Where Do You Wear Your Favorite Disguise?

This Friday I played poker with some friends and I noticed myself evaluating the other players based on small gestures, clothing, and many other factors that determine how someone will play.

Who we are plays a major role in how we do many things in life and poker is one of those emotional and logical challenges that brings our character to the forefront. Alan Schoonmaker has a great book called The Psychology of Poker that explains how the makeup of our character determines to a large extent how we play poker.

Indulge me for a moment and let’s talk poker and personality.

Consider these people coming to your table and what they might have in common. A thin man in his forties sits down quietly in his seat. A woman in her eighties sits next to him. And a young guy sits down and immediately starts lining up the dots on his chips.

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These three people are likely to be cautious and have a deep respect for money. The thin man certainly has impulse control and he doesn’t seem outgoing. The older woman comes from a generation that learned to be very careful with money. And the guy lining up his chips is whispering that he’s a little OCD. They have given you a hint about who they are and it is HARD to act contrary to your personality. Really hard.

On the other side of the table a guy with an expensive watch sits down. The woman next to him is wearing a scandalously low cut shirt. Next to her a man sits down and slaps the maximum buy-in on the table with a thud.

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Betting in poker is communication and these three are much more outgoing and communicative than the others. They want to take risks and they will be more likely to raise, re-raise, or even check-raise.

I will play the same hand very differently depending upon which group of players my opponent is from.

If you read enough poker books you’ll discover that a blend of these two personalities is the ideal style for playing poker. You’ll also learn that some of these things can be faked to give others a false impression of your playing style that will give you a short term advantage against observant players. That is what got me thinking about disguises.

When I play poker I dial my aggression knob all the way up. I make a conscious decision to act (on my cards) differently than my personality dictates. I do this because I read and studied the game. When I first started I played my personality (and lost).

Last Friday was a good example of the adjustments I’ve made over the years. The player to my left raised me three times when it came down to me against him. The fourth time I pushed all-in with a really lousy hand. When he folded I told him I had nothing and was just tired of his raises. He didn’t raise me again that night because he was afraid I’d raise him back and if I did he had no way of knowing if I was bluffing or if I was sitting on aces.

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Everyday CJ would never risk all his money on something so risky. But to play winning poker, Gambler CJ realizes that boldness is required and can shape the long term outcome of the game regardless of the result of any particular hand.

I’ve heard numerous writers say that they adopt another persona at writing conferences and author events. By nature many writers are shy(myself included), but that doesn’t work when you need to meet and speak to a lot of people. We need to become more outgoing and bolder on stage or when meeting readers. I’m really surprised when I hear this from friends who I consider to be well spoken in front of an audience.

That makes me wonder…

When do you put on a disguise?

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Who Makes You Blush?

Come on in. Pretend you’re a date or a golfing buddy. Your choice.

The first thing that happens when you walk into my parents’ little cape, after you shake hands and sit down is the start of embarrassing story time. This tradition goes back as far as I can remember. Since gas prices are so high, why not come for a virtual visit?

One of my dad’s favorite stories of all time is the fishing song. He’s told it to every woman I’ve ever invited over to the house and he’s told it to my children so many times that one day my daughter mentioned it in a radio interview… She actually sang part of it!

The story begins one January day when we were going to catch eels on the ocean. It was around thirty degrees, maybe colder. If you’ve spent time on the ocean you know that with the whipping wind in winter, it gets mighty cold.

Before we left, my dad checked inside my shirt and saw I didn’t have long underwear on, so he sent me back upstairs to get them. I was about nine years old at the time and for a nine year old I was a tough kid. Dad had us hauling firewood in winter, working in the garden in the summer and working on whatever other projects he could find in between.

So… as cocky nine year olds do, I went upstairs and waited about five minutes and came back down. Sans long underwear. Of course dad didn’t check. You didn’t mess with dad or you got smacked. So we loaded the aluminum boat and away we went.

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About an hour later, dad is standing in the water spearing eels, and catching a bunch. The wind is whipping off the ocean and the aluminum seat is conducting freezing temperatures right up my behind. I’m colder than I’ve ever been in my life. The problem was that dad was catching lots of eels and there was no way he was leaving.

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I told him I was freezing and I wanted to go. To understand what that meant to nine year old me, you have to hear another story that I’ll tell you later. Trust me for now, I didn’t complain a lot. Almost never.

Dad came over to the boat and checked again to see if I had my long underwear on. He might have taken me home if I’d had it on, but probably not. When he discovered that I’d tricked him he did what I thought was the cruelest thing in the world.

He started singing…

Chrissy Martin don’t wear drawers
won’t you kindly lend him yours…

(Chris Martin is my real name)

Not very imaginative. One verse. Over and over for hours. I never heard the end of that song. He’s told that story to everyone I’ve ever brought home and now I’ve told it to you.

For years I left the room whenever he started on that story. It infuriated me.

A few years ago my oldest daughter realized how much it drove me nuts and started singing it to me. That’s when I did something about it. I thought long and hard about that day. There was a lesson and I learned it well. It certainly could have been taught in a kinder way, but what had been a lightning rod for negative emotions for years lost its sting once I thought about it. It may sound easy, but it actually took a while.

At some point I think I realized that my anger was that he sang the song, not that it was particularly embarrassing. I was just a kid being a kid. That’s a mistake I can live with.

I typed this whole blog and didn’t bang one key, so I guess I’m over it.

Don’t tell that to Charles Marston, the father in Sin And Vengeance. He messed up and paid for it dearly. I wonder if I was channeling that song when I wrote him? Maybe it’s a good thing my dad doesn’t read my books. Or my blog!

What’s the embarrassing story your family or your spouse tells about you?

Does it still drive you crazy?


Six Dollars Please

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Yesterday I went to the little grocery store in our one stoplight town. There are two stores to choose from, I usually choose the one my cousins owned until they retired.

I picked up a few things and came up to the single checkout line, my milk getting heavy as I waited. A woman in a red sweater, youngish with no ring on her finger, stepped out of line and headed back into the store to get one last thing. Her friend moved her half gallon of milk so I could put my gallon of one percent on the conveyor.

“Don’t want to squish those cakes,” she said and smiled.

She had two six packs of beer and a large bundle of asparagus. All she was missing was a good steak.

A cop from another town joined the line.  A sergeant who had already done nine hours that day. Behind him came a man and his daughter.

The woman in the red sweater came back and the line parted for her before she asked.

The girl behind the register was young, twentyish and really filled out her baggy Children’s Hospital sweatshirt. Her jeans were snug and slim and as I checked out the stud in her cartilage, I realized she wasn’t moving and looked ahead to the front end of the line.

An older woman saw me and said, “Hi. How are your parents?”

I had no idea who she was though her face was familiar. Such are the hazards of living in a tiny town where your family has been for over a hundred years. Everyone knows me even though I’ve been gone twenty plus years. They know I write books, have two kids, and am recently divorced. “They’re great. How are you?”

The cashier held up a lottery slip and told the woman she needed to pick a Powerball. She took a minute to comprehend, looking  around.

“I can type it in for you,” the hot cashier said.

I didn’t mind the wait. As you can tell by this post, I was doing what I always do, taking in the people around me. The crowd was building behind me, but there was no tension in the line. No rush.

The woman colored in the number even though it took longer than asking the girl to punch it in.

The girl operated the machine quickly, spun, and handed the the lady her tickets. She said, “That’ll be six dollars please.”

The woman fiddled in her purse. The two women ahead of me, the cashier and even the sergeant saw her fiddle and waited for her to pull out a five and a one or maybe a ten, but she folded her pocketbook shut.

“Hey, remember me,” she said to the woman behind her.

The woman with the beer was confused.

She said, “We used to ride at Country Stables. We did a lot of shows.”

“Oh, yeah,” the second woman said. “I used to have a horse for every event.”

They kept on talking. The cashier, the red sweater, the cop, the father, and I all waited. No one said a word. The owner came over and shared something about a winning lottery prize with the woman in red. At that point I was really glad I set my one percent down. I shared a smile with the cashier even though she was way too young for me.

The cashier said again, “Six dollars, please.”

The woman went on with her conversation. She was the only one in the store who didn’t realize she was holding up the line. She was old enough to forget, but not so old it was likely to be a serious affliction. Standing there, I was thankful to live where I do. Six people were willing to wait for the woman to eventually realize it was her holding everyone up. No one got rude. No one embarrassed her. When the girl asked again, she finally dug in her purse and this time came out with two bills and the line got underway.

When she was gone and it was my turn in line I said, “You had a nice little break there,” but the cashier wasn’t interested in my overture.

Like everyone else in town she knows where to find me if she decides she’s interested. And there is only one other store in town, so it’s not like I won’t be back.

I hope you enjoyed this real life portrait of the tiny town I live in. Sin and Vengeance and Addicted To Love both feature little towns that remind me of home.

Do you have the patience to live in a town like this?

Would you hold up the line? Or would you go ballistic on someone like this who was ahead of you?

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Did You Marry The Wrong Man?


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The garage door rolled up with a faint buzz that signaled to everyone inside that Sam was home. The Volvo wagon rolled to a stop in front of the second fridge and Sam climbed out and hefted a bag full of documents inside.

Chelsea sat in her usual seat with her back to the door, facing the television. Chris sat at the head of the table, face in a laptop, dinner done, just waiting for his daughter to finally give it up and eat her vegetables. Sam avoided a barrage of requests for intervention on both sides by heading upstairs to prepare a bit more work for the evening.

William yelled from upstairs, “Can someone help me with algebra?”

Chris headed up, peeking into the master on the way, “Can you keep an eye on Chelsea? She still hasn’t touched her peas and corn.” Not a single question about the workday. Not a single thought to what they might do later. Never a plan for a sitter and time alone on the weekend.

If Chris made more money, they could have taken a vacation together just the two of them. But writing hadn’t panned out yet. Sam had asked Chris to give it up a dozen times and get a real job but nothing ever changed.

Chris could have come in for a hug but that never ended well. Best to attend to William’s homework.

When the door closed upstairs, Sam came down and microwaved a pork chop, corn and peas.

“Do I really have to eat this stuff? It makes me sick,” Chelsea said.

Sam walked over, took Chelsea’s plate and scraped the vegetables into the garbage like she did every night. If Chris knew it’d spark a huge fight. Vegetables were important for the kids, but not important enough to fight with them every day.

A few hours later Sam tucked into bed with a novel in the master bedroom while Chris went back to work in the guest room he’d converted into an office.

Several people had told Sam that sleeping apart from her husband had them headed for trouble. But he snored and always worked late. He wanted sex whenever they were in the same bed and he just wasn’t giving her what she needed. He should earn more. He should care more about her and what was going on in her life. All he ever did was take care of the kids and the house and write those damned novels.

Chris worked late into the night and crawled into bed only when he couldn’t stay awake anymore. Still he felt the sting of rejection every night he slept alone, but at least at a distance it was bearable.

Psychology Today had a great article by Rebecca Webber that suggests a successful marriage is less about finding the right mate and more about becoming the right mate. The couple in the scene above illustrates two key points Ms. Webber makes in her article.

First, that we tend to idealize relationships and expect our partner can and should make us happy. When the one we marry fails to make us happy, we blame our unhappiness on them. Ms. Webber suggests that when we get to the point of disillusionment, we have found our chance to grow and become a better spouse but for most of us it is hard to see the role we play in strained relationships.

The second key point in the article is that couples that “turn toward” each other will work through differences and grow together where couples that “turn away” from each other as Chris and Sam do, are headed for disaster.

While thinking about this article today I considered the romantic relationships in Addicted To Love and how men and women tally the good and bad. According to Ms. Webber, women measure their spouses on various criteria including communication, income, romance and any number of other things important to them. They talk to their friends (and commiserate) about how their spouses fall short. Men it seems only do this in one area: sex.

Not surprising that women more often find themselves dissatisfied with their marriage and initiate divorce twice as often as their husbands do.


Shop Like a Boy

Two aisles intersect at the grocery store. Carriages stop. A little boy dances to an imagined rhythm on large checkered tiles. His own personal dance floor. Feet sliding. Head shaking. Arms waving.

His mother says, “Sorry, he’s my wild child.”

A man passes.

“Second child syndrome,” she offers.

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The older boy half hidden behind the carriage offers a shy, “Hello,” as the man passes. More like his mother than his little brother. Maybe he wishes he could be so free.

Across the store another little boy hangs from the handles of his mother’s carriage. The knees of his running pants sliding along the tile until his body catches up and hangs straight. Then he runs on his knees to keep pace with the steady pull his mother gives on the front of the cart.

He comes to the checkout, seeing every brightly colored package of candy. His busy eyes finding one thing then another. Then he walks around the carriage and finds a display of balloons. Busy. Seeing. Exploring.

When shopping is done a third boy bounces a ball atop a grassy hill. It bounds away down a brightly striped slope and he gives chase as fast as his little legs will carry him. The ball hits a tree, changes direction, and heads uphill.

The boy can’t stop. He overshoots. Turns around. And catches up to the ball as it comes to rest. He dives on top of it, relishing the sheer joy of recapturing his toy. You can feel his excitement from one hundred yards away.

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As you go through your day, try to cut through the clutter of shopping lists, deadlines, and holiday obligations. It’s Friday. Shop, work, live like a little boy today.

Happy Easter!