Monday, November 8, 2021

Up the Lake- Cards Part 3

By this point, our group of “kids” was older, and the total number of campers was thinned out further, giving us more firsthand experiences of the “grown up” game play. Besides standards of five card draw and seven card stud, I learned the rules of a couple new gambling pastimes well before playing poker while confusing Nick’s friends with drunken explanations of laser powered spacecraft.
 “Queen follow the Queen” was seven card stud with queens wild.  Also whatever face up card was dealt after any queen became the new - and only other- wild card. The changing wilds meant this game led to nearly as many moments of Italian swearing as going out in Tripoley while someone else had a hand full of hearts.  "No Peek" was another one filled with multicultural profanity inducing randomness.
The main game, which the men taught the women on occasions they’d join in, was “The Wheel.”
Building a poker hand out of your own cards and the cards in the center was relatively easy. Deciding if one should bet “hand” or “spade” was also relatively easy. 
Determining how long to stay in the game based on early cards supplied and revealed was …
Less easy.
Johanna regularly had cards that could pan out for huge triumph or utter failure. Richie attempted to transfer his wisdom from years of above average success in poker to her. His knowledge was respected due to everyone's knowledge of him frequently coming out ahead in the men's games. (Yet he still frowned.) 

Dad was less successful. in fact Linda apologized for inviting my folks to that first Christmas/ poker night gathering.  Dad found the situation acceptable due to his close bonds of friendship and enjoyment of "quality time" with Rich and the others There was also the fact that any time Dad came out ahead, something in the house or car of equal or greater value would break. 

Richie frequently imparted his wisdom to Johanna by informing her she had to stay in the game that round because she held “an iffy.”
Johanna would usually respond above the already considerable volume of the room with, 
Then, when the iffy would invariably not pan out, Johanna would once again increase my vocabulary with other words featuring the letter “F” in various combinations.
Aside- For a while in the later years, Mah Jong joined in the rotation. This might as well have been a card game. There were suits, and the tiles were handled very much like a card game. That card game is Fizzbin. 
I am convinced William Shatner saw someone playing Mah Jong before his famous, fabulous improvisation in “Piece of the Action.”  I mean, you literally have to mail away for the annual rules changes, on top of all the weird shifts and requirements mid-game. 
Between Winds, Dragons, Bams, and Cracks, game play sounded like a mix of a fireworks catalogue and a Batman episode.

Very often, the men’s poker games would be daytime adventures on the weekends, and they’d spend the nights with their wives. On other occasions, the groups would split in the evening for their various card playing or other activities. One summer, Janice urged the wives to notice the men were going off to their poker games more often on weekend nights, after not seeing their spouses all week.
Then, Janice urged Nick to supply them with his water guns. Nick, being at the height of his “Lets stir some shenanigans up" phase (which I believe lasted a period of time usually reserved for geologic events) wasted no time corralling the rest of us in his gang to assemble the toy weapons for his Mother and her compatriots.
There was much yelling, laughing, squirting through screen windows, and running around Schumi’s cabin. In a spectacular show of solidarity and planning, the guys locked one of their own outside when he went to retaliate with a container of water.
Similar events happened throughout that summer, and only that summer. Up the Lake was renowned for trends that would happen only over a single year such as the Spit Championship, the Spoons debacle, awful and incomplete “Eye of the Tiger” sing alongs, and the “Sun Tan Lotion” code. We were a very pure and focused bunch in some ways. 
As always, the formal summer ended with the Labor Day Party. 
not-always, I guess, 
Labor Day Weekend was unseasonably warm.
The start and end of “official” summer time was marked with the Fourth of July and Labor Day Parties. They were similar as they involved an ungodly amount of barbecuing and other supplied food, plus a huge drinks table. The poker playing men really ran the show, doing the grilling, the serving, the bartending and heading out for a MASSIVE shopping trip, orchestrated by George, the afternoon of the gathering.
It varied a bit before and after, but for the longest stretch of the Crew Men run parties, Fourth of July was at Schumi’s and Labor Day was at Johanna’s. They were the two camps with the largest flat areas to fit people and conveniently located fireplaces to allow both easy refilling of food trays due to congregation of people around the fire without getting in the way of the never-ending buffet.
I am not kidding about this. It would start before seven featuring multiple trays of everyone’s specialties, with hot dogs, sausage, bratwurst and hamburgers on the grill. As the night progressed, Janice would head to her cabin with Linda and come back with pizza or zeppoles…or both. Phyllis and Johanna would carry over a pot of macaroni. Joe usually spent the night shucking raw clams...and singing. At around midnight, they’d throw the steaks on the grill. That was about the time the Cavalcade of Desserts Parade would appear, where Mom’s work would feature.
It was glorious.
Due to the other traditional activities of that day, the Fourth of July party usually had multiple brushes with chaos. Due to the cold, September, wilderness, mountain air- Labor Day was normally much more sedate.
Granted, that’s the “Italians from the Bronx” definition of sedate. It usually included conversations held well above safe decibel levels, and constant infusions of rat pack or rock n’ roll music which invariably led to singing along and dancing. Even without a radio, spontaneous sing-along’s were constant, random, and often featured multiple tunes simultaneously.
However, the far hotter than usual weather, and that being the officially designated summer of parental water fights, formed into a great shenanigonjuction never seen before or after.
In all likelihood, it started with Janice sending Nick (and therefore us) to fetch water guns once more. Nick was always up to shenanigan-again. The Andes Mountain slope like escalation and outcome obscures the origin somewhat.
Unusual for this level of shenaniganation, my Mother was involved in the upgrade from a simple water fight to something beyond. As various methods of water distribution were employed…
And Louise made a hasty excuse that her Mother needed to go to bed and left Johanna’s campsite plateau in a rush.
Mom spied something. 
What she spied was Richie, readying an excessively large water basin to douse one of her fellow female Crew members as they exited the kitchen armed and ready to return to the fray. The only thing Mom had on hand to mount a defense was the container of milk for the coffee. She tossed it on Rich, and in his own words, “I could feel it curdle on me.” 
He grabbed for the milk, and in the struggle, it spilled all over both of them.
The line had been crossed.
With the transition accomplished, the campsite quickly became an uncontrolled typhoon of various food and beverage substances. 
Nick, being a professional shenaniganator, believed the expanding chaos gave him free reign to join in without retribution. He tossed a small cup of water he’d mixed mustard into on Schumi’s ever present undershirt.
The next thing I knew, Nick was in a headlock, on the receiving end of a Mr. and Mrs. T Bloody Mary Mix shampoo. “I pity the fool” indeed.
Things spiraled quickly further out of control, and tables were emptied if not completely overturned. In the ensuing kerfuffle, someone (Janice, right? It had to be Janice, with Phyllis and Linda prodding her on) disengaged from the combat long enough to return and distribute eggs. 
Our cousin Richard was visiting with a friend who hadn't seen normal Lake shenanigans, never mind the night we were at our shenanigest. He was standing out of range of the evening, enjoying the show. Janice noticed, and ran over proclaiming loudly:
“Look at you laughing!
You think you’re safe because you’re here with your friend and we don’t know him well?!?! 
You think this is funny?!?!?  
You think you’re not involved?!?!?”
Then she smashed an egg directly on top of Richard’s head.
She later admitted, “I couldn’t do the friend, but I could do Richard!”
More proof that Up the Lake creates a unique and special bond.
In addition, proof that Richard’s friend was exceptionally tall, and Janice couldn’t have achieved as satisfying a blow on the top of his head.
By the time it wound down, everyone was covered with the entire contents of the evening’s enormous spread of food, drink and condiments.
As punishment for her role as shenanignitiator, Janice was seated into one of the myriad coolers by some of the frowning poker players, who made a salad on her head complete with multiple dressings, ketchup, mustard, whatever-  and dumped the contents of a second cooler (which was far beyond ice and water at that point) over her.
As we all stood amidst the food stained wreckage, one thing was abundantly clear. 
Everybody smelled like vegetable soup that passed its expiration date.
Mom packed as many people as possible into her station wagon, and along with a gang of walkers, we all went down to the beach on this extremely late evening. She parked the car at the top of the sand, allowing her headlights to illuminate the swim area. The abnormally hot days meant the water was warm enough to have a layer of steam rising from it on the cooler weekend night, and it was delightfully comfortable.
In an outstanding coincidence, all of our across the Lake neighbors woke up at the exact same time as our swim.  We knew this since we saw their house lights illuminate in series, like a Christmas display of insomnia.
The back of Mom’s car smelled like Sunday gravy for a month.


Dina Roberts said...

Some of this would make really good movie scenes...I mean the type that go into the movie trailers.

Jeff McGinley said...

Thank you very much. As a indication of how long I've been writing about Up the Lake, "Little" Rich said he should be played by Mel Gibson if a movie was ever made.

I'm not sure Mel would stick a cinnamon tic tac up his nose though.