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Monday, May 23, 2016

Cry and You Buy - the Oral Tradition of NMJL Mahjongg

Mel Bochner, 2011

Recently, on the popular Facebook Page Mah Jongg, That's It!, rising mahjongg celebrity Barney Gallassio channeled his inner David Letterman and compiled a top ten list of things heard at a mahjongg game.  The thread garnered over 300 comments and what emerged was a compilation of utterances that were familiar to players all around the world.  Even more interesting, 98% of those utterances were kvetches.  

According to "kvetch" means complain.  Its derivation is from the high German "quetsch," meaning to press, squeeze, pinch or injure.  Hmmm...

Reading all the comments I channeled my inner Alan Lomax and developed a theory, as follows:  When mahjongg was brought over to the US in the late 20's it was a wealthy player's game.  As sets were mass produced, it trickled down to the masses.  The masses had difficult lives, and mahjongg provided a respite from that difficulty.  Why?  Because it provided an opportunity for kvetching - kvetching like you can't do about your life because nobody really cares.  But if you kvetch in a game everyone understands.  We all speak the same language.  We are a tribe.

So what I did was collect the comments and organize them chronologically. When new players are learning, they can refer to this list so that this integral part of the game carries over to new generations.   Enjoy it, and forgive me if your comment was omitted - they were still being added as of the time of this writing.

Choosing East:
Am I east again already?
Who’s east?
Weren’t you east last time?
Another double!
12 again?

After the deal:
No, one and three.
I needed these in the last hand!
Are there jokers in this set?
No jokers again!
Can we play atomic?
Can we play Chinese?
More crap.
Same old s—t
Oy, it’s that kind of night.
This isn’t a hand, it’s a foot.

 The Charleston
First Right:
Oy, I have to make a decision already.
I shouldn’t do this, but I’m forced to.
Too bad it’s not last year.
 You might like these tiles.
 First across:
You’re going to love this pass.
Don’t tell anybody I gave you this.
 First left:
 I have a pretty pass for you.
Is this the first or second left?
Go slow on your second.
Can I steal on this one?
No peeking!
Sorry, I’m stopping.
 Second left:
Wait on your second.  Oh, that was the second.
 I better break this up.
Somebody should have kept them all
There’s a whole hand going around.
Don’t tell my mother I gave you a pass like that.
This is a gorgeous pass I’m giving you.
This pass can change your life.
I’m giving you mahjongg.
Same stuff going around.
Must across:
Did we do a second left?
Where are we?
Is this a must?
I hate the must across.
Can I get my tile back?
You can thank me later.
 Last right:
 Last rites.  Thank goodness.
Happy birthday!
Merry Christmas!
Who passed these?

How many do you want?  I have 12.
Give me something good.
Gee, thanks a lot.
Not those three.
Pass me this one (pointing to space in rack)
Can we start over?
Just give me one, I don’t know where I’m going.
Just one.  I have two hands
I’ve seen these tiles before.
How did I get (14, 12) tiles?

Just bet on (name).  She’s hot tonight
I can’t find the bettor.
I got nothing.
Don’t look at me.
Pass me by, please.
This is embarrassing.
I don’t know.
Don’t ask me.

Starting game:
Who’s East?
Your turn to throw up
This is the worst hand.
This isn’t a hand, it’s a foot.

During game:
Whose turn is it?
Is it your (my) turn?
Are there jokers in this set?
May I have your joker?     
It’s always the one you throw away that comes in
Who has all the jokers?
You’re the joker queen tonight.
So that’s what jokers look like.
Woo-hoo, my first joker.
I think I have a partner.
Hold on a sec, I have to think.
Whose wall?
My wall?
I’m getting everyone’s tiles but my own.
I knew I should have gone the other way.
This hand isn’t on the card.
I’d sell my soul for a joker.
I’d kill for a North.
Stupid game.
Did I pick?
Count your tiles.
You’re dead.
I can’t believe I threw that!
When did that go out? 
Wait!  What did you throw?
Call the 9 crak.  I don’t know why.
Here you go, vultures (showing jokers)
Time to go shopping (showing jokers)
Call the 9 bams.  Because I can.
Again with the 9 bams?  You called that last game.
Are you dead?
I can’t figure out what she’s playing.
Can I take your joker?
I needed that!
That was my plan!
Your wall.
Please, someone call mahjongg and put me out of my misery.
Wait!  Never mind.
Sorry, I already racked.
Why do I play this game?
I hate this game.
I used to love this game.
This is a cruel game.
I really miss the (X) hand.
OMG, this hand is on last year’s card.
It’s just a game.
If I only called (X) I would have been set.
S—T!  Now I have to switch.
Decision time.
It’s the last wall and I just found a hand.
I’m sitting in the no-joker seat.
It isn’t the seat, it’s the tush.
I’m taking up bridge.
What a crappy hand!
What to do, what to do.
Do I pick from this end?
I could use those jokers.
I’m so far away, I could use a choo-choo train.
How could you throw that?
Were you set?
I hate to do this, but I’m set.
I know I’m going to give somebody mahjongg.
If she can, I can.  Same.
You have balls.
That was brave.
The mahjongg gods have forsaken me.  I shouldn’t have thrown those jokers last game.
She can’t figure out what to do with all the jokers.
You can’t do that at a tournament.
Please somebody mahjongg.
I’m so confused.
I have no hand. Oh, wait.  Mahj!

Declaring mahjongg
That’s it!
Exchanging for mahjongg.
Very nice.
Oh, beautiful.
No one is happy for you.
Not again!  How many games did you win tonight?
Of course, look at all those jokers.
Oh, thank God.  I’m out of my misery.
Who has my tiles?
Why did you hold that tile?
I’m on FIRE today.
Wait!  What hand is that?
You won the poison pot.
But I’m set!
Again it happens!
If I knew I was going to get so many jokers I would have gone for a quint
I knew I should have stayed home.
Not my night.
And I gave up doing laundry for this.

 After game (autopsy)
Look at my hand, look how close I was.
Did you pick it yourself?
How much do we owe?
Did you need this tile?  I was holding it.
Who threw it?
You can’t win second.
What time is it?
How long are we playing?
Whose house are we playing at next week?
OK, one more game.
I can’t believe I’m almost pie


  1. HAHAHAHAHA!!! love you Linda that was a perfect blog post :) xoxo, Johni

  2. never heard the train one before

  3. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  4. Hysterical. I'very heard all these kvetches. Thanks.

  5. Who was writing down what we said at the last game?

  6. Great job putting this into a blog post and well written and beautifully created by Barney. Loved it..

  7. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  8. I don't have to go to my game tomorrow. I can just reread your blog. I am still giggling. Terrific!

  9. How about "You Crack Me Up!"
    This is superb. thanks for the laughs.

  10. Loved it and could relate to so many of the remarks. We say so many of them weekly!

  11. On winning: Oh, wow, can you believe that? Isn't that wild!

  12. On losing: "I should just leave my money and go home."

  13. G-d I love this game and the camaraderie of kvetches like myself!!!

  14. ain't it the truth, but we keep coming back for more

  15. LOL I thought you were playing with us in St. Augustine!

  16. I guess I'm not the only kvetch in the game!

  17. Lee Sheffer August 21, 2016 AM

    We are all a bunch of kvetches