The sound of a properly shuffled deck of cards. The creaks of wooden chairs with wooden legs scratching along wooden floors as friends belly closer the table. The clanking of the poker chips as someone assembles them for the game to come. You throw in your buy-in and pull your pile towards you knowing you’ll finish the night with those chips and everyone else’s… or yours will soon be gone.
You hear the pouring of whiskey as it crackles over ice. You enjoy the sweet smell of cigar and perhaps even marijuana smoke as it wafts through the air. Friends, sometimes new, sometimes decades old, gather around on poker night with the hopes of being the big winner on the evening. Deep down inside, though, they know they’re all winners because they take part in a special camaraderie that has been shared by friends around the globe for ages.
It’s poker night and there are few things quite like it.
Ya’ know, we talk about things and life and stuff. And we mean them, for the most part, especially when shit goes south. We mourn icons when they pass and celebrate legacies they left behind. They mean something to us, as they should. Their contributions are magnified by the public eye.
But sometimes things happen that hit far closer to home. These define us just as much if not more so for they are part of our daily lives and quite often, if we’re lucky, our fondest memories.
Jeff’s was the first house game I ever became a part of. The friendships formed at that table last to this day. Poker at Jeff’s became a weekly event, something you looked forward to more than any other part of your week, more than work, more than play, more than dinners with your girl. For many of us who were stuck in jobs we didn’t enjoy and buried in relationships from which we desperately needed to progress, poker at Jeff’s was an outlet, a sanctuary, where anything could be shared in trust among the closest of friends. What happens at the poker stays at the poker table.
Cash games, tournaments, these poker nights took place in the mid-2000s, right as the internet craze was sweeping the nation. Jeff’s house game had gone on long before I ever got there. I was the new breed but would soon fit right in. Dreams of all of us playing in the World Series became a common topic of conversation as was pretty much everything else in life: women, jobs, kids, sports, futures, politics, philosophy, booze. They were fun nights, sometimes combative and always rambunctious. You either left Jeff’s house with a ton of money in your pocket or none, with definitely a healthy buzz and the anticipation of next week’s gathering already brewing.
Jeff was the kind of man who didn’t have room for many friends. It was an intimate group but if you were in his circle, if you were his friend, there is little he wouldn’t do for you. His casa was su casa. His ear was yours too. You might not always like what he had to say, he could be brash, but if you knew his heart, you knew it beat loudly. Do you want to know what kind of friend Jeff was? He helped me move… TWICE!
Poker at Jeff’s was an institution but he was more than just a poker buddy. I saw him recently at a Gator home game. We fondly reminisced over all the stupid shit we used to get away with. We laughed and talked about old friends and striking up another poker game on a whim. We promised we would soon.
Not soon enough. Jeff had fallen ill. He passed early this morning. This makes me sad. But that will never change the times we had or the conversations we shared into the early morning.
Jeff could be one stubborn motherfucker but he had a heart of gold. He will be missed just like I miss those poker nights.
Rest in peace, my good friend.
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