From time to time you have probably read some subtle and some not-so-subtle references to Don Murphy on this website. We have never taken the time to explain who he is to those out-of-the-know. Let me try to explain the man that is Don Murphy before I tell my Thanksgiving Hallmark Moment story about him.
Don Murphy is about as funny as it gets. I think he is a riot. As a young man, he was a stand-up comedian, and had quite a bit of success. Proof of that success always hung on the wall of the Friendship Social Club in Houston in the form of a picture of a young Don Murphy chatting with a very young Johnny Carson on the Tonight Show. Like many people blessed with the gift of the gab (by the way, in case you didn't know, the gift of the gab originated in Cork, from where the Murphy clan originates....in other words, the odds of a Murphy being funny is equal to the odds of a Ferruzzo being a crooked mobster thug), Murphy had a lot of success in the world of sales after his entertainment career peaked. He cashed in on his ability to sell with Don's Western Wear.
It was a perfect storm - not only was he a hell of a salesman, he was selling western wear in Texas at the time Urban Cowboy was huge, Gilley's was nationally known, the price of oil seemed to know no limit, and the carpet baggers and scallywags were flocking to the sunbelt. Bidness was good. Don made a ton of money. Anybody from Houston surely knows Don's Western Wear as well as Pilgrims Cleaners or James Coney Island. Of course, two of those three business still exist.
Don liked to gamble. Alot. Don bet on anything and everything. Like most people whose financial trajectory seemed unlimited in Houston in the 1980's, Don's fortunes took a turn for the worse. I imagine that there were many contributing factors, but there were two well cited factors leading to Don's financial demise, both of which he willingly shares with friends and non-friends alike.
Don went to Vegas and I think at one point during this trip he was up a decent amount. At some
point, his luck turned sour and over the course of about 45 minutes he went from approximately even to down 7-digits. Yes, that is over a milliion dollars. I forget the amount, but I seem to recall $1.3 million over the course of 45 minutes at craps. That hurts.
Following a familiar pattern for compulsive gamblers, Don soon ran into trouble with the IRS. They were of the opinion that Don's Western Wear did not pay enough taxes. The difference that he owed was difficult to pay back in light of the marker he owed a casino in Vegas.
Don no longer owns Don's Western Wear or much of anything. Don has spent almost all of his time in Houston's underground card rooms playing mainly low-limit Holdem. I have seen him play Omaha 8, too, and Holdem at higher stakes including $2-$5 PL. But most of his time is spent at the tables where the action is so wild and the rake is so high that nobody wins. Don has spent on average 16 hours per day 7 days a week for 20 years losing at poker.
Don is still a business man, and although he never quite figured out how to play poker particularly well, he has found revenue at poker. He spends a lot of time calling guys and convincing them to come to "this new game on this side of town...trust me the action is good". Still the salesman, few cardroom decline his service. I think he shills as well. I know Don well, and the money he makes promoting games does not pay the bills. It subsidizes losses at best. And he doesn't care.
I wish I could remember his quote well, which is both witty and poignant, but I can't. So, I will just convey the message: Don has never been happier. When he was rich he wasn't happy, and now that he is broke, he is worry-free & very, very happy. Although a grumpy old man at table most times, he has truly learned a lesson that we should all learn. It is a lesson that is Biblically sound and commonly accepted, but rarely folllowed - happiness in life is not found in material riches. Unfortunately, or perhaps ironically, those who understand that truth suck at poker. The best poker players are greedy SOB's like me that would check-raise their own grandmother. Since Don is more concerned with the entertainment associated with action than he his is with winning, he does not have a lot of success at poker.
I met Don Murphy in 1998 at a game that no longer exists. He and I have crossed paths again and again at the Friendship Social Club, Ace-Kickers, the Top-Hat and one other place whose name escapes me. Don and I get along well, but many people don't care for him. When I spotted him $200 one night on his promise that he would pay me "next time he saw me" everyone called me a fool. He payed me. He also said thank you and made me a pot of coffee.
I am on a short list of people that is in love with Don Murphy.
Don called me over Thanksgiving. I told him "Hey, Don, I know you want me to play cards with you, but I gotta tell you, I moved to Dallas. I can't play cards with you anymore". His response surprised me, and it went something like this:
"I don't want to play any damn cards with you, I called you to tell you Happy Thanksgiving. Hell, I ain't played no poker since probably the last time I saw you many months ago. I ain't exactly quit, but I just don't really play anymore. I got other things going on. There was this boy that worked with me at Don's....he wanted to go to Seminar (seminary) and I thought that was great so I paid for him to go and that's what he did. He graduated and didn't have a job, so I kept helping him. I didn't help him because I believe in all of this-and-that, but I just knew he needed help and I was loaded. One day he found himself this old church of kooks and that was that. Twenty years later, he calls me up and I decide to visit him. Hell, what else am I going to do on a Sunday? Can't play no cards till noon anyway. I had myself a real nice time. I was thinking...all these people are real nice. They actually care about me. So, I just keep going."
And then I said, "Don, are you a Christian?"
"Oh Geez, this place is off-the-charts-koooky.... they believe in all sorts of heeby-jeeby. Craig, I can't go pee without somebody praying for me. They are all completely crazy. But, Craig, I thought about something, and I really want you to know this - those people I played poker with for 20 years are crazy too. The difference is - just about none of them ever gave a damn about me. Not at all. Nobody gave a damn about old Don Murphy. At this church full of Kooks, every single person is concerned about me. Every one. They always tell me how they pray about me and my crazy wife. People call me just to see how I am doing. Craig - I really like spending my time with the churchy-wierdos over the poker assholes... do you understand?"