Tuesday, August 22, 2006
Take Me to the River (or Mike May: “neurotic and slightly balding”)
If you could take both the wisdom of Solomon and the strength of Hercules and somehow turn them into a bubble gum, that bubble gum would probably have the powerfully satisfying taste of Take Me to the River, the single greatest piece of literaturousity ever put to page.
All right, I might be exaggerating. In fact I'm not sure how objective I could really be in reviewing this book. The problem is that the subject of the book is something that I find myself eternally fascinated with day in and day out: myself.
I always knew I was vain but it never occurred to me how much more I would enjoy the reading experience when one of the little people running around inside a book was actually me. In fact, I so enjoyed this book, I may never again read books that are not specifically about me. I understand this will radically limit my reading choices but I'm a pretty slow reader anyway.
Of course technically the book is about my friend Peter Alson, but if you can read between the lines it's pretty easy to see what it's really about.
The focus of the memoir is on a writer of questionable maturity taking tentative steps towards responsibility. With a marriage coming up, as well as a child, he realizes that changes have to be made. The willy nilly finances of a freelance writer just aren't going to cut it anymore. He understands that he needs money, reliable money. So, accepting that he is now an adult, he does the adult thing. He goes to Vegas.
Ostensibly, it's about Peter going to the 2005 World Series of Poker to make money for his upcoming wedding/new life, the wacky characters, the ups, the downs, etc, etc. Ostensibly.
But if you can read between the lines it is pretty clear what Peter is trying to get at. There's a character that pops up occasionally, a friend of his by the name of Mike May. Now this friend of his is barely a minor character, and he doesn’t really do or say anything all that interesting, but personally I thought he was a powerful presence within the book. I felt a crackling jolt of electricity whenever I read about him.
Again, this may be a fairly personal reaction but I think that a sophisticated reading of Take Me to the River will show that, in essence, it's a book about the powerful sexual prowess of Mike May. You have to read between the lines, pretty, uh, pretty far between the lines but that was my initial reading.
As I mentioned, your reading may be different than mine but I like mine better. The problem is that my life is not so fascinating that I get to see it in print so often. So when it does happens, and I don’t come out looking like an ass-monkey, it’s exciting for me. Of course, I suppose not everyone is such a whore for attention.
A friend of mine read Peter’s book and gave him a wonderful if backhanded compliment. He told me how incredibly happy he was that he’s never ended up in one of Peter’s books. Knowing most of the people in Peter’s book rather well, my friend felt that Peter did an eerily accurate job of describing who they really were. He wasn’t sure how he would feel about having a similar portrait of himself flapping about in the domain of the public.
I thought about this for a little while and once the initial excitement subsided, of seeing that there are no slanderous untruths (or more humiliating actual truths) in Take Me To The River, I did have a secondary reaction, a weird anxiety that I may have just dodged a bullet.
Personally, my narcism usually trumps my fears of public embarrassment. But that doesn’t mean I wasn’t a little scared about this book coming out. I gave Peter the key to my room last year, so that he could store a couple things while he jetted back to NY for a week, meaning that he had unsupervised access to my life at the Gold Coast. He could easily have written about the rancid smell of legionnaires disease wafting about my old laundry, the NakkidNerds.com bookmarks on my computer, or any of the many more inditing things that he might have found, and that I won’t incriminate myself by mentioning here.
Luckily though, if you take out the stuff about S and M clubs (which Christi was none too thrilled with), the portrait Peter painted of me was thoroughly benign. Nonetheless, it did remind me how dangerous it can be for someone with control issues to have friends who are writers. In fact my obsessive need for control was one of the vast many reasons I started this whole blog thing in the first place. So even though it predates Peter’s book, the very existence of this blog can, in a way, be blamed on Take Me to the River.
A while ago I was interviewed for a book on Jon Finkel, a different friend of mine. When this book came out I rushed out to pick it up and tore through it. It was reminiscent of the moment in The Jerk when the Steve Martin character sees his name in the phone book. He starts to jump around flailing his arms frantically, yelling "Look! I've made it, my name's in print!!! I'm somebody!"
Of course, later, I looked back at what was actually written about me in the Finkel book and I saw that I was introduced as Mike May "neurotic" and "slightly balding". I realized that while "neurotic and slightly balding" will probably turn out to be the most concisely comprehensive description, ever put to print, of who I actually am, it nonetheless may not be what I would have written myself.
This turned out to be one of the fulcrum point moments that allowed me to understand how much my industry was changing. By most poker metrics I'm really something of a nobody. While I am quite content with the career I've had, my TV resume is less than inspiring. And yet here I was being interviewed and finding myself in print. When nobodies like myself were subjected to a spotlight (no matter how faint it might be) it became apparent a new facet of poker had entered the industry.
Reading about myself in the Finkel book was a strange experience. While it was exciting to have someone care about my story enough to write it down, it was disorienting to realize that someone besides myself would have final edit on it. I thought about how many more people would get to know Mike May through this book than would actually meet me in person. How very strange.
So to stave off any possible lawsuits it seemed as though it wouldn't be a bad idea for me to premptively put my side of the story, whatever that story might be, into print. Hence, Mike May: The Blog. And that’s why I blame Peter, and the various other writers who have tried to bring the poker subculture to the masses, for this blog’s creation (in a rather roundabout way).
So if you at all enjoy this blog you may want to thank Peter for it's creation by picking up a couple copies of Take Me to the River. Even if you hate this blog with a passion that will not die you might want to give Peter a try. And especially if you can't make it to the World Series of Poker yourself, you should definitely read it and make a vicarious trip via Peter. Of course, come to think of it, the 7 or so friends of mine who make up the readership of this blog were all at the Series last year, so I guess that might not be the best sales pitch.
Instead, lets just work with simple economics. It’s actually very expensive to play in the final event of the World Series, and I’m not just talking about the $10,000 buy in. Consider for a moment all the expenses:
-10,000 dollar buy in,
-travel to Vegas,
-back waxing to look good at the pool,
-hookers and blow,
-lawyers fees once you realize that "what happens in Vegas stays in Vegas" doesn't actually apply to federal statutes,
-hastily purchased ticket to undisclosed south and/or central America country,
-rental of beach front bungalow,
-monthly retainer for Paco to keep "them" off your trail,
-hush money to cover that local incident that was simply a misunderstanding, and it wasn't your fault what happened to Paco since he totally should have expected you to run, considering how it came down,
-the Viking funeral for Paco (really it was all he ever asked for, and clearly something he deserved),
-and of course tooth paste, you always forget to pack tooth paste for some reason.
You add up all these expenses, and I have no idea what it comes out to, but it's probably a heck of a lot more than the $16.32 it costs to buy Peter's book from Amazon with this link. So next year bag the trip yourself and just lounge by the pool with a relaxing copy of Take Me to the River. Let Peter do all the work for you.
And if that isn't reason enough for you to buy the book I should mention that if you use this link and buy Peter's book, I think (if I set the link up correctly) I'll make something like 60 cents in Amazon kickback payola which will be the first penny I’ve ever made off of this blog.
Peter Alson hard at work experiencing things
and then writing about them, so you don’t
have to go through the trouble of experiencing