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an excerpt from: The Professional Donor (2015)

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After literally breaking his back on a construction job a few years prior, Ian’s been relying heavily on the generosity of his ex-wife, much to her new husband’s disapproval. He’s lucky the landlord, Ms. Just, is so lax, not in a typical fashion, but more like a slumlord who hasn’t had enough hard luck stories to really get the purpose of being a slumlord.

 

Ian’s living partially on the disability from the accident, and Janet’s leftovers from dinner with the new family. Occasionally she lends him the minivan, under the stipulation that he use it for job searches and other errands. No gambling. She even goes as far as letting him sleep inside the damn thing during a record heatwave. Ian’s always depended on someone other than himself. He’s on the verge of admitting as much in between drags on Finch’s pipe, but it’s hard to really express everything in between wild vomit fits (ulcers) and fainting spells. Arnie’s thinking about the last time he had to scoop him up from under the table. He swears it’s the last time. Even Janet’s patience has worn thin. They all know that Ian only borrows the van for trips to the res. casino. He doesn’t know any other way except to depend on others than himself (especially women.)

He grew up with an acute case of asthma, and after a horrendously long respiratory attack one day, Ian’s grandmother suggested a ritualistic remedy passed down through the generations.

 

Ian’s father and uncles took him on a walk around the village, looking for a stray dog in the streets. After coaxing one into following them, Ian’s relatives led them to a secluded clearing. Distracting the dog with bits of tocino and pandesal, Ian’s father tied a noose around its neck, and hung the unsuspecting from the limb of a nearby dáo tree.

 

While the dog kicked and struggled  with the rope’s tension, Ian’s father stabbed it in the neck, and his uncle handed him a blue crazy straw.

 

Supposedly the adrenaline in the bloodstream is the healing factor of the practice. Although, Ian no longer suffers from asthma attacks, he still carries the inhaler. He’s not a fan of any type of straw, and dogs frighten him almost as much as losing another cent at the casino.

 

It’s Sunday. Rent is due Friday. They’ve all got this unabridged capacity to fuck up at any given moment, sure, but Ian especially, that guy has some dark shit going on upstairs.

 

The entire house is one habitual smoker’s lung. It’s one of the only ways to pass the time really; sitting in the hot-box of shade they call a backyard, where birds bark in the trees and dogs chirp at the fence. There’s smoking, and when it’s dark, there’s cards. Sunday nights are penny poker nights. At this point, the weekly game has become a revolving cast of schizophrenics and bone dry alcoholics looking to score a little change for some ceviche and 24oz. cans of whatever beer sounded like Thunder-head/ bird/cliff…

 

Penny buy in. Three cent max bet. It’s all just pocket change they’d spend on papers or the random convenient store purchase anyway. Everyone smokes, but there’s a couple of regulars who can never seem to afford their habits, and hopefully you’ve got an idea about who those people are by now. It used to be Texas Holdem under a light that doesn’t work for shit. They tried to keep the games outside at first, but with everything considered, it’s a lot easier to play in the kitchen, away from the extra heat and able to see where everyone’s hands are; see their tells.

 

High stakes are always on the river card. Sometimes the pot gets heavier than usual, like around $3.50 to $5.00 is when the tenants still in with their salt start to gloat and slap the table. But everyone makes the same declaration:

 

“Don’t count on the river card.”

 

The best possible outcome is *1 out of 30,940 maybe, while the hand that gives remote confidence around these sharks has a 3.03% chance of being on your side.

“Are you fucking serious right now? You pulled that 4th ace off the river?” Ian laid out 4 kings with disgust, getting nose deep with the spade that did him in like a diamond appraiser. He’d had the king of clubs and total assurance pocketed until the river, drawing the heart from the first turn and the former from the last.

 

Ian wrenched his 5 o’ clock shadow with his ashy palms.

 

“You dirty river rat motherfucker!” He’s putting on that he’s making light of your more serious poker player, like someone who’d just lost an actual amount of money instead of pocket change. But those at the game know that although Ian’s intonation is humorous, that his constant hand gestures are comical to say the least, he’s being completely honest about Benny being a dirty-river-rat-motherfucker.

 

“Hey, what can I say?” Benny rakes the chump change to his chest like a titan. “Or- what is it you like to say all the time?… No good enough. Right?” He’s browbeating Ian with enough exertion that Arnie can feel the room quake like a silverback’s rampage.

 

“Whose deal is it now?” Finch interjects, rubbing his left arm carelessly.

 

“That was my fifth hand.” Matt points out.

 

The deck is passed to Bobby, and it’s become obvious that in this stable of trick ponies, the luck rotates with the dealer; many times the fortunate hand will stay at least 2 people ahead, and gravitate to the right.

 

“Don’t forget your button.” Arnie reminds him. Bobby throws in 2 cents. Benny’s on top of the blind bets. The pot is finally right and here come the cards; the incongruent conversation spills over the table. Arnie’s not really focused on Ian talking about Spice for the next 45 minutes, and for that matter, it doesn’t seem like the rest of the table is all that interested either. But they make better do, what with having to act like he’s being entertaining and not completely redundant.

 

“So Ian, what about that gig you were telling us about, running cable?” Finch snidely remarks. “When do you start?” Finch takes the suit of being the biggest skeptic. He’s able to rib and not lose focus on the pot, it grows exponentially.

 

“What? You think I no tell you the truth or something?” Ian’s English comes undone when he’s angry, and Finch just shakes his head at the fact. The guy is quiet about it, but Arnie sees that Finch is sizing Ian up for a future sucker punch, and it’s more than likely going to happen because of some deeply-rooted-hillbilly-temperament, and it’s going to happen right here at the table. Finch doesn’t answer Ian’s accusation, instead shifting a little more in his chair and really taking a knuckle to his armpit.

 

Mat’’s straddled the opening bet, while Benny and Arnie match big blind, bringing the pot to 14 cents altogether. This means enough for not everyone to make their bet without seeing that first flop, which is a queen of spades, a 9 of diamonds, and a 6 of clubs.

 

“Son of a bitch! Hahahaha!” Ian shrieks, almost falling out of the chair leaning back to slap the edge of the table.

 

“It’s four cents to call.” Arnie says.

 

“Okay. I see the four and raise three more.” Ian’s notorious for bluffing. Finch jumps right in.

 

“I’ll call.” He’s not finished with goading Ian just yet. See Finch has figured if you throw Ian off with personal questions, he does stupid shit at the table. He makes bets he shouldn’t, and this is how he comes up empty handed at the casino all the time. Arnie’s discussed this with the house before, when Ian wasn’t around, and he and Finch agree that Janet’s van parked outside and her waiting at home, keeping secrets from her new husband, or hell, maybe even listening to his new complaints about the old issue, is running through Ian’s mind as he’s sitting with 20 at the blackjack table. He goes one card too many, because he can’t see that he’s already beat the dealer. He needs a little extra to justify wasting the important people’s time and resources.

 

“So Ian, is that job in Phoenix or Tempe? I can’t remember what you told us.” Benny, Arnie, Matt and Bobby fold, leaving the two at it for the sake of the show.

 

“I have be in Phoenix Monday.”

 

“What time?”

 

“I think it- Oh! Motherfucker!”

 

*The turn (queen of hearts) is laid out, and Ian raises again, with Finch coming back on top with the big, and Ian calling. Bobby looks up from his folded deck, which he’s really regretting now, and takes a slow drag off his menthol, before blowing the cloud in Ian’s direction. It’s taking everything they have for the entire table not to join in with Finch right now and start egging Ian on about being a slack-ass-liar. “I need to find something soon. I mean, when I was younger I thought about culinary school or something corny like that. Little good that idea is now.” The table assumes Bobby’s talking about not having the money to go to school.

Arnie starts to feel exceptionally down on his luck, and he’s happy that Lisa’s at a friend’s house for the night, and unable to see all the food stains on his new shirt. “Hell, I’d take a school janitor spot at this point. Anything that’s available really, which is pretty much nothing seems like.”

 

“Fuck that man. I no take something like that.” Ian exclaims. “Cleaning turds and puke all day. No. I no like brats.” He sets the sherlock (pipe) back down on the table as the river card gives him all the hope he needs. It’s a 9 of clubs.

 

He’s ecstatic with himself, but unsure when he throws out the big and Finch raises again. Is it Finch who’s bluffing now? He’s got the kind of stoic expression a good shark needs and almost flaunting it for everyone.

 

“You have to have pride, you know? That’s what it mean to be American.” Lavender curls of smoke hit the ceiling light from the corner of Ian’s mouth.

 

“Haha! Yeah, that’s what it’s about.” -Benny-.

 

Folded and no stake in the future of this particular hand, which just closed, Finch taking the pot with three 9’s over Ian’s queens/6’s pair, Arnie thinks of his pride sitting in a highchair with the day’s mess all over its face. Its face is his face, because Arnie is nothing if not for his pride.

 

“I’d do that job man. You don’t know what brats are until you’ve had to clean up an Arby’s bathroom after an old man with diarrhea couldn’t get his pants off in time. Urgent care centers. College dormitories. Lumber mills. You name it man. The gross is all around.” Arnie’s not swayed from continuing, even though every bit of the example(s) is lost on Ian. “Think about it dude. Being a janitor wouldn’t be that bad. You can get blazed all day and completely space out while you sweep, mop, or scrub toilets. That’s like, probably the worse you’d have to do.”

 

“Yeah.” Ian’s not convinced in the slightest. “But you work for 3,6, 9 dollars for hour. C’mon dude. I suck your dick for ten dollars, but not five.”

 

 

There’s a harsh silence before Finch breaks it, nudging Benny in the arm.

 

“Hahaha! Hey you got ten dollars I can borrow?”

 

The table erupts into a macrocosmic laughing fit, one long neoPlatonic hysteria that splinters off into individual, and highly personal nous, perfect archetypes that represent everyone’s opinions on winning, and coming up short or empty handed.

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