by Dylan Brody

In 1994, when Nancy and I were about to get married, we took a trip to the East coast so that she could meet my family .She gets very nervous on planes.I assured her that we live a charmed life, but that didn’t help. To distract her from the fact that we were hurtling through the air at hundreds of miles an hour, I used the flight time to teachher the basics of poker and to tell her about my grandfather. I was seventeen when he died and he was the one member of the family she would not get to meet.I told her how he taught me gin rummy first and then poker. I remembered - I remember still --how serious he became over the card table. He admonished me to remember that poker is not a game of luck, it is a game of psychology, not the cards but the finances. It’s not about being dealt the best cards, it’s about walking away with all the chips.

In many ways, the timing of the trip was perfect. My Grandmother was in the very early stages of Alzheimers. The disease hadn’t yet rendered her incapable of recognizing me. Although every time she saw me she did think it was my birthday and give me five dollars, which was exhausting to deal with. I had to keep walking in and out of that room.

At this point, the disease had only affected her enough to turn every conversation into a surreal nineteen seventies game show. “I went into that place with the buildings and the smell.”

“Manhattan?”

“Yes!And I was on forty-third street with that annoying woman.”

“Aunt Sarah?”

“No!Bad breath!Long boring stories!”

“Your best friend Katie!”

“Yes!And we saw that man!”

“I need more clues.”

“He used to horrible in New York and then he was horrible all over the country and now he’s going to be horrible from Space.”

“Howard Stern?”

“Yes!”

Congratulations, Grandma, you’re moving on to the dementia pyramid.

“Who are you people?”

“Things you say at the dinner table!”

“Where am I?”

“Things you say in the bathroom!”

“Ed Asner.Benjamin Netenyahu.”

“People you mistake for your dead husband!”{ding ding ding}

Some people say I shouldn’t do jokes about my Grandmother’s dementia because it’s tragic. It was my grandmother who first said to me, “Dylan.We’re Jews. We don’t believe in tragedy. We believe in horror, atrocity and injustice. We just recognize all of these as being inherently hilarious.”

When she was younger, she was incredibly sharp. I remember I went to her when I was eight and said, “Grandma!I’m going to camp. I’m gonna ride horses. I’m gonna play guitar!”

She said, “yeah? I went to a camp once.. . .Spent nine months of my life standing in a dirt yard with the Jews and the Queers playing liar’s poker. ”She looked down at the numbers on her wrist and said, “Pair of threes. Three fives. . . .” Do you know how sharp you have to be to win with the same numbers every day?

By the end she was just ridiculous. Blurting stuff out at random. “We must never forget!”

“What must we never forget, Grandma?”

“That thing. . . oh, you know . . .with the boots and the dogs.”

Her decline had made my mother hyper-aware of the genetic crap shoot she was facing. She pulled me aside and said, “Dylan, you have to promise me that if I ever start to show symptoms you’ll tell me so that I know when it’s time to take my own life.”

I said, “Mom, we just had this conversation twenty minutes ago.”

In order to defray the cost of the trip, I had arranged to have a stand-up gig in Atlantic City, a gig that was supposed to take place Friday and Saturday, pay about half of what I’d spent on airline tickets and that would provide me and Nancy two nights in a fancy hotel for romance.

When I called to do my final confirmations, though, I was told that the job did not, in fact, include a hotel room. Saddened by the turn of events, but still wishing to do the shows and collect the check, I made reservations at a cheap motel and my wife changed her flight plans so that she could fly home from Laguardia airport that evening.

She went to the airport for a seven thirty flight. I drove to Atlantic City for the gig. My feature act was also disappointed to find out that he was not getting a hotel room. We were both disappointed to find out that this was due to a dispute between the show-runner and the hotel and that we would not be performing in the swanky hotel bar. We would be performing in front of a big vinyl banner hung on a wall of the parking lot in front of an audience that would be sitting in plastic folding chairs. Irritable waitresses took elevators to and from the bar to provide very slow drink service.

The show did not go well. The emcee, the feature act and I all found it difficult to maintain our rhythms what with the exhaust fumes and the occasional passage of cars searching for parking and slowing to stare in confused wonder at what appeared to be a performance art installation involving grumpy people seated in a parking garage and staring sullenly at morose, disillusioned, poorly lit public speakers.

After the unpleasant Friday evening shows, the man who had booked the show, the man who was in a dispute with the hotel, the man who had claimed never to have said he would provide a room for me or the other acts, screamed at me for ruining his show. He blamed me for not being funny enough to fully overcome the circumstance. I told him that I would not be performing a second night in his lovely Atlantic City garage. He told me that he would not be paying me for my services.

I considered sticking around for the night, seeing if I could make up for the lost income at a poker table but instead went to the Motel Six, checked out, and drove back to Laguardia airport to see if I could switch out my ticket for something sooner.

I was able to get a ticket for a flight that would take me home the following morning. I turned away from the ticket counter, planning to find my departure gate and sleep on the floor. As I turned, in the midst of this vast, bustling airport, I saw Nancy. She stood, a little confused, looking down at a piece of paper. Her flight had been cancelled. She’d been pushed back to a morning flight, the very one I was booked to take. She had been given a voucher for a room. In a very nice hotel.

It was a romantic night. There was a sense of destiny, of serendipity, of having a run of bad luck and still living a charmed life.

As we were leaving in the morning for our flight, my wife grabbed the two cans of Pringles from the honor bar. I asked her what she was doing. I told her they would be overpriced and there would probably be food on the plane. She said she didn’t care. She said it was in honor of my grandfather. After a week that had felt like a bad deal, she said, he would like it if we left with all the chips.