Apr 21, 2011

Poker and Boobs

On Tuesday evenings, Ryan and I go downtown to a bar to play poker for points. I figure this is a good way for me to gain valuable poker experience and avoid the need to take out a second mortgage. I understand the rules of the game. I know what hand beats what. I can even figure out how many outs I might have, although I don't bother figuring out the odds. Math was never really my thing. (I always say that, and while it is true that language has always come more easily to me than the sciences, I was never terrible at math. A bit of trouble learning to tell time, and word problems continue to boggle my brain, but I always got As. Today, I can count out change and figure out how much to tip at a restaurant. This is pretty much all the math I currently need.)

Anyway, I can outlast some of the more erratic players just by playing conservatively, but what I suck at is reading people. I have no idea if you raised with a suited 6-7 or pocket aces. I can't tell if you've hit your flush. Ryan is a lawyer. He is good at reading people. Last week he won a tournament of 40+ people. I didn't even place (although I wasn't out first.)

I did, however, knock an entire pint-sized glass of iced tea into my lap. I took a sip, placed the glass in the black plastic cutout designed for that purpose, but missed the edge and ended up wearing it. It was distracting, because I yelped and stood up, and because I was wearing a white t-shirt that also got wet. Luckily, I was also wearing a sweater. I zipped that sucker up posthaste after one of the fellows hollered, "Wet t-shirt contest!". Being one of the few attractive girls in this particular league garners me some attention but so far it hasn't seemed to help my game. Ah well. The regulars get irritated at such mishaps because time is ticking and those blinds will go up at any minute. No money is at stake, but it is serious business nonetheless.

A few hands later, the frightfully irritating older gentleman to my left dropped the entire deck onto the floor. Regular eyeballs rolled. We picked them up, counted them, and came up one card short. We scoured the floor anew, and I discovered a card stuck to the bottom of my boot, suctioned there by spilled iced tea. It turned out to be an ace. Regular heads shook in disgust. Yes, this is my diabolical scheme: to soak my jeans in sticky liquid and afix aces to the bottom of my shoe in order to cheat. I am a villain.

A few hands after that, during my deal and after the first round of betting, the deck slipped from my fingers and spilled onto the table. Re-deal. Time wasted. More rolling eyeballs. It was not my night. Short-stacked, I went all-in with suited ace-queen and lost when my opponent hit his jack.

Having joined my fellow losers as spectators at Ryan's table, I shared my woes. "Tonight was not my night," I tell Ryan, and the heavy-set woman sitting to his right responds, "Hey, if the worst that happens to you is you spill your drink, you're doing alright." This blonde woman in her pink tracksuit shows me a cell phone photo of her daughter. "This is my daughter," she tells me proudly. The photo is of a grown woman, blonde, not particularly pretty. I don't know what to say so I say, "She looks like you." "You think so?", clearly pleased. When pink tracksuit shows the snapshot to Ryan, he concurs.

Later, sitting across from pink tracksuit, eating my plate of half-priced nachos while Ryan continues his comeback, she tells me that she was diagnosed with breast cancer in January. Both breasts. I can't imagine telling such a thing to a stranger. We hadn't even established the rapport that comes from playing against someone, as we had been seated at different tables. "I almost told the doctor just chop 'em both off," she tells me, but since the cancer had also spread to the surrounding tissue, this treatment would likely have been ineffective, so she was going the chemo/radiation route.

I became aware of the power of the boob in grade eleven, when mine suddenly appeared, seemingly out of nowhere, as my mother has never needed to wear a bra. Whether my own C cups were urged forth by the synthetic estrogen/progesterone pills or my paternal genes finally kicking in, I'll never know, but I have grown to count on them. It took a few years before I became entirely comfortable with them, though. Breasts, any breasts, wield an odd power. Endlessly fascinating, endlessly sought after. Male friends have explained how important the female breast is, how 95% of their day is spent hoping to catch a glimpse of even one naked boob. Tits for tits' sake.

Sometimes at night I will cup one breast in my hand in order to fall asleep. This soft pillow that is only mine, comforting in its familiarity, a built-in security blanket. My boobs are an integral part of my physical identity, like my size 8 feet and the dimple in my chin. I don't know what I would do without them.

I don't know if, faced with the horror of disease, I would confide in strangers. But maybe there is relief in the telling. Maybe admitting it out loud, to strangers, makes it real, and therefore beatable. Maybe she has already accepted her death as an inevitability and the fact of her cancer is just small talk, like the score in the hockey game or the way she should have played that last hand. There has been sickness in my family; my mother almost died from a ruptured brain aneurysm and my father is mentally, physically, and spiritually ill. But I don't know how to read this strange, possibly dying, pink tracksuit-wearing woman. I can't tell if she will fight or if she has given up. I don't know if she will live or die. She was right, though: if the worst that happens to me is that I spill my drink and lose a poker game, I'm doing alright.

Ode to Charlotte, the best cat in the world

Earlier this evening, my dude called to me from downstairs, "Hey! Can you let Charlotte out the front door?" and I told him sure and opened the front door, walked a couple of steps downstairs and called to Charlotte with the special kissing noise we use and an encouraging "C'mon!". Charlotte, excited by the prospect of outside at night, came galloping across the floor, intending to leap up the stairs and (probably) plop down immediately outside the open front door. But her claws found no purchase on the cold concrete floor and instead of making the leap to freedom, she slid and smashed her little calico face into the bottom step, momentum pushing her body forward and to the side, where it, too, thudded into the oak.

It was like that time at school when I saw a girl on rollerblades attempt to go down a too-steep hill and wipeout at the bottom in a heap of bruised body and ego: my concern about her potential injuries did nothing to prevent me from laughing my ass off.

Charlotte stood up and took a step to the side. Sneezed six or seven times, delicate kitten sneezes, then laid down on the unforgiving concrete. Chuckling still, but concerned, I knelt beside her. Are you okay, muffin? I crooned, running my hand over her skull and down her back. Poor honey. C'mere. And I scooped her up and pressed my nose into her fur.

I took her upstairs to the open front door and, as predicted, she walked outside and promptly plopped down on the porch. I stayed with her for awhile, stroking her face, wondering if it was possible to tell if a cat was suffering from a broken nose.

It is hours later and she seems okay now, if rather more on the snuggly side than usual.

Charlotte is the best cat in the whole world. Many cat owners will tell you this, but let me assure you that only I can make this assertion with certainty. She was a skinny little stray (or so we thought) when we discovered her loitering around my mother's fourplex apartment. She was already ours when we learned that she actually belonged to a neighbour in the building next door. Happily, said neighbour was moving and had planned on getting rid of the cat anyway. Her name is Charlotte, he told us, and we approved.

My mother's cat, Caesar, also approved of the new edition, as evidenced by the day he stood in front of her, raised his tail, and splashed a spray of urine into her face, marking her as his.

One winter, Charlotte tore her left Achilles tendon while playing outside in the snow. Equipped with a heavy plaster cast and under orders not to jump or manoeuver stairs for a month, Charlotte was forced to spend her days in a cage. Giving in to her kitten protestations, I slept on a mattress on the floor of the spare bedroom with her for four weeks while she healed. At night she would walk across my face, dragging the cast behind her, crying at the injustice of her captivity, her boredom. I gave up sleep for Charlotte, and you know that that means something.

As a kitten, she once got stuck in a tree and I climbed up and rescued her, her claws digging into my arms and back as she clung to me while I climbed down.

Charlotte still walks across my face at night before she curls up around my head, purring contentedly. She likes people and parties, and she'll steal your chair if you get up to refill your drink. She wigs out and tears up her scratching post when we play rock 'n' roll. She has never bitten or scratched anyone in malice, or used the couch as a scratching post, or peed anywhere other than the litter box or the neighbour's flowerbed, and she doesn't walk across the kitchen counter or sit on the table, so if she sometimes chooses to throw up a hairball on the carpet rather than the hardwood, I can't really complain. She sometimes wanders around the neighbourhood, doing whatever it is that cats do, but mostly she curls up in a chair in the backyard, or rolls around in the sun on the front porch, or hides beneath the bushes and watches the robins. (There was a time when she was a pretty decent hunter, but the Achilles injury has left her less nimble than in her kitten days. A little fatter, too.) She comes when we call her with the kissing noise or a high-pitched "Chaa-ar!", and if she is hesitant to come in, the promise of bacon gets her every time. We don't even have to have any actual bacon; we just tell her "bacon" in a sing-song tone, and in she comes.

I am a cat person. I find little use for the loyal and attention-seeking nature of dogs, for their constant need for approval. There were always cats in my house when I was growing up, but there has never been a cat as awesome as my little calico muffin, Charlotte.

Mine Is Clouds: A Book Review

Mine Is Clouds was written by Jeff Warren, who also happens to be a good friend of mine. I met Jeff online on Myspace many years ago, back when people had Myspace pages. (I still have mine. Obviously.) His writing was vulgar, bold, sensitive, thoughtful, and I thought to myself, Holly, this is someone you need to know. I felt a peculiar kinship with this fellow; not as a brother or a lover but as something entirely unique. And so we met, online, and then, later, in person, and we hung out and lent each other books and drank together and went on rock and roll road trips together and we, occasionally, wrote some things together. Those were good times, man. But this isn't about Jeff Warren and me. This is about his book, Mine Is Clouds.

Mine Is Clouds is a love story. It is about beginnings and endings and the things in between. It is about expectation and ecstasy, anticipation and loss, the magical and the mundane. It is about music and beer and joy and despair. Clouds herself is both Everygirl and each girl the narrator has known. (And she is beautiful.) The language of this love story is simple, sparse, complex, honest. Similes abound, analogies that made me pause and wish that I had thought of them. If you can't somehow find yourself in this story, in the narrator's pain and in his rapture, then you've never been in love.

You can get your own copy at www.brokenbeard.com, but act fast because Jeff only printed 100 copies. (I have a feeling he'll have to reprint.) As an aside, Jeff, it's gorgeous. I am so privileged to have been able to read it, and to have been trusted with parts of it before it was finished. Riot on.