Professor Jerome Wilson Kuttler

 

    He comes into the house at 7:30 for a poker game, with a hearty, "Hi-ya, Ralphus, how goes it?"  Heads past the front closet to the living room and shucks his coat half onto the nearest arm­chair, from which it begins slipping off onto the floor. 

 

          I had tried to take it from him in order to hang it in the closet, but he got past me.  "Never mind," he says cheer­fully, "I'll just put it here."  It's on the floor now, ready to trip up anyone crossing the living room.  It would be churlish of me to pick it up to hang away, when all he wanted was to save me trouble, so I courteously leave it on the floor.  Sometimes I think I will one day say, “Hey, Jerry, don’t bother putting it on the floor; I’ll just throw it in the closet here.” Actually, I might as well have put it away a moment later when, no longer look­ing, he is already in the dining room at the poker table, stacking chips for distribution.  There are six more players to come, all of them with coats and boots, as the snow is deep outside.  Kuttler’s "boots" are still on his feet, though; they are his shoes, great clodhop­pers with braided nylon laces, dripping with the melting snow onto the dining room carpet, which fortu­nately is brown.

 

          Kuttler shuffles the cards as other players come in, and greets them all noisily.  His pants are too small for his expand­ing waist, and his wallet has no space in his back pocket.  Before the evening is over it will have been squeezed out of that pocket onto the floor like toothpaste from a tube, three or four separate times.  Players walking past him to the kitchen (there is constant traffic that way during the game, for beer) will each time pick up the wallet and say, "Is this yours?" and he'll say "Yeah, thanks," and absently put it back into the same pocket -- about half way in is as far as it can go.  It is a very thick wallet, filled with God knows how many cards and papers.  The seams of the wallet are stretched as seriously as the seams on the pocket it repeatedly falls from.

 

          Professor Kuttler breathes through his mouth.  I didn't notice this when I first knew him forty years ago, but in recent years, especially since we started playing in the same poker game about twelve years ago, it has been very noticeable, espe­cially when he eats.

 

          And he does eat.  Our game takes place every second Monday evening (more often during the summer) and rotates among the houses of the players, so that we play at my house about five times a year.  Our tradition is to have beer at all times, and a snack provided by the host of the evening at about 10 p.m.  This gets set up in the kitchen.  Some players have their wives arrange for the food, which then typi­cally consists of a selec­tion of meats, cheeses, and bread, with mustard and butter.  Bill Wheeler's wife, for example, when we played there -- until his death last year -- usually cooked some tiny hotdogs in a spicy sauce and laid them out with toothpicks; in addi­tion she put out gro­cery-store bologna rolled around tiny sweet pickles, and a Wisconsin Brie cheese.  You’d never know she was French, but of course that was a long time ago, in 1945 when Bill was a GI and found her hungry and orphaned in a village near Amiens. Ladd Carter, another of us, generally prepares some of his own recipe hot chili with beans and bread.  He is from Texas of course, and favors barbecues over luncheon meats.  Stuart is apparently from nowhere (upstate New York, I think), and rarely makes any preparation at all; he usual­ly orders in a couple of pizzas.  In my case, I generally get a couple of kinds of sausage from Rubino’s (Mortadella, salami soppressata) and a good bread from Martucciello's or Savastano’s, along with some big green Sicilian olives and purple Calamatas, and the chees­es, of course: Muenster and either Fonti­na or Gouda.

 

          Kuttler doesn't bother his wife with these things, neither does he cook, but when the game is at his house he goes out to the grocery himself and gets turkey breast, watery pink ham, and sliced Swiss cheese indis­tin­guish­able from celluloid.  His bread, also sliced and in a brightly decorated wrapper, is quite tasteless.  He likes it as well as anything else, it appears, for he eats two or three full-sized sandwiches per poker game, whether at his house or at mine. Mortadella or chilled turkey breast, it is all the same to him.

 

          Tonight the game is at my house, and at 10:04 p.m. Kuttler comes back from the kitchen hurriedly, since (like everyone else) he has had to find time between two poker hands to get his food.  One waits for a hand that has been dropped out of early, to have time before the next deal.  In the kitchen there are paper napkins stacked beside the foods, and several small ceramic plates, along with a few knives and forks for anyone who might need one, to spread butter or mustard, or spear a small pickled green pepper from the jar.  The bread is on a breadboard with a knife for cutting fresh slices, a few of which I have prepared in advance.

 

          Kuttler scorns the plates and napkins, but assembles his sandwich on the breadboard, picks it up and carries it bare in his hand to his seat at the poker table.  He tends not to regard the orien­tation of the sandwich as he walks, and so it spends part of its travel time vertical­ly, with some of the contents leaking out onto the floor, before he sets it down on the old Army blanket that is our poker-table surface for the evening.  Savastano’s bread has a crispy crust that continues to flake off as he walks, so that a bit of that is also on the floor along path between the kitchen and where he sits in the dining room at the poker table.

 

          I have heard the man next to him (Ladd, perhaps, not me) ask, "Hey Jerry, don't you want a napkin?" -- alarmed at the disorder overtak­ing his chips by Kuttler's expanding place at the table.  "No, never mind, I'm O.K." says Jerry.  Neverthe­less, someone usually brings him a napkin, which he still does not put beneath his food on the table, but accepts as something to wipe his fingers with before his turn to deal.  Sometimes he forgets, and gets some butter or mustard on the cards, and wipes that off with the napkin before deciding maybe he'd better wipe his own fin­gers too.  With every bite, more crumbs from the crust squirt out from between his teeth over the table as he exhales.

 

          I myself always put my sandwich on one of the small plates with a couple of the olives, and bring it to the table without getting anything on the floor, or on the table either; and less space is taken away from where I keep my chips than is taken by Kuttler's meth­od.  Other play­ers are some­times a bit disorderly in one way or anoth­er, but they all put their food on at least a napkin before carrying it around the house or putting it on the blanket we play on.  And they all, except Jerry, do try not to have their food invade the space occupied by their neighbor’s chips.

 

          Kuttler is a professor of clinical psychology, which is (I believe) the practical study of the behavior of people in society, rather than (say) the physiology of the nervous system and brain.  I haven't heard him talk about obsessions or compulsions recently -- maybe they are no longer in style -- but I am sure that in his youth at least he was taught that it was "anal" to cherish order and cleanli­ness in minor things like the dispo­sition of over­coats, boots and breadcrumbs, and that compulsive-obsessive behavior such as putting things in defined places was the sign of an oppressive upbringing, probably also destruc­tive of origi­nality and authen­ticity of spirit. 

 

          Well, as a professional he probably no longer thinks as simplis­ti­cally as the Sunday supplement psychology of our youth would have had it, yet he must have found it convenient at some time, in the days when “anal”, “compulsive”, and “schizoid” were daily conversational currency, to justify by such language his way of doing things, if, for example, his mother or wife chided him.  With increasing years he has entirely ceased to notice either the chiding or the wife.  He is well known in his profession and doubtless has a very good salary.  I have often been in his house and can testify that everything he owns or uses does get put away in due course, though apparently not by him.  It is curi­ous that Freud, from whom such notions as that a concern with "good order" suggests neurosis seem to have emanat­ed, was himself quite orderly, though he must have been at least suspi­cious of that quality in himself.  He did, after all, perform a psychoanalysis of himself, I have been told, and must have been aware of suffering many other bour­geois vir­tues of his time. He taught better than he lived, I suppose.

 

          One hears sometimes of a man who "can't boil water."  That is, a man completely inept in household tasks.  Such a man may be quite skilled at the auto repair shop or in his researches in medieval theology, but since he has always had his meals served to him and his clothes washed and his house cleaned by other people, people who kept the details of how all this was done away from his consciousness, he no more thinks it neces­sary to pick up crumbs than he would think it neces­sary to pump oxygen into the atmosphere he breathes.  To men like Jerry Kuttler, these things are just there.  Crumbs on the floor are the same as crumbs on his plate after breakfast:  both get cleaned up after a while, somewhere, somehow, and when he comes home after a day's work he finds the dishes clean and the floors crumble­ss -- not that he observes any of this.  What’s to think about? 

 

Sometimes, in the old days, when I was still trying to learn things from my colleagues, I would ask Jerry something about psychology, but I seldom if ever learned anything from the reply. "Never mind that,” he’d say; “How are ya?  When ya going to Paris again?  Hey, remember that concert at Cluny?"  He is one of the most cheerful people I know. 

 

          Four Mondays ago the game was at Kuttler’s. When the game is at his house Jerry puts out the food himself.  “Hey, have a sandwich!  Beer’s in the fridge.”  At 10:00 I was first to the kitchen, having early dropped out of a hand of 7-card stud.  The cold cuts had just been removed from the refrigerator and were lying, each in its own plastic-wrapped pack­age, on the oilcloth table surface:  the Swiss cheese in one firmly taped package sealed with the label announcing weight and price, the pale beige turkey and the pinkish sliced ham in  bubble-packs.  Hard to get into. There was a small stack of paper nap­kins in a sealed glassine picnic pack, a jar of mustard a bit dry around the edges, and a single table knife.  By the time I got to the cheese package I decided to leave off and finish later, for it appeared I had to return to the table for the next hand.  But in fact it was not so; the current deal was being severely contested.  I had more than enough time, and so was able, as I passed, to retrieve and return Jerry's wallet to him from its position on the floor.  “Thanks,” he said, putting it halfway into his pocket, “I’ll raise ten bucks.”  

 

Of the eight professors in our poker game Jerry Kuttler is the most consistent winner.

                              2001