LAUGHTER AND CAMARADERIE IN A SERIOUS WORLD. BY WAYNE MAIBAUM ears ago, after a divorce, I moved to a nearby town and asked a colleague if he was interested in forming a poker game. I also asked a neighbor, an acquaintance I met at my daughter’s day care, a former coworker and a friend of a friend. When enough people showed interest, the game was on. Twenty-five years later, although players have come and gone, a core seven remain. I’m a semi-retired general dentist; Fedele is also a dentist, Stan an oral surgeon, Lloyd a professor of molecular biology, Jeff a CPA, Robert a television engineer and John a retired systems analyst. The group has some diversity: Stan is African-American and John, Chinese. We’ve played together so long that we implicitly know each other’s style, so it’s hard to bluff! We’ve learned to accept each other’s quirks and idiosyncrasies. We recall many of the same stories at each game. My favorite is about the time I bit into a hot pepper while eating a sub sandwich. The juice of the pepper squirted across the table and hit Fedele in the eye. He screamed like he’d been shot and, with one eye closed, ran to the nearest bathroom. Bending down to splash some water in his eye, he didn’t notice that Stan had recently installed a glass shelf above the sink. When he stood up, his head hit the shelf with a loud crash and he hobbled back to the card table with one hand pressing his eye and the other the top of his head. We couldn’t stop laughing. One game we play is called three-legged: the pot keeps growing until someone wins three hands. We have a sophisticated tracking system: each player marks his wins with cheese Combos or peanut
M&Ms; if you eat one, you lose it. Fedele’s brother was sitting in at a game one night and quite innocently put one of his markers in his mouth. One of the guys noticed and screamed out, “He’s eating it!” Hearing this, Fedele’s brother urgently spit the candy across the room, certain he was being poisoned. Stan usually works the day of the game and rushes to get home, eat dinner with his family, do some chores, and then get to the game. As a result he’s always late; our tradition is to place a side bet on what time he’ll show up. One night Robert mentioned that he was going to celebrate his birthday the following week. Surprised, I told him I had similar plans; it turned out we had the same birthday. We’d been playing cards together for decades before learning this! Lloyd is very methodical (or superstitious). For as long as I can remember, he has come to the games with his money in an old metal Band-Aid box decorated with Disney characters. He leaves with his money in the same box, never counting it, always declaring, “It’s about the fun of playing…” We are all grown men with good minds, responsible jobs and decent math skills. But when it comes to counting the pot or splitting the winnings, we defer to Jeff, the Certified Public Accountant. Much has happened in the past 25 years: moves, marriages, children, job changes, illnesses, loss of loved ones. Life is unpredictable; nothing stays the same. But for 25 years, our game has survived, providing continuity, connection and comfort to an unlikely group of guys who share an ineffable common bond.
GETTY IMAGES THE CARD PLAYERS BY PAUL CÉZANNE