I dislike board games, bowling, sing-alongs, parties (especially New Year’s Eve parties), charades, parades, cards, John Madden football and all other pre-packaged or pre-meditated participatory fun. It’s never fun. It’s, if anything, “fun.” I like fun, but I don’t like “fun.” The moment you become aware you’re having fun, it ceases being fun and becomes merely “fun,” so if you go into a situation that already has “fun” stamped on it, you can probably replace the word fun with “despair” and have a more accurate picture of what it’s really going to be like, unless you’re one of those people who has a non-traditionally spelled first name. Hell for me is one of Suzan or Lyndzie’s New Year’s Eve parties where everybody is supposed to dress up—and I’m always the only one who doesn’t—and somebody breaks out the Monopoly and I don’t even get to be the wheelbarrow. Everybody knows I don’t play Monopoly but if I do I am always the wheelbarrow.
Yahtzee, though, is sublime. Yahtzee matters in a way other games and pursuits don’t. Yahtzee heals. Yahtzee creates its own universe and rewards those who are attuned to its rhythms and accepting of the Yahtzee Way.
I have a reputation as an obnoxious Yahtzee player. People don’t usually play with me more than once. The reputation is not deserved. It’s just that I am very enthusiastic about Yahtzee, and I’m one of those unfortunates whose enthusiasms are rarely of the infectious variety. I love Yahtzee because very roll of the dice is a new promise. Yahtzee tells you it’s possible to start again and again and again and nothing that happened before matters, no matter what the scorecard says; every roll is an exercise in faith. I’m just as excited about your roll as mine. I’m not playing to win, not really, and though I tend to think of myself as a very good and very lucky Yahtzee player, a favorite of the Yahtzee gods, the reality is otherwise. The only real Yahtzee winning streak I ever had was on a memorable evening-bleeding-into-after midnight in my mid-twenties, when an old friend, Mel, his new wife, Ellen, and I had nothing better or other to do than play game after game of Yahtzee at Ellen’s mother’s house in Austin. The context of that day is lost. We were young and poor and, like anybody in his or her mid-twenties, just passing through. No matter who or where you are, single or married, rich or poor, in your mid-twenties you’re just passing through. We’d soon be heading off to somewhere else—another town, another graduate school program, and, for Mel and Ellen, other states and, not too many years later, other marriages. But that marathon session of Yahtzee, in which I won every game, rolling Yahtzee after Yahtzee, predicting the lay of the dice the moment before they fell, was magical and lives apart from all the rest. Ellen lost interest quickly, but she kept playing with us, on into the night. Mel, who’d known me forever, probably had to apologize for me later, and probably not for the first or last time, explaining “That’s just how he is. You just have to know him.” I exhorted the Yahtzee gods, spouted nonsense Yahtzee jargon I invented on the spot, lined up the dice in precise patterns after every roll to channel the Yahtzee cycle, coached Mel and Ellen on what they should try for, chastised them for not heeding the rhythm of the bones, and was vindicated by their crappy rolls and my own constellations of fives and sixes. Mel thought it was hilarious. Ellen didn’t, but she was a good wife, a good woman, and she kept playing anyway, stifling yawns. I believed everything I said, back then, and at least on that day there was reason to believe I was onto something, that I’d been onto something all along, that maybe all my bullshit wasn’t bullshit after all. On the last play of what would be the last game, all I needed was a Yahtzee to fill the card. I shook the dice and called for a Yahtzee of sixes, and there it was, in a single roll. Unbelievable. I gave a loud whoop and raised my arms in the air. Mel lowered his head and squeezed his temples. Ellen rolled her eyes but smiled. She stood up from the table, and Mel did too. Marriage, even a young one, even a marriage that doesn’t last, bestows wisdom, and when they went to bed after showing me to the door, the house lights going off before I even pulled away from the curb, they’d probably already learned, without knowing they’d learned it, that it was only a game. But that was longer in coming for me. I drove home on the empty streets of North Austin, believing I was henceforth and forever to be blessed and guided by the Yahtzee gods.
The Song. A basic 12-bar rock and roll thing you’ve heard a thousand times, traceable directly to Chuck Berry and back to the blues before that. No points for originality, but the ancient forms are there for when you need them. The song is kind of a white trash love song and a prayer to the Yahtzee gods that a marriage be saved. And it has a komodo dragon in it.
The Performance. Two guitars on this one—you decide which one is cheesier. I was originally going for the same vibe as Bruce Springsteen’s “Open All Night”—lots of messy reverb and lots of words jammed into small spaces—but it wound up being . . . not like that. So I added the smokin’ lead to fill it out a bit. My sense of rhythm is . . . idiosyncratic. I start and end where the song should start and end, I think, but I take some rhythmic detours along the way. Buck keeps up pretty well.
As for the vocal, Buck’s not much of a rock and roll singer but he’s credible enough for these purposes, channeling Levon Helm, who he wishes he sounded like but, alas, does not. A line gets flubbed: It should be “Laughing off our asses while our lives go down the tubes.” It comes out as something like “jifing off our asses,” which is the same thing Waylon Jennings seems to be saying in “Waymore’s Blues” at about the 1:52 mark, the meaning of which term is a 35 year old mystery to me.
The Video. It’s better than last week’s anyway. I’ve learned a bit more about how my scanner works, which opens up whole new worlds to me. I ran across some photographs my wife and I took (before she was my wife) out in the Big Bend area in the spring of 1999. You know how you take pictures of stuff like landscapes and then you get them developed (back when you got pictures developed) and you get home and open the envelope and find that now you’ve got these pictures of . . . landscapes? And you think, “Great. Landscapes!” And when you take out that packet of photos to show to a friend, who’s thinking “Crap, now I have to look at a bunch of pictures,” because everybody hates looking at other people’s photographs but somehow we all think people want to see ours, when you get to the landscape photos you try to think of something to say to convey what moved you to take the picture, and all you can say is, “It was really awesome? It was like really flat? But then there were these mesas, or something? And here’s me standing in front of the motel . . . .” Well, those photos are ideal for nutcracker doll videos. So are pictures of a portion of the Colosseum and of the backs of various Roman soldiers taken on a trip to Rome with said pre-wife over Thanksgiving 1998, though it wasn’t Thanksgiving in Rome. So are pictures of a lovely old friend and award-winning, best-selling novelist, Miss Fussybritches, standing in front of a graffiti-sprayed brick building in an insalubrious part of an insalubrious town, sent to me as a postcard back in 1996.
Dedication. This song is for Mel, my friend since sixth grade and freshman college roommate, and Ellen, wherever she is, in memory of our Yahtzee marathon some 15 years ago, when we were afraid we were going to be young forever.