“This is what’s good about America. There is always some improvisation, something new.”

— Robert Olen Butler, A Good Scent From a Strange Mountain

In 1975, after Saigon fell to the North Vietnamese, thousands of South Vietnamese refugees escaped to the United States. Hiep Doan, a boy of fifteen, stayed behind in Quảng Trị, a town in the northernmost province of South Vietnam. His sister Quang Smith eventually escaped — to New Orleans — and they often talked about life in the United States. One day, she suggested, he could join her there.

I met Hiep for this interview last…


In the early 1970s, a shaggy-haired sociology major from The University of New Orleans visited Skid Row, a raggedy section of downtown where dozens of winos lounged sadly like stray puppies. The student’s name was Michael Groetsch, and his final project, a study of how local businesses exploited Skid Row’s homeless population, was covered in the local paper. Many of these apparent miscreants, he told a Times-Picayune reporter, “are really like little children, most of them thankful for the slightest kindness.” Groetsch would go on work with children’s homes, anti-poverty programs, the homeless, the mentally ill, the elderly, domestic violence…


Three years ago in a hold ’em tournament at the L’Auberge Casino, Piyush Mittal got into a confrontation. His opponent, a petite woman wearing an LSU hoodie, shoved all-in and he called with top pair. The good news was that she only had a pair of threes, and, after another opponent folded and the board ran out clean, Piyush won the pot. But there was also bad news: he had just stacked his wife.

“I can’t believe that you busted me!” Simi Mittal sprang from her seat and stalked away in frustration. Piyush sheepishly tried to explain himself (I had…


There’s one word, more than any other, that gives grinders nightmares. Can you guess what it is? Here’s a hint. One day you sit in a no-limit hold ’em game, run queens into kings, and lose. Then you run kings into aces and lose. Then you run aces into kings and lose. Then you run a flush into a higher flush and lose. Then you run a full house into quads and lose. After enough time — weeks? months? years? — perpetual losing makes you depressed. It makes you furious, bitter, paranoid. You expect that the absolute worst will happen…


In the summer of 2011, Foster Hays got some good news: he’d been accepted to medical school. To celebrate, he flew to Las Vegas with a friend and entered his first-ever WSOP tournament, a $1,500 no-limit hold ’em event that drew 3,157 entrants. As he started Day 2 with an extreme short stack, Hays wondered how many free drinks he could snag before he busted the tournament. But then he doubled up. Then he doubled up again. And again. Suddenly, with ample chips and a fresh pineapple juice, he refocused. …


Around three in the morning, when most of us are asleep, Easton Oreman is starting his workday. He drives to the company warehouse, fills a truck with hundreds of loaves of Pepperidge Farm bread — Honey Wheat Bread, Whole Grain White Bread, 100% Whole Wheat Bread, 12 Grain Bread, Sourdough Bread, Hearty White Bread — and distributes them onto grocery store shelves across New Orleans. Oreman doesn’t live by bread alone. Like Joey Knish, the seasoned grinder in Rounders, he’s also embraced poker as a profitable side hustle.

I met Easton at the Harrah’s New Orleans poker room, where the…


“Raise.” Lou Marziale pushed sixteen white chips across the betting line. His 4/8 limit hold ’em opponent begrudgingly called and saw the bad news: Lou had rivered two pair with eight-three offsuit. “That’s just two terrible cards,” he told Lou, shaking his head. “I don’t know why you’re playing those, man. They’re not even suited.”

“Let me explain something to you,” Lou said. Wearing enormous blue trousers and a baggy button-down, the old man resembled Miracle Max from The Princess Bride. “You’ve never thought of this, but it’s very simple.”

“I’m just messing with you.”

Lou gently raised his right…


In the late 1970s, J. Patrick McNamara was on location in Caesarea, Israel, to shoot The Fury, a film starring Kirk Douglas. Already a veteran stage actor, McNamara was quickly becoming a respected movie actor as well, and Douglas had asked him for help with a vocal problem he’d been having. McNamara gladly agreed. On a late afternoon, as the sun sank into the Mediterranean Sea, the pair walked three miles down an ancient cobblestone road filled with ruined Roman columns and Caesarean sculptures. Their conversation remains one of McNamara’s fondest memories from a long, prolific acting career.

After living…


A few years ago, Joe Meteye was hosting a private dinner inside Ruth’s Chris Steak House, a downtown New Orleans restaurant. Beaming and besuited in front of seventy-five guests, he told them about Clicquot, a luxury champagne from Reims, France. After speaking for thirty minutes — about his career in the wine and spirits industry, about the history of Madame Clicquot, about the restaurant’s founder Ruth Fertel, about why Filet Mignon Roquefort is best paired with Veuve Clicquot Vintage 2004 — he asked if there were any questions. …


God, please forgive these gentlemen for the slaughter they’re about to commit.

— Peace Marvel

Captain Peace Marvel has an enviable job: he takes people fishing for money. Thanks to a lot of enthusiasm and the Captain’s joky trademark — a morning prayer of forgiveness — Peacekeeper Charters is one of Louisiana’s most popular fishing agencies. Marvel, who’s from Baton Rouge and lives in Pearl River with his family, is a voracious outdoorsman, traveler, music-lover, reader, writer, and poker player. “I won’t be going to my grave wishing that I had done more,” he told me.

I met Peace at…

Ben Saxton

reading, writing, teaching, pokering

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