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Fern and Joe: Politics, Poker, Prose
...and other pastimes
Fern: I thought we might talk politics this morning. While you were playing poker in the basement last night, I was switching back and forth between MSNBC and Fox. It was wild: Kevin McCarthy with a constipated smile and no resolution about whether or not he is Speaker of the House. Serial Liar George Santos skulking around the cloak room. And then an Alabama representative rushing Matt Gaetz . . . fight club!!
By the way, did you win?
Joe: It’s poker, Fern. I can’t win every week. And you don’t always get the same results. Unlike watching Fox News. Why is it when something politically hot is being reported, you watch Fox?
Fern: Guilty pleasure. Kellyann Conway, still plucky and putting a positive spin on dysfunction by saying that we were actually “watching democracy in action.” Laura Ingraham thought the spectacle “refreshing.”
Joe: Yeah, refreshing. Like chewing a wad of tin foil.
Fern: Sean Hannity and Reince Priebus, that little weasel, actually opted for sanity. They both called out the radical right no-votes a “clown show.”
Joe: Well, at least it’s over now, isn’t it?
Fern: Yes. McCarthy went low enough under that dirty limbo pole to get him the job he longs for.
You’ve played a lot more poker since the pandemic. Too much togetherness?
Joe: With you? Never.
Fern: I appreciate that you’re a self-directed retired guy: Painting. Writing. Poker.
Joe: When the pandemic hit, my regular poker group had just celebrated twenty-five years of continuous monthly poker. Here’s a painting I made of the five founding members from ten years ago. I guess my beard was gray even then. (It was my idea to pose us as high rolling gangsters.)
Since the pandemic we’ve moved our games online.
Fern: But you still like to to play even without the face-to-face camaraderie. I know your games are low stakes—those chips in the picture stand for dimes and quarters—so money isn’t the object. Is it to hone your poker skills?
Joe: Yes and no. For me poker is more than a hobby or pastime. I learn from it. The stakes are low, so low we’re essentially playing for bragging rights. For some people living on the edge is an inborn trait. But not me, I was absent the day they passed out that gene. By nature, I’m not a risk-taking guy. But in life as in poker “nothing ventured, nothing gained.” Low-stakes poker gives me the chance to get used to taking risks.
Fern: Does this translate from poker into other parts of life?
Joe: Luck changes. Wait for it. Play skillfully enough to be around when it does change. Maria Konnikova talks about this in her book The Biggest Bluff.
Fern: I’m never going to read that one, but let’s talk books. You have painting and poker. Whenever someone ask if I have a hobby, I usually say “reading.” Even though reading isn’t really a hobby.
I just finished Beth Hoffman’s book, Bet the Farm. The subtitle is: “The Dollars and Sense of Growing Food in America,” but it’s also a kind of memoir. I loved this book. Every Iowan should read it. What are you reading now?
Joe: A collection of hilarious essays, a study of the gangster life of the 30’s and 40’s, Konnikova’s book on poker, and a study of Edward Hopper’s paintings.
Fern: We don’t always like the same books, but I’m glad to be with someone who shares a literary sensibility.
Joe: And I’m glad to have someone who wants to read my writing. And then tell me exactly what she thinks.
Fern: I once read that the husband of Joyce Carol Oates never read anything she wrote.
Joe: Well, she did write an awful lot. Maybe her husband had a day job.
You and I don’t often share the same books, but I’m fairly sure when I’ve read something that I know you will like. Or make you laugh.
Fern: I wish you wouldn’t read David Sedaris essays in bed. You keep laughing, and I have to keep asking what’s so funny.
Joe: When I first learned to read and took books out of the children’s section of the Kent Branch Library in Toledo, my mother would be alarmed if I ever laughed out loud as I was reading. She understood laughing at something on the radio or tv, but to her reading a book amounted to staring at an inanimate object.
Fern: She wasn’t a reader.
Joe: Not a word. So to see your child suddenly burst out laughing while staring intently at an inanimate object, well, it looked to her like I’d been possessed.
Fern: Which, in a way, you were.
Joe: Mom would gasp and make triple signs of the cross over me. And if any Holy Water was nearby (as in our house it often was), she’d sprinkle some of that on me too.
Fern: Well, that sounds like one way to break you of the laughing-out-loud-in-bed habit.
Joe: Hey, you say, “listen to this, “ a lot more frequently than I do. And often when I’m doing the Wordle.
Fern: I like to share. And I’m a fast reader so I cover more ground.
Joe: I’m a slow reader. I think I’m a good reader, but slow.
Fern: Also you finish every book you start. Even if you don’t like the book. I usually give a book fifty or so pages. Especially fiction. But after that, if it doesn’t grab me, I don’t finish it . A woman in one of my bookclubs reads the beginning of every book, then reads the end. If she likes it, she reads the middle.
Joe: I saw somewhere that as readers get older they naturally choose to read more non-fiction. Because with fiction it’s harder to remember the plot. But for the same reason it’s better exercise for your brain to keep reading fiction anyway.
Fern: Some fiction, maybe. But when fiction is good, it doesn’t seem hard at all. Maybe fiction doesn’t get more challenging as we grow older so much as our tastes mature.
Joe: And we have less tolerance for bullshit. It’s easier to bluff in fiction than in non-fiction. Part of good poker is calling out stories that don’t add up.
Fern: So maybe I should take up poker.
We are part of the Iowa Writers Collaborative which includes:
Laura Belin: Iowa Politics with Laura Belin, Windsor Heights
Doug Burns: The Iowa Mercury, Carroll
Dave Busiek: Dave Busiek on Media, Des Moines
Art Cullen: Art Cullen’s Notebook, Storm Lake
Suzanna de Baca Dispatches from the Heartland, Huxley
Debra Engle: A Whole New World, Madison County
Julie Gammack: Julie Gammack’s Iowa Potluck, Des Moines and Okoboji
Jody Gifford: Benign Inspiration, West Des Moines
Beth Hoffman: In the Dirt, Lovilla
Dana James: New Black Iowa, Des Moines
Fern Kupfer and Joe Geha: Fern and Joe, Ames
Robert Leonard: Deep Midwest: Politics and Culture, Bussey
Kyle Munson: Kyle’s Main Street, Iowa
Chuck Offenburger: Iowa Boy Chuck Offenburger, Jefferson and Des Moines
Barry Piatt: Barry Piatt on Politics-Behind the Curtain, Washington, D.C.
Mary Swander: Mary Swander’s Buggy Land, Kalona
Mary Swander: Mary Swander’s Emerging Voices
Cheryl Tevis: Unfinished Business, Boone County
Ed Tibbetts: Along the Mississippi, Davenport
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