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Poker becomes an obsession (again)

It’s happened again. I’ve been bitten by the poker bug!

Background to this: 14 years ago, during the 2003 World Series of Poker, I fell in love with this fascinating game through the journey of amateur Chris Moneymaker, who ended up beating all the crusty poker professionals for the big main prize (2.5 million then, 8 million now!). It wasn’t that I identified with Moneymaker so much… I was actually rooting for his opponent when it got down to the final 2, the smooth, unlit cigar-chomping Sammy Farha. But the majesty of the game, the depth of the strategic thinking, the test of manhood that is bluffing, all of these drew me in like a moth to a fireball. I was hooked and it was many years before I looked up from the poker table.

But I eventually DID look up from the poker tables and left it behind a few years ago. I guess I had played too much for too long and, truth be told, I just wasn’t a very good player. I had friends who were much better and I could see that THEY had something I didn’t: the emotional fortitude to handle the inevitable swings that poker will deal you. For myself, I’ve always been poor at handling losing, as it kicks me into a depressive state which I can have trouble getting out of. The highs were good, but the downs were brutal and I jumped off the rollercoaster and concentrated on my new wife and child after 10 years at the tables.

But underneath it all, the felt still called to me. I played occasional games, even organized some (I was a steady tournament organizer when I was seriously into poker, throwing tournaments at least once a week). I’ve played live a few times over the past few years, always winning for a change, but I haven’t really played seriously for any signinficant period of time. But that motivation I’ve been lacking has come back in droves now. I am ready to take the next step, to up my game to a new level, to study the game like I never have before and to start again on the hardest way to earn an easy living.

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The first additions to my vinyl collection

I have taken the plunge. I have bought my first vinyl records in probably 25 years! I do own one vinyl record (Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit”, but that one wasn’t bought, but instead was given to me by my dearly-departed friend Ed. Looking it up on discogs.com, it’d fetch around $100 if I were to sell it. Needless to say, it has sentimental value, so that’s not happening.

But back to the new vinyl: yes, I joined Vinyl Me, Please, even though I do not yet have a turntable or any sort of way to play vinyl records! I just couldn’t resist doing so anymore. I need to feed my newly-developed vinyl habit! The player will come later, next month if all goes according to plan. My first purchased vinyl, however, from the VMP club, will be arriving tomorrow. It’s My Morning Jacket’s “Z”. I’ve heard of this band, but I’ve never actually heard their music. They’re somewhat adored by critics, so I figure they can’t be THAT bad. Hopefully I’ll like the album.

I also purchased two albums from the Vinyl Me, Please members store, where they have merch only available to members. I picked up Frank Zappa’s “Hot Rats” (again, another artist whose name I knew, but whose music I did not) and Wilco’s “Schmilco” (whom I’ve seen on Austin City Limits twice, so I think I’ll like their music).

It’s a new day for me and I am just a bit closer to fulfilling my vinyl dreams!

The First Song I Remember Hearing

Was Three Dog Night’s “Joy to the World”. It was in the first years of my life, when my family lived in Spring Valley, California, a suburb of San Diego. I was probably two-and-a-half years old when I heard it, and I distinctly remember liking the song because of the lyric: “Jeremiah was a bullfrog”.

I think that’s pretty insane, to have such a memory at such a young age. It shows that I’ve always been especially attuned to music, like many people, and I’m very excited about ensuring my daughter also has that relationship.

One more month until I get the gear needed to make that possible. Right now, the set-up I’m looking at acquiring is:

Turntable – Pro-ject Debut Carbon
Amplifier – Cambridge Topaz AM10
Speakers – Dali Zensor 3

I’ll also pick up a CD player since, embarrassingly, I don’t have one currently and I can’t even play my huge CD collection! Pathetic!

All-in-all, it should be around $1600 worth of purchases. Hopefully my bonus is big enough so I can splurge on this affectation of mine. I’ll improve the components as I go, but this initial investment will be important because it will get me in the game AND it will provide the backbone of my sound system for at least a few years.

Ok, I can’t hold this in!

This isn’t going to be a meditation on some great happening in the world. No, go to CNN for that! What I’ve got for you here is a rant, yes, a rant about how Urban Outfitters displays their vinyl records.

Background is I’m one of the late-arrivers (aka “the most hated!”) to the the “Vinyl Resurgence” and I’ve been looking about getting back into the format. Funds are low at the moment, so I won’t be purchasing a turntable and assorted bric-a-brac until next month. In the meantime, I’ve been devouring articles on vinyl’s return, watching documentaries on the same, and perusing YouTube videos of people showing off their vinyl collections (the amount of voyeurism possible in our modern world is simply AMAZING!).

One of my methods to being AROUND vinyl but not IN vinyl just yet is to go to the (few) stores that are stocking it now, such as that oh-so-wanna-be-hip chain, Urban Outfitters. I did that yesterday when I had a free moment at the mall when my wife was busy with shoe-shopping. To my horror, Urban Outfitters has NO FREAKING CLUE how to display their records. First off, the shelf the records were sitting on was too damn high. Yeah, I’m kind of short at 5’9″, but the shelf ridiculously came up to my lower chest. Then the crates the albums were stored in were WAY too deep. This resulted in all the records falling forward when you perused the front-most ones, resulting in a mad scramble to keep them from falling and possible breaking. They had it right only for the box that was displaying “Staff Suggestions”, which was about half the size of the other boxes, making it easy to flip through because it limited the number of records pressing on the pile as you went through them.

Of course I could quibble about the selection too, with WAY too much Bieber, Adele, and Lana Del Rey. But that’s what the kids want, I guess, so that’s what the kids get. Kind of surprised to not see any Cure or Depeche Mode albums, and the only Nirvana record was “Nevermind”. Whatever. I probably won’t buy a single record at UO unless I’m just trying to kill time while my wife shops (which is WAY too often!). I’m going to check out the only local record shop around called “Silver Platters”. I expect they’ll have a better selection of vinyl, as well as probably some used, cheaper vinyl as well. It does seem a bit silly to be paying $20 to $30 for what is, essentially, an outdated format of music storage, but then you see that huge artwork and you’re reminded how albums SHOULD look and then you just can’t help yourself!

I’ve already decided on the first vinyl record I’m going to purchase once I get my player: Pink Floyd’s “Dark Side of the Moon”. Now I’ve never heard this album, although I’ve heard at least a song or two from it (“Money” is just that and I think “Comfortably Numb” is on this one as well?). I’m buying this album because it’s a classic, widely regarded as one of the top 25 albums of all time. I figure millions of people can’t be wrong, right?! After that, I’ll probably pick up some Black Sabbath, which I’ve never really owned. I probably won’t initially purchase some of my favorite bands work on vinyl (like U2 and Depeche Mode) because I already have them on CD, but I’ll eventually get to them most likely. In the meantime, I’ve joined the “Record of the Month” club, Vinyl Me, Please, so hopefully they can introduce me to some new stuff and expand my musical horizons a bit. I want to be open to new music and experiences. I think you really only get old when you don’t allow yourself to be exposed to the new.

Closer to Fulfillment

It’s late July and I’m a little more than a month away from being able to buy a turntable. Of course, I could buy it now, but I’ve been trying to be a good boy and buy things with actual CASH THAT I HAVE rather than credit. Tough life, I know!

The reason I’m buying a turntable is because I’ve recently had an epiphany that I had allowed music-listening to take a smaller role in my life. I have an IPod (an ancient one, which I believe I bought in 2004!) and I use that as my car stereo. I also have a digital library courtesy of Amazon and that reflects my shift to digital a decade ago (initially I was an ITunes man, but my account got hacked and I was unimpressed by Apple’s response or commitment to security). From the 80’s/90’s, I have over 300 CDs (with currently no way to play them!), as I too was a willing “victim” of the CD revolution. I have no LPs remaining from my teen-aged years, which was the only time I was ever in the market for vinyl.

Of course, technically, I don’t have to “go vinyl”. I could just buy myself a CD player (which I’m also actually going to buy!) and be done with it. But I’m buying a record player because I’ve been convinced by the arguments of those who claim that the LP is an essential and a unique way to experience the music one loves. From the large, LP album cover art, to the inserts, the lyric sheets, the ritual of placing the needle on the record, the changing from Side A to Side B, the inconvenience of skipping tracks (so you’re almost FORCED to listen to the *entire* album), and the greater longevity of vinyl (yeah, plastic CDs will probably “last” as long as vinyl, but there’s no guarantee that PLAYERS will continue to be made for CDs once they’re regulated to the dustbin of history, as 8-track and Betamax have been).

In addition to all of these factors, I want to be more deliberate in my music listening. Instead of putting my IPod or Amazon player on Shuffle and just listening to a bunch of different songs from various artists, I want to listen to ALBUMS, as a whole and in their entirety. This is a *different* experience from the way I’ve been listening to music for the last 12 years and I miss it.

More than anything though, getting a turntable and associated amplifier and stand-up speakers will allow me to put my music right in the middle of my living room, instead of being on my IPod in the car or on my computer in the den. Music will once again take its central place in my life. And I think it’s important, because I’ve come to realize that listening to music is MY way of relaxing, my way of getting that little psychological charge that you need every now and again. I made a mistake allowing myself to get to the point where I couldn’t even play most of my physical music collection. Time to fix that.

Politics is so passe

It’s July now, 4 months after my last post here, when I still had hope that Trump could be stopped, preferably by Marco Rubio, my chosen candidate. Alas, as it turned out, the rubes and the racists had the upper hand and Trump is about to be nominated at the Republican Convention taking place next week in Cleveland.

Trump’s victory is the reason for my long gap in posts, as I had to get away from politics for a while in order to lick my wounds. It was just too depressing to see that orange-faced vulgarian on TV, day after day, spouting stream-of-consciousness nonsense that no babblefish could decipher. This man, THIS man, was to be the nominee of my party?

Or my former party, I should say, as there is simply no way I can call myself a Republican when Donald Trump is at the head of the ticket. No way, no how. I will not support a Fascist and the alt-right can go lick its own arse for all I care. I defy.

Anyways, I’m bored with being disappointed in politics, so let’s move on to my new obsession: music. Now, anyone who really knows me knows that I am a keen lover of music. Certainly I have my particular tastes (fairly middling, typical, 70’s/80’s/90’s white boy, guitar rock tastes), so it’s not as if I’m one of those “I love ALL music” weirdos. No, I definitely hate a LOT of music and am usually not shy about sharing my disgust! Modern pop music is especially annoying to me, but also the new metal, with its lack of emphasis on melody or clear vocals (everybody, apparently, wants to sound like Beelzebub calling from a phone booth at the bottom of the Marina’s Trench). I never thought I’d be “that guy”, but give me the melodic arrangements and clear vocals of Van Halen, Def Leppard, Motley Crue, and Guns N’ Roses any day over this current crap.

This whole riff on music came about because I was reading some stories about the revival of vinyl and they caught my attention. I, myself, have no vinyl, having only acquired a few albums as a teen before taking the CD plunge in the late 80’s because… “lasers, dude!” as well as because of the portability and lack of fragility (although CDs turned out to be pretty fragile themselves, in the end). So I ended up with over 300 CDs in my music collection, 300 pieces of art which I realized the other day: I have no way to play them! It’s akin to owning 300 paintings and having them stored away in an attic!

The reason, of course, is the digital music revolution, the power to never again have to physically handle, or own(!), your music! Yes, I gave in to that revolution just like I blithely followed along with the herds during the CD revolution. In the mid-2000’s (or mid-aughts, if you please!), I went full digital, getting myself an IPod, an ITunes library, and becoming a person who listened to music in the digital way, one track at a time. For my CDs, I bought a nice storage dresser (the equivalent of a nursing home for them!), put them away, and haven’t taken them out other than to move them when we bought our house.

But the digital revolution left some gaps in my listening experience. For one thing, I don’t own any kind of stereo equipment any more. I have a pair of speakers hooked up to my computer, of course, but the sound they put out, while decent for what they are, is nothing close to the sound, say, my father’s floor tower speakers laid down to my teen-aged years so long ago. And this makes sense, because these computer speakers I have are “desktop” speakers. They’re little “micro-speakers” and wouldn’t be able to set your feet a-rumbling or your organs a-jiggling even if the house were hit by a bolt of lightning! They’re pathetic, really, and for a man who “loves music” as I profess to do, it’s frankly embarrassing that I’ve allowed my listening experience to get into this state.

But there is always time for redemption and redeem myself I shall do. The first step will be to buy myself a proper stereo system, with an amp/receiver, a CD player, and (most importantly, I’ve been told) a sharp, BIG pair of speakers that can move some serious air. For the first time in years, instead of listening to my IPod on random, I will have the chance to listen to ALBUMS, Song 1 to Song 10, straight-through and to hear the story the band was trying to tell me through their art. Of course, I could have always spun the wheel on my IPod and listened to albums there too, but the experience is not as convenient, especially when you’re just mucking about, deciding what to listen to tonight. Seeing the covers of the CD cases gives you a visual cue to the music within that is lacking in the world of IPod selection.

Of course the question is, will I join the “Vinyl Revival” myself or will I leave that to the hipsters and audiophiles? I am a bit torn on this. On the one hand, I am coming quite late to the party, as I am often wont to do, since I don’t really follow trends that closely, even if I’m aware of them. I’m a “do my own thing” kind of guy and I could give a fuck all of what’s currently cool or happenin’. But vinyl is calling to me a bit that I may willing accept the price of being a piler-on instead of an OG in this arena. I mean, for pure nostalgia’s sake, nothing can beat the pull of vinyl. I can remember putting on U2’s The Joshua Tree and being mesmerized by the bell-like ringing of Edge’s guitar on “Red Hill Mining Town”, Bono’s plaintive vocals (does he do any other kind?!), and the driving thump of Adam Clayton’s bass. There was a time when U2 were my favorite band in the world and I miss those days, especially since I think they lost the plot after Zooropa and have never really been able to get it back. I guess I miss the feeling of being completely, head-over-heels in LOVE with a band, where your fandom knows no bounds. Maybe that’s something that’s only able to be felt by the young, when the world is still fresh and full of ripe possibility. When more of your life is in front of you, than behind you. Or maybe not.

Maybe, just maybe, vinyl records are a plastic time machine that can retrieve that feeling for me. “Sure”, I can say, “U2 suck now, but listen to them at their peak!” And maybe I can get that feeling from the CD versions of their music and it doesn’t take vinyl at all, but would you rather look at Anton Corbijn’s brilliant photography reduced to a stamp-sized little CD jewel case or plastered on the great big planes of space on the cover of an LP?! I know which one I’d choose.

All Is Not Lost!

Rich Lowry, the editor of the magazine National Review, has a very depressing article out called “The destroyer cometh”(http://www.politico.com/magazine/story/2016/02/donald-trump-the-destroyer-cometh-213646). In this article, Lowry decries the damage Donald Trump is doing to the Republican party and laments that there doesn’t seem to be any way to stop him from winning the nomination of the party.

While I share Lowry’s sense of being appalled at this cheap charlatan running amok in the Republican party, I have not given up hope as he seems to have. Trump will win South Carolina this Saturday, but he will not dominate the way he did in New Hampshire. The storyline coming out of THIS primary will be Trump’s underperformance and Rubio/Cruz’s overperformance. I could even see the victory being as small as a 5 point margin, which just about no one is expecting, with Trump regularly being shown with a double-digit lead. But I feel like the momentum is about to shift, with Rubio’s strong comeback performance after his New Hampshire debate debacle. With endorsements from some of the most exciting, rising Republican politicians in the state, including South Carolina’s governor, Nikki Haley, I think Rubio will surprise a lot of people and close well, just like he did in Iowa. I think Cruz too will do better than advertised, with his ground game once again spiking his vote totals higher than the polls are indicating.
 
With the narrative now reset to “Trump is weakening/Rubio is rising”, I expect a Mitt Romney endorsement of Rubio before the Nevada caucus. While Romney, the 2012 Republican presidential candidate who lost to Obama, has been fairly quiet this campaign cycle, I think seeing the rest of the “Establishment” coalesce around Rubio will motivate him to act. As well, Romney will clearly be able to see the damage a Trump nomination would do to the Republican party. He will make the right decision. And with that, you have the perfect storm to take Trump down in Nevada for the first time since Iowa. Part of Lowry’s doom and gloom comes from a poll that was taken in Nevada by CNN that showed Trump with 45% of the vote. But that poll is garbage. The margin of error is a whopping 6.5 points! Couple that with only 245 respondents and I don’t think you can put too much credence in that one. And let’s also not forget Trump has not done as well in caucuses as he has in primaries. Expect a bit of underperformance from his poll numbers in Nevada.
 
Bush will get out (finally) after a poor South Carolina showing and the majority of that support will flow to Rubio. Kasich will stick around for Super Tuesday, but once that’s through, he should be out due to lack of money, as well as lack of results. Kasich’s support will also likely flow mostly to Rubio. The real key will be whether Cruz sees the writing on the wall after a poorer-than-expected Super Tuesday (my prediction!) and bows to the #Marcomentum! That would be a solid for the party and for the chances of defeating Trump, but Cruz has not exactly been known to be a warrior for the party. This is where Rubio’s negotiating skill will come into play, perhaps promising Cruz a Supreme Court appointment in exchange for his leaving the race. One thing we can be sure of: Cruz will not make a deal with the devil Trump, not after all the personal acrimony that has occurred between them. It would’ve been the smart play for Trump to try to court Cruz but that train has left the station.
 
This isn’t to say that this is a 100% sure thing. Cruz could get stubborn and dig his heels in if he wins enough states in the SEC primaries. But I like to think that Cruz will realize that advancing the cause of conservatism is more important than his presidential ambitions and he will give up the ghost. Once that happens, conservatives will unite to defeat the liberal Trump and the Republican party will return to its normal programming.
 
It’s a dream I have. Let’s see if it turns into reality!