Wiesenberg (s047 poker): Sophie plays in a real joint

Note: Not at the old Poker1 site. This article has never appeared anywhere else. This entry in the "Aunt Sophie" series covers poker.

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Black and white photo of Michael Wiesenberg

Michael Wiesenberg

Aunt Sophie plays in a real joint

“So, whaddya think, Dollink?” asked Aunt Sophie, as we strolled along the promenade between the ocean and the motels and highrises of Pacific Beach. We had driven down for the day, for me to have a business meeting with my literary agent, and for Aunt Sophie to have a little R and R. “How’s it feel to get away from the big city for a little bit?”

I stepped to the side as someone I can describe only as a person flew past on a skateboard. I use that term instead of specifying gender, because I really wasn’t sure. The person had spiky blond hair rising a full twelve inches from a Mohawk cut, leaving most of the side quite bare. Lipstick and makeup might have indicated someone of the female persuasion, except the tight white sleeveless jersey revealed no outlines of anything mammiferous. Pink dancing tights were tucked into bright purple midcalf-length boots. I saw a flash of a tattooed green and red butterfly on a well-turned shoulder, and heard a sonic boom that resembled a shrieking guitar and a chanted “W.P.O.D.” from the ghetto blaster that rested on the individual’s hip. I’m sure the person winked lasciviously when we made eye contact, but whether at me or Aunt Sophie, I can’t say.

“Aunt Sophie,” I replied, “while it’s not quite as big as the LA area, San Diego is hardly small-town USA.”

The sun was a fiery orange ball that seemed to elongate as it approached the horizon, perhaps there to expire in an explosion of steam. For the barest moment, it looked like a huge blazing amoeba subdividing, as part of itself was drawn into the sea. Then the ball touched the edge of the world, and was slowly swallowed into the depths. Most nights there would be a fog bank that would hide the last few moments of Sol’s descent, disappointing the tourists parked in their cars on the road next to our promenade, facing the West, where, for some curious reason, thousands of miles away lay the mysterious East, in the form of the Orient. Tonight, they were having a rare treat. I wondered if the elusive green flash that visitors to Hawaii were always trying to capture ever occurred here. If it did, I didn’t see it tonight. The sphere was quickly becoming a hemisphere. Soon nothing would remain but a brilliant incarnadine glow, which would become xanthous, and finally fade into amethystine crepuscule.

No poker

She seemed oblivious to the ebbing aureate effulgence hard aweather. “Tsatskeleh,” she sighed deprecatingly, “I am certainly not referring to the size of the city. I mean the little cardrooms. You don’t find no poker factories here.”

“Right,” I agreed. “It’s a city ordinance. I believe fifteen is the maximum tables in any club within the city limits. Most have fewer. Most are just storefront joints.”

“Yah,” Aunt Sophie iterated, “like that place we played in today. I’ve never seen a place like that before.”

“Uh huh,” I assented. “And how’d you like playing poker in a fishbowl?”

“A fishbowl?” she echoed. “Oh, you mean, sitting in the window five feet from the sidewalk? It made me feel like a Macys display, but I got used to it after a while. Why is that? Why do they do that?”

“That, too,” I explained, “is a city ordinance. It has something to do with the minions of the law being able to readily observe all the action when passing by on their beats. Though I can’t imagine what they hope to see. It’s hard enough for a card expert to see a thief at the same table, let alone someone who knows nothing about poker to spot from the street.”

“Well,” she went on, “I didn’t mind sitting in a fishbowl. I don’t know nobody around here. I would imagine, though, that someone who didn’t want to be seen by his or her spouse might not feel too comfortable sitting right out there in front of God and the whole woild.”


“Exactly,” I agreed. “I wonder if that has anything to do with why the places with fifteen tables hardly ever fill all of them. Anyway, what’d you think of the action?”

“The action?” she exclaimed. “Ai-yi-yi. I have never in my life seen such action. It was supposed to be a three and six game, but almost every pot was killed to at least twenty-four. I won more than I did my best session in the ten and twenty in Anaheim.”

“Ten-twenty, hmm?” I repeated. “I see you’ve graduated. Last I knew you were going no higher than four-eight.”

“Listen, Dollink,” she intoned, “I ain’t no dummy. You been teaching me good, and also I had a real lucky streak for a while. Now I can play higher, and get away from some of those cheap kvetches.”

“Ah yes,” I observed, “the smaller the potential loss, the larger the complaints from the losers. In my games, seldom is heard a discouraging word.”

“I know, I know,” she continued, “that’s why I been trying to play higher. But this three and six, they weren’t at all like the professional schreiers in the games I been playing in. They’re just having fun, killing all the pots, and they don’t seem to mind when they lose. Even though it ain’t fancy, the atmosphere is much nicer than some of those poker warehouses up north.”

By now, it had become quite dark. We reached a coast-guard structure that housed lifeguards by day whose main job seemed to be warning surfers over a public address system to stay on the other side of the Crystal Pier.

“Not fancy is right,” I agreed. “That place you ended up in sure is a dive. I mean, talk about a sawdust floor joint. There was real sawdust on the floors. And I saw genuine brass spittoons next to some of the players when I peeked in through the window just before picking you up. But you sure looked like you were having a high old time. I saw you take down one pot with so many chips in it you couldn’t climb over it.”

We turned around, and began the walk back to the Biarritz.

“Oh, yeah,” she grinned, “that was the time I killed it after winning two good pots in a row. You know they let you look at two before killing it, and I saw ace-joker. I just made it twelve-limit, but the guy next to me, this old farmer type who was using the cuspidor next to him regularly, made it twenty-four, and this other young hotshot kid made it forty-eight, and wouldn’t you know, I picked up a pat six, and three other players in the pot, and there was a raise before it got to me, and I put in the third bet, and one of them drew two, and the others drew one, and the two-card draw made a seven, and one of the others made an eight, and it was bet and called, and I raised, and they both called just as nice as you could please, and they didn’t seem at all upset when I won.”

“And does that mean, my dear,” I queried, that you’re through with pan?”

“Of course not,” she responded, “but they didn’t have no pan game in there. They didn’t even have another poker table. In fact, this one kept getting short, and then filling up again.”

We reached my car, and I held the door for Aunt Sophie to get in. “C’mon, high roller,” I inveigled, “let’s get back to the big city.”

Next: 048 Aunt Sophie doesn’t learn anything at all


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