By the time you reach your forties, you’re using everything you’ve got. Everyone you knew, every skill you’ve learned, every experience you have under your belt—every element of your past and present starts to become useful. It’s a bit like a fairy tale where at the beginning of the story, the hero is given queer, seemingly useless gifts by the people he meets: a comb. An apple. A mirror, maybe. But by the climax, he’s used each of those items to defeat his enemies and accomplish his quest.
One of the skills I’ve possessed for over thirty years is the ability to manipulate a deck of cards. If you’d stayed on living with me, you’d have that skill, too, dear boy. I shine at the showy fanning of the deck, the ribbon spread, the double ribbon spread, all the pretty magician moves. But I also know how to do what counts: I know the moves that allow a magician to bring an ace to the top of a pile or to know where in the deck a certain card is lurking.
The moves are pretty straightforward. I deal cards from the bottom of the deck instead of the top. I turn over the second card in the deck while making it look like I’m pulling the one off the top. I shuffle cards or cut cards in a way that appears to rearrange the order of the deck, but doesn’t. These moves aren’t that tough. They require only confidence and practice. I hate to think how many hundreds of nonchalant childhood hours I spent in front of a television set, sitting on that olive green sofa, practicing false cuts and fake riffle shuffles.
I’m not the best at this. As real magicians go, I’d be in the bottom twenty percent, for sure. Maybe the bottom ten. But compared to the rest of the world?
So there’s the answer to your unspoken question of how I fared so well at poker the other night at Jenna’s. If I find myself in a situation where I’m forced to play cards, I cheat. Conservatively. Not enough to overreach beyond what’s easy, and never enough to raise suspicion.
I can’t imagine anyone playing any other way. Cards would bore me otherwise. And playing would be so stressful. I can’t comprehend what it would be like never to know any of the cards the other players have in their hands.
As a spiritual leader, you might not approve of cheating. I have no idea what the Buddha’s teachings were on card tricks. But the Dalai Lama still has the genes of an O’Brien. I suspect you understand. Perhaps as you read this, you find yourself grinning. And wishing you had a deck of cards.
Jill Riddell is a writer in Chicago. She teaches at the School of the Art Institute and has a weakness for nature, magic, and pennies abandoned in sidewalk cracks.