Thursday, January 08, 2015
BRIDGE ON THE ROAD TO SELF-IMPROVEMENT
When I was in my twenties, I sat down with David and a couple of other friendly people to learn how to play Bridge. The food was good. The company was good. The game was interesting, but it does not stand out in my memory as a pleasant evening. Rummy, Hearts and Crib, I concluded, were more my style. I can’t say I remember what happened—wouldn’t know whether I won or lost. But I certainly remember the way I felt—on edge, inadequate, not too bright, all things considered. The game got off to a good enough beginning. Braille cards with print markings were dealt. I, reading the braille, sorted my hand into suits and began the process of bidding. This is where the trouble started. The source of the problem was not the bidding, nor the playing, though either of these is perplexing enough. What got me down was the hand laid down on the board—a stack of cards which everyone in the game could see, except for me. It should have been simple enough. All I had to do was to be told which cards were in the hand on the board. Then I would remember them all, and keep track of which had been played, while at the same time keeping track of other cards being played, plus make intelligent decisions about how to play my own hand. But it wasn’t simple. To put it mildly, I simply couldn’t remember all the cards in the hand on the board, and which ones had been played, and keep track of all other cards played, and make intelligent decisions about how to play my own hand. In a word, I was a failure. That popular game, the game I had expected to enjoy, had double-crossed me. So I gave up Bridge, turning instead to Rummy, Hearts and Crib. It’s funny how the memory of a failure will stick to you like a burr on a sock. Wishing to shake it off I would try again—once every ten years or so—renewing my commitment to Rummy, Hearts and Crib. On nights made wakeful by a crying baby or a twinging back I would devise technical innovations—reaching across the table after every round to feel the cards on the board, developing a theoretical prototype for a peg board within my reach on which I could place replicas of the cards, removing the peg representing the played card after each play. On the worst nights, I would blunder into a pity party. “If only I could see, I would play Bridge!!!” Come morning, I would put the whole sorry discussion behind me. But it wasn’t the end. The road to self-improvement so seldom really ends. I have a mentor. Her name is Doris Goetz. She’s been mentoring me in various ways every since I was ten years old. She’s an achiever, a proud blind person, independent and strong. She’s the type of person who would work out a very good system for playing a game. She took up Bridge when she retired, said she hoped I’d join her when I retired. Though the prospect appealed to me, I doubted it, and said as much. “I just can’t remember the cards on the board and keep track of the play,” I said. “How do you do it?” “I just keep asking people to tell me what cards are on the board,” she replied. Don’t you feel dumb doing that, I thought. “Don’t they get tired of that?” I asked. “No,” she said. “And anyway, so what if they do?” And that is how, a few years later, it came to pass that I was genuinely surprised to hear myself say to David that I thought I’d take up Bridge when I retired. Perhaps I would play with Doris in a club that involved both blind and sighted players. Would he like to join me? Now that our Wednesday mornings are taken up with Bridge, it would, I have concluded, be easier to play Bridge as a sighted person, because you could simply glance at the cards on the board as many times as you liked. It is, according to David, easier to play Bridge with blind people because they so often ask for a review of the cards on the board, a review that helps to focus the attention of the sighted players. Time passes quickly. Sometimes I win. Sometimes I lose. Sometimes I make smart plays. Sometimes my plays are dumb. I look forward to Wednesday mornings, and I still love Rummy, Hearts and Crib. Bridge has been double-crossed on the road to self-improvement.