Monday, April 02, 2012

The Day The Rains Came

Frequent readers of this blog know I like to reference “that week in April” eleven months ago as if it were the year 0 A.D., with everything that happened before and after in my life divided into two different eras. After “that week in April” I descended into a sluggish, self-loathing mist as the rainiest May in recent memory besieged the Front Range. I sat around the house, wrote a crappy book, watched a lot of basketball, and listened to a lot of Fleetwood Mac. I imagined my ex obsessively repeating “Silver Springs” without understanding the depravity of that vision, stared at the clouds listening to “Storms”, and fixated on the song “Dreams” and its enigmatic lyric “When the rain washes you clean, you will know.” I felt dirty and worthless, but visualized a day in the future when the rain finally washed me clean.

In Las Vegas last summer an astounding deluge ripped loose from the heavens one evening while I was out driving.

I didn’t feel any cleaner after it abated.

A mercurial rainstorm struck us just as we crested a pass on a backpacking trip later that summer. Five minutes later the sun was drying our packs off, and I felt no cleaner.

I went running in a chilly downpour one morning last October in a cemetery in Knoxville, Tennessee, came home and took a hot shower, and emerged as dirty as ever.

When the rain washes you clean, you will know.

In Ethiopia there are two main seasons. There is the dry season in which it never rains and the rainy season in which it does every day. In between there might be a “mini-rainy season” which could feature a few moderate rains, but nothing comparable to the legit rainy season set to arrive in May or June. I arrived in the height of the dry season. Most days there were no clouds. One night we were startled to find it sprinkling, but that lasted just a few minutes and it wouldn’t come close again for months. Everyone said it would remain dry until May or June, so I decided I’d try to do some good, get dumped on in Uganda or Rwanda or Colorado afterwards, and get clean.

I came here thinking I was a pretty skilled haggler. I have, after all, played hundreds of games of Settlers of Catan and spent ten days in Morocco learning the ropes on cross-linguistic bartering. I honed my skills rapidly in Ethiopia. I lean heavily on “the walkaway” – refusing a price to the point of pretending to walk away in disgust and look for another vendor. The walkaway always works.

An amazing coincidence occurred when a housemate showed up with the exact same pair of sunglasses I’d bought a week earlier in Piazza. He had paid 80 birr for his. I paid 100 for mine.

I met this guy Mesfin in Piazza who helps us haggle for stuff in unspoken exchange for a meal after we hang out. After watching me haggle for a few minutes one afternoon, Mesfin was disgusted with my performance. I thought I got a good price on a watch but Mesfin said I could have paid half. I had used everything in my bag of tricks – the underbid opening, the appalled expression at the overbid counter, the walkaway. But Mesfin said it was obvious that I wanted the watch. You can’t go in with the expectation that you’re gonna walk away with something, he said. The merchants sell all day everyday. They can smell your craving from a mile away. The merchant knows how bad you want it, better than you know yourself. You can’t fake indifference. You actually have to be indifferent.

I did a lot of good things in Ethiopia, for myself and for others. Friends here and home told me how proud they were of what I was doing and how far I had come. I felt better and better about the person I was and the direction things were heading. I bought into the hype.

Clouds rolled in last week. Innocent white puffs led the charge, but were soon followed by lingering, dark-bottomed clouds. Thursday night it finally rained – a brief but foreboding spray accompanied by a few lightning strikes.

Friday morning I got my wings clipped for the first time in a long time. After three months on the mend, my ego took a bruising blow. The day was cold, black, and menacing. It wasn’t the Addis Ababa I knew. That afternoon, in an attempt to mend my damaged self-esteem, I sought the counsel of a friend via online chat. I promptly made a comment that was so sickeningly narcissistic it instantly repulsed her to the point of terminating the conversation. While I will spare the details for the sake of privacy and embarrassment, I essentially said that I was deserving of something special. I knew right away what I said was arrogant, but it was another half hour before it really dawned on me.

My life is a lie.

There’s a reason I’m always following an optimistic post with a depressing one on this blog. I keep rebuilding a house of cards on top of a broken base. Time and again I hit a low and then set about rebuilding the house under the assumption that I need to build it bigger and better this time. No matter how well I stack the cards, they always come crashing down because the foundation is rotten. That foundation, for as long as I can remember, has been based on the premise that I am special. Things that happen to me are more important than things that happen to other people. People care more about me than others. God does too. If I work hard enough, if I try to live a righteous life, I am deserving of extraordinary rewards. If I do things better than my colleagues, I am better.

The more I think about it, the more I realize the poison of Pride seeps through everything I do. You can see it in my writing. From “My Life in Addis” February 12: "...I will be deserving of the sort of companion I have long envisioned." From my last post a week ago: "I don’t want to go to firenje parties. I want to be the firenje." Being a firenje here makes me feel special. While there’s no shame in keeping a self-absorbed blog, my book is a piece of shit because it assumes my life is noteworthy, that my everyday interactions are more momentous than yours. Poker could never satiate me because I believed I was predestined for greatness. Meanwhile, I habitually underestimate my opponents. Relationships rarely get off the ground because discerning people – the kind of people I want to associate with – can see through the bullshit pretenses I project over my intrinsic insecurities. They know the difference between confidence and pride, better than I do. They know I want that watch. Every single thing I do, every action, every conversation, every moment of every day is accompanied by the expectation that I will walk away with something for my troubles.

Just as this psychological bag of bricks landed on my head, a raindrop followed suit. The blackened skies began pouring rain, the first real rain to hit Addis Ababa in six months. A stunning psychological breakthrough arrived mere seconds before the heavens opened up and spilled their first rains of the year. Coincidence?

Of course it was a fucking coincidence. God doesn’t plan the weather around Thomas Fuller. Fleetwood Mac doesn’t write songs for Thomas Fuller.

I walked home in the torrent, simultaneously soaking in shame and rain. But when I got home, I felt as dirty as ever.


Blogger Ryan Wanger said...

I know people will always say you should have high expectations for yourself, but I'm not sure that's necessarily healthy. Aren't they nothing more than a baseline for disappointment?

In my dream where you won a WSOP event, I was imploring you to enjoy though I was afraid that instead of being happy, you'd treat it as nothing more than meeting an expectation you had set.

I'm fairly certain that happiness has almost nothing to do with what happens to you in life.

5:57 PM  
Blogger Dave said...

You're not a bad person, you traveled across the world to help children. Very few people have the privilege of improving the world that way.

8:37 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Neurotic Nelly. Just do what makes you happy man. Do you know what makes you happy? Maybe you should get a degree that would allow you to be a camp guide or a park ranger or something. Word of advice about women also. Just treat them like a friend when you are first getting to know them and leading up to the first date.

11:38 AM  
Blogger TheGraveWolf said...


The 2006 World Series of Poker

Three and a half weeks ago I got my corneal ulcer, and I haven't been right since. I've been living a diminished existence. I don't like going outside and exercising, because I can't see right. I don't like hanging out with people, because I can't look at their faces and it makes me uncomfortable. Basically I don't like doing anything except sedentary activities where I don't have to look anyone in the eye or look at anything more than eight feet away.

I ain't happy, I'm feeling glad
I got sunshine, in a bag
I'm useless, but not for long
The future is coming on
It's coming on
It's coming on
It's coming on

- Gorillaz, "Clint Eastwood"

That pretty much sums up my feelings leading up to this year's World Series of Poker. Last year's WSOP was a soul-eating, ego-deflating, devastating adventure that almost killed my love of the game along with nearly destroying my bankroll. I'm not sure what was the low point -

busting myself by pushing in with 97o after a guy limped with aces in the 5k NL
losing a 4k pot with JJ against Q8o all in preflop on Party Poker
busting myself by pushing in with ATs against aces in the 2.5k NL
hearing "Pour Some Sugar on Me" 12 times a day while staying at Harrah's
busting myself by pushing in with 88 against aces with 11 left at the Palms after being chip leader with 15 left
getting tooled by Ram Vaswani in the 3k NL
nearly busting myself by pushing in with kings against aces on day 2 of the main event
hearing a terrible cover band do Tequila Sunrise at 4 AM at the Gold Coast one July morning
finding myself on tilt for basically the first time ever

It was bad times, it was no fun, I was unlucky, I was probably in over my head, I didn't have a big enough bankroll to be there, it almost wiped me out, but it was last year and this is this year. No more Def Leppard. No more crappy cover bands at the Gold Coast. No more Graveyard Specials (sadly). No more lying in a hotel bed watching back-to-back episodes of "Yes, Dear." The house will be loaded with a revolving crew of talented, supportive poker-playing friends hellbent on winning bracelets. My bankroll is big enough that I think I can stomach dropping 50k without panicking. Emotionally that would be difficult but I think I can handle it.

But I don't think I'm going to drop 50k, I think I'm gonna bust loose and do something huge.

Yesterday I wired $45,000 to the Rio. I preregistered for the following events:

Tuesday June 27 1.5k NLHE
Wednesday June 28 1.5k PLHE
Thursday June 29 1.5k Limit HE
Friday June 30 2.5k shorthanded NLHE
Saturday July 1 2k NLHE
Tuesday July 4 5k NLHE
Thursday July 6 1.5k Limit HE
Friday July 7 2.5k NLHE
Monday July 10 1k NLHE
Tuesday July 11 2k PLHE
Wednesday July 12 50k HORSE
Thursday July 13 2.5k shorthanded NLHE
Friday July 14 2k NLHE
Sunday July 16 2k NLHE Shootout
Tuesday July 18 1.5k NLHE
Wednesday July 19 2.5k PLHE
Friday July 21 2k NLHE
Tuesday July 25 1.5k NLHE
Friday July 28 10k NLHE World Championship

Assuming I don't make a huge run in the main event, I will also likely play several of the 1.5k events scheduled in August. I'm also considering the 5k PLHE on July 22 and will make a gametime decision on that one. Then there is the Bellagio Challenge Cup, including a 10k main event, in early August. Assuming I don't go deep at the WSOP and haven't lost my bankroll, I'll probably play that one as well.

The house will cost $30 per night plus $10 for every room. Someone staying alone would pay $40, and someone staying with two other people would owe me $33. The house is available to us from June 25 through August 9.

4:53 PM  
Blogger TheGraveWolf said...


And now some over/under estimates I have set for the trip:

# of WSOP events I play: 21
# of WSOP cashes I make: 3
# of WSOP cashes from the house: 12
# of WSOP final tables reached by the house: 2
# of WSOP bracelets won by the house: 1
# of World Cup games I will watch: 7
# of World Cup games I will watch decided by terrible officiating: 6
# of times Jose's mom will break up the soccer game: 83
# of times I hear "Pour Some Sugar on Me": 3
# of times I watch a full episode of "Yes, Dear": 0
# of times I watch a full episode of "Lost": 23
# of 100 degree days: 43
# of 110 degree days: 9
# of rainshowers: 1 (it has never rained while I have been in Vegas)
# of 200 games I will bowl: 1
# of 250 games the Gambler will bowl: 2
# of laptops found in the house at its peak: 11
# of times the Gambler says "I hate my job": 49
# of times the Fish says "yet again": 74
# of times I use the phrase "incongruous romanticism" in a blog entry: 0
# of times I use the phrase "So the turn comes the Tc" in a blog entry: 3


The few times I've played poker recently, I've gotten really lucky. I don't think I've been playing well at all but it's hard to lose when you hit every draw and then pull out a one outer for a 4k pot. A big question I have to think about is will I play live 25-50 or even 50-100 NL this summer. We'll see.

June 16 evening: 1.5 hrs, +3223
Tuesday afternoon: 2 hrs, +5256
Tuesday night: .5 hrs, -747

Year to date: 133,627

4:53 PM  
Anonymous Rose said...

Dearest Brother Tom
Of course Fleetwood didn't write that song for you. Tom, how selfish can you possibly be in your loneliness?
Fleetwood Mac wrote that song for ME.
I have a tendency of making up lyrics when I can't understand the words. In this case, my grave lyrical confusion lead way to even more fixation on this song, a song I repeatedly tell myself is hardly worthy of current, or past, obsession.
"When the rain washes, you claim you'll know."

I don't think anyone will ever REALLY know, Tom. But I love you and your writing and look forward to your return.

8:06 PM  

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