The pain of poker  OCT 20 2010

Jay Caspian Kang has a gambling problem.

Twelve thousand dollars lay wadded up in the glove compartment. I was trying to decide if I had what it took to drive home. To help delay a decision, I remember turning the radio to a Dodgers game. I don't know how long I sat there listening to Vin Scully sing his nasally song of balls and strikes, which, even in the age of digital radio, still sounds as if it is being transmitted through a tin of victory cabbage. I remember thinking some nostalgic, self-pitying thoughts about my younger days. I forced myself to say out loud, "You are a degenerate gambler," but doing so only made me giggle. I opened the glove box, pocketed the cash, and walked back through the sliding doors of the Commerce Casino, back to my table in the Crazy Asian 400 No-Limit Game and to the eight friends at my table who had kindly managed to save my seat.

Some time later, I drove home. All the money, of course, was gone. As I drove home through the network of highways that tie up a concrete bow just east of downtown Los Angeles, I felt no compulsion to slam the Outback into a guardrail. In fact, losing almost all the money I had in the world in six hours stirred up only a cold, scraped-out feeling of knowing-the calm that freezes out your brain when you watch someone younger make the same mistakes you made at their age. Staring out at the empty skyscrapers, I tried to figure out what might be the right reaction to losing $12,000. At the 7-Eleven on Venice and Sepulveda, I bought a bottle of Nyquil, drank half of it in the parking lot and drove the rest of the way home in a warm, creeping fog.

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