Saturday, June 21, 2003
what happy looks like
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Wednesday, June 18, 2003
there is a curious phenomenon near my building. every afternoon, a lad comes along and sets up a small card table next to the fruit stand. he is scruffy, mid to late twenties, with a wire-hanger frame and a defeatist's slouch, but there is something charming about our glimpse into his life. every afternoon, he plays chess.
and we, the toilers of midtown, the homeless, the tourists - we, who either have a hurried path or are somewhat lost - we watch him play. we watch this silent, measured homage to the divergence between him and us, between his life, and ours. between a girl who works on the 40-something floor of a giant ubiquitous midtown high rise, and a young man who plays chess in the afternoons for small change.
but today, our chessman was a part of something new, something fresh, a new slice of life. as he set up his game, with the usual suspects standing around [the homeless guy that looks like morgan freeman, a smattering of tourists, two bulgy business men], a couple walked up to the plate. they nearly passed the little cluster, but the wife's mutterings in her husband's ears stopped them, and they turned slowly to the table.
it was obvious, from the minute they walked up, that everyone would stay and watch the whole game. the man held onto his wife's arm - she let him down slowly into the chair. his hand shook a little, and it hovered over the chess pieces, stretching out to his opponent. the young man, somewhat baffled, placed his small dirty hand in the wrinkled paw of the old man. the wife leaned down and whispered something to her husband, and then sought the questioning eyes of the chess player.
"he'll play," she said. "i'll help him."
the man shrugged - hey, a dollar is a dollar more than no dollar, right? so he made his first move. the wife leaned down and whispered what it was to her husband. he sat there, tongue moving ceaselessly over his dry lips. his hands lay stiffly on his knees, in the rickety chair. his head nodded, nearly imperceptibly. had he fallen asleep behind those dark glasses?
he leaned forward and his hand hovered uncertainly over the board, waiting for his wife's surer guidance. he told her what pieces to move. she moved them. the motley gang around the little table watched, looking from the young master to the unlikely challenger and his lined, quiet wife.
the game went on. there's no need for me to explain where castles and bishops and pawns wandered over the neat squares, or how many people stood there with chips poised half way from bag to mouth, or magazines opened but ignored, as they watched the old man play his way quietly yet surely through to the end. the young chess master lost. the old man and his wife's guiding, seeing hands were the victors, as any one standing in that unscripted human moment understood he would from the minute he sat down, feeling the table in front of him for balance.
the young man also won, as told by the look on his face as he shook hands with his opponent. no doubt, it was a look that the old man couldn't see. i hoped his wife would relay it to him, as they picked their way gingerly away from the scene of quiet battle and slipped seamlessly back into the void of a sunny midtown day.
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