It’s been two years now, my mild obsession with bridge. There are those of you out there—my close friends and few fans on this blog site, who may have seen my original bridge piece, when I first discovered the game. That piece was called: “Bridge: Play Group for Seniors”. It was my clever, older sister who suggested the title, as she constantly reminds me. And it was an introduction not only to bridge, but also to the more advanced ‘duplicate’ tournaments, where people compete with other people playing the same hands. For master points (whatever). These tournaments are held morning, noon and night at a place called the Honors Bridge Club, right there on the upper East Side, adjacent to Bloomingdale’s.
In that earlier piece, I talked briefly about partnerships. Bridge is played, to those not in the know, with two people versus two other people at a card table for four. Partners versus opponents. This way, and always this way, since forever.
(You can also play online by yourself with “robots” or anonymously with real people. I practice sometimes on that site, but it’s not the same thing as with real live people.)
It has been advised that husbands should never play with wives. Or to be more P.C., spouses with spices? People have been know to draw out a gun and shoot their partner/wife/husband for failing to pull trump.
All right, you don’t really need to know all the ins and all the outs of the game. Suffice it to say it also, ultimately, gives you a glimpse into all of humanity. “Your true personality comes out when you play bridge” I have heard it said often. I presume that is true for people who actually have a personality.
I met Myrna early on. We were taking lessons at the Honors Bridge Club, once a week at first. I knew nothing about the game; she knew even less, and so, based on our mutual ignorance and inexperience, we quickly became partners. And, in the process, bonded.
Myrna is one elegant woman. Close to my age. A grandmother who wears Alexander McQueen and Hermes. You can tell she must have been beautiful in her 20s and 30s—haunting green eyes, full lips, good bone structure and a sexy middle-Eastern accent. Nice décolletage too, still! (yes, gay men do notice even if they don’t care to dive into it.)
But mostly, and for the sake of this piece, she makes mistakes.
Everyone makes mistakes in bridge, but she always makes the same kind of mistakes. Always.
I am a civil man, a gentleman of a certain age (68 and a half to be exact at the time of this writing—four months older than Myrna!). I’ve been accused of having a quick-trigger temper during my advertising career, fighting with account executives—creative people and account types are another form of volatile partnerships.
But that’s another story. (And I wrote that one, too.)
Myrna and I became close. Not close like Gigi Hadid and Kendall Jenner. Not like Oprah and Gayle close. More like Martin and Lewis close because we, like them, did have a stormy breakup.
But I get ahead of myself, as I tend to do.
Let’s go back to Honors. As a two-year frequenter now—I actually have a second partner, Peter, but he’s not as interesting as Myrna. A nice man (a MAN!) who also makes mistakes—you get to see all types of mistakes and people—but most attendees are women. A lot of them seem to have money, you can tell by the jewelry and the talk of the Hamptons. A lot are very serious about the game. Many also strike me as lonely divorcees and widows, with a facelift here, an emerald necklace there (in the daytime!), or a Cartier watch visible. My favorite interchange with one 80-something woman with platinum hair and sporting a fading Gucci scarf said to me: “Don’t touch my box!” She was referring to what is known as a bidding box that sits at your side on the table with small placards that you pick out, lay down on the table, to indicate your bids. This is so no one forgets, since this is an age group that easily forgets.
“Don’t touch my box!” she exclaimed, as it seemed too close to my box.
“Honey,” I responded, sounding a bit like Bette Midler. “There ain’t no one who’s gonna wanna touch your box!” (Your true personality comes out when you play bridge.)
But I want to get back to the point of this piece, if there is, indeed, a point. I want to go back to Myrna, my partner. Actually, I suddenly feel compelled to mention, at this juncture, her real name: MONA! (Mona will never see this.) Mona lives in the Time Warner Center. Her husband was a fertility doctor, made a fortune, and died four or five years earlier when she was in her early 60s. Left her with boatloads of money, excellent investments and trusts, and three beautiful daughters—I’ve seen hundreds of pictures of them, and their kids, and their hedge-fund husbands, and all their travels together.
I also hear more than I need to know about her almost-affair with a married man living in Europe. I’ve been privy to each and every single email exchange between the two of them. Women talk a lot, well, she talks a lot, and we also have drinks after the afternoon bridge sessions. I’m a patient guy, well, not really, well, not at all, but I really do like to get a word in edgewise!
If she’s not talking about the grandkids, the married “boyfriend”, flaunting the photos and the endless emails, it’s about her husband who cheated on her repeatedly. Admittedly, all stories are of somewhat more interest to me than the rehashing of how we played earlier in the day and how she pointed out my errors.
It gets to you after a while. And, after two years, after a summer lapse, we’re back to Honors. And it all came to a crashing halt one day in late September.
Mona is distracted by her unfulfilling and married almost-boyfriend.
Mona is concerned that she’s overweight (she isn’t) and can no longer fit into her Diors and her Zac Posens.
Mona goes to Greenwich, Connecticut. for weekends to visit one of her daughters, her hedge fund husband and the kids. Mona goes to the opera and the ballet in the some perhaps possibility of meeting an (unmarried) man. And I repeat, Mona never lets me get a word in edgewise. I guess I’ve said this, but I’m compelled to repeat myself because, here and now, I can get in any word I want to get in. Edgewise or otherwise.
Mona and I, just the other day, had our aforementioned ‘Martin and Lewis’ breakup. (Does anyone out there even remember that partnership?) Maybe Brangelina would be a more timely association, but not quite exactly right. After built-up issues (my way, I admit) after all her over-and-over mistakes, and after all her self-absorbed banter, I said (to myself): “TILT!” After a crazy afternoon of those crazy mistakes and, worse, her defense of them, I pretty much lost it. And, with a bit of barely-suppressed anger, told her how awful I thought her playing had been. (Forget her bidding; that was disastrous, too.) As the session ended, she turned away and spoke to another woman at the table—this one actually named Myrna! and Myrna looked up at me, dead in the eye, and said (I repeat for a third time): “Your true personality comes out when you play bridge.”
I left. No drinks that Tuesday afternoon. There was barely a goodbye and, as we were slated to play again the next morning, I blurted out as I left: “See you tomorrow”. I think I heard an “OK”.
I had a martini at my local watering hole, which is actually quite cavernous, and thought: It’s over. I can find a new partner. I’m done! But still not done with the anger, which the martini actually helped to fuel.
I text my bridge instructor, who works at Honors, now a friend: “How do I go about finding a new partner? It appears Mona and I practically came to blows!” He was distressed to hear that and then wondered if I knew any other players who were nice and capable. I couldn’t say that I did.
I stewed over the comment, now for the fourth time: Your true personality comes out when you play bridge. I didn’t much care for Myrna. She talked too much about silliness . Bridge is serious business! Well, anyway, it isn’t a place where one kibitzes and speaks as if to the air, like Myrna always seemed to do.
Oh, and there’s way more to report than Myrna and Mona. There are shaky Parkinson’s hands holding cards. There are walkers and wheelchairs blocking aisles. And the food! The endless food! Mornings there are scrambled and poached eggs, all flavors of bagel, all types of spreads. Bacon and sausages (surprising since a lot of the players are Jewish). Lunches feature enormous tin tubs of eggplant parmigiana, pastas, meatballs. Tomatoes and onions and veggies, oh, my! There are all sorts of salads, from egg to Caesar. From chicken to chicken of the sea. .There are breads and crackers and every conceivable dressing. Pretzels and peanuts and m & m’s. For $30—what you pay for a session of play for three hours or more, you’re also entitled to a meal. People, women mostly (as I’ve said), have the breakfast, play for a few hours, have the lunch and they’re done!
And, and on some mornings, the fee is only $22!
Coucous and hummus and hubris! As women (people) stand in the narrow aisles, blocking people from passing, heading to their tables, eating their fill, on paper plates with plastic utensils, talking about the morning’s hands: Mostly, you hear: “why did you bid four no-trump when you know I didn’t have a point?” “Why didn’t you return a club?” and: “You’ve made some lulus in your life, but today, you really took the cake!”
And they serve cake, too.
So, back to Mona. Back home. I decide to send a text after thinking it all over. Actually, I decide to email. She’s slower with texts and quicker with emails as she still seems to be waiting for an email from her ex-married-barely-lover, living somewhere far away.
I email: Don’t think I can make tomorrow morning’s game, after all. Didn’t at all appreciate Myrna’s judging me as you sat together after the sessing and she looked up at me, dead in the eye, and said: Your true personality comes out when you play bridge. (There it is, a fifth time, folks.) She can kiss my ass (I continued in the email). It appears we definitely need a break from each other. Both ways around.
Hours pass. I was glad of my decision to break up the partnership, although somewhat nervous about finding a new partner—what if that union is worse? and even worse, running into Mona at the club, each of us playing with different players and, turning out to be opponents!
And then, the phone rings: Mona! the screen says. You know that half of a split-second when you see a name on the iPhone, and you decide to accept or let it go? In a split quarter-of-a-second, I answer,
Although I can’t remember everything about the exchange, I know it started out hostile. I kept tyring to break into her upset monologue, about how “aggressive” my email was and how mean I was to attack her playing in front of others. “You should have waited until later”.
I remember saying, when I could get a word in: “Everyone criticizes everyone right after the play of the hand. Otherwise, most people forget. (Can I say this enough times? Most people are over 80 and don’t much remember much.)
She went on. About how I make mistakes, too, but she doesn’t comment. She’s too kind, she insists. Not true, I try to say. You d---( I never finish a thought with Mona.)
In time, over the phone, I was able to break through and say, out loud: “It’s not the mistakes. It’s just that you keep defending the mistakes. Or ignore them. Or forget them.” (She’s close to 70. I’m amazed, me, also close to 70, remember some of this conversations so clearly.) (I’m probably paraphrasing.)
After a while, both our voices die down. Changing the sore subject, she segued into a granddaughters soccer game she was attending over the weekend—no matter what, what grandmother can’t stop talking about the grandkids? She then segued back to the issue at hand—the playing of the hand.
“I’ll try not to defend my wrong moves. I promise to try,” she said.
I guess I said I would try to control my quick trigger temper—she interrupted over that: “My dead husband was just that way, too.”
Then, you must know, I said, softly, that those quick-trigger tempers fade as quickly as they flare.
By the end of the 20-minute conversation, we decided to give it another go. Skip the next morning’s session, but get back together again next Tuesday and next Wednesday.
I can’t explain it, exactly, but I will be there. Because Mona was brave enough to call and work towards resolution, I was impressed. It was very brave of her to confront the situation, a situation that most people would just easily walk away from. Especially from such a “shallow” “nothing” relationship as a bridge partnership.
But, it appears, we are more than partners. We are friends. We have truly bonded over bridge. And now, after her call, reached an even higher level of friendship.
Permit me now to segue elsewhere, but to be equally relevant. In a column I write for Guestwords in the East Hampton Star, I wrote a piece called “Forgiveness, Hamptons Style”. It also wound up in my first book: “Back In The Star Again” (available at amazon.com, but you can just scroll up to the book section of this website, and order it). (Do!)
There is a definite correlation of quick anger and just as quick forgiveness in that story about my fight with the pool guy.
It certainly speaks of a certain personality.
And that personality would be my very own.