Braving the elements

November 2, 2008

Living down here in Florida, it’s not often I have to really “brave the elements” to get anything done, or have a good time. Sure, it’s hot during the summers, but it’s only bad during the day, and if you’re outside for a decent period of time, you’re probably doing something exciting that’s helping you pass the time without even noticing the heat.

Growing up, though, I can distinctly remember many occasions where me and our poker group were forced to “brave the elements” just to get in a good evening of cards.

Why’d we do it? Easy, at the end of the day, the fun we had playing cards with each other far outweighed the burden we took on by placing ourselves in harsh (for a north-shore white kid, that is) conditions.

So, down to specifics. I’ll run through a few, and I’m sure you’ll be able to identify somewhat with at least one scenario.

The cold: The most obvious one, of course, but also the most frequent for our high school poker group. A little background…being in high school, all of us lived with our parents. Naturally, there was a “finish up” time set by the host parents’ for the night. Usually not later than 1 a.m., and that was on a good night. Even if we were quiet and in the basement, it was 1 a.m. Now, also keeping in mind that since we were in high school and most of us were under 18, there was the city curfew, which was midnight on weekends. So, if we wanted to play, and wanted to play late and long, we were basically committing to playing through until the sunrise, and heading home around 7 a.m. or so, when we were safely passed curfew. Factoring in simple math, 7 a.m. is well passed 1 a.m., so a creative solution was in order. That solution was? My parents back yard gazebo. Well constructed, lit, screened in, complete with table and up to 6 chairs, it made for the perfect relaxation area – during the spring and summer. But as the seasons tilted to Halloween and after, we started trading our cold beverages for winter overcoats. Yes, we played for 8 hours in overcoats, gloves and hats. And if it was windy, we were basically screwed. The screens will catch some of that wind, but if it’s really blowing, we just called it a night early. Logic would’ve dictated one of us invest in a $10 space heater (there were outlets in the gazebo), but hindsight’s 20/20, isn’t it.

The cramped space: We would play at one kid’s house (and we had to rotate depending on whose parents were in the best mood that weekend – Lord knows everyone doesn’t want a half dozen teenagers slinging quarters and Cheetos back and forth in their kitchen for hours and hours on a Saturday night) whose open area, if you want to call it that, was about as wide as your wing span. There were clothes and piles of who knows what stacked all around also, making it not only impossible to sit and get comfortable, but put you in a maze every time you had to get up to take a leak. To add insult to injury, the place was on the third floor of an apartment complex with no elevator. Hey, three flights of stairs is a pain in the butt after 8 hours of cards, I don’t care who you are.

The poor kid’s place: Don’t egg me. We had nothing but love for our poor little buddy. Kinda like Kenny on South Park, he was still part of our group, still one of us. It just sucked playing at his house. Mostly because he didn’t have much in the way of snacks at his place. So you had to remember to bring your own soda and chips. We also had to remember to bring our own cards. No food is a harsh condition by definition, so this one qualifies.

Screaming/argumentative parents: Yeah, so of our group, my house was definitely the worst for this. Lucky for me, it was so commonplace that after a while, my friends didn’t think much of it. Not necessarily a good thing when screaming is considered the norm, but it wasn’t drunken violence screaming, it was just yuppie, harmless white, Jewish American screaming. Sometimes we were nicely tucked away in the basement, where the cries of frustration were heard but muffled. Sometimes, though, we were sitting at the kitchen table. Right — awwwwwkward!

Pilgrims in an unholy land: That might a bit dramatic, but I’m a Sean Connery fan, so I have to slip his quotes in wherever I can find an opportunity. What I mean by this is, playing cards for money where it’s strictly forbidden, and thus having to brave that harsh condition. For us? High school. A few of us had regular down time (no scheduled class or lunch, etc…) for about 15-20 minutes a day. And what better way to make use of that time than get in a few rounds of poker while we’re sitting outside the band room in the side hallway. (Yes, we were all in band, too, big shock.) Here’s the thing, though, for a while…cards weren’t illegal, just the act of playing for money. So we devised a system where we’d play for “credits.” Sounds ridiculous, and it was, and we weren’t fooling anybody, but there was really nothing they could do about it. I hated band anyway.

That’s all I got for now. Upon reflection, we jumped through some major hoops trying to get a good card game in, but the memories and the extra money (for me at least) was all worth it. Thank goodness things are different now that I own my own home…now all I have to do is get the game together…and…uh…check with my wife…and make sure the kid is sleeping, so we can’t be too loud…and make sure nobody has to work the next day….and make sure my fridge is stocked….and…..