Eons ago, during a period of residency in Fairfield County, Connecticut, I had taken a car service to LaGuardia Airport for a flight to Bermuda – only to discover at check-in that I had donned the wrong blazer that morning. The one which I had “prepacked” the evening before – the one holding my passport wallet, folding money, credit cards, and driver’s license – was back home on the clothes tree where I had hung it in fatefully close proximity to its doppelganger.
A reasonable person might anticipate that even a frightfully boneheaded slip-up such as that would be regarded by others, with kindliness, as a one-off. Surely, after incurring three car service charges instead of one, plus hours of delay thereafter as flights backed up, plus the boiled lobster-red embarrassment of having to explain to my client the circumstances which had caused me to miss the seminar at which I had been the featured speaker – surely the knucklehead solely responsible for that costly error and its cascading consequences would never, ever come close to repeating it in any way, shape, or form.
Thankfully, I avow that I have not. And yet to this day, whenever Jo Ann and I are preparing to go on a road trip or, especially, to take a flight out west to visit our younger son’s family in Oregon, I am the recipient of pointedly arch-maternal reminders, concluding with “we don’t want to be left high and dry like you were that time at LaGuardia.”
Most of my lapses at the bridge table, taken one at a time, pale in comparison. Yet because several have exhibited a common nemesis Double-O Genome – Oblivious or Obtuse to the Bid of Two Clubs – they merit class-action forefinger-waggling redolent of L’Affaire de LaGuardia back in the day.
Who amongst us, I implore you, has not missed a 2♣ or 2♦ Drury bid from time to time? Easily done, am I right? And although failing to recognize partner’s 2♣ response as a Two-Over-One bid after an opening of 1♦, 1♥, or 1♠ is pregnant with disaster, it’s not the end of the world, either. (Unless you miss gold by the hair on your chinny-chin-chin, in which case there’s a-huff-and-a-puff and run for cover: the wolf is a-coming.)
All that aside, however, there is one twenty-four-carat gold lollapalooza sin of omission: mistaking partner’s 2♣ opener as having been carded by an opponent – and then passing. I know, because I did it – once – and never to happen again if there is any justice at all in the universe.
Attempts to explain such flagrant oversight are destined to fall on incredulous ears, and rightly so. Nevertheless, off and on during the course of the hands which ensued, I practiced what I was going to say when the time came to be called to account, as inexorably it would: I must have been thinking about lunch and lost track of whether I was East or South. Completely lame, yet one hundred percent true: I had wandered. Worst of all, I had blundered into the stone cold Graveyard of Guaranteed Low Boards.
Two rounds on, at the mid-session break, Jo Ann broke the ice. “I have one word for you.”
“Let me guess,” I replied, hoping not to have my haunches thwacked by the end of a furled newspaper (figuratively speaking): “You’re going to say I forgive you.”
“That’s three words, Gordon, so no. The one word I have in mind is LaGuardia.”
Jo Ann’s emphatic Gordon should have been a crystal clear red alert that the ice, having been broken, was brittle and thin, with the perilously freezing waters of Lake Transgression, fathomless to the naked eye, awaiting the unwise and unwary footfall of dismissiveness. Dear me. I wish even now that I could roll back the words which tumbled over my lips in response: “Well, technically, Honey, that’s two words, with the feminine article La being – ”
That’s about as far as I got when she took me to task, Pennsylvania Dutch style – which is to say, ever so nicely, without expletive or the brandishing of a rolled-up copy of USA Today, but rather with a mildly tsking sigh of exasperation: “Honestly, you are so annoying.”
I’d have preferred walking the plank for a bracingly penitent plunge into Lake Transgression instead of being guilt-tripped by the Velvet Glove of Disgruntlement. Pivoting defensively, I plowed on: “Not only that, there’s also all that alert business, which totally gums up the works.”
“Whatever are you talking about?”
Was it Socrates or Plato who coined the adage that Deflection Is the Parent of Salvation? “Well, you see, there are all those rules about when you do and when you don’t alert partner’s bid, and they’re awfully hard to keep track of. Alerts and announcements. When to say something. How much information. Unauthorized information. When to say nothing. Who’s on first? I don’t know. He’s on third. Fire and brimstone coming down from the skies. Rivers and seas boiling. Forty years of darkness. Earthquakes. Volcanoes. The dead rising from the grave. Human sacrifice. Dogs and cats, living together. Mass hysteria.”
“You are certifiable.”
I don’t know about Socrates and Plato, but between dialogue borrowed from Abbot-and-Costello and the gang from Ghostbusters, Phase One of Operation Deflection appeared to on track, with talk of my mega-muffing Jo Ann’s magnificent 2♣ opener left idling and steaming at the station. “My point is,” I ventured, “that we have to focus on the big picture. That’s all. The big picture.”
“The big picture? Are you going to share that with me, or do you expect me to guess?” She shook her head, as if to indicate that she’d espied me with my hand in the cookie jar of temporizing nonsense, struggling to gain purchase on Phase Two.
I could hear the sound of my own voice – simply awful when you’re scatting extemporaneously. “I don’t know why we’re arguing.”
“We’re not arguing, Gordon. I’m here. I’m calm. And you’re nuts.”
“Jo Ann, I’m no good at being noble, but it doesn’t take much to see that the problems of three little people don’t amount to a hill of beans in this crazy world.”
“Okay. Stop right there. A – we’re two people, not three. B – if you’re going to quote Casablanca, at least have the fidelity to call me Ilsa and not Jo Ann. And C – your escape route is hereby blocked, barricaded, and barred.”
“Three Bs and Not Two Bs – that is the kvetching.” (My parody of Hamlet didn’t help, either.)
“I’m holding you accountable not only for passing my 2♣ opener, but also – because you’ve tried to wriggle your way out of the hoosegow every which way from Sunday – for your making that ill-fated slam try with a 4NT response to my 2♣ bid a week ago at the club.”
“What was wrong with that?”
“My 2♣ was an overcall … not an opening bid. I know you remember that one, because it became the talk of the town afterwards. Add to that the fact that it was the afternoon game, way past daydreaming about lunch. So what was your excuse for that one?”
“Nice try. I have two words for you.”
“Yes … and no: LaGuardia.”
(To Be Continued)