Pine Nuts: One matchless pal

One of the great characters forged here in the Tahoe Basin did not answer roll call this morning, as yesterday he was called home from this green Earth, and is now Heaven’s Pit Boss, Mark Pilarski.

We were Monday Night Football buddies and used to watch games at Las Panchitas, where Irma Bush would lay out a bountiful buffet and welcome friends, until the room was just bursting with good times.

One Monday night, Mark turned to me and said, “Mac, I’ve been a gamer all my life. I’ve thrown cards, raked chips with the sculling oar, and surveyed the herd from the pit.”

“Yeah, it’s a great life,” I concurred, “You’re on the right side of the casino.” “No, Mac, I want to be on the other side of the green felt, a player patron.”

“You mean like … an angel?” I asked in disbelief.

“Yeah … like an angel.”

“Forget it! You don’t have the clothes.”

“No, really!” he persisted, “I want to record a CD where you ask me common gaming questions, and I give you basic strategy.”

“OK,” I tested, “What’s the worst bet in the house?”

“Keno!” he shot back without hesitation. “It’s a 17% hold!”

“All right … how do you know a good poker machine when you see one?”

“Look at the payout listed at the top of the machine … if it pays 9/6 for a straight, that’s a good machine. If it pays 8/5, stay away.”

After about ten questions, I asked, “When do we record?”

“Tomorrow … I’ve got the studio reserved and I’m buying breakfast.”

The next morning we drove to South Shore and spent an hour or so inside the studios of Tin Pan Alley Productions, where Kraig Catton made us feel at home.

I asked Mark a myriad of written questions, and he answered them beautifully.

Then next thing we knew, there he was on television from Philadelphia, on the Home Shopping Channel QVC, hawking his CD at three o’clock in the morning, while I cheered him on in my flannel pajamas from Tahoe.

The little ticker at the bottom of the screen started clicking off the sales and pretty soon it was turning so fast I could no longer read it. When that little sales ticker turned into a whirring blur, well, Mark P. as he preferred to be called, started making plans to move to Michigan, to live on a bigger body of water.

He moved Traverse City with his beautiful bride and multi-talented kid who is a chip off the old block. He published a book, “Deal Me In,” and wrote a syndicated column that ran in a couple hundred newspapers across the country.

I was happy for Mark. But if anyone had told me on that fateful Monday night at Las Panchitas, that after recording a CD with him he’d be off to a larger lake, well, I’d have pulled up lame, or done anything to keep from losing my skiing buddy to Michigan.

Little could I imagine at the time, that a short twenty years later, we would lose Mark P. to an even larger lake in the sky. (Please do forgive the teardrops that now stain this page …)

Sixty-six years of robust living — player patron and matchless pal — may you rest in eternal peace … Mark Pilarski.

Learn more about McAvoy Layne at

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