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.’”

I am such a pleb

Guess I have always been a pleb. That’s surely because I come from a long line of plebs. Not a king or a prince or an emperor or a queen in my ancestry. Or a lord or a lady either. Take my ancestry all the way back to Adam and Eve and you’ll get folks who had to scrounge and dig up dirt that was not meant to be dug up. If we farmed, it was scrub land and all you got on that piece of dirt is rock and weeds.

No one in my family ever discovered oil or gold. If we went to a place like California, we were always a day late and a dollar short. Mostly my folks were nickeled and dimed till we ran out of nickels and dimes, and still they went after the nickel and dimes we got on credit. That’s my history. If I was anything in a former life, it was probably a serf.

The one thing I do take pride in is that my people were working folk. They worked and scrounged to have what little they had. I was the first in my family to go to college. Few before me even finished high school.

All of them were a good hearted breed who would give the shirts off their backs if you needed. You’d better’n not try to take it, but, if you asked, they’d give it to you. Most of them worked the land. But some became barbers and mill workers. Just a bunch of simple folk as in the song from Camelot: “What do the simple folk do?” That was my people.

We came from the backwaters of Scotland and Ireland and England and Wales, France and Germany and Scandinavian and Italy, Egypt and Uganda, Iran and India and Vietnam, Japan and the Philippines. All of us plebs. But you know what? It’s been us plebs who have been the backbone of this country. From the Revolutionary War to the Civil War to World War II to Vietnam to Iraq and Afghanistan, we’ve been there. You’ll find quite a few of us in Arlington Cemetery.

Being plebs, we love our country and we don’t like to be pushed around. Whether it’s by the government or by Osama bin Laden or some boss who wants us to work for dirt wages. We push back. When push comes to shove, we’ll kick butt. Now I know that the Bible says, “Turn the other cheek.” We try to do that best we know how. But there is a limit to cheek-turning.

All we want is a good job and a good life for our families, that our kids grow up safe and sound and have a chance for something better. It’s in the Declaration of Independence. Life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. That’s what we hold dear. And we don’t trust anybody in power. ‘Cause we’ve seen power shoved down the throats of too many folks.

In Roman times, Rome had two classes of people. The patricians who ran things and owned land and all. Their families went way back to Romulus and Remus. They were that one percent. The other class was the plebeian. They were everybody else.

So that’s where I stack up on the hierarchy of things. So like I say, “I am a pleb and damn proud of it, y’all.” I am in some pretty good company. Satchmo, Hank Williams, Elvis Presley, John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison, Ringo Starr, Bruce Springsteen, Abraham Lincoln, Martin Luther King Jr., Michael Caine, Johnny Cash, Cesar Chavez. Just to name a few. Pretty good company I’d say.

I imagine a lot of you probably come from plebs too. So join me and rejoice. Celebrate your pleb-ness.