Yup, it’s the silly season up here in New Hampshire. Every yahoo who thinks that they have a shot at, or deserves the keys to the white house is taking up extra booths at our favorite diners or harassing us with hands out, ready for the shaking as we try to scurry into the mall and out of the dammed cold. Every one of them wants to be your friend; well, at least for the moment. So I wasn’t surprised to get an invite to a poker night themed “Betting on Bernie.” Poker night? Yeah, I’m in. I never need a reason to voluntarily give other people my money under the guise of a night of fun and relaxation.

Well, at least there are no white chips…

I arrived a little late and the only seat at the table was smack in the middle of the other four players. To the right of me were a young woman and a middle aged bearded man. They both smiled affably as I took my seat. On my immediate left was a gentleman who seemed rather nervous and never looked up from the table to acknowledge my presence. On the side of him was a young man with baseball hat askew on his mop of hair, busily rolling a joint while he held a lit one tightly between his teeth. He smiled and looked up at me, his eyes barely visible as slits, gleaming a violent red. He grinned and nodded then went back to his task, muttering something under his breath about stick and stems. Hey, that’s okay, to each his own. Personally, I was looking for a tumbler of vodka; unfortunately, to no avail.

The dealer looked at me and introduced himself as Wayne from “Black Lives Matter.” Not quite sure what bearing that had on the game, but I told him my name and said it was nice to meet him. He asked me if I was employed. I told him yes. He told me buy-in would be twenty dollars, and I parted with the last of the cash in my wallet. He pushed stacks of chips in front of me and turned to ask everyone the same question; everyone except the gentleman to my immediate left. All said they were unemployed and he pushed their chips in front of them without asking for any money. When he was done, he pushed another half of a buy-in in front of the woman.

“Can I ask why no one had to pay the buy-in but me?” I quizzed him. “Sure,” he said. “They’re all unemployed so they get a subsidy. From each according to his ability, to each according to his needs. Understand?” He looked rather annoyed and his eyes never met mine as he shuffled the deck. “Um, yes, but you gave this young lady another half a buy-in more than the rest of us? Why is that?” I prodded. “Listen,” he told me firmly, “she’s the only woman at the table. Her gender is under-represented, so we try to assure that a woman has an even shot at winning. It equalizes the table.” I thought about this for a moment and when I looked around, everyone was sending me daggers. Best I just keep my mouth shut and go with the flow.

He dealt the cards and I picked mine up to sort them in my hand. I had two starfish, one tuna, one squid and one crab. Huh? The cards were two-toned, only gray and green, no numbers anywhere on the face. I chuckled at the joke and when I looked around the table, I quickly realized I was the only one amused. “You’re serious? I mean we’re playing poker, right?” “Yes,” he replied curtly, as he turned to instruct the lone woman to place her bet. “Wait, wait, wait, wait..” I interjected, “how are we going to bet with no numbers, no face cards either?”

“Listen,” he told me,” “you’re struggling with your “bicycle-deck” privilege so I’ll explain this to you slowly. No card is any better than any other card; all cards are of equal value. We value all cards the same. Face cards are patriarchal and oppressive. What gives one card the right to be a king or a queen? Who gets to decide that? Certainly not the masses. We are striving for a truly color blind game; no one color should oppress any other, except that we don’t want any cards that are white. Don’t worry, you’ll get the hang of the game quickly. Stop with the micro-aggression. This is a safe table.”

Okay, I can figure out “shut the hell up” when I hear it. I watched as the woman bet a hundred and tossed her chips into the middle of the table. The gentleman next to me called her bet and likewise, pushed his chips forward. I looked at my cards then at the face of the dealer, not quite sure what the heck to do, but hey, I was sitting on a pair of starfish. I raised her another hundred and pushed my chips into the pot. The quiet gentleman next to me just nodded at the dealer but never touched his chips, never folded his cards. The stoner at the end wasn’t paying attention, never looked at his cards, and when he tried to put his chips in the pot, he spilled half of them on the floor. The dealer had to count them for him, determining that he had miscounted anyway.

“Hey, wait a minute, this guy never called or folded,” I asked the dealer, pointing to the gent on my left. “That’s okay,” he told me. “He’s an undocumented player. Where he’s from, it’s against their beliefs to gamble.” “You gotta be kidding me,” I proclaimed, maybe a little too annoyed. “How the heck is he going to play poker and not gamble? I mean, if he wants to sit at the poker table, shouldn’t he be willing to play by the rules of the table?” “He is playing by the rules,” the dealer informed me. “Just not the rules of some dead white guy. What makes your values any more important than his? We respect his beliefs. All cultures and their values are equal. Anyone can sit at the table, regardless of the rules. It makes for a more diverse game.”

By now, it was clear that I was the skunk at the party. Even though I was the only paying skunk. However, It was determined that I had in fact, won the hand. I’m not sure why. The woman had a pair of sharks and I would have assumed that sharks beat starfish. But it was determined that sharks were too predatory and therefore, my starfish pair was a much more uplifting hand. The dealer counted the pot and gave me ten percent of it; the remaining ninety percent he distributed among the other four players.

That’s how the night progressed. Every pot was equally divided among the other four players after I was given 10 percent. At one point, I had a pair of dolphins which, I had learned in previous hands, was the one card that seemed to beat everything. I was wrong however. The stoner was holding what appeared to be a hand-drawn picture of a polar bear and everyone agreed that the card was so rare as to be endangered; he was awarded the pot. I protested, claiming that we couldn’t just alter the constitution of the deck. I was strongly reminded by the young woman that the constitution of the deck was living and breathing; any animal could be found in the deck, even if it actually wasn’t in the deck. It was very relative and situational. At about this point, I realized I really missed that vodka.

The game was called around eleven thirty. I looked around the table and realized I was the short stack. The undocumented gentleman to my left had the bulk of the chips. He never bet, never put any chips into any pot, never risked a stake and his pile was at least three times the size of mine. I had to assume he was the winner. “Wrong,” said the dealer. “We don’t pick winners and losers here; everyone wins.” He proceeded to hand everyone else a twenty dollar bill, what they would have committed to buy-in if they had in fact paid in the first place. He gave me two dollars back. He told me I was taxed at the ninety per cent rate. He handed us all a participation gift before we left; mine was a “feel the Bern” bumper sticker which I promptly affixed to the rear of one of the four Priuses in the parking lot on the way out.

They were gracious enough to ask me if I’d like to join them in the spring for some golf; “Driving for Bernie” would be the theme. I had to refuse. I imagined a fantasy-land putt-putt course somewhere with cups the diameter of basketballs, left hand only clubs and I was sure I’d have to part with ninety per cent of my balls.