Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.
Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

Martha Frankel: Hats & Eyeglasses

Celebrity interviewer Martha Frankel started learning how to play poker while doing research for a screenplay. Susan Sarandon and Michelle Pfeiffer were going to play two con artists pulling off a big jewelry heist when they ran into the biggest jackpot of all: love. Or at least that was the plan, before Frankel went overboard collecting background information on the poker expertise of one of the characters. Starting with a regular Wednesday-night game with the guys, she moved on to cruises, casinos, card rooms, and then, fatefully, online poker. Her memoir, Hats & Eyeglasses: A Family Love Affair With Gambling, is an entertaining ride through her rise to poker mastery and the regular paydays that went with it, until it takes a sudden spiral into lying, debt, and vanished willpower.


Frankel argues that gambling is in her blood. Her earliest memories are of her family (and all the unrelated "uncles" and "aunts" who regularly invited themselves over) clicking mahjongg tiles, tossing in antes, and letting her sneak a peek at the cards when she topped off their drinks. But the gene didn't manifest in her until she experienced for herself the thrill of taking a sucker's money, well into adulthood. She lovingly passes on all the poker lessons that she learned from Michael, Sal, Lefty, Doc, and the other Wednesday-night players, and somewhat shamefacedly reports that she became a poker mentor herself to a group of preteen boys. In chapter after chapter, she moves up the poker ladder, playing tight, spotting cheaters, reading tells, and always leaving with more than she had when she sat down. (That led to the repeated refrain "Why are you leaving when you're winning?", a complaint Frankel fails to comprehend.)

When online poker threw her for a loop—over a dialup connection that got cut off if anybody called her on the phone—she never saw it coming. Somehow the rapid play, mediating screen, and unpredictable opponents added up to months of steadily accelerating losses. Although Frankel admits her addiction and reveals her despair, this isn't a Gamblers Anonymous confessional. While some of her choices have an overly-workshopped sheen (the frank sex talk is especially off-putting, although her writers' group probably found it raw and honest), there remains a compelling unresolved tension between her love of poker and conviction that she isn't in its power, and the evidence to the contrary.

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