THIEF! The Gutsy, True Story of an Ex-Con Artist

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Sunday, February 17, 2008

NEW YORK POST review by Cherie Rohn

The following review appeared today in the New York Post:


February 17, 2008 -- "If you don't have anything . . . get out." That's sage poker advice, especially if you're addicted to online poker and staying in means you lose everything you care about.

"Does it strike me as odd that I'm turning down four- and five-thousand-dollar assignments," asks author Martha Frankel, "so I can win 85 bucks on Wednesday? No, it doesn't strike me as odd at all."

One word describes Martha Frankel's memoir "Hats & Eyeglasses": Fearless. Frankel writes about her life as if she were Indiana Jones stepping out over bottomless space. Make no mistake. Fearless in this case means powerful, even uplifting and funny.

The title refers those times "when you're playing cards and losing so bad your ship is sinking. All that's left on the water's surface are your hat and eyeglasses," Frankel explains. The metaphor also highlights Frankel's downward spiral into online poker addiction. Frankel uses her finely-honed humor to cut through the crap. Nothing is sacred, least of all Frankel. "I slept around, drank too much, took drugs with names I couldn't even pronounce and felt my life slipping away."

She has the guts to bare all in part because she's grounded by the love and encouragement of her Jewish friends and family - a colorful mish-mash of die-hard gamblers and lovable eccentrics like Aunt Tillie, who "taught us to say s - - - and never tired of hearing us try to use it in a sentence."

While other young girls played canasta and sewed a running stitch, Frankel learned to read the Daily Racing Form from her father. Her world revolved around daily doubles and bookies, eventually paying off with winnings of thousands of dollars.

By her mid-40s, Frankel was a highly-respected celebrity interviewer commanding serious money from major magazines. Enter the friendly neighborhood poker game. Obsessed with winning, she spent days on end dealing out hands on her couch, and then playing anywhere she could find action. She became so good that Frankel started beating the guys in her poker group and beyond.

But she apologized for winning. Like many women, Frankel was programmed to please the men around her, "make them feel comfortable and not threatened." There's a lesson here more women could learn: "There are no sorrys in poker." When Frankel put friendship aside and went for the jugular, she earned the respect of the men around her, especially the ones she beat.

But Frankel's downfall came from another medium where "cleavage and attitude" had no effect: an Internet site called Paradise Poker. After years of racking up thousands of dollars in debt, she finally called Gambler's Anonymous with less than $60 in her pocket. She mustered the courage to come clean to close friends and family who had no inkling of her decades-long addiction. But rather than telling them, she sent the "Hats & Eyeglasses" manuscript to do the explaining. She expected angry retorts but instead they showered her with words of comfort and expressed sorrow for her ordeal.

Her husband Steve Heller remains somewhat in the background, yet was clearly supportive of his independent, life-on-the-tilt wife. We learn a lot about Frankel from the way she tells Heller in a letter that accompanied the manuscript "This is the hardest thing I have ever had to do." The admission of her addiction proved cathartic. Now she was able to forgive herself.

Frankel shows us the tender underbelly of her struggle with personal demons that "twist your insides and make sanity fly out the window." We root for her not because she asks us to, but because Martha Frankel reeks of chutzpah and owning up. By so doing, she achieves her "hat trick" - love, self-worth and redemption. No apology necessary.

Cherie Rohn is the co-author of "THIEF! The Gutsy, True Story of an Ex-Con Artist."

And here's the link to the NY Post Website:

1 comment:

Martha Frankel said...

trying to find your address to send you something. and no, it's not a new car. just a little thank you, because your review was my FAVORITE.
email me at, would ya?
thanks so much
martha frankel