Bunco's dirty, rotten secret

Of Moose and Men

Posted: Sunday, January 27, 2008

Just look at all those smiling faces in the story to the right of this column. See how happy those ladies look? Having the time of their lives, they are. They are beyond giddy, they are positively euphoric. Those smiling, friendly faces belie the truly pernicious nature of the situation: those are buncoholics getting their monthly fix.

Bunco, according to the American Heritage Dictionary, is: "A swindle in which an unsuspecting person is cheated; a confidence game." According to those who are tangled in its nefarious web, bunco is a dice game that serves as a basis for a social gathering. To hear them tell it, a bunco party is a congenial get-together designed to help pass away the winter in the company of good friends. Nobody ever mentions the dark underbelly of bunko: the banished husbands and abandoned pets.

Call me a skeptic, but in my opinion, bunco is not simply a game. It has all the earmarks of some dark, secret organization. Just ask a buncoholic to explain the rules of play. You'll never get a straight answer.

"What kind of game is it?"

"It's a dice game, silly."

"How's it played? What are the rules?"

"Well, we have four tables ... one is the head table ... we all roll for the number of the hour, and when someone at the head table gets 25 they ring a bell ... ."

From that point on, things get even more fuzzy. Frankly, with all the screaming that takes place during play, it would appear that there aren't any set rules. I think they make the rules up as they go along, ironing out disputes as they arise.

The only certain rule in bunco is that every time there's a party, everyone has to ante up better than 10 bucks. This leads us to another suspicious aspect of bunco. Since there is supposed to be a group of regulars filling the seats, why is it there is always one, or two, unfamiliar players mixed in with the crowd? Those "substitutes" are always someone new, someone who doesn't know all the rules or what pass for rules that night. With the combined ante money on the line passed out at the end of the night as cash prizes for various wins one is left to wonder if bunco isn't more of a description than a simple, harmless name.

Buncoholics don't want any witnesses around. I know this to be true. You see, I'm the husband of a buncoholic. Worse yet, I'm the husband of a back-up bunco party hostess, which means my wife will not only host the bunco coven at regular intervals, but also whenever another hostess can't. Almost monthly, I am banished from the habitable portions of the house; cast off to fend for myself in the cold of the garage or dank of the basement. I haven't done anything wrong, I'm simply designated as persona non grata. To be more accurate, it's a situation that would require the plural personae non gratae, since Slime Beast and Micro-watt are sent packing with me. In our exile, the dogs cower at my feet as peals of maniacal laughter echo down upon us.

Buncoholics can be heartless in the enforcement of their "no witnesses" rule.

One facet of the bunco ritual is the feast. A veritable cornucopia of food flows into the house. Bundt cakes, pizza rolls, clam/cheese/avocado dips, chips of all manner to go along with the dips, cheese, sliced meats, cookies, chili, all make their way to the kitchen none of which is intended or allocated for the male occupants of the house.

Once, in a fit of hunger-driven poor judgment, I ventured out of exile and into the kitchen to ask for just a smidgen of a taste; a tiny morsel to stave off starvation for the duration of the occupation.

You would have thought I was Oliver Twist asking for more gruel. Conversations stopped dead. Necks cracked as heads snapped to glare in my direction. At last, a meager portion of Jarlsberg cheese rind and a stale soda cracker were shoved into my hand as I was swiftly shown the door and admonished not to return. Harsh cackling followed in my retreat.

Men of the peninsula, we must stand united in facing this potential scourge! Bunco stands as a threat to the very fabric of our society! As that great country western singer and recovering buncoholic, Nellie Wilson, put it so well:

Mamas, don't let your babies grow up to play bunco,

Rollin' the dice and trustin' to luck.

Tell 'em to play bingo or pinochle and such.

Mamas don't let your babies grow up to play bunco,

'Cos they'll leave hubby alone, go off on their own

To play the game that they love.

So what can we do? Ask your wives or girlfriends what they are doing if you hear them mention bunco. Stand firm and don't be intimidated if they get defensive; resolute intervention may be the only way to save them. And if all else fails, get a mini-fridge for the garage. Your time in exile is coming.

A.E. Poynor is a freelance writer who lives until the next bunco party in Kenai.

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