We always said it would take a worldwide pandemic to keep us from playing… and we was right!
The Eddie Brill Poker Game hadn’t shuffled up or “dealed” for 202 days, but that all changed last week and here be the highlights.
Also, the regular attendees of the EBPG share their favorite memories of our friend, Vic Henley, who would have turned 1 year older today. If only…
(Game Day: September 14, 2020)
“DOES A FLUSH BEAT COVID?”
First of all, happy birthday to Vic Henley. We all miss you much, and this edition of The Hammadown includes some of our favorite memories of the man who could light up even the most well lit room.
But first… we always said it would take a worldwide pandemic to keep us from playing… and we was right!
The Eddie Brill Poker Game hadn’t shuffled up or “dealed” for 202 days, but that all changed when Eddie, Hank, Cockman, Joe, Freed, and yours-in-sickness-and-in-health decided we’d all been “not deathly ill” for long enough and the reward had finally surpassed the seemingly endless risk.
Freed brought crazy amounts delisioso food-o from Tony’s of Napoli – enough to feed all us hungry mugs as well as my wife and kids, and then my whole family again the next day. It was quite the offering. Freed said, “this is the best chicken parm in the city,” and I agreed, but mainly because it was the closest one to my mouth.
Within a minute, Freed would walk straight into the retractable screen door out to my patio, knocking it completely off the tracks making it seemingly impossible to fix. Thanks for ruining everything, Dave!
(EXTREMELY IMPORTANT UPDATE: I got the screen door fixed.)
Cockman brought his usual overstuffed box of Insomnia Cookies – all chocolate chip. Why mess with the classics? We pounced on them like Lebron on an alley-oop.
Mr. Abramowitz (if you’re nasty) was hot early and made the glaring mistake of pointing that out by confidently waving his hand over his full chip well as if it was the result of magic.
Me: You’re going to piss off the ghost of Kenny Rogers if you keep counting that.
Cockman: I haven’t counted it yet.
Me: And you won’t have to.
And he didn’t have to.
But that’s poker. It’s a rollercoaster. And at the end of the night, you’re either up or you’re down, and if you’re lucky, you haven’t vomited all over the guy sitting next to you.
We listened to some Weeeyum-mixed music, courtesy of Joe’s phone through my “jambox” speaker, which I couldn’t find at first prompting an avalanche of over-the-top Italian accents screaming “Go home and get your fuckin’ jambox.”
We took turns preaching to the choir re: politics. The debate hadn’t happened yet, so we weren’t certain that calling our current president “an insolent child” was correct or not, but he seemed more than happy to confirm it himself when the time came.
Our old comrade in comedy, Nick Dipaolo came up because he seems to love Trump, which we, of course, all find perplexing. But none of us denied how funny Nick can be, including one classic bit about living in a New York apartment that Dave Freed very graciously reenacted:
“I can’t live under anybody quiet. Right now I live under two sumo wrestlers learning how to tap dance. The other day I was walking down the stairs and one of them was walking up. He had a gallon of Haagen Dazs under one arm and a Gregory Hines album under the other.”
We laughed hard at Eddie Brill’s old pearl: “Watch the madcap antics of Tuesdays at Nine…Wednesdays at five.”
There were big pots and small pots and big hands and small hands and all the pots and hands in between, and all of us got a little bit of all of those.
Freed’s 4 queens bested the 4 8’s I was supremely overconfident would win. If we were playing Monopoly I would have flipped the board over and demanded that everybody leave. But we were playing poker, so I just said “good hand” while secretly jamming a chicken parm-stained fork into my thigh to numb the emotional pain.
I pulled the rare royal flush (10-A of the same suit), and even though I was in the hand with at least one other player, it took everybody a good 30 seconds to register that I had a fucking royal flush!
I won that hand.
At the end of most hands we “declare” if we’re going high or low by holding 1 chip or no chips and all revealing at the same time. At one point, Joe was obviously going low and the 2 other mugs in the hand were obviously going high, but that’s when Joe pulled what we call a “Classic Joe” and accidentally misdeclared his hand. Normally, we would make that person stick to their mistake, but because we were all just basically feeling lucky to be alive, we let him slide.
Freed was pulling good cards but didn’t always take advantage of them. He failed to “go both” (high hand and low hand) on two different occasions and he would have won both times.
No guts, no huge pot.
BIG: The opposite happens and almost everybody has good hands, but Hanks is best. In the end it was Mr. Gallo’s 8’s boat that left everyone else at the table saying…
We’re gonna need a bigger boat.
MEMORIES OF VIC
Nobody ever said to Vic Henley, “When did you get here?” When Vic walked into a room, you knew it and you loved it. The smile, the laughter, the joy and the sheer volume of his presence were as unavoidable as they were welcome. Vic was light when you didn’t even know you needed it, comfort when you needed it most, and companionship whether you needed it or not. He was an amazing person and a great friend, and my life is better because he was in it.
One cold, snowy winter night, after a long game and perhaps a few drinks, we were all carefully making our way down the extremely steep stoop leading up to Eddie’s apartment. We all grasped the railing with the caution and concern of an old man climbing out of a bath tub.
All of us except Vic.
I made it to the bottom just in time to look up and see Vic come bouncing out of Eddie’s door with a beginning-of-the-night energy that only he could have at the end of the night. He was yell-talking with whoever was behind him when he hit the first step and immediately fell to his ass like a kid jumping on to a waterslide, shooting to the bottom with the blinding speed of a gold medal luge run. It would not have ended well for anyone with less than the maximum amount of good karma. But half a second later when Vic’s feet hit the equally slippery sidewalk they somehow found a grip and he popped straight up into perfect balance as if nothing enormously unusual had just happened. And since it was Vic, I’m pretty sure he just went ahead and finished the story he was telling at the top of the stairs to whoever was standing next to him at the bottom. And I guarantee you that both guys loved that story.
I actually crowned Vic “The Poker Coach.”
I was sitting next to Vic one game and we we had someone new in the mix, I wish I remembered who. He was explaining a hand to the newbie and going on and on in that southern drawl. I was stoned out of my head just staring at him and in Paul Blart: Mall Cop fashion I blurted out “Vic Henley, POKER COACH!”
We all laughed and the name stuck like glue.
Vic didn’t like to be told what he could and couldn’t do. Especially when it came to censorship in the arts.
There is a comedy club in Erie, PA named Jr.’s Last Laugh. It is a family owned place that treats comics well, compared to most, but the club had the unusual policy of asking comedians to not say “fuck” on stage. They ran that by Vic but he wasn’t having it. He went onstage, dropped the F-Bomb a few times, and despite getting a standing ovation, the club owner was pissed. He approached Vic immediately and yelled, “You’ve got to be fucking kidding me!” to which Vic replied, “HEY, we don’t use that word in this club” (mic drop).
He was booked for the whole week but after that he went straight to where he was staying, packed his bags and drove home to NYC.
He drove 8 hours to do one set, and 8 hours home on fucking principle.
One Monday night, about 12 or 13 years ago, I ran into Vic Henley at Gotham Comedy Club. The show had ended and we were talking near the showroom exit. Vic was in a rush, said he was heading to a poker game. “Lucky,” I said. So Vic said, “You wanna go? Come on.”
Long story short, Vic Henley’s quick invitation that night led to well over 2,500 hours of sitting in a folding chair, breathing in William Stephenson’s cigarette smoke, folding winning hands and betting losers as I gradually became the table’s primary target for mockery and a general object of ridicule.
And every Monday, there was Vic, whose laugh was louder than all the others combined. Vic laughed with complete abandon and could riff on any premise, especially obscure stuff, always seeing the unexplainable wrinkle in something that made it hilarious.
But weirdly, I don’t remember when or where I first met Vic. It just always felt like we’d known each other a long time. That was a Vic thing, like the way he always called people by their first and last name, casually, for no discernible reason.
Vic’s voice was his own. If you repeat a joke he told on stage, you always have to at least TRY to do his voice. It was distinct. Singular, in fact. Vic’s jokes were like Bob Dylan songs, inseparable from the voice, meaningless without it.
I’ll remember Vic through his voice and his laugh, and the joy that he brought to talking and laughing.
After the game Vic and I would often go to a bar for beers and shots. He had the gift of making you feel like you were the most important person in his life, and would bring up details of past conversations along with his limitless trove of stories. He did not suffer fools for long, either. Once at a local bar near his home, some customer got wind that Vic was a comedian and came over to try to out funny him.Vic shut him down in less than 2 minutes by repeating, louder each time, “COCK!!!”
At the poker table he was always his charming self. With his weed bat that never emptied and his encyclopedic knowledge of music and sports, there was simply never a dull moment.
A true mensch by way of Alabama.
Last October, I was killing time on Upper East Side before going to some book party thing. I was strolling down the street and there was a comedy club. I think it was The Comic Strip. There was a sandwich board outside and on it in fancy, colorful script was “Hosted by Vic Henley”. I walk in, he’s right there: “Cockman!” Genuinely happy to see me. He introduces me around to the comics waiting to go on. Sets me up with a free drink and a free corner spot for the show. Vic was always generous with me. Fuckin’ great guy. Fuck! Double Fuck!
So many memories but for some reason one always stuck with me. We were all at Eddie’s playing when someone got up to put a frozen ice-cream sandwich into Eddy’s freezer. Eddy piped up and said, “You know, that was my favorite thing in college.” “Really,” said Vic, “I kinda enjoyed pussy.”
Many times when Vic was on a losing streak, he would survey the players around the table and declare, “I hate everyone here!… Except for Hank Gallo.” At the time, I thought it was a joke. Now, I prefer to take it as gospel.
We miss you, friend.
Enjoy sharing forever-burning joints and never-ending funk with Weeeyum.