I don’t play tennis. I don’t golf. I burn easily, even with a hat and an SPF of 30 on my face, and my surfeit of sunglasses. Still I freckle and burn. And mosquitoes always make a bee-line to my elbows and my ankles.
I am retired. My hobbies are limited to things indoors.
Of course, I write. You know me from here, Guestwords, “my occasional column” as I refer to it when I want to come across as a real serious writer.
But I have lately discovered bridge. You heard it: Bridge.
I grew up watching my parents playing canasta and poker and even mah jjong!
I would sit in the living room in Brooklyn, fresh from my bath, my hair still wet, in pajamas, and watch my parents play games on a card table. Smoking. And betting. And the whole thing—mostly the clack-clack-clacking of the mah jjhong tiles—one bam, two crack—stays with me.
My Mom and Dad seemed the most serene and focused and pleasant while playing games on a card table.
In my early 20s, I found gin rummy. And played with a solid group of friends every Sunday afternoon. And lost $40. Or won $15. Or broke out even. I even had a poker group (I was terrible at poker) and during one night, after losing $120, I left for home and found a $50 parking ticket on the windshield of my car. And this was 1970! What can $170 be in 2015 dollars? At least a grand.
I like playing cards. Solitaire was something I played often, even obsessively, as a kid. But I’m not a kid anymore.
And, as a fairly recent retiree, looking around for ways to fill my days, I found bridge. And went online and found a link to a bridge club in New York’s East 50s.
For $25, you can sit and play for a couple of hours, and learn.
I Kindled some bridge books, figured out a bit about bidding and conventions, but there’s nothing like playing to learn the game.
I frequent this uptown bridge club every Tuesday morning, every Friday afternoon, and I feel like a kid again. At 67, I am among the youngest members in the crowd! except for the patient guys that supervise the playing—a funny, self-effaciing, self-professed bridge nerd in his 30s and another instructor, a sweet, edgy Asian guy who recently colored the top of his head platinum. He seems to be somewhere in his late 20s.
But everyone else in the room is 100. Or 85. Or, anyway older than me—one of the best reasons that I like it! (Even though I’m glad I’m not young anymore, to borrow from a lovely song from “Gigi”.)
But I also like it because it’s a great distraction. You really need to concentrate when you play bridge. You really need to pay attention.
The bidding is one thing. Conventions abound—you can bid clubs when you don’t have a single club—of course, if your partner doesn’t know the conventions, he, or, most likely, she, would like to club you over the noggin for falsely bidding clubs.
There are conventions, as they are called, named after people, ordinary people, who decide an unnatural bid will offer your partner more information about your hand. (It’s endlessly confusing.)
And then, there’s the play. Difficult! You agree to a contract, an agreement to take a certain amount of tricks, and you struggle to figure out how. Luckily, the bridge club I attend is basically beginners slash intermediate players. So I am as awful at it as anyone else.
My partner, Mona, a gorgeous grandmother with a sexy, indeterminate accent, loves the game and we relate to each other in all the mistakes we make.
So it is fun.
And you do meet people.
Mona lives in the Time Warner Center, and once a week arranges a game with a small group in the game room of that glorious building. The nerd instructor we have come to love and look up to, shows up, and maybe a fourth. It’s private lessons in a posh, posh place.
(I love walking into the Time Warner Center that Mona hosts our game in. In the game room--a large apartment-like dwelling with a kitchen and a plush conference room, available to all well-heeled tenants that also features drop-dead views from the 51st floor of Central Park. OK—I’m superficial.)
But the club itself! Jam-packed with people at all times of day and night, is the real experience.
I know that memory is a quality that recedes as the years pile on, but here, at this bridge club, you really get to see it first-hand over hands dealt.
Ten times during the course of play, someone asks: “what’s the contract again?” “What’s trump?” “Who dealt?”
The repartee is also fairly interesting.
Like the day, an opponent, an older man wearing a hearing aid, looked at the bracelet I was wearing. An Hermes bracelet, with an “H” insignia—my first name initial, if you are paying close attention, is H.
“That’s a nice bracelet,” he leaned in to me and said.
I said: “It’s Hermes.”
He said: “What?”
“Hermes,” I repeated. Louder. “Hermes!” (OK, I’m pretentious, too.)
“Oh,” he said. “I’m so sorry you have MS.”
You’re only young once. Or, when I was an advertising writer, I tried to write a line for a line of anti-aging moisturizers: “You’re Only Young Twice”, but it never ran, and it is totally irrelevant to the story, I just was itching for a quick reference to my pre-retirement, pre-bridge life…
And when you find yourself pushing 70, and find yourself not playing tennis or golf, your life turns to:
You gotta have a heart to appreciate the experience of discovering bridge. And the discovery of meeting new people, people of a certain age.
An inspiring age. One that’s fun, delightful, daffy and annoying.