Posts Tagged ‘look out behind you!’

Well Now There’s This

Saturday, January 21st, 2012

I think that pictures of snow must be the most boring thing in the world to people who regularly see snow. (I also think that light switches on the outsides of bathrooms are about the worst idea ever). For the rest of us, such snaps have a certain “watching a train wreck” quality. It’s not the beauty we’re drawn to, but the appalling implied chaos. First we have an immediate stretch of  treacherous walking and driving. This is followed by a period of extended slush/muck, during which mud and guck of every unspeakable description seems to leap from the ground onto your shoes and boots, pants, jacket, everywhere; and getting from point A to point B becomes such a boggy slog that you think, “Hell, maybe I’ll just stay indoors today. I mean, really, who needs food?” As snow turns to ice, it’s piled into huge dark mounds by city workers who contribute their own cigarette butts and Dunkin’ Donuts cups to the aggregate, as if out to create a post-modern sculpture upon the guiding artistic principles of chaos and inconvenience. These mounds will linger for weeks and months, until gradually melting away in the spring to reveal lost shoes, mittens, hats and the odd iced animal. Good times.

Yet when it’s fresh, it sure do look purty. So now there’s this.

And if you’re not from snow country, let me just say that the novelty wears off almost the instant it sets in.

I did get in a nice walkabout last night before the weather set in, and captured this picture of The Church of the Holy Blah Blah Blah (sorry, I never was good at tracking facts).

Plus a damned intriguing ghost rider in the sky.

Somewhere in the past week I also stumbled upon Jedi Salad

Made with real Jedis, I suppose.

We close this post with the estimable Plateau of Cheese. You will find it on the map not far from the Jagged Peaks of Tortellini and the Lake of Spilt Milk (over which there is no use crying).

Okay, that’s enough of this nonsense. There’s a world of snow out there just waiting to envelop me in its chilly moist embrace, so I’d better get cracking. You know the expression “Winter Wonderland?” It’s just like that.

Without the wonderland part.

More later, -jv

“Now Saving Bulgaria”

Sunday, January 15th, 2012

For fairly obvious reasons, these weeks when I download my pictures I download them to a file labeled “Bulgaria.” Just now I went to save all my changes and I was informed that I was “now saving Bulgaria.” That made me feel rather good.

But seriously, it’s only a television show.

I had a chance to take a long walk around today, camera in hand. As always, I set out to take pictures of important cultural artifacts.

This has to be important. It is on a very high pillar.

I like to show folks the typical sights of the city, including its streets and sculptures.

Streets.

Sculptures.

But my plan always goes to hell and I end up taking pictures of dogs instead.

(True fact or bar fact: there are more stray dogs in Sofia than people.)

And then things just degenerate into silly sign captures, like this one that, at least, tells it like it is.

And this one that, based on investigation, tells it like it isn’t.

Because that was not one New York tasting hot dog.

And then this one…

…which, to my non-Cyrillic-reading eye, initially struck me as “bimbo outlet,” but I’m pretty sure it’s not.

Anyway, all in all a pretty picturesque and picture-driven stroll around town. My mental map is now good and dialed in. I know where two Subways are (and two metro stations), plus two Irish bars, many Non-Stop stores in case I need a can of peaches at 3 a.m., what looks like the world’s sketchiest Chinese restaurant, plus the National Theater and the National Gallery and this palace and that church and blah, blah, blah.

Sorry, folks. I’d rather take pictures of signs.

More later, -jv

PS: Bar fact, which you knew.

Postcards From Paradise

Monday, July 18th, 2011

Forgive me Father, for I have sinned. It has been too long since my last blog post, but I find that I really only have something to say when I’m away from home base, and I haven’t been away from home base since, well, since the last time I was away. Anyway, I’m in Cancun now, on vacation with Maxx, and enjoying the to-die-for view out my hotel window.

We’re staying at a Westin Something-Something, not quite a hotel, as it has vaguely a kitchenette, which I guess makes it sort of a fallow timeshare unit. Good for us: we can stock up on real food and eat in our room, and not be subject to the tender mercies of the Planets Hollywood and Señors Frog that litter the Cancun hotel zone. The plan for the week is pretty much sleep, sun, swim, repeat. There will be little, if any, sightseeing, though I imagine that I shall be able to bestir myself to make the walk to the Mayan ruin next door. Maybe not. When we get away on these tropical laze-abouts, the general idea is to stew in our own juices and let our batteries charge back up to full. I guess my idea of a hard day’s work is this here blog post, so, whew, am I exhausted.

This is the “safe” part of Mexico, very touristy, very Americanized, high penetration of English and low penetration of narco-bandits. Though I suppose if you drove due west across the Yucatan, you could get yourself into some sketchy situations. For that matter, I guess the wrong cab at the wrong time of night would turn the same trick. Not that I’m likely to stumble into any cabs in small hours; the lively nightclub scene in Cancun will have to be enjoyed by others. Me, I’m happy with an interesting movie on cable or a clear view of the stars.

Those who have followed my vacation posts know that I’m fond of mystery photos. Some of you have proven quite good at answering the question, “What am I looking at here?” But this time I think I have a real puzzler for you, so here it comes.

First correct response wins a laurel, and hardy handshake.

More later, -jv

What Do You Think of This?

Monday, May 30th, 2011

I’m writing my memoir. It’s called BUT IT’S FUNNY IN RUSSIAN: A WRITER’S ADVENTURES IN TEACHING OVERSEAS. I’m posting the first chapter here, and I’m interested to know what you think. Do I sound snarky? Sincere? Is this a book you’d invest time and coin in? I welcome your comments here, or via email through the link you’ll find on this page. Tyty. -jv

ONE: MR. NEEDY

The story starts with a job I couldn’t hold.

It was the late 1980s and I was writing for a situation comedy called Charles in Charge, not the original network show but its reincarnated syndicated cousin, starring the estimable Scott Baio as a college student-slash-nanny to three problematic tweens. I had scored big with a freelance episode called “Dorm Warnings,” in which Charles gets fed up with family life and moves into a college dormitory with his buddy, Buddy (the somewhat less estimable Willie Aames), and hilarity – as it so often does in sitcoms of a certain ilk – ensues. I’d also written an episode called “May The Best Man Lose,” which featured, as God is my witness, a dunk tank. On the basis of these twin triumphs, I was offered a six-week contract as a staff writer for the rump end of the 1987 season, running from late October until the Christmas wrap. This was my first staff job on a TV show and I was agog at the pay: $2,000 a week, which was big money in 1987 dollars and not chump change even today. (more…)

Decide to Play Great Poker

Wednesday, May 18th, 2011

That’s the name of my massive new poker tome, co-authored with the fabulous and brilliant Annie Duke. The book will be out round-about the first of June, but you can pre-order it now, by clicking, well, here. Want to know who’s responsible for what in the book? All the brilliant concepts are hers; most of the pretty prose is mine. Here’s the lovely cover.

And here’s an excerpt. You know what they say: The first taste is free.

Excerpt from Decide to Play Great Poker

Decide to Play Great Poker by me and John Vorhaus is finally almost here. It was two years in the writing and I am so proud of this book. You can read a small excerpt from the book below and you can preorder the book on Amazon here.

Before getting to the first excerpt (I will be posting at least one more), a bit about the approach of the book. It is a different take on the game of poker, approaching from a decision making point of view. The goal of the book is to get the reader to really start playing purposeful, goal oriented poker, problem solving situations, understanding deeply all the factors that good play in a hand depend on.  As an example, much of the book is dedicated to post flop play but in a way which really gets the reader to understand how small changes in a situation can drastically change how a hand is played. So the first type of hand tackled in the post flop section of the book is a set. The book looks at what you do when you flop a set of 9′s (a big hand, almost certainly the best hand in hold’em). It starts with a situation where you flop a set of 9′s, you are heads up, you are last to act, you were the preflop raiser and the board isn’t scary, like As9h3d. Once that situation is covered, the preflop raise is changed to your opponent. Then we put you out of position and make you the preflop raiser. Then we make the other guy the raiser. Then we add more people to the table and go through those scenarios again. Then we start all over at heads up but change the board to something scary, like AsTc9c. The book applies this method to a variety of hand categories, like big hands, big draws, small draws, one pair, etc. We methodically dissect what the best players in the world mean when they answer your question about how they play a hand with, “It depends.”  This book tells you what it depends on.

So, without further ado, the excerpt. This particular excerpt is about why your primary goal at the tables is to reduce uncertainty.

Your Primary Goal is to Reduce Uncertainty
Reducing uncertainty makes all our decisions easier by completing the information picture. Of course, there are two other ways to make your decisions easier. One, you can opt out of the decision-making process entirely by folding. If you fold, you have no more decisions to make during the hand. Two, you can also opt out of the decision-making process by putting all your chips in the pot. Once you’re all-in, you have no more decisions to make. We’ll discuss the all-in play later and when and how to apply that tool. For now, just recognize that of all the tools at your disposal, the all-in tool is something of a blunt instrument. You’ll want to use it sparingly.
So our main goal is to try to reduce our uncertainty and make our decisions easier. At the same time, we also have a secondary goal: to make our opponents’ decisions in relation to us harder. If poker is a decision-making problem and if you can make better decisions than your opponents, you’ll end up with all the money.
How do you make better decisions than your opponents? Not just by being smarter than they are (though presumably you are), but also by making your decisions easy and their decisions tough. How important is this? Is crucial important enough? Because if you think about one given hand of hold ’em, in Vegas let’s say, where four raises per betting round are allowed, that makes five possible decision points on each betting round and four rounds of betting per hand. That sounds like 20 chances for you to make a slightly better decision than your opponents. Trust me, even if you’re only a slightly better decision-maker than your opponents, you’ll end up winning all the money in the world if you have 20 chances per hand to leverage that small decision-making edge. And if you become a much better decision maker than your opponents? The mind boggles.
Viewed through a certain filter, poker is a bidding war. I set a price and you set a price back to me, then I set a price back to you, and every time we have this little pricing war where we each put bids out there, we give ourselves an opportunity to make a good decision or a poor one. Every time we can force our opponents into a bad decision, we win. I want to repeat that, because it’s fundamental to what this book is about.
EVERY TIME WE CAN FORCE OUR OPPONENTS INTO A BAD DECISION, WE WIN
Notice that nowhere in this discussion have I said that making money is the goal. Why isn’t it? Simple. Making money is not the goal. Money, in this game, is just the fallout from good goal-setting and decision-making. You end up with all the money through your good decisions. Money is merely our score keeper. You could just as well be playing for matchsticks or marbles or dandelion fluff.
It might seem to be a trivial distinction, but it’s not and here’s why: If you set your goal as making money, you tend to play poorly when you’re losing, because you’re focusing mainly on outcomes. However, if you set your goal as being a good decision-maker, it won’t matter whether you’re winning or losing, because all that matters—all that matters—is the quality of your decisions, not the outcomes of those decisions.
Look, you’ll sometimes lose when you get all your money in with pocket aces against your opponent’s pocket fives. You’ll get drawn out on about 18% of the time. But here’s the thing: You won’t care. Why not? Because you made a good decision to get your money in with the best hand and your opponent made a bad decision to call. You won the decision war. So what if the outcome didn’t fall your way? In the long run, it will. And the long run is the only thing that any serious poker player cares about.
Bad beats? Who cares about bad beats? Let me tell you, if I never took a bad beat, I’d be playing in some really terrible games. I want bad beats. I adore bad beats. Every time someone puts a bad beat on me, it means they got their money into the pot with the worst of it. Folks, that’s a bad decision—just the sort of decisions you want your opponents to be making. Bad beats make me happy. Bad beats mean I’m in a good game, that I’ve chosen well. Hooray for bad beats!
So before you go any further in this book, I want you to ask yourself a serious question: Are you prepared to make great decisions and ignore bad outcomes? If you are, you’re ready to take your game to the next level. You’re ready to focus on information and decisions and let the rest of the noise just float away. If you think you’re ready for that, then here we go, because here comes the dealer to toss us some cards …
This book is going to change everything, poker-wise. It’s so brilliant that I wrote it, have read it many, many times, and it still routinely makes my head explode. That’s how wise Annie is. As for my pretty words, well… you know…
More later, -jv

Said Winston Churchill

Sunday, April 24th, 2011

“Writing a book is an adventure. To begin with, it is a toy and an amusement; then it becomes a mistress, and then it becomes a master, and then a tyrant. The last phase is that just as you are about to be reconciled to your servitude, you kill the monster, and fling him out to the public.”

That quote is on my mind just now because today I finished (well, finished enough to send to my agent) my next novel, LUCY IN THE SKY (A Sixties Trip). It’s a departure for me. No cons, not comedy (well, not much). It’s a coming of age story about a 15-year-old boy living in Milwaukee in 1969 who wants to be a hippie in the worst way. Well, he doesn’t know what a hippie is, really, he just knows that there are none around here, as far as the eye can see. And then, one day, this smart, sexy, incredibly hip 17-year-old girl turns up on the family doorstep, and Gene is instantly in love. Just one problem…she’s his cousin. Well, it turns out she’s not his cousin and — well, I guess you’ll have to wait to find out the rest. Right now I’m on pins/needles wondering what kind of reception the MS will get from my agent.

I think it’s the best work I’ve ever done.

I think it may be the worst.

Truth is, I’ve lost all perspective.

But Churchill said it: you have to fling the beast.

The beast is flung.

I feel empty inside, drained, like I always do when I finish a big project. This one has consumed my days for the past six months (and I think if you can knock out a novel in six months, you’re doing all right.) Tomorrow I’ll have to find something totally else to do. I’ll try, as usual, to take some time off before starting another big project. I’ll fail, as usual, sooner rather than later, because writing is the itch I always need to scratch. But for now, I’m “taking the win.” I’m enjoying the fact of a job, well, done.

And watching the Red Sox. Go Sox.

More later, -jv

Wish I Could Bottle This One

Tuesday, April 12th, 2011

A great (and extravagantly detailed) review of The Albuquerque Turkey right here. The best part isn’t that the reviewer found it funny but that he found the heart I intended to be found. With all due false modesty, I think that resonance, that humanity, is what sets this book apart from what I’ve written up till now.

Meanwhile, I’m in San Diego, doing some TV appearances and an in-store at Mysterious Galaxy. It’s hilarious what TV gets wrong. They described me on-air this morning at a “professional poker player.” Ha! As if! Well, a couple of weeks ago a newspaper article identified Vic Mirplo as Ron Mirplo. Ron! That’s Spanish for rum!

Do I sound a little punchy? I started my day at 4:00 a.m. in LA, up early for the drive to SD. Now it’s four hours later and I’m only just getting around to my first cup of coffee. So, yeah, I’m a little out-of-body, but whatever.

Check out the review. It’s a corker.

More later , -jv

Lost in the Past

Monday, March 7th, 2011

I’ve been writing a novel set in 1969. There’s no mystery about why: I’m stuck in that era; always have been. The music I listen to, the philosophies I believe in, the major discoveries I’ve made, the clothes I wear (I’m wearing an army jacket right now), my whole entire sense of self is rooted in the 1960s, and I do believe that the tragedy of my life — a thing that has haunted me from that day to this — is that I was just a little too young (and maybe a bit too scared) to be the hippie I wanted to be. So this novel I’m writing is nothing less than an emotional memoir, a wish-fulfilling journey down a path I might have walked. From time to time as I write it, I get very close to something I call “the bottom ache,” which, for me, is where the writer’s true emotions live. When I can get a bit of the bottom ache out of my heart and out of my head and onto the page with all its authentic sour sweetness, I feel like I’ve gotten somewhere with my work.

But there are unintended consequences of living in the past as I am. Melancholy frequently sweeps over me as I measure the distance between where I was and where I am. Rue slips in — damn, why didn’t I take the road not taken? Frustration dogs me, for even when I successfully catch a snapshot of the ’60s, I know it’s only a snapshot, a dim reflection, not at all the real deal. And when I miss — when my details are lame and my dialogue flat — when I try to convey real emotion and real event on the page, and know that I’m not coming close, I’m not only burdened by the time gone by but also by the time I’m burning through now, trying and failing, trying and failing again.

Well, it’s what writers do, one of the many things we do: We try; we fail; we try again. And when we succeed, we set harder targets for ourselves. That’s part of the paradigm, and I understand it well. Writing is a “have more, need more” condition. No matter what goals we reach, real writers always need new goals and tougher ones. In this novel, my goal is to go deep and go back. In my dark days I fear I’m missing on both counts.

But I soldier on, because that’s what real writers do, too. I feel like I’m participating in an experiment of a sort: how much melancholy can I stand to feel? At this moment, living in 2011 and trying so hard to live in 1969, I’m feeling it all, every single bit. I’m lost in the past. I put myself there, and now there’s no way out of it except through it.

More later, -jv

Tax Day

Monday, February 28th, 2011

My keyboard is getting wonky. It’s not the batteries; I’ve changed them and I know they’re fresh. It’s just that sometimes, for no apparent reason, the keyboard ssssssticks and ssssstutters. Perhaps it’s coming to the end of its useful life after nearly a decade of enduring coffee spills and many meals carelessly eaten over it (including my latest obsession, plain, dry oatmeal — go fiber! Kill that cholesterol!) Well, whatever. I’ll stumbbble along the best I can until the hardware absolutely and positively gives up the ghost. Man, yo spend eighty bucks on something in 2001, you really expected it to last.

Today is Tax Day. Maybe not where you live but where I live — at least where I live inside my mind. See, I’ve always had a problem with procrastination. I never got the hang of it, and have been obsessive about finishing things early for as long as I can remember. No, not, as long as I can remember; rather, exactly and precisely since fourth grade.

I had been out sick from school for a couple of days, and somehow it escaped my attention that my report on Ponce de Leon was due. (You remember Ponce – the fountain of youth guy — killed Indians, invented Florida.) So I missed my deadline. I was so mortified — truly psychologically scarred — that I’ve had great difficulty missing a deadline ever since. There’s just something in my neurobiology that won’t allow it. Thus my motto became, “procrastinate later,” and thus I’m doing my taxes on February 28.

Although, let’s not fail to note that I’m not exactly doing my taxes right now. I’m writing this post. Which is a form of… yes… procrastination. Interesting: I am now procrastinating by talking about how I don’t procrastinate. The human mind is a complex machine.

A machine, it should be pointed out, that would rather not be involved with taxes, or flossing teeth, or eating oatmeal, or many of the other mundane tasks that occupy our days, weeks, months, years. We’d rather have lives that were all highlights — or maybe that’s just me. But if our lives were all highlights, how would we ever recognize them? To quote Bill Shakespeare, “If every day were holiday, to sport would be as tedious as work.” Well, I strive to make every day at least a little bit of a holiday, but today is Tax Day, JV style, so I’d better get cracking.

More (and more procrastination) later, -jv

Poker Night: Excerpt

Poker Night: Winning at Home, at the Casino, and Beyond
by John Vorhaus

Chapter Two: The Gulp Limit

Poker Night

No one has to play home poker, you know. If you live in California, New Jersey, or some twenty other states in the union (or Canada, Australia, Estonia and many other civilized countries), you’re probably within shouting distance of a perfectly safe, perfectly legal public cardroom. Thanks to the internet, you can play online poker against real opponents for real money, in the nude if you like, any time you like. And planes fly to Las Vegas every day. So then there’s the question, “Why?” Why play home poker at all? I can think of a few reasons. (more…)