Two Points From Destruction


Saturday, November 6

If Kevin Can Ramble, So Can I

Philadelphia is only a little over 100 miles from Elkridge, MD, where I was working. I could have left on Sunday morning and still had enough time to detour to several new Starbucks. But since I had not yet found a suitable room and was still sleeping in my car, there was no reason not to leave on Friday evening and give myself plenty of time.

I reached Norristown, one of the far suburbs of Philadelphia, on Saturday afternoon as planned, and I immediately found a reason to grumble. No sooner had I reached the parking lot of the Plymouth Meeting Mall (where there was a new Starbucks) than I heard on XPN that Dar Williams was playing that night in Harrisburg. Harrisburg, where I had just been an hour and a half earlier. Granted I would have had to spend the day in Harrisburg instead of Philadelphia, but it would have been worth it to see Dar Williams.

I considered driving back to Harrisburg for the concert, but when I looked at her tour schedule I noticed that she would be playing in Stamford on the Sunday night after Howie's tournament. Sure, I'd be tired at work the next day after the 3-4 hour drive back from Connecticut, but that was my better plan.

As it turned out, it wouldn't have mattered that neither of the two Harrisburg Starbucks had T-Mobile, because circumstances forced me to spend most of the rest of the afternoon at the movies. I had been debating whether to study or start catching up on the movies I'd had to defer while broke. While moviefone.com-ing I Heart Huckabees I noticed that Star Wars: Episode III: Revenge of the Sith was getting a lot of request. Why? It wouldn't be released until May 19th. Ahhh, the teaser trailer! I had forgotten all about it in between all my other "lesser" worries, like finding a job and Scrabble. But once I found it it was playing, with The Incredibles, I had to see it. I mean, I had to see it, or I would die. Kind of in the same way that if I didn't see each new episode of Lost when it aired I would die.

Since I got paid, I was able to head over to the Colombian restaurant in Philly. By the time I finished, and maybe because of the heartiness of the meal, I was feeling like it was time for a night-long siesta. I drove around and finally spotted a side street off Kensington Ave that had two advantages--a dark alley across from my parking space, and it was one-way, which meant I only had to worry about cops coming from one direction when I got up to kiwi.

After the tournament, Terry Kang was chatting with Rod McNeil and Cecilia Le who had flown down on remarkably low airfares of $29 each way on Southwest. Terry and Jim are very hospitable, and overheard her extend an offer of a place to stay if Rod and Cecilia flew down again. I resisted the urge to point out that, generous though the offer might be, I would deprive the two of the possible excitement to be had by sleeping out on the street. I mean, if I had called up Terry and Jim for a place to crash I would have missed out on the gunshots that rang out in the wee hours of the morning, prompting me to drive around and consider whether to find another place to park. And if I hadn't been driving around, I wouldn't have been pulled over by officer 5380 of the Philadelphia Police Department, ostensibly because he did not see a registration sticker on my license plate or back windshield.

During prior recent encounters with po-po, usually in parking lots where I was sleeping (a reason I switched to residential streets), I had been unsure of my legal status and cooperated with their questioning. This time, however, I knew I was legally in the right, and when he asked what I was doing in the area I told him that I was not required to do anything other than give up my license, registration, and insurance. I expected the officer to make me wait upwards of 30 minutes in retaliation, but after just 5 minute had handed me my license and insurance back and walked away.

I drove around some more, wondering if I was going to get pulled over again under the same pretense, and whether it was worth the trouble of calling in to the precinct on Monday to file a complaint, alleging that he had pulled me over because of my race. I didn't get pulled over again (and in fact I had never been pulled over for that reason in all my driving around Pennsylvania), and I ended up just going back to the same street with no more disturbances other than a couple of people out walking some dogs at an obscenely early hour.



Saturday, November 7

Never Wanting for Wackiness

Daylight arrived, as it is wont to do, and I felt like I needed more sleep. The sun beaming down into my car from above the buildings now that it was past 8:00 AM would have made it difficult, but I managed to find shade along Kensington under the tracks. As the trains passed by, it occurred to me that I had heard that Chicago was the only city in the country with elevated trains. If so, what were these trains in Philadelphia?

A problem with some code to download Starbucks listings from their web site almost kept me glued to the Starbucks, but I pulled myself away and managed to arrive in time.

At the Baltimore club on the Thursday before the event, I had a win against Kay Patterson all-but-assured until I lost my blank to a comingling overdraw. With around seven tiles in the bag, Kay wisely played off as many tiles as possible and succeeded in drawing my god-given blank to bingo and win. Flash-forward to our game in Philadelphia. Before we started, Kay looked me in the eye and said "Well, we know what you're not going to do this time." I didn't realize that she was referring to overdrawing because my mind was clouded by hypnosis. Yes, Kay had hypnotized me, and the effects manifested themselves later in the game when I found myself with a blank on my rack. And sure enough, I overdrew! Fortunately, I resisted the second half of her spell and did not comingle. I kept my blank and went on to a decisive victory.

Next up was Richard Popper who picked a peck of pickled peppers and perplexed me with PRANKY*. For 8 more points, the phony just didn't make sense, unless he was pretty sure I didn't know the word. And he was right, but only just barely, as I had just moved sixes ending in Y onto my short list of words to study. When I found out it was phony, I move that task to the top. In fact, I need to stop writing and get to work on it now!

Great, there's only 1176 to go through.

Okay, I did one, ABBACY. Time to take a break.

Wait--that's not what I wanted. Too long a list. I wanted sixes that end in Y and come from words already in my vocabulary. Like AMBERY. Only 451 words to sort through.

Okay, enough of that. Back to Richard. After LIVERY he led by 52, and I was starting to worry that I'd lose to the next to last in the field. But the trivial ENTASIA turned the game around, and a preponderance of good tiles helped me maintain the lead until Richard blindsided me with ZOWiE for 72. I should have seen the play as a possibility given that there were only 9 tiles left in the bag, but I was thinking that AEOOFGMZ? wasn't going to yield a the bingo "necessary" for Richard to catch me. Wrong. Thankfully, I was able to go out with the remaining two tiles and recover from my error.

The tune running through my head for most of the tournament was George Strait's "Desperately". I have no idea why. The song is about love, not Scrabble. On the other hand, love and Scrabble are kind of synonymous.


Killed By Achilles

I was slightly outdrawn by Drew Allen in the third round, but as I only lost by 8, I blame myself. Even though he beat me in our previous match-up, I'll leave the voodoo doll in the sock drawer. First, I gave up points by failing to find NOvENAE, the double-double, and instead playing NEONAtE. But I had another chance at the win at the end when I played HOTTER, leaving myself CR and no way to go out. I failed to see HECTOR, which would have left me RT and a good chance at going out. HECTOR was not a word I'd studied, but it was a word I'd heard used.

After three rounds, nobody was undefeated, and that gave me hope that I was still in it. I had other worries besides--a headache that came on strong like a bear. Maybe even a polar bear. Just like the polar bear in the pilot episode of Lost, I couldn't figure out where the headache had come from, because I had slept enough according to my count. Perhaps not, because I felt strong fatigue, and a headache strong enough to warrant four pills.

After wins in our last two contests, I no longer feared that Annette Bailey was destined to outdraw me. Well, she drew both blanks towards the end, but I had already built up a bingo lead with small defensive plays and a won challenge. When she finally, out of necessity, played TIC to create a glaring opening, I happened to be holding NEGATOR and put myself out of reach. I was rather pleased that my game strategy of scoring modestly while keeping the board tight and trying to keep a good bingo leave in case she opened up the board (as she inevitable had to do) had worked!


Underestimation = Bad

Yolanda Ushry was the bottom player in the field, and perhaps I was a little overconfident going into our game. When I played CHEATER and immediately drew a blank I started to think the game was in the bag. After I countered Yoli's 71-point INSANeR with an 86-point REVENgER I led by 63. With both blanks gone, I was sure I would win. But then I experienced serious tile meltdown. In retrospect, the time to exchange was immediately, when I held AAEEIOT. But Yoli had just scored 30 with NIGHT, and I couldn't resist playing of AAE for 14 points and leaving EIOT and the possibility of drawing into a bingo. That one mistake initiated a cascade failure. Yoli next slotted the W in a triple column for 30 points to come within 17, and with my EEIOUUT I could do no better than 21 points. Again, I might have exchanged, but I didn't want to let her score another 30 points. The pattern continued for several turns until it all fell apart when I scored 12 with LITU and had her play DARLING through my L. In the end, I lost by 18 points, and when I consider that she scored a total of 101 points with Z and J plays it's easy to see that I should have dumped those one-point tiles as quickly as possible and tried to maintain my lead with intermediate-point tiles.

Yoli's win had an interesting result--the bottom two players in the field, Yoli and Richard, were the only two with 4-1 records. That fact game me some hope, however, because I felt that if I had to play one of them again in the final round, and if I learned from my recent mistakes, I would win.

After I started with AbDUCTED and then NOBLEsT and then drew six more power tiles to wallop Terry Kang by 210 points, we mutually agreed that I could never ever again complain about my tiles against her. Well, I really had no choice but to agree, since she pinned me down with one hand behind my back and forced me to sign a contract with the other hand. What a temper!

Those 210 spread points put me in a good position going into the final round, and circumstance favored me further because I didn't have to play Paul Avrin. Instead, he challenge Richard for first place, while I too was a contender if I could beat Yolanda with a spread sufficiently higher than Paul's (assuming he beat Richard).


Skill Kills the Ess Onslaught! (Say That Six Times Fast)

By the middle of the final game, my thoughts turned from catching to Paul to simply surviving the ordeal, as Yoli continued to profit from luck over skill. Here's an excellent example of why Scrabble sucks. Early in the game I challenge off her OUTWINGS*. With both blanks unseen and not seeing a way to take advantage of my Z, I play TINTERS for 14 both to try and draw a blank and also because it slots the T four spaces below the TWS, and I know she doesn't have a five that hits the T and uses the W. I don't draw the blank, and furthermore, she plays off three tiles and does draw it and after dinking off a tile for six points gets down REGAINEd to regain the lead. I manage to counter with ADZE, but then she stumbles across the 52-point FAX while I have no choice but to play QAT for 12. So ?ZXQ disappear in successive turns, an S and the J earlier, and I knew that if I didn't pick up some eses and/or the blank I'd be in trouble. Well, I didn't pick up any eses, and the best I could do with the blank I picked up was 36 for ClUNG. And I wouldn't even have had that if she hadn't hung LIB next to the TWS column, presumably in order to balance her rack for a bingo. Well, luck was certainly going her way, because the had the final S (and had drawn all of them), and an ARSINE rack to boot. As her clocked ticked down while she tried to find a bingo that fit, I know that neither MARINES, REMAINS, nor SEMINAR would play, but given that he had the S and I held EOUM and a mere 3-point lead, I was sure she would block my out play and sink me. Well, she did block my out MEOU, but she gave me back a 27-point MEOU that left me with an E. Had she been able to score eight points with her out play, I would have been sunk, but she managed only six.

Paul had creamed Richard, and so I had won second, but all I could think about initially was how I had almost been sunk by my opponents great tiles and saved only by word knowledge and two won challenges (I also challenged off AHS*, for the second time in a little over two months). I was relieved though, because my displeasure had I lost after winning two challenges would have been extreme.

So there you go--there is time for movies, a good meal, and winning at Scrabble, and I shouldn't feel these pangs of guilt when I forgo studying to have a little fun.

After a while, I did start to enjoy a measure of satisfaction, but it was quickly quashed. I found out that Paul Avrin had exceeded the number of games I had played during the year, racing past with 95 games in October to my 7. Goddamn it!!! I was sure that at least if I couldn't be the best, I could be the most prolific.


November 9

I saw the Twin Cities tournament mentioned on CGP and remembered that The Hated One was going to school out there and probably played. Sure enough, he did, but he only came in fifth. Schadenfreude would have been the order of the day, except that my paranoia trumped my evil nature and I concluded that The Hated One really was out to get me and put an extra effort in winning those tournaments in which I also competed.


November 11

I finally got around to calling the Philadelphia PD and finding out where to download a citizen's complaint form. At the same time, I posted a message to the Craig's List discussion forum legal issues in Philadelphia. Opinions were mixed. Many agreed the cop's pulling me over was probably legal, but that he was probably profiling me. Others thought it wasn't worth the effort to pursue a complaint, or that it wasn't a good idea to piss off the cop. Another assumed I must have been in a high drug traffic area and called me a dopehead. Nobody suggested I should have gotten out and smacked the cop for profiling me.



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