Ages ago (and I do mean multiple decades’ worth of years), I used to sit at my grandma’s kitchen table and watch my mother play solitaire. I was fascinated with the shuffling of the cards and the way she dealt out an ever-growing pyramid of piles, nice and neat.
I was equally confused as I was fascinated – What card goes under what? Are Jacks or Queens more important? What goes on that magical Ace pile hovering above the main play area? Does it matter if it’s a club or a spade? — and finally, she taught me how to play this lonely soul’s game of kill-time-with-52-pieces-of-cardboard.
I became quite proficient at dealing out the playing field. I also became quite proficient at fudging the rules when the necessity arose — I was, after all, only cheating myself and didn’t even have a sibling to brag to about my false victories. Alternating red and black cards couldn’t be messed with, of course, but that didn’t stop me from sneaking an unturned card from the bottom of one of the piles or “accidentally” placing a Club on the Spade pile.
(It was forever before I could call those shapes by their proper names. I remember calling Clubs “clovers” and Spades “the pointy ones.” Then, in high school, I learned euchre, where Clubs are Clubs unless they become a Spade because the only-once-in-a-while powerful Jacks said they could do that — and then only sometimes. Otherwise, the Aces ruled. Hearts and Diamonds joined the melee and would switch their teams up anytime they pleased, or so it would seem to a beginning euchre player…)
I’d put the cards away for months—even years—at a time while life got busy. Then, once in a while, I’d shuffle and deal out another round or five and kill some time.
Fast-forward many more years, well into the digital age, and now one doesn’t even have to shuffle. Or worry that a cat or dog or Muse might mess up seven carefully stacked piles. All one needs to do is open an app and push a button or click a mouse. (I find playing digital cards to be much like reading ebooks. It’s certainly convenient and sometimes enjoyable, but there’s nothing like the feel of real paper in your hands.)
With the many, many hours of waiting and uncertainty with medical crises over the last six months, and given my limited attention span and brain power, I found a solitaire app and began to play a hand here or there in a random hallway or waiting room. Something to do other than fuss or fidget. Something to focus on rather than the news that may be coming with the next professional through the door. Something that only took a few minutes instead of, say, trying to write a short story or blog post in between nurse visits.
The first thing I noticed is that it won’t let me cheat.
The second thing I noticed is that computers aren’t fair. Like some evil feline mastermind coded the program.
The third thing? The option for a “winnable deck.” (Well, maybe that’s how you cheat.)
I could choose, if I wanted, to have the app deal me out just the right cards in just the right way so that there was a surefire way to win the game. What evil mind game was this? If it deals me a winnable deck, that doesn’t guarantee I won’t flub it up and lose anyway. Then what would happen to my already fragile psyche?
Evil cats. That’s who programmed this app.
I was dumbfounded. A surefire win. Where’s the fun in that? And Little Miss, who’d reluctantly accompanied me to all these medical events, said, “Where’s the fun in the cheating you’d be doing if you could?”
Then she added as she pulled out a long string of grape bubble gum and twirled it around her fat little finger, “You’d do yourself and me quite nicely if you’d give us some winnable decks.”
“What?” I took the gum from her lest it end up under a seat or on the bottom of a urologist’s loafer.
“Set us up for a win, why don’t you?”
You know, I hate it when the Muse is right about life affairs outside of the writing desk. Especially when they’re little imps in purple tutus who should be working on the next story plot instead of telling me how to live life. I start to argue, but she interrupts.
“It’s either that or you put away the writing for as long as you put away that first deck of solitaire cards. Wait till the air clears and the planets align.”
Ouch. She’s right.
She’s full of snark and sarcasm, having done two perfect pirouettes on that punch line about the planets.
We attempt to set up winnable decks: Lay out clothes the night before work or school, preplan meals, put the bills on autopay…
If all goes as it should, the moves add up to a successful day. (Or, in the Paul household, the cats knock the clean black slacks onto the floor to use as a bed for six hours, the refrigerator goes out five hours after purchasing a load of groceries, and the autopay bill was taken out four times by some tech glitch—likely programmed by Kitty the Terrible, but hey. We tried.)
Little Miss Muse is lovingly referring to my haphazard approach to the writing life since the beginning of the year. Goals have gone by the wayside. Streaks have fizzled to streams then to trickles then to nothing but annoying little guilty drips. Piles of notebooks and new pens sit untouched. Calendars hung with the greatest of excitement at the end of December remain mostly blank, a reminder that Life stacked the deck in its own favor for the first five months of 2022.
As my shoulders slump with this realization, she crawls into my lap. Something she rarely does. She reaches for my cheeks with her chonky hands.
“It’s okay. Life happens. Life sucks. Life is a game. Life is a circle. AND IT MOOOOVES US ALLLLL!” The cats flee the room as she breaks out her best Elton John.
I attempt to shove her off my lap to no avail. “Will you please—”
“Shhh… We got this. Let’s redeal. And if that deal doesn’t work, we’ll reshuffle.” She shrugs. “Or start drawing from the bottom of the pile…”
I laugh and place my hands over hers, my tears (from reality and from her off-key singing) wet our fingers. And mix with the purple taffy goo she’s left behind on my face…
On a positive note, several events have landed on my calendar that I’m looking forward to. Ones that can reset, recharge, and redeal the mess that was the first half of 2022.
With Goo-Gone in my Amazon cart along with a fresh stash of grape-flavored-everything, we’ll start a new winnable deck. At least the first few cards, anyway.
I’ll toss in an apology card for the unfortunate urologist and call it a good start to a new deal.