"Buh-Bye" Quoth the Black Bird, or "Shoot Me Now!"
June 18, 2004
High Drama on I-20!
Back to Mid-Cities, only the second yearly tournament I had repeated (excluding monthly tournaments like Bayside and Philadelphia), and my first time to play against the experts in and around Texas, including Darrell, Iffy, and Pat. First, though was the Early Bird on Friday, and as usual I was running late. This time I couldn't really blame it on anything but dawdling as I visited three of the goodly number of new Starbucks to open in the Metroplex in the nine months I had been away.
I arrived just after 1:00, but it wasn't a problem because a shoot-out, of all things, at a Wal-Mart along I-20 in or near Grapevine had delayed some people. Summer must have been bringing out the crazies. While on the way up to Dallas, around downtown Houston on I-45, I witnessed some guy, whose truck had apparently been rear-ended by another, go up to the other drive and start swinging at him through the car window. The other guy was equally big and burly, and as I drove on in the rearview I could see them going at it. I called it in to HPD and wondered if I should have tried to intervene with my baseball bat. That would have been stupid, for various reasons, not the least of which that it's illegal to carry a bat as a weapon in a car in Texas.
As I got out of my car I was surprised to see Josh Jacobson, who had entered onto the scene with a splash during last year's tournament, going 10-1. I had expected to see him up in the intermediates after not too long, but the last time I had asked about him I was told he hadn't been around in a while, and I figured we had lost another young, good player. I am always eager for more young players. Young girls, specifically, but Josh intrigued me despite his gender because of his claim to remember every word he saw. I wonder what the limits of that ability are when it comes to the 100,000+ words needed to compete at the top levels, and what my ultimate limits are with regard to memorization, since I lack anything like a photographic memory.
Shooting My Wad
I started the Early Bird by splitting two close games, but against #2 and #1, Glenda Short and Cheryl Tyler. Against Cheryl it was as close as it could get--a tie. I hoped that she wouldn't recount, but she did, and I lost by one point! Aaargh!!! But 1-1 wasn't so bad since I had gotten the top two out of the way. I still had hope.
I should have eaten more--I started to get hungry during my third game, against Dee Segrest, with three hours to go yet. But I prevailed, REpAYING her opening NAtIONS to maintain a solid lead for the entire game, solid enough to withstand a turn lost for having challenged REWAXED.
I decided to get jiggy against the bottom player in the group Wil Dabbs, and open with a wild phony, BUNKETS*, which he slapped off the board right away. Okay, that I could forgive, as it was a pretty blatant phony. But I'll never forgive the guy for blocking my chance at my first triple-triple since Cape Cop, ACHIoTES/C. I'll get you for that, Wil Dabbs!!! I won anyway, but only because Wil missed the correct anagrams, playing ENTERNS* instead. I wasn't able to stop him from bingoing out, but I had scored enough during my extra turn to stay ahead. It was still scary though.
Two blanks helped me prevail over my original club-mom Judy Newhouse (with just the tiniest twinge of guilt), and that put me at 4-1, and in grumblepuss mode. I had two reasons to grumble. One, that accursed recount that cost me the second game. And two, the possibility that if I won the final game I would end up over 1600, two weeks after the NSC qualification cutoff.
In the bathroom, I chatted with Sam Dick-Onuoha about the my desire to play Division 1 at the NSC. He, like another player back in Philadelphia, questioned why I would want to do that. I didn't understand why other people didn't understand the desire to play against the greats.
I faced Cheryl again in the final round, and the game was tough, back-and-forth all the way. When she took the lead with CLAMmIER, that's exactly how my hands felt. It just came down to better tiles in the endgame, and I was able to pull through. I was rather excited at winning money, and at what my new rating might be. But I was disappointed that the first place prize was only $55. For such a small field, I would rather them have paid only two places, larger amounts, instead of three. Of course, the third place winner might have disagreed.
The Famous Mr. Ed
I passed on an invite with a group to the generic Macaroni Grill and I instead took my hard-earned winnings to my favorite Colombian restaurant Casa Vieja for some well-deserved Colombian food. The meal was steep, but it was worth it. Afterwords I went to a bar in Irving, the Spirit Grille, to meet an old coworker and a friend of his.
Oh, yea, let's not forget the obligatory checking of the new rating, during which I was even more anxious at the possibility of having broken 1600. Aw, nertz! Only 1597!!! Of course, with feedback points from Piscataway, could it be??? Come on, Edley, get a move on, and slip me an extra point or two if you can. Brother-man gots to be an expert!
I didn't last long before I found myself out at the far end of the parking lot where it was dark, next to a restaurant under construction. I figured it was safe enough, and that I could find privacy behind the restaurant. Sometime after midnight, or maybe 1:00 AM, I guess, I was woken by a shrill female voice. I swear this girl must have had one of the most annoying voices in existence. I could hear her despite being a few hundred feet away and in a car with sealed windows. I peeked outside, and what did I see but a big-ass horse! I'd woken up to a lot of sights, but never a horse. A group was washing the horse, readying it for transport, I guess, inside one of those big horse-container thingies. I figured the horse wasn't going to attack me, so I went back to sleep.
The Growl of the Wookie
The arrival of the construction workers had forced me to move to a different parking lot, that of the Chick-fil-a up the street, where I planned to buy breakfast anyway. I didn't sleep much past 7:00, because the car was starting to warm up. In my time up in the northeast my challenge had been to stay warm, and I had forgotten how hot it can get in a sealed car, even when the outside temperature is cooler. I spent most of the night sweating, and my pillow and sheet were constantly damp. I didn't dare crack the windows because Manny the Mosquito has a way of zeroing in on me no matter how thin the crack.
One of the effects of the heat and sweating was to dehydrate me no matter how much water I drank, and my eyes were particular dry. I had to sit in the car for a bit to wake up. I found that growling like a wookie, and beating my chest, helped.
Besides the obligatory face-washing in the Chick-fil-a bathroom (I'm picky about my face), I chose to stave off some funk by washing under my arms. But the bathroom didn't lock. I could have waited until I got up to Starbucks, but instead I just did this back and forth thing between the sink and the stall wherein I first soaped the washcloth, went into the stall to wash, then rushed out and wetted the washcloth and went back in the stall to rinse. Repeat. The restaurant was empty and nobody even came in anyway, so my antics were probably unnecessary, but I didn't want the staff to catch me and think I was homeless or something. God forbid.
Up at the Albertsons where I bought some juice and other victuals, I found myself picking up a power bar (big up to Jean McArthur for hooking me on the things) and, seemingly alone in that corner of the supermarket, I let slip my control of my inner wookie and let out a baby howl. A cart started to come around the corner, and I realize I might have been heard and quickly turned and scooted off to the registers before the other shopper could spot me.
The Return of Mr. Waffle
I practice some at a new Starbucks in Lewisville before heading down towards Arlington. Because there was a strip club within ten miles of the tournament site, I found myself pulled in two different directions with less than 45 minutes to reach the La Quinta. SR-121 south towards Arlington, and I had to choose between 360 to the La Quinta or Industrial down to Baby Doll's. Left lane. Right lane. Left lane. Right line. No, you other drivers with the shaking heads and gaping mouths, I'm not drunk, just indecisive! Oops! Sorry about that lady. But you really shouldn't have been driving in my blind spot anyway!
Further waffling at the last minute as Mary, on finishing her announcements, asked Bryan about the pairings and learned that the top 3 divisions were uneven. They started going through players at the top of Division 2 to see who would move up when suddenly I decided I wanted the money more than I wanted to cross 1600, and I stood up and yelled for Mary and asked if I could move down. Problem solved, but suddenly the pressure was on--instead of a five-game target, I wanted to win all my games.
Plague of the Lucking Witches
As if in punishment for the folly of not playing up, the tile gods paired me against that same lucking witch that has always gotten killer draws against me. I read somewhere that everybody has a player he dreads to play, and she would have to be the one. The tiles always fall into place for her, and I know she's not nearly as good as I am. She's been playing for what, years now, and is still in the 1300s. What the hell did I do to deserve getting outdrawn like that game after game. Not a good way to start, because it put me in a sour mood, and that could affect the rest of my games. And to be honest, "lucking witch" was not really what I was thinking during and after the game, and days later, but I decided to soften it to avoid seeming misogynistic.
I had benefitted from a more aggressive style of play in Piscataway, but if the tile gods are against you, taking risks inevitably backfires. This peril was evident in my game against Ralph King, who had eses just at the right times for big counterplays to my 30-point BECALM, and then my 26-point THAW. Was I wrong to take the points? The tight board required some clever plays to keep me in the game, including TONY/ROQUET and POI/ODONATE. When finally got a bingo, SLANTING/G, I had a chance, but I was only able to bring it within 10. Just like the first of our three games in Melbourne, I walked away wondering if a better endgame would have won it.
Losing that first game earned me the privilege of playing a little old lady, something I had hoped to avoid for the rest of my life. But those little old ladies can be devious--she tried to sneak NONGLUE* past me.
A rare instance of dumb luck allowed me to pulled ahead of Jim Hughes at the last minute. I had to apologize for pulling DAUNTED out of the bag right after LITORaL, because the poor guy hadn't yet won any games. I didn't want him to win against me, to be sure, but a hard fought contest might have made him feel better. On the other hand, he beat me to the blank and bingo as had 2 of my other three opponents.
If it wasn't bad enough that I had to play Lucking Witch #1, the tile gods decided to heap on the punishment and pair me against Lucking Witch #2, another low-rated mediocre who can't do anything but pull amazing tiles against me every time we play. There's a lesson in this, and it's an obvious one--always play up!!! If you try to win money in your division, you are going to get killed, because the tile gods only reward ambition. Like King Agammemnon said in the hour of Troy that I watched, "the gods favor the strong!"
After having evened out on blanks during the Early Bird to win my division, I was bank to my sucky blank deficit ways, having drawn 3 of 10 through five games. If I wasn't going to win any money, I might as well have stayed in Division 1. Meanwhile, Josh Jacobson was tearing it up in 2, and Geoff Thevenot was undefeated after four games. They were going to get all the glory, and I was just going to be pitied and mocked.
The Omen, Part II
During the previous year's tournament, I had been woken in the middle of the night by a bird's landing on the back window of my hatchback. I interpreted this as a bad omen, and I went on to have a horrid tournament, my first in which I dropped in rating. This year, I wasn't thrilled with my 3-3 record on the first day, but I felt 8-3 could still win. But as I waited at a stop light on the way to EatZi's for breakfast, another ugly black bird landed on my car and proceeded to walk up the back window onto the roof. I knew immediately that I had been touched by the gods, and not in a good way.
Sure enough, the curse continued. I am doomed to repeatedly lose to the player with the worst record in the tournament. This time is was Mark Palumbo, who could be hear outside talking about how he was just here to see people and hang out, obviously trying not to think about his 0-6 record. At the pairings table, he commented that everyone would want to play him. Well, I didn't, and for good reason. Because it wasn't really a game--it was completely out of my hands, controlled by the puppeteers that are the tile gods. Just as an example of how powerful timing can be, even without power tiles, he managed to score HENRY - 30, HAVEN - 42, FLEW -51, COME -39, TAPED - 38, and CHAIRS - 33 before finally scoring low, TAD for 18, primarily because he had used up nearly all the intermediate-points tiles. Meanwhile, my not-great-but-not-awful opening rack AUFLMNN, cleaned up with FUNNEL, turned into shit. AIIIODM, then a blank, but AEIIUS, then another blank, but the best I could find was the crappy SEqUoIA for 69--Mark responded with more than half that with KOB for 37! Then more misery until I was able to score 33 and then 32 while Mark lost a turn for UNCHAIRS*, and suddenly I was within 34 with the J, Q, and X still unseen. I drew the J, and then it came down to playing one tile to avoid the Q I had already thrown back once. Had I drawn that X and he the Q, I would have easily won. But of course the gods were determined to punish me over and over again for the folly of having played down. My bones were truly cursed that weekend!
Well, I had my chance, and I've no one to blame but myself for my loss to Carl Davis. I was able to bingo with the first blank WITH TERMINUs along the last remaining line to take a small lead, and I drew the final blank and should have won handily with my AAERTT? versus his EEIILPS. But I ran out of time and got nervous and couldn't have imagined RIPES was good, and he went out to get me by six. After that game, I knew I didn't deserve to win. I went to the bathroom to slit my wrists and ran into one of the experts. While chatting about our respective games, I learned that he, too, did not know that RIPES was good (nor FLEWS). I felt a little better, and decided to continue living.
Another opportunity blown against April McCarley, again with a blank in the endgame (but not earlier, when I could have bingoed), and again with a mistake, this time my challenging UNLAID. As I lost by 12, that extra turn would have made all the difference.
I had the entire lunch hour to curse that black bird. Curse you, black bird! Not only was I not going to win money, but I had lost $42 at the movies the previous night, when the cashier had not given me the change from my fifty. I called the manager first thing, and would need to speak to the night manager, who would not arrive 'til later in the day, but I didn't expect to get it back. The best I could hope for was some free passes or something, which might actually come in handy since I already had two movies planned for the Angelika, and probably more.
It was almost beyond belief. After six or seven tournaments of drawing less than my share of blanks, I finally got more than my share. I had drawn both blanks four games in a row, and in all of the last three I had drawn the second blank in the endgame, too late for a bingo. And I had lost each one of those last three games by a small margin, 6, 12, and 9 points! In the first two, I had readily identifiable mistakes. But in this last one, against Broderick Larkins, I've no idea what happened, or where I could have picked up those extra points.
This tournament was turning out worse than those in which I had miserable draws, because I couldn't even complain about tile distribution, at least not as far as blanks were concerned.
I was sucking air so hard I didn't even care I won my last game, once more against the little old lady. I had hit another player up for a game during lunch, to try and get my mind of my losses. He said after the tournament, and though I would have liked to play him, I couldn't bear to hang around through the awards ceremony. I raced away from Arlington will all the speed my little Civic could muster, once more with a burning desire to compete and redeem myself as soon as possible, despite having already decided to go easy on the tournaments during the summer and save my money for New Orleans. Ah, the burden of obsession.