Seven Points Away from Destiny

March 20, 2004

A Much-Needed Break

I drove into Manhattan on Friday night to meet some friends for dinner. In my previous travels to New York City, I had never before experienced Little Italy, and it was amusing to walk past restaurant after restaurant as elderly gentlemen or women called out to us in Italian, beckoning us to enter the establishment. Thankfully, I was spared the task of having to choose which of the myriad eateries we would patronize.

After coffee and cookies at a coffee shop on the corner, I offered Cory and Lauren a ride out to Queens, since I was heading there anyway. I was hoping Lauren would offer me her floor for the night, but Cory, who was visiting from Texas and sleeping on the couch, indicated it was better not to ask, because of some situation with her roommate. So after I dropped them off in Astoria, I headed to Queens Blvd, where I had slept in the past. Queens Blvd is good for sleeping in a car because it is divided into main lanes and service lanes, and on some portions there is parking on the inside of the service lanes, where pedestrians would not ordinarily walk. I chose a spot a few hundred few down from the Pan American Hotel, and there was plenty of pedestrian traffic throughout the night, but none would be likely to notice me from across the two service lanes.

Stab My Eyes!

I hadn't slept enough, but I decided to get up around 8:00 anyway to avoid putting money in the meter--I fully expected to be ticketed even while asleep in the car. I continued down Queens Blvd in search of some place to eat breakfast. I stumbled across the Munch Cafe and Grill. The decor and furniture was more like that of a coffee shop, including a computer with Internet access even, but behind the bar was a grill for a hot breakfast, and manning that grill was the cutest short-order cook I had ever seen, in a rough New Yorkish sort of way.

The juice, though fresh-squeezed from a juicer, tasted funny, and my toast was buttered accidentaly, but all that went out the window as soon as a second girl, a blond, arrived for her shift. She was not as cute as the brunette, and she was packing a few extra pounds around the waist, but she had other "assets", which she revealed with a t-shirt that was cut much lower than one would have expected to find in a coffee shop. A bar, maybe--a strip club--definitely, but not a neighborhood coffee shop. A couple of young boys walked in to use the computer, and I wanted to cover their eyes and spare them the corruption that had taken me long ago.

I was trying to learn as many of the top 2000 7s as I could, with not only an eye on bingoing myself, but also on being able to determine whether or not to challenge based on probability factor using a formula posted on CGP. At the same time, facing the possibility of finally playing Joel Sherman, I began to worry about all the other thousands and thousands of bingos that I wouldn't know for months or years, even if I learned the top 3000, 4000, 5000, etc.

But my thoughts, and eyes, drifted off again, and I completely lost my ability to study as the blonde walked back and forth. I thought hard about how to get her to lean over. Finally I called and asked her to see about my check. I tried as hard as I could to look her in the eye while she leaned towards me. I learned long ago, the hard way, that females do not like it when you stare at their chest. Or they pretend not to. Nevertheless, there was little I could do short of stabbing my eyes out to keep them from drifting in her direction as I finished my breakfast. I knew I had to finish up and leave soon, before I completely lost my composure and did or said something stupid. Another thing I've learned is that the way you treat females inside a strip bar is not the way you want to treat them in the real world. They don't like that. Or they pretend not to. Who understands the viagras of the female mind.

My breakfast finished, and my bill paid, I ran out of excuses to hang around, so I left the restaurant and went over to the Starbucks to regain my composure and steady myself with some coffee. At this particular Starbucks, next to the Barnes & Noble in Forest Hills, I tried to decide whether the curt barista had a New York accent, or an eastern European accent. It makes a difference--if NY, I might try, or at least think about, flirting with her. But if eastern European, I wouldn't even bother, having gotten the cold shoulder too many times before.

Butterfiles May Be Pretty, But Not In Your Stomach

I arrived at the Ramada and immediately found the pairings, and noticed to my excitement that Joel Sherman was in my quad (speed pairings), and I would play him in the second or third round. I expected that my excitement would be replaced by trepidation and a case of nerves before too long, and I commented to another player that I should have taken valium. I was glad to see that the A division had expanded from the eight players that Woody had initially listed to twelve, six of which I had beaten before. I was shooting for 3 or 4 wins, which, with Joel's rating averaged in to my new rating computation, would be good for slight ratings increase. 5, if I dared to dream that high, would put me in bonus territory and around 1500.

About a quarter of, Joel Sherman arrived, and the butterflies in my stomach started. My first opponent Dan Wachtel arrived and set up, and I warned him to be ready to duck in case I spewed from nerves. He was flattered that I regarded him such a dangerous opponent, but Rebecca brought him down to earth and explained it was Joel Sherman I feared so.

I sowed the seeds of my own descruction with my opening move, GOVERN at D8, leaving N. One of my mistakes was too spend too much time worrying about the possible OUTGOVERN*, actually a phony, completely oblivious to the true threat that loomed. I have no idea just how bad my opening move was, Maven-wise, but what is crystal clear is that missing PERSONA, after burning yet more time looking for the bingo I knew had to be there, was a critical error. I would not have another bingo opportunity until after Dan played his own DIgITATE. He immediately began blocking the lines he had opened, and I was lucky to have the second blank and a hook for UNOILEd before the board completely closed up. I got another break when Dan could only counter with 12 points off the triple column I had opened, but all the time I had wasted became a factor, and I was not able to clean up my tracking, necessary to work out the best endgame. Truth be told, I doubt I would have seen his 45-point MISGOVERN even with all the time in the world, but with more time, and correc tracking, I might have had a chance.

Having lost, I was spared facing Joel for one more round, and faced Rebecca Soble instead. Having been outdrawn by her twice in Parsippany, I was relieved to finally get a blank first to bingo with HOOtIER. But my relief quickly turned to shock and dismay as she countered with BODY for 59, only four points fewer than my bingo. Back to square one. Thankfully, I was ReSCUED from another loss with the second blank, and though she fought me hard for the remainder, coming within 12 points at one point, I managed to retain the lead for my first win.

Seven Points Away From Destiny

All week I had been thinking was that the only way I would beat Joel Sherman was with an amazing run of good tiles. Well, imagine my joy to find not one, but two, blanks in my opening rack, plus AEPRV! But of 21 bingos, I only saw dePRAVE, PARVEnu, and VAPidER*, and I was not sure it the former two were even good. I wasted precious minutes deciding between the two. Joel wasted not even a second in challenging. My heart sank, as I saw my golden opportunity evaporating. I experienced mild relief when he scored a mere 12 for MAG, and I got down RePAVEs. But after he played DREST and I tried to kill the D and R lines with JADED, he stunned me with the 90-point SORTABLE/A. I had of course expected Joel to bingo, repeatedly, but ninety points!!! I ran CAGE along his bingo, and then he amazed me with his gutsy TRIAZIN which set up two triples. I had no good counter, and I considered the TRIAZINE hook (which I assumed to be good) the more dangerous threat, so I burned my S for a mere 26-point SEI. I expected Joel to take the other triple, but instead he opened a triple-triple line with WOUND (fat chance of me bingoing through that W, though). So far, Joel was playing wide open, and he continued to stay well ahead of me. I saw no hope until the 10th turn, when he exchanged what I presumed to be the Q, allowing me to come within 47 (27 if I could stick him). I started playing few tiles, just twos and ones, praying he would draw the Q back, and he did. But despite having let his time dwindle to under two minutes, Joel expressed mastery of the endgame even as I crumbled like the proverbial cookie. Even though I had tracked correctly, I could not get it together enough to anticipate his moves, critical in this endgame. I lost by seven, and I instantly knew that I had blown multiple chances to win.

So close. Beating Joel Sherman would have been the best birthday present ever, but I squandered the gifts the tile gods gave me.

8b - VAPidER - 0/ 0
9b - RePAVEs - 67/ 67
5h - JADED - 26/ 93
d4 - CAGE - 21/ 114
15a - SEI - 26/ 140
a4 - LABIA - 30/ 170
1l - WIMP - 33/ 203
11d - ULU - 5/ 208
6g - HOAR - 18/ 226
k9 - AUNT - 10/ 236
d14 - EF - 20/ 256
c7 - FEED - 27/ 283
15b - ID - 12/ 295
g6 - HEME - 10/ 305
j12 - INK - 17/ 322
m11 - SNOW - 24/ 346
+26 from Joel = 372

8g - MAG - 12/ 12
j5 - DREST - 15/ 27
e5 - SORTABLE - 90/ 117
b8 - TRIAZIN - 36/ 153
l1 - WOUND - 26/ 179
12a - OZONE - 30/ 209
b4 - OXY - 47/ 256
2k - VOTE - 24/ 280
o1 - PRICY - 23/ 303
exchange 4
12h - GRIT- 7/ 310
h12 - GILL - 15/ 325
l11 - EH- 30/ 355
h5 - JOTAS - 13/ 368
j11 - OINK - 11/ 379
leftover QIRE

Because No One Demanded It--Another Bathroom Report!

Over in the bathroom, somebody else was having a worse time of it, storming in and shouting about how... "I play all day and don't draw any blanks. I hate those blanks. Hate 'em."

"Why do I fall in love with every woman I see who shows me the least bit of attention?"

I needed coffee bad, and so I had to travel away from Corona to Queens Blvd (or downtown Flushing, which I expect would have been busier). By the time I found parking, there wasn't time to hunt down a good meal--I had to settle for Wendy's. A few doors down from the Wendy's on Continental Ave was a cubbyhole of a Starbucks where I had to kneel at a table for lack of a chair until the lady behind me left. While online I returned to the ratings calculator and confirmed my initial predictions that, having played Joel Sherman, even three wins would be enough for a slight ratings boost even if my remaining opponents were the lowest-rated in the division. As I left the Starbucks, I complimented a girl waiting on her drink on the highlights in her bright red hair. She smiled, and I quickly left and tried to forget her before I fell in love. If only there were some way to erase the images of all these women from my mind, and thus free myself from the eternal darkness of unceasing disappointment.

Reach Exceeding Grasp

I can't say things didn't balance out in my rematch with Rebecca. She got the tiles, but I had gotten them in our first game. In the end, I threw it all out there and gambled on a 30-point UNARY that could have set up a minimum 72-point Q play. But I ended up with AEEIINJ, and at that point I didn't even care to clean up my tracking to see if Rebecca could bingo out or not--she did, with SQUaRED.

As I waited for Sally (whom I confused with Rita Norr for about four months) , I amused myself by chanting "Ricketts, ricketts, rick-rick-rick, ricketts, ricketts, ricka-ricka-ricka ricketts" and making noises like I was scratching a turntable. Hey, I had to take whatever minor pleasures I could get. But I learned a lesson--don't have fun with your opponents name before a game, or the tile gods will punish you with a miserable draw. Or maybe it wasn't the tile gods. Maybe Sally has super-hearing and x-ray vision, and while she ordinarily refrains from using her power to see through the bag when drawing tiles, she relaxed her ethics this once to punish me.

Game six was mentally draining. On the seventh turn, Jim Piazza revealed his two blanks when I busted up his ENHalING/N*, and I spent the rest of the game giving up lots of points as I tried to lock up the board, and worried that if he managed to bingo anyway I would suffer for all the points I had sacrificed.

Game seven was just one of those games. I got both blanks this time, and I think I played correctly by burning the first one for a 56-point WAXiEST. But a couple of turns later, after Glenn Filzer exchanged, I had to make a decision. Block the ES I had opened with YO for 19, or take 32 and a much better leave for CORNY and risk a big TWS counterplay through the C. But just his luck, Glenn found the double-double BURRITOS/R for 90 and a 36-point lead. Had I played CORNY, his lead would only have been 24, and I expect I could have caught up with that TWS play through the C, given a decent draw. Instead, after YO I ended up with CILLLNR. It was uphill from there, and I didn't make it.

Lingering on Memory Lane

2-5 once again, and my only consolation was that my rating was already so low it would hardly drop given the strength field. But this would make four drops in a row, following four weeks of gains. After the tournament, I went over to Starbucks and looked up Ice Cube's production company. I sent a message requesting that Mr. Cube record a new version of his song, "Steady Mobbin'", retitled "Steady Droppin", on my behalf. As a birthday present of sorts. Because so far my birthday was turning out to be rather underwhelming, and the first day of spring had started out with a whimper.

On Sunday, I took a break from Scrabble (GASP!!!) to catch up on movies. I saw "Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind", and by coincidence the name of the protagonist was Joel. In an early scene in which Joel (Barish) was returning from Montauk on the Long Island Railroad when approached by Kate Winslet's character Clementine, I pictured Joel Sherman in Jim Carrey's place. When they arrived at Rockville Center, Joel spotted Clementine walking along the sidewalk and offered her a ride. As she walked with her sweater and backpack and then excitedly turned and agreed to the ride, she reminded me of an old girlfriend, Michelle. I tried to imagine how Michelle and Joel (Sherman) would get along. Throughout most of the remainder of the movie, fascinating and engrossing though it was, every time I heard the name Joel I thought back to the game I had botched.

Later that night as I lay in bed (well, technically a mattress on the floor), I thought about the game. The following day at work at thought about the game. In fact, I'm fairly sure that I won't stop thinking about the game until I next play somebody of Joel's caliber. That night, at club, I borrowed one of the spare boards and recreated the game, to try and work out some of Joel's plays that I had forgotten to write down. I stared at the board and tried to see where else I had gone wrong. I noticed one thing, however, that gave me hope. At the very end, with about 30 seconds on his clock, when Joel played a T to form ET/JOTAS for 13, he failed to notice that he could have played his R too to form FERRET instead of ET, for an extra 7 points. So he does make mistakes after all. Despite knowing he would win 9 games out of 10, if not more, I was eager for a rematch, but I had to get my rating up before I was likely to be in the same division again.

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