As much as I’ve always enjoyed games of almost any variety, including card games, for some reason I never had any exposure to bridge when I was young. That was rectified my first year at the University of Chicago when I encountered another freshman, Alvin Rosenblatt, a young Canadian student with a passion for bridge.
Now if you’ve never met anyone who is fanatic about bridge, you’ve truly escaped one of life’s great horrors. Little did I know how deeply committed people become to the game until I allowed Alvin to convince me to teach me how to play. I actually had less interest in the game than befriending Alvin whose manner was so abrasive and generally offensive that he might have caused Bernadette of Lourdes to begin swearing. I felt sorry for him – and since I was generally pretty good at card games, I thought this would be a natural addition to my repertoire.
Well, it didn’t take a lot of time to round up two other students who played bridge and wanted to escape reading any more of the subtleties of John Locke or were tired of doing calculus so it wasn’t long before I played my first game with Alvin as my partner. I could tell from almost the first moment of play that I had better do my best or my beloved partner would let me know that I had screwed up. I think that outburst occurred in the fourth or fifth hand.
Now in bridge, partners play a “system.” Perhaps the one that most beginners start with was developed by Charles Goren, the man who may have done more to popularize bridge than any other. It’s probably the easiest for the novice to memorize. But that basic system was far too simple for Alvin. He played the Kaplan-Sheinwold system – which to me sounded more like a medical syndrome that had devastating implications for the gall bladder than it was a bidding system. But I was a tyro – so what did I know.
Bridge comes in two very distinct varieties. The first, the game that I began playing and which is usually played socially is contract bridge. There is a fair element of luck in this game since being dealt extremely strong or weak hands greatly affects the game, far more than the skill of the player holding those hands. The second version is duplicate bridge. This is truly a game of skill because each pair of partners plays all the same hands as all the other pairs and depending on how well or poorly they play their hands is measured by a points system, ranking them accurately against all the other players. My harrowing introduction to bridge, and my next several sessions, were of the contract variety.
I was already beginning to think that my compassion for Alvin and my attempt to befriend this young man were misguided. Alvin never failed to let me know when I had erred but ignored offering any compliments when I had done something quasi-brilliant. Of course, that second situation only occurred rarely. I began thinking to myself, “Who needs this abuse? I could just go to class and have one of the tenured professors insult me.” But I confess that the game began interesting me so I suffered the slings and arrows with which Alvin’s quiver was overwhelmingly filled.
Things went along more or less in the same way through eight or ten sessions in our dorm’s rec room when Alvin pronounced that, “While I was still an incompetent ‘bumble butt’ I had advanced sufficiently that it was time for me to graduate to the far more sophisticated and challenging game of duplicate bridge.” There was a duplicate bridge club that had a weekly session at the university’s International House and he expected me to attend with him the following Thursday evening at 7:00 p.m. promptly. I acquiesced to his request and actually looked forward to the challenge, expecting to be competing against twenty other players or thereabouts.
When we arrived at the building we easily found the signs directing us to the appropriate room – which, as it turned out, was the largest meeting room in the building. And it was filled to the gills with nearly two hundred bridge players. Suddenly, remembering Alvin’s previous outbursts in our little social game, it occurred to me that I was likely to be embarrassed before several hundred people. And that is exactly what happened – about one half hour into our play. Which caused me to stand up from the table, direct an extremely crude expletive statement at Alvin and walk home. And that was the last time I played bridge.
Well, speaking of bridge and bridge terminology, this past week, Donald Trump, a man whose ego makes Barack Obama’s look like one belonging to a mendicant friar, announced that he is entering the Republican race for President of the United States. The speech proclaiming his bid reminded me both of Alvin and a papal encyclical – but without humility. But I was particularly struck by his intent to bring Mexico to its knees and force them to pay for the construction of a wall which will keep unwanted foreigners from invading our country. That would have to be one heck of a wall.
There are approximately 540 million people who live in Mexico, Central America and South America. Granted, not all of them want to move here. But still, that’s a lot of humanity, not to mention those who are participants in ISIS and might take the trip across the Rio Grande via Mexico. And I thought, how likely is this wall to succeed in keeping them folks back where they belong. I thought about this in the context of the Clinton Correctional facility in Dannemora, NY, a maximum security prison, from which two escapees made a getaway a little over two weeks ago and are still on the loose.
Now Dannemora typically houses between 2800 to 3000 prisoners. Yet, with a little bit of help from their friends, two of these truly evil felons are roaming around free, at least for the moment. So if we can’t keep people whom we’ve already captured under lock and key, what is the likelihood that we will effectively keep a swarming mass of humanity out?
As to the answer to that question, I bid, “One No Trump.”