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It's Hip to Be Square, Apparently: Why Mah-Jongg Makes Me Cool

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I like to think that I stay ahead of the trends. Of course sometimes I also like to think that if I eat an entire chocolate cake, it's still possible, against all odds, that I could wake up the next day with a body like Gisele Bündchen.

The way I see it, I'm actually so far behind the times that if there's one trend in particular that I've clung to long after it becomes passé, then there's a chance that it'll eventually rise from the dead like Mel Gibson's career (oh, wait, didn't he just get fired from his cameo in "The Hangover" sequel? tant pis) and come back in vogue, in which case I'll accidentally look like an innovator. I'm a trendsetter kind of in the same way that Demi Moore and Ashton Kutcher are Jews.

That could be why the clock radio I still use is the very same Sony Dream Machine white cube my dad gave me in 1991 as a gentle reminder that he wouldn't be there to wake me up at college (although he did offer to call every morning if necessary). Besides the fact that it still works like, well, clockwork, I'm subconsciously holding onto it, waiting for the day an editor from Architectural Digest happens to come knocking, asks to use my bathroom, spots it next to my bed and comments how retro chic I am to be in possession of such an evocative artifact, what with its terrestrial radio (FM and AM) and Dream Bar Snooze/Sleep Off Button.

Along the same lines, who knew a little over a year ago, when I was invited to join a small group of women for a regular game of mah-jongg, that we'd be considered "young and hip," according to an article last month in The Wall Street Journal on the resurgent popularity of the game of our grandmothers? Apparently I did (except, naturally, I didn't).

We gather at night around twice a month to eat, drink and play. The Wall Street Journal reports, however, that the quantity of alcohol we consume isn't adequate, and that our beverage selection (wine, beer and herbal tea) isn't nearly stylish enough compared to the cocktails of our mah-jongg counterparts across the country (martinis, highballs and Manhattans). And while we either order Chinese food or take turns preparing dinners like macaroni and cheese (sometimes laced with bacon), happening players nosh on more sophisticated fare like sushi. Still, we always enjoy homemade chocolate-chip cookies sprinkled with sea salt, which is timeless, and there's no doubt our bubbies would have approved.

The conversations range from such water-cooler topics and hot-button issues as raspberry bushes or groundhogs. We also talk about our children (except for the lone 20-something in the group, who rolls her eyes and starts texting on her Blackberry whenever the words "potty" and "training" make an appearance). We give each other mah-jongg-specific nicknames that could probably only be appreciated by people like Farmer Ted and his nerd friends who wear night and back braces in "Sixteen Candles" (but keeping in mind that Anthony Michael Hall did, in fact, land the prom queen at the end).

When the 2010 mah-jongg playing cards were released, we waited feverishly until ours arrived in the mail, eager to take a crack at the new hands in the Winds and Dragons section. But while we're apparently at the height of fashion, like donning six-inch heels or whatever Björk wears to an awards show, there is often pain -- sometimes literal -- associated with being cool.

We argue bitterly over whether a joker can ever be used in a pair (which, as everyone knows, it can't,ever, but somehow it's an issue that just refuses to die). Someone (who shall remain nameless) is often accused of being emotionally cruel to the less-winning players, while another woman has an actual scar from the time someone else beat her a little too forcefully to grabbing a tile in the middle.

Once we planned to take a group photo for fun with all players wearing their ugliest earrings so that we could submit it to a national mah-jongg newsletter. Everyone forgot about it except for one woman, and then the subject was dropped entirely when it was revealed that she, too, had forgotten and didn't actually think her earrings were ugly. Our game is like "Survivor" meets "Freaks and Geeks," except with the occasional make-your-own-pasta bar.

Still, it's nice to be legitimately (if not coincidentally) ahead of the curve on an actual trend. Clearly it's now just a matter of time before InStyle magazine calls to verify reverentially if it's true that I'm still in possession of my Chia Pet.

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