Wednesday, March 16, 2011

25 years of rocking with the (dead) King




I spent a considerable chunk of my morning today getting ready for a most momentous occasion: the 25th anniversary of what has come to be known as "Elvis Night" weekend.

The Dead Elvis Society (all eight of us) is convening in Atlantic City on Friday for our annual small stakes poker game. I had to prep for the occasion. I made a quick visit to a local supermarket and loaded up several shopping bags full of pretzels, chips, salsa, and assorted other salty snacks. I purchased several liters of soda for the one guy who will refrain from drinking anything stronger.

Then I loaded the portable CD player with detachable speakers in my car trunk and got out my Caselogic CD traveling case and loaded my Presley tunes into it. Next, I tossed a case of Victory HopDevil India Pale Ales in the back seat.

Finally, I tossed the knitted blanket depicting the 1993 U.S. Postal Service issue of Elvis's portrait on a 29 cent stamp in the back seat to cover the beer from prying eyes. The only thing left is to drive to the airport to get my friend Phil on Friday afternoon and meet the gang at the hotel in A.C. for 48 hours of debauched hilarity.

It's a weekend of male bonding that helps us stay sane for the other 51 weekends each year. Our antics have become the stuff of hyperbolic glory, at least in our own minds. More than a few friends and colleagues have expressed feigning envy in our endeavors (and marveled at the event's longevity).

Here's how the shebang all got started:

When I arrived at the Daily Press in Newport News, Va. in 1984 I sent a memo around the newsroom introducing myself, saying I wanted to make new friends and inquiring whether anyone wanted to get involved with a monthly small stakes poker game. About six or seven reporters or editors responded, all guys.

On the night of our first game, I instituted three ground rules:

1) it was small stakes poker, nickel or dime ante and a quarter raise limit. No one should lose more than $20 at the end of the evening. It was supposed to be a fun night of beers, music and petty larceny, not real gambling.

2) the host would supply soft drinks, chips and hot dogs. Everyone would bring alcohol they were drinking for the night. The last hand would be called at 11 p.m.

3) Because I had an infant son, I wasn't going to host the game every month, we had to rotate to a new venue and everyone would have to take a turn. (Luke was just 7 or 8 months old at the time and his mom went shopping the night of the first game. Luke sat at our card table in his high chair munching on corn chips and asking for his own cards, so we dealt him the jokers).

One of the guys who came to that first game was a fellow I'd never seen before, Larry Miller, a.k.a. "the Big Dog." He was the bureau chief in Williamsburg, about 24 miles up Interstate 64. He, too, was new to the paper. Because he had the longest commute, he was the last of the original seven of us to host a game.



Miller's turn to host the month game came on January 8th, 1985, which coincided with what would have been Elvis Presley's 50th birthday. (Presley died in 1977 at the age of 42). The Big Dog called me a few days before the game and asked if I had any Elvis records. I thought this an odd question. He knew I was a music nerd, but Presley was not in heavy rotation on my turn table. At our regular game we usually played the played classic rock, Stax/Volt R & B or British invasion bands. I had a few Elvis greatest hits packages and his Memphis album, but not much else. I didn't know what to make of the request until he told me of his "concept" for the evening card games.

To celebrate the King's birthday, The Big Dog told us once we'd arrived at his apartment, we'd have to introduce each game with an "Elvis twist." The game should be based on some reference to a Presley song or film. He had "decorated" his place with a glaring yellow poster featuring a young, fit (and historically inaccurate) likeness of the King wearing his famous white rhinestone jump suit. It was taped haphazardly to the wall.

We spend the next four hours inventing card game tributes to Elvis, based loosely on standard on poker hands but with lots of curious twists and wild cards. We could be as creative as we wanted. Miller called the first game: "Blue Suede Twos". It was a very slight variation of five-card stud with deuces wild with a new name. After that, the games got more complex and humorous and ornate as the night grew long and the liquor rolled into us.

The more we drank, the wilder and more hilarious the games became. Miller introduced to another game later on called "7-27 Heartbreak." It was a derivation of a game we played called "7-27." In this game, each player is dealt two cards and has to decide if he is going for the low half of the pot (the player closest to 7) or the high half of the pot (the one closest to 27). In the new, improved "Heartbreak" version, a player couldn't fold until he had a count of at 42in his hand because, as the Big Dog told us, "that was the age Elvis folded his hand too."

Anytime we play with a widow hand (which is frequent) the widow's cards are placed in the middle of the table and become the final hand played by "the widow Priscella." Whoever "wins" the pot still must beat Priscella's hand. When the widow hand beats the best hand showing, we play again for the pot, which has grown substantially. This happens far more frequently than gaming odds suggest it should and whenever it does, there is a great uproar of huzzahs and shouts of joy because the widow Priscella has "cobbed" some poor dude's ass and the "winner" has quite suddenly turned into a loser.

We had so much fun playing these silly Elvis card games that when Elvis's birthday came around in 1987, we did it all again. Then again in 1988 and after that, it just took on a life of its own. The Big Dog, the who started it the game, ironically was the first among us to leave the paper. He took a better job running a small daily near Pittsburgh. But the January after he left, we all met in Atlantic City for a weekend of cards and drinking and carousing and there after, we continued to meet close to his birthday in January for about nine or ten years.

In 1996, we decided to hold the 10th anniversary in Las Vegas (Elvis's "second home" because he played there so often). That was the first time it moved from Atlantic City. A huge snow storm came up the East Coast that day (the Philly area had 36 inches weekend) and two of the guys couldn't make it because their flights were canceled.

After that, we moved it to later in the spring after that and have been trying different cities. New Orleans, Charleston, Savannah, St. Louis, Atlantic City again once or twice and about 4 or 5 years ago, we tried Austin. This year -- on March 18th -- we will be in Atlantic City for our 25th game.

As you might expect, all eight members of The Dead Elvis Society have become big fans of The King. You could listen to his music all njight long and not get tired of it. I should know. I've already tried that 24 times.



(Dead Elvis Society file photo courtesy of Buddy Norris)