How It Feels To Get Your Ass Kicked In Spades


There are many benefits to living in Pittsburgh. There are literally thousands of places to get great breakfast food, the topography is completely unique and completely spectacular, and it's surprisingly close to Toronto. Unfortunately, a robust nightlife for Black people is not one of them. If you're a 30-something Black person in this city and you're looking for a lounge/club-like atmosphere where other Black people will be present, your options are either Savoy or somewhere else. And by "somewhere else" I mean "one of the dozen or so hood spots where you will have fun and might also get shanked."


As a result, Black Pittsburghers have to be resourceful. "Make your own fun" isn't just a suggestion. It's an edict. A way of life the Wife Person and I have taken to heart, hosting several parties, potlucks, and game nights over the last couple of years. And, while hosting people is a bit of a response to our circumstance, it also has a few selfish benefits, namely…

1. It forces us to do a bone deep scrub of our home

Our place is far from a mess, but we both can get lazy with housework. Nothing snaps you out of a cleaning malaise quicker than knowing you're about to have 30 people over (And knowing that, with a group of 30 Black people, at least 28 of them will totally talk shit to their friends on how messy your place was if you have a messy-ass place.)

2. Free alcohol

Let's just say that, between the liquor we've bought ourselves and the liquor, wine, and beer people bring to the parties, we have enough alcohol now to kill at least 50 ducks.

And, most importantly…

3. We are great at Spades

The Wife Person and I first played Spades together Christmas 2012, beating everyone we played. We played again a week later at a New Years Eve party, beating three teams and then losing to the hosts. After that loss, we went two years without losing another game.


I need everyone to stop, go back, and re-read that line. Here it is again if you're too lazy to do it.

"…we went two years without losing another game."

That's two years and dozens of different games at cookouts, house parties, and the random weekend nights when ambitious couples would hit us up like "Hey, y'all trying to play spades tonight?" and we'd hit back like "Y'all trying to lose?" and they'd come over happy and hungry and confident and go home making passive-aggressive digs at each other. We even gave ourselves a name — "Team Shank" — and would break out a white board with actual tournament brackets for our spades tournaments.


Two years of consecutive wins in a card game where your success is 15% based on your skill, 15% based on the skill of your partner, 20% based on the skill of the team you're playing against, 10% based on how much alcohol has been consumed, 10% based on if someone playing is getting distracted by a game on TV or a text conversation or an unusually fat ass playing Taboo, and 30% based on sheer luck. Basically, as good and focused and confident as you might be, the actual cards you're dealt still matter more than anything else. All the guile and sorcery and blackmail in the world aint helping a hand with six hearts, three diamonds, three clubs, one spade, and no face cards. And if you get enough of those in a row, you will lose.

We went two years without that happening.

But it did Saturday night.

It began like every other spades night. People came, listened to O.T. Genasis and Sister Nancy, drank honey Jack and ginger ale, ate chicken and honey roasted peanuts, and said things like "I didn't know you had a floating staircase" which made me think (but not say) "Of course you didn't know. You've never been here before. How else would you know?" People who came early and were either rusty or just didn't really know how to play had the chance to play a couple "practice" rounds while the Wife Person and I walked around like a couple lions in the wild allowing a pack of giraffes to do some giraffe shit.


So we lurked in waiting — hosting, drinking, and plotting — until it was time to play. Our opponents — my homegirl J and friend of VSB @ethiopianboy — were game and ready. The same way a gazelle is game and ready when facing a fucking cheetah. Which is what Team Shank is. A fucking cheetah. (Well, two cheetahs since there's two of us.)

And then the first hand was dealt. And then I saw that it was going to take a miracle to get even one book out of my hand. And then I realized I couldn't even ask how many books the Wife Person had because the first hand bids itself. And then I noticed that she was making the same face babies make when they smell their own fart.


And then they got the first three books. And then the next two. And then the next two.

And by this time, the party started paying attention. There were murmurs. Whispers. And a couple "Holy shit!"s. Everyone knew we hadn't lost in two years — possibly because the event invite said "Come be another one of Team Shank's victims. Because like God and gravity, Team Shank never loses." — and watching us lose a hand so spectacularly was like watching a North Korean booty clap. You know it's happened before and will eventually happen again, but it's so rare and ridiculous that it commands your full attention.


It also felt surreal. Bad spades hands carry a cruel inevitability. You know you are going to lose badly. And you know there's nothing you can do about it. And worse, your opponent knows. But you can't exactly quit. Which means you're at their whim and have to sit there and take all the shit-talking and faux self-deprecation ("I just can't believe how many books we're getting!") until the hand is done. I'm certain 90% of spades-related violence came as a result of someone getting their ass kicked and someone else getting too reckless with the shit-talking.

By the time the dust settled, they somehow managed to win 12 fucking books. 12! (The pic attached to the post was taken at that moment. As you can see, the Wife Person was in disbelief while I was, well, the saltiest motherfucker alive while staring at a chicken bone. And ready to fight that chicken bone. Oh, and I hate J now.)


Since we were playing to 250, a 120 to 10 start proved to be insurmountable. We ended up losing 260 or something to -375 or something. Because if you're going to lose, you need to lose like a winner: Spectacularly and against someone with a blue M&M t-shirt that made you so angry you actually said "A Snicker would beat an M&M's ass" to yourself the next day while waiting in line at Target.

Damon Young is the editor-in-chief of VSB, a contributing opinion writer for The New York Times, and the author of What Doesn't Kill You Makes You Blacker (Ecco/HarperCollins)



This is where I cross myself several times, close my eyes tightly, raise my hand slowly and throw myself at the mercy of the crowd while admitting…..

I don't know how to play spades ya'll.

Rephrase before my black card is revoked: I KNEW how to play in undergrad, but I forgot. Which means I still don't know how to play ya'll. But God forgives, so ya'll don't have to….*hangs head*