My father was chess champion of Pittsfield, Massachusetts when I was nine years old. This was a defining event in my childhood. Because I was the only kid in the house (and there were five others) who wouldn’t play chess with Dad.
Oh, he tried to teach me, but beyond the bait of the pieces being called fairy tale things like queen and knight, the overriding issue was the fact that at the end, there would be a loser.
I don’t do loser. I am a terrible loser. Infantile. Even at nine I knew this. And I knew the solution. It was to (almost) never get involved in any game or sport in which a score is kept. And I’ve maintained a pretty good track record of Just Saying NO.
Until last week when I got suckered into playing Scrabble on my iPhone with one of my sisters. “It’s fun,” she had squealed, one night, over for dinner. She waved her brand new iPhone about. This is why she was squealing in the first place. She was still on that pink cloud of new iPhone ownership. When all the world is suddenly available at your fingertips, like anywhere, including in stop and go traffic on the freeway. She is also a fanatical ‘score keeping’ game player.
I’ve dutifully tried Scrabble in the past. But always reluctantly. Because there’s that ‘score’ issue, right? And there’s another little problem. Even though I’m a writer and therefore know every word in the world, I always freeze up and can’t think of a single word that wasn’t in “Playing with Dick and Jane”.
The first game we played together, in the same room. It was kind of fun. There was good banter. And I even almost won. But then she had to go home, and again squealing with delight at such electronic magic, said “Let’s continue play. Works like a text message thing.” I said okay, thinking to myself, I’ll slay her. I had come close. I could taste blood. She’s younger than me too. And not a writer. I’d win!!! I knew it! Maybe I did like games in which scores are kept! Maybe even chess–
I lost. No, I was beaten to a pulp. Flattened like road kill in Florida. I staggered through three games to show I was a good sport, which was easy to do when the opponent was at her house, and I could throw things and scream, in mine. Then I withdrew as graciously as a text message would allow, and the next time we were in the same space, my sister didn’t bring Scrabble up, nor did I.
I watch these men beatifically playing chess in the Luxembourg Gardens, rain or shine, every time I’m in Paris. And I think one thing and one thing only–what a fabulous photo op!