Back during my first or second winter break home from college, me and a few friends started playing in a 2%-raked poker game on the top floor of a two-family home in a quiet neighborhood in Yonkers, New York. The first time I borrowed my parents mini-van and drove down there, I remember being a little disappointed by how nice the neighborhood was. I think I was hoping for empty industrial buildings and back rooms and big ugly Serbian dealers. Mostly it was middle-class, middle-aged guys playing middle-stakes poker in the crowded living room of a spot we’d heard about from a friend’s friend’s older brother, or something like that. I used to hang out with guys that took card playing pretty seriously and rumors of under-the-radar, cash on the table, home games like that were always getting tossed around.
Honestly, part of the appeal of this particular game was that the guys who ran it would let us take breaks from playing and smoke weed in their kitchen. After spending the previous semester hitting a bong on a sofa in an overheated dorm room a couple hundred miles from the watchful eyes of my parents and just far enough down the hall from an already less-then-tenacious Resident Advisor who was also probably stoned to rival us, the prospect for donning my winter coat and trudging out to the municipal park smoking spots I had haunted as a high school senior seemed, I don’t know, too juvenile somehow. Also it was cold out. I was an adult. Adults smoke weed inside.
I remember the game being pretty soft but, honestly, who even knows? I wasn’t ever much of an ambitious card player and I might have just been playing erratically enough to get lucky. It was a while ago but I don’t remember feeling like I was “wasting” money. Anyway, the crowd was interesting. The two guys that ran the game brought in trays of Italian food from one of the local delis and had beers and stuff on hand. They had a professional-enough dealer come in and their table was nice; they said it was custom built. Aside from a few glorious hours of miraculously successful underage blackjack at Mohegan Sun a few summers earlier, it was the closest I had ever come to playing in a legit poker game.
There was a crop of regulars. There was an Asian guy who would always bust out early, say goodnight to everyone, and then return 40 minutes later with a fresh wad of cash—sometimes twice in a night. There was a guy in a cowboy hat who everyone called Cowboy who would play conservative poker until the twelve pack of beer stashed under his chair ran out. Then he would drive home. There was also always a few guys from Manhattanville or St. Mary’s or Iona, all those Westchester County Catholic Colleges that everyone from my high school lacrosse team ended up at but that I never learned much about.
One thing I remember is that the bathroom was disgusting. I remember walking in to take a shit one night and being repulsed, nearly physically nauseated, by the layers of mold growing on the shower curtain. It looked like something out of a NOVA special. When you sat on the toilet it hung just a few centimeters from your tucked up knees, it’s original color all but indiscernible, and I swear to god it pulsed with live bacteria.
We eventually stopped going to the game because, one night, my friends and I returned from a smoke break in the kitchen—all red-eyed and brandishing paraphernalia—to a lecture from a new guy, a ranking Yonkers Police chief of some sort he proceeded to explain, about how we “really shouldn’t be ‘doing that’ while he is at the game.” Too stoned and terrified to leave, we proceeded to relieve him of sixty dollars. I think the only reason we didn’t all get locked up is that Chief would have had to explain what he was doing at an illegal gambling establishment in his report.
Anyway, I haven’t smoked weed or played cards in years, but I bleached my shower curtain and scrubbed my bathroom today and thought about all those guys. Hope they’re all doing well.