Joco Opinion

Matt Keenan: When the nest empties, it’s time for an old school card game — bridge

Matt Keenan
Matt Keenan

When our last child packed up and drove away to college, Lori and I needed to find something new to occupy us.

So we did what most old, bored people do: We went to the Wild Bird Store in Corinth Shopping Center and bought a bird feeder. Initially there was a burst of excitement, and I don’t just mean the birds. But then the blue jays moved in to attack the cute little Tweety birds. The muscle men — a.k.a. squirrels — followed and they attacked the blue jays. After that, ground squirrels scurried onto our back porch and appeared to multiply overnight as they ate all the leftover seeds on the ground. And the cardinals we hoped for apparently flew south or something.

Then April arrived and we had a surprise — a robin built a nest near our front door. This was very cool. There were eggs and then tiny babies that we could observe from an upstairs window. “We are grandparents!” Lori declared. Then the mom and babies flew away, leaving behind an empty nest. That makes for two.

So we found a new hobby: bridge. My parents were members of a bridge club, and it was the social glue for their busy lives. My mother-in-law, at age 82, still plays a couple times a week with her friends. So we knew the game, but from afar.

This led to an introductory class at a place called, appropriately, the Bridge Studio at 95th Street and Metcalf Avenue. Lori convinced two high school classmates to join us, so there were four to sit at one table. We were not just simply the youngest; it seemed we were also the dumbest. No matter. We were all in.

The instructor is Lee Goodman. Known to many bridge players in the area, he is a cross between Alex Trebeck and Tina Fey. His manner is pitch-perfect and strikes a balance between instruction and fun. Very soon in the class we learned Lee’s penchant for dropping certain bridge truisms like “he who knows goes” and “never ever bid game in a minor without a note from your mother.” These are not rules. They are more like declarations, sketched on a tablet by Audrey Grant, and then passed down from one bridge devotee to another. Audrey Grant, as all bridge lovers know, is the Goddess of the Bridge Gods and author of many “how to” bridge books.

So very quickly our interest in the game continued to grow. And our kids took notice.

Over July 4 weekend the bridge topic came up again and one of them asked some questions. “Let me explain the game,” I said. “You know how to play poker?” He nodded. “It’s nothing like that. Poker is luck disguised as skill. Bridge is more strategy with a partner. Warren Buffett and Bill Gates play bridge as partners.”

Suddenly he was interested and so I went further. “You have trump, no trump, conventions and transfers. Sometimes you are vulnerable, sometimes not. You need a good partner to make it all work. And never ever play game in a minor.”

He went cross-eyed. “Let me try it this way. It’s like ‘Game of Thrones.” You want to claim the throne? Then go for game and take it.”

“Cool!” He went back to his phone.

The bridge class of about 50 students had its own dynamic. As the instruction led to beginner games, Lee had a way of walking toward our table in a way that reminded me of my early years at St. Pat’s, when Sister Mary Rose would walk to my desk and check my cursive. At one point I knocked Lee off his perch by saying, in a loud voice, “The best way for me to learn is for you to be my partner for a couple games.” He was, for a very brief moment, speechless.

The student populace was similar to grade school, however. You had the know-it-all with questions that sounded like he was speaking Swahili. “What about takeout doubles when your opponent is going Stayman? Now if I’m going for a slam, how many master points do I earn?”

In a kind way, Lee would say, “That’s for a more advanced class,” to which the student would smugly smile and wait for affirmation from his table mates.

Unfortunately this class didn’t include recess where the know-it-all would have to play me in a home-run derby. There was also the teacher’s pet. She was sitting up front and always nodding, chuckling at Lee’s comments and seemingly always flipping her hair. She was, by comparison, youthful and circulated widely during breaks, looking for the right “partner.”

And then you had the troublemaker.

There were other benefits. It was fun to be around people where the word “trump” is used and no one is talking politics, where “a fit” has nothing to do with my waistline.

More adventures await us. Particularly when we show up at the Bridge Studio to play with the sharks, disguised as 85-year-old widows with 35 grandchildren. The column material will be endless.

Matt Keenan writes alternate weeks. Reach him at mattkeenan51@gmail.com. On Twitter: @MDKeenan2

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