Most improbably, given my low-level expectations, Jo Ann and I had scratched in the morning session of the Harrisburg Regional Tournament at Mechanicsburg. We found out after we had returned from a royal repast chez Burger King, ten minutes before the start of the afternoon session. My head was spinning. Was it a fluke? Did somebody make a mistake in recording the scores? If the accounting is correct, does that mean I’m expected to do as well all the time?
I am not swayed by the lore of superstition or dread of the Evil Eye. Just the opposite. From an early age, when I learned of a curse, such as that befalling those who walked through the right triangle of a ladder leaning up against the side of a building, I would tease and tempt fate by doing so. My mother, always willing to give such bad-luck nonsense the benefit of the doubt – because “Why not? Why take a chance?” – would cringe and issue the same urgent advice for immediate penance and absolution: “Spit three times!”
“Mom,” I inquired after about the umpteenth occasion when she commanded the performance of such twaddle, “where does that come from?”
“Maimonides? The egg man?”
“No – Moses Maimonides, the prophet.”
“Does he live near Grandma Rosie?” I was nine.
And yet, despite my lifelong rejection and repudiation of irrational notions and the ills allegedly befalling those who flaunt and flout them, I did allow for academic interest in the signs of the Zodiac and the charlatanry associated with the writing and reading of horoscopes.
Way back when, throughout graduate school at U.C. Berkeley, we had dwelled in the San Francisco Bay Area, with San Jose anchoring the southern end of the expanse. Speaking to me some forty years on, the July 23, 2013 edition of the San Jose Mercury News carried the following prognostication for my tribe of Capricorns:
The only thing harder than walking away is not looking back. There may be a project or an idea you must abandon as unattainable or impossible to complete. Look forward to doing something else.
“Honey, take a look,” said I, sharing the laughably opaque prognostication with Jo Ann. “It’s like a fortune cookie for PhDs in Claptrap.”
“It’s a sign,” she declared.
“A sign of what?”
“A sign of things to come.”
Alas, I had married a Doctor of Philosophy.
Nothing remarkable occurred as we soldiered through the first and second three-board rounds. Bidding on the seventh board went briskly and smoothly, opened by East as I sat South:
Just then, the lights dimmed and a soothing hush befell the room. After a protracted silence, there came the voice of someone sounding like Jo Ann: “Gordon? It’s your lead. Gordon? Gordon! Are you asleep?” (Technically, that is a question which cannot be answered in the affirmative.)
I am not narcoleptic. We were into the fifth hour of a seven-hour marathon. The room was warm and stuffy. The body, they say, borrows blood from the brain to aid the stomach in digestion. My cheese-Whopper-and-fries meal weighed heavily in the gut, marshalling all the help it could get.
Twice before had I performed a similar ‘disappearing act,’ and both had been startling events.
The first occurred during a performance of Evita at downtown Baltimore’s Lyric Opera House in March of 1983. We sat in the first row of the balcony. The seating was vintage narrow side to side and cramped fore and aft. My knees were hard up against steel railing. Drafts of superheated carbon dioxide coursed upward from the exhaust pipes of the audience below.
The staccato report of a massive snock!, followed by a painfully sharp spousal elbow to the ribs, awakened me to a frozen tableau below, as stock-still cast members regarded with dismay the source of the rude disturbance which had halted Evita mid-song: “I kept my promise. Don’t keep your snock!”
The second crash is a source of pride. In December of 1991, while working in New York City, my firm had taken a table at a charity event hosted across town by the Union League Club. Guest of honor and principal speaker was Heinz (“Henry”) Alfred Kissinger, fifty-sixth secretary of state for the U.S. from 1973 to 1977.
As chance would have it, our group had been assigned the center front table, no more than two feet from the dais. I sat at six o’clock, facing the honoree. The conditions were ripe for passing out. Cocktails first. Then lunch with wine. An overheated ballroom. And an orator whose monotone drone was surely a cure for insomnia. When the moment came, five minutes into Dr. Kissinger’s numbing soliloquy, it happened with a bang, literally, as my head collapsed like a dropped bowling ball smack dab into a platter of capellini marinara. The collision awoke me at once. Reflexively, I jerked back up and woozily turned left and right toward my tablemates as if to ask, “What happened?”
The instant look on Kissinger’s face, they informed me later, was that of pure horror. He saw what I could not: that my upper body, from forehead to chest, was draped in a sinuously ropy mop of blood-red pasta.
On the way back to the office, my boss intimated I could be in store for a raise or a bonus. “We’ve got to do something,” said he. “That’s got to be the first time anybody has gotten Henry Kissinger to shut up.”
Now, as regards the seventh board of the second session at Mechanicsburg, I did come to in response to Jo Ann’s sounding of the general alarm: “Gordon!” Whereupon I asked, in all innocence, “Can we please review the bidding?”
The laughter at the table echoes to this day in the mind’s ear.
(To Be Continued)