I recently put up a post that had a bit of the old Montana days in it. That’s where my head is at today. Thinking back on some of the insanity of those games and how a quiet little mouse in the corner turned into a poker dealer and went on to live in the desert happily ever after…kind of…sort of.
There were several ‘Dannys’ and ‘Dans’ back in the Missoula poker room landscape, one that I always wanted to be on his good side in particular was Big Dan. He was a runner of sorts, like running to do food errands type of things, not a jogger. Dan had been in prison some years before and the word around was that he was beaten by prison guards with metal pipes. That would explain why he looked like someone had melted his head down into a soft pile of dough and then punched it.
Dan seldom played poker, he hung around the rail when he came in and sometimes he had a crumpled, grungy looking brown paper bag that he ate out of. No kidding! He held the bag like one would expect the winos down on Burnside Street in Portland to hold it, concealing the contents as they sipped from the top. The big difference in the bags is that the one Dan ate out of smelled horrible…like dead chicken or something that started to decay. Dan was a huge man. He towered over me and had a wide frame. I always wanted to be on his good side.
Another Dan was a paper boy. Yuppers, a 60ish-year-old paper boy. He came through late at night after the paper came out with a canvas bag across his back that held the papers. I cannot ever remember seeing him play poker. He was always cheerful as far as I could tell and seemed harmless enough but these Dans were hustling to survive. It’s hard to tell what they would do if they were in the right spot at the right time. Their clothing resembled that of one that lives on the streets, unkempt and unclean.
Another Danny ran the Palace Poker Room for awhile. That room was the only other room I know of that was in operation in the early days of my Ox (Oxford) memories. Dan’s last name was Kam or Cam or Kham or something that sounded like the first part of camshaft. Danny had the personality of a car salesman, always hustling, always working the crowd, and he became the Palace manager later on, I can’t even begin to remember who was there when I first started in poker.
For one thing, I confined myself to the Ox at first and didn’t even look for other games. There was one that ran at a bowling alley a few nights a week, my sis had played there and that’s how she painted the glory and money one could earn about dealing that got me started. But I didn’t venture to that one until much later on. It was a hit/miss type of game. They might have one, they might not.
And yet another Dan was a youngster that worked as a writer for the newspaper. He was a huge fan of the Grateful Dead and quite a character in the games. In those days it was unusual to find a youngster that was a regular…yes…I was a youngster back then too. Now and then I’ve wondered what direction his life took, if he left Missoula or stayed.
The Ox was a dingy dark hole back then, it probably still is, but when I got swallowed up by the poker bug, it didn’t seem that way. I had royal flushes dancing in my eyes and everything about the game was shining like newly polished silver. Now I know the royal flushes are few and far between and all that glitters really is gold…if you have the patience to keep panning and swinging that pick in the grind.
What do the Dannys and Dans have to do with it? Just painting the whole picture. Long after I had learned how hard the dealer’s chair can be on a person’s feelings, I ran my own game for awhile (licensed through the state, completely legal, except for the drop we took…that was legal too but I guarantee you, it was highway robbery disguised as a poker game), and then eventually went back to work at the Ox as the poker manager.
Some of the craziest action wasn’t at the table.
Missoula is a college town and consequently the college kids hit the restaurant every Friday and Saturday night after the bars closed. The Ox sometimes had standing room only from 2 AM to about 3:30 AM as the hoards lined up at the counter and odd assortment of dining room tables to order the ever stinky, ever disgusting, horrible brown gravy poured over a full dinner plate of hashbrowns. Talk about a gagger. I have no idea how many times I thought I’d throw up if I had to smell one more plate of that slop while I dealt poker.
Of course we had a bouncer. For a while Gordon Long handled that job for me. Then Gordon shifted his focus in another direction and I picked up a healthy looking brute named Jack to handle the job.
I watched Jack work at trying to get a college jock out of the Ox one night that went from one end of the place to the other. I just tried to stay out of the way and not get knocked off the barstool I was sitting on while dealing the stand-up 5 Card Stud table in the front.
The jock was out of line and being a bit of a shit and Jack walked up to tell him to settle down. The jock stood up, grabbed a squeeze bottle of mustard and squeezed his hands full of it. Guess he thought Jack’s sweater needed some yellow in it because he started at Jack’s shoulders and ran his hands down the front of the sweater. The fight was on.
Jack punched the jock around the Ox and people jumped out of the way, one minute they were down on the floor rolling behind the counter right next to the grill where the cook, Paul, was trying to move out as fast as possible, then they were over by the side door with the jock’s head being slammed into the pay phone that hung on the wall.
Oh yeah, the cops were called too and they finally got there. The jock had to leave with a set of bracelets on his wrists. The whole place got pretty damned quiet when the excitement was over, but as usual, the cards were in the air and we were playing poker.
The menu on the wall behind the grill had one item that’s always stuck in my thoughts. “He needs ‘em” which stood for brains and eggs. Literally, the jock needed the brains but not sure about the eggs.
They quit serving brains and eggs for a number of years — this might bother your appetite if the thought of brains doesn’t — because the cow had to be slaughtered differently than the norm (this is what I heard, not what I know for fact). Normally a nail was shot through the cow’s head to kill it but that causes bone splinters in the brain and it was harder to get the brains.
On that note, I’m out for the night.