May 10, 2013

62 of 65

Burning Bridge(s)

I never attempted the game of bridge until I was a senior in high school, and it has been 20 years since I last played.  In between, there were a few memorable hands – like the kind described in the newspaper’s weekly bridge column – but there were more memorable people.

Bert was a good friend in high school.  He was extremely intelligent.  He was the first Unitarian I ever knew.  He was the first person I knew who brewed home-made root beer in his basement.  He was the first person I knew whose step-father won a Nobel Prize for Medicine.  And he was the person who taught me to play bridge.  It seemed that he was the only member of his social group who knew the game.  In order to satisfy his desire to play and still have friends, he began teaching a few of us the basics.

When we had learned to count the points in our hand and could remember that Spades is the suit above Hearts, we began playing friendly games in our spare time.  I seemed to like it more than some of the others, and by the end of the school year I understood the Stayman Convention and Jacoby Transfers.  I knew what it meant if someone said they bid “Standard American.”  Bert suggested we try our luck at duplicate bridge.

During the summer after our high school graduation, he and I would usually go once a week to the Arvada Bridge Club to play in a duplicate tournament.  The other players were generally the same every week, and most were quite serious about the game.  I remember two middle-aged gentlemen who were always there and who looked exactly like Tweedle Dum and Tweedle Dee from Alice in Wonderland.  I can’t recall their names, but I knew they were opponents to be reckoned with.  Though Bert and I were always the youngest players, we held our own and even picked up a couple of Masterpoints.

One week when Bert had gone back to Tennessee to visit his mother and step-father, I felt I needed my bridge “fix”; so I convinced another friend, Robert, to be my partner for duplicate.  He was part of the group Bert had taught to play, and was certainly competent.  However, he seemed cowed by some of the older players.  I noticed that his play was overly conservative, so I decided that whenever he would bid, I was going to outbid him so I could play the hand and let him be the dummy.  I think we won that night, or came in second, mostly because my strategy let us blunder into what turned out to be good bids that no one else had considered.

Bert and Robert soon moved on to pursue doctorate degrees.  I haven’t seen either of them for many years.

In college, several students in the dorm were social bridge players.  I enjoyed playing with them, though most were not serious – most would rather play Hearts or poker.  One girl I met my sophomore year, Wheeler, was very good and enjoyed duplicate bridge, so she and I played at the University Bridge Club from time to time.  There was a more diverse group of players there, and they were not the same every week.  One young married couple participated almost every time we attended, however.  They had very interesting “post-mortem” discussions after almost every hand.  They sounded something like this:

“Honey, why did you lead a club on the second trick?”

“Sweetheart, you know that you bid clubs.”

“But, Darling, you could see the king in the dummy, so I would need to play the ace to win.”

“Yes, and then you could have returned a spade, Muffin”

And so on.  I just knew that when they got home they found other pet names for each other.

Wheeler relocated to Nevada to use her Geology degree.  I haven’t seen her for about 30 years.

Kendra was another of my high school friends – in fact, she was my date for the prom.  She began playing bridge while in college.  Later, she and a group of her fellow middle school teachers had a monthly gathering for social bridge.  From time to time, when they were short a person, Kendra would invite me to fill in.  My team almost always won because I was still sort of serious about the game, and everyone else was imbibing too much iced tea, or something stronger.

Kendra and I did not have many common interests.  We sorted of drifted our separate ways.  There was a period of about 20 years when I did not see her at all.  More recently, we have both been serving on the board of a nonprofit organization, the Arvada West High School Foundation.  It is good when some people drift back into my life.

Kim was a receptionist at my law office.  She and her fiancé Paul enjoyed bridge, so they fixed me up with a “blind bridge date” with another friend of theirs named Kathy.  We had some enjoyable evenings, and Kathy became one of my very best friends.

Kim and Paul married and then divorced and I lost touch with them.

I continued to play bridge with Kathy.  A third player was usually her friend Bonnie, and the fourth was whomever we could find.  Bonnie had been heavily involved in Scientology, even sailing around the world on L. Ron Hubbard’s yacht.  She became disenchanted with what she thought was a cult, but had some interesting stories.  Among her other friends were shamans and herbalists.  We always had fascinating conversations.

Bonnie moved to California and became the editor of a peer-reviewed alternative medicine journal started by Larry Dossey and some others.  She is another person whom I have not seen for many years.

Kathy moved to Texas where she planned to use her Master’s degree in Gifted and Talented Education.  She did not like teaching in the public school system, so she became a licensed therapist.  She now splits her time between Minnesota and New Mexico, and we try to keep in touch by email and occasional phone calls.  She is my wife Cathy’s friend on Facebook, but I do not have a Facebook account.

Cathy does not play bridge and most adamantly does not want to learn, or I would probably have continued what was an enjoyable hobby.  You probably wonder why I would even consider marrying someone who was not a bridge player.

Well, her brownies won a blue ribbon at the Seneca (Ohio) County Fair the same year she was the Queen of the Fair.  Need I say more?

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