Happy holidays from our orchid

8 01 2011

Now that the holidays are well behind us, I took a final look at all the greeting notes I received before packing them away in a shoebox.

In the age of at-home, three-step, do-it-yourself printing and publishing, there seems to be a strong trend towards arts & crafts for grown-ups. And don’t get me wrong – I do appreciate the thought and effort that goes into making a home-made card. Something like that is quite special, for both the sender and the recipient.

But I’m finding more and more of these greetings are plastered with photos of the sender’s children – in the snow, on the beach, playing with pets – with warm greetings from them, too.


The 2010 Xmas card harvest (sans kiddos in order to protect their identities).

I do find it rather odd that not my friends, but their kids are wishing me – someone they probably don’t know from Adam and couldn’t give two shits about – a Merry Christmas.

The most egregious example of this was a card with a photo of a 4-month-old infant. The caption: “(Name of Infant A) wishes you happy holidays.” Does Infant A even know what a holiday is? And is Infant A consciously aware of “happy”? (Beyond sleeping and suckling, that is.) And don’t you think he might also ask himself someday: who the hell are these people he is allegedly wishing happy holidays to?

And all these proud parents think they are doing something totally unique. Infant A’s parents probably honestly thought their card was the most ingenious and cutest thing on earth, because of course Infant A is the smartest and cutest kid on earth.

But I received three of these this year, featuring Children A, B, C , D and E, all under the age of 4, in an assortment of poses (sitting, eating, crawling, looking out the window) and all with similar wording.

So parents, imagine your child-free adult friends receiving their 27th holiday greeting card with nothing in it but kid photos. A typical reaction would be: “Wow. More pictures of… babies. Yay.”

One couple I know sent me a whole 2011 desk calendar with photos of their kids! (OK, the kids are teenagers and the calendar itself is actually very beautiful and well done, but it was the last holiday greeting I unpacked, and the final straw that prompted me to write this post.)

So, fine, whatever – send me pictures of your kids for Christmas if you must – but it would make a real difference, at least to me, if you sent pictures of YOURSELVES, too! The adults in the family! In most cases you and I have known each other and were friends loooooong before your offspring was a twinkle in your eye, and a human on the planet.

YOU are the people I have a history with, not your kids – they came later. YOU are the people I love and cherish. YOU are the folks who have accompanied me on this long and winding road. YOU are the people who have helped make me who I am.

After receiving all these photo-cards of kids we hardly know (and one or two from kids we do), R. and I got to thinking about what motif we should put on our own Christmas cards next year. We really value our DVD player, and our skiing equipment, and our cars, and our sofa, and our dining room table. Or how about that potted plant we love so much? It’s the only other living thing in our apartment, after all.

"A dormant orchid wishes you a Merry Christmas!"

You’re right, our friends with kids would probably take offense. So I guess I will stick with sending greeting cards bought at the After-Xmas-Sale on December 26th the year before (70% off!) as I have done for the past two decades or so. Less work and more politically correct than pretending a plant can talk like a baby.

When to hold ’em and when to fold ’em

4 01 2011

On a transatlantic flight recently, I decided to test the aircraft entertainment system’s electronic poker game. Within about 20 minutes, I turned 200 units (call them dollars, francs, dirhams or rupees) into 12,100 units. Not much thinking and equally little effort and I was rich.

So…Why doesn’t this ever happen in real life?

In a real casino two days later, I burned through $300 (real dollars) in the same amount of time.

And here I always thought I was perfect. I don’t smoke, I drink in moderation only and I exercise regularly. But unfortunately, I do have one vice – Black Jack. I blame my husband though, he is a casino fiend himself, and the one who encourages this demonic recessive trait of mine out into the open.

R. has all the accouterments at home – purchased in a casino supply store in Fabulous Las Vegas: His own green Black Jack table layout, semi-professional chips of various denominations, and a shoe full of used (real) casino playing cards. I think our current set is from Circus Circus, after we played five decks from Caesar’s Palace into the ground.

What is wrong with this picture?* (Answer below.)

Though technically illegal in this country, we hold regular Black Jack tournaments in our home behind closed doors and curtains, for money. Little money, but still. We are hoping that someday the bank will have collected enough winnings to sponsor a nice meal out for the two of us.

Someday. Because in the meantime our customers have actually been doing quite well at the table. On every game night in the last couple of weeks the amount in the pot has shrunk ever so slightly. Call it beginners’ luck or shrewd gambling. Or maybe R. and I just haven’t stacked the deck(s) well enough in our favor.

One recent gaming round over the holidays included friends of ours who will travel with us to Sin City next May to make their debut at the Luxor. We are teaching them how to play the game by the book, so that they will hopefully make a decent impression, and won’t be run out of town. In a best-case scenario they’ll be able to finance their hotel stay with the winnings. That means following a strategy which mathematically increases one’s probability of beating the house by as little as 0.1 percent – even if the book’s “rules” are occasionally rather counter-intuitive. This is the part that’s sometimes tough to wrap one’s head around.

Contrary to popular opinion, there really is a lot the beginner can do (“wrong”) that will attract the consternation of seasoned gamblers. Fortunately though, there are also enough tables in Las Vegas to accommodate the greenhorn just out having fun as well as the hardened desperado focused on making enough to pay next month’s rent.

Only practice makes perfect, and we have just five more short months to practice. Knowing when to hold ‘em and knowing when to fold ‘em is certainly integral. But any player will tell you that knowing when to walk away is the toughest part of the game.


* It took six cards for the dealer  (top) to hit 21 – against every probablilty calculation in Black Jack. That means all four players (bottom) lose the hand, despite themselves holding cards that would be considered pretty good under normal circumstances.