One of my closest pals is Myki Bajaj, a 30-year-old movie and tv producer in Los Angeles. We see one another each week, and we normally communicate a number of instances. Our conversations span from the mundane — sports activities and tradition and the like — to extra severe subjects, like household and being brown in America. We mull touring collectively and regularly discuss initiatives on which to collaborate.
What makes our friendship uncommon — or completely regular based mostly on 2021 requirements — is that I’ve met Myki in individual one time. It was final yr at an opportunity work assembly on the West Coast, simply weeks earlier than the coronavirus pandemic took maintain.
Our friendship blossomed via a medium I by no means would have anticipated: on-line poker served with a facet of Zoom.
I gained’t miss the pandemic, with the struggling and isolation it has precipitated throughout the planet. And I’m considered one of the fortunate ones. Knock on wooden: I’m wholesome and have remained employed all through the final yr.
But, I’ll miss one factor about quarantine life every time it’s over. I’ve developed actual bonds with folks via poker, which is, sarcastically, a sport inherently constructed on distrust.
Immediately after a lot of the United States went on lockdown final March, Myki offhandedly invited me to play a poker sport together with his faculty pals in the midst of considered one of our first catch-up conversations. He is an avid participant. Before final yr, he would host a low-stakes sport on Fridays in his yard for everybody to de-stress from their workweeks. I’m no matter the reverse of avid is. Sporadic? Occasional? Oh, truly, the phrases I’m on the lookout for are not good.
In the pandemic model of the sport, every participant — and there have been as much as 14 of us — would obtain a web-based poker app after which get on a gaggle video name as we performed and act as if we had been in the yard. Myki’s pals had been scattered throughout the nation. New York. Los Angeles. Washington. Atlanta. Seattle. One even tuned in from London at a ridiculous hour. But this sport introduced all of us to the identical place at the identical time.
Our novice saloon, which might be open for greater than 4 hours at a time, grew to become a daily assembly spot, weekly and infrequently a number of instances every week. I started to look ahead to it. And whereas I didn’t fairly understand it because it was occurring, I grew to become shut with this group of strangers. In the absence of completely happy hours and regular office socializing, they grew to become a respite from the monotony and seclusion that was out of the blue our collective regular.
The Zoom discussions, punctuated with yells about bluffs and fortunate flush attracts, would veer from politics to literature to relationship and plenty of different subjects. I invited a few of my pals to hitch, and out of the blue, my earlier acquaintances had been assembly my new ones, creating connections upon connections. Sometimes, the calls could be silent as playing cards had been dealt. Not as a result of we had been attempting to cover our fingers or consider our pocket pairs, however as a result of the group had turn into snug with nothingness: the true hallmark of wholesome relationships.
Soon, I noticed that we weren’t the solely ones who had sought out this hybrid Zoom-poker digital outlet for consolation. A pal at work invited me to hitch his weekly poker sport that he and his pals had began with an identical setup. And out of the blue, I had turn into pleasant with yet one more group of individuals whom I most likely by no means would have met in any other case. And then there have been the one-on-one video games with my pal Alex, one other individual with whom on-line poker greased the wheels for a friendship.
The relationships shortly grew to become about greater than poker. In one group, we celebrated birthdays. In one other, we exchanged vacation presents. Aaron, whom I’ve by no means met, despatched me a home made beer brewing package. I despatched Mitch a bottle of champagne. One of the poker gamers has come in useful professionally: Ben, a die-hard fan of the Philadelphia 76ers, helped me with a number of articles I wrote about the N.B.A. workforce.
There is precedent for folks turning to gambling games in a pandemic. In 1918, as the country was ravaged by the Spanish flu, law enforcement would break up underground gambling saloons operating despite a ban on in-person gatherings.
You might be wondering why I keep talking about these games in the past tense. Can’t they continue even if people start going out again? It’s not as if Zoom is going to disappear like the sun at night. And that’s true. In theory, the games can continue. I imagine they sometimes will, for nostalgia’s sake.
But it’s getting warmer outside and more and more people are getting vaccinated. People haven’t seen their friends and family in person in months. Why would you spend hours staring at a computer on a Saturday night when you can be out and about for the first time in more than a year?
We’re already playing less than we used to. I take heart that less poker indicates that the country is seeing a light at the end of the tunnel. But given that it’s more difficult to find meaningful connections when you leave your 20s, I can’t help but feel a sense of loss.
And then I am reminded of something Myki once said to me.
“This is never about the cards.”