Gather ’round the table

May 11, 2008

I miss my old poker table.We abused the poor thing, my fraternity brothers and I. But it was all done with love. Every spilled beer was a big, warm hug. Every cigarette burn on the wood was a heart-felt kiss. Good ol’ Pokey (seriously, though, we didn’t name it) withstood two strong years of late-night, poker tournament abuse and never asked for anything.

Except not to be trashed…which, unfortunately, we had no choice but to do anyway.

OK, flashing back…let’s see….10 years. We’d always played cards in our fraternity house, as I’m sure everyone else did at every other house throughout the world. We played on the kitchen folding tables, we played on the TV area coffee table, and we played on the beds in each other’s rooms. Hell, I’m even guilty of playing on the floor in our upstairs hallway…until the sun came up.

At one point, my buddy Evan and I, who had just taken a liking to midday trips out to local flea markets, decided the focus of this trip would be….well, there was never a focus. We didn’t even know where we were ending up half the time.

I’ll set the scene for you. Missouri isn’t the most urban of places this fine country has to offer. Outside of the somewhat entertaining college town of Columbia (which is smack in the middle of the state), you run into a lot of towns with signs boasting “Population: 51″ and “Population: 33.”

Yeah, those kind of towns. I went to a Chili Fest in one of those towns once and came back with a cow skull. That, however, is a different story.

The flea markets are scattered throughout the state. They’re indoors, and usually just long rows of shelves in a big room with all sorts of middle America crap staring you depressingly in the face. All varieties of signs and mirrors are hanging from the ceiling. You can find anything from 8-tracks to baby clothes to dining room furniture. Shelves lined with 25-year-old shot glasses and thimbles are not out of ordinary, either.

The shops tended to go hand-in-hand with a pawn shop nearby, too. Or a gas station that sold 45 different types of chewing tobacco.

But they do have their charm. I suppose.

Anyway, one afternoon in April or May, the two of us ventured out in search of cheap crap to add to our increasingly tacky rooms. I think we actually went into three different flea markets. (Classes weren’t that much of a concern to either of us at that point…..or perhaps any point.) The largest one had all sorts of trashy treasures for our enjoyment. I mean, half the fun was just sifting through all this junk. It still amazes me what collects in these places.

In a side room, after pushing aside a collection of old-fashioned baby carriages (and not old-fashioned in the nostalgic, classy sense), Evan found a Budweiser, plug-in sign that would’ve looked handsome perched above the entrance to the toilets in any dive bar across the nation. I can’t remember, but I’m sure he bought it.

As I turned around to escape the dark, moldy walls and cold, cement floor, a little piece of heaven starred back at me from behind two 6-foot mirrors.

It was one of those moments you have at the Humane Society when you know you’ve found the dog that’s gonna be your new best friend.

An eight-edged, light wood-colored, green….uh….plastic-topped beauty.

The price, you ask? Believe it or not I remember. A reasonable and sexy $38.

Sold.

That night, I tell you, we played like kings.

Granted each 3-hour gaming session would leave you with 3-5 splinters and some green rub-off on your wrists…it was all worth the sacrifice to have such a necessary piece of furniture in our basement.

You know, a typical fraternity basement. Ping pong table, folding chairs, poker table, and…..that’s about it. Then there was the closet with the pool balls, but that, too, is a completely different story.

Whether it was coersing little drunken, rushing high schoolers or duking it out with the house experts, I could sit at that table for days and days and never miss a thing.

I won my fair share of cash at that table, not to mention a couch and some textbooks at the end of a semester (hey, when it’s all profit, they’re worth their weight in gold).

Too sad that Ol’ Pokey died before his time. And it’s always a tragedy when the father outlives the child.

That’s right, Ol’ Pokey was my child.

One day I’ll own another dedicated poker table – perhaps I’ll pay for it with my winnings from FullTilt. It’ll be fancier, with real green felt and cupholders that don’t warp from the condensation on the beer cans. It’ll serve it’s purpose, for sure, but it’ll never hold a candle to Ol’ Pokey.

I miss that poker table.