Backgammon, 1975 by
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(319 Stories)

Prompted By Dice

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My backgammon set

After our Brandeis graduation in May, 1974, Christie relocated from Chicago to Boston that autumn. She stayed a year before her father summoned her to work for him at Playboy. She worked as a freelance writer, doing pieces for Boston After Dark and a long piece on Robert Pirsig and Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance for a national magazine. I worked a mundane job doing data entry, Dan was in grad school and we had plenty of time to socialize weekly, cooking for each other (yes, I cooked dinner every night in the early years of my marriage).

Backgammon was all the rage and Christie taught us how to play. We’d play chouettes, a form of the game played by three or more players using the doubling cube (the large cube seen in the Featured photo), shifting rivalries and discussions of moves with the players. It was a fun way to spend the evening.

We bought a beautiful leather portable set that we’d use when she came to our apartment when we’d get together. She even gave us two pairs of special dice with rounded off corners (you can see her initials carved into them). We learned to play fast and use strategy. The game was so popular that there was tournament play on Sunday afternoons at a restaurant in Cambridge: 33 Dunster Street (both the restaurant name and its location). We went a few times, entered the tournament (a small entrance fee to play) and played until we were eliminated. I took second place once and won $50! A real jackpot for us in those days. We treated Christie to dinner.

That summer, we took our first-ever trip to California. Neither Dan nor I had traveled much, so this was a big deal. We started in LA and worked our way up the coast to visit our friends the Zussmans in the Bay Area. On Sunday, we visited Christie at the Playboy Mansion.

Visiting the Playboy Mansion; August, 1975

Sundays were busy days there; Hef opened his home for his friends and their friends. Tennis for all comers (Dan played with Mickey Dolenz of the Monkees), hanging out by the pool (the Jacuzzi Grotto was being cleaned), wandering around, people-gazing. Late afternoon, we went to Christie’s room to shower and change for dinner. Unfortunately, she had to keep it locked, as so many people trooped through the house that personal items had a way of disappearing.

We had not stuck by Christie the entire day, so didn’t know when she would appear. Dan stayed by the room while I went off in search of my friend. I looked through the house and grounds but didn’t find her. Yet I returned to Dan breathless with excitement, “I just saw Kareem Abdul-Jabaar! He is more than two feet taller than me.” Eventually, Christie came, unlocked the room and we all got ready for the vast buffet dinner, followed by the screening of “Russian Roulette”, a new, though forgettable spy movie starring George Segal. We sat up front on one of the couches with Christie. Hef always screened a first-run movie on Sunday nights.

Later in the evening, Hef, Christie and a few of his close friends repaired to Hef’s study to play backgammon. They played for $200 a point. We watched. That was way too rich for us. We sat across from another set-up board. Abdul-Jabaar walked in, sat down opposite us and stretched out his LONG legs. We asked him if he wanted to play. “I don’t gamble”, he replied. We assured him that we didn’t play for money either. Still, he declined and we just watched the other game going on next to us, late into the evening.

 

Profile photo of Betsy Pfau Betsy Pfau
Retired from software sales long ago, two grown children. Theater major in college. Singer still, arts lover, involved in art museums locally (Greater Boston area). Originally from Detroit area.


Characterizations: right on!, well written

Comments

  1. John Shutkin says:

    A fun story, Betsy, especially the extended peek behind the scenes at the Playboy Mansion — at least the G-rated ones. It sounds like a great time and I, too, would have loved to meet Kareem Abdul-Jabaar (though more for a long, serious political conversation than to play backgammon or even for a chat about basketball; he is an incredible person).

    And your story also reminded me that backgammon was all the rage back in the mid-1970’s. I learned it from one of my college roomies who was then in graduate school, but then promptly forgot about it — and all its rules — for years until my wife suggested it last year as a COVID activity. I am still lousy at it.

    Incidentally, 33 Dunster Street later became John Harvard’s Brewery & Ale House and I organized a late night drinking and schmoozing gathering there for our 45th reunion in 2016. There were, however, no backgammon tables in sight, and it has now become another brewery/pub (Wachusett Brew Yard, for those keeping score at home).

    • Betsy Pfau says:

      I’m not sure how politically active Abdul-Jabaar was in 1975, though of course, choosing to become a Muslim does connote something. I do know that we did not follow his politics at the time (unlike now, when I DO know what he is up to and admire the work he does). Then, I mostly knew about his sky hook. And he was the great nemesis of the Celtics, so there’s that. In Hef’s small study with so much activity (the game going on was ferocious), it would have been difficult to have much of a discussion. He seemed quite shy, actually.

      Thanks for the history of 33 Dunster Street, John. It has obviously gone through many iterations, but at least survives. I miss Elsie’s in Harvard Square. It had the BEST potato salad. I’d go there just to pick some up before my Marathon parties (so many years ago).

      • John Shutkin says:

        Elsie’s potato salad was excellent, but the real stars of its menu were the Roast Beef Special and a sandwich called the “Fresser’s Delight.” (I had to ask my father what “fresser” meant.) Sadly, where Elsie’s used to be is now a Bank of America ATM. Sic transit gloria…..

        • Betsy Pfau says:

          Ah, John, there is nothing quite as descriptive as Yiddish.

          Not hanging around Cambridge like you did, I just blew in, hoped to get a parking space, bought what I needed and raced home. We went to Coolidge Corner for our deli. But it is sad to think about all the great and unique shops that made these wonderful places what they were, are now banks or nail salons. Happening everywhere.

  2. Wow Betsy, we knew of your friendship with Christie Hefner but now we learn more!

    I bet when you started your freshman year at Brandeis you had no idea you’d end up at the Playboy Mansion watching the high rollers!

  3. Suzy says:

    Betsy, thanks for reminding me about backgammon, a game that I played briefly in the ’70s and have now completely forgotten. How great that you have dice with Christie’s initials carved in them! I’m impressed that you actually won money in a tournament, you must have been pretty good! And the high-stakes game at the Playboy Mansion. . . . So glad this prompt prompted this story!

    • Betsy Pfau says:

      I’ve forgotten how to play now too, Suzy. But it was fun back in the day.

      As I think back on my life, Christie provided lots of opportunities (getting us to the premiere of “The Age of Innocence” where I met Daniel Day-Lewis; attending a live show of SNL when Hef was the host, we went to the afterparty too and hung out with the cast – Gilda, Dan, Garret Morris, etc.); going to a New Years Eve party at the Mansion) that provided us with stories for years. Now I get to share them with you.

  4. What a perfect story for our prompt, Betsy! I wonder if you’re now tempted to dust off your beautiful set and start playing again.

    You and I both met Kareem, and commented back and forth about it on my “Embarrassment” story. While he may not have been a gambler, I once got into a poker game with some high rolling celebrities. What I thought were modest stakes grew exponentially and I went bust in no time flat! I was definitely out of my league.

    • Betsy Pfau says:

      I’ve thought about playing backgammon again from time to time, Barb, but (like Suzy), I can’t quite remember how!

      Gracious, you have lived a life! High stakes poker, eh? Wow…that’s all, just wow.

  5. Marian says:

    Very fascinating story, Betsy. Somehow I missed the backgammon craze in the 70s. Thinking from today’s standpoint, it would have been really great to meet Kareem Abdul-Jabaar. I admire his courageous stances on a number of issues. And Christie seems like a kind and interesting human being.

    • Betsy Pfau says:

      I think Kareem grew into a great man. I’m not sure he was back in 1975, but I agree, he is one now.

      Christie is the smartest, most articulate, most loyal friend a person could ever ask for. She is an exceptional human being in every sense of the word. When my father died 32 years ago, she was the first non-family member I called. She immediately invited me to come to Chicago as soon as I could come, so she could comfort and care for me. I treasure her friendship.

  6. Jeff Gerken says:

    Ah, now I understand who Christie is. I was scratching my head as I first read your post.
    June just read a book, I don’t remember the title, by a woman who was one of Hugh Hefner’s girlfriends at the mansion. It was not a happy story.

    • Betsy Pfau says:

      I understand your confusion, Jeff. I try not to be specific when I speak of Christie and I knew she would be identified by context later in the story. Her work speaks for itself and she does not like other forms of publicity.

      I cannot personally comment on Hef’s women. I know they were legion and I’m sure, particularly as the years went on, the stories are not happy. On the other hand, he was well-known for his fight to defend the First Amendment. He changed the nature of publishing and pushed the grounds of what became acceptable discussion of sexual behavior and attitudes as the up-tight ’50s gave way to the sexual revolution (not just for himself, but for all of us). He was an early and open supporter of African-American entertainers in his clubs and on “Playboy After Dark”, supported LGBTQ rights and was very progressive politically. He was generous to a fault to his friends. For these he can be commended, regardless of what you thought of his personal life.

  7. Laurie Levy says:

    What an amazing experience, Betsy. Too bad you never got a picture next to Kareem. That would have been a hoot.

    • Betsy Pfau says:

      He could have carried me in his pocket, Laurie! I met the great football player Jim Brown that night too, all decked out in a dashiki. His hand literally enveloped mine when we shook hands. Though not as tall as Kareem, he had a larger presence.

  8. You had me completely baffled, Betsy. Who the heck was Christie? I knew there had to be method to your madness, there always is, but I couldn’t for the life of me figure it out! Thanks to more astute readers for referencing why it was that this Christie person had a room in the original Playboy mansion.

    Did you see Julie Taymor’s THREE GLORIAS, the impressionistic biopic about Gloria Steinem? I thought it was a beautiful film and treated her Playboy Club infiltration pretty well. Backgammon — another game I haven’t the foggiest idea about.

    • Betsy Pfau says:

      Sorry if I caused confusion, Charlie. I thought the reference to being summoned by her father to work for Playboy would give you the clue. As I mentioned in my comment, my long-time friend does not like publicity so I try to reference her as little as possible. I thought I gave enough clues. She was CEO of Playboy for many years, so is quite well known. She left the company after Obama’s inauguration in January of 2009. She worked hard on his election.

      I did not see Taymor’s take on Steinem, but she is so creative, I’m sure it was wonderful.

  9. Apologies from my side, Betsy! I later realized you’ve mentioned Christie many times in your posts, I just blanked on the reference this time around! I hope you’re having a foggy-wonderful time in London. I say that from drought-parched California, so London weather may not feel so romantic to you New Englanders. Have a lovely time and thanks for the explanation. Ta…

    • Betsy Pfau says:

      If you read the very old story “Waiting for Christie”, about my first day at Brandeis, you will get another flavor. No apologies necessary.

      Cold and rainy in London. That appears to be the forecast for the foreseeable future.

  10. I’ll visit your earlier story again. I’m sure it will all come back.

    Okay for London. Some things don’t change. But at least the food has improved. You don’t have to settle for bangers and mashed with a pint.

  11. Cool! See if you can find the folio of Hamlet that Willy Shakespeare signed for me back in the day. I lost it in a previous incarnation. Careless of me! Have fun!

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