Note: Not at the old Poker1 site. A version of this entry was first published in Card Player. This entry in the "Aunt Sophie" series covers pan (or panguingue), which is a multi-player form of rummy, often played for money.
Aunt Sophie visits the twins
“Are you up to a trip to North Hollywood, Dollink?” asked my Aunt Sophie, as we left the Anaheim Club together, each having finished a playing session at the same time. Sophie did not usually drive to the club to play pan, preferring to take a taxi or cadge a ride from a friend or a relative, which often turned out to be me.
Valet service brought the Biarritz around, and I held the door for her. “North Hollywood?” I echoed. “What’s there?”
“It’s that falafel place,” she replied, “the one I told you about. You know, run by Israelis.”
“Aunt Sophie,” I put in, “forty-five minutes each way for falafel? I can have falafel in Anaheim.”
“Sure you can,” Aunt Sophie returned, “but not like this can you get anywhere else in the LA area. Or, if you want to know my opinion, not anywhere else in California, maybe even the whole country.”
The same everywhere
“But, falafel, Aunt Sophie,” I ventured, “isn’t that the same everywhere? Just ground garbanzo bean paste fried into balls and served in pita bread?”
“Of course, tsatskeleh,” she answered, “and a painting is a painting anywhere, so why get an original Chagall for your wall when you can put up one of those Day-Glo bullfights on black velvet? Trust me, Dollink, you’ll be glad you went.”
Of course, Aunt Sophie knew me very well. Any food suggestion she had was bound to be good, and I would take it. Even as she was remonstrating I was already heading north on the San Diego Freeway.
To say the place was not pretentious was an understatement of monumental proportions. It was a storefront in a small shopping center that also featured a dry cleaners, a pizza delivery joint, a small liquor store, a plumbing supply shop, and a mom and pop grocery. You could hardly tell from the street what the place even sold. The front was narrow enough to make walking between the three booths along the wall and the display cases possible only in single file. The back opened out a bit to accommodate three tables.
The display cases held turkey, pans of vegetables, soups, and other enticing comestibles. Behind the counter was a man, and two ladies in their early fifties who had once been quite attractive and still were. They were dark, and jabbered in rapid Israeli-accented Hebrew. They looked very much alike; Aunt Sophie told me they were twins. In fact, the name of the restaurant, if you could call it that, was T’Omim, which is Hebrew for Gemini.
The customers all seemed to be Israelis; at least they all ordered in Hebrew. The man behind the counter wore a beaded yarmulke. We ordered from him, and then sat down in the booth closest to the door.
Shortly a younger man who spoke not a word of English set down our meal. We had two falafels, humus with pita, vegetable latkes, and orange sodas.
“Well,” Aunt Sophie demanded, “was it worth it?”
“Yes, Aunt Sophie,” I responded, “this is wonderful.”
“They’re Yemenites,” she explained, “and very religious. Most falafel stands are run by Palestinians. Nobody knows how to do this Middle East cooking better than the Yemenites. But don’t try to come in on Shabbas or yontif, because they’ll be closed. And now…”
“And now,” I filled in, “you wish to extract your payment for bringing me to this wonderful place. What pan question do you have for me today?”
“Oy, kiddeleh,” she laughed, “like a book you read me. So, nu, tell me, what is the best seat at the pan table?”
“I don’t know about the best,” I observed, “but I can certainly tell you the worst. The worst is behind the block, taking all the abuse from the players when they can’t put out those pissers they insist on playing, or when they get peckered with those patsies. No, really, the best? I would say immediately to the left or right of the mucker, with the left being slightly preferable.”
A man with the hugest belly I had ever seen entered. His legs seemed out of proportion to the rest of him. His legs were those of a 150-pound man, but the stomach seemed to have a life of its own. His face was the fat face of one who obviously pushed everything into it he could as fast as he could. He wore jeans with an elastic waist that could never encompass the belly, and so they didn’t try; they sat instead below it. The stomach thus hung over the front of the pants. I had seen swollen bellies that protruded egregiously; I had never seen one that literally hung. He wore a short-sleeved red shirt that made no attempt to cover the leading expanse of flesh. He was chewing something as he approached the counter and pointed to a tray. “Mah zeh?” he demanded. (“What’s this?” I translated in my mind.) One of the sisters started to explain, but he interrupted before she could finish. “T’nee lee shalosh,” he grunted. (“Give me three.”) She pulled out three cardboard cartons and began filling them. He pointed at a vegetable latke. “B’vakashah.” (“Please.”) She handed it to him, and he started stuffing the delicacy into his mouth.
The man paced restlessly back and forth before the counters, pointing at this and that, from time to time unconsciously hitching up his pants, the elastic band being inadequate for the task of holding them above. We averted our eyes as the bobbing trousers sometimes revealed more than the man was apparently aware of. For each item he rasped around the food in his mouth, “T’nee lee shalosh.” He received another latke and stoked the furnace with it. Finally he left, laden with about twenty packages, and we could continue our conversation.
“Nu,” Aunt Sophie inquired, “how’d you like his tuchis in your face? Do you suppose that was his lunch, or is he ordering for a party?”
“I think,” I suggested, “that since it’s after one, it’s a little late for lunch. He looks like he just took a break from work. You’ll notice he’s getting into that delivery truck. I think that must be for his afternoon coffee break. Anyway, where was I? Oh yes, it’s better to be to the dealer’s left than his right, because he deals to the right and thus tends to lean that way, which might crowd you a little. On the left, though, you’ll have more space to sit and spread your cards. But why next to the mucker? Because there you can get a good look at the cards he’s putting back in the deck. You know that dealers are supposed to separate the valle cards, particularly the spades, and other groups of pays. You can see where they end up in the deck, and, after he shuffles them, you might get an idea of when they’ll come out. If he doesn’t do such a good job of separating, you can tell when good cards might run, particularly if he also is not such a hot shuffler. You might have a marginal hand that wouldn’t be worth playing otherwise, say two extra discards because of two bare-ass fives of spades, but if you know that two or three fives of spades will come out within a round or two, that might make the difference between playing or not. Or, on the other hand, if you knew he’d really separated those fives well, or placed them way back where you won’t be able to get at them, then that might be reason enough not to play. And, one thing that might help you once in a while. If you’re right next to the block, that makes it hard for the player on the other side of the block to get a good look at your cards. If you make a mistake on your spreads or on a discard, that’s one less player to catch you.”
We walked out into the glaring sun. “‘T’nee lee shalosh!’” I chuckled.