This is the history of the Ocala Card Club and the interesting way it evolved. All over our country, people are playing cards, and some create clubs of fellow card-players. Every sort of card game from Bridge to Whist, but few cardplaying clubs, if any others, become anything like what happened in Ocala, Florida. Florida has a reputation for things getting weird. This little club did not break out of that pattern.
Wine and sunshine might have contributed to the special chemistry, but the individual inclinations had to pre-exist. The moment, the spark, and the season were right for lives to be changed. This is how they said it went down.
THE OCALA CARD CLUB
Laura and Kim were having lunch in a booth at their favorite cafe, both enjoying a crisp garden salad. Laura finished chewing and said, “I’ve found someone.”
Kim, surprised with some salad still in her mouth, swallowed and said, “You’re leaving Jay?”
“No, no.” said Laura as she put another cherry tomato in her mouth.
Kim, “Tell me you’re not having an affair!”
Laura swallowed, smiled at her tease, and said, “Not at all. I found another couple who want to play cards with us. You said your college roommate Jenny…”
Kim interrupted, “Sorority sister.”
“OK, you said your sorority sister wanted to play but that we needed an even number of couples to fill two tables.”
“She sells tickets at the community playhouse. Her husband is a manager at our bank.”
“Do they have names?”
“Yes, Wendy and Eric. Very nice people. We had them over for a cookout, and they were lots of fun. About our age. They have a nice home out towards Silver Springs. You’ve probably seen her at the theatre box office. Tall tan blonde, hazel eyes.”
Arrangements were made over the next two days for the following Tuesday night to have the two new couples come to play double deck pinochle at Brian and Kim’s home.
Kim informed her husband Brian of the plans to have Jenny, her husband Roy, and the new couple over for cards. He replied, “Why? I thought you didn’t like Roy.”
“I don’t really dislike him. Just not much about him I do like.” Kim explained and went on. “Besides, Jenny has been wanting to play cards like we do with Laura and Jay. It made me feel guilty to shut her out.”
On Tuesday evening, when everyone was greeted and seated, Kim started off by introducing Jenny and her husband, Roy. Next, Laura introduced Eric and Wendy. Kim thought Wendy to be cute and very tanned. Eric to just be an average size man, balding and very neatly groomed. After half an hour of talk, Kim offered a tour of their home. The ladies spent the best part of an hour looking the place over.
Downstairs there was the living room, kitchen, family room, and a bedroom wing with rooms for three boys and a guest room. The other wing had a utility room, garage, and the boy’s hobby room cluttered with model cars, airplanes, baseball gear, skateboards, and such. Upstairs had the master suite with bath, a home office, and a library. Wendy commented, “What a wonderful home you have!”
. Kim explained that Brian was an architect with his own firm. They had designed the home themselves, and it was built slowly over several years. Brian would make deals with contractors to trade his design work for their work. Sometimes it was material and labor, sometimes just labor with Brian furnishing the material. Laughing, Kim said, “Brian claims sweat equity in the house, but he never lifted a hammer until we were hanging pictures on the walls.”
The men had started on the same tour, but none of them got past Brian’s bar, situated between the kitchen and the family room. By the time the ladies got back downstairs, the four men were seated in the family room, drinks in hand, and telling stories. With the arrival of their wives, Brian offered drinks. Kim insisted, “No, I’ll just open a bottle of wine for us.”
Wendy nodded her agreement, although her favorite drink was a Manhattan.
The men had discovered that all four had learned to play pinochle in the military. This was the bond that had started all the storytelling. Roy brought out that Jenny already knew the game when they met. “Her father was a firefighter, and they played at the firehouse. Jenny and her sister became the family champs.”
Two card tables were already set up in the family room. Various pairings were discussed, and that night it would be Brian and Kim against Eric and Wendy with Jay and Laura against Roy and Jenny. This being a late start, one game would be enough. The following week they planned on two games. For the second game, the winner at each table would play at one table, and the two losing couples would play at the other. This plan worked well, and everyone had fun that second night. All agreed that they would try to do this every week when possible. After just a couple of weeks, it became clear that Tuesday nights at seven was the most agreeable for all; thus, it became the standing day and time every week thereafter.
At the end of the evening of the fourth week of play, Kim announced that Wendy and Eric had won the most games and that the runners-up, she and Brian, had taken the most points so far. That started a polite disagreement that threatened to become unpleasant. Eric got kicked under the table as he expressed his views. Others got scowled at and encouraged to moderate their tone. Laura held her temper and tried to be the peacemaker. In the end, it was agreed that every night started a clean slate, no scores or wins carried over from week to week. Not that individuals could not keep their own count, but such numbers were private and not to be discussed.
This ended the first conflict among this group of card players. Kim was not happy, having pictured herself someday going to a store and picking out her trophy.
Double deck pinochle is not an extremely popular card game, but it does have those who consider it a favorite. Card players usually get to know other card players and circles of friends are formed. In time, friends heard about the Tuesday night games, and some got invited to sit in for an evening. Some became alternates who could be called upon when a regular just could not attend; the hospital or jail being considered acceptable excuses.
In time some alternates became regulars. By the time four couples had become six regular couples, Tuesday night had become quite an affair. So far, Brian and Kim had primarily been handling the costs of drinks and snacks. Most weeks, someone, usually Eric or Jay, would bring a bottle or two, maybe a case of beer, some chips, nuts, or other snacks. Homemade cookies or a cake sometimes arrived. On more than one occasion, folks offered money to help out, but those offers were always refused. Laura told Jay, “I suspect that while gifts were acceptable, Kim doesn’t want any hint that they could not support our group.”
One night Wendy proposed bringing another couple that she thought might fit the group. Laura’s husband Jay stood to say, “Friends, for too long we have let this group of card players grow and with the group, so has the burden on our hosts grown. Some of us have privately offered to share the costs and have been politely refused. If we are going to grow, or even if we stay at the number we have, we all ought to share that burden of hospitality. Not all of us have a fine large home such as this. But still, we should at least share the expenses of hosting us each week. We could create a formal club with structure, officers, and dues. Or we could remain informal but find a way to equitably share costs. I personally would prefer the latter. Who else feels we should fairly support ourselves?” Brian and Kim sat still, but all the rest raised hands in support.
Eric stood and spoke next, “Folks, I most certainly agree that we have taken advantage of our good hosts. Structure is good in its place, but it can also be stifling. So says a man who lives by charts, spreadsheets, policy, and procedures. If we only selected a treasurer, and I’m not volunteering, we could all make a weekly or monthly contribution to fill a kitty. Our hosts could use that to support our hungers and thirsts.”
After some wrangling over details, and some polite protestations from both Brian and Kim, mostly Kim, a modified payment system was adopted. Kim was persuaded to be treasurer. All also agreed that new members would have to wait until the money situation was ironed out. Then a suggestion was made that some cards should be dealt.
Over the next two months, the club’s money arrangements were smoothed out. Brian had been tolerant of Kim’s reluctance to accept money, but the drain had been bothering him a bit. He had surmised that Kim was especially reluctant to take money from Jenny, whom she considered poor.
Over the next year and some months, several couples came to play, but most did not stay. Some just had problems due to the open bar. Some played poorly, and some were just disagreeable people. There was the man who had to brag, mostly about his Italian sports car. There was a woman who talked incessantly and was usually derogatory about others. In time, these got weeded out.
It seemed that the younger players tended to be less likely to be able to keep a Tuesday night commitment. Little League, PTA, and baby sitters were all common problems. On the other hand, the more senior players seemed to tend to be mellower and less competitive. The usual gang were honing their skills, and as they got better, their tolerance of poor play faded.
At one point, there were ten couples on the list, but fortunately, never were all of them there at once. Recruitment stopped, and attrition thinned the ranks to a manageable size. Along the way, some took to calling the group The Card Club. Kim formalized it by putting a title on the monthly balance sheet, The Ocala Card Club. Some said it should be the Marion County Card Club, but Ocala it stayed, being shorter. Besides, it was Kim’s idea, and she made the list.
Sam and Sharon were a really nice couple that many hoped would become regulars. Both friendly and good players, they took the game as seriously as the usual gang. One night they won their first game and got matched against another winning couple. For Eric and Wendy, that second game ended with a terribly lopsided score. As Eric and Sam shook hands afterward, Sharon told Wendy, “We apologize for beating you so badly. You’ll get better hands next time.” then gave her a hug and a kiss on the cheek. Turning to Eric, she apologized again, and then gave him a hug and a big kiss on the lips. Stepping back, she smiled and added, “And thanks for watching my tits instead of the cards.”
That night Wendy and Eric had a talk about Sharon. Eric admitted noticing her breasts and said, “Sure, I noticed. She’s bigger than you, and I thought about how they are going to start sagging if they haven’t already.”
“Good catch there, honey. But it didn’t take all night to think that through.”
“I really wasn’t aware that I was paying that much attention to her. Not a noticeable amount.”
“She noticed. I noticed. And you smiled a lot.”
OK, OK. She was a distraction. Please be glad I’m still young enough to notice and appreciate such things.” “You’ll still notice such ‘things’ when you’re seventy. And I’m not really mad. It was a good chance to mess with you. Still, you missed several points we could have had.”
“OK, a couple.”
“On our score sheet, I’m going to put down Player Error. Try not to make that one again.”
The very next week, Sam drank too much and got embarrassingly drunk. They were offered a ride home, but Sharon insisted she could drive them safely home. Sharon got a couple of phone calls that week telling her how much everyone liked them, but please get Sam to cut back on his drinking. It helped for several weeks, but then Sam had another bad night. Towards the end of the second game, he was getting sloppy of both speech and play, making a couple of errors that caused mistakes in the game. Faced with hints they might not get invited back, Sharon resigned them from play.
With Sam and Sharon out, the youngest couple were gone. That left seven couples. The oldest of these came out and said they had been struggling with a decision to resign. The intensity of play was taking a lot of fun out of the game for them. They said, “There is such a thing as trying to win, but some of you people seem like you are out for blood. We don’t need that stress.” So that couple was gone. That narrowed the age range by several years. Those left were now mostly forty to fifty, except for a couple of ladies who claimed a little less. Jenny was thirty-nine and holding, as Roy told the guys with a grin and a wink. Everybody knew she was the same age as Kim.
With that regular couple dropped out, there were six couples left active. There were the first four couples, Brian and Kim, Jay and Laura, Roy and Jenny, and Eric and Wendy. The two newer couples were Alex and Tina and Tom and Sarah. Alex and Tina had been introduced by a couple that were now themselves gone. As a banker, Eric already knew them as they had gotten his help with a mortgage after Alex got a company transfer to Ocala. Tom was a pharmacist at a local store where both Laura and Wendy shopped. After discovering that Tom’s wife Sarah was volunteering at the same food bank as Wendy, the acquaintance became social. Like the other men, Tom and Alex had both learned to enjoy playing pinochle in the military. Alex had been an electronics tech in the Air Force. Tom had been a pharmacist’s mate in the Navy, and went to school after discharge to become a fully board-certified pharmacist.