Prager_HeadshotIn the immediate aftermath of Jo Ann’s having secured more than enough fractional silver to earn her battlefield promotion, I proposed a celebratory return to the Golden Arches for a more relaxed and lavish nosh than that which we had wolfed down at lunchtime. When she dubbed me her ‘hero’ and a ‘romantic devil,’ I practically busted my buttons with pride. Yessiree, say what they might, I’ve still got it.

But then, incongruously, waggling a forefinger as I licked my chops, she demurred. “Oh, no-no-no-no-no. No burgers, please! Not again.”

“What? You said I was – were you being sarcastic?”

“Never. I was being facetious. My mistake. You’re immune to nuance. Did you know that by the time the average American male reaches fifty, he has five pounds of undigested red meat trapped within his bowels?”

“You got that line from Beverly Hills Cop, and it’s complete nonsense. Besides, give me a little credit. I was only joshing about going back for more.” Was I? Who’s to say?

“Well, thank goodness for that! And by the way, in that Big Mac jingle you love to sing? Lettuce comes before cheese, not the other way around.”

How does she know these things? Checkmated fair and square, I yielded. “Do you happen to have somewhere else in mind?”

“Yes, it so happens that I do. Thai. Silk Thai, to be precise. The genuine article, tucked into a small strip mall halfway between here and the hotel. Plus, there’s a supermarket a couple of doors down, so you can stock up on Chateau Diet Coke – and a liquor store in-between, so you can hunt for that whisky you’re always going on and on about. The fifteen-year-old, with the green label.”

Dinner was everything it was cracked up to be, and to top it all off, Café Liquors did indeed have one Lonesome George bottle of Johnny Walker Green gathering dust on a high shelf close by the checkout counter. Hats off to Hagerstown, whose streets that weekend were lined with high achievement silver, savory spicy basil chicken, and a gloriously heady amber distillation hailing all the way from Kilmarnock, Scotland, some thirty-four hundred Great Circle miles away.

Several days later, back home at the local bridge club, Jo Ann’s ascension to Life Master was celebrated with a pre-game announcement, a warm round of applause, and a sheet cake.

Contessa, who had earned her wings some time before, was especially pleased for her once-a-week and frequent tournament partner. “How about you, Gordon?” she asked, while comparing calendars with Jo Ann to lock in dates for the next regional. “How far along are you?”

There are all sorts of ways to answer that question. A straightforward data-driven response would have been most appropriate, but that path eluded me in the moment. “It’s early days, Contessa. Most mornings, thinking about what lies ahead – road trips, airports, taxis, hotels, noisy air conditioners, saggy mattresses, low toilet seats, and everything else – I throw up.”

Jo Ann commiserated with Contessa’s doubly sighed ugh!-tsk! of exasperation. “I know. He can be so annoying.”

“It’s all about priorities,” quoth I. “and one’s hierarchy of needs.”

“Here comes Abraham Maslow,” Jo Ann chided. “Gordon took one Psych class at Franklin & Marshall, and he’s been an armchair authority on the subject ever since.”

“Thank you, Honey, correct: it was Maslow who postulated the ladder of human needs, beginning with fundamental Physiological.”

“Yes, yes, yes,” Jo Ann squelched. “And then you’re going to say, ‘Moving up the ladder, you’ve got Safety, followed by Belongingness and Love, Esteem, and Self-Actualization.’ Heard it all a million times before. A banana split of pop psychology. Elegant, I grant you, with a heaping mound of whipped cream and an esoteric cherry on the top.”

“So you get it?”

“What I get, My Dear Husband,” she replied with a conspiratorial wink in Contessa’s direction, “is that your ladder is low on philosophy and high on carbohydrates. Your base camp is Pasta, then comes Pizza, followed by Chinese and Thai, Cracker Jacks, and – at the apex – Ice Cream, eaten straight from the tub.”

If only the director hadn’t called for people to take their places, I’m sure I would have come up with a snappy rejoinder.

We sailed through the first six three-board rounds of a twenty-four board Mitchell movement with nothing remarkable one way or the other. No misunderstandings. No brilliant coups. No slams missed – in fact, no slams at all. No wildly distributional conundrums. Nada. Most rare.

For our penultimate round as North-South hosts, we were joined by a couple as warm and welcome as one’s favorite wintertime pair of unmatched woolen socks. Let’s call them “Margaret” and “Randolph.” Where she is petite, unassuming, and an insightful observer and hilariously wry raconteur of the human comedy, he is beefy, given to gruff expressions of consternation, and unabashedly and noisily demonstrative at the gaming table. We enjoy their company, even as we battle for supremacy.

Though I am unable to reconstruct in minute detail the disposition of cards from the third of our three boards together, the broad strokes suffice for one to be able to appreciate the unlikely genesis and amazing journey of one for the books.

Randolph, seated to my right, opened 1♠. I doubled, holding fourteen HCP, five Clubs, three Diamonds, four Hearts, and a singleton Spade. Margaret passed. Jo Ann bid 2. Randolph rebid his Spades. I jumped to 4H followed by Pass, Pass, Double.

I perceived something might be amiss immediately after Randolph’s opening lead hit the deck and I laid out the dummy. Jo Ann’s eyes widened ever-so-slightly and her “thank you, partner” had a slightly hollow ring to it. Later, I would learn that reactions such as those are autonomic – spontaneous – when one expects to receive nineteen or twenty points instead of fourteen.

Why had she set her sights on such a high number? Because my leap to game in her four-card Hearts suit indicated it must be so. Why? Because it was she, not Randolph, who had ‘dealt’ the hand. It was she who commenced the bidding with a bright green Pass card, and I had been completely oblivious to it. Seriously muddled, I had mistaken her response to my double for an opening bid. Her minimum twelve, plus my fourteen, I summed erroneously, assured us of a solid go at game.

Randolph’s confident double of 4 had been driven by point count (seventeen or eighteen), four of the five outstanding Hearts (including two honors) behind the declarer, and shortness in Clubs.

Absent extraordinary good fortune in the form of extraordinarily deficient defense, making 4 was D.O.A. And yet, Jo Ann did manage to accomplish the feat.

Why and how? To answer those questions, we take a brief detour to the website of the Library of Congress, our nation’s treasure-house of the written word, the spoken word, and their computer age electronic counterparts. Therein, we find a newly curated classic, The Æsop for Children, and scroll down to The Miser), a fable in which the master storyteller of ancient Thrace offers an explanation, two-and-half millennia in the making, of how Jo Ann was enabled to make Plus 590 on a hand that merited a punishing Minus 300.

All shall be revealed in Busted, our next installment of Confessions.

(To Be Continued)

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