Things I Learned from R. B. (June 21st, 2020)

Jonathots Daily Blog

(4433)

Episode 20

I don’t really enjoy playing chess.

I have an understanding of the game, minus passion.

There are those who are thrilled with the prospects of a match. They refer to it as “the pastime of the royals.”

I don’t quite understand how it gained such a following. I suppose it has something to do with the fact that early on, it was associated with intelligence.

Yes, when I first learned how to play, I was told that I “should be very good at the game” because I was smart.

Well, I don’t know about that, but if interest has any bearing, chess stupefied me. I rarely played it and when I did, I often regretted choosing to do so—because my opponent was often grumpy and unwilling to lose even one piece from the board.

When I discovered that R. B. was an ardent player, I avoided ever mentioning that I, too, knew how to move the pieces. He explained to me that I needed to participate because he believed I would be excellent at it, and then we could play together. For many years I was able to subdue his advances by pleading my “chess virginity.”

Then a young man moved into my household—actually, three young men. Their father was struggling with anger and was beginning to take it out on them, so I was afforded the opportunity to become their godfather and welcome them into a safer haven.

One of the boys was very good at chess.

To preserve his innocence, we shall refer to him as Justin.

Justin was precocious. You see, precocious means whatever any adult wants it to mean. That adult can use it to describe a child he or she either likes or believes to be headed for reform school.

Being precocious, Justin immediately struck up a conversation with R. B. about chess. R. B. felt he had arrived in some sort of circle of heaven—where he could be the teacher and finally have a budding student.

The only difficulty came when Justin beat R. B.

And not just once.

Regularly.

Even though R. B. had studied the board and had even mastered some moves of the champions, Justin always found a way to get through his defenses, steal his queen and leave his king flailing in some corner, surrounded by a bishop and a knight.

At first, R. B. attributed it to “beginner’s luck.” But after many visits and many matches, it became clear to everyone that Justin was a superior prodigy. Everyone, that is, but R. B.

One night, after having lost two games, R. B. was surrounded by Justin, who was prepared to pronounce the “checkmate,” when R. B. brought his fist down hard on the table, knocking over all the pieces, scaring young Justin all the way down to his X-men underwear.

You see, Justin was accustomed to hearing an angry voice. He was well acquainted with a man whose temper was out of control—and he knew it usually meant that he was going to be in trouble.

Sensing Justin’s fear, R. B. tried to turn it into a joke and give the young man a hug, but when Justin nervously pulled away, R. B. was even more angry. He yelled at him. Some curse words flew through the air and young Justin was trapped, with no place to go.

R. B. screamed at him, claiming that it was a draw and they would play again on another night—and then left.

I was not in the house at the time, but when I returned, I immediately noticed the red in the corners of Justin’s eyes. He was reluctant to talk to me. Already in his young life, he had learned it was better to shut up and not have to face painful consequences.

But you see, Justin was also a young man with a good heart that was growing blossoms. He didn’t lie. After about an hour, he told me the whole story. I was infuriated.

He asked me to promise that I wouldn’t say anything to R. B. Justin asked me if he should play chess again with the irate fellow. I told him yes, but to wait a few weeks until I had a chance to do some maneuvers.

Perplexed, he smiled, gave me a hug and went upstairs.

Word of R. B.’s losing streak to Justin spread quickly through our family. The jokes piled up and were nearly ready to break R. B.’s spirit and release his bad temper. I had one plan—what you might call an ace in the hole if we were talking about poker, but since it’s chess, we shall say that I pulled out an extra queen.

One night while he was being teased, I stepped in and said, “Maybe R. B. just had a bad night. We could find out. R. B., why don’t you play me?”

R. B. was nearly beside himself. I had refused so many times, and now here was his opportunity, in front of our family, to redeem himself.

He was so nervous that his hands were shaking as he took his white pieces and set them up on the board. He didn’t need to be nervous. I had decided to play him a good game—but lose.

I figured a victory over me would quell his spirit, and once he had come to his senses, he might apologize to Justin.

Everybody was shocked when R. B. won.

And right after the game, he turned to me and said, “Would it be alright if I talked to Justin?”

Now, I suppose the story needs to end with me telling you that R. B. apologized to the boy and they lived happily ever after. But that’s a Hollywood ending—we lived in Nashville.

R. B. continued to play Justin and Justin grew up and became more tolerant of R. B.’s idiosyncrasies. Yet R. B. never hit his fist on the table again—but did manage to color the air every once in a while with his language.

I suppose I should have stepped in and stopped the tournaments, but R. B. needed to learn how to be civil to young ones and the young one needed to learn how to survive an R. B.—even when you know you can checkmate him every time.

 

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