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The International Writers Magazine: Dreamscapes

• Martin Green
Max Birnbaum had come over for one of our occasional games of chess, more of an excuse to discuss the sad state of the world and to reminisce about our early days in New York.
Grumpy Chess player

Max and I were both long-time residents of our Northern California retirement community. The community had any number of clubs and on this day, our wives, Doris and Sally respectively, were off to one of their club lunches: needle arts, book, mah jong, who knows.

     As we set up the chessboard, Max announced, “I have a problem.”

     “What’s that?”

     “It’s Doris.”

     “What’s she bought now?”  Doris was a great shopper, being prone to buy some piece of furniture to replace one that was still perfectly good.

     “It’s not what she bought; it’s what I bought her, the iPad I got for her birthday last month.”

     “Doesn’t she like it?”

     “She loves it.    She’s on it all the time.  She’s not the greatest housekeeper, you know, but at least she used to make up the bed in the morning, do the dishes, wash the clothes, feed the cats, things like that.  Now all she does is sit in her chair with that damned Pad.”

     “Hmmm.  A case of Padomania.  What does she do with it?”

     “She has all these apps, news, entertainment, tv.  Then she gets these e-mails she sends all over the place.  And, oh, yes, she plays all these games, scrabble, words and pictures, some others I don’t know but they go on all day.”

     I pointed out that Doris had torn herself away from the iPad to go to lunch.

     “Yes, that’s one thing she hasn’t forgotten, but it doesn’t help the house to get cleaned up.”

     “Have you talked to her?”

     “I’ve tried, but I don’t know if she even hears me.  It’s like she’s an addict.”

     “Maybe you can send her to rehab.”

     “I wish I could.  She’s driving me crazy.  You know, when I left the house, the sink was piled with dishes.  I don’t know the last time she did them.  I’m going to have to do them myself.”

     Max doing the dishes?  This sounded serious.  “I don’t know what to tell you,” I said. “At least she’s not out buying things.”

     “I’d rather she be doing that.  At least she’d be up and doing something.  Now it’s like she in a trance.”

     Eventually we got to playing our game.  Max must have been distracted by his Doris problem because he made a few bad moves and I won.  I got out a couple of beers and we reviewed the world situation, Isis, Iraq, Syria, our dysfunctional political situation.  We agreed things were dismal.  Then we talked about the “good old days” when we were kids growing up in the Bronx. We’d both been handball players.  My cousin, who still lived in New York, had sent me a clipping about how handball there was now being played by Latinos. We agreed that it was good that somebody was still playing it.  Before he left, Max said, “Hey, I was thinking, let’s play some chess on the computer.  I’ll send you a move and you can send me your move back.”

     “How come?” I asked.

     “I don’t know.   I thought it might be fun.   Besides, you owe me after stomping me today.”

     I shrugged.   “Okay, I’ll give it a try.”

     The next time Max and I got together was at the community’s tennis courts.  It was afternoon and we were the only ones there. We’d both gravitated from handball to tennis when we came out to California and had been active players until a few years ago when our knees and other body parts had given out.  Now, our tennis outings, like our chess games, were occasional things, just to keep the rust off our rackets, we said.  “You owe me a chess move,” said Max.

     “Oh, yeah, I’ll get around to it.   You have me in a tight situation.”

     “Mate in four moves.”

     “We’ll see about it.”

     “You’ll see I’m right.”

     “How’s Doris and her iPad.”

     “Still on it as much as ever.  But I have a plan.”

     “What’s that?”

     “If she’s obsessed by her iPad, then I’m going to have my own obsession.  You know, I’ve always wanted to get into the chess, so now I’m really going into it.   I’m reading a couple of chess books.    I’m doing practice games.  And I’m playing a dozen games on the computer.”

     “Oh, so I’m just one of your games.”

     “Right, that’s the one that got me started.”

     “So, is your plan doing any good?”

     “I don’t know, but I think she’s starting to notice.  She had to remind me to take out the garbage last week because I was on the computer playing a game, well, three games.”

     “What do you want to accomplish?”

     “Well, I’d make a deal with her.  If she’ll give up her obsession with her iPad I’d give up my obsession with chess.”

     “I don’t know.   With the two of you obsessives, seems to me now the dishes aren’t getting done and the garbage isn’t being taken out.   Your house must be in a mess.” 

     But the next time I was over at Max’s house for chess it was immaculate.  I looked around and said, “Doris must have shaped up; the place is neat as a pin.”

     “Yes, she finally caught on that I was neglecting my chores, you know, the garbage, pruning, weeding because I was immersed in my chess.  I pointed out to her that she was immersed in her iPad.   She said she didn’t realize she was spending so much time on it.  So we agreed to a pact, no more than two hours a day on her ipad and the same with me for my chess.”

     “I see.  Where is she now?   Out to lunch?”

     “No, shopping.   She says we need a new sofa.”

     “The old one looks fine.”

     “It’s okay.   I’d rather that she went shopping then play with her iPad.   It’s worth it.”

     “If you say so.  But you’re still way ahead of me with our chess playing.  I might have to do a little studying myself.”

     “You’ll never catch up, but you know, two hours a day isn’t nearly enough for really learning about chess.  I felt I was really getting into it and it was fascinating, the history, the players, the great games.   I miss it.”

     “In that case I have only one thing to say.”


     “You’ve checkmated yourself.”

© Martin Green December 2014

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