The Return of the Angry Young Man
December 5, 2003
I can't sing and I can't dance, but I do have one thing in common with pop-icon Prince, the ability to create controversy. Before leaving for Shelton, I checked CGP and discovered that a player who I had mentioned in my log had taken offence with what I had written. Well, it was just a matter of time.
On the Relative Passage of Time
The Monday prior to the Shelton tournament was world AIDS day. During the week of and preceding, I heard a variety of AIDS-related reports on NPR and the BBC. One of these was about a new HIV test that yields results in 20 minutes. The very existence of this test can help curb infection rates because with the traditional test, many who are tested never bother to return for their results and subsequently go on to unwittingly infect others. For one taking the new test, I can imagine that, though only 20 minutes, that wait at the clinic can seem like a long, long time. The passage of time in the mind of humans is, after all, relative.
Sometimes, however, time is rather absolute. The eight hours that I spent driving 120 miles from Princeton to Shelton, CT, was one such instance. Eight hours--I can drive the 660 miles from the west Texas border to Dallas in that time. One hundred twenty miles--I can cover that distance in almost an hour on some stretches of west Texas highway. Eight hours can pass in an instant, or, as on that snowy Friday, it can drag on, minute by minute, second by agonizingly slow second.
After Dale Earnhart died, I listed an interview with a friend of his. Earnhart had flown into Los Angeles, and his friend had picked him up and given over the wheel. The pair immediately became stuck in an L.A. traffic jam. If you've never been in one, you don't know what you're missing. After some time, a frustrated Earnhart turned to his friend and said, "I can't drive in this!", and they had to trade places. While I don't drive nearly as fast as NASCAR drives (though not for lack of desire), I daresay I felt the same way as I crawled towards Shelton.
All that time, wasted. I tried to make progress towards finishing The Return of the King while traffic was at a standstill or crawl, but my head soon began to hurt. The same thing happened when I tried to review some words, in part because, although traffic was moving at a crawl, conditions were still dangerous, and I needed to keep a watchful eye out.
I left at 1:30 PM, thinking 5 1/2 hours would be plenty. One hour it took me to drive 9 miles to the NJ Turnpike. I made better time during the second hour, progressing 35 miles towards my destination. With 3 1/2 hours still to drive 85 miles, I figured I couldn't possibly be moving slower than 30 mph once I cleared NYC, so I decided to detour into Manhattan to visit one of the two remaining new Starbucks. My thinking was that traffic already moves slow in Manhattan, so why should the snow affect it? As I entered the Holland Tunnel and saw the flashing red "GRIDLOCK ALERT", I began to have my doubts. As soon as I exited the tunnel, I realized I had made a mistake and decided just to head straight for the FDR and continue on towards Shelton. It only took 1 1/2 hours to clear Manhattan and approach the Bronx and I-278 to I-95, and with two hours still until 7:00, I yet had hope. I didn't figure they would start on time anyway, because of the weather.
I was able to move at a 30-40 MPH as I approached Westchester County, and I was thinking I'd still be on time, when suddenly traffic slowed to a near standstill. And there it remained for over an hour, barely moving faster than 5 MPH. All hope of arriving by 7:00 faded. Other concerns came to the fore, like my aching bladder. I had no cup or bottle to spare, and my discomfort intensified to the point that I had to fight my way across all lanes and pull over to the shoulder, then scurry off behind some leafless branches and hope nobody would notice, or care. My sneakers became, of course, soaked by my romp through the snow--there was no avoiding it, and I was glad to have brought extra pairs of socks. One must prepare for an 8-hour car trip differently than for a shorter one.
As if things weren't bad enough, my windshield wipers had stopped working before I crossed into Manhattan. I had taken advantage of a stop in traffic to try and clear away some snow from the base of the windshield, and I ended up jamming something. So for the next several hours I had to take advantage of every stop in traffic flow to manually move the wipers.
When I saw a wrecker truck pass on the right shoulder, I feared a collision would hold up traffic indefinitely and decided to alter my route. I headed west on I-287, away from Connecticut, in order to take highway 15 rather than I-95. I was soon in Connecticut, and soon back to 20 MPH, but as least traffic was moving steadily on the Merritt Parkway. I resisted the urge at every exit to cut down to I-95 to see if it was now moving faster--that would surely have been a fool's journey. Then again, some would say the same about driving eight hours for Scrabble.
I held fast (like Jack Aubrey) and drove on for the next several hours, finary arriving at the Hilton Garden Inn at 9:30. I feared that I had forfeited two games already, but hoped that I could still make the 3rd. My fears were overly pessimistic. Play did not begin until 8:30, and director Ginger was allowing great flexibility in making up games.
My first opponent was already involved in her second game, but Stan Williams was without an opponent and called me over. We were way out of sequence, not scheduled to play until the 9th round. I'll have to watch that Stan Williams in Philadelphia, because I found out later his CAUdILE* was a phony. I recovered and even led for two turns, and then he bingoed again, and that was that.
A good draw and cool words like POlITICO and KAFIR helped me beat Sandy Finklestein, and it's a good thing I did, because my next game was one of the most agonizing in months.
What I want to know--what I really want to know--is whether an expert could have won a game with CDGMPQX as the only tiles worth more than one point, and 5, 6, or 7 vowels in nearly every rack. If you don't bingo, how the heck do you score with those tiles? My exchange was particularly frustrating, yielding AAEEINR, which seems so teasingly close to a bingo.
As the game progressed, with rack after rack of 1-point bingo-prone tiles, but in the wrong combination, my anger rose to unhealthy levels. I was seething. I had not felt this angry since Reno. It was all I could do to keep my rage from showing. Still, I'm sure it showed towards the end of the game when my opponent misscored her word and was corrected by a friend peeking over her shoulder--I gave him the most poisonous look I can remember, to the effect that he scooted off. So dark were my thoughts, as dark as her skin was fair, that I could not keep them hidden with all the strength I could muster.
I was not simply angry at the tile draw, but, irrationally, and unjustifiably, at my opponent. I hated her. I wanted to hurt her. I wanted her to feel the same pain and frustration I was experiencing, only tenfold.
I'm ashamed to admit that I even remember this, but there's a line from the trailer for the recent movie starring The Rock, The Rundown, in which Seann (yes, two Ns) William Scott's character, as they hang from a trap, tell's him--"You're so angry!". I could hear him saying the same thing to me, though I could not fathom the reason why. I used to pride myself on having transcended anger. Berated by my boss, accosted by the cops, hustled by hungry hookers or wanton women, screwed by the bank, delayed by driving dolts--I could brush these things off in a matter of seconds and look forward, not back. Then came Scrabble, and after the few tournaments during which I expected to lose for being a newbie, I started expecting that I should win all the time, and I started feeling angry when the tiles, and my mistakes, did not allow this. But more so the tiles that my mistakes, I think, because I come from a background of years of competitive chess. In chess, every loss was due purely to my own mistakes, and I don't remember every feeling this angry.
I remembered that game in Reno that angered me so, and I noticed a similarity between the two, and I came to an ugly realization. For in Reno my opponent had also been very attractive, and I began to suspect that my anger was not solely caused by the tile draw, but by the very fact that my opponent was so attractive, and thus representative of every woman that has ever and will forever spurn my advances. My anger was compounded as I cursed myself for stooping to such feelings, primitive feelings, feelings edging dangerously close to misogyny. I was ashamed that the word "bitch" had come to mind so often when she scored against me.
I had much to contemplate as I drove to my friend Nicole's in Bridgeport, and it is good that traffic was light and the highway drivable without great concentration, for my focus was certainly not on the icy road.
Never a Dull Moment
It was good that I slept well, aided by the Benadryl that I took to stave off the effects of Nicole's cat (that I had to toss from my futon more than once), for the excitement began not long after waking. I got up at 8:00 to give myself plenty of time to drive the 11 miles back to Shelton. I went outside to start the car to warm the engine and melt the snow from the window. I locked the car with my spare key and went back to the apartment to shower. I remember tossing Nicole's keys and my spare car key on my coat as I undressed.
I dressed and grabbed my things and was about to leave when I realized I did not have my spare key. I did not see it anywhere, and I was puzzled. I looked around. I looked around some more. I rushed out to the car to see if I had left the key in the door. I returned and started tearing the room apart. I called Nicole and asked if it was possible that the cat had taken my key to a secret hiding place, as cats are wont to do. But she didn't know the cat to exhibit such behaviour. Still, I had my suspicious, and the cat's erratic dartings (not playable) and scootings (not playable) around were becoming more and more annoying. I really wanted to toss the miserable creature out into the snow.
But that wouldn't solve my problem. I started to panic, not believing that I would be late for the tournament yet again. So I gave up and called a towing company to come open the car. The dispatcher said within thirty minutes, but they big burly man arrived in fifteen, and he had the door open in less than 30 sceonds. I was grateful, but I still suspected that he wanted to get an extra ten bucks out of me by refusing to take a check, a credit card, or make change for my three twenties. I had to call his boss to get him to approve taking ten dollars in quarters.
I stopped at the Starbucks in Trumbull for my obligatory coffee, and to get online and catch up on CGP. Whoa! There was a flurry of activity, as an unnamed expert had decided to inject himself into a dispute between myself and another player, thus adding fuel to the fire. I got so caught up in reading through the posts that I didn't show up at the Hilton until the last possible moment, where Ed Liebfried was waiting for me. Boy, was he waiting for me.
I was so proud of myself for having remembered the OUT prefix to FACED, and played DECAF instead. And my heart sank as Ed hooked OBEsITY to it. Crap. I felt betrayed. I felt like I had played correctly, only to have the tile gods mock me in contempt. And I felt the anger rising again. Part of it was a carryover from the previous night, and the catalyst was the fair-skinned lady, playing her game next to ours. Dangerous it was, to carry such anger so long. Master Yoda would have been disappointed. And rightly so, for I was giving in to anger, seeing visions of punching my hand through the nearest wall as soon as the game ended. I lost of course, but the fact that I was distracted and unfocused had nothing to do with it. Thankfully, in the time that it took me to walk to the bathroom, my anger passed. I was a little disappointed. I wanted to be angry, feeling like I had a right to be.
Beating top seed Mic Barron would have eased the sting of three losses. But he knew words, and he played them. I fared no better against John Babina (the Babinator), nor against Jane Clark, and after six losses, all hope of coming in the money was gone. My bar was lowered to preserving my rating.
I finally won another game, against Linda Oliva, who has repeatedly suffered the indignity of having her name misspelled as "Oliver" on the tournament lists. I can relate, because most tournament directors get my name wrong and include the ZXQKJ, not realizing that the "surname" is not for human consumption, but rather only for reporting results to the NSA computer (all-powerful, yet unable to handle a single name), and to be used in no other context.
Kevin JG (or is it GJ) McCarthy, Sr., graciously agreed to play our game immediately, during the lunch our, so that I could take a long lunch break afterwards, because I had already played my ninth-round game against Stan Williams. I had the tiles and timing, and I got my second recent triple-triple, INEaRTHs, off the H he played. It seems to be only one, and I'm glad I saw it, because as soon as he layed the H I started going nuts, thinking there had to be a triple-triple with two blanks and INTER.
The Cry of the Snow Creatures
Having 1 1/2 hours until my next game, and never having been one to follow good advice, like "There's a blizzard coming--don't drive if you don't have to.", I ventured out anyway to the nearest Starbucks. I didn't so much need coffee as I was following a mysterious pull towards an Internet connection and CGP. In the past, I would have wondered why I was so addicted to Internet discussion groups, and especially any threads having even remotely related to me. But an expert recently diagnosed me as "self-involved", and that has explained it all (like Clarissa).
So I ventured out into hazardous blizzard conditions towards the nearerst Starbucks. As I neared the Starbucks, I began to utter a high-pitched "EEP. EEP EEP. EEP EEP EEP EEP. EEP EPP." and so on. What had come over me, I wondered? Then I remembered a tale told to me by an old toothless man, about the mystical power of the snow creatures. Snow creatures resemble a cross between a penguin and a baby chick. They look like they were designed by Disney animators, and are furry and cuddly and irresisble to children and teenage girls. They tend to congregate in large groups (both snow creatures and teenage girls), and when they die, they leave behind a psychoplasmic imprint that remains in the vicinity for some time (snow creatures, not teenage girls). Certain individuals are sensitive to this imprint, which causes them to channel the spirit of the dying snow creatures and utter there final death chirps, bringing closure to their tragic deaths. Apparently, I possess such a sensitivity.
Once I regained my composure, I stopped by the grocery store, about to close because of the weather, for some grub. Despite my poor record, I decided to break with protocol and treat myself to some animal crackers. I also had the urge for some Keebler's Town House crackers. I figured they might come in handy if I lost control of the car and ended up stuck in a snow bank for days.
I returned to the Hilton, only losing control of the car once. While waiting for my game with David Johnson, I overheard some players talking about the freakiest game I've ever heard of. Carla Chase, playing against Ed Turn, opened with KOI for 14. Ed then played COY through the O for 15. This resulted in a configuration hard to play off without the right letters, and neither of the two knew that COY takes an S. So they proceeded to exchange repeatedly. Finally, Ed tried to hook SWINE to KOI and had the play challenged off the board. According to the tournament rules the game ends if "six successive scores of zero resulting from passes, exchanges or challenges and the cumulative game score is not zero-zero", and this is exactly what happened. And because Ed had kept high point tiles like the X on his rack, his score ended up in the negative, while Carla only lost 7 points from her rack and ended up winning. What a hoot!
The Crying Game
Can you believe somebody actually produced a Boy George musical? One might consider this yet another comeback for Boy George, the 80s pop-star who had an earlier comeback in 1992 with his cover of "The Crying Game", recorded for the soundtrack of the movie of the same name. The film, The Crying Game is one of those with a twist at the end which, if revealed beforehand, takes away much of the surprise for the audience. Just in case anybody out there has not seen or heard of the movie, I won't spoil the surprise. But those who have seen the film will recall that at the pivotal moment in the film, Stephen Rhea's character rushes to sink to vomit in shock and disgust (or "shock and awe" in a post-Iraqi Freedom world).
And so felt I as I stared at the board a turn after having allowed David Johnson to get away with NEATISH*. Because, as I looked at those letters, I realized that they were nothing but SATINE+H! I had started studying stems just a few months after beginning to play competitively, and I had quickly memorized nearly all 66 SATINE bingos. SATINE+H has only two anagrams, so STHENIA and SHEITAN came easy. I was surprised that David had not seen them, but what mystified me was how I failed to recognized the letters in NEATISH*. I felt sick. I felt like crying, as bad as when I lost a game in Reno because I missed hOLLIES. I was utterly demoralized. In the past few weeks, I had begun to think that perhaps I was playing too much tournament and not studying enough, but what good was studying if I was going to make mistakes like that? What good is knowing the stems if you can't recognize them?
I played Nancy Druskin next, and with a 34 point lead towards the end, I was confident that there were no lines for a last-minute bingo after I extended OR to ORB. But my 80% recognition of 4s from late August had dropped considerably, and I forgot about SORB, and I could not recover from her LOUnGES.
The Nigga Whole Style Is Chump
I left the Hilton that night feeling like a true chump, the way I was playing. But what was worse was that I had no idea what I could do to improve my place. Study more, obviously, except that many of the mistakes I was making could not be solved with additional word knowledge. Some of them, yes, but the fact was that I was finding new ways to lose games. I was glad for an opportunity to participate in the east coast Scrabble scene, but I was starting to feel that I was playing to much, and I actually looked forward to returning to Texas where I wouldn't have the opportunity to play every week.
But for the moment, I was really stinking up the tournament with my awful play. I had to lower the window despite the snow just to get a breath of Fresh Air.
I hoped that dinner with Nicole and her friends would help take my mind of the day's games. But even that would turn out to be an ordeal. As I headed to her place on Fairfield Ave in Brideport, the road suddenly branched off, and I was unsure of which way to go. I couldn't see clearly because of my malfunctioning (or non-functioning) windshield wipers, and I started to head down one street and then changed my mind and started to turn towards the other street. Any other day my maneuver, though technically illegal, would have been okay. But that night there was a pile of snow in the middle of the intersection, courtesy of the snow plows, and I drove right smack into it, promptly becoming stuck. My one piece of luck was that across the street there happened to be a meeting of the local good samaritan's club, and three members came running over to help. One of them went back to her house to get a shovel, and I proceeded to shovel snow for the next thirty minutes. A couple of other residents came by and tried to help, but I just couldn't get any traction. I finally had occasion to use my gloves and wool cap. But as I shoveled, the cold pentrated right through my gloves, and my fingers hurt so much I wondered if this was the beginnings of frostbite. I had called Nicole to come lend a hand, and she finally arrived. Between Nicole, her friend Amy, and the three girls, they were able to help me get enough traction to back out in a mess of flying snow as I turned my wheels back and forth. I got the car turned around and then drove it out into the more well-traveled lanes, not caring that I had a red light, because I wasn't stopping 'til I got to where the snow was flattened.
I thanked the samaritans and followed Nicole back to her place and left my car, riding with her and her friend Amy to dinner, glad not to be driving (a rare feeling). After dinner, I made the smartest move of the entire tournament in having Nicole stop at Home Depot so I could buy a shovel. I figured I might need it if I got stuck again, and if I didn't get stuck, it might still come in handy to shovel away the crappy way I was playing Scrabble.
Real Old, Real Fast
After warming up the car, it was with great anxiety that tried to pull out from the curb. The snow had stopped during the night, and I was relieved to pull out with no problem. I waited to see if Nicole would be able to pull out, and she was fine too. I said my goodbyes and drove down the street. Sixty seconds later I was stuck again. Apparently this small neighborhood street had not been plowed, and the snow was deeper than it looked. After some digging, and with a couple of guys from the neighborhood, I was able to back out of the snow and drive in reverse all the way down the street, planning to go out the other end. I spun the car around when I reached the end of the street, and I got stuck yet again as I tried to drive forward towards Fairfield Avenue, the arterial. I didn't have to dig this time, but by alternating between forward and reverse and continually turning the tires I was able to get loose and get out onto Fairfield, where the snow had been plowed and well packed by the traffic. From there it wasn't too bad to the Starbucks and then to the Hilton.
Race Against Time
I had forgotten to ask Ginger when play would begin before leaving the previous might, I figured it wouldn't start until 9:30 or 10:00. Of course it occurred to me that play might start at 9:00, yet I still dawdled at Starbucks. I really should listen to that voice in the back of my head more. So I guess I wasn't entirely surprised when I entered the room and saw everybody playing. Ginger told me my clock had been started, and I rushed to find my opponent and have him stop my clock for the preliminaries. Thankfully, Maurice Decanino was a sport and had held off ten minutes before starting my lock. Still, I was down to just over 13 minutes. I played the game like Howie Greenspan's description of how speed Scrabble should be played. I just threw words down trying to get a bingo rack. Starting off with the blank helped, but it took me ten turns to draw into a bingo rack. My opponent Maurice Decanino beat me to the blank first for a bingo, but he misspelled GLaCERS* and I challenged it off. But now I had a problem, AAURNS? on my rack, and a need to get rid of AU. I knew I might open something up for him, but I didn't have time to think about it and just played JURA for 13. Of course it gave him what needed for GLACiERS. I wasn't too upset, because I figured he was going to bingo anyway--might as well get it over with. And I got the IZAR for 36 counterplay. After a few turns I hold QANATS?, but I can't even play QAT, and I need to bingo, so I dump the QA. Finally, a couple of turns later I get my bingo rack, SATINE?, and played RESINATe/R. Maurice challenges, and now I'm in the game. The rest of the game is hard fought, but I manage to eke out a win with time to spare.
I reprised my loser theme against Charles Merits. After trading phonies (his POKIE* and my CELO*), Charles gained a sizeable lead with INHaLES, leaving me little room to breath for the remainder of the game. I would have lost either way, but I thought it appropriate that I took a TWS spot with LOSER/VIEWS for 29, and almost immediately thereafter realized that I could have played NOTICERS/SELF for 37. It's scarely being too hard on myself to notice such loser plays, nor to view my Scrabble future as doubtful.
Bring That B Back!
The storm outside had abated, but inside chaos still reigned. I could overhear confusing amongst the A players as they tried to sort out pairing issues all weekend. And during one of the rounds, I was surprised to hear one expert publicly shaming another over a mistake. I hope I reach the expert division soon so I, too, can get away with that type of behaviour.
Chaos was not limited to the experts, Ginger had to recall the first set of KOTH pairings after David Johnson pointed out some discrepancy. At least I think it was David Johnson--it was some older white guy with a beard and glasses, and it's my dirty little secret that all white people pretty much look alike to me.
My rematch against Stan Williams was arduous. Based on the way he was playing, I was guessing he had an S or blank early on, and so I was doing my best to keep the board closed, try to score points, and try to turn over tiles so I could draw a blank or S. It was just a matter of timing that just as I draw OUIERR? and am wondering if GROUTIER or GROUSIER* are any good, he gives me a hook for cOURIER/APER. I draw an S and am about to tack it to PET for meager points just to block, but he gets HuRLERS down first. I play ROQUE and, with all Ts gone, hope it does not take an S. It does, and he gets his 17 points for it, but I choose not to challenge and just play it out to win. It wasn't worth the risk, to challenge for a few more points, and just last week in Osahawa a player lost to me because she challenged my PIAL instead of just playing out her tiles.
At least I ended an otherwise miserable tournament on a positive (defined rather subjectively) note with another win against Kevin McCarthy, and a much harder-fought one in which we played two bingos apiece, and good ones--RESINATE, OUTDARE, DeLETION, and BOOSTINg. Of course, it could have gone the other way had Kevin noticed my opening screw-up, playing RECTH* instead of RETCH. I later realized I should have played CHERT, giving up two points, but the experts on CGP seem to disfavor giving up points to avoid an extension counterplay.
After my worthless, ratings-dropping performance, it was a relief to be able to put Shelton behind me with great speed, because the sun had come out and the roads were clear enough for traffic to move at regular speeds. Back in NYC, I was able to take my mind off my losses by trying to figure out 21 Grams, a fascinating story, presented out of sequence, about the effect a car accident has on the lives of the characters.
The following day, I had occasion to reflect on the intricacies of human interaction as I read a post by Kevin McCarthy. Apparently, he had gotten a negative impression of me based on my online journals. But I did not realize this was the same person that was in my division in Shelton, and so I when I interrupted his pre-lunch game to see if he would play our game early, I assumed the irritation in his voice was just due to his having less than four minutes on his clock (which I hadn't realized before). Later, after reading his post, it occurred to me that he might have been reacting to me specifically, though he later changed his position after we played. Nevertheless, I was left to consider why some guys are so lucky to having a girlfriend that walks around in an exceedingly-short schoolgirl-type skirt, skimpy top, and come-hither boots when the temparature is near freezing outside. Oh, sorry--sitting here at Starbucks and distracted by the fairer of the couple that just walked in, when I was supposed to be considering--jeez, I won't be able to concentrate until she leaves--considering the effect my writing has on my interactions with others, and the feedback effect that has on my writing. Meanwhile, I can't help but notice with amusement as an older man in the corner can hardly take his eyes of the girl.