Part I: Getting There Is Half the Fun???
Part II: I Hate This Game!
Part III: Bump 'n Grind (or Sex, Drugs, and Roll)



Getting There Is Half the Fun???


June 27, 2003

Beg, Steal, or Borrow

After my poor performance in Arlington, I was desperate to find the means to travel to Reno to find redemption. Numerous obstacles stood in the long road from Houston to Nevada. With no regular source of income, I had to come up with money for the hefty entry fee, $180 to play both early birds and the main event, and for transportation. Driving was my natural inclination, but I considered flying or taking a bus as well. The problem with the latter two options is that I would not be able to visit any Starbucks on the way to Reno or back, and without my car I would not have a place to sleep. But the problem with driving was that the timing belt on my car needed replacing, and I didn't have the $400-500.

After a few days of persuasion, I was able to convince my mother to lend me the money to have my timing belt replaced. So I set about raising the money for gas, entry fee, and other expenses by digging up anything I could think of to sell and posting listings on the Internet. Comic books are my usual method of raising quick cash, and I took several boxes over to the shop where I subscribe, but as luck would have it the owner had just bought out another shop and would not be doing any buying for some time to come. So I had to go over to another shop, known for not paying as much and charging higher prices. The first few boxes of comic books I took netted me $90. I made $17 at Half Price Books and $15 from t-shirts at the third of three used clothes shops along Westheimer. Not a bad take.

Meanwhile, I had been looking for a driving partner to Reno to share the gas expenses. I posted a message on CGP, and I received a reply from a lady named Lane. I was anxious to see if I could factor someone else into my budget, but Lane waited until the weekend to call me to take advantage of those free long-distance minutes. After discussing the state of my car and logistics, it appeared that the trip might work out. I would pick her up in Santa Fe, where she would be driving from NYC with a friend, and then after the tournament take her to San Diego. I would still have to wait until later in the week to find out what kind of time she and her friend were making and when they would arrive in Santa Fe.

Come Wednesday I received bad news. Lane had taken ill somewhere in Maryland and was holed up in a roadside motel, her friend having had to push on. So Lane's trip to Santa Fe was aborted, and thus her trip to Reno. So I needed more gas money, and dug further into my comic book collection for some of the real good stuff, and I went through my CD collection for anything that I could bear to part with. The CDs netted me $40, and the comic books another $200 and some heartache. And then I discovered a book I had forgetten to take to Half Price. Tom Clancy's Red Rabbit, for which I paid $18.24. I figured I could get at least $1 for it, so I went back to Half Price Books. I was offered twenty-five cents. I couldn't help but feel insulted. I took the quarter anyway.

I even considered selling blood or plasma, and posted a message asking where I could go for this, but received no replies.

I even gave up coffee for eight days prior to my trip, which saved me a little over ten dollars. This was the longest I had gone without coffee since I started visiting Starbucks in 1995.

I arranged to sell my final two pieces of MiniDisc equipment to a couple of buyer whom I would meet in Austin before continuing on to Reno. Another hundred bucks.

Finally, a loan from my mother, playing the please-don't-let-me-end-up-stuck-in-the-desert card.


Don't Freak Out the Waitress if You Want Her Number

It was cloudy and drizzly as I left Houston early on Friday morning. The weather slowed me down some, but I didn't mind, as the cloud cover kept the temperature down, and me from becoming too sweaty and funky for the job interview that a recruiter had scheduled for 1:00 PM. Before the interview, I met a couple of guys near the University and sold on my MiniDisc changer, and another a MiniDisc deck, adding $105 to my travel budget. Those were the last two pieces of stereo equipment from my high-flying days of credit-card aided overspending and living beyond my means, the eventual result being my current wretched state.

I thought the interview went well, but no decision would be made until at least the 11th of July, which meant that I would have a full two weeks to fret about whether I would get the job or not.

I debated whether to leave for Reno immediately, or whether to stick around to watch a screening of The Terminator at the Alamo Drafthouse. I decided to stick around because it wasn't just any screening, but one accompanied by commentary from three local comedians, a spectacle dubbed "Mr. Sinus Theater 3000". I killed some time, then headed to Threadgill's, one of my favorite Austin restaurants. Actually, I headed to the parking lot of Threadgill's, under a tree for shade, to listen to NPR and debate whether I wanted to spend money on a good meal so early into my trip. I settled on a compromise and ordered the vegetable plate and no beverage, which ended up costing me a total of $7.75. Since I took advantage of two platefuls of complimentary cornbread and muffins, it was a reasonable value. And I was craving some red beans and rice and mashed potatoes. The third item was macaroni and cheese, which, according to the menu, is considered a vegerable in Oklahoma. I asked the waitress for some extra lemons for my water. After having gotten the balance right, I concentrated on studying my 5-letter Fs and Hs, so I barely noticed when the waitress started to refill my glass. I grabbed the glass and yelled, "No, no, no!", which seemed to startle the heck out of the poor girl. I explained that I had gotten the mix of lemon juice just right, and she gave me this look and replied that she could bring me more lemons. And so she did. A heaping plateful of them. An orchardful. In fact, I dare say that some migrant worker in California put his kid through college on the money he earned picking those lemons. I think it was the waitress's way of being snide. I discarded all thoughts of flirting with her.


Small Town Friday Night

This edition of Mr. Sinus turned out not to be so good. I would have preferred to watch the film without the commentary. As I headed north on US-183, I made some calculations and realized that I would be cutting it close if I was to make the Albuquerque Scrabble club in time for one or more games, and I regretted having stuck around Austin for the movie.

I stopped for gas in Cedar Park, and a few miles later I felt something crawling along my hip. I quickly reached down there to discover a cricket or grasshopper which I toss away as quickly as possible in a panic. I pulled the car over and looked around for the creature. It was on my dashboard. I grabbed a napkin and caught the little bugger and tossed it outside my window. The pounding in my heart began to subside, and I drove on.

I pulled into the a picnic area not too far up the road. Picnic areas typically lack restrooms, but they typically lack lighting too, so it doesn't matter. And being out in the country, there were no lights along the road, so we are talking pitch black here. I had to drive around with my brights on a couple of times in order to get a feel for the layout of the place and find the right spot to park. Some time later, I heard a truck come in and park. I figured he was just resting too. But a while later, another heavy pickup appeared, and then another. Being Friday night, I figured these guys were about to have themselves a party, and drinking would invariable be involved. At some point these country boys might decide to have a little fun with me, so I figured it best to move along. I put a double dose of drops into my eyes in order to wake up and fought off the sleep intertia to make it to the next picnic area. It happened to be on the other side of the highway, which meant that I would need to remember to turn around in the morning. This is easier said than done, when you consider that I often wake up disoriented and unsure of where I am.



June 28

In Real Life She Always Stays with Her Husband and Kid

I started driving around 7:30, continuing north on US-183 to Lampasas, where I picked up US-281. At I-20 I had to stop and photograph these mud dwellings attached to the underside of the overpass housing dozens, maybe hundreds of birds. Just past Jacksboro I saw a large black spider crossing the highway and had to wonder what motivates a creature like that to leave the comfort of the soft green grass to trek across the hot concrete.

I was greeted with enthusiasm at the Starbucks in Wichita Fallas at Kemp and Kell, where I had my first cup of coffee in eight days. The manager offered me one of the new promo t-shirts, but did not have any in my size. I was confident that I would find one at one of the many Starbucks I planned to visit after Reno. Outside, I asked some guy to point me to the nearest grocery store, and he directed me south on Kemp. But I was heading north towards US-287, so I got a second opinion from a lady and her mother. The baby in the car offered no advice. They directed to a market a couple of exits down the freeway and explained how I could get to US-287 from there. As I was getting in my car, the lady said she had overheard my conversation with the manager inside and asked what it was all about. I explained my project, and she seemed genuinely interested. She said that if she weren't married, she would come with me. Boy, would I have loved that cute as she was. She collects postcards, and I promised to send her one from one of the cities I would visit on my trip.

The market turned out to be a United, a chain I'd never heard of. At least it appeared to be a chain from the size and decor inside. I asked the cashier if there were any other locations, and she said there were in Amarillo, Lubbock, Colleyville--the bigger towns. Being from Houson, I had to chuckle. I guess "big" is relative.


Mandatory Pancakes

By the time I reached Amarillo I was convinced that I would not reach Albuquerque in time to catch up with the Scrabble club. So I went ahead and stopped at Kinko's to check my e-mail, and I posted a message to CGP asking if anybody was up for Scrabble on Sunday afternoon. Then, when I got back on the freeway, I left messages for Susan and Nancee in Albuquerque asking if anybody stayed late at the Scrabble club, just in case. And since I was alread too late, I stopped at the second Starbucks in Amarillo to say hi to the manager that had been very kind to me, but she wasn't in.

On the way to Albuquerque, I received a call from Susan who explained that the cafe where the club met closed at 4:00, so everybody had to get out of there. But she suggested I call Nancee anyway to see if she or anyone else was interested in some games. I decided to wait until 4:00. Shortly before 4:00 Nancee called me and explained about the club, but offered to meet me for some games. We agreed on the Frontier Restaurant, a mandatory stop for me whenever I rolled through Albuquerque.

Before heading to the Frontier, I first visited the one new Starbucks in Albuquerque at Montano and I-25, where one of the partners recognized me on site because, by coincidence, he had visited my web site earlier that day while searching the web for information about Starbucks.

I managed to take one game from Nancee and came within three points of a second, but the practice is what was important, and the mandatory pancakes. I can't pass through Albuquerque without them mouth-watering pancakes. And the fresh-squeeze OJ hits the spot.


When I Find The @#$% Who Designed That %$#@ Pump

I hung out for a while on Central Avenue, the apparent center of Albuquerque's night life. Too long, because when I got back on the road, I started feeling fatigue immediately. I decided the rest area was too far out, so I stopped at the next travel center to gas up and take a nap. But this was one of those stupid-ass gas stations with the pumps that don't stop automatically. So as I'm finishing up in the restroom, I hear something on the loudspeaker about pump # 10 and yadda yadda yadda. It doesn't register with me at first, at least not consciously, but something starts to dawn on me and I hurry outside, where I see a mess of gasoline around my car. Next thing I know, the attendant is scolding me, and the security guard is giving me this look. First thing I do is to look at the readout to discover that my card had been charged over $10 before the attendant stopped the pump--the tank had been almost full, so I wasted around seven or eight dollars of the money I had worked to scrape together. I decided that particular parking lot was not the place to crash out, so I kept driving. I had stepped on the gasoline, so I drove with the windows down and my shoes on the seat to drive and get rid of the gasoline smell which would surely give me a headache if I tried to sleep with it in the car. I pulled off the freeway at the next exit with a gas station, and Exxon that was closed for the night. I tucked my shoes underneath the car, behind the tire, to keep the smell out. Not that I really had to hide them well--homeless don't usually hang out this far from the city, and who would want to steal my nasty two-year-old despearately-in-need-of-replacing sneakers anyhow. Around 5:00 AM I felt restless, as I often do in the wee hours, and the need to move on again, and drove to the next Travel Mart, this one next to a casino, and parked next to a camper until about 7:30 AM, when the sun started peeking through the windows and heating up the car. I should have thought to squeeze on the other size of the camper, which would have afforded me some shade and made it easier to sleep further into the morning.



June 29

Things Go Downhill as I Drive Uphill

The 400+ miles to Kingman were uneventful, and seemed to go by pretty quickly. The only drawback was the intensifying heat.

On the way I received a call from Jen, who had called me out of the blue the previous night while I was playing Scrabble. Jen was a girl who had seen my online personal ad and written to as if I was the Starbucks ad. From then on she proceeded to be rather flaky, never good about returning messages or calling me when she was supposed to. I had all but written her off, but since I had plenty of time to kill while driving, I figured I might as well see what she had to say. We chatted for a while until I lost the signal outside Flagstaff, and then again as I head up US-93 from Kingman towards Hoover Dam. I asked why she had called me after all this time, and replied that she was bored. Well, that was marginally insulting. And after a few minutes of chatting, she said she had to go do something with her sister and would call me back later. But she never did, and I got to stew over that while losing at poker and scrabble. Fucking bitch.

The sweltering drive to Kingman had me parched, and when I stopped for gas I also picked up 32 oz of Gatorade. I usually stick to water to save money, but the heat gave me a thirst that water just didn't seem to quench. Though it was 1:00 PM, later than I had hoped, traffic was not heavy up towards the dam, not even at the post-September 11 checkpoint. However, during the last 5 miles, traffic turned stop and go, and I started feeling something funny about my car. It almost seemed like the engine was going to cut out on me, and I was glad to get over the dam and get it back to a constant speed. I chalked the trouble up to the car's age and did not think about it too much while I stopped for some food and then found the gym for a workout and shower.

I had not noticed the dry Las Vegas heat much yet, because it had come on gradually as I drove into the city with my windows down. But after an hour in the air-conditioned gym, I walked out to feel a wall of hot, dry air smack me in the face. I was definitely feeling it then. But the heat soon took a back seat as I got into my car, turned the radio on to listen to the local NPR affiliate, put my sweaty clothes up, put the key in the ignition, turned it, and... nothing. Just a whine from the starter and engine. This caught me totally by surprise, and the last thing I needed with my limited budget. I kept trying, and then it occurred to me that the radio was using battery power. So I turned the radio off, and the car started. Whew! But I couldn't count on being so lucky next time, and of course it was Sunday, so any service shop would be closed.

I kept my car running as I picked up some dinner at BK and then stopped at Kinko's to find the nearest AutoZone or similar shop. The staff at AutoZone was too busy test my battery at the moment, so I went to Checkers, where they told me that the battery was fine, but that the alternator was charging at a low voltage when the engine was revving, which sounded strange to me, but I don't really know much about cars. I asked about a new alternator, but the attendant could not find one in the system to give me a price. That was too bad, because had I known that a new alternator cost over $300, I might have been able to stop myself from dropping so much at the poker table.

I headed to the Mirage, my usual spot for seven-card stud. Traffic on the strip on a summer weekend evening was, of course, a mess. I considered leaving the car running while I played, but I figured security would notice and and possibly tow it.

After a short wait for a spot at a table, during which I called my mother and told her about my car troubles and asked her to keep her fingers crossed that I would do well at poker. I started playing at 6:00 on the nose, and 67 minutes later I was already down $100. My limit. Or rather, it would have been my limit, had I any self control.

So I pulled out another $100 and promised myself that would be my limit. A few minutes later, I thought my luck was turning when I was dealt my best hand of the night, aces over threes. But this annoying old lady across from me screwed me over by picking that hand to start betting high and scaring everybody off. In the end, she wasn't holding shit, and I lost my chance to win back a good part of what I had lost. If she hadn't been elderly, I would have formed some mean thoughts about her, and they would have rhymed with "clucking witch". To make matters worse, I let myself be fooled by her antics, and a few hands later when she raised big again, I thought she was bluffing and saw the hand to the end, losing a quite a big. Then I let her do it to me again. And then the other old lady on the other side of the dealer did it to me. You would think I would have learned, but I was definitely off my game. At 7:54 I cursed myself as I pulled out another $40. I won three hands in a row and thought I might be making a comeback. But I got too aggressive and stayed in a hand when I should have folded. Even the guy sitting next to me saw that I should have folded. And so at 9:15 I'm pulling out another $20. I was almost out once, when I bet my remaining chips, but I won that hand with three sixes. But I was still playing too agressive, and at 9:59 I called it quits, tipped the dealer my remaining 75 cents, and left the table $260 poorer. That represented almost all of the $290 I had made off my comic books, and, unless I won big in Reno, any hope of continuing northward after the tournament.

The car started with no trouble, giving me a bit of hope that it was just a one-off, and I drove to the 24 Hour Fitness nearest the Starbucks I needed to visit in the morning. I went ahead and turned the car off. But it was too warm in the car, so I decided to move it further out in the parking lot and angle it so the breeze could come in through the windows. This time, it didn't start right way, perhaps because using the headlights had drained too much battery power. I unset the parking brake and let it roll backwards--I don't know if that had anything to do with it, but it started. This time I kept it running for the rest of the night, and though I sweat quite a bit, I was finally able to get some sleep. Though later in the night I had to run across to the 7-11 for another Gatorade, to replendish my essential minerals.



June 30

Spy Hunter

Since Las Vegas is on the eastern edge of the Pacific Time Zone, it was light already at 5:15, but much to early for Starbucks or to have my car looked at. I woke again around 6:30 and noticed moderate traffic on Charleston heading towards the city, so I decided I'd better get a move-on. As I drove down the street, and onto the highway, I could see thick plumes of white smoke coming from my tailpipe. I had started seeing this white smoke after idling the car since last year, but this time it was thicker and lasted longer. I concluded that the duration and intensity of the smoke was correlated with how long I idled the car. I was reminded of a video game I used to play as a youth, Spy Hunter, in which the player's spy car was able to foil pursuers with slick oil, spikes, and, yes, thick white smoke. I listened for squealing tires and crashing sounds, and I crossed my fingers that whatever build-up that was producing the smoke would run out before I was pulled over or cursed at.

I visited the downtown Starbucks that had been closed for the weekend during two previous trips through Vegas, and then I called Hondew, the Honda/Acura shop in Dallas that I had been using for a few years and spoke to the manager. He explained that a new alternator and labor could cost $400. I immediately started regretting having lost those $260. Marshall also explained that while he personally had no experience with a car left running for a week, he strongly recommended against it. I waited for Kinko's (not open 24 hours) to open so I could find Honda/Acura shops in the area. The only shops open this early were dealerships. One charged $85 for any kind of diagnostic, and the other said they could test the alternator for $36. I decided to get a second opinion from an AutoZone for free. On the way I stopped by a import service shop where the attendant said he could diagnose the problem for $32.50, or put in a cheapie alternator from AutoZone for about $270. I could afford this, but it would leave me all but broke. I thought about it a while, and I decided to continue gambling and take my chances that the car would get me to Reno. I could certainly leave it running all the way to Reno. I'd never had it running that long, because I always turned it off while gassing up, but I had had it running all night in the cold with no problems.

So I crossed my fingers and headed north. My first gamble failed to pan out, however. I was betting that gas would be cheaper outside Las Vegas, but I ended up paying 45 cents more per gallon in Indian Springs. But on top of this, the pump itself was screwy and didn't stop when I let go of the handle. So when I tried to stop it at $6, about enough to get me to the next town, it went over. And at $7, and at $8. And because of my obsessive need to pump an exact dollar amount, I ended up spending $10 on overpriced gas. Seems I can't catch a break.

Since I could not risk turning my car off while gassing, every fill-up was accompanied by some concern that gas station attendant would shut off my pump, or that a customer would complain, or that I would be consumed in a great ball of fire. But I noticed that not all pumps displayed signs warning the drive to turn the pump off, and I figured that modern cars are probably designed not to explode if the engine is left running while gassing up.

Nuts--I left Vegas without buying the booster pack that, according to the Marshall at Hondew, I could use to run the car for a short period of the alternator died and the battery drained. Then again, the pack would have taken about 10 hours to charge, so it would not have done me any good on the way to Reno.


Attack of the Killer Spiders

About the only scenery between Las Vegas and the Carson City/Lake Tahoe/Reno area is Walker Lake. When I drove around to the north side, I stopped to take another photo. I was this close to leaning up against the railing for a closer shot when I noticed the killer spiders. Well, I don't know for certain that they were killer spiders, but they sure looked big and mean to me. I've known a few people who have suffered spider bites, and not a one of them developed enhanced strength and the ability to stick to walls. Nope, they way things were going, I was sure that a spider bite would lead to a slow, painful death in the Nevada desert, my remains eaten by snakes and scorpions.


Death Race 2003

I leveraged the boring desert drive time by studying fours and fives in short bursts. I had to take frequent breaks to avoid a headache.

Shortly after Walker Lake, a dark green Mustage with "Bullitt" emblazoned on the rear bumper blazed past me. I had to put away my words to focus on maintaining him within my sights at speeds that quickly exceeded 90 MPH. But in keeping with the motto "safety first" I refused to pass in no-passing zones, and I maintained a safe distance between myself and the Mustang or whatever car or cars the Mustang passed up. So after a while, he lost me. But soon thereafter, I noticed that traffic ahead was stopped. Construction had shut down one lane, and northbound traffic was waiting for the guide car to arrive with a group of southbound vehicles. With my Jedi powers, I could sense the impatience and frustration in the young man driving the Mustang. I didn't mind the wait since I had plenty of words to study. But he must have been going nuts at a dead stop, and on the verge of exploding.

The tension built as our group of some twenty vehnicels were guided through the construction zone. Then, as soon as we passed up the southbound cars waiting their turn, the scene exploded as two, three, four, and, in a matter of seconds, at least seven cars all shifted to the southbound lane to start passing up the slower traffic. It was like a hurricane evacuation, when they reverse the flow of the inbound lanes to accomodate more traffic outbound. But in this case, there would be no police at the other end to block oncoming traffic, and since some of the passing cars were trucks and those god-dammned SUVs, I couldn't see how much time I had before oncoming cars reached us. Nevertheless, I stayed in fourth gear as I floored, taking the engine up to 6000 RPM to increase my speed as quickly as possible and stay with the Mustang, a much more powerful car.

Well, since I'm writing this, I was not crushed by an oncoming truck, and I managed to stay with the Mustang all the way to I-80, where he went off in another direction. A short time later I was in Sparks visiting the first of six new Starbucks in the area. I hung out a while, first fielding a phone call from a recruiter, and then doing some studying. With only six Starbucks to visit, and six days in Reno, I figured I could visit one a day.

After running the engine all the way from Vegas, I figured it would start, so I risked turning it off. Then I moved up a hill to the other side of the parking lot so I could take a photo of the Starbucks. To conserve battery power, I decided to roll it and push it back in front of the Starbucks instead of starting it, and I ended up locking the steering wheel. I forgot how to unlock it, that all I needed was to turn the key without actually starting the car, but some guy in the Starbucks reminded me of what I needed to do and helped me push it into the parking space. He also gave me the most valuable piece of advice of my entire trip--that I could start the car on a almost drained battery by getting it rolling and popping the clutch. He said this method is called a "bump-start", a term that sounds awful funny to me (funny strange, not funny ha-ha).

To save the money that I would have spent on gas returning to Sparks to visit the other new Starbucks, it occurred to me to stop there on the way to the Atlantis, deliver my spiel, and obtain, instead of regular coffee, and iced coffee that I could save until the next morning. For some reason, I don't like the taste of regular drip coffee once it has cooled, but the same isn't true for the double-strength iced coffee. It is also interesting (to me, at least) that I can't get used to the taste of regular drip coffee without sugar, but I can drink iced coffee without sugar.

Well, having visited the two Starbucks in Sparks, the Starbucks portion of my trip took a back seat, and it was time to put my Scrabble hat on.



I Hate This Game!

June 30

After a three-day drive from Houston to Reno, I visited two Starbucks in Sparks before heading down to the Atlantis Hotel and Casino in Reno proper. I had intended to hit the gym and check my e-mail before going into the Atlantis, but I could not resist the urge to check out the poker room. All the games were full, so I had my name put on the waiting list. On the way back to the parking lot, I spotted a familiar face, Sara McLaughlin. She was waiting for a friend who was flying in, and she suggested playing a few games. I went outside to shut off my car and picked up a banana and some yogurt from the conveniently located Smith's next to the hotel. Free cake in celebration of the Atlantis's birthday rounded out lunch, and I sat with Sara in this lounge area we found and set up her board.

We played a couple of games and waved at the other Scrabblers that were arriving, like Judy and Pat and Jean. Jim Hughes sat down for some kibbitzing. All was good until he started begging me to include him in my logged. I just can't bear to see a grown man on his hands and knees pleading with a hungry look on his face, so here you go. Or maybe I was the one with the hungry look, on account of my limited budget. Like Jim suggested, events and details tend to get reinterpreted when recalled from memory weeks later.

I must mention that the Atlantis was rather splendiferous--an excellent choice for a tournament. The ballroom where the games would be held was more than large enough to accomodate all the players. And after a spate of tournaments in small towns (Lampasas, Salado, Lubbock, Ardmore, Jonesboro), it was a refreshing change to be able to find some distraction from the day's scrabbling without driving 50+ miles. And poker, though painful on my wallet, would prove to have the ability to momentarily distract me from the pain that was to come. The only obvious downside was the choice of uniform for the cocktail waitresses--entirely too revealing. Thank heavens the tournament directors did not arrange to have the free cocktails served during the tournament.

After a couple of games with Sara, I was ready to take a break from Scrabble and went over to the poker room. A new game still had not formed, so I went over to Kinko's and then across the street to the 24 Hour Fitness that would become my home for the next six days. After a workout and some KFC, I changed my mind about poker and decided to get a good night's sleep. A small bit of fortune was with me--I was able to find a slight incline at the back of the parking lot which would come in handy if I needed to bump-start the car. Some bushes and an office building provided cover from prying eyes, and I was never bothered during my week-long stay.

One of my worries prior to deciding to drive to Reno was how I would sleep in the summer heat. But this turned out not to be a problem at all. In fact, it cooled off enough during the first few nights that I had to break out my jammies and blanket.


July 1

Splish-Splash Now I Need Another Bath

I wake up before 7:00 with plenty of time to build up a positive attitute during a good workout. It helps that my car started.

What a difference 400 miles makes. Burger King offers biscuit sandwiches for breakfast in Las Vegas, Southern California, and all the other states throughout some southern portion of the United States. But not in Reno, so I tried the sourdough. I went over to Smith's to buy an orange juice and then sat out in the parking lot to study my bingo stems while eating my breakfast. I put the bottle of juice on the dashboard, and after a few minutes without picking it up, the vibrations from the running engine cause it to fall just was I was in the middle of writing "NAILSE...". Aaagh!!! The coefficient of splashitude was very high, resulting in orange juice flying all the way to the back of my car, my duffle bag and other items, as well as spilling on me and my word lists. As I wiped up the mess, I could not help thinking that this is the reason I can't find a girlfriend. Just by looking at me they know I'm the type of guy that spills orange juice.


Anticipation

I finished my breakfast and parked across the street. Everytime I turned the car off I wondered if the engine would start the next time around. But I figured if it didn't start, I could live in the parking lot for a week and then have it fixed with my Scrabble winnings.

This Atlantis sure was plush. When I had asked the concierge where the Scrabble tournament would be held, he said the grand ballroom. Little did I expect that there would be five or six grand ballrooms. After the OJ incident, I was running a little late, so I rush along the second floor looking for the right one.

I needn't have hurried--registration was still in progress. So I sat down with my word lists and looked around to see who had shown up. Judy was there, and Jim Hughes, and Jean, and other familiar and more well-known faces like Joel Sherman. But as I found out to my disappointment, Brian Cappalletto (double P, L, and T) would not be playing in the early bird. I knew I couldn't win the open early bird, but I had entered hoping I would get to play him. But at least I still might be able to play Joel Sherman. And if not, definitely one of the experts, unless I just started tanking all my games.

As I studied and took notes, some people were watching what they said around me, keenly aware that anything might end up in my log.

As always, I had to peep the scene for Scrabble hotties. There were definitely some prospects about, and one in particular that would consume much of my focus until I finally wised up and abandoned hope.

Pairings took a little longer than I had expected, and I heard some grumblings, but I could use all the extra study time I could get.


Game On!

The pairings were posted, and my first opponent was Paula Catanese, a 1448. I'm sure there's a joke in that name somewhere, but it's like the bingo you're sure exists but you just can't find. Anyway, as soon as I sat down at our table I was beset by a case of the nerves. I couldn't help but wonder if this would be another Arlington. She opened with TONAGE*, and I trembled as I held and finally decided to challenge. Not having even seen the list of six-letter words yet, I am hesitant to challenge any, but I decided to risk that she was misspelling TONNAGE, and fortunately I was right. Note to potential Houston opponents. By Labor Day I will have seen all the sixes, so don't be getting any funny ideas about phonying me to death.

Computer adjudication was not yet set up, so shortly after the games began the atmosphere was peppered by a chorus of "Challenge!" as the world judge struggled to keep up. After every three or four cries in succession, players started giggling. I realize that human adjudication works to my advantage, because it gives me more time to take notes.

I get away with ATEP* (confusing it with ATAP), but once again I find myself wondering if a four is good, and I ask myself how much studying it will take to learn the fours to the point where I never doubt a single one again. But then, I still haven't managed 100% certainty on the 3s. I challenged UNWOKEN*/KEX off the board without being 100% sure about KEX. In fact, as I'm writing this I know that KEX is good, and yet I picture myself being confused over it in a future tournament. I think I just don't like that word. Reminds me too much of that silly breakfast cereal Chex.

Having studyed my 3-point and 4-point tile 5-letter words prior to the tournament, I choose to play MAZER instead of AZO, giving up the more valuable ER, hoping to draw a challenge. I wonder about the value of trying to draw challenges as a tactic.

I challenge SUNLIKER off the board, but then I play MIB too quickly without taking the time to see if she has an actual bingo in her rack. I get lucky, but I should have at least taken a few seconds.

I am convinced that PRUdEST*, is good, and play it for more points that the other available bingos, but she challenges it off. I wonder if I should have gone for the more certain SPUTtER (there are 19 others).

With 20 tiles left in the bag, I've run low on time. Later, she has also run low on time and stops recording her cumulative store. After the game, I tell her that she is supposed to record the cumulative score before playing. She says that she thinks it is not required with fewer than seven tiles in the bag. I take the tally slip up to the desk and ask Jeff, and he explains that Paula is correct--with fewer than seven tiles, neither player is required to even keep score.

I felt better after getting one win under my belt. My next game was against Greg Heidler. For some reason I took an instant disliking to him. I can't say why. Maybe he reminded me of the kid that picked on me in grade school, or the guy that took the girl to the prom that I wanted to take. Regardless, it was one of those irrational dislikes that the world would be a better a place if we all got over. But then he beat me, and then I had reason to dislike him. He jumps to an early lead with TIDIEST. Later I come within 34 with a good X play, but he retorts with TANNERs. I draw the other blank and have GLACiER on my rack, but as would become a pattern this tournament, the board was closed down and I couldn't bingo.


My First Time

In round 3, I played my very first expert in a tournament game, Nathan Benedict, an 1836. I was both nervous and excited. I drew some good tiles at the beginning, the J and the K, to rack up 86 points in four turns. Meanwhile, Nathan exchanged, played for 26, and exchanged again. I suspected he was about to lower the boom, and I was right. SEICENTO for 72 for a 12-point lead. I played VOX for 42 and breath a sigh of relief that was all too short-lived as he laid down DRAGOONS for 63 and a 33-point lead. I managed to cut that lead to 23 and then bingo with LArdERS to take the lead. With the game more than halfway over and both blanks out, I was sensing the possibility of a win. But experts don't need blanks, and Nathan came back at me with DIAZINE for 89 and a 46-point lead. Aaagh!!! To make matters worse, Nathan still had 19 minutes on his clock to my 4:41. But two turns later I found FANCIES for 83, and after his 32-point play, I had a 1-point lead! OMG!!! And then I fucked up. I played BE/BUD/UD! UD!!! I had the I down for BID/ID and decided I'd be better off ditching the U. I'm this close to beating my first expert and I have to go make a mistake like that. Unbelievable. And I had plenty of time to think about my mistake as Nathan took the time do something I'd never seen before, recount the game while in progress. In doing so he pointed 1 point that I had missed--very honorable of him with such a close game. After my mistake, I couldn't come back, and lost 417 to 423. We looked at the board afterwards, and had I played BOUND elsewhere on the board I could very well have won. It was painful just contemplating what could have been. Another player from Dallas came by and I quickly recounted how I almost beat my first expert, and he rather colorfuly replied, "Oh, you can't pop your cherry like that!" But his analogy was not far off. Had I beaten him, the feeling would have been sweeter than most everything else in my life. In fact, if I had the choice right now between three minutes of bliss with a beautiful woman and beating an expert, I'd take the latter hands down.

We broke for lunch, and I decided to run down to Burger King and Kinko's. Every since a conversation in Ardmore, I can't help but think of Jean McArthur whenever I go to Burger King. How strange. Anyhow, I should have grabbed something from the grocery store because traffic was heavy on Virginia. I think the people that walked to Smith's or Raley's passed me up. But I had an e-mail about a prospect for a much-needed job, so it was not an entirely wasted trip.


And Here I Thought I Knew How to Add

Beginning with round four, and for the remainder of this and the other two tournaments, we were to play at assigned tables. I had never played in a tournament that used this system, and while sounding strange at first, it's benefits became immediately obvious. It was no longer necessary to wander around looking for a player I didn't know before finding a board, so I was able to ditch my name button. And without the "hunt for a board" that I had been used to, the games began more quickly. Something else that I would notice later was that the pairings were assigned to tables according to ranking, so you could gauge how well you and the others were doing by table number.

In game four, I was reminded that my study of 5-letter Cs from May wasn't going to hold up in July. I opened with CANNE*, and got away with it. Then 1087 Ray Kinsella played CORBY, and I cursed myself for not having reviewed those Cs. Thankfully I let it go. The game was close, but he maintained a solid lead throughout. The board closed up and I gave up on the idea of gaining the lead with a bingo. 40 points brought me withing 16, or so I thought. But the there weren't enough points in the remaining tiles for me to catch up, and so I resigned myself to the loss and played PICO as I remarked "Well, it looks like you got me." Ray had a puzzled look on his face, and replied that unless I held a lot of points in my rack, he didn't see what I was talking about. It turns out that I had misadded many turns ago, by 20 points. So with PICO**, I actually led by 23. Well, I don't know if he never considered challenging, or if he forgot during the process of reconciling the scores, but he let the word go, and I ended up winning by 10 points and two phonies.

I was 2-2 going into my game with Sallie Gilmore, whom I nickname the "Prairie Dog" because she's from Prairie Village, KS, and my loss to her in Ardmore dogs me still. Indecently, Prarie Village has exactly one Starbucks. Anyhow, poor Sallie was dispirited because she had not yet won a game. I genuinely hoped that she would win a game soon, just not this one. I needed my revenge. I cannot rest until I have beaten every one who has beaten me. But my revenge was nearly thwarted (thwarted, thwarted, thwarted--boy, do I like that word) when, as in most of my games this tournament, she beat me to the blank to bingo and then started closing down the board. But most of her non-bingo plays were low-scoring, while I averaged 23.4 through 13 turns. But with a blank and a couple of eses, I still needed to try for a bingo, so I played SAX for 30, and she replied with a J/X combo for 50, putting me in a position where I had to bingo to win. And just when I thought my revenge would never happen, I found ELItIST to bingo out and win by 33. Whew! I lucked out, because I had passed up an earlier opportunity to play PAISaNS because I wasn't sure if the COSS hook was good. Gotta cement those 4s into my brain.

I saw one of my best draws against Victor Tantua, pulling the JQXSS?? for a 457-282 ass-whupping. Had I known that would be one of only a handful of games out of 45 where I would draw like that, I might have savored it more. Besides my draw, I was helped by one or two SOWPODS mistakes that Victor made--this was the first time I'd played a SOWPODS player. Although I'm not sure if his challenging SUrEFIRE/E was due to his simply not knowing the word or it not being in the lexicon of his native Nigeria. Seems like a common word to me.


Codename: Atlanta

While waiting for the next round, I took the initiative and started chatting with the hottest player in the room, whom I code-named Atlanta. I had six days to make a good impression, compared to the 2 or 3 days in all my previous tournaments. I had to formulate a plan.


Peaking Early

4-2 now. Had I realized this would be the high point of the tournament, I might have tried to find an excuse to go home. Going into game 7 against T.A. Sanders, I was thinking this was my chance for revenge for Arlington. And this time I wouldn't be playing with 7 fewer minutes on my clock (from having arrived late). I was able to score solidly and build a lead with the Q, Z, and K early, but as the game progressed, and she pulled the remainder of the power tiles to bingo twice. I think the turning point was was my misreable AEIIOOU rack. I think there should be a rule that says that if you get an all-vowel rack, you are allowed to make the sound represented the rack, and as loud as you can. Anyway, after her first bingo, I was till leading by 17, but from that point on, every play I made gave allowed her to score twice as much, and my lead evaporated into a loss. Where's the Wayback Machine when you need it???

Game 8 was against Houston's very own Judy Newhouse, to whom I owe gratitude for a warm introduction into the world of competitive Scrabble back in December. But I still had to beat her--though it was a close one. I was proud of finding CORROdE (4 other bingos), but in truth I should have found at least one of the bingos in ENOORS? through an open M or R, or something with my next rack OEENRS?. And I shouldn't have let Judy get away with LILTIEr--I'm going to have to keep a closer eye on her phonies. On the other hand, she lost some points by challenging my JUBE, which I wasn't 100% sure about. I know that of JUBA, JUBE, JUPA, and JUPE, three are good, but I have trouble remembering which one is the phony.


Hope

I went into game 9 with hope of a performance prize. At some point I discovered, however, that the prizes were awarded strictly based on place minus seed, regardless of the ratings of one's opponents. This worked to my disadvantage because of my 1309 rating which I considered too high for my true strength after only six months. I opened with JETON for a strong lead against Marc Levesque. But he scored steady and strong and passed me by turn 6, 119-138. I few turns later I found one of my best bingos ever, WIGwAMS, but he retorted with the phony STALLErS*, and I failed to challenge. He left by 17, but now the pattern he established in the first part of the game was reversed, and I outscored him on each turn to win by 21.


Hopeless

6-3 now, and a definite chance at a performance prize if I could win this last game. But I was just high enough to be paired with another expert, Mike Frentz, and he tore my ass up. On his second turn, he busted out with TEXTILE. I used my blank for QuEER for 69 to pass him up by 20. Hope! But he followed with RATANIES. I came back to within 26 with a 22-point play, but he wasn't finished. PARDINES* for a whopping 94 to lead by 120. All hope gone. From that point on, I just went through the motions. What a way to end the early bird.

6-4 and I was out of the money, but I might still pick up some ratings points. I went down to the poker room and put my name on the list. I waited for two hours before I finally got a table. I won back $31 of what I had lost in Vegas and left exhaused and with a sharp headache for my little corner of the 24 Hour Fitness parking lot.



July 2

Hunger

Having been too exhaused after poker for dinner the previous night, I awoke with a mighty hunger. Still, I got on the treadmill, but my body gave out after only 2.5 miles. Still, it was useful to get my body used to fewer calories. That way I could make up part (a small part) of my poker losses by saving on food. After that run though, fruit and yogurt were a must.

I drove down a ways on Virginia to Damonte Ranch to visit yet another Starbucks, and on the way back I had to notice the billboard encouraging drivers to call 386-SMOG to report smoking vehicles. I hoped that wasn't taken too seriously, at least as long as I was in town.


Day 2

I arrived at the Atlantis, went up to the ballrom, and mingled. Carl Davis from Dallas was going on about Jim Hughes' stellar performance. That reminded to go check on the standings, but I already know that 6-4 wasn't going be good enough for a performance prize. But like a car wreck, I couldn't resist looking at the standings. Actually, I don't look at car wrecks, and I hate rubberneckers for slowing me down. I think there should be hoverbots with lasers zapping anyone who slows down to look at a collision, especially if it's on the other side of the freeway. But unfortunately, I don't get to make public policy.

The pairings go up, and I see that I am at the bottom of my division for the second early bird. Atlanta is one or two divisions below mine, and thus seated at a nearby table and affording me great distraction throughout the day. But that's not why I didn't win.

My first opponent is Bill Payne, the top player in the division. He opens with a gRANTED--never a good sign for the first game of a tournament. I never managed to get close, and when he plays SADIRON it's all over. One noteworthy sequence was when I played JUGA, then follows it up with JUGAT*/TAS/QATS. I was thinking of JUGAL. Bill let it go, and played JUGATE, which is good. Oh, and I played BEERY--I like that word.

Revenge goes both ways, and this time it was Marc Levesque's turn. I'm usually the one taking my time to start a round, but this time I waited so long that I was about to get the director when he finally showed up from his smoke. We were neck and neck for the entire game, except for when placed NOTICER and I played TAMpONS one turn later. It was anybody's game, even after he draw the last remaining power tile, the Q, but could only play QUA for 14. There was another U, so I looked to see if he could hit the TWS, but with all the As gone, I determine that nothing longer than QUA would fit. And so I was astounded when he played ROQUE. I could have blocked with TUI for 4 points. What a mistake. But my folly continued. Even though I was sure it was good, I couldn't possibly ctach up, so I challenged. And then I challenged FOH and ended up losing by nearly 100. In retrospect, I should have accepted that the loss was inevitable and cut the spread instead of going for the hail mary challenge.

I meet Judy again in round 3, and I have an easier time of it, with two RETINA racks within the first four turns. I get TERRaIN on the first one, but on the second one my seventh tile is a Y, and rather than fish I have to use the ANY to block a TWS. Next turn I don't give pRORATER* a chance and miss pARROTER. I have that second blank for a full 8 turns before finding DETAINeE/D to pull away for good in the nick of time, as Judy had come within 12 points, but I can't help thinking that I missed a ton of bingos along the way. And I was so focused on finding that bingo that I never noticed when she played SANG. It's a good word, but another reminder that I'm being careless about looking at my opponents' plays.


Comedy of Errors

I open my game against Danny Kidd with the phoney LOVEY* for 30 and get away with it. Not particular proud of having risked LOVEY, but I am proud of finding the natural WRONGED to pull ahead quickly. But I should not bask in pride,, because I allowed him to come close to catching up, though, after I lost a turn by challenging RENAILS, a common stem bingo that I had recently studied. I pulled away with LOAdINg and thought I had the game won for sure. But my heart stopped when he laid down MILNERS* to go out. Of course I had to challenge, and I exhaled a deep sigh of relief as that beautiful, beautiful computer reported it invalid. Even though I was a good 103 points ahead, had his play been good, I held 46 points in my rack--enough to push him over. As I filled out my tally sheet, a shudder came over me as LIMNERS popped into my mind. I don't remember where I saw it, but that was a winning play. Later, in the bathroom, another player told me that MERLINS is also good. I can only imagine how hard the Kidd was banging his head against the wall

I recounted my story to Joel Sherman, who had come over to adjudicate when I challenged RENAILS, and he took me to task because when I challenged RENAILS, I failed to challenge VETOS. My jaw dropped. I hadn't even considered it, so focused was I on the bingo. Joel said to learn this lesson, and to learn it well--always challenge all the words played.


"First thing we do, let's kill all the lawyers."

I headed out for some lunch. In the Sky Lobby, which I was still taking to get out to the parking lot, not realize that I could simply cross the street, I spotted Carl and Mo Davis having lunch at this shi-shi restaurant that was much too expensive for me. As bad as I though my tournament was going, I couldn't touch Mo, who had lost something like 12 straight games. That explains why I heard her stomp out of the room howling "I hate this game!" Little did I know at the time that I would soon be echoing those sentiments. I wasn't yet at the point of hating the game--mostly I was just hungry--but I would get there.

I think I might have mentioned my limited budget, or maybe he just saw the hunger in my face, because Carl kindly offered me a Red Bull, and I gladly accepted. I was in my car and across the street to Smith's before I realized I should have just walked. Force of habit. Sara McLaughlin had recommended their sandwiches. By coincidence, she and her friend were their grabbing lunch. I settled on a roast beef and cheese sandwich. While it was being prepared, Sara's friend (Pete?) came back up to the counter with his order and told the lady she had given him the wrong type of chicken (breast vs wing or something like that). She corrected his order, and as she took away the bad chicken, I asked her if she was going to throw it away. She said yes, and I asked if I could have it, and she said she couldn't, because she might be sued. I cursed the litigious nature of our society that kept me from free chicken.

Still the lady was kind, and decided that since I was having my sandwich without fixings, she could throw in some free fries. I think she saw the hunger in my face. The Red Bull I had with my meal, was, incidentally, my first.

On the way back from lunch, I spotted Joel eating in the Sky Lobby and sat down to chat with him a bit. I mentioned my poker-playing in Vegas, and he replied that I might have better luck putting some money on some Scrabble, and suggested a couple of players that might be interested.

Game 5 against Irene Averell was an uninteresting low-scoring 306-280 win. I did sweat during most of the game as I saw her fiddling with her tiles turn after turn, clearly indicating she had a good bingo rack, and probably a blank. So I had to try and score while not opening up bingo aisles. So I was scoring low, and she was scoring low by playing a few tiles at a time to try and find her bingo. Finally she expressed her frustration and gave up.

What was more interesting was that 6 players in the division were at 2-2, with 1 at 3-1, and so it was still very much anybody's tournament.


Washroom Report #1

Meanwhile, in the washroom, a dedicated scrabbler was doing his business with one hand while looking at something on his Franklin with the other. I admire his dedicate, but I've made a mental not not to borrow his Franklin in the future.


Killing a Fly With a Bazooka

Jeannie Wilson stunned me early in game 6 with a jaw-dropping SEXiESt for 97. That was the first time I'd ever seen so many power tiles used at once. I thought "Oh, here we go again with the miserable draw." It was a good find, no doubt, but she pretty much blew her share of luck on that one turn. Even though I had to waste my Q for 12 points, I was able to catch up by taking a chance on FORCERS and drawing the J, Z and the right combination of tiles to outscore her for the rest of the game.


Washroom Report #2

Meanwhile, in the washroom, I noticed another guy intently examining his Franklin while going about his business. I wasn't sure if it was the same guy or not, and I make it a policy not to look too closely at any guy in a washroom. Ain't nobody gonna accuse me of being a peeker.


Timing

Game 7 was a good example of how it's not just the tiles, but the timing. With the X and Z on her side, she rack up 137 points in 4 turns to lead by 92. I was HELPED by 32 points, and then 39 points for what was one of my best fits ever--MEDIATE alongside HELPER to form HE/LI/PA/ET/DE. At that point I felt like I was having to work three times as hard to score, as she immediately played the J for 36 and an 84-point lead. All that work and I had managed to come only 4 points closer. At this point I started to draw some tiles, but I only scored 12 with the Q, in sharp constrast to what she scored for the J, X, and Z, and now the board was tight and she was doing her best to close it off. Just as I found a bingo running down to the G, she killed the spot with GUV. I was livid. A couple of recurring expletives came to mind. I wasted so many turns dinking away letters to find the bingos I couldn't possibly win without, that even though I found them, DERiSION/R and TOAStERS/T, and she did not bingo at all, I lost by 11. That hurt. I thought I played great, and another played even remarked about my great fit. But I lost.

The one bright moment came after the game, when I asked Joel for an opinion on whether I should have, with very few tiles left and needing a bingo to have any hope of winning, risked playing QAT leaving the Q above the TWS rather than using my blank. I was gambling that she didn't have the AT, but of course the way her luck was going, she did. But Joel said I did the right thing, and that was pretty much the highlight of my tournament. That's foreshadowing of the next four days, for those literature-minded types.

Later, after the tournament, I read Brian Cappalletto's post-Reno post, in which he wrote that timing usually seemed to be on his side. Boy, did I wish that I had been able to say the same.

Excuse me--I have to take a break from writing and go cry some more.


How I Dropped Joel Sherman

After the game, I noticed Joel talking to this cutie up at the front. They seemed to be buddy-buddy, and I seemed to remember hearing something about his having gotten married, so I asked him if she was his wife. This caused Joel to drop to the floor and roll around on Sam Kantimathi's Scrabble rug (a real rug, not a hairpiece) as he laughed hysterically. The girl proceeded to explain that she was Joel's team Scrabble partner, and only 14. Well, I don't know what they feed them where she comes from, but didn't look no fourteen to me. I was thinking she was trying to pull a Danny Almonte here. There's just something unnatural about... well, let's just leave it at that.


A Moot Point

Prior to the start of the last game, I asked one of the directors what the prize distribution would be. He curtly replied that that wasn't an appropriate question at the time because they were busy. I didn't argue, but I disagreed. Knowing whether 2 or 3 places would be paid could affect the play of someone who needed the prize money more than locking down third place.

In game 8, I guess my luck changed, because I drew 3 eses--ALL ON THE SAME RACK!!! Yeah, you know how this game is going to go--a 482 to 355 blowout. Just when I needed a big win for second place, I got a pounding instead. Having Joel Sherman adjudicate my brain-dead challenge of WILE didn't help. Now I'm going to feel embarassed even walking into his club when I make it back to New York.

Now I'm really upset, and her extending her hand and saying "Good game!" with a smug smile didn't help. It wasn't a good game, and she knows it. A good game is a game where both players have a fair tile distribution and have to duke it out with clever bingos and intricate fitting of the tiles. When everything falls into place for just one player, it's not a good game, and I hate it when the opponent tries to pretend that it was.


People Who Need People... My @#$%

I couldn't leave the ballroom fast enough, and immediately rushed down to the poker room. I had to wait my turn though, and the wait was frustrating because I really needed to get in game to get my mind of those miserable last Scrabble games. My hopes were so high after game 6. But the higher one's hopes, the harder the fall. As I sat at one of the empty poker tables waiting for a game, I felt a desperate need to pour out my frustrations. But I couldn't think of a single person outside the Scrabble community who would really care about how I did at a trivial thing like Scrabble. Heck, there's even plenty of competitive Scrabblers who can be heard to say that "It's only a game.", seemingly oblivious to the fact that, for many, it is more than just a game. So to find someone who doesn't play the game yet could commiserate--that was a hopeless task. So I just had to sit there and keep it bottled inside and hope that one of these other poker players would leave quickly so I could get a table.

Meanwhile, 8:30 rolled around, and I went upstairs to see what was going on with the reception. I had not originally planned to attend, because I thought there was a cost. Once I learned there wasn't, and that I needed to register for the main event, I figured I'd at least get some free food. I also hoped that I might have a chance to chat with Atlanta, but this really wasn't a day for hope.

I bounced back and forth between the poker room, waiting for my turn for a table, and the reception. I figured there was no point in waiting in the long line to register for the main even, when I could just wait 'til the end. I glad there was still food left when I showed up, though--I would have kicked myself if I had missed out on the free calories.

Some attendees changed clothes (go figure!). I don't see the need for ever changing clothes myself, but I guess I can't fault others for doing it, especially the one lady that looked simply fabulous.

Atlanta was right behind me in line to register, but she had already eaten. Chatting opportunities were limited.

I finally got my table and played poker until I lost what I had won the previous day and a few more bucks. At least it got my mind off Scrabble. And new hope of financial independence emerged as, like a gift from the heavens, the beginnings of the next big rap record came to mind...

This is it! Nineteen future king diamong ring. You know time to bling-bling when you hear the bell ring.

That's all I have, but I'm sure when I finish, Emimen and Jay-Z will be duking it out for the rights to record.

My brain aching from Scrabble, poker, and song-writing, I retired to my parking lot for rest. On the way, tried to drive as much as I could with the lights off, turning them on only when I saw a car approaching (that could be police) to conserve battery power.



July 3

After I got up at 5:17 to go into the gym and use the restroom, I had trouble getting back to sleep, so after about 30 minute minutes I decided I might as well drive down to Gardinerville. I needed to make the drive in morning instead of after the day's play so I wouldn't have to run the headlights. Even though the shift supervisor at the Starbucks recognizes me from another Sacramento store I had visited the previous year, she wouldn't offer me free coffee, becoming one of the first store in a while to charge me. Thankfully I had a free drink coupon, and I took advantage of it by ordering a vinte latte for the protein in the milk.

On the way back, I stopped at Mom and Pop's Diner, a restaurant I had noticed during my last trip through Carson City. Biscuits and eggs to go were cheap at $3.25, which was a good thing because they weren't that great. After a year of anticipation, I had almost expected them to be the greatest biscuits in the world.

I stopped back at the gym for a shower. On the way out, dug deep and chanced asking the desk attendant Gentry if she wanted to see that new Terminator movie. First I asked her if she had already seen it, and if she wanted to see it, so I wouldn't have to wonder if she said she wasn't really interested in seeing the movie, if it was really me. She said sure and we exchanged numbers and made tentative plans for Saturday. But I knew even as I left the gym that she would never keep that date. Girls like her have the ability to lie to your face and sound convincing even when you know it's bullshit.


The Main Event

The first thing I noticed when I walked into the ballroom was the guy with the beanie cap. I asked around a few times but never figured out who he was.

You can't ask for a better start to a tournament than to open with a natural bingo, ERASION. But the real highlight of the game was when I played FORM/OF and took a trip back in time to the days of the Wonder Twins--"Form of... a Scrabble player!". When he almost played ZANG*, I wonder if it was a subtle reaction on my part that led him to pick the tiles back up. You'd think I would have a poker face by now.

Anyway, the draw was even and I felt like I won on skill. But if I had a do-over, I'd rather have started poorly and improved than the tother way around. I'd also rather have started against a stronger opponent than the 1163-rated James Johnson, just to get the tough games out of the way.

After the game, I introduced myself to Joe Edley. Another Word Freak personality out of the way.

The lady I played in round 2 kept talking to herself. I guess she never OUTGREW that habit. But I REDIALS 1-800-WIN-GAME and take it by 33. After the game, I noticed that while she drew both blanks, eight power tiles in all, I drew nine of the ten 4-point tiles, and that these can make up for a lack of power tiles. But what I really wondered about was whether there is a way, perhaps by using an electronic board, to smooth out the luck factor in the game. A month later, when I started playing ISC, I learned about the duplicate games they have there, but I judged duplicate Scrabble to be inadequate because the aim is to make the highest scoring play each round, which is not necessarily the best way to win a normal Scrabble game.

I don't know who I played in the third round, because, for the first time ever, I forgot to write down the name of my opponent (Eve Jones, according to the scorecard I received in the mail) to be who had the lead during every single turn, and went into her last turn leading by 97. I'm sure she was disappointed when I played COBALtS to come within 2 points, and then won because she challenged the hook, STYE, allowing me to go out first.

3-0 now, and I was beginning to regain my hope. How cruel Scrabble is, to dangle hope in front of you like a carrot on a stick, only to yank it away.

Susie Page's first play, GLOATS, was prescient, and she played so quickly that it felt like the game was over before it began. Just when I had come within two points and feeling like a hero, she drew the decisive Z and turned me into a ZERO.

I skip lunch and just pick up some fruit and exploding yogurt.

In game 5, I play Atlanta, and I think that bit about female pheromones must be true, because after an hour in close proximity with her, I could barely resist the urge to suggest going out to have a drink or coffee or see some Reno sights or something. Of course, I was only at the point at which I could suggest an activitity. I was not yet able to actually ask if she was interested in going out and risk up-front rejection. Despite my--ahem--distraction and efforts to chat her up as much as possible, I managed to win handily.

After the game I ate my yogurt, and I was glad that Atlanta was not paying attention as, upon my opening it, it exploded all over James Johnson's board and clock. If James is reading this, I promise I cleaned it up as best I could, and that smell is probably some other yogurt.

In game 6, the board was very tight, and as I've learned, on a tight-board with few or no bingo hooks, bingo stems, which are composed of one-point tiles, are a liability. The player with the 3 and 4-point tiles is simply going to rack up more points, and there is no way to catch up withone one or more bingos. I got one, OUTSIzeD/U, but I really could have used that second blank later in the game, for one bingo just wasn't enough, and Gail Linn got her revenge for Chicago, where I handed her the loss that won me the high-game prize in my division.

From Gail Linn to Lynn Gunn, whom, for once, I beat to the blank draw to fire the first shot. But I did not leave her ScARRED, and she quickly recovered. Once she passed me with UNSPENT, the game went downhill, with lovely racks like VCPYRTX and VYYPRTX that left me slack-JAWED (my only play worth any points) and fatally wounded.

My next opponent was all business, speaking nary a word as she proceeded to make me her very own pummel horse. Hmm... let me take that back. That might have actually been fun, while the game most certainly was not. The worst part of the game--my last move, when I was trying to cut the spread. I knew what her tiles were, EEHIORST, and I took time to see if she could play along the TWS that I about to set up. I didn't see anything, but she immediately did--HERIOTS. I cursed myself for not having studied the STORIE stem yet. The only bright point of that game was that I got the phoney ZLOTES* past her.

From 3-0 to 4-4, losing three games in a row. By the end of the first day, I was thinking that my luck hadn't changed at all, and that the main event would go no better than the early birds.


Can't Win For Winning

When chatting earlier, it seemed like Atlanta was in poker, so before I head down there, I asked her to come down and play if she wanted, and she said she might. Down in the poker room, I had my best piece of luck of the day. I was dealt a straight flush, 2-6 of hearts, which meant that besides winning the pot, I won a $104 dollar jackpot, and a chance to spin a wheel for up to $200. Unfortunately, the wheel landed one space away from the $200 slot, and I just won a couple a $5 food coupons. But hey, food matters.

While waiting for my table I remembered the postcard I needed to buy for that woman in Wichita Falls. The cashiers at the gift shop were unloading some boxes in the back, so I took the opportunity to say hello to the girl that was also waiting to be rung up. She had an unusual name, Lottie, and was vacationing from Portland. When she paid for her items she left, but at least I had gotten some friendly conversation, in sharp contrast to atmostphere upstairs earlier.

I headed over to Cafe Alfresco to order a pizza with my coupon, and I noticed that Atlanta and a couple of friends had shown up and were waiting for a Hold 'Em table. She either had not noticed me playing back there, or just hadn't cared to come by and say hello, so it started to become evident that I had either made no impression on her at all, or a negative impression. I tried not to think about it as I went back to my cards.

I played until I was about even and walked away with my $100 jackpot. On the way out, I spotted Atlanta and her friends at the sushi bar in the sky lobby, apparently having given up on poker. As I walked down the stairs, I wondered why girls as pretty as her never showed any interest in guys like me. As I stepped outside, the answer came suddenly in the form of a gust of wind that tipped over my pizza box and blew my word lists in all directions. An elderly lady and a young kid came to my rescue. Now, in a movie, a cute girl would have found my plight endearing as she helped me recover the papers. She would have noticed the word lists and been genuinely interested in Scrabble and invited me for a cup of coffee. Only in a movie.


Unsweetened Dreams

I faired no better in my dreams that night. My wallet was stolen after a struggle. I was pulled over while making a u-turn by a Scrabble-playing cop. My comic books were ruined because of a leaky roof and rough treatment by some kid.My Scrabble opponent played a word using all blanks and leaves. I try to find him and the director. As I walk past the other Scrabble tables, Judy calls me by my birth name. I'm wandering around trying to locate that player. I'm trying to find my way back into the tournament room. Down a long hallway is the entrance to a strip club. I turn and walk down another long hallway. Two guys catch up to me, upset about an aborted drug deal. The are about to shoot me when the door in the stairwell opens and a security guard or cop peeks in and closes the door again. Through the door I can see a bunch of police with blue guns. Then I wake up. Those dreams couldn't possibly be a good omen.



July 4

The Craving

In the wee hours I awoke with a mighty thirst, and craving for more than water. I had eaten half my pizza at the poker table, and I left the other half on the roof of my car, as it was cool outside, in the hopes that I would be able to finish it in the morning without taking ill. I drove over to the 7-11 for some OJ. When I returned, it occurred to me to wonder about my pizza. Sure enough, the box was sitting further up in the parking lot, the pizza spilt on the pavement. Now, ever since a child, I have had an aversion to eating food that had touched the table or floor, or sharing food from another's plate. But growing older, and realizing that my future might involve genuine homelessness, I had begun getting over that. So I shook off the willies and scraped the pizza back into the box, with the fervent hopes that by morning I would have forgotten that it ever touched the ground.

Morning came, and I had a good workout to work off the pizza. I visited the new Starbucks at Plumb and Arlington, and then I went back to Raley's to heat up my pizza. I had no problems eating it--my training for homelessness is progressing well.


Nastiness

I became little more than a smudge on the winshield of the truck that Andrea Mudge used to run over me in game 9, 506 to 285. She drew the right tiles at the right time, and I ended up feeling like I never had a chance. I thought, "Here we go again." and wondered why I was still in Reno. Oh, yeah, because once you start playing in a tournament you are pretty much shackled for the duration, unable to pull out if you are having a miserable time for fear of being banned from playing that event again, or even other events. Anyhow, that game prompted my worst bout of bitching yet, to the extent that Andrea perceived me to be nastily attacking her. I did regret having criticized one of her plays--one she explained it, I agreed it was the better move. It was just additionally frustrating to feel like I was beaten by someone who didn't play that well, though I was certainly in no position, based on skill level and degree of objectivity at the time, to judge her play.


Winning Despite Mistakes

I faired better against Rhoda Klein, though the first part of the game was terribly frustrating, seeming a repeat of the previous game. It didn't help that I repeatedly undercounted my score, only to have Rhoda correct me each time (unless she missed it too). I brought it home, though, by risking BOGGiEST and LADRONES. I was relieved to get back to even at least.

Ruth Burns, who caught me off-guard by extending her hand before the start of the game, impressed upon me the importance of writing down the blank designation before hitting the clock. She recounted a tale of a player who failed to do so, and consequently his opponent changed the blank from a U to a Q, resulting in a QQ combination, for which there are no words. The opponent didn't make any friends that day, but the director follow the rules, which I think are overly restrictive in not giving a director latitute to use her judgement in cases in which it is obvious what the blank is. In later games, I started noticing when an opponent forgot to write down the blank before hitting the clock.

Elizabeth Wood couldn't, at least not this time, despite a couple of mistakes that could have turned the game. I bingoed early with LANDeRS, and for most of the game forgot about the S hook. And towards the end, I was holding AIT?, so I left a bingo aisle open despite an 86-point lead with few tiles left, and she played REINTER. That's two big problems with my game right there, missing common hooks that I'm opening up with my play, and keeping openings in the hopes of another bingo to extend a lead when I should instead be ensuring a win.

Still, I broke for lunch at 7-5 with foolish hopes for bettering that record in the second half of the day.

Still reasonably full from the pizza, I just walked over to Smith's for some fruit and played poker during lunch.

Game 13 began with a misstep as I made my first, or maybe my second, mistake due to my decision to delay studying which fours don't take an S. I played KENTS, and Paul Haverly knew or suspected it was a past tense and challenged it off the board. It was downhill from there. It was once of those games in which every time I managed to gain the lead, he immediately bingoed to crush my hopes, in the end pulling away by over a hundred with OVERLET, which I almost challenged. I could have kept it under a hundred of SOILY* had been good, but he challenged it off, to my astonishment. I seemed to remember that word, not from study, but from regular usage. I googled it later and, sure enough, found references to the usage "soily earth" that I was remembering.


So Much Glass, So Little Time

In game 14 against Esther Kisich, I could have bingoed early with ALIENORS or AILERONS, but instead I played ALOINERS* because I was sure there was something in an AIEOLRS rack plus the open N, M,and L on the board. From that point on my racks turned to crap, with stuff like AAOUNPT, AOUUTLN, OULLTTN. My best rack was probably AVATION, but kind of useless without an open I (or C). I saw one last chance to cut the spread with LAMAZE*, but it's no good and I lost big.

Missing that bingo was a mistake, but I came away from that game feeling like I would have lost no matter what. The fact that finding the early bingo would have changed the course the entire game did not occur to me at the time. Instead, I walked out of the room with a heightened level of frustration. The thing about fancy hotel/casinos is that they tend to have plenty of mirrors. They are pretty, sure, but I wonder if they are necessarily a good idea in a place where people are naturally going to get frustrated. I wondered this because I myself wanted to find the nearest mirror and just start hitting it until I ran out of glass or was dragged out by security. Then at least I would not have had to play any more Scrabble.


Fear Not the WOLFMAN*

I drew even worse against Gwen Bishop. When she opened with SPURTeR*, I resigned myself to another crappy game. The word looked, funny, but I didn't want to risk starting off even further behind, so I let it slide. I came back with the natural SLITHER, and she immediately played OVERGLAD. Again, I wanted to challenge, but I didn't want to risk losing a turn. When she pulled the second blank and played SwEATED, I was really frustrated. But somehow I'd been able to score well and was only down 34. The game was come to a close, but I still had hope. When she played WOLFMAN* for a fourth bingo, she basically forced me to challenge because I couldn't have won otherwise. I'm glad that bingo came last, because had it come earlier I might have let it go. But I challenged it off and took the lead with a 34 point-play, and then pulled away with REGAINS and was able to preserve my lead despite some high-scoring plays on her end. I was shaking by the end of that game. It's a good thing WOLFMAN* was no good, because being outblanked twice in a row, and four bingos could have been enough to turn me into a raving wolf-man.


Coulda Woulda Shoulda

Tom Titus the titan was a toughie. Once again I was blank on the blanks, which exacerbated my frustration, but at least this time he had both at the same time and was only able to get one bingo out of them (and one natural). And I do have to give him props for finding MAJORING (with two blanks) through the J. The only thing that kept me in the game was that he only got 65 for his bingo, while I was able to line my HEATERS alongside the ING on the TWS for 91 points. I lost by 24, but after the game I sat and reworked the endgame to discover what looked like a sure win for me. But I was not able to see it because of the time pressure that I routinely find myself under. While, as far as I can remember, I've never gone over time in a tournament game, I often use up too much time in the early stages and suffer for it in the end game. I need to figure out a way to work on fixing that.


Glutton for Punishment

With an 8-8 record and my luck, as I perceived it at the time, I doubted that I could win enough games to win any money in the main even. But I still had hopes of making a few bucks from that player that didn't mind putting his money behind his tiles. I found him and we set up in the back of the ballroom. He suggested anything up to a whopping $50 a game, but that was way too rich for my broke-ass, so we settled on $20. I'd like to say it was just the good tiles he was drawing, but I know I was playing miserably, making ridiculous mistakes. And how do I know this? Because I had Iffy standing watching the games, and generously pointing out the obvious mistakes I was making. This had two effects. First, it made me feel like I deserved to drop those sixty bucks. Second, it made me question my assessment of the last 34 games. I had to consider that, if Iffy was able to find so many mistakes in just three games, then I must have been making a ton of mistakes over the course of the last four days. It was a depressing thought.

Being a glutton for punishment, or perhaps just needing to experience even a small measure of victory, I headed down to the poker table. It was probably for the best, before I lost too much, that I was scared away from the table before by an aggressive bettor. He shows up with $100 in chips (most people have been entering with $20-40) and almost immediately starts raising all bets to $3. When he starts betting "on the blind", without even looking at his cards, I know it's time to go. Another lady agrees, and leaves the game at the same time. Like I said, it was probably for the best, but I still hated that fucker big time. I just wanted to play some friendly poker, maybe win a few bucks, but to lose no more than $20, and this asshole has to show up and ruin it.


The Crushing Weight of Failure

I didn't play poker long enough to get the Scrabble out of my mind, and so all that frustration stayed locked in the car with me in my little corner of the gym's parking lot. So powerful was the frustration that it threatened to overwhelm me. It's hard to remember, because I wasn't exactly in the mood to take notes, but I can't say for certain that I didn't hit the back window of my car a few times. The warmer temperature didn't help, making it harder for me to fall asleep. And I was oh, so desperate to fall asleep, because only blissful unconsciousness could remove me from the suffocating weight of the day's failures. Well, that's not entirely true. There was drink. There is always drink. But I ran through that chamber long ago, in a very short period of time, and never really considered it as a solution, at least not seriously.

The thought crossed my mind that I might get good and hammered in the morning--the drinks, after all, were free to gamblers--and at least if I couldn't win I might have a good time.



July 5

The Early Bird Gets... Nothing!

I was up early, unable to sleep, full of anxiety. I hoped a good workout would get the blood flowing up to those brain cells. I had come to my senses and banished any thoughts of mixing Scrabble and drink. I wanted to win much too badly for that.

Before leaving the gym I asked Jentry if we were still going to that movie, and, as expected, she replied with an excuse, that she had to spend the day moving back into her mother's house. Despite my knowing full well she wouldn't keep the date, I played along with the charade and srescheduled for Sunday afternoon.

While waiting for the first game to begin I asked another player to point out a couple of the Word Freak personalities, Mike Baron and Lester Schonbrun. Lester was not in the room, but I introduced myself to Mike and thanked him again for some stem advice he had e-mailed me months earlier. I mentioned having stopped in Albuquerque to play Nancee Mancel at the Frontier Restaurant, and Mike revealed that this was the very place where he and Stefan Fatsis played some games. I would have remembered had it been mentioned in the book, so we speculated that the name had been removed by the editors to avoid promoting the restaurant. Nevertheless I got a warm fuzzy feeling inside from knowing that I had played Scrabble in a place that bore the psychic residue of the great Mike Baron and Stefan Fatsis.

My first game of the morning was a rematch with Danny Kidd. He was apparently still smarting over having missed that bingo to lose our last game, so he pummelled me hard with the 122-point ENQUIRES. It was a good find, but I was still chafed when he revealed that he didn't study. That's not what I wanted to hear after having studied heavily since Mid-Cities only to drive 2000 miles and have nothing to show for it.


It's Hard to Blame It On the Tiles When You're Making Mistakes

You know what I hate? I hate it when you finally get some luck and draw a blank first and some good bingo tiles, but the only place to play it gives your opponent a powerful counter-play. In this case, only 61 points for TRAILeD to her 33-point retort. I also drew the second bingo, but too late in the game to use it effectively. Maybe. There are several bingos in EEINSS? that I know, but I can't remember if I could have played one or not. I need to track board info in addition to the rack so that I can measure how many bingos I'm missing.

In game 19 I got a blue hair with an attitude. I also got a rack identical to one from the previous game, EEINSS?. This time, however, I saw SENsEIS*, and was feeling rather pleased with myself until it was challenged off the board, to my astonishment. Then I picked up a second blank and found SEePaGE for 68, but my opponent had built up such a lead with the heavy bingos like STROWED and STIFLED that I had not hope of catching up. My only chance would have been to find a good bingo instead of SENsEIS* and then draw the other blank for another bingo. After the game, I asked Joe Edley why the word wasn't good, and he said that he had never heard of SENSEI*, but rather SANSEI. I had known the word since childhood, probably from my comic books, but always assumed it to be spelled with an E. Googling later, I discovered 431,000 hits for SENSEI*, but only 28,000 for SANSEI, so I wonder why the latter made it into the word list, but not the former. The inconsistency of the word list--grrr...

Against Jamila Atcha I suffered the curse of the multiple eses. Three of them, on my opening rack. I ditched two of them for 6 and 18 points, because I do not see the value of throwing multiple eses back in the bag. You lose a turn and give your opponent a chance to draw them later. I used the 3rd S for BUSTIER, and almost immediately drew the fourth, which I kept until the game was almost over and found SNORTED after risking an exchange to imrppve my IIIPORS rack. Besides the eses, I only drew the X, and all my opponent would have needed to win was to find a bingo with her blanks, but she never did. I narrowly escaped despite frustrating racks throughout most of the game.

I returned to my car, where I had forgotten my apple and banana, only to discover the heat had turned them into a gooey mess. Not even my high degree of cheaptitude could motivate me consume the black goo of death, so I sighed and went back to the grocery store.

My mother finally got around to wondering if I'd squandered my money yet, although her voice mail was more subtle, asking how my trip was going. I hadn't called all week because I didn't want to report that all the money I'd raised and borrowed had gone to waste.

In game 21, I had all but given up hope of finding that bingo I needed to win as Peter Dolgenos did his best to shut down the board. It was sheer magic that the tiles fell into place for a game-winning out-bingo, FAINeST/REEF/NEBS/DOT, what left him stunned.

I also won my next game against Carol Amashita on my final out play, by four points, because of the tiles on her rack. Actually, I could have lost that game because I didn't challenge her 80-point ADAZE*, confusing it for ADOZE and AGAZE. Big mistake.


Slipping Through My Fingers

After two nerve-wrackingly close games, I was once again two games over even and hoping to finish the day better than even. As I waited for Bob Smith, the lady who had just played him told me he was easy. Somehow I didn't quite believe her--so far I hadn't found anybody rated above 1300 to be easy.

I started off on the wrong foot, gamling on FLINGED* and losing a turn for my trouble. From that point he built a leady that steadily increased to the point that even a bingo would probably not win the game. Unless it was an out-bingo that left him with a lot of points in his rack. Which is what I was holding, EIOLLS? with ED being the only hook remaining. Now, I pretty much knew that EDH was the only hook, but somehow the word hOLLIES would not coalesce in my brain. I kept thinking of lOLLIES and dOLLIES and even sOLLIES* and wondering if I might have overlook EDS*. So in my greatest act of choking ever, I laid down sOLEILS*. Bob of course challenged it off and played for 26 points, and it was then that I saw hOLLIES. I couldn't believe it. I played and experienced great relief and started to fill out the tally sheet until Bob alerted me to the fact that I hadn't won the game! I had merely subtracted 100 points from his score a few turns back. My relief immediately turned to shock as I worked out the math, and with the points in his rack, minus the 26 points he scored, I would have won the game. I WOULD HAVE WON THE GAME!!!

I was completely demoralized at this point, and almost ashamed to have even despoiled the game of Scrabble with my pitiful playing. No previous Scrabble game had ever made me feel this way, but I really felt like crying. My father would not have approved. I can't remember the last time I felt like crying. It might have been as long as four years earlier when I had my eyesight corrected--now that hurt like a sonufabitch. But this pain was worse. A deep despair rooted in the pit of my stomach. A self-loathing that drowned out all other sensations.

So I went into my final game of the day, against Susan Love, not feeling much love for the game myself, nor much of anything else. I was more or less in a daze. But that's not why I lost. I lost because I had not yet memorized all the ITONES bingos and missed INOSITE, trying NOILIEST* instead. I was surprised that it was phony, given that NOILY is good, but apparently there are a bunch of Y words like that. I bingoed a couple of turns later with ATONIES, but 47 extra points she was able to make while I was futzing around ended up costing me the game. Yet another game added to my list of coulda-wons.

Consider how well Jim Hughes was doing, it was probably for the best that he was all Scrabbled out and didn't want to gamble on a few games. I'm sure I would have just lost more money. So I dropped my money at the poker table instead before going to bed early so I could be well rested for my final day of this disastrous tournament.



July 6

Honesty Is the Best Policy?

I checked out of Le Hotel 24 Hour Fitness. On the way out, I confirmed with Jentry that we were still meeting after the tournament. She wore a straight face as she said that we were still on and told me to call her around 1:00. And then she asked me the question I'd been dreading, if I'd been staying at the Atlantis all week. I gave some kind of non-specific affirmative reply and went out to my car. I thought about it and decided that I couldn't ignore my obligation to tell the truth just for the sake of making an impression. So I had to go back inside and explain to her that I'd actually been sleeping outside the gym all week because I couldn't afford a hotel. She said that wasn't a problem and that she still wanted to meet me, but I could sense that she had no interest in a homeless, almost penniless Scrabble player who hadn't even managed to win the tournament.

I figured the truth would be my undoing. You can't get anywhere with the opposite sex by telling the truth. That's why online dating is becoming so popular. And that's why I'm doomed to be forever alone.


Implosion

I skipped breakfast so my body can focus on Scrabble without being distracted by the digestive process.

The usual entrance to the ballroom was blocked by slot machines set up for a tournament, so I sat outside and waited for someone else to discover that there was a back entrance. The player who had taken me for sixty bucks the other night showed up and gave me a chance to win my money back. The game was interesting in that it was the first time I had played with a 3x3 square to start off. As I tried to figure out the best way to play my Q off the DWS, preferrably without using my S to hook it to the 3x3 square, another player came up and asked if she could make a suggestion. We both quickly replied not, that this was a serious game. My opponent cautioned me against mentioning we were gambling because some of the older players had issues with gambling on Scrabble. I replied that I thought this was ridiculous, especially here in Reno. Not to mention the fact that Scrabble involves luck, and there is prize money involved, so there is de facto gambling in every tournament.

Before the start of the day's games, I caught up with Mike Baron and asked him for advice on how to deal with bad luck and coulda-wons. He told me about his method of thinking in terms of making the best possible move. It makes sense, but it's hard for me at this stage to think in terms other than winning and losing. He also said that for every game I think I could have won, chances are my opponent could also have won had she made the right move. This I could relate to a bit better.

I suffered my worst defeat ever in game 25, a 531-203 drubbing in which everything fell into place for my opponent. And it's not that she drew all the tiles, but that they came at the right time. Because I drew the Q and all the eses, but I always had two eses on my rack and had to dump two or three for few points, and to add insult to injury, I was stuck with the Q at the end. I was tempted to eat the Q, but instead I just tossed it across the board, perhaps as a way of getting it away from me so I woudn't be tempted to eat it. The opponent, on the other had, used both her blanks for two bingos and later dropped a natural right in the spot where I was about to play the only bingo I had drawn the entire game. Add to that the magical 51-point X play, and good Z and J plays, and I had no doubts whatsoever in proclaiming that there was no way in the world I could have won that game. The only think I could have done differently was to know ALEVINs and RELINED, the words I challenged, but I just hadn't gotten to those stems yet. The SALINE stem is #24 on a list I found on the Internet. I'd better get a move-on down that list.

I was absolutely crushed. That game was like the culmination of all the bad draws of the entire tournament put together. It was as if I was being punished for having dared to dream that I could do well in such a big tournament.

Post game, the animosity hovering over the table was palpable. I was upset because of the draw, and because my opponent failed to acknowledge that luck had been in her favor. I pointed out that she missed two points on her out-play, always mindful of the Stefan Fatsis anecdote from Word Freak, and she thought I was trying to make her feel bad. I wasn't in any type of mood to argue to convince her otherwise. Instead, she wanted me to pat her on the back playing well, which in her mind meant playing what I consider to be basic words after several years of Scrabbling. My standards may be too high, but I don't considered knowledge of simple bingos and fours, uncommon though they might be, worthy of awe. AEGIS--come on? Anybody that reads the global news section of the paper knows that word. I've gotten really good draws and demolished my opponent before, and in most cases I tell my opponent after the game that I got lucky and drew everything, if for no other reason that to ease the sting of a bad draw. I learned later that she had taken offense to my tossing the Q, thinking I had tossed it at her, rather than just tossing it aside in disbelief that I had gotten stuck with it on top of all the other bad luck. Perceptions are a tricky thing.

I was numb throughout game 26. I just didn't care anymore. I won and evened up against Gertrude Savadge who had beaten me in Lubbock, but I truly was numb and felt nothing. As far as I was concerned, I couldn't get out of Reno fast enough.

I recovered some of my senses in my final game. I was 12-12 and didn't want to go home with a losing record. A losing record in Arlington I could chalk up to having played up. But this time I was in the top quarter of my division, so I losing record was unacceptable. Heck, losing ratings points was unacceptable, but there was no way to avoid that at this point. At least I got to play the affable Karen Moss. She was taking her performance much better--apparently in the "It's only a game crowd." That would be the line that divides Scrabble players--those that think it's only a game and those for whom it's a bit more serious. I wouldn't go so far as to say that Scrabble defines me, as I think one of the Word Freak personalities told Stefan Fatsis, but I certainly wouldn't be spending hours studying if it were only a game. So to lose that final game and end up with a 12-13 record was the ultimate disappointment in a week of disapppointments.


And the Prize Goes to...

I was anxious to leave town, but, like a sucker, I stuck around at the poker tables waiting for Jentry to finish her shift and call me. At least I was distracted by the game, and by the thought of breaking my personal record of 25 hours without eating, so that I could feel like I'd at least accomplished something in Reno. But with only a few hours to go, I was dealt three low cards in a row (low card opens the betting), which won me a pizza. I couldn't let an $8 value go to waste, as it would feed me for the next 24 hours.

Around 2:00 I got tired of waiting and went out to the car. I called the number she had given me just to say I'd given it a try, but no one answered, and there was no message. It was probably a fake number. If anyone ever deserved to win the "F.B.O.T.D." award, it was this girl.

I had expected that even my efforts to leave this disastrous tournament behind would be frustrated by my car, and I was correct. Fortunately, I had had the foresight to park in the back of the parking lot where there was an incline. The grade was very slight, but it was enough for me to get the car moving and pop the clutch to start it up.


The Hell Out of Dodge

I had further occasion to curse that girl as I headed west on I-80 and very quickly ran into heavy traffic, probably people heading back to California from a holiday weekend in Reno. Had I left immediately after the tournament instead of waiting those 2-3 hours, I'm sure the traffic would not have been as heavy. I was concerned about getting my car over the mountains, and I'm sure stop and go traffic couldn't help matters. But on over the mountains traffic started moving faster, and I sped away from Reno as fast as I could possibly go, relieved finally to be done with the ordeal.



Bump 'n Grind (or Sex, Drugs, and Roll)

Click here in a few days if you want to read about my adventures getting home, which include the crack house, the fluttering temperature gauge, the best tea in the world, the hill of despair, the annoying sherriff's deputy, why it's good to keep the engine running on the freeway, the masseuse's crying son, the six-dollar lap dance, and how Bastrop, as close as it is to Houston, is no place to get stuck.



More Confessional