Part 2 / First Tourney: Beauty, the Old Woman, and Me
Tournament day. Sunday afternoon. Wanting to make a good impression, I spent considerable time choosing an outfit from my vast wardrobe of three ties and one sports jacket. Oh, yeah, and polishing the black lace-up shoes. I borrowed thirty-five dollars for the entry fee, fired up the Volkswagen, and headed over to Coonamessett Inn to play living, breathing backgammon.
Coony was, and is, a pleasant, expensive restaurant and inn with lots of landscaping and an emerald lawn that rolls down to a lovely pond. The town's society people still hang out there. Anyone who owns more than six ties is society.
I arrived early and found perhaps twenty or so people gathered in the dining room overlooking the pond. Only a few wore ties. They all looked . . . well, they looked like ordinary humans, which was somewhat of a disappointment and relief. I think I expected the intensity found in the psychotic ward (obviously I was confusing backgammon and chess). These people were laughing, chatting, and drinking. And more just like them were drifting in, until there were about fifty players. One, however, was not just like them.
She was just gorgeous. Tall, dark hair, dark eyes. She was the woman I spoke to on the phone, the president of the club. Sigh. When she saw me, the obvious stranger in the room, she came over and introduced herself. I still remember that smile. Pure sunlight. She walked me over to the registration table, introduced her husband, the state police detective. Heavy sigh. But a very nice guy. My backgammon luck was destined to remain much better than my romance luck.
Anyway, I told Jacqui how nervous I was, but she was so pleasant I began to relax. Then she asked what flight I wanted to play in. I actually hadn't a clue. My skills were better than a beginner, but beyond that I couldn't answer. She set me up with an experienced member to determine my skill level. I beat him in a couple of games that I played in a blurry haze. My first live opponent and I can remember nothing about him or the games, other than that I played quickly and didn't embarrass myself. He was pleasant, gave me a couple of tips about something or other, and told me to start in the Intermediate group.
So far, so good. Then, after a nice dinner, it was time to play. Jacqui pointed out my opponent, who was sitting across the room near the windows that looked down on the pond. I made my way over, not nearly as nervous as I had imagined.
My first opponent was an older woman. Possibly older than God. Her wrinkled face was smeared with makeup. Her hair was stiff from a lifetime of treatments. Her eyes looked like cold little ball bearings. She must have been somebody's mother, because she looked bitter.
I smiled and said hello.
I sat down.
She lit a cigarette. (These were barbaric times, particularly for ex-smokers like myself.)
Out came the dice and we were underway.
During my turns the old woman continually rattled the dice in her little cup. She chain smoked, making sure I was liberally doused. She didn't talk. Once, she grunted.
The match was seven points. All I recall was that I lost and that I thought I had no idea how to really use the cube. At the end, she smiled at me, a ghastly experience. I walked away proud that I had played decently, I had behaved with civility, and I had not killed the old woman.
I believe that my restraint had something to do with the presence of the state police detective in the same room.
I reported to Jacqui, who was also the tournament director. She commiserated, then told me I was eligible to play in the consolation flight. I found my opponent, sat down and lost. I stayed for the rest of the tournament and helped Jacqui, learning quite a bit in the process about running a tournament.
All in all, a very good day. I came, I played, I learned.
And I never saw that old woman again. There was a rumor that she was only brought out to test the mettle of new players. If she survived without incurring serious injury, the new player was admitted to the club.
A number of monthly tournaments followed, played at various sites around the Cape. I remember only three incidents from them.
One time I put myself and the club's best player into a complex backgame, which coincidentally I had been studying that week. I was totally focused on the game, oblivious to everything else. There were blots galore, hits every roll. I looked up at one point and noticed several people watching the game, and I caught my opponent rolling his eyes at them, and shrugging. "Bombs away," he said to them. I believe his backgame skills were suspect, but he did win.
Another time I got involved with a slow player in the first round, a young woman, pleasant enough. But, oh, she took forever every move. I was a point behind in the match when someone called the tournament director, who observed for a few minutes. He warned us about slow play. My opponent didn't take the hint. The director came back a little later. Unfortunately, I had a complex decision to make at that point and took a little time to make it. The director called the match, awarding it to my opponent. I thought this grossly unfair, but I didn't kill either one of them.
At my last tournament with the club, I was given the Miracle of the Cube. At the time I was in the middle of an utterly depressing heavy-duty breakup with a girlfriend. I did not want to be at a backgammon tournament. I would much rather have been on my home grounds, kicking daisies and yelling at kittens. But thirty-five bucks was thirty-five bucks and I had paid in advance, so there I was in at the Sheraton in Hyannis, wanting nothing more than to get the hell out. I wanted to lose my matches fast and the best way to do that was to fling the cube with abandon, and take everything that came my way, unless it was really atrocious. (Well, I had some pride left!)
In my first match I took and took. And won in two games.
In my second match I took and took and took. My opponent, a cheery married woman, called her friends over to watch.
"He'll take anything," she kept saying. "He'll take anything." She was ebullient.
I refrained from growling that I just wanted to get the hell out of there. I smiled at her and turned the cube and kept winning. Eventually my cubist ways caught up with me and she won that match, but it seemed to take forever.
That was the last time I feared the cube.
Never saw the girlfriend again.
It was around this time that I discovered a nightclub in Hyannis. Tingles was located inside the Sheraton, attracted mostly a young crowd, offered pulsing disco music and a tiny dance floor. But the big attraction were the two bar-height counters on which sat about fifteen backgammon boards, ready for players day and night. I walked in one day and was sure I had found Paradise.
I had definitely discovered another world and I began to live in it eight to ten hours a day. That's where I met the Pakistani and Bobby the Backgammon Pro.
© 2001 Richard M. Gerace|
Thank you to Ric for his kind permission to republish this story.