Sunday, September 30, 2018

Poker

Earlier in the month, I was playing Texas Hold 'Em poker after work when I made a classic beginner's blunder. All of us were chatting and joking, amongst the betting and folding, when the table slowly got quiet. I smiled, and pondered the cards I had. I didn't know what the delay was, when suddenly I had a thought: "Is it on me?" "Yes!" they exclaimed. I folded my cards at once and someone joked "Was that the most difficult decision of your life right there?" It was all in good fun at my expense.

I started playing poker in 2006. The place where I worked held a Texas Hold 'Em tournament, styled like the popular poker tournaments seen in movies and television. Poker was in its boom days then and I gravitated to it, thanks to movies like "Rounders" and "Quiz Show" ("too rich for my blood", says Dick Goodwin to Charles Van Doren, in that movie's memorable poker scene).

Since all my poker experience has come from after-work events, my poker face is not the smoothest. One of things I did to learn poker was to play online, but that doesn't compare with playing at a real table, holding real cards and stacking real chips. There's a popular poker saying that if you can't recognize the sucker at a poker table, then you're probably that sucker, and I have been that poker rube many times.

When I talk to more experienced players, nearly all of them spent time playing casually in high school or college. I'll never have that much experience, but experience only helps so much. Poker is still about the draw of the deck, and even I have won some big hands. In the end, I'm glad I have a chance to play this fun and fascinating game. I just have to remember when it's my turn to bet.

Friday, August 31, 2018

Push-Ups

When I was in high school, one professional athlete that caught my attention was Herschel Walker. He was a marquee football player for the New Jersey Generals (of the now-defunct USFL). What I remember most was that his physique didn't come from weight-lifting, but rather from a regimen of push-ups and sit-ups. He would do 750 to 1500 push-ups daily! This greatly appealed to me. You didn't need to lift weights or use specialized equipment: just do push-ups!

I quickly followed suit. I remember being able to do 100 push-ups at a time. (OK, maybe it was closer to 80.) I did these in one arduous set. Over time I varied my push-ups: clapping between each push; doing them with one arm (my hand planted near the middle of my chest); propping my feet on a chair, to affect an inclined push-up; balling my hands into fists. I never got close to 1000 push-ups a day, but I felt athletic all the same.

A few years ago I resumed the habit of daily push-ups, after decades of not doing this. I started with just 10. Now, on good days, I'll do 50 in two sets of 25. On other days, I'll do 20 or 25. I makes me feel good to do this. Doing this imparts a feeling of strength. I wish I did more exercise, but at least I do this. The habit of this simple daily push-ups started with Herschel Walker.

Tuesday, July 31, 2018

My Favorite Vacations

Summer time is vacation time. In rough chronological order, here are the memorable vacations from my life.

Philippines - When I was 10 my family and I spent a month in the Philippines. My father's family is from Bulacan (near Manila), and my mother's family is from Maasin (in Southern Leyte). I mostly remember cultural overload. I embraced reading Filipino comics, but I also remember thinking "where's the air conditioning around here?" I embraced riding bicycles and swimming nearly every day, but I also missed cheeseburgers. This trip brought me face to face with my roots and it was eye-opening.

Cross-Country USA - One summer my family embarked on an epic multi-week trip across the United States. We spent many nights "camping" in a Kampgrounds of America (KOA). We crossed many states of course. Most impressive to me: a boat tour of Lake Tahoe, driving across the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco, seeing herds and herds of cattle in Texas, and being mesmerized by the cornfields of Iowa.

Key West - In the winter of my senior year of college, me and two of my Jersey City friends visited Miami and drove to Key West. We spent our days eating cheaply, hanging on the beaches, driving in a rental car and wearing out Combat Rock (the 1982 album by The Clash). We stayed at youth hostels, and pretended we knew what we were doing. The feeling of independence coupled with youth makes it a very fond vacation memory.

Paris - My wife and I went to Paris, France for our fifth anniversary. I was in awe of this beautiful and romantic city. My high school French grew passable with each day but it still lead to the usual hilarity of missed translations. We ate incredibly well, and soaked in its culture as best as we could. We went to the top of the Eiffel Tower, and visited The Louvre. The city easily blended charm, sophistication, history and modernity. A truly great city and a truly great vacation.

York Beach, Maine - This is a bustling little beach town less than two hours from Boston, and it is a regular family vacation for us. My favorite part is jumping into the ocean for a few minutes, and swimming out as far as I can go. Our days are utterly slow, focused on eating, sitting by the pool or on the beach, and reading. We laugh and love one another even more when we visit this happy place.

Saturday, June 30, 2018

Junkyard Dogs

I grew up near a trucking garage. Not fifty yards from our house, in a residential part of Jersey City, was an industrial garage. It was located at the end of a dead-end. It was fairly small, and I assumed that it only housed or repaired or maintained tractor trucks (it was too small for any trailers).

The garage was guarded by two ferocious dogs. I don't remember their breed, but they were most likely German Shepherds or Doberman Pinschers. They were tethered to the building by a long chain link leash. Whenever us neighborhood kids cut through the cemetery that was next to this garage, we would have to brace ourselves for some ferocious barking and chain snapping as the dogs would hurl themselves again the fence, standing on their hind legs, barking like mad.

My childhood fear of dogs started with them. I was scared that they would bite me, if they could get free of their leash, or somehow jump over the fence. I associated dog barking as meaning menace, and a dog's jumpy, kinetic energy as something uncontrollable. The double whammy of enduring a dog bite and a long needle (for a tetanus shot) made me nervous around any dog, and the fear stayed with me for many years.

Thursday, May 31, 2018

Ulysses Reading Diary

Over the long weekend I put together a small web page of diary entries I made while reading Ulysses, by James Joyce. It took me almost three years to finish this masterwork of literature (2009-2012). From my records on LibraryThing, I learned that I also finished reading 100 other books while I made my way slowly through Ulysses.

I look back with satisfaction. Reading Ulysses was one of my bucket list books. I wish I had made more diary entries, because as I think back on the book now, each chapter was a unique challenge, and it would have been good to record how I tackled them. (My main advice: buy a study guide!)

For the literary inclined, visit my Ulysses reading diary at:

http://www.rickumali.com/reads/ulysses/

Monday, April 30, 2018

My Fiftieth Reckoning

There are two days in the year that we reckon with ourselves. Two days in which we take stock. Take measure. Those two days are New Years Day, and Birthdays. And what bigger reckoning can one have than on their fiftieth birthday? Half a century has gone by, and what have we done with all that time?

I look back and count the good things: my wife, our daughter, our comfortable life together. I consider my haphazard career, and how it has offered a steady livelihood. I remember all those things I pursued, my so-called hobbies, some of which have faded away, replaced by other things to pass the time. I don't know if I have the energy to try new things, but I know I have enough energy to pursue the things that I like.

I think fondly about the people that I've met, across fifty years of living. Some have reached out to me in their own fiftieth year, perhaps to reconstruct or remember a past that we had shared. Many others just remain memories, acquaintances, brief connections that I still remember because remembering feels good. I'm less worried about people forgetting me: perhaps I've forgotten them!

I'd like the remaining years to be happy, but I'd also like it to be kinder, gentler, and less about striving. If life is a mountain to climb, then the mountain is infinitely tall. There's always another peak to chase, and I admit that I'm not as interested to see the view from higher up. I think the view I have now is fine.

Saturday, March 31, 2018

A Book Update

My short e-book, I Couldn't Keep It To a Tweet, has been purchased exactly seven times since its publication in September 2017.

I remember an interview I heard with the singer/songwriter John Oates (of Hall and Oates fame). He was promoting a solo album (1000 Miles of Life, 2008). He said he'd be happy to sell 10,000 copies of this album. Only 10,000? This is one half of Hall and Oates! You'd think 10,000 is what he could sell in its first week!

His perhaps realistic expectations help me with mine. I certainly didn't expect to sell 10,000 copies of my little book. But since my computer book has sold over 2,500 paid units since 2015 (both physical and ebooks), I figured 100 would be a reasonable sales number for my little memoir. Given that 7 is a long way from a 100, I think I'll just lower my expectations. Or maybe I should start advertising.

Wednesday, February 28, 2018

Beginner Baker

For the past year or so I've been slowly learning how to bake. My first step was making breakfast waffles from a box mix. I was whisking water, eggs, waffle mix and some oil. It was easy and satisfying, and it got me into the kitchen, but it was only the mechanics of baking.

My next step in proper baking was making simple breads. I progressed to the stand mixer, and learned to work with yeast, dough and the oven. My wife, an expert baker, let me flail about in the kitchen, forcing me to trust the recipes. When things felt ambiguous, I called her over for consulting.

I then learned how to make basic pies: key lime pie, chocolate cream pie, and pumpkin pie. More skills are brought to bear, but overall baking is about multitasking. While the crust is baking, the filling can be prepared, or vice versa. Even two or three things are a lot to juggle as a beginner.

I wish I had started baking earlier. Learning to bake has given me a deeper appreciation of my wife's cooking abilities. She has an immense amount of cooking and baking experience, and she applies it every day. I'm now glad I can help with dessert.

Wednesday, January 31, 2018

My 2017 Books and Movies

In 2017, I finished 26 books (see my profile on Goodreads).

I finished some terrific books, including Chaos Monkeys (Antonio García Martínez), The Underground Railroad (Colson Whitehead) and What Happened (Hillary Clinton).

My favorite non-fiction book read in 2017 was Héctor Tobar's Deep Down Dark, the accounting of the 33 Chilean miners who got trapped in a deep mine. Tobar moves easily between the work underground and the work above-ground to get everyone out safely. He heightens what is a simple rescue mission story into a moving meditation on work, love, faith, and hope.

My favorite fiction book read in 2017 was 4 3 2 1, by Paul Auster. Like A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, it's a coming of age book, but in Auster's hands it's a literary magic trick. The novel watches the growth of a boy into a young man, but Auster examines this life four ways, each life affected by different events and choices. Superb!

I watched 39 movies (see the list on my IMDb). My favorite from last year was Blade Runner 2049, a sequel that perfectly complements the first Blade Runner (released in 1982). The ideas, the cinematography, and the story are just perfect. I also liked and highly recommend Baby Driver (2017) and True Grit (2010).