I started bartending in 1979, when I was 18 years old.
(Ontario law said you needed to be 19 to serve alcohol, but the bar manager decided I could work the service bar where only the waitresses picked up, so long as I was not actually serving customers. This was Bullshit. But it did give me a useful professional head start in the fields of both alcohol and Bullshit.)
In the 1970s, there was a popular game called “Bullshit Poker.” It was played with American $1 bills, and it really was fun. I lived in Sarnia, where there were always lots of American $1 bills around; you could always find two or more people to play a hand of Bullshit Poker at the bar.
The serial number printed on the face of your American $1 bill was your poker hand, with zeroes as aces. Every player took turns studying the number on their dollar before calling their hand: “A pair of 3s.” “Ace high.” “Three card straight.”
(Ostensibly, using dollar bills instead of cards made gambling in the bar legal. This was Bullshit, of course, but everyone ignored that.)
In Bullshit Poker, it was not only fair but expected that players would bluff. Tension mounted with the start of each round, as it became obvious that one of the players was going to have to put up or shut up. Somebody was lying; somebody was going down. Who would it be?
On dull days, Bullshit Poker was just a quiet game for bored barflies. On raucous nights, the whole bar would be involved, cheering and placing side bets on the eventual winner.
What quickly became obvious was that the consistent winners in Bullshit Poker weren’t the ones who lucked into $1 bills with great poker hand serial numbers. The consistent winners were the best liars.
For example, Ray was almost unbeatable. Ray’s instincts were amazing: he knew when to fold, and when to Bullshit. But, he Bullshitted in such a convivial way, tipsy bar mates didn’t mind losing to him. Also, tipsy bar mates were not aware of Ray’s lucky dollar, the one with five 9s on it, which he carefully placed back in his wallet after cleaning all the other players.
Except Will, the bar’s owner, who was always sober and who noticed how often Ray won with five 9s.
“Get those ringers out of here!!!” Will would shout angrily when he saw Ray’s “lucky” dollar come out. Will called Bullshit before the game even started.
For two years now, since COVID-19 and governments’ astonishingly unscientific response to it changed life in Canada, I have had the eerie feeling I am living in an incredible, unending game of Bullshit Poker. The stakes get higher every day, but no one ever calls “Bullshit.”
Instead of bluffing “three 5s” or “straight to 8,” players call things like “two weeks to flatten the curve,” “we’re all in this together,” “masks stop the spread of infection,” “your business needs to be closed but Wal-mart can open,” or now, “kids are at risk for COVID.”
None of this has ever been true, but Canadians can’t bring themselves to call “Bullshit!”
It’s like we know Ray is playing his ringer “lucky” dollar, but we play game the anyway.
Why are Canadians doing this? Where is sober Will when we need him?
I call Bullshit.