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Wednesday, August 8, 2007 - Guess whom I ran into one day in a bridge column
On August 2nd, I drove to Green Gulch Farm for a meeting about the Early Tassajara Alumni Reunion, arriving early so I could join folks there in dining on their sumptuous victuals. In the lounge upstairs before dinner I riffled through the Marin Independent Journal till I found Philip Alder's bridge column, his daily nationally syndicated article on the card game, contract bridge. I was thrown off balance when his column for that day began, ' Norman Fischer, a poet and Zen Buddhist priest, said, “We all need to have a creative outlet — a window, a space — so we don't lose track of ourselves.”'
Norman Fischer? Confused thoughts raced through my mind. He was once an abbot of the SF Zen Center - he lived at Green Gulch a long time. He lives down the road and up on a cliff now. I'm here at Green Gulch so it's natural he's here but he's here on that piece of paper, that newspaper - in Alder's column. Alder lives in Florida. Alder's not part of this world, he's part of that one - that bridge world I sink into. Finally I grasped what had happened.
Almost every day I read at least one bridge column. There are a number of nationally syndicated bridge columnists and the Bay Area papers mostly carry different ones, so each paper I see in the course of a day brings the opportunity to read another column.
They tend to begin with a quote, something to add a little humor or wisdom to the article. Sometimes there's an anecdote.
Alder's column that day began with the quote from Norman and elaborated a bit:
Fischer, a poet and Zen Buddhist priest, said, “We all need to have a
creative outlet — a window, a space — so we don't lose track of
I started playing bridge when I was sixteen. My partner, Ward Ruscoe, and I got into playing with his conservative sweet grandparents who used an old fashioned system. We started studying contemporary bridge - reading books, laying out hands and talking about them, finding other people (always adults) to play with. It was a little sad when, after only a couple of months, we began to consistently beat his grandparents. After that it became inconvenient to play with them - for all of us.
A couple of fairly snobby upper-crusty college seniors we played with one day talked about the Wednesday evening tournament downtown (Fort Worth), a duplicate tournament - duplicate in that all the teams are divided into two groups, north-south and east-west, and play the same hands. That way it doesn't matter how good the cards you get - it's how well you do compared to the other teams.
A duplicate bridge board
Ward and I told our collegian bridge opponents that afternoon that we wanted to go to the duplicate tournament. They laughed at us, ridiculed us. We went anyway. There were no other young people there. We tied another team for east-west first place, blowing everyone's mind. It was the hardest game in town too. Caught 'em off guard.
We started playing duplicate several times a week - evenings and Saturday noon. There was a lot of smoking. We smoked too. We went home with people and drank with them and played cards all night.
We played quit a bit with the most prominent Presbyterian minister in town, Jablonovsky, and a friend of his. They were gay which was uncool back then. Jablonovsky would serve us steaks and loved to have us around. He was haughty and well educated and fun to talk with. I remember once when I asked him if a minister shouldn't be a bit humble, he responded that he was humble only before God. I wrote him a letter before he died of AIDS a few years ago and thanked him for everything.
Ward and I went to some national tournaments that were held locally. People played bridge morning to night for days. And drank like crazy. There were a lot of gay men after us. That was fine. No problem. The gay men were great company, very interesting. We were big boys and could handle ourselves. No need for brutal law to protect us. I often preferred the older women to hang out with but just for drinking and smoking and talking. I was not yet interested in them for sex. I could have - but well - I didn't have any sex in my teens.
Such interesting people. So extreme. My favorite team was two men whose wives were also a team. We'd go over to the house of the younger couple and drink and play more. They were way over our heads. We learned a lot. I think they were swingers. The wife was a curvy bright blond. The guy was so brilliant and eccentric. He played serious chess too. I loved to hear what he had to say about anything. I was sorry when he committed suicide.
We never won another tournament but we had a great time. I quit playing bridge about when we graduated from high school. I felt like I was holding Ward back. He was really good. He could concentrate so well. Couldn't keep all of what I needed to in mind. I didn't think this at the time but these days we'd say I was too ADD for it or is that ADHD? ADD, if that's what it is, is okay if you really really concentrate - maybe even better. I think its often served me well. But my attention started going in other more artistic and exploratory directions.
And now for years and years I have read zillions of bridge columns. I may have read more about bridge than anything. The guy who I read the most - because he's in the local paper - is totally solid on his bridge but he is a horrible writer who is constantly making really stupid jokes and writing things that irritate me to death. The card hands are real but he makes up the players and they're always angry at each other and being petty and he attributes quotes to them with overdone qualifiers like "he growled" or "she sighed." So grating. He's always claiming readers write him about this and that and these supposed readers strangely write just like him and have his same awful sense of humor. And he calls them his fans which also irritates me. Clay and Katrinka must get tired of hearing me complain about him. And I have read more of his writing than maybe anyone. Sometimes when I write I imitate him for a second, a line or a phrase, just to enter into that creepy space. Like Bob (Bruce Dern) in Coming Home when he was telling how awful it was to be tortured by the North Vietnamese and started showing Sally (Jane Fonda) how they bound him and forced his arms back and got her to do it and kept telling her harder harder...
Wait - I'm getting cold sweats... no, just kidding. Anyway, I like reading bridge. I look at the hands in the columns and try to figure out what the column's going to be about, what point is going to be made and I brag to Katrinka when I get it right which I usually do and she looks at me and smiles and goes back to reading what she's reading. When people ask if I want to play I say no and compare it to someone who likes reading detective books but doesn't want to be a detective.
And on the 2nd when I was reading Philip Alder, who is my favorite bridge writer, I ran into my old Zen buddy Norman Fischer.
And this is my creative outlet - though I've still lost track of myself.
I think perhaps you mean "vittles", the slang spelling of "victuals"?
"vitals: the body's important internal organs, esp. the gut or the genitalia."
"vittle: archaic variant spelling of victual."
"victuals: food or provisions, typically as prepared for consumption."
Middle English : from Old French vitaille, from late Latin victualia, neuter plural of Latin victualis, from victus ‘food’ ; related to vivere 'to live.' The pronunciation still represents the early spelling vittel; later spelling has been influenced by the Latin form.
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