The names in this report have been changed because not one is an innocent.
They called their weekly gathering the Kiddy Kard Club, and the group meets every Friday to play bridge at the community center. Sam had been in the group for nearly twenty years. The youngest in the current membership was a youth of sixty-nine. The oldest, the one with tenure so to speak, had brought in his birthday cake last Friday with a big 9 3 in its topping. The membership changes as someone leaves the group for what are called “natural causes”, or because a player simply couldn’t remember where in hell he was or was going or had been. He would be replaced with a sounder, but not necessarily sound, mind.
His replacement had to pass muster with the group. He was invited to substitute a time or two for unspoken evaluation. He might then become a regular or simply fail the test and fall by the wayside. There were no formal rules in the test, but all the veterans knew them. Fritz had become an uninvited one when he became too critical and too specific about how Ike had played a hand or two.
A fellow named Tony hasn’t been invited back after he twice served himself from the Klub’s self-service coffee urn without dropping a coin in the box. The sign clearly said Ten Cents a Cup. Max said, “I don’t want no one what can’t read at my table.” (Max’s grammar has slipped a bit since he used to teach at the University.)
A preacher had been invited to the group only once, and wondered if they might open the play with a brief prayer. Sam blackballed him with terse comment. “If I can’t cheat and swear and lie a little, I might as well stay home and talk to my wife.”
During official play, complaints about wives, the White House, or taxes were taboo lest the player’s concentration might wander, and idle talk was delayed until sack lunch time at noon. Those lunch topics ceased when play resumed half hour later, although the subject of local sports might be touched on while the cards were being dealt for the next hand.
They don’t play for big money. Before play begins, everyone antes up a dollar at the five tables of four men per table. The twenty bucks is paid out at the end of official play with high score of the day awarded six dollars, with second, third, and fourth scores getting decreasing prizes. They used to give the low scorer of the day a dollar, but Max said, “I don’t want my money going to no losers”. Max has voted a straight Republican ticket since Eisenhower became President in 1952.
The announced starting time is ten o’clock but the men start drifting in when the doors open at nine for what they call warm-up time. Courtesy demands that the next guy in sits at whatever table has a vacant seat or so and plays with the guy in the opposite seat for the first five hands of official play. When the winners move on to the next table, they will switch and play with a new partner by luck of the draw. This lets everyone have the same advantage or disadvantage of the beginning seat choice.
On this day Bob T. came in to find only two open seats at the fifth table, at just ten minutes before start time. He sat down across from Sam to hear Sam grunt, “Oh, hell! I have to start off with you?”
Bob glared back, “We drew numbers to see who started with you. I lost”.
Sam said, “You’re late again. You had to wash dishes before she’d let you outa the house, huh? Your hands are almost clean. Somebody deal the cards.”
They both looked up as Ned wandered in to loom over the last seat. His name was Ned, but the guys called him The Black Judge. In his younger years, genteel ladies of the South might have called him a “gentleman of color”. Men would have been less kind. He stood about six foot seven and had played his football at Texas A&M. The word was that he went pro with the Dallas Cowboys for a couple of years, before he went bad and became a lawyer. He still heads his own large law firm, and has argued and won a couple of major cases before the State Supreme Court. He sat down on Sam’s left, and said, “Hiya, Honkie.”
Sam and Ned and their wives had been friends for over 20 years, and needle each other for entertainment of themselves and others within the club. Sam grinned and said, “Glad you could drop by. Got any slave uprisings planned for today? Got the cotton all in?”
“Naw. Massa Abe done settle that for us some time back. Hadn’t you heard? GranPap got a mule and forty acres. Mule has up and died though.”
Bob had dealt out the four hands and already sorted his cards while listening to their ritual insults and said, “Hey, I bid One No Trump. You kids shut up and bid.”
A shrill whistle or two stopped the chatter at all five tables as Chuck, the nominal head of the Klub, held up both hands. He was the guy who awarded prizes and brought in needed supplies so they mostly listened when he spoke. “Okay, girls. Listen up. I need an extra buck from each of you today for some new cards. I wanna see eight dollars on each table. Now, throw in your cards and deal ‘em out fresh. Winners move clockwise. Time to start this rat race.”
Cards were quickly shuffled, cut and dealt as idle chatter stopped and twenty men settled quietly in to devote their full focus on the business of the day.