Maybe this would be better titled: Why I should Play Cards, because for all I know you’re a member of a bridge club, a poker game or a devotee of Shanghai Rummy. In fact, I began thinking about cards today because Lloyd told me that he’s a part of a bunch of buddies who have a longstanding game of Shanghai. I’d never heard of it and I’m not sure I’m smart enough to play it. Lloyd’s one of the smartest people I know. Here’s the skinny on Shanghai: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Shanghai_rum.
I suck at cards. My parents strived to teach us bridge when we were marooned in Ottawa one summer, and the results were not uniformly cheerful. Daddy was always my partner, and I remember him staring at me aghast at one of my random bids. He was too kind to excoriate me, but Lou’s partner wasn’t, and he didn’t blame her. As a child of the fifties and sixties, it seemed to me then that bridge was a huge unisex culture; couples would drag out the card table for an after-dinner couple of rubbers. My mother belonged to a travelling Ladies Club, and when it was her turn as Hostess we’d rush home praying that the three tables had left us a few tea sandwiches. Just sayin’: people must have been smarter in the days of Mad Men, because everyone played bridge, a game of diabolical difficulty and finesse.
I can’t think of a duller way to while away the time than Solitaire. Why play a game with a 90% failure rate? All the gin and rummy games baffle me, as does Euchre and 98% of the games in this fab book:
This book talks about games old (Piquet, anyone?) and new. It’s clear yet scholarly. It’s so well-written even I can understand it. There’s an index that recommends games for children, for one person, for two three four or five (or more) players. There’s a section on gambling games, and not just poker and blackjack. Empty your pockets for Faro, Spinado or Punto Banco. I admit that one of the beauties of this book is the names of the games.
To rattle off a few : Klabberjass, Paganini, Miss Milligan, Pope Joan, Shasta Sam, Ranter Go Round, and Rockaway.
I see that I’ve wandered away from my thesis: Why should we all play cards?
1) A deck of cards is cheap cheer. Here’s a dollar store deck I found in the drawer of the end table:
2) Or, it can be a pricey thing of beauty. Here’s a bridge deck, made in Austria, I bought when I had money to waste on fripperies. The court cards are all English political figures:(Click to enlarge.)3)
3) Cards are sociable. I’ve given my verdict on Solitaire — I need at least one opponent. And I love poker because it’s an expandable game. But my dearest memories are of the oldest established permanent floating Hearts game in Trois-Rivieres — (bow to Frank Loesser.) In my Junior and Senior years in High School my bffs played Hearts every day after we were released from Biology, the last class of the day. In retrospect, it amazes me that Three Rivers High School had a theater set up, like Eakins’s “Gross Clinic” for Biology. But at last released, we’d hustle our miniskirted, Yardley- Glimmericked fifteen year old selves to Joanne Kathan’s swell finished basement and play Hearts. Week over week, every single night, the Stones, Spencer Davis and the Beach Boys loaded on the turntable., we played Hearts because Hearts was interesting. There wasn’t a lot of gossip , we played the game — a cross between Hearts and Black Maria. The book tells me we played Omnibus Hearts.
4) Then there was the summer we discovered Whist. Edith Ridder’s mother allowed us to move her card table into the garden, and we sat in the shade, sipping Fresca. Huge fortunes were lost at Whist in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, but girls who were saving up their babysitting money for a pair of Woolworth earrings weren’t punting. Whist is the easy ancestor of Bridge — same game except that one’s spared the intellectual gambling thrill of bidding, and the trump suits rotate in their ever steady orbits. I learned a lot about card play in those summer afternoons.
5) Not to get all Luddite here, but I wish for kids today what fun we had in Joanne’s rec room or Edith’s garden after school. Signing in to play a game with someone you don’t know is fun, but it’s not the same.
And last: what a great idea for a party. A few decks of cards, a couple of games going on, California Dip and chips and Chex Mix. Beer and wine and iced tea. Something more substantial, like pulled pork sandwiches and brownies and ice cream later. All brought to us by Ricky Jay’s 52 Assistants.