I stepped out of my comfort zone last winter and accepted an invite from a neighbor I didn't know for a Thursday night poker game with a bunch of other neighbors I didn't know.
We've lived in this neighborhood for almost 18 years. It's a development of about 90 homes with a trail system, pond, park and good middle-class folks. I only know my immediate neighbors on each side and two other couples. I know a lot of people in the Black Hills through my job, but don't hang out with them. My wife says I'm a homebody. My wife's correct.
My best friend around here ranches about 50 miles away. We talk a couple times a week but don't hang out much because he's got kids in school and works rancher hours and ... lives 50 miles away. My other two best friends, one from high school and one from college, live 300 and 400 miles away, respectively.
When I do go out, to eat or listen to music, it's with my wife, which is great and I really don't wish to hang out with anyone else but her. I enjoy her company as much when we met 35 years ago. But, she's my wife, so it's different than hanging out with the guys. And as Hank Jr. sings: "All my rowdy friends have settled down." And so have I.
My wife has sensed my malaise and feels I spend too much time at home in my garden, with my dogs, with my books. So when a guy relatively new to the development posted on the neighborhood website "Hey, anyone interested in starting up a poker game?" I stepped outside my zone and said: "I am."
And I haven't regretted it.
We get together one night a week. I miss once in a while due to life. It gets cancelled occasionally because the organizer has a life too. But I hit it often and between about ten of us semi-regulars there's always six or so on hand for a friendly game.
It's not really my crowd, because I don't really have a crowd, but the social events I usually attend are work-related. Usually political or governmental, usually boring. But when I am home I don't do any political stuff. I check out. Avoid it. Don't want to talk about it, especially among strangers.
So the first night before I left for the inaugural game, I told my wife, if they start talking Trump or Biden or immigration or stolen elections, I'm done. Since a lot of people are really wrapped up in that stuff (weirdly so), I wasn't optimistic I'd be back for a second week.
And guess what happens? I walk in the door and two big dogs rush to greet me. That's fine. I love dogs. The guy hollers to them: "Lincoln! Trumper! Get back here!"
I thought: "Ah shit."
But other than the dogs' names, no political talk happened and mighty little has over the past year. It's quite amazing to me, because almost everybody else I'm around, anywhere, wants to talk politics with me once they find out I'm involved. But not these guys.
We have a couple retired military veterans, a liquor salesman, a home-builder, a car salesman, a civilian who works at the Air Force base, all just regular ol' blue-collar guys.
We play poker. It goes fast. It's fun. We play in his basement or garage. Most all of them drink from a keg the guy has in his bar. I drink my NA. There's crude jokes, burping, talk about music, talk about cars, talk about dogs and gardens, and more burping.
For one night a week I'm transformed into another universe from the suits and ties talking banking, ranchers talking about drought, and everyone else complaining about Trump and Biden and RINOs and immigrants and abortion and deficits and rules and regulations.
I love it. Glad I did it. Might have to expand my universe on other nights of the week.
Crazy talk, I know.