Ship the Mid-Life Crisis!

My shift in focus away from poker for the past month or two has left me with little anecdotal material to share, but this buzz killer of a post has been brewing for some time.

Having a baby on the way has me kind of spooked.  While I’m looking forward to fatherhood, the severe lifestyle change in store is not something I’m eagerly anticipating.  I know I’m going to love my daughter like I’ve never loved another tiny lumpy hairless beanbag-sized person (newborns are fucking weird!), but my life is pretty awesome the way it is.  Janeen and I are not having a baby because we’re dying to experience parenthood, nor is one of us is doing the other a favor here (Janeen’s maternal instinct is MIA, I expect it to finally kick in when she actually holds our wonderchild).  We’re having a baby for one primary reason:  we’re too old to wait any longer.   Not-Anabelle (that’s what we’re calling her for now; Anabelle was the name Janeen pre-selected over a decade ago, then abruptly abandoned upon insemination) is going to bring some challenges into our world.  Will I be able to play poker whenever and wherever I please?  (No.)  If I take on the role of daytime child caregiver, will Janeen resent me? (Probably.)  When I inevitably sleep through one of not-Anabelle’s dramatic moments or mishandle some aspect of childcare, will Janeen get angry with me?  (Yes).  Will I be able to travel?  Will I want to travel?  Will I compensate by learning to enjoy online poker?  Will online poker even be possible?  Will I switch to live NYC cash games out of necessity?  Can I even beat those games?  I don’t know all the answers.  I do know that things are going to change pretty drastically.

Financially, we are doing well enough for now, but with not-Anabelle on board, we will not be able to withstand another year or two of only $80k in gross tournament cashes from me.  The mere idea of needing a score to “stay in the game” is unnerving; I’ve never operated under that kind of pressure.  I am very nitty with my bankroll.  Since the option remains at my disposal, I’d sooner return to desk jockeying than risk my case money, but I wouldn’t like it.  Not one bit.  I would return to the world of suits and ties kicking, screaming, kvetching and bringing daily misery to anyone unfortunate enough to cross my path.  It wouldn’t be pretty.  I hope (mostly for the sake of Janeen, N.A. and Ruthie) it doesn’t happen.

The combination of experiencing my worst year on tour and baby time closing in has caused more than some worrying.  It has also ignited some rambling and candid self-examination that has led to some difficult realizations.  Some might call it a mid-life crisis.  I prefer to call it being honest with myself.  Hopefully that honestly will be apparent in what I’m about to write, and this post will come across more like something real and heartfelt than like the rambling manifesto of a weirdo.  Here’s what I’ve learned.

I am a person with aspirations.  From early childhood, I have harbored a burning desire to be exceptional.  Then, as now, I liked to lead and I liked to win.  I’ve never found satisfaction in following or being part of the crowd.  I yearn for the respect and admiration of my peers.  I wish to be memorable to others.  I wish to be remembered not only by those closest to me but also by passing acquaintances, competitors and by those who have never met me.  I want to leave a mark.  I aspire to a legacy.

That’s a difficult admission to make, particularly because I derive great pleasure in laughing at the expense of the many relentless self-promoters I’ve met through poker.  It’s very amusing to me that some of poker’s biggest self-promoters are the least equipped to do it, and through the magic of the internet, I have come to despise people I genuinely liked in face-to-face interactions before linking up with them online.  Still, I completely understand what these guys are doing.  My goal is the same as theirs.  It’s just that I refuse to look clumsy achieving it.  As much as it pains me to admit this, I want to be famous too. After discovering poker, this is probably why I gravitated towards tournaments:  They offer the perks of televised final tables, endorsement deals, and the undue and wholly unwarranted adulation of fellow gamblers the world over.

It may seem incongruous, but despite my aspirations I have no real ambition.  I simply do not believe in the sanctity of hard work and perseverance.  I actually believe that hard work and dedication can sometimes be foolish, and I have noticed that the timeless axiom that “luck is the residue of design” is really a plain and blatant falsehood.  Even poker players, whose daily lives are especially subject to the vagaries of luck, like to perpetuate this myth.  Everyone says their hard work has paid off when they win and that they’re stuck on the bad side of variance when they lose.  But it doesn’t work that way at all.  Luck is not visited most often upon those who deserve it.  Luck is, by definition, random.  Luck is luck.  Since neither luck nor my version of success is in any way correlated with hard work, I hold those who succeed without expending maximum effort in the highest regard.  I believe, in life as in sports, that winning without breaking a sweat is the ultimate in badassery.  If you have the time (with or without the inclination) to highstep on your way into the end zone, you’ve done something right in my world.

It is obvious that the greatest tragedy of my life took place the year I graduated college, when I allowed myself to fall into a profession rather than actually pursuing one.  I ended up an attorney out of mere convenience.  If that strikes you as bizarre, then maybe it is.  I really did subject myself to the rigors of law school, the cauldron of bar exam study and the charade of law firm interviews mostly because it was convenient for me.  It was not my finest hour.  The law was a profession where my aspirations could only be achieved through tireless work and years of subservience—and even then remained a longshot.  Famous badass lawyers are few and far between.  To become a famous badass lawyer you must pay your dues and be passionate about the law.  I will never pay dues unless the check is made payable to a synagogue (and only then because Janeen will make me).  And conceptually, I cannot understand how “passionate” and “law” belong in the same sentence.  I was a very bad fit as a lawyer, especially at a big law firm.  In that environment, I felt my greatest accomplishments occurred when I would receive plaudits for work I’d completed while self-handicapping, usually by consciously putting in minimal effort or by operating at less than full capacity.  I took perverse pleasure in being worth less than my paycheck (I was a specialist in EV before I’d ever heard the term!).  Needless to say, I never won the employee of the month award.  If I had been guided by my passions and true desires rather than someone else’s concept of practicality, I would have avoided the miserable 10-year sinkhole that was my career as a lawyer.  Alas, it seemed a convenient sinkhole.

By the time I became aware of the grave mistake I’d made and was prepared to fix it, poker had become the singular passion in my life and my obvious next profession.  This would not have been the case had I followed my dreams initially, as I played no poker whatsoever in college and was then unaware of its existence as a viable occupation.  I sometimes like to play the butterfly effect game and wonder what I’d be doing today had I not chosen law school, because it almost certainly wouldn’t be poker.  There is a clear causal relationship between my distaste for lawyering and my discovery and frenzied exploration of the world of poker.

Poker was a good fit for me because it matched not only my abilities but also my wants and desires.  My aspiration to be someone special was possible once again.  Poker was a place where I could shine, and I’ve just admitted that I’m the type of person that needs to get his shine on.   I’m concerned that having a child will rub the shine off of me real quick.  I am excited about the baby but dreading the possibility of having to set my aspirations aside.

Thanks to poker, I have actually realized some dreams.  Poker energized me; an existence formerly dominated by tedium and regret became one of pride and determination.  Through the years, my abilities at poker have garnered me praise and the respect of colleagues, a few trophies and appearances in worldwide rankings.  My name is known in wider circles that would be possible in nearly any other profession.  If the modern barometer of fame is Google hits, I’m exponentially more famous today than I was before poker.  However, perhaps because of how long the gratification of doing something fulfilling was delayed in my life, I still feel that I have more to accomplish.  I believe I’ve yet to leave my footprint in this life.  I believe my story is yet untold.  I want more.  And into that picture walks (crawls? emerges?) a baby.

I’ve seen firsthand how fatherhood can subsume all else in a man’s life.  I know of many men who have happily relegated themselves to the role of provider/caregiver and not much else, but I don’t think I will be joining their ranks.  I’ve seen guys with interesting lives transformed into pack mules whose sole purpose appears to be transporting car seats and the contents of diaper bags from one location to another.  I understand that there is something noble and possibly heroic in putting your child’s life before yours in every respect, and I know I’m going to make a great father, but I can’t set aside my hopes and dreams.  I feel guilty saying this, but I’m not prepared to identify myself as my daughter’s father first and David Zeitlin second.  There’s so much more I want to accomplish for myself.  When I die, I want my obituary to say more than “loving father, devoted husband.” If that’s selfish, so be it.

I might be particularly uppity about this because my job and my sense of self are inextricably connected.  The first thing most people would likely say about me is that I’m a professional gambler, and I quite like that.  Also, my job lacks the natural escape hatches that more typical jobs offer:  bosses, daily commutes, deadlines, duties.  All of these things suck but they also regulate.  I’m therefore not merely concerned that I’ll be un able to perform my job once the baby comes, I’m scared that I won’t want to work when there’s a child to look after and no one making any demands.  They’ll be a new kind of pressure.

Since I’ve made the reluctant admission that I’d like to experience fame, this is probably a good time to mention that I’ve already achieved a sort of incidental fame in this life.  It’s a little-known fact that I’ve appeared in books.  And soon, a movie.  Are you wondering what the fuck I’m talking about or if I’m delusional?  I’m serious.  Here’s a very short version of the story.

Back when I was fresh out of law school and working at a big NYC law firm, I entered into a relationship with a co-worker of mine by the name of Alice (not her real name, I’ve been advised that a real name could land me on Page Six of the NY Post, and I don’t want that).  “Relationship” is probably not as accurate as “affair,” as Alice was engaged to be married, and later was married, during the time we were together.  But together we were.  It was a long, it was drawn-out, it was tumultuous.  It was ultimately very painful, thanks in no small part to the penchant I then had for self-destruction.  In the end, Alice chose neither her husband nor I (she “Kelly Taylor’d it,” in Janeen’s parlance).  She went with a third option, the man to whom she is now happily married, who may or may not have been introduced to her by a woman who was then employed as both parties’ therapist (I’m unfamiliar with the ethics of that profession but suspect this might be a violation of some kind).

More importantly, Alice also made another choice around that time:  to leave her job at the law firm to pursue a career where the big score is based more on luck than even professional poker.  She became an aspiring novelist.   After the standard initial rejections, she managed to land a big book deal and published her first novel.  It was a chick lit book, a book designed to capture the imaginations of women.  It succeeded.  It was extremely well received, a rousing success by any measure.  The book ended up climbing the New York Times bestsellers’ list and jumpstarted a literary career that is now five or six books deep and in full bloom.

This brings me to my point, which is that the book is about me in many ways.  The book’s plot revolves around an adulterous affair and describes—always generally but sometimes in great and meticulous detail—the author’s relationship with me.  The thrills, frustrations and turmoil of engaging in an illicit relationship are explored.  Specific rendezvous that actually took place are covered; an email that I wrote to the author appears verbatim.  Strange details, like the actual real-life Upper East Side doormen employed by my former residence, show up.   Reading a book based on your very own failed (but in the book, successful) relationship is surreal in the truest sense.

It was a measure of fame I didn’t relish.  I was genuinely happy for her, but I also resented that Alice had taken a shared and decidedly negative experience and parlayed it into a new career.  Then mired in a job I disliked, I was also straight-up jealous.  And I definitely didn’t appreciate Alice’s concerted effort to keep the inspiration for the plotline—like everything else about us—a complete secret.  The inevitable question of whether the book is based at all in reality has been posed to Alice hundreds of times, and each time the answer is “absolutely not.”  In the extremely unlikely event that an Alice fan finds this post on my poker blog, let me fill you in on a little secret:  she’s lying.

It got worse.  I had just embarked on my new career in poker when the second book, a sequel to the first, was released.  It was an even bigger hit that catapulted Alice’s career to new heights.  This book was autobiographical in some respects, one of which is the appearance of a character based on me.  Actually, the character is not merely based on me, the character is me, down to details such as my favorite phrases and mannerisms.  I purchased this book, opened it and was astonished to read a full reconstruction of every aspect of my behavior and persona.  I suppose this alone would have been a cool homage.  There was just one problem.  The character [redacted] (i.e., me) is initially depicted as a witty fun guy, but in the end he turns out to be a rather villainous gaping asshole who shrugs and scratches his balls whenever confronted with the female protagonist’s needs.  Alice had authored a scathing indictment of my character.  In a book widely read by suburban housewives, chicks on the subway, and probably at least one of your female friends, the reasons the author found me a less than ideal partner are spelled out in detail.  Unpleasant.

There’s yet more.  As is often the case with the big chick lit books, the movie rights to these two novels were duly purchased some time ago, and the first movie has already finished production.  When the motion picture “[redacted]” hits theaters next year, the world will be watching a movie about the tribulations of two best friends, but also based on my relationship with the author Alice.  And when the sequel shows up, presumably a couple of years from now, the world will be treated to a jackass called [redacted] who is in fact David Zeitlin.  Remember to look for me if your girlfriend or wife drags you to these movies!

So I’m already semi-famous.  An affair I had about ten years ago is depicted in one bestseller, and I am a full-blown character in another.  I’m something like Jerry’s Seinfeld’s weirdo neighbor of yore who became the prototype for Kramer.  Except while Kramer (read:  the character, not the douchebag Michael Richards) is goofy and uproariously lovable, my guy is a jackoff.

You may have guessed by now that this secret incidental fame of mine only increases my desire to create my own legacy in this world.  When not-Anabelle has kids of her own and I gather ‘em round and sit ‘em down on Grandpa’s knee, I sincerely hope I have better stories to tell than the one about the time I almost won some jewelry playing cards and the one about being a character in an old timey book.

12 thoughts on “Ship the Mid-Life Crisis!

  1. God damn, dude. Damn… I admire your honesty and wish you & Janeen well. Even (most of) the most skeptical peeps get crack-high off their new babies, so who knows where you’ll be in a few months. But you know where to find some UES silliness if you need a break 🙂

  2. I echo Rob’s sentiments…wish you, your wife all the best. I get that you want to be extraordinary…all the best in your pursuit.

  3. once you get Not-Annabelle in your arms and see how she has no neck muscles and feel how the back of her head is like tissue paper and needs protection, i bet all the latent parental instincts will kick in to protect the little lump

    glad to see you’re not responding to the midlife freakout by buying a motorcycle, that’s the path of the ordinary man. it’s the people who have significant second, third, fourth acts in their lives who truly leave their mark. if that kind of transition were easy, then it wouldn’t be so interesting when it happens

  4. Hey, kid, you know if you ever need anything, all ya gotta do is ask.

    I personally think fatherhood is something you’ll be good at and just remember, you’re in a lot better shape than so many others. 😉

  5. Wow! No wonder Jo Puffs kept asking me if I’d read your latest blog. This entry is as juicy as a Florida grapefruit, and only half as bitter.

  6. It has been a few months since I’ve checked up on you, so this entry of yours was a real treat (a “real treat”? — damn that sounded douchey). In any case, you really need to bite the bullet and write your own book — about anything. Your brutal honesty about all things life (poker, fatherhood, aspirations, etc.) greets the reader with a refreshing slap up side the head. Maybe you won’t land a monster book deal or sell movie rights for a gajillion, but then again… maybe you will.

    Keep in mind success is all relative irrespective of the metrics used to define it. Financial success? Bill Gates is out there laughing at you. Fame? Justin Bieber spits in your general direction. You get the point; I’m not telling you anything you don’t already know. That said, I think what you’ve accomplished already (leaving the corporate world behind, doing what you love, yada yada) is in itself pretty awesome, at least to a corporate drone like myself. I’m not saying this to quell your aspirations for the future, but instead to offer you a small reminder of how awesome your life already is (or at least sounds to this random stranger out here in the series of tubes).

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