Sunday, February 21, 2010

Three Card Wenceslas; or, Tegwar Revisited

Ten years ago at a family reunion, my sister and I started to play a game that we called Three Card Wenceslas. We'd never played it before, but we both picked it up fairly quickly and, before long, became totally absorbed in a spirited contest.

Three Card Wenceslas has no rules. We made it up as we went along.

She would play a pair. I would meld. She would draw from the deck. I would raise. She would knock. I would discard. And so forth. Complete and utter improvisation. Complete and utter nonsense. Even the name of the game was phony. But we played confidently (and loudly!).

Our mom's cousin wandered over. By that time, my sister and I had progressed to Three Card Blind Wenceslas, played with eyes closed. I think I was holding a card to my forehead. The improvisation continued, with plenty of trash-talking between us.

Our cousin took this in for a while. Finally he asked, "How do you know when someone wins?"

"We just did," I said. Ba-da-boom!

A bit of a lowlife prank to pull on a relative, granted, but at least we didn't scam anyone for money (I rationalize). However, it turns out the cosmic joke of the situation has been on me all along, and I've only just realized it.

You see, I've just finished rereading Bang the Drum Slowly, the touching, tragicomic 1950's baseball and mortality novel by Mark Harris. It was the first time since my early teen years, when I was a budding baseball geek, that I'd read the book. Also, by chance, the 1973 movie version starring Michael Moriarty and Robert De Niro was shown the other night on Turner Classic Movies.

Both are terrific, the book moreso than the movie, but that's not important now. What is important is that the fictional ballplayers played a fictional card game to scam unsuspecting bystanders in hotel lobbies out of their fictional spare cash. The ballplayers' card game was called "Tegwar", and it had no rules. The play of the game was eerily familiar, right down to the trash-talking!

Buried like an intelligence mole in the Early 1970's quadrant of my baseball-addled subconscious, "Tegwar" had been lying in Wait (so to speak) for decades. It reemerged ten years ago as "Three Card Wenceslas" -- the T-W letter combination is too improbable to be purely coincidental, don't you think? When I came across the Tegwar bit in Bang the Drum Slowly recently, the realization of what I'd likely done sent chills up my spine. Cue the Twilight Zone tones!

We'll see our cousin again this summer. Hopefully he'll get a good laugh at my expense when I tell him the "Tegwar" story. It still might work out for me in the end, though; I'm pretty sure I can sell my remaining inventory of "Three Card Wenceslas" rulebooks on eBay.

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