POKER NIGHT IN NEW JERSEY
We moved to Rockledge from New Jersey last April. We had many good reasons to move including loving children and grandchildren, warm weather and bargain home prices.
But I miss my poker buddies. I played poker every Friday night at a senior condo game room with a bunch of old Jews. Well, maybe there was one Italian guy but they were all old. At 72 years old, I was a relative youth.
You probably wonder why I mention their religion. It’s because the Jews I’ve known over the years have been fine, moral people but toughened by a brutal history of hatred throughout much of the world.
I had a gruff, snarling commercial landlord once upon a time ago. I would quake in my boots when Mr. Gottman made threatening calls about a late rent payment. Then my good friend Mark Soloman explained that many old Jews had history going back to WWII Europe where their families had been savaged. He said, “Mr. Gottman had to be tough outside to survive and probably passed it on to his children too. Inside he’s just like me and you. He’ll respond to calm and reasonable explainations. Don’t worry too much about his manner.”
This particular group loved cards and each other but they tended to act tough. They yelled at each other and at me – always willing to complain and chastise when they felt any breach of good poker protocol or personal etiquette. Being from Brooklyn I was used to their guttural New Yorker accents.
“What Arlene?” I snarled back.
“You’re a goddamned sandbagger. That’s not fair. When you have a good hand you must bet. No fair sneaking up like that.”
“Whadda ya mean. I’ve been watching the World Series of Poker and that’s the way you’re supposed to bet. I was using my poker face,” I explained as I raked in half the pot.
She grumbled but, since she’d just won the other half of the red, white and blue chips, she sort of let me slide a little.
Milton, on the other hand, was not feeling so calm. As my friend Bernie dealt the next hand Ray, the Italian guy I mentioned, reached out and moved the cards around the table a little as they weren’t flying so straight. “Take your hands off my fucking cards!” Milton shouted at him as he reached out and put a little restraining hand on Ray’s arm.
George was a little mad too since he was losing. “Bill. This is all your fault,” he said, “Don’t mess around. You talk too much. Keep your mind on the game.” He correctly sensed that I was confused, as usual, and didn’t quite get the game that had been called. “Rows and columns. Rows and columns, nuttin wild.”
His fingers were wagging aggressively in my face signaling forefinger for the rows and index finger for columns and a thumb-forefinger circle for nuttin wild. I guess George may be Italian too. This guess is based on his superior hand gestures.
For the two years I played poker with this group, we never played stud, Texas hold-em or draw poker. We played strange, ever changing games called bingo, two plus two plus one, tic tack toe, Red and Black, Morris’ pea patch and such. Always high and low. Brands of poker that were fun but not exactly kosher in my book.
I’d win once in a while but usually, when I drifted home after midnight and Daisy asked, “How’d you do?” I’d have to say, “I had a lot of fun.” Code for losing my shirt.
Well not really. We played for nickels and dimes and, on my worst night I’d lose about $25.00 Now and again I might even win a little.
I loved that this gang cared about the game enough to argue and squabble. Sometimes one of them would disappear for a few weeks due to some imagined or real affront.
Bernie Salanger was a neighbor so we carpooled to the game. Our conversations during the half hour it took each way were wide-ranging. They ran the gamut from philosophy to finances to family and life experiences. I usually drove since Bernie didn’t see so well at night. We took turns as to whose car we drove.
Bernie and his wife Patricia became good friends to both Daisy and myself. Dinners at each others homes or restaurant outings were equal fun. I miss my friends.
Hey! Does anybody wanna play poker!