I was searching for stories in a slow news period late last week when I ran across the weirdness that unfolded at the Bellagio, centering on two young poker names, Brandi Hawbaker and Dutch Boyd. That something very bizarre
was continuing to occur was evident from the outset. I read about the Brandi Hawbaker accusations against Captain Tom Franklin, and picked up hints that Dutch had been acting a tad bit stranger than normal.
I poked around and checked my sources; I ran across the first airings of some of the video clips available at sites such as Pokerwire and Pokulator. I discovered that John Caldwell, who I believe was present at the 'O' as a lot of this unfolded, was moved to do something he rarely does, making a post on the matter on his own blog
. It is a very telling post, given that he made it early last Sunday before a lot of what is now known came to light. The more I know John the more I've come to respect the depth of what he knows about the poker world. I understood exactly what he was saying, and why, even though I wasn't quite sure I agreed 100%. That's okay, of course. My concerns, such as they were, followed those initial Hawbaker accusations. If they were true, then Franklin might have been guilty of a sexual assault or molestation or something along those lines, although God knows, these several days later, exactly how much of anything Missy Hawbaker says can really be believed on its face. Something may have happened there, but I reserve judgment, though Brandi comes back into this in a bit.
More disturbing was encountering the Pokerwire.com video presumably about Mike Matusow that Dutch Boyd barged into, muttering the already infamous "piss drinking" comment, followed closely by reports from other sources that Boyd had had himself quite the weekend --- peeing from the Fontana Room balcony, garnering several penalties from the tournament staff for erratic table behavior, making a most bizarre prediction/accusation about the aforementioned Franklin, grabbing a competitor's iPod from a live tourney table and making off with it... and that's just the top-of-the-head stuff. Shane Schleger (a.k.a. 'Shaniac') has now made a post
about what even those of who weren't within a thousand miles of the Fontana Room could see as plain as day: Dutch Boyd was having another bi-polar episode.
That stuff hits home for me. I'm not bi-polar, but I'm a clinical depressive myself, something only perhaps two poker people knew about before I decided to post it here. So whatever. We take the post forward.
I'm not an expert on psychological disorders, despite suffering from two of them (and no, you don't get to know about the other). I am, however, probably more versed than the typical nerd on the street in the stuff, since I've also had some medical training, working as a NA/PCT and well on the educational path toward nursehood before I realized that, though I might be competent at this nurse-y thing, I just wasn't happy with it. I'm doomed to write. It's what I do. Writer's pay sucks, too, but it doesn't matter.
Back to Dutch. It's scary and sad to see him walking around saying things like "I'm crazy. Certifiably." True or not, it's not the being "crazy," as he puts it, that's the greater threat. The problem, and the really damning thing about Boyd, is that he's using his condition as a crutch to justify and rationalize his bizarre behaviors, and he can get away with a lot of shit, because he's the brilliant and famous poker-playin' Dutch Boyd. And behind that problem the real
It works well, this getting away with shit on a small scale; think of it as a way of angle-shooting or gaining an edge on the world as large. "What, normal people don't do these things? But I'm crazy, therefore I can." The brain, though, is a tricky thing --- it's got a mind of its own, har-har. Take this from my personal experiences: manic and clinical depressive disorders are two different beasts, but they do share some similarities. Just when you think you're handling your condition well, your brain chemistry decides to throw you for a loop. When you're just a little bit out of kilter, you tend to not worry about it because, well, it's just not that serious. And all of a sudden it is serious, and you'd like to change it, correct it, get the damn train back on the tracks, and you cannot
Welcome to an episode, gentle readers. When I have one of my type I can be immobilized for a day or three, and I do mean immobilized. Monday might become Thursday in a blurry haze where I simply couldn't remember the fact that life exists out there beyond my nose. Thank you, damaged limbic system and serotonin generators, for those days when I can barely recognize that the fact that the window pane is dark means that it's night outside, not that I care. I'll roll over and the pane'll be light, and then dark, and then it doesn't matter much any more....
It's abnormal behavior. But what it is on the inside is different than how it appears from the outside, and that holds for manic types like Dutch as well. When he's really deep in one of those episodes, he simply doesn't know how he's acting, or rather, on some level deep inside, the way he's acting makes its own sense
. The slope is slippery, and the fact that Dutch is Dutch means that his window to recognize the steamroller's approach is scaringly small. Remember, this is Dutch Boyd --- he's both certifiably crazy and brilliant enough to take the cash off the world's best poker pros, or so he'll tell you in the same sentence.
Brandi Hawbaker? Not a depressive sort, as far as I can tell, all those bizarre 2+2 claims that she also must be manic/bi-polar notwithstanding. Her flavor of kookidom I'm not as familiar with, but it's possible there's a disassociative disorder there --- the self-cutting-with-glass thing is definitely something one can find in the ol' DSM. 'DSM' refers to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, and I think Volume IV, or DSM-IV, is still the working version.
No matter who you are, you see, you're still a number.
Noting that there is something not quite right with Brandi, it hardly excuses the whole second part of her long 2+2 saga, meaning her crass using of recent WPT winner Mark Newhouse. (Newhouse, for his part, is likely to become a poster boy for socially-awkward poker millionaires taken for healthy hunks of their 'rolls. Mark may be a great kid, for all I know, but he sure got played here.) Maybe, like Brandi, one has to be warped to be a grifter. Mental disorders, however, are not license to do the things Hawbaker now seems shown to have done.
The same point holds true for Dutch. Dutch is a far greater danger to himself than Brandi is to herself, her reported suicidal theatrics notwithstanding. People that really want to kill themselves don't make a show of it, they just go ahead and do it. Worse, a deeply oscillating bi-polar type might not even be able to recognize a suicidal process as it begins to unfold. And for anyone tsk-tsk-ing me for bringing up the dreaded S-word, I say "Screw you." I live with that word and its meaning every day, and likely will for the rest of how many days I shuffle across the surface of this world.
I don't care much about Dutch, personally, but I'm also not quite so callous that I can't recognize a real problem when I see it. So, what does Dutch need? Two things: A trusted friend or family member with the guts to get him help when he needs it, and the maturity on his own part to recognize that as brilliant as he is, this manic stuff works in its own way. Shaniac implies that Part One is underway, but without Part Two, the cycle may be doomed to repeat. Brain chemistries and their interactions with psychotropic medications evolve over time; a drug that does the job in January might be causing damage by April. Been there, done that. Worse still are the complications caused by alcohol or recreational drug use, or under-medication due to financial restraint. I know about that second one, as well.
Such scary skeletons. Poker's no different than any other little world in serving up its sacrifices to the altar of mental illness. I noticed that Poker Shrink --- Hiya, Shrinky! --- mentioned two such in a comment to Shaniac's wonderful post, those being Stuey Ungar and Andy Glazer. Both were before my time in poker, obviously, though I do feel a connection to Glazer I'd rather not feel, not that I carry such lofty pretenses about my skills. Andy Glazer was a solid, solid poker writer and he is missed even by those that never knew him, including me.
Here be dragons, y'know. And I don't know what else to say, or even if I've said anything at all. Maybe, maybe, the fascination that I and some others have with trainwrecks like these is just one of those "There, but for the grace of God go I" tales....
Not too cheerful a read, for which I apologize. Welcome to our world. And happy holidays.