Memoir of a gin rummy dummy

I always have my radio on, tuned to music of one ilk or another. And as I’m sure it is for many people, to me it’s mostly background noise. But even though I don’t pay much attention to the songs themselves, I’d miss them if they weren’t there.

This isn’t to say I pay no attention to the songs. Sometimes one’ll jump out at me like a direct hit amidships. And that’s what happened the other day.

The song? A Henry Mancini classic – the theme song from Mr. Lucky.

I recognized it from the opening measure. And how could I not, since Mr. Lucky had a pocket watch that played those five notes every time he opened it.

Immediately I was teleported back 50-plus years.

Mr. Lucky was a T.V. show that lasted only a couple of years but left a lifelong impression on me.

It was an adventure show about, of all things, a professional (but honest) gambler, and the show was as charming as it was improbable.

Mr. Lucky owned a huge yacht, the Fortuna II, which was anchored three miles off a major, unnamed American city. Because it was in international waters, it wasn’t subject to U.S. rules, regulations and taxes. He had a faithful sidekick named Andamo, a master of disguise and mechanic; he also had an alluring girlfriend with a decidedly unalluring name -?Maggie Shank-Rutherford.

Mr. Lucky was shrouded in mystery, starting with his real name, which was never revealed. Beyond that, his back story was something out of Graham Greene. He and Andamo had had a casino in some obscure banana republic, and in order to stay in business, had to pay the republic’s vile dictator $1000 a week in baksheesh. Mr. Lucky paid this debt in typically exotic fashion, by purposely losing card games to the evil politico.

At the same time, Andamo was a member of a revolutionary group. Stretching credulity even further, he plotted with a female assassin (beautiful, of course) to kill the dictator, which she did. Then he and Mr. L. had to split, which they did, eventually ending up with their floating casino off the unnamed U.S. city.

Of course, even though A and Mr. L. were model non-citizens, the very nature of their work and workplace put them in touch every week with one disreputable character after another. This led to plotting, perfidy, and violence galore, before good triumphed over evil, as it always did.

But here’s the thing: As much as I loved the series and watched it every week, I can’t remember any of the plots, action or dialogue. So why was I so enamored with it? Probably because Mr. Lucky was everything I wasn’t, and would never be.

A man with glam

To start, he was sophistication to the N’th power. He was the proverbial tall, dark and handsome, with a coif of thick black hair and a dimple right in the center of his uber-manly chin.

As for his attire? Although he may have donned lesser duds, I remember him only in tuxedos – either white or black – as he shimmered about, uttering bon mots galore. He was such a worldly stud, he darn near out-Cary-Granted Cary Grant.

But Mr. L. was something else that, even at that tender age, I knew I’d never be a successful gambler.

I was only 12 and 13, but was already a seasoned gambler. My game was penny-a-point gin rummy, which I played with my pals, Mike and Joey Newman. I played with an intensity that would’ve made Dangerous Dan McGrew kvell, but with an ineptness that would’ve made him plotz. The sad fact is that as a gambler, I was a total flop.

It had nothing to do with luck. I’ve always been lucky in all facets of my life- family, friends, job, town, you name it. But with cards – or any form of gambling – I’m a hopeless decision-maker. Give me any choice in any game of chance and I’ll always make the stupidest one.

I believe it has to do with my hopelessness in math. I’ve always been a total mathematic incompetent, starting in early grade school. It’s not as if I didn’t try, but I might as well not have, since understanding anything arithmetic has always eluded me. I never scored more than a D in any math class I took, and a lot of times I didn’t do that well.

Even now I still give it the Ole Post-College Try, from time to time buying teach-yourself math books. My latest attempt was only a month ago. I bought a book, The Total Moron’s Guide to Understanding Math, which I read cover-to-cover twice. I didn’t understand a damned thing.

And so with Los Hermanos Newman regularly and gleefully draining my piggy bank, I came to see Mr. Lucky as other kids might’ve seen Mickey Mantle, Audie Murphy or Sir. Edmund Hillary – the man you hoped you’d bebut knew you never would.

Givin’ up the gig

Two events finally deterred me from my life as a gambler.

One was a game with Joey in which I went 358 points in the hole. That was $3.58, darn near the sum total of my earnings … for the entire month! Then, with a vision of spending the rest of my days in debtor’s prison or even worse, being transported to Georgia Joey forgave me my debt. It was one of the few life lessons I ever learned the first time. I never gambled again.

The other event was Mr. Lucky’s unfitness as a role model.

The second year of the program, bowing to pressure from the Sanctimoniousness Lobby, the sponsors made Mr. Lucky quit the casino business and turn his yacht into a restaurant. At that point, in disgust, I quit watching the program.

Let’s face it: While owning a restaurant is a far bigger gamble than owning a casino, it just doesn’t have the je ne sais quoi. And I wasn’t alone in thinking this, since shortly after Mr. Lucky became a restaurateur, the program went off the air.

After that, for me gambling was only a spectator sport. But given the bistros, fleshpots and Elks Club of My Home Town back in them days, it provided far more entertainment than any TV program ever could have.