The old friends greet one another on the porch in Roland Park with a handshake and a smile. It's a minute or two before 8 p.m.
They're prompt, as usual.
The view from the porch in one of Baltimore's wealthiest neighborhoods is magnificent: sun setting behind stately houses, flowers and trees waking up, birds showing off and singing gaily. This is spring in infancy.
But this is also Thursday night. No one hears a bird's song when the E.O.T.N.P.C.,W.F.E. convenes.
The E.O.T.N.P.C.,W.F.E. is the Every Other Thursday Night Poker Club, With Few Exceptions.
Ten men play regularly, but six of them have played together since the summer after eighth grade in 1938. That's 54 years ago.
"These 52 cards have kept us together a long time," says Ralph Donovan as succinctly as anyone ever could.
The original six, who began playing for pennies in Calvin Jenkins' bedroom, played through high school, went off to war, scattered all over the world, came home to Baltimore, went to college, got married and raised families.
They also resumed their poker game.
"That was part of the marriage contract," Arthur Aby jokes.
But their relationship extends beyond cards. These longtime -- if not lifelong -- friends turned their card playing into a social club for their families.
They go to the beach together, hold crab feasts, and congregate each New Year's Eve to ring in another year. They've celebrated the 40th and 50th anniversaries of their club with grand parties.
Their crowning achievement is the E.O.T.N.P.C.,W.F.E. picnic, which they organize every couple of years.
About 150 people attended the picnic last year, representing three generations. Shortly afterward, Jack Fish's granddaughter had a baby, ushering in the fourth.
They've even intermarried, so to speak. Mr. Fish's son married Ed Haviland's daughter after meeting at a weekend outing at Paul Feeley's place in Ocean City.
This came up at last week's game when the 10 regular players, who have 63 children among them, added up the number of their grandchildren. They had to decide whether to count the four children from that union once or count them twice.
They decided once, and that meant the 10 men have 79 grandchildren.
So here are the grandpas -- only eight this night; two are absent -- sitting around Mr. Aby's dining room table under a crystal chandelier ready to play poker.
They reach into their pockets for dollars and change. They surely know playing poker for money is illegal.
"Just say we give it all back at the end of the night," Mr. Feeley says.
Anyway, they say, judges and prosecutors have been regular players in their games throughout the years.
"I've never worried about it," Mr. Donovan says. "I know two good lawyers."
He nods toward two men sitting at the table, Mr. Feeley and Mr. Aby. They are lawyers based in Towson. Mr. Feeley was the Baltimore County public defender from 1972 to 1986.
They are two of the original six. The others are Mr. Donovan, a building supply salesman; John Magruder, an architect; Calvin Jenkins, a retired contractor; and Mr. Jenkins' younger brother, Carrell, president of a Timonium printing company.
They all grew up around 29th and Charles streets in an area then called Peabody Heights, now called Charles Village. The summer of 1938, they began sneaking into Calvin Jenkins' bedroom at 208 Homewood Terrace and playing simple card games for pennies.
"The winner probably won 5 cents," Mr. Aby recalls. "And the losers maybe lost 2 or 3 cents. If you lost any more than that, you went home with a long face."
This evolved into a regular poker game that lasted through high school. All six graduated from Loyola High.
"Then we all went off to war," says Mr. Aby, a Marine gunner on a B-25 in the South Pacific. "I think we were scattered to the four winds."
They each returned in one piece and reunited around a card table. They picked up some new players. Those still with them are Mr. Haviland, a retired lawyer; Mr. Fish, a retired mortgage banker; Jerry Brown, part owner of an insurance agency; and Manny Lake, a computer salesman.
All are in their mid- to late 60s except Mr. Lake, who is 56. He is the newcomer. He's played since only 1970, and the others never let him forget it.
"As a matter of fact, my T-shirt says 'Temporary,' " Mr. Lake says amid laughter at the table. "I'm not vested yet."
Over the years only two regulars have died, none among the original six: Owen Rouse, a lawyer, who died of cancer in 1962, and Donald Brown, a manufacturer's rep, who died of a heart condition in 1987.
He was Jerry Brown's older brother, Mr. Feeley's cousin and Mr. Donovan's brother-in-law.
"These guys are as close as friends can be," says Peggy Aby, Mr. Aby's wife and first-grade classmate at Sts. Philip and James School; Mr. Donovan was also in the class. "They're as loyal as people can be to each other."