Alvin leaned back in his office chair, crossed one foot over the opposite knee, then the other over the other knee, then rested his right calf against the desk and rocked contentedly as he looked and admired his latest creation: an Excel spreadsheet. All along the edges of the desk were seventeen decks of playing cards, each singular and different than any other. He nodded approvingly at his spreadsheet. It had twelve columns. In the first column was the name or brand of a deck of cards. The rows down column A were numbered one through seventeen.
“What’s the haps, Alvin,” Rika called as she passed the door, moving on her way to her room.
“Oh, come here.”
“What?” she asked, returning to his doorway.
“You’re just in time.” He turned back to his spreadsheet, then looked down at all the decks of cards. “I’ve completed my assessment of what the best deck of cards is.” He turned his head back to the door. “Come see.”
Rika pulled a stool from the wall and sat next to him. She looked at the cards, and then at the twelve-column spreadsheet. “You got a lot of cards. What’s the spreadsheet do?”
“It’s pretty isn’t it.”
“Very pretty. It has lots of numbers.”
“Mm hm. So, I have brand, manufacturer, thickness in millimeters, initial out-of-the-box slickness rating, slickness rating after having been shuffled three hundred times—that changes, I didn’t realize that originally, frap assessment—”
“Yeah, how smooth and even the edge is after you’ve split the deck in half and you’re frapping the sections back together in your shuffle. You know, ffffffrrrap!”
“I don’t think that’s a word.”
“I’m sure it is. Font rating, court card style and aesthetics rating, the number of shuffles it takes to break the deck in, thumb rating—which is how easy it is to thumb off the top card and place it, stay put-ness rating, and price.”
“What’s stay put-ness?”
“When you place a card or a pair of cards down in front of you and whether or not they stay in the position you intended or they spin a bit on the table and go all cattywampus, which is annoying.”
“I don’t think that’s a word either.”
“Cattywampus? Sure it is.”
“No, stay put-ness.”
“I just invented it.”
“No, that’s a word.”
“Soooooooo, why did you do this, again?”
“To find out what the best deck of cards is.”
“For what reason exactly?”
“Well, obviously for the advancement of civilization.”
“And because I was curious.”
“Okay, what’s the best deck of cards?”
Alvin turned back to his desk and waved his hands over the group of decks. “Of course, this is not a complete evaluation, as that would be impossible, but really a random sampling of prominent decks.”
“Looks really thorough to me.”
Rika picked up some sort of plastic gauge from the desk. “What’s this?”
“That’s a carpenter’s angle locator.” He picked up a small flat board. “See, in order to determine how slick a deck is, I have to have a numerical way of measuring. So, you put the deck of cards on the board, and you put the angle locator next to it, then you tilt the board, and you note at what angle the board is at when the cards start sliding apart. That gives you a relative number. Some cards start off really slick, like at just three degrees, but after three-hundred shuffles they usually fall in the range of ten degrees, which is good because at three degrees they just fly out of your hand when you’re trying to shuffle them and end up on the floor. But some cards are really dry, like cheap Bicycle cards, but which I like, except that they’re cheap and take forever to break in, but after three hundred shuffles most of these good decks end up at about ten degrees, which is good.”
Rika picked up deck called Animal Kingdom. “What are these?”
“The court cards are animals.”
She opened the box. “Oh, cool. I like these.”
“The font’s too small, they’re too slick, and the edge is only fair.”
“I think they’re cute. This queen is a polar bear. I like these the best. I would consider these the best.”
“Well, they’re not. And if you considered them to be the best, you’d be wrong.”
“Okay, what’s the best?”
“Well, first of all,” he said, picking a deck, “These are Copag 310’s. They’re made in Belgium. They only cost four dollars—which is the same price you pay for Bicycles or Bees, and which most people think are the only cards that exist. But, the Copag 310’s are superior to the Bicycles and Bees, especially since you don’t have to shuffle them a thousand times to break them in.”
“So they’re best?”
“No, they are the best for the price you’re paying.”
“So, not the winner, not the runner up, but Miss Congeniality.”
“Pretty much. Now, some of these decks handle really nicely but have questionable attributes. For example, Medallions by Theory 11 are really good, but for some reason pick up a crap-load of dirt, to the point where I don’t want to touch them anymore. Who knows why. Or, for another example, the Copags—as good as they are—have some queens that look like they’re melting from a tropical disease and a Jack that looks like his father was Peter Lorrie and his mother was also Peter Lorrie.”
“I actually know who that is.”
“And that’s why we’re friends. Now, speaking of court cards, this is the Tahoe deck of which only twenty-five-hundred were produced. They incorporate what’s known as ARRCO court cards. I’m actually fond of these, mainly because I think the Queen of Spades is kind of hot.” He showed her.
“Well, she’s no Jessica Rabbit, but okay.”
“On the other hand, though, the Queen of Diamonds looks like Henry Gibson.”
“Him I don’t know.”
“That’s okay, most people don’t.”
“So, which deck is the best she asked again with great eagerness.”
“Now, the worst is the most common. That would be the common Bicycles and the Bees.” He picked them up, then put them down quickly. “In spot number fifteen is the Theory 11 High Victorians.” He picked up their lovely tuck case.
“Yeah, the box is nice but the actual deck has some font issues.”
“So, what would be the best deck of cards?”
“I’m getting there.”
“Get there sooner.”
“Fine.” He picked up two decks, and presented the first. “This is the Bicycle Elite Edition. It’s really fine. My biggest problem is that it has the traditional back of a naked little angel boy riding a penny-farthing.”
“Also known as a bike with a giant front wheel, except to you, who had hoped someday to use the word penny-farthing in a sentence.”
“And so did. But it’s weird, don’t you think?”
“Your use of strange, archaic terms?”
“No, the picture. It’s strange. Don’t you think? I mean, why didn’t somebody a hundred and fifty years ago when the designer came up with this idea of having a card back depict a naked angel boy riding a bicycle say, ‘I’m sorry, that’s just weird.’”
“Who’s the winner?”
He presented the other deck. “Ta daaaaa! The winner is Dan and Dave’s Plaid Deck! Do you want to know why?”
“Mm, no,” she said but took the box from his hand and looked it over.
“Well, I wanted to know. And now I do. And it took a lot of work. So, there it is.”
She looked back for a moment and nodded approvingly. “Nice job, inchworm.”
She went back to the box examination and read aloud the inscription on the side. “’Fine playing cards for gentlemen.’ Uh huh. Kind of sexist, don’t you think?”
“I think it’s supposed to be retro, like nineteenth century.”
“Before the invention of women.”
“Alvin, did you ever think maybe you’d want to get a girlfriend?”
“Is this a less than veiled criticism of my preoccupations?”
“Pretty much, yeah. Just thinking out loud. You know.”
“That would be nice,” he said in a casual manner as though assessing the benefits of having a chauffeur.
“Well, you have to make an effort,” she said.
“I get all the nuts. Some guys are chick magnets; I’m a nut magnet.”
“Maybe you’re too critical.”
“You need to be more open and accepting of people, even their faults.”
“I don’t like baggage—emotional, psychological, or otherwise.”
“You have to learn to compromise, Alvin.”
“Because that’s what makes relationships work. If you don’t compromise then you end up alone. Like you are now.”
“Alone can be okay.”
“No man is an island. John Donne.”
“Give me liberty or give me death. Henry Gibson.”
“Patrick Henry, but I’m pretty sure you know that. Being alone isn’t necessarily the same as being free. Relationships are liberating. They free you from solitude. Solitude can be a jail.”
“So can coexisting with an incompatible human,” he said, then as afterthought added, “which may be redundant.”
“What do you want, a female version of you?”
This wasn’t a flippant remark, judging from Alvin’s unsmiling stare, and Rika was hesitant to counter. For a moment she considered the concept. A little spark ignited within her, but her sense of practicality snuffed it. “Well,” she began slowly, not sure at first where to head, “why don’t you put an ad in the classifieds? You can say who you are and maybe meet somebody just like you.”
“The lonely-hearts thing?”
“No, the classifieds.”
“I’d rather lose an arm. It’s so—” and he searched for the end of his sentence, “so…”
“It’s so what?”
“So, not okay. And I’m dubious about the probability.”
“Try tamping down your pride a bit and at least look at what’s there already.”
“Are you happy?”
“I’ve never been one to shoot for happy. I aim for content. Or being left in peace.”
“You remind me of that old Neil Young song, ‘See the lonely boy out on a weekend, trying to make it pay. Can’t relate to joy, he tries to speak and, can’t begin to say.’ You can’t relate to joy.”
“That’s a fair assessment. Thanks for noticing.” He smiled.
“So are you content?”
“Not especially. Not at the moment. Anyway.”
“Well, there you go. Being in a relationship with somebody can make you content, or better yet, happy. But you have to learn to compromise.”
“Is that what you do with whozits? Compromise?”
“It’s Rory. And it’s what everybody does.”
“I question the concept of avoiding loneliness by instead embracing misery and/or annoyance, misery caused by compromising yourself to satisfy someone who is probably incapable of appreciating your effort, or even noticing that you’re making it, then locking yourself into their world which is essentially alien to your character and being.”
She ran all that through her head one more time. “Well, that was a mouthful of pithiness, wasn’t it.”
“It came suddenly, and coalesced.”
“Are you saying that’s what I do?” Rika asked.
“No, I’m saying that’s what everybody does.”
She nodded, not in agreement but in a mock gesture. “I see. Well, this has been fun.” She got up and walked to the door. “Have fun with your cards.”
“Rika,” Alvin called.
“What?” she said turning and standing impatiently.
“I don’t like the way he treats you. That’s all.”
“He treats me okay.”
“Are you sure?”
“Yeah.” It was a quick response but the commitment was questionable. “Yeah,” she said again softly. “Yeah.”
“You can insist on it you know. You’re at liberty.”
She pursed her lips, considered it, and gave a quick nod of acceptance. “Noted.”
She woke up next morning to the alarm. She looked over at the bedside table and a saw a small gift-wrapped package. She opened it. It was the Animal Kingdom deck of cards. It had a Post-It on it that said, “I still think the font is too small.”
Note to the Mother Ship
I think most people here consider the range of human intelligence to lie within “he’s a pretty smart fella” and “I ain’t had no book learnin’” My brief observations suggest it’s far, far greater than that. If we’re selecting opposite sides of the extremes, it’s really more like dolphins at one end and clams at the other. Interestingly though, here in America, everybody gets to air an opinion. They get to vote too, meaning the clams. While I would think it more productive to let the dolphins vote and have the clams just sit at the TV table, I have to also note that the dolphins—given their relatively massive and complex brains—are more likely to have something go all whack-a-doodle within the circuitry. Kind of like German engineered machine guns. They’re brilliant—until you pull the trigger and all you get is a click at the least desirable time because within this marvelously designed machine of interdependent components and physics, one of the six thousand things that could have possibly gone wrong, did.
Note to the Mother Ship
I just heard a song on the radio where the lyrics were I want to go where there’s no police, I want to go where there’s no disease. People here being what they are, I don’t think I’d want to go somewhere where there’s no police unless it’s somewhere where there isn’t anybody at all. What I find more troubling, though, with this person’s lyric, is the fact that police and disease don’t rhyme. That’s just lazy song writing, which I know from my study of history was the thing that finally felled the Roman Empire. I’m inclined to think the same will happen to America. I want to go where there’s no police, I want to buy a really nice valise. There, how hard was that?
Note to the Mother Ship
There’s a co-op grocery store just a block away. I don’t usually go there because everything is very expensive. They have things like free range Luna bars and that sort of thing. I think the main reason everything is so is expensive is because before they put anything on the shelf, they put it in the middle of a drum circle and chant good vibes to it so that when you consume it, you internalize the good vibes. I guess that’s okay. I mean, at least there’s no chicanery involved. They also have bison jerky and place-setting table spoons made out of bamboo. So, that’s kind of neat, yeah.
Anyway, I ran out of broccoli, and just broccoli, which just now took me four attempts to figure out how to type and spell correctly because it always does, and so being lazy I went down to the co-op. There was a woman with a toddler in my aisle. The toddler was crying. Now, I don’t like children. They have a sickly, sweet smell like burnt caramel corn; when they finally stop smelling they’re okay for a couple years; but then at about age fourteen they turn into adult chimpanzees with a rage addiction; but then eventually they mellow out at about age twenty and through marriage bring someone into your family you can’t stand. Personally, if I had a child and he was like me, I’d be disappointed that he was unable to develop a more singular nature; but on the other hand, if he wasn’t like me, he’d either want to kill me or me him. I’m still working out this human passion to create babies. That aside, and on the plus side, though, in regard to toddler humans, I have to admit, they ask really inane questions which are consequently really easy to answer—or if you don’t know the answer you can just make up any insane thing you want and they’ll never question the logic of it—which makes you feel really intelligent for either knowing the answer or pulling a whopper out of your hat and getting away with it. This may be the whole point of procreation, actually.
Anyway, the toddler was crying. Children crying bothers me a lot—not because the noise grates but because I empathize with their confusion and subsequent horror at not being able to understand anything in the world they’ve been shoved into. They, like animals, have no idea what the rules are. They also have no comparative scale that lets them know that whatever they’re upset about is not nearly as bad as it may appear. I often want to go up to the child and calm it down with a soothing, “Now, now. There, there. Tush tush. It’s okay,” but I don’t like getting that close to them.
But I wanted to know what this particular child was upset about. Now, in the regular grocery store, as opposed to this grocery store, it’s not uncommon to see children crying, especially in the cereal aisle when mom refuses to get the box of Chocolate Sugar Whoofies that has a picture of the Disney Corporation’s latest lead cartoon actress on the box. Not so much the case here in the co-op as there’s really nothing here a child could possibly want. So, I decided to do a mind incursion to figure out what the issue was. I left my body standing in the aisle, then entered the child’s body. Turns out the child wanted an Earth’s Best Organic Yogurt Smoothie that had a picture of Elmo and a little Muppet girl on the package. I’m sure if it was Fiberglass Coated With Anthrax Spores and had the same picture, the kid would be having the same uncontrollable conniption fit when mom passed it by with a gentle “No.”
Just out of curiosity, I went from the child’s body into the mom’s body to see what was going through her mind. It was annoyance. Not surprising. In her body I turned to my body, standing there about ten feet away. I could feel that my presence, as she viewed it, made her feel uncomfortable as my body was just standing there staring back at her. I should note, though, that I think I looked kind of hip and intriguing. Of course, that was me looking at me and not necessarily her looking at me, so, different perspective.
Note to the Mother Ship
Have just discovered that the area code for all of Hawaii is 808. This number is a palindrome. It’s also a mirror image of itself. It’s also the same upside down as it is upside right. It is, without a doubt, the perfect number. I can’t help thinking this is a sign. I will give further thought to my present location and consider the logistics and practicalities of relocating to Hawaii.
While not the most desirable deck of cards, the Bicycle Rider Back deck is nonetheless ubiquitous. It’s everywhere I go or look. It’s only just today that I’ve taken note that the Ace of Spades has the number 808 on it. Clearly this is not a coincidence, but a message, a message from the Hawaiians. They’re calling me. I’ve felt it, now I know it.