After my recent post entitled ‘Nights at the Round Table’ a handful of you wrote back inquiring as to who the characters were at the aforementioned round table? In that post, the characters were musicians but the roster has changed quite a bit over the years. Ok a brief explanation is in order.

First of all, the round table is a state of mind. It’s wherever you find yourself having a meaningful conversation without restrictions. Socrates himself felt this is when we are most alive. When engaged in these meaningful conversations. These nights weren’t all meaningful but they were often enlightening!

From the ages of eight to eighteen, about seven of my life-long friends began meeting at round tables. It started innocently enough with penny poker, then on to board games, then back to real poker and assorted card games. Paper route money exchanged hands so fast, it’s a wonder our local rag ever collected a dime from any of us. Naturally, the game itself was the excuse for the gathering. These ‘nights at the round table’ would become epic. The names at the table read like an Elmore Leonard novel:  Mel, Apple-Jack, Bo, Ters, Green Grass, Burnsie, Del, Deli, Humphry, Saints, Ames, Sid…you get picture. The conversations unfolded as they should have back then – girls, music, girls, sports, girls, beer, weed, girls…until one day it dawned on us that the girls were somewhere ‘other’ than at this table playing poker.

That round table disbanded but it was a good ten year run. Oh we meet up about five times a year now, and re-invent those old stories. They’re generally not too far off from those of the original days, only now it’s – kids, wives, hockey practice, money, health, hatched-matched-dispatched stuff, dreams, failed dreams and glory days. Glory days discussions usually resurface after the third beer where adjectives, hyperbole and revisionist history always have their moment in the sun . Every story should start and end with “Remember when we were kings!” Enough said.

I’m convinced that regardless of where we’re from, we all have our ’round table’. Could be anything – anywhere – with anyone. The key ingredients are having a great conversation with people you admire and trust who all have the ability to dish it out – and take it. No buffer – no apologies – just pure conversation for the love of the game. Could be with your family, friends, your dinner table, at a campfire or your basement bar – whatever. I’ve found it’s evolved over the years and now my round table discussions are with musicians and artists and trust me – I never saw that coming.

The topics haven’t really changed all that much. The faces aren’t the same and I often don’t know the individuals well enough to cross that line of social decorum. The occasional time when I do, however, it feels risky. People shouldn’t be expected to understand my point of reference and often times, I’ll still blurt out politically incorrect nonsense as though I’m around the old gang (who truly understand my intentions). But isn’t that the fun of it? Testing limits and pushing buttons? Maybe that’s just me.

So there you have it. I’m going to eventually open up the vault on these original ’round table’ stories and I promise you there are literally thousands of them. Enough for a life time of posts.

Here’s one that quickly comes to mind for no reason at all:

Del – “Watch my poker chips Mel. I’m going to the bathroom”
Mel – “Ok, you have twenty-two dollars and fifty-cents in chips, and four IOU’s on paper totalling another thirty-five.”
Del – “Hey I trust you guys but these IOU’s on paper are always getting lost or blown away! I’ll be right back.”
Sid – “Hey boys, let’s hide this IOU and see what happens?”

Upon returning to the table, Del loses it and screams “Where in the hell is that ten dollar IOU. I mean it! That’s it. Where is that f’n thing. C’mon where is it?”

Like a crew of mafia hit men in a witness protection program, blank faces meet his raging plea. No one gives up the information, for it’s understood – this really means life and death.  It unfolds like a scene from twelve angry men. One man railing against a united front, only in our case it’s inverted. We are the liars, cheats and thieves. To make matters worse, we have been recently force fed the grade eleven curriculum of Death of a Salesman.

I loved that play, and had just read about the one insightful reporter who finally asked Arthur Miller the key question about his central character Willie Loman. “Why throughout the play are the contents of Willie’s briefcase left vague? An entire play about a salesman and yet you don’t really tell us what he’s selling?”
As we come to realize, Miller intentionally omitted this information. What was in the briefcase? “Willie was in the briefcase” said Miller. So true – we’re all just selling OURSELVES.  How could we have felt this at sixteen? It astounded me that my old buddy decided to paraphrase Willie Loman’s famous plea while in a fit of rage over this lost IOU.

With that, Del stands up and begins to recite Willie in what can only be described as one of the best mutilated speeches of all time:

“A man is not a piece of fruit…like a bruised banana! You cannot eat the black part and leave the peel to rot on the counter! You simply – cannot! Now where is my IOU!!!!”
With that, he looked down to find the small scrap of paper reading – $10 –  had mysteriously reappeared in his pile of poker chips. Willie Loman had been vindicated (and violated). Anyway, five hands later, fortunes shifted, and Bo was holding the loot. Willie busted out. In the background you’d inevitably hear somebody singing Jimi Hendrix, “and so castles made of sand, melt to the sea…eventually!” Just to let the newest chip leader know that we were gunning for him.

“Easy come easy go eh Del?”

“That’s ok…who wants to hear Houses of the Holy?”

And so it was. Zeppelin crackled out from of a Dual turntable while we watched empires rise and fall. Just another night at the round table.

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2 thoughts on “The REAL ‘Nights at the Round Table’

  1. Keep them coming, Jay. We all realize, in hindsight, those were the glory days. Some took advantage and some let them slip away but we all look back on them fondly, remembering always the good times.

    Janice

  2. Jay, you are such a great writer! I’m really enjoying your posts and just wanted to say that this one is especially entertaining while also providing food for thought (I just loved the references to Death of a Salesman). My BFF and I have been having these kinds of round table conversations for 36 years so I know where you’re coming from!

    Cheers,
    Christine

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