Friday, October 19, 2012

Poker time...

A big deal           Our once-a-month poker game seldom lasts three hours. Bluffing works well at the table although that tactic is seldom used. Losses of more than five or six dollars are rare. Conversation is basically polite and uneventful; we talk about travel plans and occasional arterial blockages. You’d think we’d raise the stakes to inject excitement.

But high rollers aren’t invited. If one were to show up, he (she?) might think we were having Sunday school on Wednesday night. Our game is that safe; a few of the guys play while drinking Chardonnay!

That’s why I mentioned a used DVD I’d recently purchased for a dollar, the 2007 film, Towelhead. I conveyed to the table that I’d found the movie to be uncomfortably fascinating, hard to watch as a parent, but remarkable regarding the film’s star, Summer Bishil. Bishil portrayed a thirteen-year-old Lebanese American named Jasira.

Watching her performance was both difficult and fascinating. Scene after scene, I wondered, “How can they shoot that?” Indeed, I was offended and perplexed, but amazed by the incredible talent of Bishil. Never had I seen more expressive eyes so full of an alarming wisdom.

“She had to be older than thirteen,” I said to table. We were playing a strange game that used eight cards; red threes were wild.  I wanted to tell the group that I felt bad about watching it, perhaps even worse had I not. Instead, I said, “Hers was a profoundly significant role.”

Yes, I talk that way sometimes. At our poker table, it didn’t matter. I doubted that anyone was listening. The guys were too surprised that someone had bet a quarter.

“She’s nineteen,” said a Dr. friend who sat across from me. He was looking down at his Blackberry. “Where’d you get those movies?” he asked. I told him.

It was his turn to deal. “Ante a dime,” he announced. As he dealt, we did as we were told. Nothing more was said about Towelhead.

But so many of its disturbing images continued to cycle through me. Not until I was dealt a royal straight flush was I finally distracted; “I’ll raise a quarter,” I said, with a reckless abandon that defied that hand’s wild nine’s and three’s.

That’s when it hit me; American moviegoers had experienced a similar shock when twenty-two year old Parisian born Brigitte Bardot starred in Roger Vadim’s And God Created Woman.  Too young to have seen the movie (in 1956), I’d heard adults talk about it. For years after that, Bardot remained a hot topic, although I don’t recall whether anyone raved about her acting skills.

That wasn’t the case with Bishil. (Later, I found this comment in a Los Angeles Times review by Gary Goldstein on 9/12/08. “On the upside, newcomer Summer Bishil turns in a gutsy, quietly riveting performance as Jasira, a ripening 13-year-old sent to Houston to live with her pompous Lebanese American father…by her divorced, shamelessly self-involved American mother…”) Her spot on gazes and facial shifts had captured my attention; even as I played cards, my memory of her repertoire repeated. She was that good.

Indeed, I wanted to mention to the gamblers what I’d read about another brilliant starlet, an Austrian named Hedwig Kiesler. Although she had fractured social norms in 1933 when she appeared naked in Ecstasy, she was a Jewish math prodigy who used her beauty and brains to help defeat Hitler when she moved to America (and changed her name to Hedy Lamar!). My impression of Bashil is that she may have a comparable genius.

“I’ll probably never know,” I thought to myself. I felt as if I’d taken a vacation from our game. But no one seemed to notice. All eyes were on Steve’s hand. While I was enjoying my cinematic reverie, he was busy piling up aces. With one card left to turn over, I counted four.

He needed five to beat me. Quickly, I figured the odds. Out of the 20-25 cards I hadn’t seen, there were no aces, only wild cards. And there were only four of those. At 5 to 1 or 6 to 1, I figured that my chances of winning were much better than his.

So I bet again. He called my bet, gripped his final down card. Barely breathing, all of us leaned forward. We looked like models for a Normal Rockwell painting. Steve flipped his wrist, tossed his card for all of us to see.

It was a three, a wild card! He’d made five aces!

If we’d been making a movie, that would have been a perfect ending…for everyone but me.

                                    B.Koplen  8/19/12

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