'Members Only' Bushwick Domino Club Values Friendship and Good Manners
BUSHWICK — When Jose Marrero moved from New Jersey to Bushwick a few months ago, he sought membership into one of the neighborhood's most close-knit clubs — a fraternity of 20 domino-playing men, whose names are scrawled on a wooden sign above their Linden Street table.
There was no fee to be in this exclusive group of senior citizens — most residents have been there for at least 40 years — but there was one key rule: don't be rude to the ladies.
"Lots of women walk by here," said Marrero, 64, at the sidewalk corner table during a recent game. "They told me, 'Nobody say anything fresh,' and if somebody does, we tell them to move."
For Marrero, a native of Puerto Rico like most of the club members, the domino brotherhood is well worth being polite. For many of the players, the daily warm-weather game is an afternoon ritual they hold sacred.
"In the summer we're here every day, all the days," said the group's president, Pedro Ramirez, 69, who founded the group three years ago to give retired men from the Hope Gardens public housing complex an activity outside of their homes.
"We're like a family," he said.
"We'll play in the winter, too, if you bring a house!" Marrero joked. "We come here to relax, to be with our friends all the time."
But the competition can be fierce.
"We cry when we lose," laughed the group's "secretary," Roman Rosa, who keeps score of the games in his notebook and also organizes barbecues hosted by the club in the Hope Gardens' outdoor space.
"I'm making a new sign of members — we've added so many recently."
Not only has the club grown in size, but it has become a community presence — drawing neighbors to chat and to watch the games, the men explained.
"Sometimes we have a little misunderstanding with each other, but then we get it together," Marrero said.
Rosa nodded his head in agreement.
"Everybody's friendly," he said.
They then tapped at their black-spotted pieces under the heavy sun, and continued the game.