Wednesday, December 10, 2008

The Natural (not)

So there we all were, playing Tonk at Indy's place. It took us several hands before we got the hang of the "going down" strategy, but it certainly seemed to be the best way to play the game.

- Your deal, said Mercer, handing me the pack.


When I was a kid at school I was lucky. Talented, smart - lucky to be brilliantly talented and smart, I mean. Counting came easy. Finger-painting was a breeze. Reading was not so much difficult as boring (until my Grade 3 teacher took me aside and introduced me to Huysman's "A Rebours" and to the marvels of the 19thC French realism; Baudelaire, Flaubert, Wilde, Dr Seuss), and my writing and English composition skills were, let's face it, exceptional. Exceptionally messy hand-writing anyway - a left-hander with the mirror of a classic right-handed grip, I dragged oceans of fresh bright blue ink across those pages of exquisite prose composition with my shirt, my fingers, my palm... I reeked of squid ink.

"the skin-diver floated through this colourful animation of glory" - from a Grade 5 piece I still recollect getting called out to read aloud. However, I was unable to explain the meaning of the word 'animation' to the class. Like cartoons, I clumsily said. I FELT the meaning, I KNEW it, but could not say it, I was too embarrassed by the attention.

Overwheeningly* proud of my left-handedness, I never compromised with that dinzy, curled, over-handed grip of some fussy molly-dookers who want to actually read what they have written (or whose mothers had berated them for ink-stained cuffs and that deeply ingrained indigo in the ball of their hands which took scrubbing with carbolic soap to eradicate). Tidy? Moi? Who gives a fuck? I dipped my pen into the open inkpot in the hole at the top of the wooden desk and smeared my way into the nun's good books with my dimpled smile and my curly white hair and my gifted compositions if not my public-speaking.

Running - I was fastest in the class, not counting the girls who had hormonal thick-thighed advantages by Yr 6.

Swimming - I was that year's Captain of the School Team which had dominated the annual splash and drown inter-school competition for unbroken stretches of time.

Cricket - as No3 batsmen (and Captain) I nearly took off the umpire/teacher's head with a straight driven 6 (still my favorite - read "only" - stroke). I opened the bowling for Grade 4 when we played against the Protestant school as well. I was taken off after only for two overs, but I opened!

Football - I was 2nd Vice-Captain of the blue team, only because the Captain, John Dangerfield, was a slightly more nimble around the packs. And he could kick. And handball. And mark. The 1st Vice-Captain took my place on the bench for the second half of the match. Still wondering about that...

Popularity - I nudged out the said JD for the Class and School Captain (boy) because he was too quiet. I was loud, cheeky and funny.

And to top it off, I was dux of the primary-school - not counting Dorothy Sheedy, who was (is still, I believe) a girl.

Yep, I was a natural. Sport, academia. You name it. Academia, sport.

But then came secondary school, where someone decided we should play cards during lunch-time...


- Your deal, said Mercer, handing me the pack.

I began to sweat.

I held the deck in my left hand and began to mix them up into groups with my right, what we card-players call shuffling, but misaligning them for some reason: this new deck was sort of sticky, or too smooth or something. I put the deck on the table, tried to cut it and do that spiffle trick where the corners of two half decks flip into each other. Four or five sections clumped together, sorta, hey, that's close enough. OK I did not reassemble the pack perfectly cleanly. It looked like I had dropped it and not bothered to align the cards to the long sides. Why did they do that? Whatever.

OK, it was THEN that I dropped it. No, sorry I only dropped half of the deck. But no damage done; after a minute or two we had all the cards back again, facing the same way this time.

Hey presto! - nothing up my sleeve except a laugh! I shuffled them again, clump, clump, just to be sure!

I dealt out the five cards to each player with a deft flick of the wrist and the cards flew straight, sorta, well, not exactly all over the place but not in the absolute direction of the person I was aiming them at either. Smugly, being able to arithmeticise my dealing so that everyone got the same (and correct) number of cards (unlike others & I was good at counting when I was young, did I mention that?), and with a minimalistic flourish (not sure if everyone saw it), I placed the rest of the pack near the centre of the table and turned over the top four, oops, one card, for the discard pile.

I looked up. Everyone was watching me with incredulous intensity.

- You are a total klutz, said Indy, slowly.

Mercer had just rolled his eyes. They seemed stuck. All white, it was weird. Lum, the fourth player (whoa actually knows the rules for Texas Hold 'Em, which we played later), was speechless.

- What? I asked.


- These are SUCH shit cards, said Mercer after a few turns.

As we picked up from the deck in the centre with each of our turns, the discard pile magically filled with cards in numerical and suit order. Amazing how my shuffling had managed to bring them all back together.

What are the chances of that happening, hey?

You wouldn't bet on it. Unless I was the dealer.


* someone actually used this word in a pizza parlor earlier that night! (cough Mercer cough), he of the four-card deal.


Indiana said...

You are without a doubt One-eye...though from now on I think you new nickname will be "Tonk@Large".

Michael McClung said...

It's spelled overweening. And counting is overrated. Look at where good counting skills got all those bankers.

expat@large said...

And it goes 1,2,3,4,5. Looke were all thowse speling skils gfot Beroge Gush.

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