One of the most humiliating moments in my life was playing sheepshead with my in-laws and having no clue what was going on. The cards in my hand were meaningless. Not that one, that one! I couldn’t tell the difference. You owe me five cents my normally mild mannered mother-in-law demanded. I gave her the nickle. I was down twenty cents and had no idea how. More shuffling and drawing and dis-carding and I was down another twenty cents. I still hadn’t a clue what was happening. The three Wisconsinites whipped through their cards. I dropped mine. Don’t let us see them! Finally my wife had pity. I don’t think he’s getting it, she said. Well, you should’ve married a guy that could play sheepshead. Once again I was the dumb Irish guy, they were the superior Indians. They sent me outside to shovel snow and talked about fish fry. The next day we got together with more in-laws and I talked too much. They listened politely. Then Friday night at fish fry we sat between two Polish families from south Milwaukee. They drank too much beer, scarfed their food, talked too loud and laughed uproariously. My wife identified me as an Irish Catholic from New Jersey. I’m an atheist who hadn’t lived in Jersey since 4th grade but no matter. They told me Irish jokes that were the exact same as Polish jokes I didn’t dare tell back. Slapped me on the back. Bought me a couple schnapps even though I’d never been to Lambeau Field in the dead of winter. Really, never? They bought me another sympathetically. I sang in the car on the way to the Post. He’s a little tipsy they told the bartender. He’s from California. OK, then no more schnapps for him and he drew me 16 ounces of Pabst. There were more of those as the evening progressed. The bartender put the dice on the bar. I drunkenly demurred. He got cleaned out at sheepshead already, someone said. Laughter all around. Wisconsin is an experience.
George Carlin reruns on the tube. He’s not so high strung yet, still doing the stoned schtick. The hippie dippy weatherman routine hasn’t aged well, but the rest has. Reminds me how my wife Fyl saw George Carlin get busted at an outdoor gig in Milwaukee for doing his dirty words bit. That was in 1972. Fyl was sixteen, a bad girl, sassy and curvy, smoking a joint with a couple of hippies she’d never met before. But they were cool, she was cute, and they had grass. They’d rolled it in an American flag rolling paper, hippie chic in Nixon’s America in ’72. Carlin began his bit about the seven dirty words you can’t say on television and rattled them off, fuck etc, and out came Milwaukee’s finest. Well, Milwaukee’s finest was a beer. Out came the Milwaukee cops. Cuffed him right on stage. Fuck the Pigs one of the hippies said. Yeah, fuck the pigs she said. She told me this story probably right after we met a lifetime ago, and it crystallized into permanence in my memory so vividly I was there. I can smell the weed, feel the paranoia, feel the breeze coming off the lake. She’d be wearing low slung jeans, flared, and a tight rock’n’roll tee shirt her mom hated, reveling in all this freedom and excitement, smoking pot with hippies. Every freak in Milwaukee was there digging George Carlin and he gets busted. Something to talk about in the rock’n’roll bars on Brady Street that night, George Carlin and the Man and revolution. She snuck into those too. Milwaukee was loose in those days, loose and a little wanton. Innocent girls turned bad, hung out with hippies and a little later morphed into punk rockers. Ahh, the seventies.