The Poker Game of 1776

July 3, 1776. A tavern across the street from Independence Hall, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

John Adams couldn’t bluff at poker if his life depended on it. Thomas Jefferson knew it. Benjamin Franklin knew it. Old Stone Face, George Washington, sitting across from Adams, knew it.

Ben and Tom folded. Neither of them had any kind of hand to play. But Adams was staying. He didn’t believe Stone Face had a winning hand.

“I call you,” Stone Face said to Adams across the table.

John Adams, a big smile on his face, threw down three aces.  Stone Face threw down his full house, then reached over and pulled the wad of English pound notes toward him.

Adams’ face dropped into a frown. Lost again. Here he was doing the very thing Abby warned him against. Playing poker with Stone Face. Washington always won. Over the course of the last two months, he had just about wiped out all the delegates of the Continental Congress of their cash. But he had done it for a good cause. He needed a new set of false teeth.

Adams said, “I give up. I’m broke. So what are we going to do about John Hancock?”

“We should shoot the son of a bitch,” Stone Face offered. Washington seldom lost his cool but John Hancock had gotten under his skin in a way that British General Howe never did.

Jefferson followed up with, “That’s what we’d do in Virginia.”

“Now, boys,” Ben interjected, “let’s be serious. But not that serious.”

Washington said, “I can’t believe I came back to have to deal with this. My guys at Valley Forge are going to mutiny if we don’t get this settled once and for all.”

“Why don’t we just get him drunk?” Franklin suggested.

Jefferson said,” That is your answer for everything.”

“Just about,” Franklin answered. “How you think I survived that thing with the kite? Remember the old saying, ‘Three strikes you’re out.’ When that lightning bolt hit the kite, I was as drunk as Gulliver must’ve been the day he saw those Lilliputians. The lightning struck me three times, and yet, here I am.”

John Adams knew Hancock too well for that. “He’ll just fall asleep.”

Jefferson was miffed. “All I know is that I am not letting him put those words into the Declaration of Independence.”

Stone Face put in his two pences. “I agree with Tom. I mean, Hancock and his ‘when in the course of human events, it becomes necessary to kick King George’s butt because he is, and ever shall be, a pantywaist’ is a little too much. Even for this Congress. We all don’t like the king but that is a little too much. The British will never take us seriously.”

“Totally destroys the mood,” Jefferson added, “don’t you think?”

The Virginia delegation was unanimous about its approbation against John Hancock. Either the Continental Congress gave Hancock his walking papers or they would be walking. But everybody knew what would happen if Hancock went home. The whole New England bunch would leave with him.

From the beginning, Hancock had been cause for alarm. First he wore that pink outfit. Oh, my gosh. And the chicken costume. It looked like he was trying to out-Elton-John Lady Gaga. Then his proposal that the country use “We are the champions of the world” for its national anthem. It had taken months for John Adams to get his friend to calm down and be reasonable. Now this.

Ben had an idea. “Bet Betsy Ross could get him to go along with the program. After all, she’s his tailor.”

“You know what she’s going to charge?” John Adams inquired.

Stone Face, always a pragmatic man, said, “Yes, but can she get results. When she threatens him, he’ll cry uncle. After all, she’s the one who turned him into a fashionista. Says she has a flair with the silk pajamas”

“Ben,” Adams asked, “have you been able to get her price down? Last I heard she was charging an arm and a leg.”

Jefferson said, “Yeah, just look at Long John Silver.”

“On this one,” Ben said, “she knows she has us over a barrel. She wants the flag concession.”

“Can she get the job done?” Tom asked.

“I believe so,” Franklin said. “She has a long history with Hancock. Something about babysitting with his kids when they were just knee-high-to-a-grasshopper.”

Stone Face was satisfied. “I say we give it to her.”

Jefferson and Adams nodded their heads in agreement. But Franklin was not finished. “In perpetuity.”

“What?” the other three said as a chorus.

“No way are we going to go along with that,” Stone Face said. “John, can’t Abby help in this department?”

“When Hancock puts his mind to a thing,” Adams said, “he puts his mind to a thing. I’m afraid Betsy is our only option. If we want Hancock, we are going to have to give in to her demands.”

“Then,” Stone Face finalized the discussion, “Betsy gets the flag concession in perpetuity. But you tell her that I want a free ‘Don’t Tread On Me’ for each of my Regiments, and according to my specifications.”

John Adams breathed a sigh of relief. He was going to get his revolution, after all. The other three had given him a big thumbs up with their agreement on the Hancock Matter. “So, Tom, looks like you’ll be able to do a press release.”

Jefferson took out his pen and pad and began to write. Then he looked up at the others. “I just realized we have another problem.”

“”What now?” Stone Face was just about fed up with all the back-and-forth going on at the Congress. Why didn’t folks just do what they were told? It would be so much easier.

Jefferson thought so too but he didn’t say anything out loud. “It’s Tom Paine. He’s going to insist on editing my text and publishing it the way he wants.”

Adams was now in the fray. He didn’t like Paine. “Please. No more ‘These are the times that try men’s souls’ crap. God, that man has an ego.”

“Yeah,” Ben agreed. “He gets a fifth down him, and there is no telling what he will write.”

Stone Face had an answer. “We could just draft him. I need a good secretary and he does take shorthand.”

The others smiled. Stone Face once again came to the rescue. Guess that was why folks were calling him “The Father of the Country”.

“Glad we’ve got all that settled,” Stone Face said. “Now I have to go and kick some British hineys.”

“Don’t forget,” Adams requested, “to take a piece out of Cornwallis for me.”

The four men gathered up their things and made for the door, then John Adams said, “I just remembered. Just one more thing.”

“No,” the other three said.

“’Fraid so. It’s Paul Revere. Every time we get ready to attack the British from behind some trees, guerilla style, Paul shows up on his horse. He lets the Brits know where we are by yelling, ‘The Americans are coming. The Americans are coming.’”

Ten Things To Know About Cow-tipping

Note. For purposes of safety, do not confuse cow-tipping with outhouse tipping. The latter can get you damaged by the outhouse occupant. If you do practice this sport of outhouse tipping, please be prepared to run like hell.

1.   According to the International Organizations for the Advancement of Cow-tipping United for Pleasure (better known as IACTUP), cow-tipping has been in existence since the founding of the country. Previous to the coming of the English at Jamestown, the Indians participated in a practice called bear-tipping. Due to the high percentage of loss of life from the exercise, the Indians were absolutely thrilled when they discovered the English had brought several cows and a bull with them to the New World.

2.   When the country was trying to decide who the first president would be, the founding fathers held a cow-tipping contest. George Washington beat out Thomas Jefferson by fifteen seconds. General Washington would have done a slam dunk of three minutes had he not dropped his false teeth and picked them up and put them back in his mouth. The teeth always needed considerable adjustment. Why did he waste time retrieving his teeth? He knew that the paparazzi would be taking photos and he wanted to look his best.

3.   When Theodore Roosevelt went west, he participated in the sport. He not only tipped cows. He tipped waiters. He tipped waitresses. He even tipped buffalo. By the time he returned east, he had gotten himself into the Guinness Book of Records with forty-three cow-tips.

4.  According to Hoyle’s Rules for Cow-tipping, proper attire must be worn for a successful cow-tipping affair: For the casual cow-tipping, broad-brimmed hat such as a cowboy hat, long-sleeved shirt, jeans and boots can be worn by both men and women. For the more formal affair, broad-brimmed hat, black tux and dress boots for the men. For the ladies, a gown of any color will do in addition to the hat and the boots.

5.  It is essential that the prospective cow-tipper bring two bottles of whiskey to the arena. One for the cow-tipper, one for the cow.

6.  Before the actual cow-tipping, identify the target of your affection. Is it a cow or is it a bull? To do this, approach said target from the rear, lift the tail and inspect the goodies. If a bull, please do not disturb the fellow. Back away slowly and leave him in peace. He may very well think you are a cow. Bulls are well-known for their poor eyesight.

7. When approaching the cow, watch your step. If you don’t, you may be up to your neck in manure. In 2012, thirty potential cow-tippers died from drowning in the stuff.

8.  If you happen to hear loud noises during your cow-tipping, it probably is not a car backfiring. More than likely it is a the cow’s owner. He/she may very well be  upset with you for cow-tipping without a license. Cow owners, better known in the local vernacular as cow havers, have been known for their excellent marksmanship when drawing a bead and firing on a potential cow-tipper. In most Western states, it is not against the law to damage a cow-tipper. IACTUP is lobbying to have the law changed. The Wyoming legislature in 2013 was the first state to cooperate. California may soon join Wyoming.

9.  Cow-tipping has become so popular there is a movement to create a National Cow-tipping Hall of Fame.

10.  A cow-tipping kit is now being sold for all those amateurs who may see this as a rite of passage into adulthood. Please follow the instructions exactly. The manufacturer will not be responsible for any deviations.

High School Latin

My high school Latin teacher must have been in her sixties. She looked like she knew Julius Caesar up close and personal. I can’t remember her name but she sure made an impression. There she stood before the class with a bad case of declensionitis. Now it wasn’t as if we in her Latin class had been drafted. We had volunteered. Latin was an elective. We could just as easily taken Spanish. Since we lived in Texas, that would’ve made more sense.

But somewhere along the way the Ancient Romans cast their spell on me. If it had been offered, I would have taken Hebrew and written backwards. But there I sat in Latin class, conjugating verbs that Cicero probably never conjugated. And he was a conjugator in the first degree.

Also I had read that F. Scott Fitzgerald took Latin and I had this dream. I wanted to be not just any writer but a rich and famous one, go off to Hollywood and sleep with lots of great looking women. If Fitzgerald had done it, why not me? A pimply-faced kid with a poor self-image can dream, can’t he?

To train as a writer, I thought about taking Shakespeare. But he scared the bejesus out of me. People put him on such a pedestal. And still do. But Latin. I thought Latin would be such a lark. How hard could it be since the Neanderthals had spoken and written it? After all, pimples or not, I was a thoroughly modern adolescent.

And maybe, just maybe, speaking Latin might get me in with the in-crowd, or at least the intellectual crowd. I was a lonely kid. I wasn’t even geek enough to be a geek. I was so lonely for companionship I got a cat. I couldn’t even do that right. Should have gotten a dog, ’cause cats are not the most companionable of pets. I know there are cat owners who will disagree. But I have a cat and I’m telling you that has been my experience. Latinizing myself seemed like a plan. And who knew? There just might be a Zelda in my future. You gotta remember. I wasn’t the brightest light bulb in the store.

So there I sat among a bunch of other empty minds, waiting to be stirred by a language that had not been spoken in something like 1500 years. Then the the Declensionator sprang some news upon us. We had to drop our w and pronounce the v as a w.

We started demanded our double-u’s back. We became so riotous that three Roman lictors had to be brought in to calm us down. Finally she told us that she would allow us a pickum nickum on the school lawn if we would just calm down.

Once we calmed down, she spun us the tale of Gaius Julius Caesar. His Horatio Alger of a life only proved that any Roman patrician could grow up and be Dictator-for-Life if he applied himself and had a bit of luck. He started off with a family tree second to none but no cash. Being the ambitious kid he was, he had a hankering to conquer the world. Went off to Gaul (which was Latin for France) and gave a good whacking to the folks in Gallia Celtica, Belgica and Aquitania. The English translation for Gallia Celtica, Belgica and Aquitania is Any, Many and Minie Moe.

Pompey, the Big Cheese in Rome, was way none too happy. Told Gaius Julius that he had gotten too big for his toga and his knickers were showing. He needed to humble himself and come on home to Rome and beg the Senate to forgive him for being so successful.

Gaius was having none of that. He headed back to Rome with the Seventh Legion behind him. Unlike the Seventh Calvary, they were in no mood for a Little Big Horn and they were led by a general who was no Custer. He was more like Patton. All Gaius Julius wanted was a parade for doing to Gaul what Pompey wanted to do to him.

So he gave Pompey and the Senate the middle finger and marched on Rome. He did not become Caesar till he crossed the Rubicon, singing “We’re not gonna take it anymore.” From that day on, his business card said Caesar.

Pompey did a quick exit stage right and lit out for all parts east. Caesar followed and pretty soon he was veni-ing, vidi-ing and vici-ing all over the place, giving Pompey the what-fors here, there and everywhere. Caesar did the Napoleon thing. He went down to Egypt and all hell broke loose. Pompey lost his head over Cleopatra. Caesar was downright pissed. Only a Roman got to knock off another Roman.

Before he knew it, Cleo had Gaius calmed down. She spread her legs and Caesar went ga-ga over the original Lady Gaga. He, in his W. C. Fields of a voice, told her like he told all his girlfriends, “Veni, vidi, vici.” She retorted, with a Mae West that made Mae West think twice about using that voice of hers, “No, you veni-ed, you vidied, but I vici-ed, big boy.” She had him in the palm of her hands, showing him the pyramids.

The thing was that Gaius got bored. He’d seen all the pyramids he wanted to see. A pyramid here, a pyramid there, everywhere a pyramid. He saw so many pyramids they started reminding him of Stonehenge. All he needed was a Druid and he could have a human sacrifice. Now, wouldn’t that be a party? he thought. So he decided to get the hell out of Dodge and head back to Rome where the plebs worshipped the ground he walked on.

Bad idea. Before he knew it, he was etu-ing Brute’ all over the place. At that point, he had a bad case of the “Don’t cry for me, Argentina.” And that was that. It was the good ol’ bye, bye, Miss American Pie.

Of course, we Latineers in that high school class found all this fascinating, especially the part about Cleo spreading her legs and making ol’ Cez go gaga. We all shouted, “More, more.” Miss D thought real hard and asked, “You ever hear of a toga party?” Then the bell rang.

Over the months that followed, we learned orgy etiquette. We learned about the Roman hero, Biggus Dickus. We even conjugated a few verbs and learned ignoramus does not mean stupid. It is first person plural and it meant “we do not know.” And of course we didn’t. But what the hey. It was Latin.

I must admit that I was not a very good conjugater . Every time she asked me to conjugate, I pulled a Rush Limbaugh and changed the subject. If you can’t win, you take the conversation off in a different direction. I had been reading Livy’s “History of Rome, so I asked, “How about those Pubic Wars?”

She said, “Yes, they were really hairy.”

It all worked out. I managed to con my way through two years of Latin and end up with a B. I could now use the phrases carpe diem and per diem appropriately, and I knew semper fidelis was longhand for semper fi.

Soon I graduated and went out into the wide world, thanking my lucky stars that I would never have to conjugate another verb. Then it happened. I saw “The Life of Brian”. In it, there is this guy writing graffiti on a Jerusalem wall: “Romanes eunt domus.” A squad of Roman soldiers show up and the centurion starts correcting the zealot’s Latin, finally saying, “Romani ite domum! Now write it 100 times before sunrise, or I’ll cut your balls off.” I had nightmares over that one. I kept substituting Miss D for the centurion and I was the poor smuck of a zealot.

Could have happened. In a previous life.

Moses

For all those holding Passover.

I remember Moses. He stood there before Old Man Pharaoh, stuttering and telling him, “Let my People go.” That day he was as tall as the day is long as it stretches from dawn to sunset. The Egyptians laughed. How dare Moses insult them with his arrogance. When the Old Man refused to let us go, Moses stretched out the staff of the Lord and gave him ten plagues, each one worse than the last.

Then Moses stood before a crowd of us. We were angry because Pharaoh had added more to our work than we could bear. More straw, more brick, that wicked man demanded from us. Moses stuttered till his brother Aaron spoke his words.

“Pharaoh will let the People go,” Aaron said, but he did not believe. None of us did. When you’re a slave and the Master has used you all up, what hope do you have?

Then the tenth plague bore down on all the households of that accursed land. The Angel of Death roved around that Passing-over night from midnight until dawn, going from house to house, killing Egyptian children. But our babies were spared. The Lord had told us to mark the doors of our houses with the blood of a lamb. This we had done.

That night the Nile ran red with despair. The Papas and the Mamas of Egypt grieved a grief as sad a lamentation as any heard by that River in its long years since the beginning of the world. It was their first-borns that Death snatched from their arms and sent to the grave. There were some fine Egyptians, but the Angel spared none of them.

Next we heard Pharaoh commanded Moses to take his scum and go.

“Go. Leave. I will not see you any more,” Pharaoh’s anger spoke and it spoke hard. “Get thee hence.”

His gods had failed him. Where was Horus when the Lord of the Two Lands, Ruler of Upper and Lower Egypt, needed him? His son, his only child, his heir by the woman whom he loved more than all his kingdom, his only son was dead. While the priests prepared the son of Pharaoh for burial in the Valley of the Kings, we rejoiced and danced in the streets. Our deliverance had finally come.

“We’re free,” my uncle Eleazar shouted. “Our jailers are jailers no more.”

The sun rose early that new day as we gathered in the Land of Goshen. Everywhere there were people, our people. There were so many of us that the streets buckled under the load of our weight. We had not known that our father Jacob had so many children.

Calmly standing above us, and before us, was Moses. He raised his staff of oak and turned toward the sea and led us out from that land of our slavery toward a new home in a Promised Land.

Celebrating Women’s History Month, Two Histories

Americas women:. by Gail Collins. 400 Years of Dolls, Drudges, Helpmates, and Heroines. New York, NY: Harper Perennial, 2010.

Pocahantas and Rosa Parks, Sojourner Truth and Harriet Tubman, Annie Oakley and Calamity Jane, Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Madam C. J. Walker and Eleanor Roosevelt, Sarah Palin and Hillary Clinton, Wilma Mankiller and Gloria Steinem, Betty Friedan and Phyllis Schlafly, Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Michelle Obama

These are a few of the well-known women in Gail Collins’ America’s Women: 400 Years of Dolls, Drudges, Helpmates, and Heroines and its sequel, When Everything Changed: The Amazing Journey of American Women from 1960 to the Present, Featuring the famous and the ordinary, the books span the centuries from the Vikings to the sixteenth century Eleanor Dare of the lost Roanoke colony to Betty Friedan’s march down Fifth Avenue in 1970 to the Hillary Clinton campaign for President in 2008.

In these extraordinary narratives, Collins has written both a political and a social history of America’s women. She traces the epic journey of women through America’s history as they sought that “inalienable right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness” promised by the Declaration of Independence but so often denied them.

When Everything Changed: The Amazing Journey of American Women from 1960 to the Present by Gail Collins. Back Boy Books. Little, Brown and Co. 2010

This story of women in America is a fight for freedom from an intrusive society that tried to tell them what they could and could not do or be. Society was so resistant to women’s pursuit of happiness that, as late as 1947, Modern Women: The Lost Sex was a bestseller. Its authors advocated that women were psychologically disordered. It argued “that higher education got in the way of women adjusting to their natural role as wives and mothers.”

Collins begins with the Viking women, Gudrid and Freydis. They were two of the first Europeans to step foot on the North American continent over a thousand years ago. These two women illustrate one of the themes in her book: How society’s portrayal of women has always been false. The image that women are either “virtuous wives on the one hand, or on the other, the women who stepped outside their appointed roles, causing disaster.” In many cases, a woman was both virtuous wife and one who stepped outside their appointed roles, yet not causing disaster as illustrated by the life of Annie Oakley.

Throughout the book, women managed businesses, ran farms, and became preachers, civic leaders, merchants, artists and store managers. And they did it despite all the legal restrictions society threw at them. In the seventeenth century, one, Margaret Brent, even ran the state of Maryland during a crisis.

Again and again, Collins calls attention to the resourcefulness of American woman. Crossing the prairies in wagon trains, women often did their domestic chores while on the move, such as rolling piecrust from a wagon seat while driving a team of oxen. Just one example of this resourcefulness was Luenza Wilson. She followed her miner husband to the gold mining camps and made a fortune. It seems her talent as a cook was “much more valuable than her husbands was as a gold miner.”

And when the country went to war, women took on roles that often belonged to men, so the men could go off and fight. In World War II, 1,000 women pilots flew 60 million miles–mostly in experimental jets and planes grounded for safety reasons. They often towed targets past lines of inexperienced gunners. One anecdote of these female pilots: Several were arrested for leaving base wearing slacks after dark.

Collins includes the women’s battles with the corset. Even when everybody talked about fashion reform in the early half of the nineteenth century, there was way too much resistance to loosen it, much less dump it. Due to health standards previous to the twentieth century, pregnancy could be a death sentence for a woman or cripple them for life. As far as food and diets are concerned, Collins points out that the Gilded Age was “perhaps the only era in the nation’s history that favored large women.”

In the sequel, Collins continues on one of the greatest epic stories in human history. It takes us through the late twentieth and into the twenty-first century as women overcame the restrictions of the past and triumphed beyond their wildest dreams. The twenty years between 1960 to 1980 saw women able to pursue careers and be accepted in a variety of occupations they were never allowed in the past. It seemed that the sky was the limit. But this led to new challenges never faced before, such as the balance between work and home. And this history is told through the lives of hundreds of individual women’s stories.

Gail Collins has used letters, diaries, historical documents and numerous secondary sources as well as interviews to provide a history of American women that is both enjoyable and informative. These are books that will make women, and men, proud of the heritage from their mother’s side of history. These gems shine a light on history that has been ignored for a very long time.