Called back to the CIA out of retirement, I was getting my security briefing when the two jets hit the Twin Towers in NYC on 9/11. I worked at Langley headquarters almost steady for a few months. Early 2002 I took off one week-end and drove to Atlantic City to play poker.
Decided to play Omaha, which is like Texas Hold’um on steroids… and the way you win in by getting behind only very, very good cards. Just good cards you dump ‘um and wait for the next hand.
So I played all night, and had amassed a pretty good stack in front of me. I wasn’t there to meet and greet people. I had no conversation with anyone. Words out of my mouth for hours were only… “Raise,” ”Call ” and ”Fold,” and mostly it was “Fold.”
Sometime that Sunday morning – we’re talking 9 to 10 o’clock – a group of local old codgers came in and sat down at the table… and because there’s a lot of time to kill if you’re playing good Omaha – and they were good – they chatted away about just a number of things.
They obviously knew each other well and kept up a steady stream of Atlantic City yada-yada; local crime and bad beats and east coast personalities. I sat playing my card, saying nothing. Then one said to the others, “You know next week, I’m going to Bali…” and hey, suddenly there’s something I know about. I had been to Bali a half dozen times before.
I had been focused on poker for 8 hours straight and was tired… I don’t know… maybe I forgot how to make conversation with regular people. Anyway the guy again says something about goin’ to Bali and I knew that if you’re going to Bali you’re going to have to fly in to Denpasar, the capital… No way around it, you goin’ to Bali, you goin’ know the capital… so I looked up after all that time of absolutely no conversation with this group, I looked the guy in the eye, and said, “Denpasar?!”
And he looked at me for the longest time. No expression. Just a steady gaze. So I said it again “Denpasar!”
And the man looked over at his friends and asked “What did that guy just say?”
So, a little confused why he didn’t understand, I persisted and answered his question very slowly pronouncing every syllable… “Den-pa-sar!”
Now his friends and the dealer and the other players at the table are looking at me, and the guy said, “I don’t know what you’re talking about, buddy. I was just saying that next week I’m goin’ on over to the Bally Casino to play.”
Too tired really to go into explanation, I looked away and laughed under my breath… soon picked up my chips and left.
As I was walking away, the guy back at the table said again, “What did he say, what did he say?”
That was years and years ago. I’m figuring he still doesn’t know.