Wednesday, January 14, 2009

BRIDGE: I Miss Alan Truscott

In the last fortnight, I've had occasion to post a couple of comments at the blog run by Judy Kay Wolff. Judy's a feisty but gracious lady who I've met exactly once in person, and she, of course, does not remember it. It was an elevator ride at a national championship tournament in Toronto (I misremembered earlier and thought it might have been Buffalo). She was with her now-deceased husband Norman Kay. They couldn't have been more gracious to a t-shirt-wearing, baseball-cap wearing head of the ACBL's PR effort for the tournament. In some ways, it was sad I didn't make more of an impression!

At any rate, Judy brought up Alan Truscott in her blog and it brought back some of my happiest memories of the various tours I took as PR head for the ACBL. Certainly, I was a polarizing choice for the job when Paul Cohen first hired me. I dressed considerably differently that the various doyens that ran the league. At that first meeting in Portland OR, I was able to identify every friend and foe I had on the board. And I never changed a single mind. I tried. At first. Then I gave up and went about doing my job.

And that got me the respect of Truscott, the long-time bridge columnist for the New York Times.

He rewarded that respect by being happy to share stories about the various personalities within the Bridge world. Bridge is filled with people who'd I consider villains, ranging from cheating jerks at local clubs all the way to the top of the international bridge scene, both players and politicians. I make enemies easily and quickly and some very rich, nasty people have a permanent hate on for me. And me for them. On the other hand, the list of great people easily exceeds the list with screed. Judy, Norman and her current husband Bobby were amongst the group that lets me cherish my memories of being involved in Bridge at its top levels.

So was Alan and his wife, Dorothy Hayden Truscott. Absolutely the best story you can tell about the very proper erudite Alan was that he proposed to Dorothy on the steps of the Taj Majal. The stiff facade was nothing but caramel coated inside. He was funny and willing to allow jokes to be told on himself. I always found Dorothy to be more reserved in fact. Maybe it was because I looked like a hippie, to her.

Not that Alan wasn't demanding of the use of the Queen's English. I remember that at one national event in upper state New York (I'm waffling, trying to remember whether it was Niagara Falls or Buffalo), Alan had occasion to refer to something as plebian. Pronounced it pleh-BEE-an. It was like a veritable scene on The Price is Right in my head. I ... ME ...! had caught the man William F. Buckley would look to for grammatical help, mispronouncing a word. At least here on this side of the Atlantic! West Point cadets at called Plebes, pronounced Pleebs. It was a word I used occasionally too. And I always pronounced it PLEEB-ee-an.

I called Alan on it and he gave me that look. NOW, I know the look was one of pity. But all I saw was a glint of fear. I bet him the entry fee for an upcoming game he and I were going to be playing at the tournament. Alan would surely have paid for his entry and mine, had this contretemps never arisen. He always carried around a roll of ACBL scrip (like gift certificates in the Monopoly money format), to pay for such things. But I had to be taught a lesson. The entry fee for us both was to be the prize.

The only dictionary in the press room was a British one. And that wouldn't do. So we went hunting. We eventually found a Webster's and a New World dictionary. Found there were TWO spellings for Plebian (the other being Plebeian) ... and one pronunciation.

We then sat down and discussed how we were going to go about playing the game I was now paying for completely. That was when I discovered that Alan still had a few residual issues over having a convention (a set of agreements in Bridge) HE came up with, credited to a friend of Judy and Norman's, Robert Jordan. In fact, I played the Jordan 2NT convention with all of my partners at the time. He might have been bent at the shoulder and losing that fine white hair of his, but Alan's ears starting steaming. That's when I found out I had been playing the TRUSCOTT 2NT convention all along. And so it said on our convention card when we sat down to play a few minutes later.

I'd love to tell you we two Bridge journalists managed to best the field in that one and one-time only partnership between Alan and I. Or that I did something of note, worthy of being in a Times column. But neither happened. We had a good game and placed, but didn't win.

Alan and Dorothy are no longer with us. They live on in the stories that we can tell about them. The memories we can relive and enjoy. That's why, if you are into Bridge, then Judy's blog is worth your time. I'm glad somebody's taken on the task of getting as many of the tales of these people back into circulation as she can.

Even if you didn't know Alan, Dorothy, Norman or even the Wolff's, Judy will make you feel like you did. And that's a good thing.

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