The Gudgel Family Advent Calendar, Day 22 — “Sick Kid’s Hand”


“We need to cancel for tonight. Zooey can’t even keep her eyes open all the way and is coughing a ton.” This text message, accompanied by the photograph above, arrived around nine o’clock in the morning. We had both been looking forward to our night with Chris and Ryan a great deal, and I pushed back a little. Can we wait and see if she gets better? The answer was obviously no — Zooey was a complete mess. She needed to get as much rest as possible. I texted our friends to apologize and bowed out.

For the rest of the day I taught and graded like a madman. By 3:15, I had every assignment graded and entered, and I posted my final grades. They aren’t due until January 7, but doing it then meant I could actually relax over break and not spend it grading papers. I need the relaxation. I went and got Titus from daycare and came home to see my little peanut and her mom. She looked better than in the pictures Sonja had sent, but not much. Titus and Zooey started to play together in the living room and, with Sonja’s approval, I called a Lyft and set out for the staff holiday party.

I won’t go into great detail, but I will say that in general terms our staff works itself half to death on a daily basis. I suspect most jobs are hard, and I know we all have struggles. With all respect to all other laborers out there, I don’t think any staff I know of outworks the one I’m on, and we’re proud of that. But come this time of year we are exhausted mentally and physically, and the chance to get together outside of school and share a drink can be enjoyable, cathartic, even necessary.

My first stop was to chat with an old friend in my department whom I do not see enough of. We got to chat about our lives for a while and somewhere along the line someone brought us a couple of “portion cups” full of sweet blue liquid. They reminded me of first grade and the fluoride they made us take in school. We shot them anyway.


My friend and I probably caught up for about an hour before the poker table called me over. I’ve never been much of a poker player. In my office is a third place trophy from a fraternity fundraiser, but I’m convinced it was rigged in my favor. I enjoy the game, but I’m bad at reading other players and easily distracted. I didn’t expect this night to work out any differently.


With me to the poker table I took a red Solo cup full of Big House Pinot Noir 2016, straight from the box. It was morbid curiosity that made me try it, though in truth it was rather inoffensive. There’s no way I could have blinded the varietal — I might have guessed a red blend. There was no subtlety or nuance to the wine, but it tasted just fine. Fruit forward with no spine and no complexity, it was just an easy drinker and I didn’t mind the glass of it I had before I transitioned to beer for the evening.

At the poker table, I played well for the most part, and over the course of several hours managed to become the chip leader. Then it happened: I was dealt a 9 and a Jack. In the river there wound up being two more 9’s, with no possibility of a flush or a straight. The pot had been aggressively increasing the entire time, and while I wasn’t the one driving it forward, I felt pretty good knowing that my three-of-a-kind with a Jack high kicker was one of the best possible hands. Then Robert, whom I see only in passing and occasionally at lunch, went all in. I suspected he had the fourth 9. If he did, I reasoned quickly in my head, his odds of having a kicker higher than mine weren’t good. I matched him. We flipped our cards. Robert indeed had the fourth 9 and, in addition, a King as his kicker. In total he took around $100 on that hand, and after I photographed him with his winnings, I played out my remaining $5 in chips over half an hour and meandered off to chat with other people.


Thinking about it again this morning, I don’t think I’d play that hand any differently next time. Maybe it isn’t learning from my mistakes, or maybe instead it is just realizing when you get a bad break, and more importantly, realizing that getting one bad break doesn’t mean the next one will be. There were nine cards that were below my Jack, and only three above. I’ll take three-to-one odds anytime I can get them. And while the Aces and 8’s that were played earlier in the night are of course referred to as a “dead man’s hand” — rest in peace, Wild Bill, I will now remember three 9’s as a sick kid’s hand for as long as I continue to play poker.

It is time for winter break now, at long last. I’ll need to spend some of it working on getting ready for next semester, but I hope also to spend a lot of it with family and in a state of relaxation. This morning I’ll publish this post and go for a run. When I get back, I’m thinking the family should go get some Grinch pancakes at Ihop and maybe check out the massive Christmas tree at the Durham Museum. Whatever you find yourself doing this weekend, I hope you enjoy it, and that you and yours are healthy, maybe even healthier than me and mine. Oh — and if you find yourself with three-to-one odds, take them.

Cheers to winter, and a break,


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