Wednesday, May 14, 2014

An evening with C.A.

Meet C.A. and his Red Solo Cup!

  As great as the Okoboji Open was this year, there was one glaring problem: The hotel where the tournament was booked a fraternity party from the University of Northern Iowa for the same weekend as the tournament. When I heard that the hotel was full for the weekend I figured that maybe there was a wedding or a reunion but I knew differently when during the first round of the tournament Friday night there were all these college age kids filling up coolers with ice and rolling luggage carts stacked with cases of beer and liquor and boxes of wine in a seemingly never ending caravan to their rooms.

  College kids were running around in the halls until the wee hours on Saturday and Sunday mornings. Many of the players who stayed in the hotel told me that the noise woke them up or kept them from sleeping and a few told me how someone would bang on their door screaming to be let in because they thought it was their room or their friends room. I had two encounters with the college crowd, one direct and one indirect. On Saturday night, I was going to give Ken Fee and Frank Whitsell from the Kansas City Chess Club a ride to the El Parian restaurant for the annual Okoboji dinner. Everyone had left and I was still waiting for Ken and Frank. I called Ken and he told me they couldn't leave their room yet and would be down in a bit. When they finally came down they told me that this drunk college girl said she was locked out of her room and begged to use their bathroom. They let her in and she proceeded to throw up all over their room and they had to call room service for a cleanup and that's why they were late getting to the lobby.

  To a person, the staff at the hotel was super helpful and very embarrassed by the fact that the management had made the decision to host a bunch of loud, drunk, vomiting college students. This embarrassment wasn't just for the chess tournament – the hotel advertises itself as a place you can bring the family and offers a Romance Package starting at $169 with champagne, chocolate covered strawberries, and a 'rose-petal turndown'. I hope no one bought the romance package for the 'frat party weekend'. I may be old-fashioned but is there anything that says romance less than some drunk college guy banging on the door of your $169 romance suite (based on double occupancy - I found threesomes, etc... are extra when I researched this) because they think it's their room? The only less romantic thing I can think of is maybe some drunk college student begging to use your bathroom and vomiting all over your 'rose-petal turndown' and chocolate covered strawberries. And the only thing I can think of less romantic than that is if the champagne had been opened and got vomited on also!

  There were two moose sized policemen patrolling the hotel both nights - this was a first. The policemen were friendly and great about keeping the kids away from the tournament but there were only two of them and they are policemen and not hall monitors and there was only so much they could do about the children (who were customers of the hotel, after all) yelling all night and banging on doors and exercising their regurgatory rights. Booking a frat party at the same time as a chess tournament wasn't the most synergistic idea I've ever seen. Perhaps the next time the frat party weekend could be paired with a convention of vomit collectors (Yes there is such a profession and you can read about it here) since they would be right at home or the next meeting of the local or regional insomniac support group (perhaps this one would do) since they probably wouldn't be sleeping much anyway.

  I received a lot of compliments about the playing site - it was the people staying at the hotel that had the problems. The tournament wasn't interrupted directly except for Sunday morning when 50 or so college kids gathered in the breakfast room next door to the tournament room and started yelling and screaming. I asked the front desk to see if they could quiet them down but Jodene just went into the breakfast and yelled 'QUIET' and told these kids that they had been making noise all night and now it was the chess players turn to have some quiet. I was expecting some of these kids to tell her to shut up or curse at her or just continue making their noise but to their credit they quieted down, ate their breakfasts, and headed off to do whatever hung over fraternity college kids from the University of Northern Iowa do on a Sunday afternoon after breakfast. Don't let the fact that Jodene is a nice person and has cerebral palsy fool you - this is one tough customer if you get in her way!

  Up to this year I wrote about what a great place this hotel was to stay when I publicized the chess tournament because it always has been. I slept like a rock both nights because I use headphones to listen to music on my amazing iPod when I sleep. And since my next door neighbor's drug dealing business in Marshalltown leads to banging doors at all hours of the night (My neighbor Ernie isn't a 3 time participant of Marshall County's 10 Most Wanted for nothing) it would have taken a gunshot to wake me up and maybe not even then. I would have no problem staying at the hotel in the future but I don't see how I can write about the room rate or in any way encourage people to stay there during future Opens until I know that the hotel is willing to turn away this particular client base. Luckily there are plenty of hotels and motels in this resort town.

  So that was my indirect involvement with the leaders of tomorrow. On Friday night after the first round I had a more intimate encounter. When all the games were done, I was sitting alone in the tournament room at my computer loading up the games and pictures to my website when a well-dressed young man came in the room. I thought for a second that he was registering for the tournament but since he smelled like an alcohol sampler and had a cup of what appeared to be vodka and orange juice I figured he was one of the frat party kids. I thought he may be from Marshalltown since the cup he was holding was a 'Red Solo Cup', the drinking symbol made famous in country singer Toby Keith's song of the same name and the logo approved by Marshalltown in 2012 to welcome the bicyclists as they stopped overnight for the annual RAGBRAI ride across the state.

  I said hello to my guest and he said "I'm C.A. and I'm drunk and high on cocaine!" His name really isn't C.A. but if he graduates from college I may end up working for him and I'd hate to antagonize a future boss so I'll use a fake name. I gave my name and asked if C.A. was from Marshalltown. C.A. said he was from West Des Moines and was here with his frat and asked me what I was doing on the computer. I explained that I was loading the games and pictures to my website. C.A. liked my website and asked me if I wrote it and I told him I did. C.A. then told me he was going to UNI for Information Technology but he was failing his PHP class and was $20,000 in student loan debt and was going to flunk out of school.

If C.A. ever decides to give up his Red Solo Cup for some chess play, he met the right person in Iowa State Chess Association President Eric Vigil.

  I told C.A. I felt sorry for him and I did a little anyway even though he would be a little less in debt if he would drink less and maybe not get high on cocaine either and it might even give him time to study for his PHP class. We talked for a bit and C.A. told me that he didn't know what he wanted to do with his life and he got drunk and high because he was failing in school and was going to be in debt without a college degree. I tried to cheer C.A. up by telling him that even if he flunked out of school by the time the next election rolled around there would probably be legislation to forgive a large part of all the student loan debts that everyone seems to have. That seemed to brighten C.A.'s mood a bit and he started asking me about my website and what school I attended to learn programming and was unable to comprehend the fact that I never went to college for programming. Of course, C.A. had a hard time comprehending much of anything so I changed the subject to areas more in C.A.'s wheel house by asking him how much he had to drink, if he snorted his cocaine out of a hundred dollar bill, and if he did could I have one as a souvenir?

  The answers were a lot, no, and no. At this point Will Liang came into the room to say hello. I'm a people person and since C.A. had introduced himself to me the way he had I thought it would help us to bond if he knew that I saw him as he saw himself so I introduced C.A. to Will by saying "Have you met C.A.? He is drunk and high on cocaine." Will's eyes got a little big and C.A. laughed and then I introduced Will to C.A. by mentioning how Will was the father of the 10 year old world chess champion. I was going to ask C.A. if he snorted his cocaine out of a 50 dollar bill so I could ask for one as a souvenir when C.A. asked Will what he did for a living and they talked a bit about the sacrifices that Will and his family make as the family of a chess prodigy. C.A. couldn't quite comprehend the concept of sacrifice but C.A. was having a hard time comprehending much of anything and mentioned that he didn't know what he wanted to do with his life. Will just laughed, told C.A. that he should do whatever I said to do, and that I was a very wise man. We talked a little bit and then Will and wished us both goodnight and left C.A. and I were alone again.

  I asked C.A. if he played chess and he said yes but he didn't remember how the pieces moved. Then my friend Sam Smith came into the tournament room and I said "Sam, Have you met C.A.? He is drunk and high on cocaine." Sam's eyes got a little big and C.A. laughed and rather quickly the subject turned to C.A. not knowing what he wanted to do with his life. Sam told C.A. that he should find his passion and put all he had into it.

  After a few minutes, the Iowa State Chess Association (IASCA) President Eric Vigil came in with another IASCA board member. They had just arrived and were going to start play on Saturday and I introduced the pair to C.A. by saying "Have you met C.A.? He is drunk and high on cocaine." Their eyes got kind of big and C.A. laughed and we all made some small talk and soon the subject turned to C.A. not knowing what he wanted to do with his life.

  Eric had much the same advice as Sam about finding something you loved to do and suggested that C.A. play some chess and handed him his IASCA presidents' card. The IASCA board member with Eric suggested that if C.A. wanted to get ahead he should "never tell anyone the truth". My eyes got kind of big and the IASCA board member didn't laugh. I think not telling anyone the truth is probably as hard as telling the truth all the time and as I found out this past week this fellow can't even follow his own advice since on April 23rd he sent me an email about a West Des Moines youth club he was starting and said (and I quote) "I do not intend to runs (sic) tournaments" but on Saturday I was forwarded an email from him to a chess parent who is helping with the club dated April 18th saying (and I quote) "I will have a rated tournament once month (sic) on Saturday." I guess it's good he can follow his own advice half the time assuming he was telling one of us the truth.

  I'm a fairly big believer in telling the truth whenever possible and I also believe that is almost always possible to tell the truth so I mentioned my own notion that anyone can do anything they want as long as they are willing to suffer the consequences of their actions and also mentioned that I occasionally pay a steep price for the consequences of my actions. I was mostly talking about my penchant for saying what I see without any sugarcoating but it really applies to all walks of life. You can do what you want but you have to be willing to take the hits and pay the price. I wasn't much different in high school than C.A. was that weekend. I was drunk and high all the time although I never traveled half a state away to get wasted for a party weekend like C.A. and his cohorts and never borrowed a penny to go to college. When I wasn't willing to pay the consequences for that lifestyle anymore I straightened up. I try to be a truthful person (sometimes painfully so) and there are consequences for that also but in my experience I have found that being untruthful (or politic as some may say) carries even more unpleasant consequences. Having said all that preachy sounding stuff I didn't use C.A.'s real name so I think it can be safely said that I am as much a work in progress as the person who thinks that 'dishonesty is the best policy' and as much a work in progress as are we all.

  As I was opining on my own philosophies of life I had a rare moment of epiphany! I suddenly knew what C.A. wanted to do with his life and I said "C.A. I know what you want to do with your life! You want to get drunk and high on cocaine!" Everyone laughed except C.A. and I because we both knew I was serious. C.A. said "No, I don't want to get drunk and high." To which I replied "OK. So you don't want to get drunk and high! That's what you want to do with your life!" After this breakthrough we spend a few minutes refining C.A.'s ambitions and we decided to remove the word 'not' to give things a more positive spin and determined that what he wanted to do with his life was 'to be alcohol and cocaine free'. Satisfied that one of life's many problems had been solved, the group broke up and everyone left the tournament room except me. I finished loading the games and pictures, cleaned up some emails, and then C.A. came back for a few minutes because he said the cops were looking for him because he spilled his drink on some lady. Eventually, the coast cleared and C.A. and I left the tournament room for our respective beds.

  I met C.A. the next day outside the tournament and while he was (and I quote) "never been this hung-over" he did remember my name and much of our talk. I had an odd number of players and offered to let him play in the tournament for free but he didn't want to. I felt pretty good that after 19 years of C.A. not knowing what he wanted to do with his life, after just a couple of hours with me he knew what he wanted to do with his life. I think being alcohol and cocaine free is an OK thing to do with your life but if C.A. had agreed with my first conclusion that he wanted to get drunk and high on cocaine with his life that would have been fine by me also. After all, I was just there to help. As much as I've been poking fun at C.A. in this post I have to admit that he is way ahead of where I was at his age. He's 19 and knows what he wants to do with his life – I'm 53 and I still don't know what I want to do with my life although I suspect I may have a future in social work.

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