Bridge over Troubled Squatters

The languid, and often liquid, sticky days of summer are closing down, in a rinse cycle of friendship and the gibbous moon.  Relocation to Rochester, two months +, and gaining momentum, we have encountered a full measure of “minnesota nice” ***, in spite of our classification as (pick a number);

  1. transients
  2. interlopers
  3. vagrants
  4. runaways
  5. squatters

A serious health issue for Lynn, my silver girl, prompted the move to MN.

Sail on silver girl

A visit from the welcome wagon, Kathy Johnson, the Rochester greeter, encouraged us to embrace the community.  And so we have.

Sail on by

Inhabiting an aluminum womb, in a lovely RV park with a rural setting, provides contentment but little intellectual stimulation, so we did what most elderly couples would do; went directly to the Pure Pleasure Adult store on US63 to view their inventory of “devices” and request the location of the nearest tattoo parlor.  Of course that’s not true.  O.k., so what if it is, the point being that overcoming the urge to get inked up is a serious challenge to fans of reality shows, like the NBA or Project Runway, where entire bodies emerge indigo blue with enough body piercings to set off the TSA siren.  Not desirous of impure pleasure, I’m forced to shift into reverse.  Lynn moves forward by meeting with women who enjoy sewing.

Your time has come to shine, All your dreams are on their way

Lynn suggested I explore an old passion, playing competitive bridge, having retired during the first Nixon administration.  The easy explanation, like golf, where I was also not proficient; the stolen hours away from a young family and a busy career.  The real reason: the players were often repugnant, ill-mannered, unkempt, and the majority smoked non-stop.  That was on their off days; when they arrived to play it became a logarithm on the Richter Scale of rudeness.  Although guilty of most offenses, I did not smoke.

Home to bridge “athletes”

Fast forward 40 years to the Rochester Duplicate Bridge and a welcome as a visiting royal, first by a person, who, for reasons of personal privacy and security, will only be referred to, anonymously, by the fictitious nom de plume, Sue Greenberg.  Curiously, that corresponds to the photo and name on her driver’s license, arrest record, financial statement and passport.

She provides a sheet describing Zero Tolerance for Unacceptable Behavior which defines gloating, poor personal hygiene, badgering, intimidation, profanity, and threats of violence as not commendable.  They even have a law, 74A1, that allows you to state, “this player is interfering with my enjoyment of the game”.  Already I’m feeling a bit uneasy, and unwelcome.  I mean (alert: dirty word tweet) WTF ?  I had played duplicate bridge in a private setting for years with a close circle of friends, mostly old physicians, where restrained war whoops,  borderline tribal behavior, and impugning the character of the opposition was not only acceptable, but laudatory.

But lo, she then invites us to her farm for dinner with her husband Rich, a charming self-described nerd from NY, dog Max, and, to a picnic two weeks hence for an annual get-together of family, friends, and a celebration to honor a vegetable (they harvest the sweetest corn in Olmsted County, MN as a hobby).

Back seat driver Max directs Rich, hayride driver of the vintage John Deere

Vulnerable bridge players contemplate corn-on-the-cob, doubled


In the month that followed, I joined the ACBL , played 2 to 3 times weekly, and met really wonderful people who have been genuinely warm and compassionate to both of us in our time of need.  Too many to mention, they know who they are, and saying thank you, in bridge lexicon, is an insufficient bid.

See how they shine, When you need a friend

If you neither play nor understand bridge, welcome, I don’t either.  The lure of the game is not complex; (a) you can never be perfect and (b) you can never learn enough.  Like Athena, the goddess of wisdom, warfare, battle strategy, heroic endeavor, and reason….the game, a ladylike mirror into our souls.  At the table we might quietly revel, for the moment, disemboweling an opponent, yet walk away friends.  No different than children in a sandbox.  Not everyone has a bucket and a shovel, but we all go home with sand between our toes.

An accomplished partner, at a team event, described my play as follows; your bidding is weak, play of the hand suspect, and defense poor, but you make a great dummy.  And I was flattered……batting average .250.  I have earned points, and a ranking (junior master) which is similar to a Boy Scout merit badge.  The points, however, have no cash value and are not redeemable for senior discounts at Coldstone Creamery®, an upgrade from business to 1st class on Virgin Air®, or a gift card at the Pure Pleasure Adult.  Ice cream, sex, and airborne abstinence are incompatible with bridge, so help me God.

Our time here may soon come to an end.  The prognosis, the clinical outcome, are a metaphorical walk on a razor’s edge of an abyss.  Often, the only courage I can muster is irreverence, and looking deep into the eyes of the woman I love.

When you’re weary, feeling small, when tears are in your eyes

The certainty is that my playing days in Rochester dwindle down, to a precious few.  The bittersweet paradox, the concomitant embrace of sadness and happiness, compelled me to share these random thoughts.  A kind gesture, no matter how small or insignificant, is never lost in meaning, and for that we are truly grateful.

It is nice to be in Minnesota.

Like a bridge over troubled water I will ease your mind





*Garrison Keillor discusses “Wobegonics”; the  language of Minnesotans which includes “no confrontational verbs or statements of strong personal preference”

**the academic study by Peter Rentfrow, Samuel Gosling, and Jeff Potter in 2008 found that Minnesota was the second most agreeable and fifth most extroverted state in the nation, traits associated with “nice”.

lyrics, Simon, P., 1969

It does rain in Indianapolis

The recent stage collapse at the Indiana State Fairgrounds on east 38th Street resulted in 5 fatalities and more than 140 injured. Innocent people on a summer evening at the right place, anticipating a concert, at the wrong time, a wind micro-shear of 70+ mph, and a catastrophic end.  Injury lawyers, motivated by contingency fees, will spread the blame from Sugarland to Graceland,  but the tragedy cannot be erased.

A disadvantage to advancing age, there are events you never forget.

Turning the clock back, 48 years, Halloween night 1963, a similar event occurred less than 200 yards away in the Coliseum, on a frozen rink, the opening evening for Holiday on Ice, an extravaganza of figure skaters, costumes, and music.  The program had nearly concluded, the lights were off, and the performers were taking their places for the final curtain, and then this:

An enormous explosion

The pharmaceutical giant, Eli Lilly, had provided dinner and the entertainment for our senior class, only eleven strong, plus two faculty members and our aged pharmacy school librarian as guests.  With a guard rail, a walkway and a single row forward, the blast from a leaking propane tank hurtled everything and everyone seated directly in front of us upward and outward.  The final toll, > 70 people died and 400 were injured, including several of the performers who were showered with concrete.


Our group was seated to the right of picture, one row back from the railing


In the aftermath, the city (then under 500,000 pop.) did not have the capability of processing that many deaths and injuries, so the ice rink was used as a temporary morgue.


Indianapolis Star photo, November 1, 1963 from the opposite side.  The gaping hole is directly in front of the large crane.


So what did I remember from 48 years ago:

  • with the electricity out, an eerie glow from burning propane and ignited debris casting long shadows across the ice littered with broken bodies
  • the aroma of cotton candy
  • the inability to move from my seat for nearly five minutes, an eternity, in awe of the gaping hole beneath my feet
  • the amount of broken glass everywhere.  You never realize how much glass is around you, until every window pane in a quarter mile has been blown into tiny shards.
  • carrying a young man of six into a bus filled with the wounded, with his injured father limping behind, and heading to Methodist with a police escort
  • The calm orchestration of chaos by the nurses and medical staff
  • learning that my initial paralysis was neither fear nor loathing, but simply ‘shock’

In the end, the boy’s injury was minor, but his father had lost most of a calf muscle and required surgery & several transfusions.  Three of us gave blood that night.  Our entire group escaped unscathed with the exception of the librarian, a large, yet feeble lady, who tripped, fell, and was trampled in the panic that ensued as people rushed for the exits.  As I recall she had a broken ankle, and many superficial cuts, but healed quickly.

Unlike a Greek tragedy, the art form based on human suffering that gives the audience pleasure, the stage collapse last week opened a nearly forgotten wound, but one that will never go away.

Stark recognition of the frailty of the human condition and how little we are in control: my two pals, Larry Larson and Jerry Copenhaver (both long since passed away) and, yes, myself complaining that Lilly was too cheap to get us seats in the front rows.