August 2, 2012

In and Out of the Quad-Cities – Oh the Games People Play

Contributed by Gail McPike and Toni Hall

Oh the Games People Play

When you were a kid, did you ever discover something so cool you could hardly wait to tell all your friends? Did you ever get a toy or game so excruciatingly fun to play with you literally vibrated your way through the school day, because once class was over you could run home and play?

Typically, when we think of this type of excitement, our thoughts turn to little kids, blushing brides and the strangely dressed grand prize winners bouncing next to Monty Hall on “Let’s Make a Deal.” But, we’re here to tell you, once in a blue Kentucky Moon, full grown gal-type reporters of the 50+ variety relive the experience. And, it makes our hearts go pitter patter.

OK, after the better part of three years bearing the professional burden of hard scrapple reporters cruising the ins and outs of these Quad-Cities, we’ve seen it all. We’ve met characters on Davenport’s Lower East Side, joined regulars at Boozies brass rail, sloshed through the saw dust of local fairs, and ankled over a mile long hill in a couple of Bix-7s. We’re not easily excited, but we’ve stumbled onto something so insanely cool and incredibly fun, we’ve actually lost sleep just thinking about it.

And, just like those long forgotten days of yore, we want to share the news with our friends. And, since we consider you our readers – all 12,000 or so of you – to be very special friends, we have been overflowing with excitement. We have a secret, and because you’re our BFF, we’re going to share it with just you.

So, with a furtive glance around for eavesdroppers and a hushed tone rolling down our vocal cords, let us whisper our super exciting discovery – “MahJong.” When Current Trophy Husband, Frank, heard the word, he commented something to the effect of, “It’s about time you learn to cook that Chinese chicken dish.” But, MahJong isn’t some new Chinese version of fondue, even though we wouldn’t mind scoring a recipe for that taste treat (hint to our good friend, Ella). It’s really an ancient Chinese game that’s galloping across the country like an Oklahoma Surrey without the fringe.

MahJong has been played in China for a very long time; some say thousands, others say hundreds of years, and a few latter-day experts insist on a start date of 1880-something. As a matter of fact, one old story has philosopher, Confucius, inventing it back in 500 BC. We can almost imagine Ol’ Confucius, taking a break from his day time job of writing sayings for fortune cookies one afternoon, and deciding to invent a cool game for Gail and Toni. Later that afternoon, after a brisk game with his assistant, he wrote our favorite third grade classic: Confucius say Man sitting on nail is better off. But, we digress.

The game is played with 152 beautiful tiles, which in many ways resemble Chinese dominoes. The strategy is similar to the game of Yahtzee, and a pair of dice are tumbled as part of the action. The experts say MahJong is one-third luck and two-thirds skill. But, we aren’t good enough to provide expert commentary.

But, here is the coolest thing about MahJong. Many of the game sets in use today were brought to the United States in the 1920s. In fact, after seeing the game played, Abercrombie and Fitch founder, Ezra Fitch, sent a team of people China with the instructions to travel from village to village buying every MahJong set available. His company imported over 12,000 sets in those early years, each a unique work of art.

MahJong is an art. Once a person decides they want a MahJong set of their own, they can purchase a new set or scour every corner of the internet’s world-wide-web for deals on a time worn antique set from the Roaring 20s. As we sit here in our East Village hideout, banging out our scoop on this virtual Remington Standard Number 2, Toni is sweetly caressing her recently acquired old style set. Gail expectantly greets the mailman each day, because her set is somewhere between an eBay selling in Philadelphia and her front door.

MahJong clubs are sprouting up in the Quad-Cities like dandelions on a nicely manicured yard. We are already fidgeting, because we might miss next week’s session. We hope you’ll think about jumping into the MahJong pool. We can tell you the water is warm.

Before we go skipping down the lane, we want to share a little tidbit from the Gail and Toni book of philosophy. Man does not live by bread alone; sometimes it takes meatloaf, too. We’re hooked on the fabulous comfort food of the Crane and Pelican in LeClaire. Their recipe goes something like this – take one 1850s Riverboat Capitan’s home, add great food, a pinch of artwork and a healthy dose of great service. Mandy, the owner and chief mixologist, and this place get two thumbs up from this pair of girls.

Happy August… you’all.