Archive for June, 2016

An ex-jock gets tangled up in a scheme to abscond with ill-gotten cash in the crime thriller ‘Caught Stealing’

June 30, 2016

By Matthew E. Milliken
MEMwrites.wordpress.com
June 30, 2016

More than 16 years ago, novelist Colin Harrison published a gritty crime thriller called Afterburn. I read it not long after its release, and while a lot of the details have faded with time, I remember its brutality. One of the main characters is tortured by mobsters eager to recover some missing money; although at least one character in the book arrives at a happy ending of sorts, most of the others experience grievous and permanent harm along the way.

I thought of Afterburn recently while reading Caught Stealing, a 2004 Charlie Huston novel that shares part of the earlier book’s premise, along with its penchant for putting characters through the grinder. Moreover, the volumes have almost the same setting — Manhattan at the close of the 20th century, although Harrison’s book takes place in 1999 while Huston’s spans Sept. 22 through Oct. 1, 2000.

Huston’s protagonist is Hank Thompson, a 30-something (or nearly so) alcoholic bartender. He inadvertently gets caught up in a vicious caper when his neighbor asks him to take care of his cat, Bud, while he goes to visit his terminally ill father.

The neighbor is named Russ Miner, and he’s got a secret: Although his father is dying, he’s actually skipping town in an attempt to avoid cutting his partners-in-crime in on the $4.5 million dollars taken in a string of small-town bank robberies around the country — money which they trusted him to store until the heat had cooled a bit.

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More (mostly minor) ups and downs of life with an activity tracker

June 24, 2016

By Matthew E. Milliken
MEMwrites.wordpress.com
June 24, 2016

Since I wrote about walking last month, I’ve had two informal walking competitions with my niece and my Parental Unit. One was a Workweek Hustle challenge, conducted at the beginning of June, while the other was a Goal Day challenge, which we did for the first and so far only time in mid-June.

The hustle covers five work days; we had ours over the first full week of June, which coincided with my June 2016 Pokerpalooza. If you haven’t spent much time in a casino, well, as long as you’re not glued to a handful of tables, there are plenty of opportunities to get in many, many steps. However, on the Thursday of that week, I spent most of my time in the car. In part because of that, I finished the challenge with 73,054 steps, about 7,000 steps behind my parent but roughly 8,000 ahead of my niece. Happily, I surpassed my daily goal of 10,000 steps (about which more shortly!) on each of the five days.

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Anatomy of a hand gone wrong

June 23, 2016

By Matthew E. Milliken
MEMwrites.wordpress.com
June 23, 2016

This happened earlier this week, but already a few of the details are vague.

In the big blind, I find myself holding the queen and jack of hearts. I raise to 1,800 chips. A few people come along, including Aziz, the dealer.

The flop includes two hearts, one of which is either the 10 or nine of hearts. (The non-heart is something lowish — a three or a six, say.) I make a modest bet.

The turn is a heart — either the nine or the 10, whichever one wasn’t part of the flop. Now I have a flush. Moreover, this card gives me the nine through the queen of hearts, leaving me open-ended for the rarest and best hand in poker: The straight flush, five cards in consecutive order that all belong to the same suit.

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The cryptic art-house movie ‘The Lobster’ is a strange meditation on couplehood and society

June 21, 2016

By Matthew E. Milliken
MEMwrites.wordpress.com
June 21, 2016

Author’s note: Parents, please be aware that this post obliquely refers to sex. MEM

Some movies are intended to entertain their audience. Some are intended to instruct or inspire. Others are intended to explore a question of some sort.

The Lobster, the latest feature movie from Greek director Yorgos Lanthimos, falls squarely into the latter category. Or to be precise, this art-house film, which Lanthimos co-wrote with fellow Athens native Efthymis Filippou, asks a set of questions.

The film is set in a near-future society, perhaps located in part of what is now Britain, where adults who lose their romantic partners must either become part of a new pair or be transformed into an animal of their choosing. The emotionally detached protagonist of the piece is David (Colin Farrell), a mild-mannered architect whom we first encounter shortly after he has been dumped by his wife and moments before he is picked up by employees of a hotel where singletons must either find new mates or undergo species-reassignment surgery.

The resort and its grounds are physically magnificent, but the place is a joyless, oppressive socialist nightmare. “Guests,” who have 45 days to attempt to find a new mate, are issued identical sets of clothing. (There are no half-sizes, a maid played by Ariane Labed coolly informs David when he arrives.) In the afternoons, the supposed vacationers are taken to the woods to hunt loners, renegade former guests who have gone opted for an existence as feral campers rather than live out their days as animals.

During down time, resort staff subject the guests to short morality plays (“Man dines alone,” one is titled; it depicts a man choking to death over his meal) and nightly dances where they are serenaded by the hotel manager (Olivia Colman), her partner (Garry Mountaine) and a competent but un-enthusiastic band. (During one of these scenes, I recall leaning over and sarcastically whispering “White people dance!” to my companion.)

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My mid-2016 mouth update!

June 19, 2016

By Matthew E. Milliken
MEMwrites.wordpress.com
June 19, 2016

Author’s note: Some readers may find this entry to be slightly gross due to its discussion of a bad thing that happened to one of my mouth parts. Sensitive readers, please proceed with caution. MEM

I went to the dentist last week.

Although — or perhaps because? — I made several visits to the dentist over the course of 2015, I wasn’t exactly sure what to expect from this appointment. But it turned out to be a routine visit.

I was directed to floss more, my teeth were cleaned, I was asked whether my teeth staining was due to coffee or tea (“Uh, tea,” I responded, in a trademark example of my world-renowned witty repartee), and I made an appointment to return in December. Aside from a moment when one of the cleaning implements was misdirected and made a funny noise, there was nothing alarming. (It didn’t hurt at all, but I was afraid it would, and sometimes I can be a big ol’ baby.)

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Memo to Donald: Everyone loves a mischievous television scamp

June 18, 2016

By Matthew E. Milliken
MEMwrites.wordpress.com
June 18, 2016

Yesterday, I surveyed the troubled state of the campaign of New York real-estate mogul and reality-TV star Donald Trump. Today, I wanted to offer a modest proposal aimed at revitalizing his run for the presidency.

It’s a truth universally acknowledged that Trump is a master at grabbing the attention of the news media, largely because he says a lot of outrageous things. It’s a truth nearly as widely accepted, however, that an alarmingly high proportion of the outrageous things he says earn him condemnation.

My solution is simple: Turn the candidate’s liability into an asset by casting Trump as an archetypal sitcom character that everyone recognizes and loves.

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Candidate Donald: A brief status report on the GOP presidential candidate

June 17, 2016

By Matthew E. Milliken
MEMwrites.wordpress.com
June 17, 2016

Donald Trump, the presumptive Republican presidential nominee, is struggling — and his difficulties could harm his party’s electoral chances.

Recently, Trump issued several scathing attacks on Gonzalo Curiel, the federal judge overseeing civil fraud lawsuits against the defunct Trump Entrepreneur Initiative Trump “University.”  Trump’s sharp words earned him reprimands from several Republican allies. U.S. Sen. Mark Kirk, who’s facing a difficult re-election battle in Illinois, withdrew his endorsement of Trump, saying, “I cannot support him because of what he said about the judge. That was too racist and bigoted for me.” U.S. Sen. Ben Sasse of Nebraska, a frequent Trump critic despite their shared party affiliation, tweeted that “[s]aying someone can’t do a specific job because of his or her race is the literal definition of ‘racism.’”

After Sunday morning’s tragic gun massacre in Orlando, the New York businessman suggested that President Obama is some kind of Islamic terrorist sympathizer, if not an outright mole, and reupped his recommendation that Muslims be banned from entering the nation. Politico had a good roundup of Republicans’ dismayed responses to Trump’s swagger. “I do not think a Muslim ban is in our country’s interest. I do not think it is reflective of our principles, not just as a party but as a country,” Speaker of the House Paul Ryan said.

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‘Money Monster’ explores what happens when terrorism, business journalism and live TV collide

June 15, 2016

By Matthew E. Milliken
MEMwrites.wordpress.com
June 15, 2016

Money Monster is a competent, modest thriller about a terrorist — sorry, a white man beset by financial difficulties and other troubles — who hijacks a live TV show. The show is called Money Monster; its host is the fatuous Lee Gates (George Clooney), who likes being on television but doesn’t trouble himself with any of the ethical issues that normally attend an enterprise with journalistic (or even quasi-journalistic) airs.

The story plays out almost in real time over the course of a few hours on a Friday afternoon. The plot is triggered by the abrupt crash of the stock of a company called Ibis; only a few days before the movie opens, it lost $800 million in value due to what executive Walt Camby (Dominic West) opaquely describes as a computer “glitch.” Shortly before Money Monster goes on the air, producer Patty Fenn (Julia Roberts) learns that Camby has broken his promise to appear for a live in-studio interview about the situation.

But disgruntled — and now financially bereft — janitor cum amateur investor cum gunman Kyle Budwell (Jack O’Connor) doesn’t know about this late cancellation. That’s why he shows up on set waving a gun and lugging two boxes, which he says contain suicide-bomber vests fitted for Gates and Camby. By threatening to shoot Gates, Budwell blackmails the network into airing the TV-jacking live and uncut. The New York Police Department shows up quickly, but the world is captivated by this life-and-death drama that threatens to go on indefinitely…

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June 2016 pokerpalooza: The rest of the mess

June 13, 2016

By Matthew E. Milliken
MEMwrites.wordpress.com
June 13, 2016

Tournament of champions semifinals, Tuesday afternoon, June 7, 2016. When I busted out of the national championship event, I wasn’t quite done with my pursuit of glory. By virtue of a second-place finish in a tavern tournament of champions event a few months earlier, I had qualified for the semifinals of the national TOC.

The previous year, I’d had a deep and entertaining run in the finals of the national TOC (or half of the finals, anyway — but I digress) at the very same venue. This time, however, I had to make my way through the semifinals just in order to get to the finals.

The format of the semifinals is a shootout, something I dislike. To advance to the finals, you have to be one of the final two players at your table. (Players don’t move from table to table, as normally happens when competitors are eliminated.)

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June 2016 pokerpalooza: Day 3, tournament 5

June 12, 2016

By Matthew E. Milliken
MEMwrites.wordpress.com
June 12, 2016

National championship finals, Tuesday morning, June 7, 2016. When I got back to the motel early Tuesday after that night’s epic near-miss, I asked the front desk clerk for some paper, a pen and some tape. wrote a note to my roommates: “Please wake me up at 8:30 but not before.” I attended to some matters in the lobby bathroom before retiring for the night in room 173.

All three of my roommates were asleep. I taped the note on the wall above my cot. I blacked out just after 4 a.m. and awoke about five hours later. (As it turned out, nobody saw the note that I’d taped to the wall above my cot.)

The motel served a complimentary breakfast until 9:30, so I put on pants and shoes and a baseball hat and dashed over to the dining room to grab some yogurt, some muffins and a small glass of water. When I finished this extremely modest feast, I went back to my room and closed my eyes for a little longer. About an hour after I’d first awoken, I got up and prepared to shower, only to find that there were no longer any dry bath towels. I asked two of my roommates to get some more from the front desk as they headed over to the casino for the ultimate national championship session, which would get under way at 11 a.m.

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June 2016 pokerpalooza: Day 2, tournament 4

June 11, 2016

By Matthew E. Milliken
MEMwrites.wordpress.com
June 11, 2016

Tag team tournament, Monday evening, June 6, 2016. After a nap, I set aside my misgivings and reported to the Mohegan Sun Poconos ballroom, hoping to kick some tail and win some money.

There were 234 two-person teams in the event. I started off at table 3 in the corner of the ballroom, mere steps from both the doors and the bar. My seat at one end of the table gave me a view of both of those locations.

My partner, J—, was sitting at a table near the far wall, about half of the way toward the huge divider that ran parallel to the main doors. (I’d peeked behind the divider at some point earlier on Monday and discovered that the ballroom extended quite a bit beyond the portion that was being used by World Tavern Poker.)

I didn’t know anyone at my original table, but as it turned out, I knew someone at my partner’s table. The first switch to be called required every player to go to the spot occupied by her or his partner. When I arrived, I found E—, a player who had been my tag-team colleague back in Vegas in November 2014.

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June 2016 pokerpalooza: Day 2, interlude

June 11, 2016

By Matthew E. Milliken
MEMwrites.wordpress.com
June 11, 2016

Monday afternoon, June 6, 2016. Once I advanced to Tuesday morning’s national championship competition, I had a problem: What should I do with myself for the rest of Monday?

I’d initially considered playing in Monday’s 1 p.m. bounty tournament. But although it may have been possible to buy in when my national championship flight ended, it would not have been wise. After a tournament’s been going on for more than half an hour or so, a brand-new starting stack has comparatively little value, and the national championship flight had kept me occupied until around 3:30 p.m.

There were two other tournaments that day. One was something called rebuy madness. This had no appeal to me, as I thought its low entry fee would encourage a great deal of aggressive action, which doesn’t suit my style. (In fact, I later heard that this tournament was canceled for lack of dealers.) The other was the tag team tournament.

The tag team format is loads of fun. Players register in two-person teams; each individual gets a starting stack and is placed at a different table. Every so often, action will be halted and players will be told to switch. Sometimes, everyone has to switch; sometimes, players are told to switch only if, say, one or both of the team members is wearing a piece of World Tavern Poker clothing or if one or both is staying at the casino hotel.

Switching tables offers some extra variety and challenge — all of a sudden, you’re plunked down at a new table with new opponents. Not only do you have to determine how your rivals are playing, sometimes, if the switch occurs in the middle of a hand, you have to determine how your partner is playing.

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June 2016 pokerpalooza: Day 2, tournament 3

June 10, 2016

By Matthew E. Milliken
MEMwrites.wordpress.com
June 10, 2016

National championship finals, flight 1, Monday morning, June 6, 2016. Shortly before 11 a.m., I took my seat in a large ballroom at Mohegan Sun Pocono outside Wilkes-Barre, Pa. There were nearly 200 other players in the room, all intent on one thing: Winning lots of chips over the next four hours or so. At the end of that time, all the survivors, no matter how many or how few chips they held, would advance to a pool of competitors that would also include those who had persevered through Monday afternoon’s second national championship flight.

We’d played perhaps the better part of an hour when something dramatic happened to me. Once again, I was in the big blind; the only players were me, the small blind and a woman named Betty who was either on the button or one seat off the button.

The flop included a queen and two diamonds — for argument’s sake, let’s call it a four and an eight. The blinds both checked, but Betty went all in for 8,000 chips. After some deliberation, small blind folded.

I held a queen with a high kicker — a jack or a 10, I think. I didn’t know what Betty held, but I was almost positive she was trying to buy the pot with her all-in move. On the other hand, I wasn’t thrilled about paying 8,000 to find out for sure, even though I had two or three times that amount.

I turned to the man in the small blind. “I wish you’d called, because now I have to,” I said. I put in my chips.

Betty waited for me to flip my cards over, but I’d called her, and I made a statement to that effect.

Before she complied, she said something that I misinterpreted. I thought she asked, “Do you have a flush draw?,” to which I said I did not. However, she had two diamonds — the ace and a low card, perhaps a two — so she must have said “I have a flush draw” or something similar.

I was ahead at the moment; all I had to do was hope that no cards came out that changed the situation. The turn was a brick, but unfortunately, the river was a diamond, completing Betty’s flush draw. She murmured something conciliatory about how she’d gotten lucky as she collected the pot.

This was disappointing, but the next hand would alleviate some of my bad feelings. As I sat in the small blind, Betty went all in for somewhere north of 25,000 chips. When action came around to me, I found myself looking at pocket aces.

I tried not to act too excited, because there were a few potential callers, and I might make a big profit if one or two of them came along. “I call, I guess,” I grumbled. “Looks like I’ve got less than” whatever amount Betty had named.

Despite what was no doubt an Academy Award–worthy performance, I don’t think that anyone followed us into the pot. We showed our cards, and Betty had the ace and queen of diamonds. This time, she got a queen, but she didn’t get a flush, and I raked in a big pot.

We played until about 3:30 that afternoon, but no other hands made a specific impression on me over that time. When the session concluded, I had 60,100 in chips. (That actually rounded up to 61,000, as we were eliminating the 100-denomination chips from play.) This amount was slightly bigger than the average remaining stack of the players who were left.

A lot of folks I knew from North Carolina and New York remained in the tournament. Play would resume the following morning at 11.

June 2016 pokerpalooza: Day 1, tournament 2

June 9, 2016

By Matthew E. Milliken
MEMwrites.wordpress.com
June 9, 2016

Deep stack tournament, Sunday evening, June 5, 2016. After a slow start, I hit a long stretch where nearly everything I do seemed to work out. I didn’t score a lot of huge pots, but I built my stack with nearly every hand I played.

One of the players at my table was a personable fellow from Asheville, N.C., named Joey. We started chatting and I stopped paying close attention to what was happening on the table when I wasn’t in a hand. Since I didn’t know any of the other players, my distraction meant I wasn’t learning as much as I could have been about my rivals’ tendencies and tells.

My trouble started when I played queen-10. They were suited, I think, and I may have been in the blind. The board gave me a straight draw, and Joey and I bet against each other.

Then I made a mistake. I tried to push Joey off the pot by betting the river even though the fifth card hadn’t completed my straight.

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June 2016 pokerpalooza: Day 1, tournament 1

June 8, 2016

By Matthew E. Milliken
MEMwrites.wordpress.com
June 8, 2016

Author’s note: The following post contains imprecations and “curse words” that may not be appropriate for younger readers. MEM

~~~

Early strikers tournament, Sunday afternoon, June 5, 2016. The biggest move in this tournament was probably one that I didn’t make.

With blinds low — 200-400, I think — the man in seat one raised to 1,100. The woman two chairs to his left then re-raised the bet to 2,200.

When I looked at my hand, I found that I held dual sixes. These are perfectly serviceable hole cards, but something told me to play conservatively, especially because on the prior hand, the woman who had just re-raised had collected a big pot with that exact same pair. Sixes couldn’t hit twice in a row, could they?

Discretion is the better part of valor, I decided, and folded my hand.

The board that followed included a six and a pair of fives; both of the participants in the pot showed their cards at the end, and neither had better than two pairs. In other words, due to timidity, I folded what would have been a full house, and the chance for a major payday.

Otherwise, my tournament experience began unremarkably. I hit on a few hands and missed on more. After losing a few pots, I built myself back up to a thoroughly average stack.

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The blogger, the dogger and the peanut-butter jar: An Everyday Mystery™ brought to you by MEMwrites.wordpress.com

June 7, 2016

By Matthew E. Milliken
MEMwrites.wordpress.com
June 7, 2016

Sometimes, we stumble across an Everyday Mystery™ but we never learn what really happened and/or why. This isn’t a whodunit kind of thing — it’s something more pedestrian, like What happened to that cat that kept meowing in the middle of the night? or Why was that driver signaling for a right turn as he made a left turn from a dedicated left-turn lane? or Was that person waving at me, or at someone behind me? or Did that person see me trip and flail my hands, or did she think I was waving at her? (A secondary mystery in the case of that last, um, case, would be And which possibility is more embarrassing for me?)

Sometimes, however, we stumble across an Everyday Mystery™ and we do learn what happened and/or why. Such was the case about two weeks ago while I was dog-sitting my adorable sister, Lucky the yellow Labrador retriever.

Lucky’s (and my) Parental Unit has a long-standing practice when the dog is being left at home: P.U. gives the dog a treat. My late sister, Sunshine the all-American dog, got an edible thingamabob that was shaped like, and probably marketed as, a stick, so we took to calling this parting gift (as it were) a see-you-later stick.

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Rear-view mirror, poker edition: Just how bad was that bad beat?

June 6, 2016

By Matthew E. Milliken
MEMwrites.wordpress.com
June 6, 2016

I’ve already told you about my bad beat last week in a three-handed tournament against E.A. and B.B. But I wanted to explain just how bad a beat it really was.

As I wrote Sunday’s post, I noodled around with this holdem odds calculator. It told me that E.A.’s win probability at the hand’s start was 7 percent.

Depending on what suits B.B.’s cards were, which I don’t recall, her win probability was somewhere between about 1.2 percent if one of her cards wasn’t one of the suits I held and two-hundredths of one percent if she held the same suits I did. (Her problem in the latter case was that I had higher cards in both suits, meaning she could only win with an extremely rare straight flush, the odds of which Wolfram puts at 72,192.3:1.)

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Straight out of a nightmare: On royalty and ruin in Texas holdem poker

June 5, 2016

By Matthew E. Milliken
MEMwrites.wordpress.com
June 5, 2016

Author’s note: The following post contains imprecations and “curse words” that may not be appropriate for younger readers. MEM

I recently wrapped up a very enjoyable stay at the home of my parent, part of which involved walking the dog. Some of it involved visiting with old friends (“visiting with” — a phrase I may have picked up down South), while some of it involved playing poker.

This has been a generally lackluster season of play for me, but I managed to pick up four wins in about three weeks up north. But as is so often the case, in some ways, the most memorable hand in these no-cash poker tournaments wasn’t one where I struck it big.

Picture if you will a moderate-sized Irish bar in the New York City exurbs on a mostly quiet Wednesday night at the very beginning of June 2016. The poker crowd is modest — just a dozen players for the early game, 11 for the late one.

I notched a third-place finish in the first tournament and limped along in the second one until I started hitting a few big hands (what they were, I no longer have any idea!) after we’d eliminated about a third of the field.

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Comedian Aziz Ansari surveys the state of ‘Modern Romance’ with his first book

June 2, 2016

By Matthew E. Milliken
MEMwrites.wordpress.com
June 2, 2016

One of the things I did on my trip to Colorado last fall, besides watch a Stanford football victory with my Sibling, was watch a few episodes of Master of None with my Sibling and Sibling-in-Law. This sitcom, a Netflix exclusive, was released the day before the Stanford-Colorado game and generated a fair amount of buzz. It was co-created by and stars comedian Aziz Ansari, a native of Columbia, S.C., whose parents emigrated from India.

We enjoyed the episodes. About two months later, come time of the winter solstice, that prompted my Sibling’s family to give me Ansari’s book, Modern Romance. Due to one thing and another, I began reading it in late February, but it wasn’t until last week that I finished the volume.

The book, Ansari’s first, is a comic examination of, yes, contemporary romance, mainly among heterosexuals in America. But some of the most interesting aspects of the text actually describe how modern domestic romance compares and contrasts with the way things used to be here and the way things are in four foreign nations — Japan, France, Qatar and Argentina. (To be precise, it mainly involves the state of things in those countries’ capitals.)

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