Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Another Day...Another 14 trillionth of a point

What a day, what a day. As far as the weather went, the day was a marvel. The sun burned through an azure sky and I was sure the Bridge Center would be sparsely populated on this beautiful summer morning. But once again I underestimated my fellow addicts, er, bridge players and instead of enjoying God's gift of warm breezes and Vitamin D they chose to suffer the consequences of an underbid slam or an overbid part-score. The room was once again packed from candy table to shanty town, not a table was spared. 

But as far as the games went, the day had some ticklish moments. First of all, the candy basket - it turns out someone is NOT contributing to the candy fund. We have a $1200 deficit on candy expenditures. People have the gall to grab a sweet and not deposit the requisite 50 cents into the money tin. So we were duly reprimanded for that before the games began and someone even suggested mounting  cameras above the basket to catch the pilferers. I think it's a marvelous idea because as Madonna once said, nothing's worth doing if it's not being videoed (or something like that). 

So we got past that uncomfortable announcement and proceeded to play. Around hand three, the electronic age rebelled. The computer refused to take our scores and we were instructed to...now wait for this...write. our. scores. down. with. a. pencil. and. paper. This caused such an uproar. What's a pencil? What's paper? What is writing?? Grumbling and murmuration filled the air as tiny pieces of white squares and wooden sticks of lead were being passed out. We were given more instructions and then more instructions and we tried to comply. Time ticked by and we finally used our hands and fingers and those other things I just mentioned and scratched figures down...just in time for the computer to start working again. The nerve!

After 20 minutes wasted on manual labor we were told to throw those white things away and re-enter all the score into the computer as per usual. I was exhausted and we had 3 more hours of playing to go.

But it was worth it. Cindy and I came in second and received a whopping .0000014 points! What a day!

Monday, January 19, 2015

Strange Magic

It's strange how close you become to your fellow bridge players. Most you don't know well, yet you know they always clear their throat when they are thinking or they click their fingernails before playing a card. I can tell that laugh is Penny's if I hear it from across the room but I don't know much about Penny's life history or if the throat clearer grew up in Indianapolis or Des Moines. For some reason you are connected to these people the way you might be to a family member, you might even see them more often than your own family members. When they get sick, you console them, when they have a birthday, you celebrate.

It's hard to figure because other than bridge, there might not be a thing you have in common. Politics, religion, race, education, marital status, economic status - people at the Bridge Center are all across the spectrum and your favorite person there may be on the opposite end of it from you.

Not long ago one of our own was taken ill and spent many weeks in the hospital. We thought he was doing well and that he was going to pull through, but he passed away a few days ago. We were all quite sad and spoke of how much we will miss him. But no one, not even his regular partner, knew much about him. Not that he was 52 years old, that he had been married and divorced, that he had a daughter, a son, and some grandchildren.

We just knew he was a good bridge player and could be very humerous at times. Once he taped a sign to his shirt that said "Gone to my happy place. Back soon."

It's oddly comforting knowing there's a community of people where you feel so connected to one another - for no real reason at all- that if you go away, even to your happy place, you will be missed.

Thursday, January 8, 2015

A Very Moving Story

At the Bridge Center, we play our hands, thank our opponents and move to the next table. In order to remember that we go to the next higher numbered table and the cards we just played go to the next lower one, our feeble minds have a little saying: "People go up to heaven; cards go down to hell."

I didn't realize there was a method to this until one day our director said we were using a Mitchell movement. Prior to duplicate bridge I had only heard of a movement as it related to a symphony or a bowel, so a Mitchell movement was new to me.

Our game directors are so brilliant they could be nuclear physicists, but instead they dutifully come to the Bridge Center every day and compute the number of players for a particular game, divide that by the number of tables needed and then a certain movement is employed. I'm pretty sure they use the equation E=mc2 to figure it all out. It's quite impressive.

The other day the proletariat were assembling unaware of this complicated, high level calculus and two players wandered into another room. They apparently went searching for miniature vanilla tootsie rolls in the hard candy bowl and the director didn't put them into the equation. She scribbled on her blackboard for a few minutes, turned, held up a chalky hand and announced a Howell movement was required. I thought at first she was saying "howl" and that we were to wail each time we got up. So we played the boards and I got up and howled but since I was the only one who did, I figured I had misunderstood.

Anyway, after we played that round the two candy seekers re-appeared, their mouths so full of tootsie rolls their cheeks were all poked out. When the director saw them she was stunned. Stop the game! We have a half-table! Half-tables gum up the works, so it was back to the drawing, er, blackboard.

Chalk dust was everywhere. Our poor, but still brilliant director looked like a Mexican wedding cake she was so densely covered in white but her hand worked furiously across the board numbers and letters filling it until she once again turned to us breathless and said: "I've got it! We are going to use the Three Quarter Extended Howell-Worger movement."

The Three Quarter Extended Howell-Worger movement is one in which you are given a piece of paper the size of a postage stamp with each round printed on it and the table at which your are to sit. Every third table you were to skip if it was odd numbered but if it was an even numbered table you were to encircle it with three other players holding each others' hands singing "Kumbaya." Every fifth table you sat out and rooted through the hard candy bowl until the next round (by then, however, all the vanilla tootsie rolls would be gone).

So the Three Quarter Extended Howell-Worger movement made for a long day of bridge, as you can imagine, with all the skipping and sitting out and singing that had to be done. But I must say, it sure beat the time we used the Swing Your Partner 'Round and 'Round movement. Now that was really exhausting!

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Like Daughter, Like Father

The other day at the Bridge Center I paused for a moment before playing my hand. Initially, it was to figure out how on God's green earth I was going make my contract with all my mirrored losers. Then my eye caught the N/S pair at table 1. 

A daughter was playing with her father. She favored him with her refined nose and dancing blue eyes. They made such a sweet tableau that I got lost in it. You could see he was having difficulty handling his cards so she arranged for the table ahead of them to sort his before passing down the hands.

After all, it was he who introduced her to the game he loved when she was just a little girl. She and her parents would go to her grandparents to visit and the bridge table was always set up. There it was when they walked in the door ready for the four adults to play: cards, score pad, cigarettes and M&Ms. They played for hours while she kept herself busy. Eventually she would hear her mom or dad say, "Next hand, the dummy puts Carolyn to bed." That's when her grandparents would bid ANYTHING just to get the contract to so one of them could put her to bed.

Now it's just the two of them and they play every week, enjoying their time together. After all these years, Carolyn says she can read her dad's mind at the bridge table and after they have bid two suits, she knows his next bid will be 3 no trump, if not  6 or 7. "He doesn't care about points, he'd rather go down 4 than miss a game! An engineer, my dad thinks he can manipulate the cards any way he sees fit." And when her mom was still alive, she and Carolyn would share laughs over his wild bidding.

The game for her family spanned three generations and kept them together through the years. It says a lot about a game. It says a lot about a family. Sadly, it's ending at Carolyn's generation. None of her children, who are in their 20s and 30s, plays the game.

Has the time come for the family bridge table to be folded up and sold at a yard sale? Would anyone even buy it?

Sunday, December 21, 2014

Merry Slushmas

A bridge player at Christmas is lucky as an elf
Parties and merriment abound.
Your red and green come down from the shelf
And goodies are served by the pound.

Oh, and there's also Rebecca's Famous Bourbon Slush. We had lots of it this year. Yes, the BS flowed at the Bridge Center's Christmas/Hanukkah party and my game only improved because of it. Others, however, played as sloppy as the slush and blamed it on the bourbon. We allowed it because it is, after all, the season of giving and forgiving.

What we didn't have this yuletide were any grinches. No one had termites in their smiles or were mean as crocodiles. I observed not one nasty wasty skunk with a heart full of unwashed socks and a soul that was full of gunk. And I'm very pleased to say that not one person brought any three-decker sauerkraut and toadstool sandwiches with arsenic sauce to our glorious food table. *

We were told that the Life Masters had a big gigantic cake they couldn't finish so we decided to go awassailing for it. They tripped to the door and pulled back the pin and let us wassailers in. 
Out we came with a cake dreams are made of and oh, how happy were we. We danced a jig and drank more slush and sang festive carols by the tree.

So it was a lovely holiday celebration at the Bridge Center and we left "wishing each other enough", quoted from Bob Perks' story:

"I wish you enough sun to keep your attitude bright.
I wish you enough rain to appreciate the sun more. 
I wish you enough happiness to keep your spirit alive.
I wish you enough pain so that the smallest joys in life appear much bigger. 
I wish you enough gain to satisfy your wanting. 
I wish you enough loss to appreciate all that you possess.
I wish enough 'Hello's' to get you through the final 'Goodbye.'
My friends, I wish you enough!"

* "You're a Mean One, Mr. Grinch" song lyrics by Theodore "Dr. Seuss" Geisel

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Nice, Nice Baby

We have such a nice Bridge Center in my city. I know as a writer I should never use the word "nice" because it's considered abhorrent and lazy to choose this word over, say, "amiable" or "pleasant." But "nice" really seems to sum it up, because while the people are amiable and the atmosphere pleasant, the whole place is just plain nice.

The other day Danny, one of our NLM players, was being celebrated as Rookie of the Month and everyone brought in the most scrumptious array of foodstuffs - baked chicken salad like you've never tasted before in your life, mouth-watering blueberry cobbler, delectable deviled eggs, and chewy, fudgey brownies. And to convey to you how nice everyone is, no one got (too) upset when our food table went missing. It seems the Life Master group had "borrowed" it on which to put their foodstuffs for their Christmas party. Not a problem, we made do with several bridge tables slung together.

Before the game began Danny was honored and her partner stood to say a few words. She said when she first started playing at the Bridge Center she was wary. She hadn't had a good experience at her former bridge facility and said, that among other things, "I was strongly reprimanded for what they called 'fondling' the bidding card." (She said she did not, however, have to register as a card offender, so that was the upside).

But she began to tear up as she talked about recently losing her husband and how warm and welcomed she has felt at our center and how lucky she was to be able to play with one of the very nicest people, Danny. It made me appreciate the community that is our Bridge Center. 
Just last week one of our own was taken quite ill and is now in the hospital for an indeterminate amount of time. We have been kept up to date on his condition, have scheduled times to visit him and have sent him a card with our love and best wishes. I've seen people jump out of their chairs to help someone who's having trouble maneuvering through the maze of tables in our room. I've heard (most) people say "good try" even when you go down.

What I'm trying to say is that our Bridge Center is more than the game. It transcends the winning and losing. It's nice.


Thursday, December 11, 2014

A Bridge to War

I was eating my oatmeal the other morning with a silver spoon I'd grabbed out of the drawer from a mess of old, unsorted cutlery I had in there. It reminded me of the spoon my dad found on the ground in Germany during WWII when allied troops captured Goering's private trains that held thousands of pieces of art and antiquities he had stolen and stockpiled for his own collection. My dad was there after the trains had been intercepted and while soldiers were safeguarding the treasure, they were also pocketing small souvenirs. Young soldiers, with no context in which to frame this ultimately historic event, were just thinking of mementos to bring home from the war. 

By the same token, soldiers brought things from home to the battlefield for comfort and continuity during this time. Bridge was one of them. It's been said that General Eisenhower played bridge in London whenever he had the time because it relaxed him (if bridge relaxed him, can you imagine how stressful his job was?) Maggie Simony said in her book, Bridge Table, that she had a friend who was a pilot during the war, was shot down over Belgium and taken prisoner. He told her there was a bridge game going on twenty-four hours a day at the camp. "He, like so many, had learned bridge from his mother."

She also said that the United States Playing Card Company's website claims that during the war the company worked with the United States to make special decks to send to prisoners of war in German camps. "Moistened, the cards 'peeled apart to reveal sections of a map indicating precise escape routes."' 

The game itself benefited from the war as so many players taught the game to those who didn't play and it's popularity only increased when they came home. As Simony said, "There's nobody more evangelical than a bridge threesome yearning for a fourth - they will teach that fourth if they have no other choice."

So one more reason to salute the great game of bridge! It just may have helped us win the Second (not so) Great War.