Wednesday, June 6, 2012

A Short Distance Correctly

  “Sometimes it’s necessary to go a long distance out of the way in order to come back a short distance correctly
      ~ The Zoo Story by Edward Albee


  One summer I took a public speaking course at the community college. The course was taught by the college acting instructor, Don Julian. I was a business/government /accounting student and as you can imagine, Professor Julian was unlike any other teacher I ever had. He taught public speaking not so much as how to make points or argue your case, but more how to as how to use your voice and the cadence of your words to bring the listeners to your point of view. I took some of the Professor’s acting classes the next year, was in some of the college plays, and spend the next couple of years knocking around some local community theatres and auditioned a couple of times for plays in New York, hoping to catch lightning in a bottle. I think I learned that making it big in acting requires a minimum amount of acting ability, but a large determinant for success is simply being in the right place at the right time with the right look. One of my favorite plays was ‘A Streetcar Named Desire’ by Tennessee Williams. A friend of mine and I tried out for it in a community theatre. He tried out for the lead role of Stanley Kowalski and I tried out for Mitch (Stanley’s friend and the second banana). Neither of us got the part, although I was asked to play the comic relief part of Stanley’s landlord (Almost all the parts I got were of the comic relief type). One day the guy playing Mitch missed the rehearsal and I got to take his place. It was a lot of fun and afterwards the director told me that she would have liked to put my friend and me in the main male roles, but the female leads she wanted were considerably older than us and she needed older men to play opposite them. Understanding that it’s not always about you is a good lesson for everyone to learn and while I wasn’t that pleased at the time, I’ve been able to put that knowledge to good use when evaluating why things don’t go my way even though I thought I was doing everything right.

Chess and the outdoors. A perfect combination!

  I had my first outdoor tournament of the summer 2 weeks ago and my attendance was decidedly less that I’d hoped for. There were 15 youth players and 6 parents and friends (including me) for a total of 21 players. It wasn’t that much of a drop off from the 32 players I had for a full day indoor tournament in May of 2011, but I was hoping for an increase. After further review, there were a number of factors involved in the turnout. I was invited to 2 graduation parties that weekend so I figured a lot of families would have had similar invitations. And as Jose found out in his Catholic School tournament earlier in the month, May is a big month for first communions. I was also up against Little League, soccer, and a Boy Scout event, so maybe 21 was a great number for this particular day. Another possible cause for the downturn was my decision to not advertise my youth tournaments on the IASCA web site any more, prompted by a scheduling conflict with an IASCA tournament 110 miles away the same day and the resulting torrent of emails. This was a step I should have taken long ago but I was too lazy to make the break. I may lose a player or two, but I’ve had few players come to me from the IASCA web site and I believe that anyone who's meant to come to my tournaments will be led to it regardless of where I advertise.

  The good thing about having 3 round tournaments in the morning and afternoon instead of an all-day 5 round tournament is that I only need 3 or 4 players to have a tournament. In all the sections, it was pretty much all play all and everyone who came to play had a good time, including me. With so few players, I wasn’t busy and was able to play in the parents section (which I swept, thank you very much!), hang out with my friend/poet/chess teacher Dan Troxell from the Zanzibar’s Coffee Adventure crowd and give some chess pointers to the young players and their parents. It was refreshing to just have a quiet tournament and relax with a day of chess minus all the busyness of the larger tournaments.

  My acting friend and I used to perform the 2-man Edward Albee play ‘The Zoo Story’ for classes and other theatre groups (The entire script is here). The 1958 play concerns the meeting on a Sunday Afternoon at a Central Park bench of establishment minded Peter (played by me) and free spirit Jerry (played by my friend) who lives in a rooming house and has no meaningful human contact. Jerry attacks Peter’s life (married, 2 girls, 2 cats, 2 parakeets,with no male children or dogs) and tells the 7 page monologue of Jerry’s one true relationship in his life, the relationship he had with his landlady’s giant dog who would always attack him when he entered the rooming house (but always leave Jerry just enough time to get to his room). Jerry starts to give the dog hamburgers, which the dog would pause to devour before rushing to attack Jerry. But one day, Jerry mixes in poison with the hamburger, and the dog gets deathly ill. The dog recovers but refuses to attack Jerry anymore and Jerry realizes that while he has gained free passage to his room, he has lost his relationship with the dog which he only then realized was more important to him than being able to get into his room unfettered. Peter sits and listens to the story, but doesn’t understand what Jerry is trying to say, which drives Jerry over the edge and in his search for some relationship tries to force Peter to fight him, first by making him get off his favorite bench in the park and eventually threatening him with a knife which he throws on the ground for Peter to use. Peter picks up the knife to defend himself and Jerry impales himself on it and dies, while Peter runs back to his predictable life. It was and is an incredible play and every time I read it (including for this post) I find something else to ponder.

  In the play, the story of ‘Jerry and the Dog’ starts with the quote at the top of this post. Just like Peter in the play, I still don’t (fully) understand the meaning of the story, but I get the quote. The last 17 months have flown by in such a blur of monthly youth tournaments and weekly blitz tournaments and chess classes that I forgot about making sure I’m enjoying myself and forgot about playing more chess myself instead of spending a whole year not playing in any long tournaments like I did in 2011. Having the small tournaments of the summer will be a long distance from the hustle and bustle of the school year tournaments but if I can maintain a balance between running tournaments and playing in them and having fun doing both heading into this coming school year, I will indeed have come back a short distance correctly.