WSOP 2013: Red angels
We debate what happens to the human spirit when the lightning storm in our brains goes black, whether lily-white angels carry our souls to heaven on pillows stuffed with down, whether we just blink out, whether it's something in between. I do not know. But I know this: the angels of death at the WSOP wear red. And they don't have pillows.
There is a line of them in a dark section of the Amazon Room. They queue up under a giant banner of one-time champion Carlos Mortensen (a poker god, no matter your theological leanings). The red angels wear soft smiles that belie their duty. They are the ones who get the call when a WSOP contestant has played his last chip.
There comes a call across the room. "Payout on 427!"
Charlie Ciresi is like a dispatcher for the dead. He sits on a tall podium that gives him a good view of the cull. He notes the table number and looks down to his line of red angels like a baseball manager calling for a lefty from the bullpen. It's his job to number the dead, to record one last time for history how these players finished in the WSOP. It's not taxing work. All of them finish with a chip count of exactly zero.
A small card appears in Ciresi's hand. He nods solemnly toward the busted player and sends an angel named Alena across the carpet.
Alena is beautiful like an angel should be. She wears her red angel uniform, but she is decidedly unstandard angel fare. A tattoo creeps out of her sleeve. A small stud in her lip reflects the TV lights.
She drifts to man with a Russian Poker Series backpack and guides him softly across the room. She speaks sweetly but clinically, a hostess for the next life.
"You will need your identification and your players card," she says, efficiently but carefully leading the lost soul to a corner of the room reserved for the dead. "Did you have a good time? Was it exciting?"
It's impossible to hear what the man says, so I wait on the edge of poker's version of the afterlife as Alena hands the guy off to an old man, St. Peter if I've ever seen him.
Alena has done her job, and now she walks toward the back of the line. I step in beside her and ask how the players react to her.
"The first guy was really excited," she says. "This guy was like 'not really, I've done this a lot of times.' So I changed the subject."
It seems to occur to Alena that I'm not dead, that I'm not her charge, that I'm prying into a world I don't belong.
"Who are you?" she asks.
"I'm a reporter," I say. "It occurs to me that you're sort of like a Grim Reaper."
She eyes me sideways and walks away. "That's not very nice," she says.
Alena may be an angel of death, but I'm not dead. She gets back in line and waits. There are several hundred more people to escort to the afterlife, and the red angels have no time for the living.