Archive for May 2009

My dream poker table

May 20, 2009

This week, NBC’s late-night series Poker After Dark (yes, I am often up and about at 2 a.m., and yes, occasionally I’m watching poker on TV) is rerunning one of its “Dream Table” episodes. The basic concept is that the gaming site Full Tilt Poker runs a tournament online, and the amateur player who wins the tourney gets to play against his or her five favorite poker pros on the TV show.

Poker After Dark has held three of these Dream Table events, if I recall correctly. None of the amateurs has ever won the table, but I’m sure they’ve all enjoyed pitting their poker skills against some of the legends of the game.

Not that I’d ever get on enough of a roll to merit my own Dream Table, but if I did, I know the five pros I’d invite. My table probably wouldn’t provide as much ratings fodder as those that have appeared on the show thus far, because I’d bypass obnoxious but telegenic players like Phil “PokerBrat” Hellmuth (he’ll win this week’s rerun, in case you don’t want to stay up late Friday night) and Mike “The Mouth” Matusow in favor of talents I admire even though they aren’t as flashy.

Look at it this way: If I were granted a once-in-a-millennium opportunity, why would I want to waste it with people whose company I probably wouldn’t enjoy? I’d rather choose people I might actually like. Life’s too short to play poker with jerks.

So here’s my Dream Table, in no particular order.

Daniel “Kid Poker” Negreanu. I read Daniel’s newsletter every week. He’s smart and funny, knows everything there is to know about the game, and seems like a genuinely nice guy. Daniel is the man I’d hire to upgrade my game if I won the Lotto. Which is unlikely, since I haven’t bought a Lotto ticket in maybe 20 years.

Jennifer Harman. Considered by many to be the world’s best female player, frail blonde Jen (she’s had some fairly serious health problems in recent years) looks like a homeless urchin whom someone cleaned up and dropped off at the casino. She’s quiet and thoughtful — almost sullen at times — while playing. But I like her focused approach.

Phil Ivey. Often called “the Tiger Woods of poker,” Phil doesn’t turn up on TV as often as some of the other big-name pros, but when he does, he’s usually right in the mix. (He’s made a record eight final tables on the World Poker Tour.) I can’t make heads or tails of Phil’s hyper-aggressive style — there doesn’t seem to be any visible logic to the starting hands he plays — but I dig watching him.

Howard “The Professor” Lederer. Howard might be the smartest guy at any table he plays, except when Chris “Jesus” Ferguson (a math prodigy who holds a Ph.D. in computer science from UCLA) sits in. Howard’s father is the linguistics maven Richard Lederer, whose books on wordplay — including Anguished English and The Cunning Linguist — are among my favorites. I’d mostly invite Howard in the hope that he’d introduce me to his dad after the show. (Howard’s sister is poker star and Celebrity Apprentice runner-up Annie Duke. I like Annie, but I wouldn’t want anyone at my Dream Table who’d been that close to Joan Rivers.)

Jennifer Tilly. And no, not for the two most obvious reasons. Jennifer was nominated for an Academy Award in 1994 (for Best Supporting Actress in Bullets Over Broadway; she lost to her costar Dianne Wiest). I’d want another actor at the table so that I’d have someone I could talk with about a subject other than poker. You know… a subject I might actually know something about.

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Fresno in my rear-view mirror

May 18, 2009

I just flew in from Fresno… and boy, is that joke tired.

The chorus and I performed in the city I like to call “Gateway to Bakersfield” this past weekend. As it usually is whenever I’m in Fresno — which, thank heaven, is not all that often — it was blazing hot and muggy. Of course, we decided to go with a solid black stage ensemble which accentuated the heat and mugginess. The things we do for love.

Still, we had fun, and received some useful feedback from the judging panel. All in all, a worthwhile tuneup for International competition in Anaheim the first week in July.

Temperature aside, Fresno treated me rather nicely during the 24 hours I spent there.

I found inexpensive overnight lodging at a chain-affiliated establishment that caters to business travelers, which meant that the place was nearly deserted on a pre-summer weekend. (One exception: the honeymooning couple in the room next door. Congratulations, Mike and Diana. I hope you enjoy a long and happy life together.)

A helpful young woman named Patricia checked me in upon arrival. I presume that her name was Patricia, as that was the word she had tattooed across her chest. It’s possible, of course, that “Patricia” was a child, partner, or loved one of some other variety. I’m just applying Occam’s razor here.

Although the hotel had seen better days — if indeed Fresno ever had better days — my room was efficiently appointed and reasonably comfortable. Comfortable, that is, with the exception of the bed, which was hard enough to rank somewhere between corundum and diamond on the Mohs scale, and to qualify as a torture device under the Geneva Conventions. Seriously, Indian fakirs would lie on this monstrosity and plead for nails instead. I was grateful that I only needed to endure the pain for a single night.

Because we wrapped our evening of singing after usual restaurant hours, I feasted on a midnight repast at a nearby location of America’s favorite 24-hour eatery. I ordered breakfast fare — tougher for the short-order cook to screw up — which arrived quickly and quite palatably prepared. The waitress, a pleasant woman of Samoan heritage, kept my lemonade glass filled and whisked away my emptied dishes with aplomb while I pored over Wil Wheaton’s Just a Geek on my Kindle and observed the night manager’s smooth pickup technique as he attempted to score some play from a pair of local talents occupying a corner booth.

As I pulled out of town on Sunday, it occurred to me that, while Fresno might not be my cup of Earl Grey, it seemed to be working just fine for most of the people I encountered during my brief stay. The staff and patrons at the hotel, at the performance venue, at the restaurants, and at the Arco station where I filled my gas tank before departing… all appeared cheerful and satisfied. Endless 100-degree heat in the bucolic middle of nowhere doesn’t shmear my bagel, but for them what likes it — or perhaps, have no experience with any other existence — it’s a life.

And there’s not a darned thing wrong with that.

Fun Fresno factoid: Until January of this year when term limits kicked in, Fresno’s mayor was former NFL player Alan Autry, who co-starred as Carroll O’Connor’s sidekick Bubba Skinner on In the Heat of the Night back in the 1980s and ’90s. It is my firm conviction that every actor who’s ever played a supporting role on a TV series will eventually be elected to public office. Just ask Fred Thompson, Sheila Kuehl, Fred Grandy, Ben Jones, the late Sonny Bono, and yes, Clint Eastwood. (Rowdy Yates on Rawhide, for those of you too young to know or too old to remember.)

Comic Art Friday: Union Jacks

May 15, 2009

Speaking of queens — and we were, weren’t we? I’m sure we were — it’s always struck me as a trifle peculiar that the largest country ruled by a queen calls itself the United Kingdom.

It may have something to do with those mushy peas.

At any rate…

I’ve long wanted to commission a drawing for my Common Elements theme gallery that would feature the United QueenKingdom’s two greatest superheroes. It seemed somehow inappropriate, though, to assign the project to an artist who wasn’t a son or daughter of the Sceptered Isle. Somehow, I just didn’t think the Queen would approve.

After lo, these many years, along came Mike McKone.

Although best known on these formerly colonial shores for illustrating the adventures of such quintessentially American heroes as Spider-Man and the Fantastic Four, Mike leaped at the chance (or at the very least, politely agreed) to bring together for the first time two stalwart defenders of Albion: Marvelman and Captain Britain.

Being the Yank that I am, I unthinkingly requested the commission from Mike using Marvelman’s American name — the character being known on this side of the Atlantic as Miracleman, for reasons that will become clear in a moment. Under his original nom de guerre, Marvelman has enjoyed a lengthy and storied career as a crimefighter, beginning in 1954.

The idea for Marvelman was dreamed up by Len Miller, the British publisher who at the time was reprinting the adventures of the original Captain Marvel for UK audiences. When Fawcett, the good Captain’s American publisher, was driven from the comics field due to lawsuits filed by DC Comics, the publisher of Superman, Miller hired writer Mick Anglo to reinvent the character sufficiently to avoid similar legal action, thus enabling Miller to stay in business.

Anglo’s revamped character was still a young news reporter who gained superpowers by uttering a magic word. Instead of Billy Batson’s “Shazam,” Micky Moran transformed by saying “Kimota,” or “atomic” spelled backwards phonetically. As Marvelman, Micky continued to wage war against evil until 1963. Twenty years later, legendary comics writer Alan Moore revived the character in new adventures. When American publisher Pacific Comics began reprinting the series, the hero’s name became Miracleman — a rather transparent effort to avoid incurring the wrath of a certain other comics concern already using the word “Marvel” to legally actionable effect.

Part of the impetus for Marvelman’s return was the success of another superhero, ironically published by the UK arm of Marvel Comics. Captain Britain had been launched in 1976 as the Anglophilic equivalent of Marvel’s ever-popular Captain America. The new Captain appeared in his own eponymous comics, available only in the UK, for a couple of years before making his US debut in Marvel Team-Up #65.

From that point forward, Captain Britain became a regular fixture in the Marvel Universe. In the 1980s, Cap’s cocreator, writer Chris Claremont, made him the linchpin of the X-Men spinoff series Excalibur, which featured a UK-based team of heroes including former X-Men Nightcrawler and Kitty Pryde. More recently, Cap has headlined his own title, Captain Britain and MI-13.

I couldn’t be more thrilled that Mike McKone took a few moments away from his busy Amazing Spider-Man schedule to draw today’s spotlight artwork. I understand that Mike was pretty pleased with the results himself.

And that’s your Comic Art Friday.

[You can view previous Comic Art Friday posts here.]

As I was saying…

May 14, 2009

Welcome to the new (I’ll let you decide whether it’s improved) SSTOL!

After two weeks of frustration with Blogger, SSTOL is permanently relocating to WordPress.

All of the posts from our first five years will remain indefinitely in their present location, and you’ll be able to revisit them to your heart’s content.

Note that with the move comes a new URL: https://swanshadowblog.com/

Please be sure to update your bookmarks!