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  • Writer's pictureJoe Pace

Player of Games, #65: Dirty Dog

Look at that handsome bastard.

Close your eyes. What do you remember about your grandparents? I know, you might have have two sets. Or three, or none. But close them anyway, and try to recall what it felt like spending time with your parents' parents, if you can. We were lucky enough to have both out mom's folks and our dad's, at least for a while. Mom's dad was a brakeman from the local railyard, a fire hydrant of a man in suspenders who had survived strokes and heart attacks and loved vanilla ice cream and scratching his grandchildren with his unshaven whiskers. Dad's father we had a little longer, though not much. Both of them were gone before I reached ten years old. Our grandfather on our father's side was a silver-haired matinee idol of a man, a shipyard worker who had survived Pearl Harbor and my father both, a long-suffering Kirk Douglas stunt double who loved our grandmother, cigarettes, and cards in whatever order.

When I visit my grandfather in memory, I think back to the apartment he shared with my grandmother, to the stale embrace of cigarette smoke, of vee-neck white tee-shirts and curly, steel-gray chest hairs poking over over the V. Of Saturday mornings watching Superman movies or whatever creature feature was on the tube. Of learning Dirty Dog.

Look, if you've played UNO, you know Dirty Dog. It's the same game, only played with a regulation deck of cards. As our grandfather taught us, twos are Draw Twos, fours are Draw Fours, eights are Skips and Jacks reverses. Queens are Wilds, Kings Wild Draw Fours. Simple, right? Playing for pennies while Grandpa puffed away, we learned the savagery inherent in cards, in any game. At one point, I remember one of us, my brother or me, engaging in some nasty tactic or other, resulting in our opponent drawing a fistful of cards. When the victim complained, Grandpa responded with the resigned aplomb of the Greatest Generation. "That's why they call it Dirty Dog," he said.

I remember that every time I face the hostile environments of politics or publishing or parenthood. It's Dirty Dog, all of it. Don't want to get your teeth kicked in? Don't play.

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