what I learned from ladies’ poker night

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“This is E. everyone!” O. said on Saturday evening. “She’s been doing her homework, so watch out.”

“Oh no,” I thought. Maybe I shouldn’t have admitted that A. tutored me how to play Texas Hold ‘Em. Worried that I would embarrass myself, he pulled out his poker chips last week and we sat on our living room shag rug, drank red wine and played head to head for a few hours.

I didn’t realize that the other women also didn’t know how to play. I was invited to a middle school teacher’s home with five women for ladies’ poker night — and if I’ve learned anything, it’s to take invitations when you’re new to town. I’ve never played poker, and never cared to. But O. is super cool, so I figured hey, why not.

We sat at a high-top table in the kitchen, while O.’s husband and 4-year-old son watched Lord of the Rings on a 60-inch TV in the living room.

We ate spiced cupcakes, lemon bars, bugs on a log (cranberries on peanut butter in celery stalks), cheese and crackers, and we drank wine and cake-flavored vodka. (Yes, there is a first for everything.)

And the women used a cheat sheet to assess the best hand.

“I bet you have an earpiece, too, don’t you?” teased C., who was visiting her sister M. from LA.

“Yeah, keep your phone on the table at all times,” another woman said.

The conversation was pretty tame. Until M., another teacher, mentioned a murderer.

“I heard it from a shop-owner,” she looked at me ominously. “There wasn’t an article about it, but he told me the woman’s name and I looked it up and sure enough, there was an obit.

“It was a cover-up,” she said, getting heated. “The police here don’t give a ‘f’.”

“Stop!” O. said, waving M. off. “You’re going to scare her.”

C. who was sitting next to me, announced: “She’s from D.C. She’s fine.” And then she said quietly to me under her breath, “My sister is paranoid. And she likes to gossip.”

“Well, what about the woman’s bones they found in a freezer after seven years,” said the woman from Estonia, whom M. calls “KGB.”

“Come on guys, stop it!” O. said. “She’s new to town!”

Conversation shifted from there — and C. was right, I lived in D.C. for eight years and a few years ago was on a jury that sent a man to prison for life for murder. So I don’t scare easily. I haven’t even tried to look up what they were talking about.

Still, it was quite the introduction to desert living. What I’ve learned so far: Hold on to your car door at all times so the wind doesn’t take it off of its hinges. Always keep hand lotion and Chapstick with you. Watch for rattlesnakes in the sand. Question the police.

And go to poker night. I came in second, and split the $60 pot with O., who had a bit too much vodka.

“Thanks for inviting me!” I said to O. after I pocketed my share and was stepping through the front door into the night.

“Hey sure,” she replied. “Thanks for letting me take your money!”

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