He’d adroitly played the hands dealt him in life, sometimes off the bottom of the deck, given they rarely held more than a pair–bluffing his way to respectable if not impressive pots. He might have done better but for those wild cards in his life…the women. Yeah, he knew the poker game was crooked–but, it was the only game in town. He doubled down. Maybe he’d draw a wild card this round. He glanced at the handful of chips left…thought of pushing away from the table while he still had gas money to get home, but abandoned the idea.
It was the heart of Saturday night in a remote wooded backwater peppered with glacier encrusted mountains and impenetrable bogs. The valleys were too narrow for the sunlight–what there was of it in a perpetually overcast Pacific NorthWest–to ever quite defrost the soil. On occasion, that happened, and the mushrooms loved it. The thick moss would beckon the tired trekker with promises of sweet blissful sleep before the rain quickened in this storied rain forest. City folks had their streets replete with sidewalks, parks, bars, and cultural event centers, their schools and modern hospitals, shopping malls, churches, super grocery stores, fruit stands, and greener salads. They had more than their fair share of the homeless, car prowls, burglaries, and drug addiction now so intense heroin was cheaper than weed for a little as $10/day to stay high. The public parks were beautiful, yes, but parents feared letting their young children play in them because of the needles littered within the grass. All in all, being in the middle of nowhere turned out to be centrally located with the kinds of amenities his urban cousins dreamed of.
“Hit me,” he instructed the dealer. What was he hoping for?–another wild card? The Queen of Diamonds invariably left him penniless and the Queen of Hearts left him an emotional wreck–but only after an overdose of melodrama piled on self aggrandizement. These masters of the double reverse left him emotionally bankrupt as well as broke–a form of double jeopardy he could ill afford. The only straight and true one for over 30 years had none of the guile and was entirely available. Like so many men, it seemed as though he was only besotted by the ones he could not get. It often proved to be his undoing. To be sure, he had high standards, and a live one only appeared every decade or so, but the resulting chaos was just as epic.
“Fifty dollars,” called the man on the right hoping to see what he was holding. “I’ll fold,” he replied, knowing he wasn’t going to parlay a bluff into a winning hand and wondering how he was going to get home. Then it struck him–he WAS home. This had always been his home. In his heart, he’d never left. Wasn’t that a kind of fidelity? Fortune, at least the glittery kind, had never smiled on him. Dialing For Dollars was still trying to reach him. But, the Queen of Hearts had–for that night true love was the winning hand and held all the aces. Wishing his feet had better sight, he teetered off in the dark toward a warm bed, a banked fire, good company, a prepared meal he knew lay waiting in the refrigerator for the microwave and his return. He knew the puppies would be waiting too, faithful and without reproach. Despite all his failures in the basics of the art of love, it was his bumbling feckless naivete that had always preserved the balance. Sometimes, God protects even fools.
Painter, lobster pirate, professional birthday clown, general contractor, journeyman carpenter, plumber, writer, paralegal, collection agency, building inspector, aspiring musician, independent investigative photojournalist, skip tracer, process server, guerrilla farmer, lab tech, California woolly white fruit-fly larva inspector, door-to-door bible salesman, producer, publisher, poet, dispossessed, sat upon, spat upon, ratted on, and a host of avocations or misfortunes too disreputable/pedestrian to mention presented evidence of a life, if not to its fullest, thoroughly lived. Yet, here he was, still breathing and feeling every new day was a good one, the race not yet run. Yes, sometimes God protects even fools and gives suckers an even break.