Like many these days, I am amazed and enamored by the gargantuan knowledge and the apparent gift of “total recall” possessed by James Holzhauer, as witnessed on the recent airings of the game show Jeopardy! He’s like a machine up there! Our similarities begin and end quickly, as my hometown of Elk Grove is a stone’s throw from his in Naperville, Illinois, and that I’ve been to Las Vegas, where he now resides.
My only faint hope, if I were pitted against this mind-boggling phenom, would be if I could miraculously first morph into the fictional character of Phil Connors from the movie “Groundhog Day” and rehearse all the answers endlessly in advance. Then again, even if I knew the answers, or actually, the questions, I’d still have to be able to remember them.
While not yet a teenager, a couple of older boys in our neighborhood on Chicago’s northwest side invited me over to play a board game they’d gotten recently. I gladly obliged, and we sat around the kitchen table one afternoon navigating the nuances of the game “Stock & Bonds.” Clueless, in those days, as to what a stock or bond actually was, or what to do with them if you had any, I simply rolled my token when my turn came up and marched around the board without buying or selling anything.
Strangely enough, I, as an ignorant tightwad oblivious to the workings of any bull or bear market, came away with pockets flush with cash and the most money in the end. Go figure!
My first venture into a casino didn’t happen until I was being schooled, of all places, in a seminary. While attending a global mission conference in Ventnor, New Jersey, a group of us unassuming seminarians moseyed on down the boardwalk one evening to take in the sights and sounds of Atlantic City. Having been entrusted with a “hefty sum” of $10 by my boss, the director of finance at the school, I cashed in the bill for some quarters and took my turn at a “one armed bandit.” Of no surprise, I didn’t need either arm or hand to take home any winnings!
One classmate, however, got eerily captivated by the felt and feel of a Blackjack table. He left that evening with a sizeable wad of cash and assured his companions the ominous allure of the game got the best of him and that he would never go back. By the time we loaded up the van and headed back to Columbus a few days later, the poor soul had lost every penny in his possession and even had to charge a milkshake on his credit card.
More than a couple decades later, while chaperoning two sons at what was then called “The Big Time” AAU Basketball Tournament in Las Vegas, I was once more commissioned, with $10 by a friend back home, to try to “beat the house.” Wiser by more than 20 years, I once more headed for some slot machines, but this time of the poker variety. Jackpot! As Kenny Rogers once advised, you’ve got to “know when to walk away.” Walk away I did, cashed out with a fist-full totaling a whopping $16.
It may appear conflicting, but I enjoy watching occasional episodes of ESPN’s “World Series of Poker,” though the closest I’ve come to a “bluff” is while at a church camp on the northeast Ohio shores of Lake Erie.
Almost every time my wife’s side of the family gets together, there is the obligatory convergence of any and all siblings around the dining room table for a vigorous round of what’s called “Pounce.” They grew up playing it. Living with enough stress already in life, I typically “beg off” as the lot of them, each with their own deck of cards, slam them fast, furiously, and strategically, striving to achieve the coveted empty hand and the accompanying shout of, “POUNCE, I WIN!” I’d rather pounce on the couch and watch a movie!
As a kid, we vacationed annually to a small secluded cabin on a small remote lake in Wisconsin free from the hustle and bustle of the Chicago suburbs. We had no running water, and our residence came with an aromatic outhouse replete with five-horsepower boat motors and multiple life jackets hooked and hanging from the studded walls. Ours was a low-energy family getaway with hours spent by all at the kitchen table in genteel games of mindless individual Solitaire.
A seminary classmate and I, with our respective wives away for a few days on a choral tour, once wasted those days away engaged in a marathon of continual games of Backgammon. For some unknown reason we kept track of the score. No brag, just fact, but I was victorious in a 67-51 drubbing!
My mother, approaching a youthful 90 years of age, gathers monthly with friends for the intellectually challenging game of Bridge. When I infrequently get asked to join in the rudimentary game of “Go Fish,” I have to have someone first explain to me the rules again.
Ask some of our grandkids, when they come over, “What’s grandpa’s favorite game?” and they’ll likely respond, “Grandpa likes to play ‘The Quiet Game.’” No laughing matter, the winner is the one who can remain silent the longest! These days, it’s one game I can still usually win.
Ken Pollitz moved to Ottawa in 1991 as mission-developer/pastor of New Creation Lutheran Church. His biweekly column provides insights and viewpoints from Putnam County. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org