Saul & the “Gift of the Gab”

Of this there can be no doubt– My Uncle Saul was a master of the “gab”.  It was a gift. And this talent was in pristine display at the card table.  The card table being the table in the breakfast nook of Saul & Meggie’s home in Woodbury.  And it is to here that we will turn and recount a card game of gin that took place on a non-descript Saturday afternoon between Saul and me.

Two points to make before we proceed to the game.  One, I was no more than 10 at the time.  Saul taught me the game and I had to use both hands to hold the ten cards.  Saul said I was a natural at the game and by the time I went to Union I had a reputation of being a fast talking card shark in the mold of a Damon Runyon character dropped from the pages of his short stories.  Two, talking, or the “gab”.  The underlying key to winning at gin is to distract your opponent by engaging in constant mindless chatter.  Anything that would render concentrating on what cards had already been played near impossible. Some of it could be simple trash talking, which Saul could do with the best of them.  But Saul was even better at trotting out obscure facts and arcane details from his impressive inventory of knowledge.  At 10 I was barely at the apprentice level in gabSaul?  He was the master. Saul had the gift of the gab.

“7 is the knock card.  How are things going at school?”

“OK, I guess. But why do we have to learn fractions and parts of speech?  I hate it.”

“Those are the building blocks of knowledge.  I hope you are not collecting kings, because I am within an inch of getting gin. Building blocks of knowledge, like the 7 of diamonds I have acquired due to your lapse in memory when I had already picked up the 7 of hearts. The edifice of my gin hand is nearly complete. *tsk, tsk, tsk.*”

“I thought you had a diamond run.”

“Jimmy… What do the following have in common: the cow, the goat & the sheep?”

“They all smell bad.”

“Come now.  They are all animals that have been domesticated by people for thousands of years.  These animals’ fur and hides could be used for clothing and shelter, they could be a source for food… not just slaughtered for meat, but their milk was an invaluable form of nutrition.  And the milk could be transformed into cheese.  Gin! And I caught you with two kings!”

“Nuts!  I had a cruddy hand to begin with!”

“The knock card is 4.  Do you like cheese?”

“I like cheeseburgers, cream cheese on a bagel, and NY Cheesecake.  I should have discarded those kings.”

“Here is something you might not know. Thousands of years ago there was a tribe of Maasai people, who lived  near the Ngorongoro Crater in what today is part of Kenya.  They were pastoralists. They had domesticated cattle and goats, and giraffes!   Yes, giraffes!  And to the Maasai, a man who owned a lot of animals was a sign of wealth and status! And giraffes were prized above all the other animals!  Why? Because giraffe milk makes the best cheese!  Now you’re collecting jacks?”

“You’re making this up.”

“No, I’m not!  Not all the Maasai had domesticated the giraffe.  Just one small tribal community who had worked out a way to get giraffe milk.  You see… getting milk from cattle is pretty easy because they are low to the ground.  But a giraffe?  That’s a good deal trickier!  With those long, long legs no one was tall enough to reach the ‘milk machine!’ Well… one tribal elder worked out a plan.  He positioned a mother giraffe under a good sized tree limb, and then he climbed up the tree and dropped a heavy rope-like vine down from limb to two other guys on the ground.  Then he tied the vine around his waist and with the help of the other guys he was lowered to the level where he could access Mrs. Giraffe’s milk bar! Gin!”

“I’m getting killed here!  I dunno Uncle Saul.  It seems like a lot of work for some dumb cheese.  Particularly if they already had cattle low to the ground!”

“That should tell you how great giraffe cheese is!  And for a while the elder who perfected this milking technique had the highest status in the tribe.  The knock card is 9. This guy was like a millionaire!  But then one day when he went up to fetch some milk, the rope vine snapped and he fell to the ground and died.  Very sad indeed.  And as you might guess with the respected elder kaput, there were no immediate takers to run the risk of death for the reward of getting milk.  As you already observed they had plenty of cattle where getting milk presented no danger. I’m knocking with 7!”

“You’re getting all the good cards!”

“Stop complaining and just play the game.  The knock card is 2.  But here’s the thing, everyone in the tribe loved giraffe cheese!  What to do?  Then this other guy developed another plan.  The tribal men dug a seven foot deep trench and then walked Mrs. Giraffe into the trench, and voilà the ‘milk dispenser’ was at ground level and getting cheese was never going to be a problem again!  And that guy?  If they had a presidential yacht in those days… he could have bought two!  But that’s not the end of the story.  Hundreds of years later when Europeans finally made contact with this tribe they wanted in on the act!  The cheese was that good, and there was money to be made!  So a Dutchman purchased a half dozen giraffes intent on setting up a giraffe dairy farm.  But rather than dig a trench; he thought he could just prop up a ladder on Mrs. Giraffe’s hind quarters, reach in and get at the milk that way.  Big mistake.  Mrs. Giraffe didn’t take kindly to the ladder and first, she kicked that ladder out from under the guy, and then she kicked him in the balls.  And that put an end to that.  Gin!”

Masai Giraffe

{Author’s note: There is a specialty cheese shop in Greenwich Village that carries aged Shingo Ndefu (giraffe cheese), and smoked Shingo Ndefu}

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