Jingling through Harrah’s on my way home from Bally’s I decided to stop by the poker podium because… Hmmm. I guess every now and then I have an emotional need to engage someone in conversation for reasons other than trying to determine how strong their hand is.

Irene was on brush.

You want a seat, Kat?”

Nah, I’m done for the day, going home to feed Louis. How’s the…”

Kat!” boomed the International Man of Mystery (IMOM) as he bounded from Table 1 and landed directly between me and Irene.

What are you doing here?” I said. Now it may seem perfectly reasonable that I would run across a poker player in a poker room, but IMOM never plays at Harrah’s for reasons that he refuses to explain. It’s possible it has something to do with the carpet.

I had to, Kat. The couple in the eight and nine are terrible. I followed them here from Caesars.”

You’re stalking your marks?”

Shut up and get in the game.”

I scanned Table 1. It didn’t look particularly inviting. The imposing frame of The Shark was looming menacingly in seat one as IMOM returned to seat three. The five was open. I don’t usually regard a game as good when there are two stronger players than me sat in it, particularly when one of those players invites me to. On the other hand the couple in the eight and nine had over seven hundred between them on the table.

Irene! Changed my mind.”

I slid into the five, said a general “good evening” to the table, and yelled “cocktails!” on the assumption that somebody probably needed one. The Shark glanced at me briefly with heavily-lidded eyes, then returned to filing his fangs.

As I studied the eight- and nine-seat from under my hat while pretending to text I was immediately confronted with a conundrum. The woman was immaculately coiffured, with eye-catching jewelry and recently retouched make-up. (Trust me on this, I used to date a cosmetologist,) The gentleman looked like he’d just got back from milking the cows.

Now cow farming is a noble profession… Er… probably? Actually I regularly get e-mails from people claiming the opposite and despite living in Kansas for two decades I kept as far away from those huge, vicious things as possible, partly because I’m lactose intolerant. But I digress. What I’m trying to bring into sharp focus here is the conundrum mentioned above, which can be stated in this specific case as: How does someone sporting a haircut apparently created using multiple kitchen utensils and wearing a flannel shirt with egg on it end up with an elegant woman in heels and a little black dress?

Seriously, there is no way hair can look that bad unless a pudding bowl and an egg-whisk are somehow involved.

The conundrum also led to a sub-conundrum which is a special case of a larger, more general gender-related meta-conundrum that is, in turn, entangled with issues associated with women who play live poker probably being bored sick and frankly thoroughly annoyed by people like me who for some reason can’t resist saying things like…

What a beautiful watch!”

I was lying, obviously, but the thing was definitely striking. The face was surrounded by a huge golden oval somewhat reminiscent of an Egyptian scarab and attached to the woman’s wrist by a broad, glittery metal band. (A band made of metal, that is, not… you know.)

It looks like something Barbarella would wear,” I continued, then immediately realized this was probably a bad move since, while the idea was doubtless triggered by facial similarities between Jane Fonda and the nine-seat, Jane Fonda spent a large chunk of Barbarella wearing not much more than glittery metal bands. Plus the egg-stained hayseed in the eight was now glaring at me.

Oh thank you, the watch doesn’t work anymore, I just wear it as a bracelet.”

Ah now that’s an interesting coincidence,” I said, putting down the shovel with which I’d been digging the hole and whistling to security to wheel in the backhoe. “Watches always break on me! Mechanical, quartz, solar, all of ’em stop after a few days.”


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“Oh yeah, neither physicians nor horologists can account for it! My grandmother attributed it to the fact that I was born on Friday the thirteenth, but she also said things like ‘You can’t keep a sheep on the hillside with a staple gun.’ Anyway, instead of a watch I wear these…”

I pulled up the sleeve on my cat shirt to reveal two cat collars (it was a Tuesday), one black, one purple, both studded with glittery glass. I jingled the bells. Out of the corner of my good eye I noticed both The Shark and IMOM had covered theirs with their hands.

“I haven’t had any trouble with these at all, except they don’t keep very good time. Sorry, is it on me?”

And then a strange thing happened.

The person in the little closet next to the security camera room at Harrah’s who chooses what music to pipe into the pit opted for “Rio” by Duran Duran.

At first sight this may not seem strange at all, since Harrah’s has never claimed to be at the cutting edge of rock n roll (Toby Keith!?), but if you have watched Barbarella you will likely recall that one of the key characters in the movie is Dr. Durand Durand. He’s the one who invented the Positronic Ray. The band got their name from the character, dropping the terminal dees possibly because they are difficult to enunciate clearly with British teeth.

On the other hand, you may not remember this at all. Nobody else at the table claimed to. So I changed tack and explained about this one time at the Riviera when the person in their little closet thought it would be a really good idea to entertain the punters with Beck’s “Loser” immediately followed by Orbison’s “Only The Lonely.”


And writing this down for the first time it just struck me that maybe the egg-stained flannel shirt indicated that the eight-seat was not a dairy farmer at all. More likely he raised chickens.

I realize that some of you read these posts in the forlorn hope that there might be some actual poker content, and may want to know how the pros did against the soft spots.

Total fiasco.

The Shark went deep in a hand with Jane Fonda who shoved into him out-of-flow on the river, causing him to tank-fold the best hand. Jane and Eggy McHaircut then left, and I accidentally stacked IMOM when he flopped the underfull to my top trips and I filled up on the end.

But at no point was I bored. And unless I read people much more poorly than I think I do, Jane had a positive experience at the table, as did the six- and seven-seats who I heard chuckling to each other about the mental Brit in the cowboy hat and cat collars. I don’t think Eggy is much of a people person.

The point is that any job can get dull, and I have a very low threshold to boredom. All my life I have looked for healthy ways to stay engaged. On occasion I have failed spectacularly, sometimes dangerously, but The Trickster within keeps pushing, pushing…

On the wall of the building that I left for the last time in December 2007 there is a huge sundial. The gnomon (the pointy thing that casts a shadow, pronounced “no-mon,” which in another bizarre coincidence is also what the Jamaicans who taught a fifteen year-old me how to play three-card brag said when I tabled the losing hand) juts out from the wall at ninety degrees and from its base sprout lines terminating in roman numerals indicating the time.

One Fall semester we were joined in the Physics Department by Donald, our new and brilliant assistant professor, fresh off  a postdoctoral fellowship at Princeton. At this time I was, for reasons that I still cannot grasp, both on the faculty and Director of the affiliated Warkoczewski Observatory.

The first Friday in November was unseasonably warm and I suggested to Donald we walk to a nearby coffee shop before the weekly colloquium. As we strolled below the massive sundial I looked up at it and shook my head.

“I really don’t want to drive in on Sunday, Donald.”

Donald knew I lived forty-five miles away, whereas he was renting an apartment on the edge of campus. He was also always willing to help and one of the kindest human beings I have ever met.

“Is it something I can take care of?” he asked eagerly, as I knew he would.

“Oh well I hate to ask, but… my duties with the observatory include changing the campus sundials at the beginning an end of Daylight Savings time.”

I returned my gaze to the sundial above us and sighed heavily.

Donald blinked. “How… er…”

“Would you really, Donald? That’s ever so good of you, there’s a ladder in Mike’s lab.”

I suppose it’s fortunate that Donald realized before he retrieved the ladder that the only way to “change the sundial” would be to rotate the science building through fifteen degrees. In my mailbox on Monday morning I found a sheet of paper in his immaculate, tiny handwriting covered in equations. After six hours I finally convinced myself that they represented a derivation of the rotational transformation that correctly described changing the building’s sundial, but Donald had expressed the equations using an ingeniously complex coordinate system to make them as difficult as possible to verify. Because he knew I’d be compelled to try.

Six weeks later it snowed heavily. Donald built an igloo outside the Physics Department. And slept in it.

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  • Jenny

    Donald’s igloo was awesome. Did you climb into it? 😀

    My grandfather was an engineer and once told me “These scientists from Princeton are so damn smart but that doesn’t mean they know how to use a hammer or screwdriver.” I thought he was exaggerating. Donald was perfectly genius, but I actually did show him how to properly utilize a screw driver one day when he inexplicably turned up at a Society of Physics Students meeting when we were taking apart hard drives for the Neodymium electromagnets. “I know this is probably first grade….” The little exchange and showing him how to twist and turn made my day.

    Just the same, I’m glad he figured out the math before he attempted the use of the ladder 😀

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