Friday, February 20, 2009

The Games of Life

FriendshipYesterday afternoon I found myself stuck between meetings and a bunch of other I’d-rather-be-playing-poker-but-gotta-do-this-other-crap all day and thus missed lunch altogether. Found a small window of time there in the middle of the afternoon and so ran over to the fast food chicken house not too far from where I work for a quick bite.

Grabbed a two-piece dinner and settled over in a corner of the mostly empty dining area with some reading material. After a while I noticed that besides a couple of kitchen workers taking a break over on the other side of the room, the only other people in the establishment were a collection of elderly women -- eight in all -- gathered around three tables. I glanced up briefly from my meal to make a mental guess at their ages. None seemed less than seventy, I was certain.

I went back to the food and reading, but got distracted when I realized that the women didn’t seem to be talking to one another. In fact, only one of them seemed to be saying anything, and she was doing so in a most peculiar way, following an unnatural rhythm of short statements while the others kept quiet. I looked up and saw that none were looking at each other. Strange.

When I discerned the words being spoken, I finally figured out what was going on.

“G-56.... O-72.... O-68.... B-12.... I-22....”

A small purple plastic cube was positioned on the table in front of the lady making the utterances, and between each one she depressed the yellow half-sphere on its top side. She was repeating whatever the voice emanating from cube was saying, and her colleagues were dutifully noting on cardboard cards whether or not they could find a match for the numbers called.

“Bingo,” one eventually answered. “Gotta bingo,” said the caller lady, employing the same monotone she used when calling the numbers. The lady passed her card to another woman who verified its correctness while sipping her tea through a straw.

Bingo, the 'kite' versionI was there long enough to hear several games, and noticed the caller announcing different ones with words like “kite” and “two stamps,” referring to variations that require players to form something other than a straight line. For example, for “kite” you have to make a four-square box in the corner with a diagonal line going from it to the opposite corner (like a kite with a tail -- see the picture).

I thought about the ladies again later in the evening when I went for my run. Still running every day, by the way. Usually two miles. As I motored over the sidewalks, I contemplated that Thursday afternoon bingo game, considering what it probably meant to the women who played it.

Am reasonably sure they weren’t playing for money, although they could have been. No, it seemed like it was mostly just for fun. And to be together. The group’s average age suggested it could very well be the case that most or all had outlived their husbands, if they’d had ’em. In any case, it was easy to see getting together like that -- being with others, and having some activity to provide an occasion for the get-together -- was important stuff. The most important stuff.

As I ran, last week’s episode of “Keep Flopping Aces” came to mind as well (the 2/12/09 show). Host Lou Krieger had Ashley Adams on to talk about the many, many poker rooms the latter has visited in his extensive travels. An interesting hour.

About halfway through the show, they got into discussing various promotions some rooms offer, and Adams brought up Joker’s Wild in Henderson, Nevada as a not-so-great room for atmosphere, but a terrific one for its promotion. As Adams outlines in his recent review of the room over on PokerNews, regulars can get a whopping $599 bonus a month for playing 130 hours. That discussion led Krieger to point out the preponderance of senior citizens regularly playing low limit games who could benefit greatly from such a bonus.

“Certainly, there are so many people in Las Vegas that are retired and on fixed incomes and they’re not getting wealthy,” said Krieger. “They sit in these low limit poker games, day in and day out, hour after hour after hour, trying to supplement their pensions by a couple of bucks an hour and waiting for a tourist or some terrible player to come into the game and spew money around.”

Picking up an extra few bucks an hour could help out a lot for such folks, Krieger concluded. Adams agreed. “It’s not the kind of existence that I’d want or you’d want,” said Adams. “But, hey? If you’re retired and you’re already just sitting around in some other poker room gathering dust, waiting for the bad beat to hit while you’re in there so you can get a fraction of the jackpot, it’s not a bad gig.”

The chicken house bingo ladies reminded me that for many in this crowd there’s another bonus to be had, too -- the non-monetary one that comes from getting out regularly, interacting with others, and being part of the world. That general effort not to be “gathering dust,” one might say.

I suppose I understand what is meant by the idea that such an existence is not necessarily preferable. But really, how different is it from the ones we already lead? What is it we are all running around trying to accomplish? To find something interesting to do, to have fun, to endure. And finding others to do these things with, well, that’s a big part of what’s going on, too. Maybe we’re sometimes playing against each other, but we need each other to have a game at all.

Have a good weekend, friends.

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Blogger Fermented Wisdom said...

Simply put -- an excellent post. Your insight is matched only by your writing style. Thanks for allowing me to read it.

2/20/2009 2:09 PM  
Blogger Mike G said...

I agree this is very well reasoned and written. I live in vegas and don't play poker any longer - but I see your point here about the value of the social interaction.

Although I have to say that I think the house rake can end up taking a significant amount of money from these regular players, a low limit holdem game for example is essentially unbeatable.

2/22/2009 12:12 AM  

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