Al Batt: I can’t deal with cards even with an automatic shuffler

Published 8:45 pm Tuesday, May 17, 2022

Tales from Exit 22 by Al Batt

Hasenpfeffer, Euchre, Hucklybuck, Sheepshead and Pepper.

Are they personal injury attorneys?

Al Batt

Nope. Card games. Hasenpfeffer (pfeffer) is also a rabbit stew. Hucklybuck is sometimes called hucklebuck. Euchre, shouldn’t be mistaken for Bob Uecker, the Milwaukee Brewers broadcaster who played the announcer Harry Doyle in the movie “Major League” and said things like, “Heywood leads the league in most offensive categories, including nose hair. When this guy sneezes, he looks like a party favor.”

They are games that follow the fundamental laws of math, skill, strategy and luck, played for coins, companionship and competition. Stay-awake coffee or another adult beverage might be involved. Participation has declined due to video games and the ability to binge-watch TV.

One day, a few years back, I was in a hotel when expired food had turned another hour older. It was a long walk from my room to the hotel’s desk where I’d be checking out. I liked it that way.

As I walked past the vending machine nook, a woman made exasperated sounds falling somewhere between anger and prayer. Being vended to had become a thing of my past. I couldn’t remember the last time I’d used one. The products are arranged attractively and I expect the items on the left side of a vending machine to sell best because that’s the way we read — left to right. The woman, who I didn’t know from a can of pop, appeared jet-lagged or road-weary and in need of a candy bar, which had refused to find its way to her. Instead, it lodged in place. Tantalizing close, it taunted her with its aloofness. Her vexation was a minimum outrage by today’s standards. She pushed random buttons frantically on the jazzy machine, hoping one offered a resolution to her problem. Why was she dealing with a vending machine? She may not have wanted to engage with a human.

As I put my bag in the trunk of a rental car before heading to the airport, I discovered her car parked next to me. I had to ask her if the vending machine gods had relented and presented her with her purchase. They had not. She explained she was in the city to play in a Texas hold ‘em poker tournament and needed a vending machine Snickers bar for good luck. She needed to find another Snickers bar in another vending machine. I wished her good fortune.

I recall a young man in my hometown rocking a pop machine, either in an effort at vandalism, extracting change or obtaining free pop. The machine tipped over onto him, pinning him to the ground as if it were a star wrestler. He wasn’t seriously injured, but required help to be freed. It was the stuff of legends.

In my limited travel as a youngster, I was more interested in vending machines than card games. I was particularly interested in pop machines and collected the bottle caps of a certain brand. I needed many of them to get a free bicycle. It took a couple of eons, but I filled a cardboard box and mailed it off, only to be informed the promotion had ended a year earlier.

I saw people playing cards. Pfeffer, euchre, hucklybuck, pepper and sheepshead were popular. Many claimed it to be a world championship game. The elements of laughter and malarkey were in the cards.

I once had a roommate who loved to play solitaire. He had wicked good luck at the game because he cheated. “I’m only cheating myself,” was his excuse.

I saw older boys, who had lost their driving privileges unfairly after accumulating many traffic violations in not many days, playing penny-ante poker in the back of the school bus. A classmate did clever things after studying car tricks.

I gave my father-in-law a new cribbage board. I played him without knowing how. I heard, “Fifteen two, that’s all I can do,” “Fifteen two, 15 four, ain’t no more,” and “You lose.”

I was a gifted player in a game of 52-card pickup. I’d scatter the 52 cards over the floor and say, “52 card pick up!” But I never became a card player.

My Aunt Helen gave me an automatic card shuffler. 

It didn’t change my life.

Al Batt’s columns appear every Wednesday in the Tribune.