Chapter Six: Cribbage

Chretian let out a heavy sigh as he drove his Honda Accord over the Lion’s Gate bridge. He was facing north as the sun was setting, which on a clear day meant a magnificant view of the mountains that loomed over Vancouver like guardian giants. Unfortunately for today, mist obscured the whitecaps and a light drizzle dirtied his windshield. I bet there will no sign of blue sky until February, he thought gloomily. Only three more months, maybe. It took well over half-an-hour to reach his destination, a modest-looking rancher in a nice surburb of North Vancouver. However, Chretian was not fooled; if put on the market tommorrow, the owner could reasonably expect over a quarter of a million dollars for it. It had been bought over twenty years ago for under thirty thousand, and the owner had also acquired several other properties over the years. I wonder why Black is still at Laurentian, Chretian thought, when all he has to do is just sell one of his houses and live happily ever after playing golf.

But he already knew the answer. The idealistic principal of Laurentian had requested a transfer to the East Van school which had threatened to become a dumping ground for incompetent teachers and low-income inner-city teenagers. The drop-out rate for students had averaged over sixty percent the last two years before Black had arrived. He had managed to cut it to forty, while simultaneously pissing off the teacher’s union and the board of trustees. Chretian’s boss was not likely to ever make superintendent, but he got results.

Black’s wife Pauline let him in at the front door, chatted briefly, and then disappeard. She left her husband and his friends alone on Thursday nights, a practice dating back to the seventies. The three old farts gather together once again, Chretian thought. When he entered the living room, he noted Black and Holstein had already started a game of cribbage. Black looked at Chretian, glanced at his watch, and returned his stare to the cards in his hand. Chretian knew without looking that Holstein was smiling. One old friend poking fun at another, it would have been upsetting if Chretian had arrived on time, or if Black had not noticed his tardiness. Chretian helped himself to a drink at the bar without asking permission. Holstein already had his customary single malt scotch and Black his club soda, who still went to AA meetings the odd week. Chretian made small talk and waited for the game to end.

The two men were playing cribbage, with six cards dealt and two discarded into the “kitty,” which is given to the players on alternate turns. Points are given for runs, pairs, and any combinations of cards adding up to fifteen. Points are also scored during a round of bidding, the object being to get as close to a count of thirty one as possible. The game combined tactical bidding as well as strategical acumen in knowing which cards to keep and which to throw away. All three men had played the game since childhood. All could play in their sleep but its familiarity made it an agreeable way to pass the time, and it drew less blood than poker, and did not need as many people. They always played for a penny a point and for bragging rights. Holstein won the first game by a mere three points, with Black charging at the end. The principal of Laurentian snorted when Holstein placed his peg in the winning hole of the cribbage board, and then meticulously placed three pennies in Holstein’s pile. Black hated to lose, to the delight of Chretian who enjoyed the role of court jester in the company of friends.

“Tabernac Ben, a few more losses like that and you will have to start listening to the pleas of those commission-lusty realtors who come knocking on your door,” Chretian said.
Black snorted again. “Do you know who is the most persistent fellow? Some idiot I had the misfortune to teach to way back in ‘73. Now the twit makes more money than all three of us put together, cutting deals with aldermen to get land rezoned. Every two or three months he invites himself over to talk about `the good old days,’ but all I can remember is him sassing me behind my back in class.”
“There is an entire generation of Vancouverites that honour your memory,” Chretian said, in a groveling tone strictly intended to needle.

Holstein was unusually silent this evening which slightly irritated Chretian so he concentrated his barbs upon the old soldier, hoping to raise a grin. Black cut the deck to begin a game of three man cribbage.
“It is a pity that you didn’t catch the football game last Sunday, Arnold,” Black said. “It was a joy to watch our wonderful Tigers destroy those west side softies.”
Arnold flickered and showed some signs of coming to life. “I went to a few games earlier in the year but lost interest when that Fuller boy -Woody is his first name?- got injured. You can’t win at the high school level without your number one running back healthy.”
Black agreed. “I spoke to Jones and he told me that the doctor had misdiagnosed the injury. Just a pulled muscle, not a ruptured disk. It looks like we do have an excellent chance at the play-offs. My, my, you should have seen the defence, they were like madmen.”
Black had played university football until a knee injury had cut his career short. It still bothered him on rainy days like today, and he guessed it would until the day he died. Chretian didn’t give a damn about football and said so to the others. Born in Quebec, he only cared about hockey: More specifically, he cared about the Canadiens and that was it.

Black won the first game easily on the strength of a few well-played bluffs and the surplus of sevens and eights that led to high-scoring hands in cribbage. He recovered a little bit more of his good nature back. Chretian won the second game by a narrow margin over Black with Holstein placing a distant third. The English teacher then excused himself to refill his glass for the second time that evening. He sat out the next game to watch Chretian and Black go one on one. Black took an early lead and seemed to be on the verge of skunking Chretian but the wily jester scored points in the bidding rounds to keep it close. At one point he dug into his bag of tricks, and pretended to clean the inside of his ear with his little finger. Black ignored the obvious ploy to distract his attention, made the correct play and placed his peg within striking distance of the winning hole. Chretian cursed and played the last round with disinterest, knowing he had already lost.

Holstein broke the silence he had kept all evening. “What do both of you know about the Poleshaw boy?”
The other two stopped and thought about the question, rather than ask why Holstein had posed it. They were used to his shifty moods and abrupt queries.
Chretian spoke first. “A fine student -for this school- who we nearly lost. He went out with a girl last year who was a nasty piece of work. She got herself pregnant; not by him, but she held the family up to ransom. The boy very nearly dropped out of school to find a job.”
“His marks have ranged from mediocre to excellent and I do believe he is university material. He plays on the football team as a tight end.
Black was justifiably proud of his photographic memory. “There’s something else about him that sets him apart.”
Chretian snapped his fingers. “I know what you mean. Think now, who does John associate with? I mean, who belongs in his peer group?”
“I know he pals around with Scott Shartrand, that Jamaican boy.”
“Exactly, and who else? The boy is a loner but he gets along well with everyone,” Chretian said, “That is not something that can be said of everyone in this collection of tribes that we call a high school. John is not an everyman but…”
“A leader,” Holstein spoke from his perch at the window. “He might become a leader of men someday but I spoke with him yesterday and right now he is a very deeply troubled boy.”
Black could not resist a riposte. “No doubt he is, Arnold, but half the student population is deeply troubled. Practically every second student shows sign of parent neglect, either because the father pissed off long ago or because of booze, or inadequate nutrition, oh hell, pick your favourite combination. You people know better than anyone else, sometimes we spend more time babysitting than we do teaching.”
“The parent-teacher night at this school is truly a joke, I’ll admit that,” Chretian said.

Holstein could not help but think of the teenagers who did not even stay in school. He remembered a girl who once came to his class last year with bruises on her face. He had called social services but nothing had ever come of his complaint. Three days after her sixteenth birthday, the girl had dropped out of school. Holstein looked out of the window again. It’s the rain that is bringing back such depressing memories.
Black interrupted the brief silence. “You know, this reminds of a study, or a master’s thesis, that was done down in the United States. It advanced the hypothesis that North American generations come in cycles of seven. That there are seven generations that follow in lockstep order. For example, one generation is civic-minded, with strong belief in the federal government, like the generation that fought in the Second World War. Or that another is a rebellious generation, like the spiritualists of the mid-nineteenth century; the generation of Ralph Waldo Emerson. It was fascinating stuff.”
“What does it say about my generation, that of the late forties and fifties?” Chretian asked.
“I do believe,” Black answered with a small smile, “the label given was the `selfish’ generation.” “And what of the generation just entering adulthood today?”
“It is the lost generation, much like that of the nineteen twenties. All they are missing is a war.” “Fascinating stuff indeed,” sniffed Chretian, “Shall we deal another game of cribbage, before I drink all the booze, so the label fits the bottle?”

Copyright 2008 by DJ Dunkerley. All Rights Reserved

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