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Is It in the Cards?

When is a pack of cards more than a pack of cards?

Published onJan 11, 2021
Is It in the Cards?

A pack of cards is just a pack of cards, isn’t it? Well, isn’t it? I have been playing cards since before I can remember. I graduated from crazy eights and war to poker and bridge. When my mother and father died, I found the record of their years of cribbage games together. But now—now, a pack of cards is a potential disease vector. Each ace, even a heart, could be smeared with invisible death and disease.

It is the passing that does it. Can this passing of cards mean the passing of me? Or someone I love? Or someone I don’t even particularly like? Can these cards be handled by a super-spreader—someone who doesn’t even know that each hand is like a tiny sword that doles out a punishing virus, as though it was the sword of Damocles? Do you know the story? Damocles is an unhappy rich man, paranoid, suspicious, and he invites a poor man to see how he likes living his life. The slave is excited about being able to eat the free grapes until he realizes that a heavy sword now hangs over his head. The wine, the grapes, even the concubine’s warm and loving charms, cannot let him forget about the sword.

And like the wine that can no longer be enjoyed, I believe that each card has morphed from individual charms and harms to having the potential to kill me, or at least to make me sick. Even the royal flush, previously such a rare and wonderful thing that few could hide behind their poker faces, is a possible perpetrator. Now those very special cards are reduced to potential shovels that throw dirt upon one’s grave.

I cannot even begin to think about organizing a poker night, or even a simple bridge game for four. I’ve tried to brainstorm about how to maintain social distancing while still dealing and picking up the cards, but I have yet to figure out a solution. By their nature, cards are intimate. I can always see into my opponent’s eyes, and smell their angst or their joy. I can see them sweat. And gone are the community potato chips, the bowls of salted nuts, the healthy ground-down carrots the size of a toddler’s fingers that no one eats.

And while cards have often served as a metaphor for death, now they actually represent a potential death. All of that shouting and moaning, the cries of glee, are now a kind of human behavior that is dangerous. Like the joyous sounds of choirs, a game of cards joins the bleaker behavior of knife fighting or strapping a bomb to your chest. Not smart behavior.

When, oh when, will my beloved cards be back in play? When we achieve herd immunity and/or a healthy herd mentality? Will we have to wait for everyone to accept being vaccinated, which will be when the stars fall from the skies or the Seattle Mariners win the pennant? When will I be able to pick up that third ace and attempt to hide my quickly beating heart and my mouth curling into a grin? When will I have the opportunity to drown my hoot in the nearest IPA?

I hope soon, but alas, it feels as though it is not in the cards.

Thomas Kline:

I really appreciate the poetic voice in this essay!