Buisit To GamblingWednesday, March 16, 2011
Some years ago I asked my nephew Patricio (Pato) Waterhouse (he has subsequently added Hayward to his surname) to take me to visit his grandmother in Buenos Aires. She had been married to my father before he married my mother. I wanted to get a sense of my father as I had never asked him any important questions when he was alive.
Pato’s grandmother was gracious and offered me delicious home made empanadas salteñas from her homeland province of Salta in North Western Argentina. She then told me a curious story.
“George would disappear on weekends and would not give me any explanations. I suspected he had a mistress somewhere so I hired a private detective. The detective reported back and told me that he had good news. ‘Your husband does not have a mistress. He goes to a house in the district of el Tigre (the Paraná River delta section of Buenos Aires) and he plays cards with some friends.’”
My father, I also suspect was a burrero. This is an Argentine term sort of meaning “one who follows burros” and it is used to describe those who bet on horses.
In fact my father seemed to have many vices besides gambling. He smoked and he drank lots. And for reasons I will never know he had friends who were plainclothes policeman who had shoulder holsters. I was too young to figure out that he would resemble the Humphrey Bogart of early films who would go into any bar and the barkeeper would nod in his direction (and without having to say, “Your usual.”) would plunk the drink in front of him.
While as a young man I adopted the custom of smoking a pipe I never did smoke cigarettes nor have I ever indulged in drinking. To this day I take pain killers only in the last resort as I am afraid of addiction to anything.
When I look back at my career in gambling I realize I only did it once at a bingo session in my school at St. Ed’s in Austin, Texas. I won a whistling kettle which I dully presented, most proudly, to my mother. I have never purchased a lottery ticket. My mother used to say to me, "If we ever make money it will have to be from the sweat of our brow."
From my grandmother I heard horror stories of Filipino men who would arrive home after a day at the office to find no meal but lots of activity in the game room. He would hear the unmistakable shuffle and clicking of mahjong pieces and excited shouts of “Pong,” and “Kong”. My grandmother explained that mahjong was the cause of many a Manila divorce. Mahjong addicted women would gamble away their husband’s salaries. Stakes in mahjong can duplicate and triplicate quite easily if you happen to be your own wind and there are other factors such as a double dice number, that can make you win or lose a small fortune.
My grandmother played excellent mahjong but she never gambled. She played for fun and taught me we well. By the time I was 18 I was a very good player. But there is a barrier in mahjong that is only pierced by the very best of the best. These are the players that can sense what each piece they have is by simple touch without looking. I was never that good!
I remember all shenanigans my grandmother would perform when she was losing. She would get up and go around her chair (I don’t remember if that was clockwise or counterclockwise). She said it could change her luck. She would sometimes silently utter in Tagalog, “Buisit.” And flick her fingers at the competition to wish them bad luck. All this was in good fun and I miss those mahjong games as they are almost as interesting as bridge, which is another game I played well but lost interest before I came to Vancouver.
The current controversy about enlarging the Edgewater Casino (can you imagine that their promotional logo includes this, “Where winners play!”) is a controversy that at my age when I worry about the education of my granddaughters is something that does not seem to be important enough. I feel I am retreating from being concerned about an increasing urban sprawl or feeling too shocked about the strip mall culture that suddenly, almost instantly, sprang up on Marine Way past Mandeville Gardens going East to New Westminster.
I wonder how much of the casino culture in our city caters to would be mahjong players and how many husbands will get home to find there is no food at the table. But then that is old hat - as husbands now cook their own food. They have been liberated as have their partners. They are all free now to be winners.