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Big Denny Goes to Oxford

by Max Shapiro |  Published: May 17, 2005

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My involvement with poker has taken me to some interesting locales, such as St. Maarten in the Caribbean, where I've done tournament writeups the past couple of years, Jamaica for the National Lampoon's Strip Poker filming, and, of course, the most exotic location of all, Barstow. It had never gotten me to Europe, though. I came close when I was invited to do write-ups for a hold'em tournament in Dublin last year. I reluctantly had to pass because it was staged by an online poker site, and that presented a conflict with another Internet poker operation that I am associated with. Sometimes, as my sweetie keeps telling me, I'm too honest for my own good.

But another situation recently came up, which this time took me to England. Here's how it came down:

I got a phone call one evening from a gentleman sporting a patrician British accent. "Chauncey Crumblecake here," he said, identifying himself. "Would I perchance be speaking to Mr. Max Shapiro?"

"It depends," I replied suspiciously, figuring it was somebody trying to sell me something. "What do you want to talk to him about?"

"It concerns poker, old chap. I am a student representative at Oxford University. We have been hearing about these college poker tournaments that seem to be popping up all over, and we would desire to have one here. But we need assistance, and thought of speaking to this Shapiro chap."

"Splendid," I replied, trying to enunciate my best Oxfordian English. "This is him. I mean, he. Or is it me? Whatever. What did you have in mind, and why specifically are you calling me?"

"We've been picking up your Card Player magazine and reading your column. None of us have the foggiest why you call it a humor column, old boy. To be brutally frank, Barry Shulman is more humorous than you are. But we are intrigued by this Big Denny chap you're always writing about. We think he'd be a jolly choice for teaching us poker and running our tournament. You could come along, too, and do the writing."

Normally I would not be inhumane enough to inflict Big Denny on anyone, but I was smarting over that crack about my humor, so I assured Crumblecake that "Mr. Denny" would be an ideal choice, and promised to sound him out. Why not? England was supposed to be lovely at this time of year, and maybe I could even surprise Charles and Camilla by stopping by for their wedding.

The next day I phoned the big guy. "Hey, Denny," I said, "you ever hear of Oxford University?"

"Oxford? Is dat where dey makes dem shoes?"

Oh, boy, I thought. Those snotty Brits deserve what they'll be getting. I explained the situation and told Denny they were offering to pay his airfare and pay him 100 pounds.

"Pounds a' what?" Big Denny demanded. "Dey sound just like dem farmers here in Barstow, always tryin' ta pay fer dere buy-ins wit' stuff dey grows."

I informed Denny that pounds were British currency, and after assuring him that they could be converted into dollars at the prevailing exchange rate, he agreed. There was a little problem getting him a passport because of all his felony convictions, but eventually things got worked out and we departed for London. It was not a pleasant flight. I was squashed against the plane's bulkhead by Denny's enormous bulk, and even the headphone music turned up full volume could not drown out the nauseating sounds he made chomping the food and snacks he kept demanding from the beleaguered stewards.

I had done some research before we left and discovered that Oxford University was the oldest English-speaking university in the world, with a heritage of nine centuries of distinguished scholastic excellence. I had begged Denny to be on his best behavior, and he promised to be nice to "dem limeys." But as I gazed at him wolfing down his fourth helping of fish and chips, with tartar sauce dripping from his chin, I realized that his encounter with that refined student body could well cause the greatest rift in Anglo-American relations since the Gulf War – maybe even the Revolutionary War.

After an interminable flight, we finally touched down at Heathrow Airport, where we sought transport to Oxford, a medium-sized city with a population of some 140,000 people. I decided to go by coach to best take in the scenery, and we purchased tickets at Victoria Coach Station for the 57-mile drive northwest from London to Oxford. The picturesque scenery was of little interest to Denny, and with no food served on the bus, he promptly fell asleep, snoring at a decibel level that had the frightened passengers covering their ears. "Blimey," one elderly gentleman remarked. "Ain't never heard such a bloomin' racket since the air raid blitz durin' the war."

Arriving at our destination, with my ears still ringing from the snoring, we departed the coach. I gazed in awe at this magnificent institution of higher learning. "Just think, Denny, these buildings date back nine centuries."

Denny did not seem overly impressed. "Oh, yeah? Den I sure hope da joint's got indoor plumbin'."

I had phoned ahead, and we were greeted by an impeccably dressed young man. He took a step back as he stared at the gargantuan bulk and simian features of my companion, but he quickly regained his composure. "Good afternoon, gentlemen, and welcome to the University of Oxford. I am Chauncey Crumblecake, and I am at your service. Do you have any questions?"

"Yeah," said Big Denny. "When does we eat?"

To be continued … ♠