Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Twenty Nine

My eyelids were heavy Monday night when we got down to four in the super satellite I was playing on Full Tilt. The whole reason I played it was because I couldn’t sleep. And as my opponent turned up his jackhammer to my Q2c on the 9 high rainbow flop I breathed a heavy sigh and fluffed up the down pillow behind my head. I’d get to fall asleep dreaming of cashing the $40K on Saturday.

But as many a bad beat story goes, a four fell on the river despite my 86% chance to win and I bubbled out. And now my heart was pounding and rage was coursing through my veins. Goddamnit. Yet another one blown. Worst of all, I was wide awake again and it was now 2:35 AM.

I lay awake in bed for hours, unable to quiet my thoughts. The sky wore the azure hue of dawn before I got my eyes to stay closed.

I’m turning 29 in a couple of months. 29 is still young and nothing to fuss over in terms of aging, but for a number of reasons this particular turn of the calendar has made me think a lot about the state of my life. Of course most of it has to do with the loss of my job and the very structured lifestlye that came along with it. I mean, getting fired by a sleazy Hollywood douchebag is enough to send anyone into a mini-tailspin and I’m pretty tough. But I was recently reminded that 29 was also the age my mother was when I came into the world. By 29 my parents were married, owned a home in Los Angeles, and had a daughter. They had a mortgage but no school loans, thriving careers and cabinets full of shit like pots and pans and matching china that people had given them as a reward just for getting married. Their parents were proud of their son and his wife and fussed over me like you wouldn’t believe, whether it was my Oma and Opa driving 5 miles down the 10 freeway every weekend to sit with me in the backyard or my Nana and Grandpa flying in from Jersey every couple of months to keep track of how the fuzz on my head was going from bald to red to blonde. They were 29 and already had a lot of serious responsibilities.

I look at myself at 29 and I feel like a joke compared to them. I have no job, no assets and few commitments. I play poker, write for no one in particular and like to get high. I have no desire or plans to get married or have children in the next decade, while it’s all my peers can talk about, think about or do. I’d live with a lot of regrets if I tied myself down like that before I’ve seen the world, written a novel, or produced a film.

Success in a creative field lies at the end of a much harder road. I chose a lifestyle for myself that is largely a gamble. Showcase too, and we remind each other of the implications of such a choice constantly. We chose to sacrifice a lot of ourselves to a brutal industry, exchanging freedom and money and time for a shot at the moon. It’s a very conscious choice. And it’s getting to me. Goddammit I want my pots and pans. You know... metaphorically.

OK, what do you mean sacrificing money? Struggling actors, sure, but d-girls? I’ll let you all in on a little secret. Junior studio executives don’t pull down big bucks. Most of them pull down barely moderate bucks while the rich assholes they slave for might have six or seven figures in random unsigned checks on their desks at any given hour. And most of these junior execs only got those barely moderately paying gigs after 3-4 years of indentured servitude as assistants for around 600 bucks an 80-hour week.

Seeing the real money in Hollywood is not all that dissimilar to seeing the real money in poker. For most the path is fraught with years of low limit grinding, slipping and falling, stopping and starting before attaining any sort of traction. Then, some of those players do manage to put together that bankroll and move up to the 10-20 game and some even find out that they can hack it at that level. Maybe they keep moving up, maybe they don’t. A lot of them will get sick of it. More will go broke. And the luckiest few will hit that really big money with a tournament score, much like the young Hollywood hustlers who set up obscure Japanese horror remakes at studios and find themselves with instant legitimacy as producers when the film opens to $30 million.

My life, my career, my finances were all well on track toward that sort of legitimacy before I became a casualty of the Big Man’s midlife crisis. There’s a large part of me that mourns that loss of the little stability I had and constantly worries about the future and she does a daily battle with the other side of me that is in many ways, happier than she’s been in years. But mostly I’m just fighting the sting of having lived on the razor-thin edge of a gambler for so long, both in Hollywood, and in poker.

After living essentially paycheck to paycheck since I got out of school, I finally lucked into some money early this year. Had I not lost my job, the combination of a fantastic 2005 tax refund and a few other financial windfalls would have eliminated well over half my debt. Debt is a sandbag that’s been around my neck since I was 18 and signed my first loan and credit card applications. Instead, I’m living on the money I thought could shoulder some of that burden as I decide what the fuck direction I’m going to take my career. It’s not like I’m going to be out on the street or anything, but I feel like every time I find myself with even the slightest surplus, I quickly find a way to let it slip through my fingers. Bad financial karma or something. I seem to play poker the same way. The days I win the most are more often than not followed by the days I lose the most.

After a terrible March, I had a nice first half of April where I got myself up about $550 just grinding 3-6 LHE. Tight, aggressive ABC poker. I was very pleased with my results, especially on Titan where the 6 max tables are ripe for the picking. Then I got an email from Party with a 20% bonus offer and moved $500 over there to take advantage of it. But the 6 max there just killed me. I lost everything back that I’d earned this month. So I’m back to being down half my bankroll and looking back up at the climb I’m facing and see the sand slipping through the hourglass of the time that I have to do what I’m doing right now and wish so badly that I could make money from poker right now because God Almighty would it make things easier for me. But these swings are going to happen, they aren’t unusual, and I have to just find a way to shake off the accompanying stress and tilt if I'm ever going to get myself to be successful at this game.

And in Hollywood.

It’s on days like this that I wish I could be one of those people who are satisfied with simpler things. A simpler life. But I know I never will be. Perhaps that’s the real struggle.


Irritable Male Syndrome said...

"and wish so badly that I could make money from poker right now because God Almighty would it make things easier for me."

I understand this, probably a little too well.

HCR said...

Just let me say this you are not alone...I can relate to a lot of what you said.

Hammer Player a.k.a Hoyazo said...

I swear, Change, you ought to write a book or something. Even when you're kinda down, your posts are always an excellent read.

Anyways, at 29 I was in much the same situation as you. Here just a few years later, I've ended up with most of the things our parents had at this age that I didn't have just a short while ago. I guess all I'm saying is that a lot can change for the better in a relatively short period of time. When you least expect it, blahblahblah I know.

Pokerwolf said...

If Life was simple or easy, then it wouldn't be worth living.

Keep on, keepin' on, Sistah Change. The way to figure things out and get things done is to put one foot in front of the other.

High Plains Drifter said...

I feel ya, Change.

"Where do I go from here?"

"Man, it would be great if I made just a little more money playing poker."

Keep your head up.

Poker Jones said...

Ahem. Fold, spindle, delete these comments at your leisure, but here goes:

You're not a poker player. You love poker. And you're pretty good at it. Far better than the average donk. But "Poker Player" is a whole different breed of cat. You're something else, so don't put too much stock in the outrageous fortunes of the felt. Treat poker for what it is, a strange, challenging and semi-profitable exercise. It's not your life.

Having read your blog the last few months, I think I have a good sense of what you are, however. You're a writer, dammit. And a very good one.

Your facility with words puts a man who actually gets paid to use them on literary tilt. Yes, you're in Hollyweird, where lives are measured not by days or weeks but by frames per second. And you know what? That's very cool. More envy. And I have to believe that if there's ever been a place that needed good writers, Hollyweird has to be it.

You've read enough shitty scripts and treatments to know that the second act is always the hardest to sustain. But there must have been one or two occasions while slogging through those endless piles of pap on behalf of glory-bathed morons that you found a second act that actually worked. Perhaps you even smiled to yourself, slightly giddy in the knowledge that, somewhere out there, someone actually gets it.

Sounds to me like you've reached Change's Second Act.

Years ago, while waiting to board a plane on Martha's Vineyard, a very famous director was booked on the same flight. Shits and giggles prompted me to ask the director to address an autograph to a good friend of mine who had his own directorial ambitions. What the director wrote to my friend was simple and direct: "Make film."

Hollyweird needs you, my friend. It needs your wit. It needs your POV. But don't think of it in terms of blockbuster status and renumeration. If you truly love the business and want it to continue as part of your life, focus on what's important -- your talent and integrity.

In other words, Change: "Make film."

FatBaldGuy said...

If you want the simple life, that's easy. The high life, that's tough. The good life, well, that's what you make yourself. [High roller kind of high life, not smokin' high life, lol]

Good luck.