Monday, September 27, 2004

Fear and Loathing in a Retirement Home

When I was in the third grade, I was scared. I knew the calendar was slowly counting the days until it was time. The long strip of paper taunted me for almost a semester. The dotted lines, the directional arrows, the loops. I was convinced that I would never learn to write cursive.
Of course, teachers teach, and I picked it up at a normal pace, because... learners learn. With the exception of memorizing the entire multiplication table in 5th grade (up to the twelves anyways) nothing has really scared me the same way - until just recently.

The daily newspaper has two - countem - two crossword puzzles, I usually get 3/4 of each puzzle completed at work and try to do the "jumble" game, and try not to look over to the left side of the page. I get a nervous feeling in my stomach, much like the feeling in third grade. "when it comes up, I'll just change the subject", I think to myself, "I don't really NEED to know how, do I?". "whats going to happen when I'm in a retirement home?". Extreme boredom ensues. My eyes wander. I start to read.

The name of the column:


I understand the elderly have about 50 years to learn how to play this game, but I'm sure none of them even fully understand it. I think the only person who knows every rule is Frank Stewart , the Tribune Media Services Columnist.
Every single day, Frank gathers up 3 other directions (I'm assuming they're friends of his) To set up some random bridge situation. I can tell from the example that there are four players (directions). They each have a seemingly random amount of cards from each suit. How did they get there? I don't know. Frank never gives any history, and I have no idea how these cards end up in the hands of four different directions, or what you're supposed to do with them. But Frank DOES ask a "Daily question". This man must be really old. The questions make no sense, they all end with "what do you say?". This is exactly like when the old men on my paper route would ask me, enthusiastically, "Whats the Word?". It's supposed to be some kind of trick - I think.

You hold (spade)10 8 6 5 2 (heart)9 (diamond)8 6 5 (club)A 10 8 7 Dealer, at your left, opens one diamond. Your partner doubles, you bid one spade and he raises to three spades. The opponents pass. What do you say?

You hold more values than you might have held. Partner's double obliged you to respond, and partner is betting you can take nine tricks even if your hand is hopeless. Since you actually have two tricks - a fifth spade and an ace - bid four spades.

HOLY SHIIT......Bridgers are misleading! "You hold more values than you might have held"? Yes, kindof like when Frank had more glasses of brandy than he might have had before writing the day's column, or how I have more quarters than I might have had because I'm magic.

Excerpts from other questions/answers, and the way I perceive them.

...But your queen is "working"... "she" is turning tricks to pay off "her" student loans.

"If partner raises to three spades, you'll try for a grand slam". Truckers' CB radio
banter..suggesting they stop at Denny's

"Pass" Like when I played Texas holdem that one time.

"What do you say?" Like the old guys on my paper route.

Every column starts with something to break the ice. In my case, it is the ice of total fear and confusion. Frank seems to understand my relationship with card games. I was once forced to join a game of euchre with a friend and two relative strangers. In a random coffee shop in a random neighborhood in Chicago, I was taught to play the game in 30 seconds by three people at once. These guys were serious about their euchre. They played as if it wasn't just a game. My teammate was getting very frustrated by my lack of enthusiasm, responsibility, and short term memory. That was the worst game of my life.
I guess I could blame it on my parents for never teaching me any card games. My grandma taught me how to play "War" but it is of no use now. My cousins taught me to play poker, but the game of poker is probably much too smoky for a retirement home recreation room. When I get old, and I'm chillin with my homies (the elderly always use slang terms from their good old days) I'm going to be totally left out, and I'm not going to dance with a hot chick (again, old timey slang) at the monthly dances, and no one is going to join me when I watch re-runs of elimidate on TV Land. No one will sit and reminisce about how every girl had a skippit in elementary school, and when everyone is playing bridge, I'm going to be sitting all alone. (with a snack pack, preferably) I'm going to be that guy that always hits on the nurse.

"Unlucky louie plays the dummy like a man buying stocks in a bear market. He knows his
finesses will lose, yet he stakes his contracts on them anyway".

Frank tries to help.

"As you'd imagine, Cy the Cynic views the government bureaucracy with grave suspicion.'if laughter is the best medicine', Cy told me, 'its a wonder the Food and Drug Administration Isnt trying to regulate it.' Cy enjoyed a horselaugh at the expense of today's West..."

Frank isn't helping.

I Could just wait it out like I did in '93. I could take a class through community education (believe it or not, these classes really do exist). But I really don't know what to do. Until judgment day arrives, I'll focus on the now, remembering that even the best players take the game too personally. "North needed a drink after today's deal". Even the best players are as confused as I am. "How could I know what was going on?" south asked glumly".
But no matter what life deals out, I'll always remember above all things that I can still take nine tricks.........even if my hand is hopeless.