The adventures of a New Jersey college professor with very strange friends, colleagues, and family members.

Monday, November 06, 2006

Checkmate In Three

I'll admit it...I like chess.

I learned to play chess when I was about ten. Unfortunately, the friend that taught me chess moved away, and for many years I had no one to play with. I had a couple of computer chess programs that I liked and fiddled around with, but as the years went on I was hungry for a real game with another person.

At the very first college at which I taught, I was meandering the halls one day and saw a flyer on the community bulletin board. Apparently, the college Chess Club was looking for a faculty advisor. I considered this for a few moments, wondering if I was the type of person who would enjoy advising, but I figured I might at least get a few games of chess out of it. I wrote a note to the president of Chess Club, a guy named Al, and put it in the Chess Club mailbox.

Two days later, I got a phone call from the mysterious Al, in which he told me that he was delighted that I wanted to work with the Chess Club, and we set up a time to meet in the Student Center when he would give me all the details. He also asked me if I had time for a game of chess, and of course I said yes.

"Wait a minute," I said. "I don't know what you look like. How will I know you?"

There was a brief pause. "I'll be the one with the chess set," he said.


On Wednesday, I headed valiantly to the Student Center, anxious to meet Al in person and learn all about my duties as Chess Club advisor. When I got there, I immediately started to giggle. Even without the chess set, I would have known it was Al.

Seated at a table near the video games was a tall, gangly guy with short black hair and black horn-rimmed glasses. He was wearing a white button-down dress shirt and a black tie. He was drinking a Coke and looked anxiously around. In front of him was a regular, Staunton chess set.

I came in, approached him, and introduced myself. Nervously, he leaped up, shook my hand, and said, "I'm Al, and I'm really happy to meet you!" He sounded so enthusiastic.

We sat down and I asked Al to tell me exactly what the Chess Club needed me to do, as well as when I would get to meet the rest of the club. It was at this point that Al started looking even more nervous and said: "Um...yeah, about that..."

"Yes?" I asked.

"Actually...I'm the only one in Chess Club."

I blinked. "You're the president and the only member?"

"Yes," he said. He then broke down completely and admitted that the whole "looking for an advisor" thing had been a ruse, and that all he really wanted was someone to play chess with. He looked so pitiful that I was overcome with emotion and agreed to play chess with him twice a week. He was very happy about this.

He then proceeded to kick my ass at chess. He stormed across the board like General MacArthur, destroying everything in his path. Before I knew it, I was left with just my King, and I meekly admitted defeat.

That's how it went for several weeks. I would show up, and Al would decimate me in chess. I was so put out by this that I invested in several chess books and studied my endgame at home, furiously. It didn't matter...Al destroyed me every time.

As time went on, Al and I began to become friends. We found out that, curiously, we both liked the same obscure music--in particular, the music of a man named Anthony Newley, a now-deceased British lounge singer/songwriter. I'm sure that, whether you know it or not, you're already familliar with the works of Mr. Newley--he's the one who wrote all the songs in Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, as well as the songs in Doctor Dolittle (the good one, with Rex Harrison, not the crappy remake).

Anyway, Al was just mad for Newley, and when he found out that I liked him, too, he proceeded to make me copies of every Anthony Newley album he had--and he had all of them. Al was in heaven--he had finally found someone who liked both chess and Newley.

The day came when Al transferred from my college to another one, and that's when we started playing chess online. He still completely trounced me, only now it wasn't as personal. Finally, one day, he asked me if I would go to Philadelphia with him to watch him compete in a national chess tournament.

Chess tournaments are usually sponsored by F.I.D.E.S., which stands for Federation Internationale Des Eschecs, which is French for the International Chess Federation. Since I wasn't a member, I couldn't compete, but Al was, and he was looking for a cheering section. Since Al had no other friends, I agreed to go.

Sadly, as good as Al was, he was wiped out in the first preliminary round, and ended up coming in 525th. Weirdly, he was pleased about this, because now his name would be published in Chess Life magazine.

However, I haven't yet told you the most bizarre thing about Al.

Al is now 30 years old, and he has never had a job. Ever. He still lives with his parents in an affluent neighborhood, and they continue to support him. They also give him money to go to Atlantic City and gamble with, to get tickets to concerts, and to buy CD's. Because they enable him so much, he has no desire to get a job or become a productive member of society. This was the subject of great debate one Thanksgiving, when Al's extended family suggested that he see a psychiatrist about his "anti-social personality." Al's parents ended up throwing them out of the house and sent the hysterical Al to his room to calm down.

Even stranger is Al's daily routine. He gets up early, puts on a dress shirt and tie, and proceeds to sit down at this computer and play internet chess for eight hours. Every day. Then he watches television for the rest of the day.

Al has never had a date. Not one. And this doesn't seem to bother him, either. He's happy in his own little world of chess, Anthony Newley, and analyzing political races. It's bizarre.

I have often told the BeowulfParents that I'm ditching them to go live with Al's family, so they would support me, too. Hey, at least Al would have a live person to play chess with. However, BeowulfDad has a pool table, and I'm not quite ready to give that luxury up.

An interesting end note is that Al is the one that took me to see Kevin Spacey sing Bobby Darin songs, and when I tried to pay him for pay ticket he just said, offhandedly: "No,'s on me."

"No it isn't," I said, "it's on your dad."

Next time: More classroom randomness


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  • At 11:48 AM, Blogger Elizabeth Sanford-Anson said…

    “He then broke down completely and admitted that the whole "looking for an advisor" thing had been a ruse, and that all he really wanted was someone to play chess with.”

    Seems he might have had more luck if he’d put up ads for Chess Club members, or even ads that said “Hey, come play chess with me”. That wasn’t very well thought out.


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