We sat on the floor of our vacation rental playing cards, the ceiling fan whirring overhead. My nine-year-old son strategically distracted me. "For my birthday on Friday," he announced, cherubically poker-faced, "we're going to Hooters."
"Hooters!" I exclaimed, un-fanning my cards.
His daddy, who lounged lazily on the nearby sofa, made a risky bet, saying, "Sounds like a good idea to me."
"No, it doesn't," I snapped, missing an opportunity to lay down a card. "He's turning 10. He's not going to Hooters."
"It's not what you think," my husband mumbled, egged on by our sons, who very naturally liked the idea and reveled in forcing their father's hand.
"It is what I think," I spurted. Turning to my child, I indignantly asked, "Who put that idea in your head?"
Being only nine, he hadn't learned to keep his cards close to the vest. "Coach," he answered. "Mama, you were supposed to laugh when I told you."
"Is that what Coach said I would do?" Coach deals from the bottom of the deck.
"Yes, ma'am." He slapped a card on one of the piles between us. "I win!"
The table talk dropped for what I hoped would be at least 20 years, but it resumed only a couple of days later. "Want to try surf-crabbing tonight," I asked my husband.
"Yeah, except, well, no, never mind, you already said you didn't want to go."
"To Hooters, for you-know-who's birthday."
"No. What I said is that he's turning 10 and doesn't need to go there," I snorted.
"You don't even know what it's like," my husband accused. "Girls were wearing less at the beach today than the waitresses at Hooters wear. By the way, hooters are owls, for your information."
The blinding glare of the sun reflecting off the white sand of Perdido Key must have burned a tiny, but destructive, hole in his brain, causing him to clumsily try the card-up-the-sleeve trick. Finding safe harbor in his father's brain damage, our 11-year-old boy enthusiastically cut the deck, only in the direction of the wrong dealer. "The food's great, Mama."
In the thick Gulf Coast humidity, even dry humor mildews. Glossing over my older son's intense interest in the debate, I retorted, "It's not about the food or the clothes. It's about the message ... and the message, my dear, isn't about wildlife conservation."
When all the males giggled, I pulled out my marked cards and upped the ante. I suggested, "Since we're here, why don't we take him to the greyhound track?"
"For his birthday?"
"Sure. We can let him pick a dog in a couple of races." Then I made a split second decision to double-down. "I tell you what. Let's take him to Hooters and to the track, and let's buy him a celebratory cigar and give him his first beer. We can kill it all in one night - girls, gambling, booze, smokes."
Smoothly, the man of our beach house hit my ace of spades until he busted me. "I don't know about the beer."
"Oh my gosh," the 11-year-old bravely gasped, at about the same time, busting my ace of hearts, "it's the perfect birthday!"
Our eight-year-old daughter, still a young, naive shark, who quietly counted cards and read our tells all this while, threw down her own trump. "And I can get a puppy?"
I heard Kenny Rogers singing, You gotta know when to hold 'em, know when to fold 'em, know when to walk away, know when to run . . .
(Lucy Adams is a syndicated columnist, freelance writer, and author of If Mama Don't Laugh, It Ain't Funny. She lives in Thomson. Lucy invites readers to send comments to email@example.com and to visit her web site, www.IfMama.com.)