Rope-A-Dope

“I guarantee – you’re going to love duplicate bridge.” That was the first in a series of warrantees Jo Ann chummed in the waters of my hunger for creative expression. “We’ll get to meet new people and travel to places we haven’t been before. Plus – and here’s the great thing about it – it’s been proven that exercising the mental muscle through the game keeps you young. Studies show it forestalls dementia.”

I espied a window of opportunity and sprinted towards it. “That would actually be a negative for me, Honey. I happen to like the idea of cognitive dissociation from today’s incredibly bizarre and monumentally wretched realities.”

“Nice try,” she tsked, slamming the window shut. “Moving on.”

None of my shtick seemed to be working with her. She knows me all too well, dagnabbit. She swamped me with logic and persistence, pressing in from all directions. I absolutely had to push the envelope. To be audacious. To achieve escape velocity.

I went all in. “I’ve been offered a job in London again. I leave tomorrow on British Airways. It must have slipped my mind. Have you seen my suspenders? Braces, I mean. That’s what they call them over there. Braces.”

Jo Ann one-upped my bluff. “Excellent. I’ll go with you. That’ll give us six, seven hours of solid classroom time on the plane. We’ll ask Betty next door to keep an eye on the house. It’s cold this time of year in England. I’d better pack a good heavy woolen jumper. That’s what they call sweaters over there. Jumpers.” She appraised my reaction. My body language fairly exuded woebegone rueful resignation.

I had lost the skirmish decisively, but she was magnanimous in victory. “It won’t hurt. I promise. All I ask is that you keep an open mind and try to stay positive. We’ll get you to take some lessons.”

“Who’s we?”

“Me and Contessa.” Contessa, her mainstay bridge partner and a teacher at the local club.

“Contessa and I,” I corrected her.

“That’s the spirit!” she said, hijacking my feeble put-down. “Contessa will be only too happy to take you under her wing.”

Thus had I become a mere nestling, a project, a downy-feathered fledgling to be taken under wing. Oh, the humanity!

The next day, Jo Ann lowered the boom. (Later, I came to refer to the experience as The Day After, channeling the 1983 TV movie that graphically depicted nuclear devastation and societal disorder visited upon the citizenry of Middle America.)

I had succumbed to her charms – strike that. I had consented to tutelage, predicated on a boatload of promises. Exploration of new and exotic venues. Rewarding social experiences. Refined togetherness – which struck me as the glossy brochure equivalent of being cooped up in a stuffy hotel room with bad TV, spotty Wi-Fi service, and the de facto obligation to converse with one’s significant other. Allegedly senility-forestalling stimulation of neurons and synapses. (For the record, I remain dubious.) And something she referred to, rapturously, as ‘scratching.’

It was that last part that captured my imagination. ‘Scratching,’ she explained, is a colloquialism used to indicate that the pair’s performance exceeds the average, that their percentage score is high enough in the rankings to earn masterpoints. “It’s officially recognized by the ACBL.”

“Would that be the Academy of Coronary Bypass Layabouts?”

“Not funny, Gordon,” said the stern matron. “There but for the grace of God…”

“I know; I’m sorry. But you’re all the time tossing around acronyms and abbreviations and using people’s first names whose last names I never knew and things like that.”

“Good grief. And you’re the one giving me lessons in grammar and syntax?”

“Point taken.”

“ACBL. American Contract Bridge League. We’ll go online right now and sign you up. You need to be a member to have your points count.”

“The masterpoints.”

“That’s right. The masterpoints. Sometimes you get a little; sometimes you win a lot. It all depends on the size of the game, the number of sections, and of course how well you do.”

That was the moment of epiphany for me. The teaser. The hook. I could win something. There were prizes in the offing, currency in the form of masterpoints. Booty, and the glory that goes with it. Scenes and feelings of halcyon days of youth burst forth from the memory banks and course to the forefront. Summertime. Dusk. We’re strolling with our two sons down the midway at the county fairgrounds. Warm evening zephyrs swirling with aromas of sweet funnel cake and freshly dipped cherry candy apples envelop us. It’s intoxicating. The boys are beaming. Each of them totes a hard-won prize, having traded in their Skee-Ball and Water Gun coupons for the biggest, fuzziest schlock they could find on the third shelf from the top at the arcade exchange counter. Didn’t matter that the return on investment of dimes and quarters was a major negative number. They had competed, persevered, and won. I could identify with that emotion, embrace it and let it carry me on the wind, along with the all the other ethereal, heady scents and sounds of carefree living in sumptuously full bloom.

“Am I losing you?” asked Jo Ann, terminating my reverie.

“No, I was – I was just gonna say: what do you win with the masterpoints? What can you exchange them for? When they add up, that is. What are they good for?”

To Be Continued