strides in No Limit Hold’em. My students are so sharp. Their questions bounce new ideas off of me that get me thinking. The more I restate an idea the more firmly I understand it.

Other times, the thought flits away, replaced with a doubt: Perhaps this is wrong?

I look back at it with a new angle, and there it is…

A problem that eluded me for 14 years.

Seen. Measured. Solved.

I have never before been this good at poker.

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I was reading The Wisdom Of Crowds by James Surowiecki and it made me realize why my game has grown by leaps and bounds. I’m essentially crowdsourcing my game more than anyone on Earth.

I’ve spent thousands of hours interviewing poker players. That has led to a far more intimate understanding of their psyche. Poker is a game of people played with cards, so understanding the field’s intentions, worries, and assurances is of great importance.

These students always want to share their findings with me too. They always want to share with me the latest trend from China, Brazil, Germany, etc.

All these ideas. All these notes. They are amounting to something now.

I enjoy the process of putting together the videos. It helps me organize my thoughts. I just wish there were more hours in a day to go about it.

Working out in a real gym has had immeasurable benefits too. My sweater fit loosely on me this morning. I can’t remember the last time I didn’t have to hide a gut.

There are days where negative thoughts creep in, sure. But they’re much fewer now.

They’re usually caused by the same things: Not enough rest, poor financial planning, increased caffeine intake, decreased water consumption, carb loading, meat digestion, lack of exercise, and allowing myself to catastrophize.

It feels good to get a handle on much of that.

Learning how to work out has been the deciding factor. I met Frank, my trainer, through one of my students. The guy got his degree and knows the human body. There’s no BS in the gym with him. It’s just work. Logical work.

It’s science, really. This input gets this result. This muscle pushes on this one.

It’s a calibration I’ve never had before. I feel like I might be one of those guys who need to work out four times a week.

Last weekend, I went with my girlfriend to her kickboxing class in the park. I was the only man in the class the last two times I was there, but I couldn’t care less.

I like getting out of my mind. I’ll do the work with any trainer, male or female. I just need someone pushing me before I can sabotage myself.

“I can tell you worked out this weekend,” Frank said on Monday. “You’re insane when you don’t work out.”

My mind is usually a storm of thoughts. The only time they clear is at the end of weight training.

***

“That’s the thing baby,” I told my girlfriend, “you came to New York. You took your shot in your industry. You scraped by. You paid your dues and your debts. You got out there and you took chances. You worked on commercial sets. You worked in offices. Now, you work in a gym. You’ve done a lot of life push-ups.”

I’ve always told her what attracts me most to her is how she’s grown. I knew her when she was 16. She was inquisitive then. Cute too. But very sheltered.

Oh my Lord, how she has come to understand the world. I could talk to her about anything.

What intrigues me is how she came from a normal suburban upbringing but she decided to take risks anyway. That takes guts. I know when I was living in Bullhead City with cheap rent and all my toys it was hard to break out of my cocoon.

***

I hate the word, “work.” Mostly, because it has the word “work” in it.

I wish we talked about progression. Instead of, “I worked today” I wish we said, “I progressed today.”

You can make money while you’re progressing.

You can work without progressing.

There’s a big difference between the two. “Work” doesn’t cover all of it.

It’s just like the word, “failure.” That word is too broad. If someone does a meter of blow and overdoses, that is one hell of a failure. However, if you start a company that is unsuccessful, but you take most of the employees and the company culture to a new successful start-up, that is failing forward. I’d dare say it’s not a failure at all.

All of this falls under the category of, “life push-ups.” You have to work certain muscles in life. It takes a lot of failure. It takes a lot of sweat. It takes an even greater deal of embarrassment.

Going to the gym your first time and feeling out of sorts? That’s a life push-up. That’s progression.

Taking an intern gig for no pay at the company you love to escape the Executive Assistant role you hate? That’s progression. That’s a life push-up. The EA role was neither. It was just money.

I’ve been getting in those life push-ups in lately. I try to imagine what my hero would do in any situation, then I do those actions.

It’s all about showing up. As long as I get through the door I almost never fall flat on my face. Even when I do, I usually learn something invaluable.

Find a life push-up. Don’t think it. Do it. Just book it. Show up. Thinking impedes the action.

No one cares what you thought about something. People want to know what you did about something.

I don’t begrudge anyone who fails at something. If you self-published a book after intensive editing, rewrites, and book cover selection then you’re a champ in my book. You swung and you missed. You’re only human.

I don’t understand people who don’t try, and then complain they’re miserable about their lives.

The way I see it: You’re either going to be uncomfortable doing something new, or uncomfortable watching your life turn to nothing. Both options entail pain.

There is no choice to me. I’m going to suffer either way. I might as well go out swinging.

The last two months have been wildly stressful. There are times I wish I could come home from work and watch one of these Netflix series everyone is always talking about.

But then again, when would I get my progression in? When am I going to do a set of life push-ups, if not now?

Getting my driver’s license, giving away most of what I owned, finding my dogs a good home, moving cross country, starting weight training, changing to a Pescatarian diet, dropping weight, exploring living in New York, and building my relationship with my girlfriend were slightly more educational than working two months at Ikea.

That was what always killed me in San Jose. I felt like I wasn’t progressing in my craft. My body was deteriorating. My personal relationships were getting worse. I knew I was to blame, but I didn’t know what to do about it. I went to therapy, I read books and worked harder, but nothing changed. It was the most depressing feeling in the world.

To be out of that rut is such a relief. It’s like having a new lease on life.

I want to show appreciation through the effort I give.

***

I’ve decided to get back on the tour again.

I’m not returning to professional poker. I wouldn’t take that title unless 100% of my money came from playing the game, and that will fortunately never again be the case for me.

However, I am looking to play three six-hour sessions a week online. I’m aiming for one week a month playing live, although I’ll be skipping December.

I’m looking to focus on tournaments in the Northeast, Canada included.

I actually really like taking trains. The WiFi is fast, the legroom is ample, the tickets are cheap, and the TSA is no where in sight. I can get a lot of work done when I’m “stuck” on a train with no Playstation, gym, Kindle, or cable to distract me.

And yes, I said Kindle. Trains shake. It’s hard to read on them. For some reason, I can type without getting motion sickness, but I can’t read. Go figure.

Even if it’s a small live tournament, I want to go. It’s time to get those life push-ups in.

I don’t really even care about the money, honestly. Of course, money is a useful tool, but I really just want championships. I want the thrill of getting deep in a tournament again. I want to bring back the championship belts to my gym.

I just want to compete. I lost sight of what this meant for so long. It’s about the game. It’s about playing a game for a living. Coaching is about solving a puzzle with your friends. There’s no profession like it. I’m the most blessed person on Earth, and to act any differently is to be severely entitled.

So many people don’t get to do this. So many good men and women are raising children in loveless marriages. So many people are battling depression. So many people never got a shot. I’m riding every country mile now. Let’s get it.

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  • Todd Piotrowski

    Get it!!!!! Bring that belt back home!