Eventually, the halluciantions become so routine that you learn to anticipate them. Instead of flinching at the giant bird swooping down to eat your eyes, you take an early step to the left and bird will eat the peepers of the aged Asian lady who just sat down at the bank of Las Vegas slot machines. Your eyes are saved and you move on. I am an expert at this. I stopped paying attention to the sleep-deprivation images years ago. After all, nothing in Vegas is real anyway, so why pay attention to the things you can’t touch?
So, when Murph appeared in front of me on the last night of the World Series of Poker, I thought I was in the middle of another freak out. Murph, after all, didn’t belong at the Rio. He was a creature of the Palms. He was my favorite poker dealer in the whole of Las Vegas and a man with whom I’d spent many an hour in the Palms poker room. He wasn’t supposed to be in the Rio. For half a second, I thought to pretend he wasn’t there. My colleagues sat on either side of me. If they saw me talking to the space in front of me–a place where Murph almost certainly was not–they’d think I finally slipped off the edge. I knew what happened to people like that. They get dumped behind the poker kitchen and used for spare parts when Eskimo Clark breaks something. Just last year, a spaced out poker writer’s lungs were donated to the Save an Eskimo Foundation. It’s not pretty.
But Murph was there, he was talking, and he had something in his hand.
“I wasn’t sure if I’d see you before you left. This is for your number one son,” he said and handed me a small plastic case. “Maybe he’ll start a collection some day.”
And just as soon as he was there, he was gone. I sat in the darkness of the Amazon Room and wondered if what had just happened was real. It had happened so quickly, it was almost surely like the time I looked at the sky and thought I saw a dealer button in place of the waxing moon.
But, no. There in my hand was a plastic case full of pristine $1 chips from up and down the Las Vegas Strip. A gift for my boy from a friend in Vegas.
It’s funny how you become friends with somebody in Las Vegas. Murph and I were professional and customer for a while. I sat at his poker table, he dealt, and the chips fell where they may. Over the course of a few weeks, I rambled, Murph listened, he asked questions, and I answered. Before long, he knew as much about my life as anybody else in the city. Like a bartender, a shrink, or, yes, a friend.
This was my fifth WSOP in Vegas and the first as a father of two. I needed friends worse than I ever did and my friends came through this year. Unlike many of the years past, I almost never felt lonely the entire time I was there. When I was sick, Jen gave me cough drops and my team sent me to bed. When I needed a drink, Joe was there with a private bar. When I needed breakfast, Al was there with a muffin. Over the course of three weeks, these people were my family. All of the aforementioned and a list of people too long to name without forgetting someone made me feel like I wasn’t truly alone while I was in Vegas. I worked with the best team in Vegas and felt fortunate that the people I worked with were as much friends as they were colleagues. I’m sure I’ll write more about these folks in the coming days. For now, though, I’m home. I slept for four hours on the plane and eight hours Saturday night. I took two naps yesterday afternoon and slept for ten hours last night. I’m still tired, but I’m so happy to be home.
Last night, my boy said, “Daddy, did you bring me anything from Las Vegas?”
I said no and explained that I didn’t find anything he’d like. And then I remembered.
“But, a friend of mine sent something home for you.”
Two minutes later, my son was trying to riffle the stack of chips that Murph had sent home and was making me promise I would take him to Las Vegas some day.
It made me remember what I have come to think of as Murph’s Law: Not everybody in Vegas is a liar, thief, and hustler; some people in that city are genuine; some people are good; and you can find friends in the least likely of places.
Thanks for the reminder, Murph, and the boy says thank you.