By Linnea Covington
Sometimes you want to go where everyone knows your name's even if that place has nothing to do with drinking. Since its inception 10 years ago, the Jewish Community Center on the Upper West Side has offered beverages to the dozens of seniors who come on Mondays and Tuesdays to play a variety of games, but the Pepsi, seltzer and ginger ale aren"t why people come.
â€œI like the games and the people, said 86-year-old Harry as he placed an â€œR on the plastic board in front of him. â€œAnd other places don"t have Scrabble.
Harry, like many of the seniors in the JCC game room, declined to give his last name. He was one of three main Scrabble players, and the only man who showed up to compete that Monday. The rest of the room consisted of women, most playing canasta, some loudly and some so concentrated they constantly shushed in the general direction of the ruckus. Not long ago, bridge was also popular in this space, but those players long ago forfeited their table in favor of a quieter spot.
On this November afternoon, the low winter light of the large, pale-green-
carpeted room resonated peace as the sun"s glow softened the angles of the harsh square card tables. By 3:30, just half an hour before the room closed to players, the energy pushed higher until the short, round ladies with cropped hair and bright red and purple jackets sitting closest to the door gave in and stopped caring if people were talking.
In the center of the room, at one of the other six tables, Irene, 83, made her move. â€œK-A-T: kat, she said, simultaneously spelling the word â€œtank on the board.
Next, Louise, their star participant who also plays the viola in the orchestra at St. Luke"s, added an â€œS, forming â€œstank.
â€œIs that really a word? questioned Harry, as he reached for the official Scrabble dictionary. After serving in the Navy during World War II and working as a Supreme Court Clerk, he doesn"t let anything fly.
â€œA stank is a pond, replied Louise, 64, as she peered into the dictionary, her glasses lightly balanced on her nose.
â€œIt must be a stinky pond, chuckled Irene.
Next to the one Scrabble table, a gaggle of older women gossiped, threw down cards and wrote down numbers.
Created in 1939 in South America, canasta has many variations across the world. It gained popularity in the 1950s, the same era in which Scrabble made it big and the era in which many of the women now playing at the JCC were just starting their families.
For this particular table, it appeared that winning was just a bonus's the real pleasure was seeing the group. For pure excitement, they also attend Tuesday"s mah-jongg tournaments.
About six years ago, the JCC started offering mah-jongg classes. The interested parties have since grown from about eight people to the 70 players registered today. Every Tuesday, the room fills with women, many sporting close-cropped silver hair, sparkly jewelry and fashionable clothes.
â€œIf you aren"t nice or high-maintenance, please don"t come, said Rhonda, her advice seconded by the nodding of heads and gentle laughter.
As the group of ladies leaves to have a drink and a nibble at a Japanese restaurant across the street, the three Scrabble players remain happy in their own world. Louise, the youngest of the faction, won this round, but she has the advantage of practicing the game on her smartphone.
Still, Harry grinned and pointed to Irene. â€œShe"s famous, you know, because of the hurricane.
And even though she didn"t win this round of Scrabble, the white-haired woman looked at me and smiled. â€œIt"s because I am a force to be reckoned with.
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