Sunday, May 07, 2017

A Titanic Battle

My article below was in The Chestnut Hill Local (circ. 7,500) recently.  I can't find a link there (what is this the Inquirer review section?)  Anyway, it is the tale of my titanic battle...against a six year old at the Mt. Airy Chess Club.

I took the news badly.  I had to retire from sports.  Even working out was problematic.  I was inflaming the arthritis in my shoulder and I might disable myself if I continued.  "For now," the doctor said with a slightly sad smile, but I knew this was it.  I was done.  But life is about new challenges, and one should neither look backwards nor tarry with yesteryear.  Here we live among so many organizations and events.  So after I wept for my sports career, I decided to look for new things to do. 

From the events listings in the Local I saw the Mt. Airy Chess Club was meeting the next Monday.  It's been some years since I played chess, but my high school principal, who was really good and the faculty advisor to the chess club (I was president I think but maybe not) said I had potential. That was admittedly a few years ago, but I'm smarter than I was then.  Just more arthritic.  sigh.

Monday night came and it was dark and raining and cold but I was determined to go.  The listing said Weaver's Way, Mt. Airy but I didn't know what that meant.  [Weaver's Way is a food co-op in Mt. Airy - ED.]  Tables among the grains on the second floor?  "Pawn to Rook three and this lady would like a pound of that free trade Columbian wheat down next to your leg."

I put that thought away for now and parked and ran across the street into the store.  I quickly scanned the first floor, but no chess and I climbed the steps to the second floor.   Nothing there either.  No games, no kings among the grains.  (lol literary metaphor.)

Slightly embarrassed at being unable to find the chess club -- a relatively simple task one would think -- and even more embarrassed that I was too embarrassed to actually -- you know -- ask anyone -- I left quietly and trudged back across the street to my car.  As I turned around the front to the driver's side I looked back across the street and there I saw it; a door next to the store.  That was the club's location I thought.  I could feel it: it was emanating chess-ness.  So I went back across the street one more time and went in the door.

It was warm inside and welcoming and there were two nice older gentleman playing who greeted me very courteously, told me to sit, and that there would be someone along soon, no doubt, for a game.  I usually can't wait very well of course, having embraced the distractions of the electronic world, but I had deliberately left my phone in the car, so I sat there and watched their game, and quickly a feeling in the room stole over me, a nice warm room away from the cold outside, watching the gentlemen play a game like they've done many times, the soft rhythms of their play matching everything else, the warmth and the room, perfectly.

After a few minutes, the door opened, waking me up a little, and two people came in.  One was a man, about 40, with a slightly aggressive way, and a small boy, about 6.  The older guys greeted them courteously too, and told them I was waiting for a game.  I could take the guy I thought.  Many a guy like that has underestimated me. 

"So," the 40 year old guy says to no one in particular, "Jack is looking for a game."  Wait Jack what?  Is this a Bob Dole kind of thing?  Bob Dole was a senator and presidential candidate and speaks of himself in the third person.   "Bob Dole doesn't agree that's what Bob Dole said."  The guy motions to his six year old.   Oh that's Jack, I think slightly relieved.  And then I thought wait what the guy wants me to play his six year old?  The two older guys nod gravely.  Oh Lord I think, suddenly panicked, what if I lose? 

I glare at the kid out of the corner of my eye as we get the chessboard and the pieces.  "Chose for white?" I ask, holding my hands out with one white and one black in each fist, so that he could choose.  He was unsure what I was doing, but I knew I was on solid ground because I had played in law school too, and we always did this part.  Amateur, I sneered at him internally and raised the corner of my lip slightly.

He chose.  Black.  Ha, I thought, that's good.  Since I had white, I had the advantage of moving first.  His dad brought out the chess clock.  I eyed it slightly uneasily.  Sometimes I played slowly.  And this kid looked tough.

We then had to wait for minute. The kid couldn’t sit up and see the table.  He needed a booster seat.  The older gentlemen had abandoned their game for the moment and helped them fix something up out of a few boxes and books.

Finally the game was about to start.  The dad was looking, the older guys were looking.  And we faced each other across the board.  The six year old on his slightly wobbly chair tower versus me. 

I don’t remember much of the game itself..  Slashing attacks, brilliant defense.  He had me down, but I recovered to win after a hard fought battle.  He cried a little at the result and his dad gathered him up in his arms, glaring at me.  I shrugged.  No one promised it would be easy.

"I will play you," the dad declared.  I looked around for a way out.  "I sprained my finger..." I started to say, holding my right index finger up, but the old guys solemnly nodded again, and before I knew it the dad was seeking vindication for his kid, there across from me on the chess board.

He whipped me thoroughly, in like five moves.  The older gentlemen nodded again, one last time, and moved back to their table, back to their game, content that somehow justice had been done.  I shook the guy's hand, ruffled the kid's hair and walked back out into that dark night. 

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