b Papa Dog's Blog: Bernardo's Eighth Annual Poker Birthday Surprise

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Sunday, January 22, 2006

Bernardo's Eighth Annual Poker Birthday Surprise

It’s late January, which means the time has once again come for Bernardo O’Reilly’s annual poker surprise party. If you read my account of last year’s extravaganza, you know how involved these things get. When a guy knows he’s going to be surprised at a poker game in January, the surprises have to get trickier and trickier. If last year’s do was an episode of 24, this year we opted for something a little more John Le Carré – a cynical psychological thriller where the only thing you’re sure of is that nobody can be trusted.

The title of this year’s extravaganza was “The Triple Cross.” Last August, we had a birthday surprise for the Kitty. It wasn’t actually a surprise. The idea was that after the party, the Kitty would grouse to Bernardo about my having organised a Kitty Birthday surprise when it’s well known that the Kitty doesn’t like a fuss being made over his birthday. “This year when they have your surprise,” the Kitty told Bernardo, “I’m tipping you off.” Thus was the stage set.

When Bernardo was unable to make it to the December, it was the perfect opportunity to start Phase II: This would be the game where the Kitty “learned the plan.” In point of fact, the Kitty didn’t even make it to the December game, but since Bernardo wasn’t there either it didn’t really matter. I claimed in the regular post-game email that he was there (conveniently breaking even so the stats wouldn’t be upset) and the Kitty told Bernardo that the surprise had been discussed. I was going to claim the next game wasn’t until February, and in the meantime I’d invite Bernardo to an event at PFA sometime around his birthday. That’s where the surprise would happen.

The Kitty had pre-sold Bernardo on the idea of turning the tables on me, short-circuiting my plan and turning it into their own little surprise party for me. Bernardo was to play along when he got the invitation to PFA and feign enthusiasm. Then, on the night before the “movie” he was supposed to call me and tell me he’d come down with the flu and couldn’t make it. I would try desperately to talk him into going out sick, but he’d remain adamant. I’d end up with no choice but to cancel the surprise. Knowing from past experience that I’d go ahead with the game albeit without the surprise, the Kitty and Bernardo would then show up in mid-game bearing a cake reading “Surprise, Papa Dog!”

All went according to plan until this Friday. I sent Bernardo an email inviting him to a special screening of White Dog, a Sam Fuller Sam Fuller movie that happens to be unavailable on video. (I was particularly proud of this detail, by the way; it would have worked well in a real surprise scenario, being a movie that would be a genuine hook for Bernardo, a rarity but not so rare as to be implausible like, say, a newly discovered print of Orson Welles’ original cut of The Magnificent Ambersons.) Bernardo pretended to take the bait and all week we went back and forth with a peculiar cat-and-mouse exchange of emails, arranging how and when we would meet.

According to the plan, Bernardo was supposed to email or call me Friday night to say he was sick. This is where the plan broke down. Bernardo had been thinking of OTHER surprise scenarios and trying them out on the Kitty, who carefully shot them down and kept steering back to the “Surprise cake” plan. Then at the last minute, Bernardo apparently got pangs of conscience. Knowing how much trouble we were going to to surprise him, he felt it would be bad form to disappoint us. He started saying he wanted to just go through with it and pretend to be surprised.

Saturday morning, there was a flurry of phone calls between me and the Kitty and the Kitty and Bernardo. We tried everything we could think of to bring Bernardo back on course. It struck me that my big screw-up had been to play the fake “planning the PFA scam” emails that the Kitty had been forwarding to Bernardo too cool. I should have laid the smugness on thick to motivate Bernardo to revenge. I told the Kitty to tell Bernardo that I’d been talking shit about how easy it was to pull the wool over his eyes. Even that didn’t work. Bernardo remained obstinately determined to feign surprise.

Of course, at this point I was suspecting I was the victim of a quadruple cross, and I spent some time trying to figure out what angle was being played.

Ultimately, I decided it was genuine. The Kitty had suggested a couple of ways to salvage the plan, but none of it made sense to me. Finally, Mama Dog gave me the inspiration to see it through properly. We decided that we would let Bernardo go ahead to C’est Café, the coffee shop near PFA where we’d “arranged” to “meet.” Mama Dog and the Kitty and I would meet at PFA and then walk over together to C’est Café, where I’d confront Bernardo. The scenario was: we had gathered at PFA as planned, then the Kitty had slipped up by saying “What time are you meeting Bernardo at C’est Café” – a piece of information he could only have been privy to from Bernardo. The jig being up and Bernardo not following his “plan” anyway, the Kitty had then come clean with me. When we confronted Bernardo, I told him that I knew he knew and it was all a wash. Everybody else had already headed over to Dingo’s, Mama Dog and I had to stop at home to check on the baby (that part was actually true), and he and the Kitty should just go on and get their stupid cake and meet us at Dingo’s.

Mama Dog and I headed home, took care of some domestic business, and then went over to the game. Gathered there already were Dingo and La Dinga, Papa Pirate and Mama Pirate, and R Word the BART Cop and his ladyfriend from Transylvania whose name I now realise I never got because nobody introduced us. A while after that, Bernardo and the Kitty arrived bearing a cake. They had gone to the Merritt Bakery, where Bernardo watched the counter staff bring out a cake that said “Surprise Papa Dog,” and then box it up. But when Bernardo opened the box at Dingo’s, he was confronted with a cake that read “Correction – Surprise, Bernardo!” and everybody yelled “SURPRISE!” at him. (The Kitty and I had met earlier in the day and stashed the “Correction” cake in his truck so that he could make the switch later.)

The way it worked out it was kind of a small payoff for six months’ work, but it was definitely a surprise for Bernardo. That is, unless there’s a sextuple cross in the works.


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