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Keeping a poker face while serving the bull

EDITOR’S NOTE: The following column contains graphic anatomical descriptions.

I held my three cards firmly and a little cupped, so the three aces were out of view to the other players and the crowd of half-dressed GIs watching the game.

It was Saturday evening in mid-October, and poker was the best entertainment available to our platoon. We were in the middle of basic training at Fort Ord.

This was 1965, and we were still under restrictions due to the recent spinal meningitis epidemic on the post. We were restricted to our platoon area and had no contact with the other four platoons in the training company. These 39 other guys were my circle of friends for the duration of the eight weeks of training.

I waited anxiously for my draw of two cards. There were six of us in this game. We probably had half the platoon watching, all in various states of dress and undress. Boxers were standard evening attire in the barracks. In fact, boxers and a T-shirt were almost Sunday-go-to-meeting dress. A few guys were still in their fatigues.

I watched as the other players called for their cards. Only Tangerman, a younger kid, sitting across the makeshift table – a couple of footlockers pushed together – drew two cards.

I slowly picked up my two cards, one at a time. I turned the first over and stuck it in my hand. A king. I took a deep breath and picked up the next, an ace. I sat with four aces and a king. The only hand that could beat me was a straight flush, and it was highly unlikely that Tangerman would draw into a straight flush.

I watched as the bet went around the table. One guy, to the right of the dealer, bet, then Tangerman raised. The next guy folded, and the next guy saw the bet. I was trying to decide if I wanted to raise. The rules of this game say we’re limited to two raises. All of us playing were in the same boat. We needed some money to last until payday, constructing a fun game where nobody’s hurt.

I went ahead and raised the bet.

The group of guys behind Tangerman was excited, which means he hit his draw. The dealer folded, as did the next guy. So three of us were still in the hand, and my guess was that the other guy would fold.

Then Tangerman made a fatal error in judgment. He asked if we could suspend the rules. Did he have a straight flush? I couldn’t believe that.

I agreed. “Bet away,” I said.

Tangerman raised my bet again. The third guy folded. A few guys behind me now wanted to see my hand. I saw Tangerman’s bet, and raised him back.

I relaxed a little and showed my hand to the guys behind me. Both groups were going crazy. There was enough tension in the platoon to cut with a knife. Virtually everyone was watching the game. Tangerman’s group had more than 20 guys, more than mine, and much more vocal.

Tangerman saw my bet and had only a few dollars left in front of him. He fingered them as he considered his final raise.

“We have over a week before payday,” I said. “You might want to hang onto a few dollars.”

Tangerman looked at the pot, where there must have been close to $30, a half-month’s pay for us. He looked at his remaining $3.

“OK,” he said, “I call you.”

With a sigh, I lay my cards on the table. Tangerman’s group erupted in a colossal moan.

“Damn,” Tangerman said as he dropped his hand: four queens and a king.

The game was over after that. Tangerman was tapped out, and there was no way to match the excitement. I scraped in the pile of bills.

Everyone dispersed to their bunk area, and as we repositioned the footlockers, I grabbed Tangerman by his elbow.

“If you run short before payday, you let me know,” I said. “This game wasn’t supposed to leave anybody broke.”

“Thanks,” he said.

That was the only poker game I played in the Army. After basic training, there was either too much work to do or too much fun to be had elsewhere.

***

Much later in life, in Sweet Home, I would play an occasional friendly game with a group of guys. Most games were casual; everybody had more money to lose than my basic-training platoon, but it was more social than serious.

I had been playing in a weekly group with five or six people for a couple of months. I considered myself lucky if I broke even, I think once or twice I came home with an extra $20, but never anything more than that. Usually, the host would have some finger food on the table, with maybe a beer or two.

One afternoon, I got a call to castrate a group of young bulls in a purebred Black Angus herd, a group of 12 that didn’t make the grade for a bull sale. They were all approaching or a little more than a year of age.

This was a pretty routine call, but the candidates for bedroom guards were a little older than the usual crowd.

The first bull was waiting in the chute when we pulled up to the corral. I used my standard castration technique. I had Hope pull the tail up over the back to create a good tail pinch on the spinal nerves. I grasped the scrotum above the testicles and squeezed the testicles into its bottom, then made a quick incision down each side of the scrotum and squeezed the testicle out of it. I grabbed each testicle and stretched them down until I felt the cremaster muscle tear. That done, with a clamp on the cord above the testicle, I removed the testicle with the emasculator, holding firm pressure on the emasculator to ensure a solid crush on the vessels. In small bulls, I would remove both testicles together. Bulls this size, I removed each testicle individually.

With the first set of testicles in my hand, I looked at Debbie.

“Do you want these?” I asked.

“Are you kidding?” she said.

“I don’t know,” I said. “They tell me they are pretty good eating,”

“If you want them, you are welcome to them.”

“Hope, grab me a few OB sleeves,” I said. “I happen to have a poker game tomorrow evening. These might make pretty good hors d’oeuvres.”

We worked through the remaining bulls similarly. By the time I was done, both OB sleeves were full of prime testicles. I tied the sleeves at the top, and we packed up our stuff.

“You will find that they will all be singing soprano from now on,” I said. “Thanks for the leftovers.”

I had no recipe to follow in cooking these things. I figured I would just imagine the end product and work backward. These were probably a little larger testicles than what one might see in a bar in Colorado. Mountain oysters are a fall delicacy in many Rocky Mountain areas. Each testicle was more than three inches long and approaching two inches in diameter.

I removed the loose tunic from each testicle, and then with a sharp knife, I sliced the epididymis from the testicles. I then cut them into rounds, about the thickness one would slice a potato for frying. I dipped them in milk, then dredged them through a beaten egg and flour. Afterward, I fried each round to a golden brown. Sandy always says I cook things at too-high temperatures, so I was careful to use medium heat. With a little salt and pepper, I finished the process.

When they came out of the frying pan, I let them cool on paper towels and carefully stacked them on a platter. Upon completion, it was a pretty impressive plate of mountain oysters, if I do say so myself. I covered them with plastic wrap and put them in the refrigerator overnight.

I took the platter to work the next day because I was going to be at the clinic until I left for the poker game. The girls in the office were impressed with the appearance of the platter and wanted to taste one of the mountain oysters.

Hope took a bite and immediately ran to the bathroom. She was embarrassed when she came back. After biting into the sample, she’d gotten a small tubule stuck between her teeth.

Needless to say, that ended the sampling.

I arrived early at the poker game, but a couple of guys were there already. I set the platter on the table, a little off-center but within reach. I removed the wrap and said nothing.

The group arrived, and we settled into the game. As the evening wore on, guys started picking away at the platter. It wasn’t long until the plate was nearly empty.

“What are these things?” Jerry finally asked, holding up one of the rounds. “They are pretty good. Who brought them?”

I never said a word and worked hard to maintain my best poker face.

Finally, Gil chuckled and pointed to me.

“Larsen brought them,” he said as he continued to laugh.

Of course, the whole table thought they were poisoned for sure.

I quickly fessed up to the truth, “They are just mountain oysters. And they are as fresh as you can get anywhere.”

– David Larsen is a retired veterinarian who practiced 40 years in Sweet Home. More of his stories are available on his blog at docsmemoirs.com.