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 and the meeting of the minds
“Nu, Tsatskeleh, for first night Pesach seder to me you’re coming?” asked Aunt Sophie.
“I don’t know,” I hesitantly replied into the receiver. “I can recall a couple of social events with you whose principle object seemed to be to introduce me to a person of the female persuasion, and on at least one occasion, your interior decorator tried to pick me up.”
“Dollink,” she continued, “nothing like that. A few relatives I’m having, my little bit of Mishpocheh that’s left in this world, and of course you’re the closest. My cousin Moishe, you know, the one who owns all that Moon Microsystems stock, he’s a millionaire already, and my second cousin Minnie, and your cousin Harry, and of course Zaydeh. Oh yes, Cousin Pearl, and your nephew, Joel.”
“He’s not really my nephew,” I retorted. “My ex-wife’s relatives are no longer my relatives.”
“Ai, yi, yi,” Aunt Sophie wailed, “such bitterness in one so young. It’s not becoming.”
“Aunt Sophie,” I remonstrated, “I’m not so young.”
“Yes,” she bore on, “but you are too cynical. A family holiday celebration, that’s what I’m inviting you to. You and I both don’t got too much family. Now come, please, by me. Can you bring some wine?”
“Okay,” I answered, “but none of that sacramental treacle. I’ll get a good kosher California.”
* * *
“Come in, Dollink, come in,” greeted Aunt Sophie, taking my coat and the bottle of Napa Zinfandel. “You’re the last one, and the guests are all waiting. Let me introduce you to my cousin Minnie. That’s her over in the corner.”
“And,” I queried, “who is that with her, as if I didn’t know? Some lonely orphan who just happened in through the door? Eliyahu in drag? Didn’t you promise me no more matchmaking?”
Aunt Sophie started protesting innocence. “Dollink,” she commenced, “I didn’t know Minnie was going to bring her niece. She told me Sara was not the social type, and under no circumstances would she come. But at the last minute, Sara had no place to go tonight, and she didn’t want to stay home alone. Please, don’t embarrass me. Come over and say hello to them. I know you won’t like the niece. She’s gloomy and pessimistic. No fun to be with. No one you have to be concerned with at all.”
“Okay,” I assented, “it’s your party.”
We walked over to the corner in question. Aunt Sophie performed the introductions.
“Minnie, Sara,” she said, “this is my nephew whom I think of almost like a son. Dollink, my second cousin Minnie, and her niece, Sara. Shall we sit down and begin? Everyone else is at the table.”
Cousin Minnie sat one chair away from the end of the table occupied by Zaydeh, who would be leading the service, and on his left, while Sara seated herself immediately to Zaydeh’s right. That left one chair for me, directly opposite the dispenser of dreariness. Here, apparently, was a threat as great as the Vassarette of previous social engagements.
Zaydeh began chanting the service. From time to time he called upon one or another of us to read a section from the Haggadah. When it was time for the Fier Kashehs, the Four Questions, Joel did the honors.
“King Arthur had his knights lined up for review,” began Cousin Harry, the only person I ever knew with a complete collection of The Carolina Israelite. “All of the knights were dressed in their finest armor, which gleamed in the sun. All had fine feathered plumes, all stood proudly as their king walked past inspecting each. Knight after knight in burnished armor, until he came to one who did not look so fine. This knight’s armor was dented and his mail was rusting. A bedraggled plume drooped from his helmet. He carried a broken lance. And thus said King Arthur: `Mah nishtanah halayla hazeh meekol halaylot?’”
“So,” put in Minnie, “are you still writing?”
“Some,” I returned, as I accepted some parsley dripping salt water.
“Is that what you do?” questioned Sara.
“Well, yes,” I responded, “I do some writing.”
“Aunt Sophie told me you play cards,” she went on.
I tried to glare daggers at my aunt, but she was turned the other way, engaged in a lively conversation with my “nephew” about the fifth grade.
“I play a little,” I offered.
“Where do you play?” she wanted to know.
“In public cardrooms,” I sighed.
“What games do you play?” she insisted.
I was beginning to regret having been brought up to be so polite. “I play poker,” I ventured, “and pan.”
“Pan?” she inquired. “What’s that?”
“Shah!” hissed Zaydeh. “It’s time for the Moitseh.” He began passing small pieces of matzoh to everyone. I was relieved not to have to go into details about my avocation.
After the blessing, Aunt Sophie got up to begin serving the dinner. First came gefilte fish, followed by steaming bowls of matzoh ball soup. Again the harridan felt she could press the conversation.
“You were telling me,” she proceeded, “about pan.” Aunt Sophie chose this moment to deposit a bowl before me.
“Pan,” Aunt Sophie supplied for me, “is not a game; it’s a disease.” With these words of wisdom, she retreated to the kitchen.
“Actually,” I followed through, “that is a somewhat simplistic answer. Aunt Sophie says that because she is addicted to the game. Pan is a game played for money in cardrooms. It’s much more social than poker. In a way, it’s like gin rummy played with eight decks of cards. Unlike gin rummy, more than two can, and usually do, play. Also, players have a choice whether or not to play a hand. In gin rummy, they must play every hand dealt them. Further, some of the melds are worth money, in the form of chip payments from the other players, when they’re put down. By `put down.’ I mean played on the table. Also unlike gin rummy, melds can be played as they are formed. You don’t have to match up the whole hand at once.
Everytime you put down one of these money melds, what pan players call a condition, all active players give you chips. If another player puts down a condition, you pay that player. The object is to match all ten cards plus one more. That’s called going out, and when you do, each player pays you for going out, plus you get paid all over again for any conditions you may have melded on the way. There’s a lot more to the game than that, but it would take too long to go into details. And, as I said, it’s a very social and sociable game. Most players don’t play to win; they play to have a good time. I play sometimes, mostly to relax. I do, however, find it more relaxing when I win than when I lose, so I play my best, and I often do. Aunt Sophie, on the other hand, regards pan more as a social occasion, and doesn’t win quite as often. She probably has more fun than I, though.”
“My goodness,” suggested Cousin Minnie, “that was quite a speech.”
“Yes,” added Sara, “you explained that very well.”
“Thank you,” I demurred. And then politely went on: “And what do you do?”
“Well,” Sara declaimed, “right now I’m a programmer at IBM. I’m working on the new micros, but I suppose you know nothing of them.”
“On the contrary,” I remonstrated, “I have an AT, and I’ve done some poker simulations. But you said `right now.’ Am I to take it that you have not done this for a long time?”
“I’d rather not talk about that here,” she bit off crisply. I noticed that both Cousin Minnie and Aunt Sophie were giving me the old evil eye.