Visions of (Golden) Sugarplums

Spouse Jo Ann had tantalized me with visions of an exotic currency going by the moniker masterpoints. I inquired as to their nature and exchange value. “You’re asking me what they’re good for?” she responded as if perplexed.

“Yeah, like American Express Membership Rewards, where you can do online shopping for lots of cool electronics. Or Hilton Honors, say, for free nights.”

“It doesn’t work like that.”

“Then how does it work?”

“First of all, there are four kinds of points – black being the most basic, and then the three ‘pigmented’ points: red, silver, and gold.”

Now we’re getting somewhere. “Okay,” said I, craning forward, inveigled by the mention of the precious metal gold. Great gleaming ingots. The Mask of Tutankhamun. The Treasure of Sierra Madre. Reveling in Scrooge McDuck’s money bin. Hot diggity dog! “I’m listening.”

“So – black you earn at local bridge clubs. Silver at the sectional tournaments. And red and gold at the regionals and nationals. You need all four to become a Life Master. Okay so far?”

“I guess. But then what do you win when you become a Life Master?”

Jo Ann’s answer dealt a fatal blow to my aforementioned rapture. “You win the prestige of having earned the designation of Life Master. It’s quite an achievement.”

“And that’s it? Nothing else?”

“You get a certificate and your name gets published in the monthly Bridge Bulletin.”

I’m crushed. Devastated. “You must be joking.”

“Not everything’s about ‘stuff,’ Gordon. It’s all about the journey and the milestones of accomplishment along the way. And believe it or not, you will meet some people you’ll like. And they might like you, too, if you don’t manage to offend them first.”

I was in a daze, but not braindead. A rudimentary sense of the economics was percolating somewhere deep inside the old noodle. It wouldn’t be until after my first sectional and second regional, however, that I performed an Excel spreadsheet ballpark calculation of what it would take for me to amass the requisite admixture of five hundred black and ‘pigmented’ points. If I had known from the outset that the sum total of highway tolls, gasoline, amortization of the Avalon, airfares, hotels, meals, entry fees, and whatnot would run to nosebleed high five figures, I might have bailed right then and there.

I couldn’t help but weigh the opportunity costs. Life Master or the sports car of my dreams? Life Master or a jeroboam of 1947 Mouton Rothschild plus one month in residence at the La Réserve luxury hotel and spa in Paris? A piece of paper and my name in print or take-your-pick from a treasure trove of unbridled, guilt-free, hedonistic larks? Hmm.

Jo Ann could see the wheels turning. Grinding. Screeching. Pluming smoke. She temporized. “You’re tired. Let’s take a break. We can go over everything else later. After your nap, when you’re in a better frame of mind.”

Tried, convicted, and sentenced by a prosecutor-jury-judge of one. Not the first time; certainly not the last. I toddled off, ostensibly to either nap or meditate or practice t’ai chi and center myself. I don’t do any of that oriental Zen voodoo claptrap, mind you, but I figured that some outward display of transcendental hoo-hah would mollify Jo Ann and buy me some time.

Mirabile dictu, after I came back inside from hamming it up in front of the magnolia tree with slow-motion judo moves modeled on a 1971 performance by Elvis at the International in Vegas, there was no further mention of bridge. I kept waiting for it, but during dinner and throughout the balance of the evening, nothing. I crossed my fingers and ventured prayerfully onto the thin ice of deducing that I’d dodged the bullet. That Jo Ann had reflected on my bedrock resistance to the notion of committing that most precious of resources, time, to anything that didn’t hold out the potential for pecuniary reward or some other tangible form of remuneration.

I permitted myself to believe that she had assessed the pros and cons of indoctrination of the fledgling and determined that the cons far outweighed the pros. Furthermore, she didn’t seem to be holding it against me. She understands, I rejoiced. I gotta be me, and she gets it. She’s the best, isn’t she?

That was on a Wednesday night. On Thursday morning, after a leisurely get-up and uneventful first cup of coffee, I pinched myself. Yes, it was real. Earth had turned on its axis. The sun had risen. Running along the eastern perimeter of our patch, that mighty estuary, the Chesapeake Bay, had been transformed into a vast field of sparkling diamonds, with commercial vessels and sailboats dotting the mid-channel and the far horizon. I stood at the sliding glass doors, taking it all in. Nearby, cormorants and gulls were making a ruckus, fighting for position on the pilings along the pier. Shadows of hawks coasting languidly on undulating air currents crisscrossed the deck. Occasionally, one would swoop so low that I yielded to the impulse to duck.

Jo Ann called from the kitchen, asking if she should reheat some sausages to go with the waffles she was going to make. Yes, honey, that would be great. “How ‘bout another cup of coffee? You ready for one now?” You bet. Paradise. Home free.

Or so I thought.

To Be Continued