On a balmy Wednesday evening, a half-dozen men stood expectantly outside Nathan Moroney's Evergreen Park home, awaiting news of his fate.
"Can he play Go?"
"Drink beer?" they asked.
Moroney obtained the requisite thumbs-up for a night free of domestic responsibilities and headed out the door. Smiling broadly, members of the Evermen, a neighborhood men's group, were on their way. They headed to Antonio's Nut House on California Avenue for the guys' version of a neighborhood book club, only this one doesn't have any reading materials, they said.
Male residents of the Evergreen Park neighborhood, which is located just north of the California Avenue business district, formed the social group eight to 10 years ago. No one remembers exactly when, but they do recall the reason: The women of Evergreen Park had started a book club, and the men got "jealous," they said.
As they walked through the neighborhood knocking on doors to gather more participants, the guys jokingly recalled dubbing the women's group the "Nevermen."
David Matheson, one of the group's founders, had stumbled across the book club one evening and got scowled at, he said.
Over hours of watching their kids play at Peers Park with nothing for themselves to do, the men had pondered the kind of group that would attract a crowd, they said. A book club for men did not sound promising.
"What's the book club equivalent for men?" Steve Godfrey said they had asked.
"Bowling is so 20th century," Matheson added.
So they came up with the idea of a weekly social gathering as free-flowing as Antonio's beer, centered around the ancient Chinese board game, Go.
"We play a high-brow-culture game in Palo Alto's last dive bar," Matheson said.
Roger Carpenter came up with the idea of playing Go, a nearly 3,000-year-old board game of strategy known for its elegance. The game involves surrounding an opponent's pieces, or stones, with one's own for capture. It is an intricate game with simple rules that hinges on one's skill at seeing patterns.
The outings are a chance to unwind from high-pressure, high-tech jobs and family responsibilities and to delve a little deeper into relationships that strengthen the neighborhood, Matheson said.
Think of over-the-backyard-fence conversations with peanut shells on the floor.
Matheson said the group tries to develop relationships that are supportive and build true friendships.
"There are all kinds of social barriers, and you try to find a trick to break those down. You've got to get to the next level," he said.
The Evermen have about 30 to 40 members signed up on their Yahoo email group, but not everyone comes out each week. But the group does schedule other events, chief of which is a five-day Labor Day weekend backpacking trip that includes their families.
Godfrey said the group gives him an opportunity to do new things he has never tried before, such as backpacking and skydiving.
Carpenter, who is a kiteboarder, got some of the men to try the sport. He also organizes neighborhood ski trips.
There was a kite-surfing trip in Mexico one year. And Matheson went skydiving for his 50th birthday.
But there are some things the wives overrule.
Moroney couldn't go on the skydiving adventure.
"I tried to use the Evermen pitch, but the Everwomen got wind of that," he said.
The Go group also attracts other players who are not from Evergreen Park. Stanford students and others often show up to play Go in the back room at Antonio's, alongside where the Evermen meet.
Amid the graffiti-covered walls and under a Go poster the group tacked to the wall, Moroney was ready to settle into a game after a second beer.
"To take the edge off losing," he said.
James Brown music pumped in the background, and the guys settled into the games. Casually, they alternated fingering Go stones and popping peanuts, adding shells to the ever-growing collection on the floor.
Matheson took in the scene, looking relaxed. He bobbed his head to the music and smiled.
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